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Summer Reading Reader’s Guide

By Hilma Wolitzer

Summer Reading by Hilma Wolitzer


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Consider the epigraph of Summer Reading:
“Emma sought to learn what was really meant in life by the words ‘happiness,’ ‘passion,’ and ‘intoxication’—words that had seemed so beautiful to her in books.”
—Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Are happiness, passion, and intoxication more beautiful in real life than in books? Why or why not?

2. Why does Angela’s comment about rooms, gardens, and gowns being the wallpaper of the story’s soul resonate with Lissy (page 28)? If the wallpaper of Lissy’s soul was stripped away, what would be left? What would be left of Angela? Later in the novel, Lissy wonders, “Wasn’t it possible to keep the wallpaper without giving up the soul?” (page 239). What do you think?

3. The Page Turners read Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? Is there anyone in Summer Reading who needs forgiveness? As the reader, can you forgive these characters?

4. Sleeping Beauty asks “Where am I?” upon waking from her century-long slumber. Why does Lissy repeat the same question? Why does Angela repeat the line from the Brothers Grimm book of fairy tales: “My business is with your father and not with you”? What is the significance of these quotations?

5. Why is it so important to Angela to be in touch with Charlotte? What does she hope to gain? What does Charlotte want from the friendship?

6. Why does Lissy’s mother tell her that Evie died? Why, later, does she imply that it was Lissy’s fault? What kind of effect does Evie and Lissy’s reunion have on the two women?

7. Was it only jealous spite, as Angela assumes, that makes Jenna hang the nude pen-and-ink drawing?

8. How would you explain the difference in Jo Ann and Michelle’s attitudes toward the “summer people”?

9. Lissy wonders whether the life lesson came at the end of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, but decides that “you didn’t have to read it all the way through if you didn’t want to” (page 105). What does this say about Lissy?

10. Why are Lissy and Michelle so uncomfortable when they lock eyes in the kitchen during Lissy and Jeffrey’s brunch (pages 80–81)?

11. On page 145, Hank suggests that Kayla write about Michelle for her essay on an American heroine of her choice. Why? How do you explain Michelle’s reaction?

12. Is the ending of Summer Reading realistic? Could the events of this novel have happened in “real life”? How could the

13. Do you believe Angela’s thesis that literature teaches one to live? Or are “the answers only to be found in the living itself,” as she wonders on page 183? What does she believe at the end of the novel? What about Lissy? Michelle? If you agree that reading can change your life, which books have had the greatest effect on you and why?

14. Do any of the three women whose lives intersect that summer succeed in living an authentic life? Why or why not? What is authentic about your life?

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