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The Paris Bookseller Reader’s Guide

By Kerri Maher

The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher


Reader’s Guide
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher
Discussion Questions:

1.   Sylvia and Adrienne are devoted readers. How does reading shape their lives? How has reading shaped your life?

2.   At first Sylvia is stymied by all the famous writers in Adrienne’s store, but she goes on to open her own store and befriend the most famous writers of her day without being self-conscious about it. What do you think enabled her to call Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and the others her friends?

3.   Adrienne and Sylvia disagree about how much time and energy Sylvia devotes to James Joyce. Why does Sylvia give so much of herself to the writer? Why does Adrienne disagree? How does this difference alter their relationship?

4.   Sylvia risks her finances, her store, and her reputation to publish Ulysses because it’s a book and a cause she believes in. Have you ever taken an enormous risk for something you believed in?

5.   This novel is full of real-life strong women making history. Were any of their actions surprising to you, given the time period? Do you think there was something special about Paris at this particular time that made their actions possible?

6.   Sylvia ruminates on the term lost generation on pages 237–38 and wonders if it applies to her. Do you think it does? What about to Adrienne, Joyce, or any of the other characters?

7.   Sylvia calls her shop Shakespeare and Company. Discuss the second part of that name, and Company, and the way it arises as a theme throughout the book.

8.   The Paris Bookseller takes place from 1917 to 1936, from the end of the First World War into the Depression, and it’s being published one hundred years later. Did you detect any resonance with the twenty-first century as you read about the lives of these characters living a century ago? How are attitudes, laws, censorship, and art the same? How are they different?

9.   Ulysses was an enormous achievement when it was published and continues to be one of the most celebrated books of English literature, though it’s still considered a very difficult book to read. Have you read it? Did having read it—or not—alter your appreciation of what Sylvia and James Joyce went through in order to bring it out into the world?

10. Because of its difficulty, Ulysses is also one of those novels that people often “fake” having read or keep on their TBR lists forever. We all have books like this! What books have you pretended to read? What books seem to be stuck forever on your TBR list?

11.  The original epic poem The Odyssey, by Homer—on which Joyce based his novel Ulysses—is about Odysseus trying to get home to Ithaca after the Trojan War so that he could be reunited with his wife, Penelope. In what ways do the themes of home and reunion pop up throughout The Paris Bookseller?

12. Many of us dream of owning a bookstore. If you owned one, what three authors—past or present—would you invite to read at your store?
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