Friday, June 10, 2011

Discussion Questions for "Diary"

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer so far--here it's been either high heat and humidity or very strong thunderstorms, hail, and pounding rains!  Perfect weather for reading, I think :)

Here are a few discussion questions for The Red Leather Diary, courtesy of HarperCollins:

1. Koppel writes that "she wasn't really interested in celebrities" that she was covering for the New York Times before she found the diary. She writes, "wanted everything to slow down. I was searching for a story that completely touched my life and those of other people." What point does the book make about finding meaning in our youth-obsessed, celebrity-crazed, materialistic culture? Do teenagers keep diaries anymore? Where do we record our inner lives? What windows do we have into the human soul?

2. One morning, outside of her Manhattan apartment, Koppel glimpses an unusual sight: a dumpster piled with old steamer trunks. Late for work, she climbs in, prying open the trunks' rusty latches. Among the flapper dresses, old photographs, "an entire collection of handbags," a tangerine bouclé coat from Bergdorf's, she discovers a crumbling red leather diary kept by a precocious and free-spirited young woman named Florence Wolfson. Koppel writes, "I couldn't help but read it as if it were a personal letter to me." Koppel unearthed a deep and profound connection with a like-minded spirit. Does the discovery of the diary signal fate? A cosmic force at work? Coincidence?

3. Opening the tarnished brass lock, Koppel embarks on a journey into the past. As she turns the diary's brittle pages, she is captivated by the headstrong young woman whose intimate thoughts and emotions fill the pale blue lines. "I had kept journals but never like this. Not a single day was skipped in the diary's full five years from 1929 to 1934," Koppel writes. Is Florence's inner monologue recorded on the pages of her diary a "real-life time machine," as Koppel writes, or also a portal for us to look at ourselves, daughters, mothers and grandmothers in a new light?

4. Koppel writes, "Florence's writing possessed the literary equivalent of perfect pitch." In one entry, Florence swooned, "Have stuffed myself with Mozart and Beethoven—I feel like a ripe apricot—I'm dizzy with the exotic." At fifteen, she writes, "Went to the Museum of Modern Art and almost passed out from sheer jealously—I can't even paint an apple yet—it's heartbreaking!" Florence records, "I'm not ordinary." In another entry: "There's so much to do—music, art, books, people—can one absorb it all?" How does Florence compare with contemporary young women today?

I'm still taking ideas for our next batch of reads--any ideas?  I'll be putting up a list later this month for everyone to vote on.  Next month's read is The Great House by Nicole Krauss.


My Grama's Soul said...

I have my copy....and I'll just start reading it soon. Be back to answer later.


Jewels said...

I am pretty sure that blogger just ate my last comment attempt so I'm going to try again. I am still very early in this book but wanted to address a couple of the questions you posted.

I do not think that a lot of teens keep journals anymore which a sin because I did and it helped so much in those angsty teen years to have somewhere to write it all down. These days kids have twitter, facebook, and other social medias that chronicle their lives for them. As for how much we get to see into other people's lives about 140 characters per tweet, 160 characters per text and a short status update here of there. It is short and impersonal and a shame.

As for fate, I'm not sure about that, but I do know that if I saw a gold mine like that in a dumpster I would be making my first dumpster diving trip too! I loved the imagery her words created while talking about the pile, what she uncovered, and the diary's condition. It was beautiful.

I cannot wait to keep reading and uncover all that the diary has to offer us. :)