Book club questions for She Read to Us in the Late Afternoon by Kathleen Hill
“The Angel of a Landscape”
1. Why does this book begin with an account of the narrator’s learning to read? Do you remember how you learned to read? Was it all at once? Or do you remember learning to read as something very gradual?
2. Why do you think this chapter begins with a long description of Miss Hughes and the disciplined way she conducts her music appreciation class? Comparisons to the other teachers? From where do you think Miss Hughes derives her authority? Why do her students obey her? Listen to her?
Things Fall Apart
3. How does the narrator’s understanding of her place as an American in the world begin to change? When did she begin to understand how Nigerians might regard Americans? What does she learn about what is remembered? And who remembers?
4. What do you make of her adolescent fear that she’ll never have any life other than reading? That she’ll live only through books.
The Portrait of a Lady
5. What do you make of the narrator’s initial dislike of Isabel Archer? Why does she feel this way? How does the narrator understand the word “innocence” as applied to Isabel? As applied to herself? And how does she see it as typical of the privileged American abroad?
6. What do you think she learns about herself by reading Isabel’s story? About herself in her own marriage? About the difficulties of knowing another human being?
7. The narrator ends us musing on the ways marriage is like travel. Do you agree with her comparisons?
8. The narrator is living in northern France for only a few weeks before she turns sharply away from the novel Madame Bovary. Do you feel sympathy with her for turning away? Have you ever felt that a novel is interfering with your finding the life you want? Is making your life more difficult?
The Diary of a Country Priest
9. At first she seems to have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that what she had thought of as “a year in France” turns out to be so different from what she had in mind. Then, as she reads on in The Diary of a Country Priest, she begins to worry that she has remained aloof from the people in Avesnes. How does her understanding of the “unlived life” alter in the course of her reading of Bernanos’ novel? What does the diarist, the country priest, have to do with it?
10. Four sections of She Read to us in the Late Afternoons have to do with reading a novel while the narrator is living outside her own country. Why you think this is? Are there any reasons why a novel might become more critical to you, more of a companion, while you are living someplace new? Outside of your own groove? What do you think the narrator finds in The Diary of a Country Priest that sustains her? What do you make of the last words of this section, quoted from Bernanos’ novel: “Grace is everywhere.”
A la Recherche du Temps Perdu
11. Time as it unfolds in the reading of Proust’s novel and Time as it relates to the afternoons of reading that are passing one by one stands at the center of this chapter. The gingko leaves reflect the passage of the seasons, the books pile up on the table, one by one. But the narrator never mentions her sorrow in the face of Diana’s increasing frailty, of her approaching death. Why do you think that is? And what of the narrator’s own passage through life? How do you think we mark our own passage through time? Is it different for everyone? And what does reading have to do with it?