Courtesy of the marketing elves at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books, here is a useful (I think) Readers’ Discussion Guide.
If your book club is reading Tinsel, please know that I’m always open to answering your questions by e-mail. If you live in the D.C. area, I’m also happy to come visit your group for a discussion, as long as it won’t inhibit frank talk about the book. (Trust me, I can take criticism!) If you live farther away and want to try something via Skype, I’m open to that, too.
Here’s the guide. For more images of the people written about in Tinsel and Christmas in Frisco, click here. Enjoy!
Tinsel by Hank Stuever
Reading Group Guide
• How did reading Tinsel cause you to reevaluate how you celebrate the holidays (if at all)? Which topics or characters did you relate to most, in both positive and negative ways? Will you make any changes this holiday season because of the book?
• In the past few years, how has the state of the economy changed how you celebrate Christmas? Have you exchanged fewer (or more) gifts? Have you decorated more or less?
• In the Prologue, Stuever writes, “I wanted this story to be about Christmas but also everything else: our weird economy, our modern sense of home, our oft-broken hearts, and our notions of God” (page 5). Do you think he achieved this? What is this book about really?
• What has been your best Christmas ever, and your worst Christmas ever? What made each so good or so bad?
• On page 7, Caroll “wonders if maybe this is how memories are made now. Maybe the shopping is the memory itself.” Discuss what it is you like or dislike so much about Christmas. Is it the shopping, the decorating, the parties, the gifts, or the people that can make or break a Christmas season? When you remember Christmases past, what are the memories that stand out?
• Why do you think Stuever chose to write about Frisco, Texas? How is Frisco emblematic of the American experience? Thinking about Stuever as a character in the book, what were his personal reasons for choosing Frisco? How does he feel about Christmas and how does that feeling change over the course of the book?
• “The still-intact Victorian conventions of Christmas have Father worrying about money and security, and Mother saddled with making everything look and feel right—whether she has the holiday spirit or not” (page 23). Discuss the traditional gender roles associated with the holidays and how they play out in your own family. Why do you think these delineations have persevered over the years?
• Every year Tammie helps at least one family during the holidays, which is attributed to her Christian nature (page 30). How do you balance that with the extreme materialism she also participates in when she decorates others’ homes? Later in the book, Stuever talks about listening to the KLTY Christmas Wish radio segments with Tammie and notes that the “powerful currency in the anecdotal” at Christmastime often prompts our charitable natures (page 132). Do you think we give so much at Christmas in part to make up for how much we consume? Why or why not?
• “Is it possible, Bridgette wonders, that there’s some bottomless need here that people have? For Christmas lights?” (page 46). Why are Christmas lights so popular? Why do they make us feel so good? What is behind the inevitable competition to do more, be brighter, go bigger than our neighbors?
• What is your Christmas baggage, so to speak? Talk about how your family has affected your feelings about the holiday.
• “Choruses of angels are not harking and heralding for me. I prefer dark, slightly twisted Christmases” (page 109). Stuever seems to suggest there are two types of people when it comes to Christmas—you either love it or you hate it. Why does Stuever fall into the darker camp? Which type are you?
• “The angst over Santa’s existence comes not from the children, I think, so much as the grownups . . . Once you know
there is no Santa, then there’s no stopping the awful truth about everything else” (page 181). When did you learn the truth about Santa? What about your kids (if you have them)? Would you take Stuever’s advice and use the idea that once you know about Santa you get to become Santa? How else can we ease the pain of learning the truth?
• On page 187 Tammie has her epiphany that Christmas is “not about the stuff.” So she forgoes expensive Christmas presents and takes her family on vacation so she can experience a “total moment” with them. What was the family’s total moment and was it worth it? Have you ever made a decision similar to Tammie’s?
• Shopping for Monkey Bread with Bridgette (page 241) reminds Stuever of his own Christmas tradition. “I was happy and did not know it until now” (page 243). Why did it take so long for Stuever to realize there was a part of the holiday he enjoyed? What do you do every Christmas Eve? What one item reminds you most of it?