Monday, August 27, 2018

Tansley Reads! Who We Are

The Tansley Reads! book club began as one of several “Connection Groups” at Tansley United Church, in Burlington Ontario, Canada. The group was formed in 2006 to offer members of the congregation a way to know one another better by discussing books and sharing some of their own stories. From the beginning it was decided that we would not restrict ourselves to religious or spiritual books, and that members would select novels and biographical works that appealed to them. We currently have about 25 members, and usual attendance at meetings is 18 – 20 women (men are welcome, but, well, …). Because we are such a large group, we have had to adopt some non-traditional approaches to book discussions. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

How We Operate

How We Operate

We have a coordinating group of 2 – 5 members, who meet ahead of each meeting to decide on questions, an ice breaker, and items for our “focus table”. The coordinators search for questions on various websites (the publisher’s book club guide e.g.,, authors’ websites, etc.) and use them as input, then adapt or compose the questions each month based on what they think will stimulate discussion in this group.* Experience has shown that informal, personal-reaction-based questions work best for that purpose. One member takes responsibility for devotions at the beginning and end of every meeting. We take turns providing refreshments – sometimes themed to the book.

Once a year, the whole group meets to choose the books for the year, usually 8. Each member can nominate a book, and give a bit of a pitch for it. It can be a book she’s read or one that she wants to read. We do ask that the nominated books be readily-available, from the library or at a reasonable price. Then everyone votes for their favourite 8 books and those receiving the most votes are the choices for the year.

One of our unusual features is rating every book. This began so that the book club could recommend a book to the congregation for their summer reading. We have made changes to the rating system over the years, but it has always consisted of categories for which everyone gives a value, individually. Those are then tallied each month after the meeting, and an overall score given the book. (At our annual book sale, buyers flock to the Tansley Reads table and we quickly sell out of the books we’ve read in the group, particularly the “winners”.). A copy of our current rating chart is posted to this blog, and the score we gave the book is shown in its file.

The “focus table” is also unusual. It consists of objects and pictures that are suggested by the book. Sometimes all are provided by the coordinators; other times, everyone brings something.

The ice breaker is designed to help members get to know one another better and usually reflects the theme of the book in some way. We break off into small groups of 3 or 4 to share that part of the meeting. We have cards with colours, numbers and symbols on them, and use those to randomly assign and mix up the groups each time. Often the conversations are laughter-filled and it’s hard to get everyone’s attention for the next part of the meeting – that’s why refreshments often follow.

In 2018 we decided to start posting our questions on this blog. We started with some previous books, and plan to add each new book after our meeting. Anyone who wants to use these questions is most welcome to do so. Our scoring guide is also posted.

Happy Reading!

*Unfortunately, we have not kept track of the sources of questions in the questions sets on this site. We are indebted to the publishers, authors, and others who have made these resources available.


Tansley Reads Rating Guide

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

By Jonas Jonasson

(Tansley Reads Rating: 58%)


Who would you consider to be the most important public figure you have ever met?  Where are the most interesting places you have been?


1.  Why do you think the author chose to make the main character 100 years old? What does he have to say about the elderly?

2.  Why do you think Allan climbed out the window in the first place?
3.  What do you think drove Allan to steal the suitcase?

 4.  Did you enjoy the way the novel switched from the present day to the past? Did it add or detract from your enjoyment of the story?
5. Many modern historical events and famous people where woven into the plot. Did you find this added or detracted from the twists of the tale?

6.  Are there other historical figures or moments you would have liked to have seen in the book?

7.  What do you think of Allan’s lack of political interest and stance and how does this affect the story? 

8. Why do you think the author chose to make Allan a eunuch? How do you think this affected his character and was it significant to the plot?

9.  Did you enjoy the humour in this novel?  Did any situation strike you as particularly funny?

10.  What do you think all the main characters had in common, if anything?
11.  What did you think about Allan and Amanda getting together at the end of the story?

12.  Why do you think the author repeated the same paragraph at the start and end of the book?

13.  This novel has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 300 languages. Why do you think it has such worldwide, cross-cultural appeal considering Scandinavian literature is often renowned for being bleak and dark?

14: Is there anything else you would like to discuss that we didn’t cover?

15:  Quick round – What did you think of the book?


All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr

(Tansley Reads Rating: 74%)
Icebreaker :  If you were giving someone a gift of reading, as President Obama did for his daughter, which five books would you include?

 1.  On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” Do you think that being blind gave Marie-Laure any advantages?

2.  What was the basis of the friendship between Werner and Frederick?
3.  Werner, Frederick and their classmates are all called out into the yard and each is told to throw a pail of cold water on a chained prisoner. Werner follows the expectation but Fredrik refuses multiple times and pays for it dearly.  Does Werner ever show a similar strength of character anywhere in this story?

 4.  Why do you think Doerr chose these two characters (Werner and Marie-Laure) to write about?  Was it because of their differences or their similarities?

 5. How crucial a role does radio play in the story and in the time period?

6.  Why does Doerr use the novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, as such a big part of this story.          
7. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are...with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Which characters put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right?

8. There were multiple characters with both major and minor roles in this book.  Whose story did you enjoy the most and was there any character you wanted more insight into?

9.  Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key to the old kennels and why would Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?

10. The 1970s image of Jutta is one of a woman deeply guilt-ridden and self-conscious about her identity as a German. Why do you think she feels so much guilt over the crimes of others? Do you think she should feel any shame about her identity?
11. What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did you like getting a peek into the future of some of these characters? Did anything surprise you?

 12.  When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book.  How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story?

13. In this story, what is All the Light We Cannot See?
 14:  Quick round: What did you think of the book? Is there anything you want to discuss that we missed?


Any Known Blood, Lawrence Hill

Any Known Blood
(Tansley Reads Rating: 69%)

  1. ICEBREAKER: Have you ever discovered that a favourite family story was not true in the version you remembered?
  2. Langston’s relationship with his father is very strained, much like many of the others in the book. Does that have something to do with the family history? Or a family habit of non-communication? Is this like the legacy of the residential schools – families pulled apart generations ago forgot how to be family, lost the knack of intimacy and have passed that along to their children?
  3. Do you get the impression that in a family with so many shades of colour, people of different shades resent each other somehow? Does the current LC feel alienated from the black part of his family by the fact that he is so light he could “pass”? Is that why his Aunt Mill is slow to accept him?
  4. The first LC to become a preacher seemed to come at it “sideways” – no background, etc. and then his son did it out of desperation when money was short. Yet their legacy at the Baltimore church was impressive. Do you think they were sincere in their faith or just talented as preachers?
  5. The family believes that the first LC was killed at Harper’s Ferry, but in fact he lived on for many years, even attending his son’s university graduation. Yet somehow the story of that appearance wasn’t known to the current LC. So many stories had been told, but many of them seemed to hold only a tinge of truth. Why?
  6. Did you find it confusing that the story unfolded as LC discovered the pieces of it – i.e. in reverse chronological order? Would the author’s story have worked if he’d told the family story in its “correct” order? Did it gain or lose suspense this way?
  7. Were you surprised that Oakville was a terminus of the Underground Railway? That there used to be a thriving black community there? That the KKK was at one time active in Oakville?
  8. In the second generation there were 2 other LCs. They disappeared. Did you wonder if one of them might have family somewhere who might turn up in this story?
  9. Yoyo’s satire – his attitude to North America, his disdain of Americans calling themselves African. ???????????
  10. Are the families in the story held together by women? Do the Crane men have too much centrifugal force for them to be able to?
  11. Will knowing his family’s story change Langston’s life?

Beach Strip, John Lawrence Reynolds

Beach Strip by John Lawrence Reynolds

 (Tansley Reads Rating: 65%)

The meeting was devoted to a discussion with the author.


Intro for Reynolds


Ice Breaker Questions:

1. What books do you have beside your bed right now?

2. What famous person, either living or dead, would you most want to have dinner with?

3. What is your pet peeve?

4. What is your favourite word?

5. What is your favourite time of day?




Thanks to author + Gift