Reader’s Guide: Happiness Economics
1. “Nobody, Will Thorne thought with a mixture of sadness and disgust, takes a failed poet seriously, even though poets—arguably even failed ones—ought to be taken more seriously than anyone.” Should poets be taken seriously? Discuss.
2. Will feels that society—which has such a great, unrecognized need to listen to its poets—instead hangs on the every word of people like his economic forecaster wife, whose books are bestsellers. Do you think we ignore our poets, and if so why? And is it to our peril? When do we turn to our poets?
3. Have you ever heard of the Happiness Economics movement? Do you think governments should start to use broader indicators of national happiness to gauge our well-being and make policy, or should they stick to using purely economic indicators like GDP?
4. What do you think about the role of the muse? How has the perception of the muse changed over time? How do you think the creative process works?
5. Is this a love story? Is Will in love with Lily? Discuss.
6. In what ways is Zoe like her mother? How does Alex take after his dad?
7. The novel contains many comic moments. Which scenes stand out for you as the most amusing?
8. Who is your favourite poet? If you could splatter some favourite lines of poetry somewhere—what would they be and where would you put them?
9. Happiness Economics is a comic novel. Does this affect the book’s status as a literary novel? Does serious fiction have an obligation to be serious and lofty, or should we applaud the author for attempting to capture important themes in a lighthearted work? Can serious ideas be successfully related through humour, or does humour in and of itself undercut the seriousness of any debate? Do you think Canada has a greater tendency to prefer its literary fiction to be “serious” compared to other countries?
10. If Happiness Economics were to be made into a film, who would you cast as the main characters?
Reader’s Guide: Things Go Flying
1. Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike. Unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” These days we might say, “Functional families are all alike. Dysfunctional families are dysfunctional in their own way.” In what ways is the Walker family dysfunctional? Are they any less so at the end of the novel?
2. The novel contains many comic moments. Which scenes stand out for you as the most amusing?
3. Some pretty outrageous things happen in the book—the appearance of the ghosts, for example. How does the author manage to make us suspend our disbelief?
4. There is a pattern of imagery throughout the novel. What are some of the images that recur throughout the book? What has the author tried to convey with this series of images?
5. Each of the main characters—Harold, Audrey, John and Dylan—are in a different place at the end of the novel. Discuss how each of these characters changes through the course of the novel.
6. The appearance of the ghosts, and his mother’s stint as a medium, were defining events in Harold’s life—with far-reaching effects on the development of his character. What do you think of how Harold’s mother handled the spirit issue with Harold when he was a boy? What was her role in bringing about change in Harold after her death?
7. “Nicole was the best thing that ever happened to John.” Discuss.
8. John and Dylan are very unalike. Both take after their mother physically, but their temperaments are quite different—they appear to take after their biological fathers. Where do you sit on the question of nature vs. nurture? Are some traits of temperament genetically determined?
9. Does Will fit your idea of what a philosopher would be like? If you had a philosopher like Will, what do you think you’d ask him?
10. Will says, “Philosophers ask the big questions—the questions that we may be too busy or too confused to ask ourselves.” What are some of the ways the author implies that contemporary life works against our answering—or even asking—these questions? Has the book made you think about these questions?
11. What do you think of Voltaire’s advice: “We must cultivate our garden”? Why do you think this appeals to Harold? Can you think of any other philosophical approaches to finding meaning in life that we can apply in daily life? How useful or relevant do you think philosophy is to our life today?
12. “God is dead, and we have killed him.” What do you think of this statement? Do you believe in Good and Evil? Do you think there is an absolute morality that we share, simply by being human, as Will does? What does the increasing secularization of society mean to you? Or do you feel that religion is as alive and well as ever? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?
13. Have you ever tried an Ouija board? How do you think they work—do you think spirits move the piece on the board, or do you think it is done subconsciously by the participants? Have you yourself heard any stories about ghosts, poltergeists and the like that have made you wonder about the existence of spirits? What do you think happens after death?
14. If you could conjure one spirit back from the dead for “a really good discussion,” who would it be?
15. Things go Flying is a comic novel. Does this affect the book’s status as a literary novel? Does serious fiction have an obligation to be serious and lofty, or should we applaud the author for attempting to capture important themes in a lighthearted work? Can serious ideas be successfully related through humour, or does humour in and of itself undercut the seriousness of any debate? Do you think Canada has a greater tendency to prefer its literary fiction to be “serious” compared to other countries?