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  1. Book ImageThe Book That Matters Most: A Novel

    Ann Hood

    An enthralling novel about love, loss, secrets, friendship, and the healing power of literature, by the bestselling author of The Knitting Circle.

An Interview with Ann Hood

The book club members in your new novel all choose to share a book that has mattered the most to them. What is the book that matters most to you, and why?

Like one of the characters in the book, I have a hard time choosing! But when I read Little Women in the second grade, it absolutely changed me. Its characters, plot, and breadth had me completely mesmerized. I could not put the book down. And like Jo March, I was already harboring a desire to be a writer. That character helped me articulate that desire. For years after I first read Little Women, when I felt sad I would go into our basement and reread the chapter when Beth dies. It never failed to make me cry.

Is there a reason why all the characters in your book select novels?

For about a year before I wrote the book, when the idea was just a little amoeba of an idea, I asked everyone I knew what book mattered most to them. Everyone selected a novel, with one exception: Elie Wiesel’s Night. In talking with book clubs, I learned that many read only fiction or only memoir, with a few exceptions. But the books that came up most frequently when I asked the question were novels—in fact, the ones I used were all named consistently.

None of the titles selected are contemporary except Ava’s; they’re all classic works of literature. Was this intentional?

I think when you’re asked what book mattered most to you, it’s typically a classic (The Catcher in the Rye and One Hundred Years of Solitude are contemporary classics). The only ones on my list that aren’t classics were The Celestine Prophecy and The Alchemist. But I had to select books that also reflected my plot and theme, and they just didn’t work. Others I had to leave out were Huckleberry Finn, Atlas Shrugged, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, and Great Expectations.

Are you currently in a book club?

I’m not. But over the past thirty years I have been in a couple of book clubs. Way back, around 1989, I was living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and I saw a flyer in my ATM lobby about a book club forming. I had never heard of such a thing! Intrigued, I joined and absolutely loved it. In fact, I’m still in touch with a couple of the members. We only dissolved because people moved away. Then, when my kids were young, I was in a book club in Providence. Again, I loved our monthly meetings and the books we chose, but it was a book club that used the books more as a way to get together for dinner than to discuss literature. That was ok with me!

Why do you think book clubs exist, and what can be gained by discussing a book as a group that can’t necessarily be experienced if you read a book on your own?

I’ve had the great fortune of visiting lots of clubs that have read one of my books. I always am impressed by the camaraderie among the members and the truly long-standing friendships that develop. It seems that a book club offers more than just a way to share books; it also offers a way to connect and grow. My personal experience in book clubs pushed me to read books I might not have read on my own, like the novels of Émile Zola—which I loved!

Your main character, Ava, joins the book club because she loves to read, and also because she’s desperate for companionship. As individuals become more involved with technology and less connected with one another, how important will book clubs be in the future—or do you see them dying out?

I think they’ll be even more important. The desire to connect with others can’t be replaced by smartphones and tablets. Technology has its place in our modern lives. But nothing can replace a small group gathering over wine and food to talk about books.

Discussion Questions

 

  1. Why do you think Ann Hood centered her novel on a book group? What is it about the group that is so therapeutic for Ava?
  2. What lessons do Ava and the other members learn from the works of great literature they read?
  3. What book matters the most to you, and why?
  4. The characters in the novel keep secrets. What are their secrets? Are they damaging?
  5. Do you think the death of Ava’s mother influenced who Ava is as a person and how she acts as a parent? How so?
  6. How is reading as a group different than reading alone? How does this impact Ava? Do you think Ava’s fling with Luke would have happened if she didn’t join the book club?
  7. How does Maggie trick herself into spiraling out of control? What were her intentions and how did they go awry?
  8. Maggie mentions that she is a fundamentally bad and destructive person. Do you agree? How does she change by the end?
  9. The novel alternates between Maggie and Ava’s narratives. How are the two protagonists similar? In what ways do their journeys resemble each other?
  10. Only as an adult does Ava realize the true meaning behind From Clare to Here. What is the meaning? Why do you think it takes her so long?
  11. On page 346, Beatrice, Hank, Ava, and Maggie talk about how there are some things you can’t change, and some things you can. What do you think each character means by this? What does each character regret?
  12. What lessons do Ava and the other members learn from the literature they read?
  13. Why do you think Beatrice lies to Ava and Hank about Charlotte?
  14. At the beginning, Ava admits she’s not much of a reader. How does this change over the course of the book?

 

About Ann Hood

Ann Hood is the editor of Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting and the best-selling author of The Book That Matters Most,The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, Comfort, and An Italian Wife, among other works. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, a Best American Spiritual Writing Award, a Best American Food Writing Award, a Best American Travel Writing Award, and the Paul Bowles Prize for Short Fiction. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Books by Ann Hood

  1. Book CoverThe Book That Matters Most: A Novel

    An enthralling novel about love, loss, secrets, friendship, and the healing power of literature, by the bestselling author of The Knitting Circle.More

  2. Book CoverComfort: A Journey Through Grief

    “Rarely do memoirs of grief combine anguish, love, and fury with such elegance.” —Entertainment WeeklyMore

  3. Book CoverAn Italian Wife

    From the best-selling author of The Obituary Writer, the stirring multigenerational story of an Italian-American family.More