Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Book:     The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author:  Garth Stein
All page numbers refer to the first Harper paperback published 2009.

You can purchase The Art of Racing in the Rain online at Hugo Bookstores.

Major Characters

Enzo, Dog narrator
Denny, Enzo’s owner, race car driver
Eve, Denny’s wife
Zoe, Eve and Denny’s young daughter
Annika, 15 year old teen who accuses Denny of felony
Mike, Denny’s close friend
Tony, Mike’s partner
Craig, Garage owner where Denny works
Maxwell and Trish, aka the twins, Eve’s parents
Mark Fein, Denny’s lawyer
Skip, Fenn, garage mechanics


Primarily Seattle
Methow Valley—cabin in mountains where Denny and Zoe went during school vacation

Discussion Topics

Overarching Theme

Life, like race car driving, isn’t about going fast. The importance of being in the present is one similarity between racing well and living well. Many other parallels between race car driving and living life are drawn. What are some that you noticed? For instance, the first paragraph of chapter 10 (page 48) draws a parallel between life and racing both being unpredictable. Page186 (end of chapter 31) “If he had a steering wheel to hold on to, everything would be all right.” What is your rock?

That Which You Manifest is Before You

On page 41, Denny recalls a driver saying, "That which you manifest is before you." How does Enzo interpret this statement? How is this concept played out in the book? How do you interpret this statement within your life? How much can we control or lose control of our lives?

Other related passages are on pages 41, 50 and 83 (correcting what we anticipate), 162, 218 (why we don’t want to hear negative diagnoses), 253

Read the final paragraph of chapter 8 (page 44) What is your rain?


The stuffed zebra on page 53 is shown as a symbol for the demons in our lives. What demons are each of the characters dealing with? Who and how do they keep their demons at bay? What other words do we use for the stuffed zebra in our lives? Do you agree with Enzo that as humans we tend to close our eyes to demons (pg 66)? What is the demon in your life? Who helps protect your from the ghouls in your life?

References to demons can be found throughout book. Some are on pages 53, 66, 82, 127, 143, 161, 164, 227 (zebra returns), 264

Specific questions in response to these references include:
Page 127: Who helps you, who keeps your demons away?
Page 164: Enzo’s reaction to demons is to run and destroy. What is your reaction?
Page 264: The zebra as our personal flaw. Is your demon inside or outside?


Clearly death is a central theme in the book. What are your thoughts on facing and acknowledging death? To what extent do you think people need permission to let go from their family members before they can die? How can we let go and help others let go? When have you felt shut out of others' pain? When have you shut other's out? Why? When have you let others see your pain? How does it feel to be shut out? Let in? Shut others out? Let others in?

Passages referring to dealing with death—letting go, being shut out— occur on pages 2,5,8, 47, 131, 161, 218, 257, 310.

Page 308 how to respond to others offers of condolence. What offers of condolence have been most helpful to you? What offers have you made that have been most appreciated?

Pg 315 letting Enzo go.

There are many references to reincarnation, imprinting ourselves upon our soul, our souls after our death including passages on pages 3, 98, 162, 239, 250, 257, 314. What are your beliefs with respect to reincarnation?

Children and dealing with death: Zoe’s emotional chaos is not always front and center in the book. However, Enzo does see Zoe’s confusion, how she grieves, how she repeats what she has heard about grieving, and her profound sadness (page 222)

Living in the present

There are many references to living in the present including passages on pages 13, 14, 29. What passages did you find? Which struck the most true to you?

Similar themes of being a good friend, listening, focusing on the present are through the book including passages on pages 101, 102, 122, 133, 160, 188, 202, 254.

When do you find yourself most immersed in the present? When is it hardest for you to stay present?

Interactions Between Characters

Throughout the book the interactions between characters strike a myriad of emotions in the reader, from anger over how Denny is being treated to grief for a child whose mother is dying. There are also more subtle emotions—the kindness of a stranger to do something wonderful for Denny (page 277), Denny taking the high road with Annika (page 284) and with the twins (page 305). Me: emotional over kindness of a stranger to do something wonderful for Denny pg 277. Denny’s taking the high road with Annika pg 284 and with twins 305. On page 312 Enzo talks about how he will reach out to those in need when he is human. Is this a purely human quality? When do you reach out to others? When have others reached out to you?

On page 131, a stranger reacts to Denny’s grief by “making himself busy talking to other people or checking his cell phone.” Have you ever received this type of response? Given this response? How best to respond to someone’s grief?

How do Denny’s parents compliment the story—what does that dimension add? Denny’s intense desire to keep his child? Knowing what it feels like to be rejected and reclaimed?

Additional Interesting Passages

Page 277: There is no dishonor in losing the race, there is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose

Page 288: You take good care of him – command or acknowledgment, vagueness of our language is its beauty

What passages and themes struck a chord with you? 

Beartown Book

Book:     Beartown
Author:  Fredrik Backman
Edition:  Kindle

Internet Resources

There are many good resources to prepare individuals and parents to talk with a survivor. Here is one from BARCC, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. How did the individuals in Beartown communicate with Maya? Where could they have been more effective or more empathetic? 

According to the Chicago Tribune in 2016, “the NHL remains the only league without an openly gay player — past or present — among the many who have donned NHL uniforms.”
Why do you think this is? How does this mesh with the view Beartown presents?

Major Characters

Maya: 15 year-old girl who is raped by Kevin
Leo: Maya’s 12-year old brother
Kira: Lawyer and Maya’s mother
Peter: General manager of Beartown Ice Hockey and Maya’s father
Ana: Maya’s best friend
Kevin Erdahl: Rapist and lead scorer for the junior team
Benji: Kevin’s best friend 
David: Coach of the junior team
Amat: 15-year incredibly fast hockey player
Fatima: Cleaner at the hockey rink and Amat’s mother
Sune: Old man and the A-team coach
Life and Zacharias: Amat’s friends who do not get promoted to junior team
Adri: Kennel owner and Benji’s oldest sister
Ramona: owner of the town pub
Lars: Boy’s team coach
Bobo: Junior team player who has gone from first string to third
William Lyt: member of junior hockey team
Maggan Lyt: William’s mom

Discussion Topics

Here are a small selection of discussion topics for Beartown that may help your book group launch a discussion relevant to your groups’ interests and other books you may have discussed.  The topic of secrets in particular is a common theme across novels and can serve as an interesting point of comparison.


Secrets are kept by many of the characters both about themselves and about the rape. Secrets can be overwhelming to protect. Secrets can be powerful when exposed.
"Maya knows all too well that silent can be like water. If you let it make its way too far in, it can freeze into ice and break your heart." Chapter 30
and later Maya reflects, 
“Astonished at how strong she has learned to pretend to be. At the number of secrets she can hold these days.” Chapter 46
Reflect on how each secret holder is impacted by the secret she or he holds. How is each reaction different because of the secret itself and how much is a reflection of who the secret holder is?  What power, both positive and negative, is held by the secrets staying hidden and the secrets being exposed?
What types of secrets have you found most powerful when no longer hidden? What secrets have been most damaging when exposed? When have you or someone you’ve known struggled with keeping something secret? Why and what was the outcome?

Weak and Strong

Much of the struggle in Beartown is around who is powerful and who succumbs to that power. In the narration, we are told
“we developed because the strongest individuals always thrived at the expense of the weak” Chapter 37
Do you agree? Where and when does this belief ring true in your life? Where has an individual or a group or a society been able to turn this around? How can society change the balance of power for the better?


Maya reacts with shame and silence after being raped. And when she does speak up, she finds that
" of all the feelings inside her then, guilt will be the greatest." Chapter 30
In addition, Maya feels that by telling what has happened, 
“now he’s [Kevin] hurt everyone.” Chapter 40
Others who know pieces of the story don’t come forward at first whether it’s Kevin’s mother who believes her son raped Maya, or Amat who came into Kevin’s room or Benji who saw Maya by the road after the rape. What compels them to silence? What brings them forward?
Ana wants to yell at her neighbor that
“And the problem with this town is not only that a boy raped a girl, but that everyone is pretending that he DIDN’T do it. So now all the other boys will think that what he did was okay. Because no one cares.” Chapter 41
When have you stayed silent and wished you had spoken up? When have you spoken up and what were the ramifications?
Look at recent news events around survivors coming forward with their stories of abuse. Where has the power of the many been able to confront the power of the perpetrator? What does it take to reach that tipping point?


Beartown residents are described as resenting the capital and feeling picked upon. 
“The first local saying Peter taught Kira was:’Bears shit in the woods, but everyone else shits on Beartown, so forest people have learned to take care of themselves.’” Chapter 5
“The people of Beartown love the fact that the climate is so inhospitable, because not everyone can handle it: that reminds them of their own strength and resilience.” Chapter 5
How does growing up in Beartown shape each character? 
Throughout the world, our birth city plays a significant role in our path through life. How did your hometown shape you as a person and your outlook on the world? 
How have you seen people buoyed by where they grew up? Where have you seen people trapped by where they grew up? Have you escaped or been caught by your birth city? Bolstered or undermined by where you’ve grown up?


“They all just want what’s best for the town. For the club. They all just want the truth to come out.” Chapter 42
‘They’ want their truth to come out. Where have you seen a group focused on what the group believes is the truth and circling the wagons around their own truth? How can one person go about changing the outlook of the group?


A number of different parenting models are portrayed in Beartown. Kevin’s parents are barely there. Peter and Kira, whose first child dies, struggle with balancing parenting and working. Fatima is a single-mom who is working hard to provide for Amat. Benji’s sisters sometimes serve in the role of a parent.

What do you believe is the role of parenting? Which models do you think were most effective in meeting the goals you believe parents should achieve? Which parents did you most identify with or see some of yourself in the character’s actions?

The Rent Collector

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