Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reading Huddle: A Fan's Notes Discussion Questions

After a week-long hiatus as I and my family enjoyed a vacation, Naptime Huddle is back with the discussion questions for Reading Huddle’s latest selection, A Fan’s Notes, written by Frederick Exley.  If you missed my introduction to this modern classic, click here.


1. In explaining why the loved the game of football, Exley says that it was “an island of directness in a world of circumspection…It smacked of something old, something traditional, something unclouded by legerdemain and subterfuge.”  A fan of football in the 1950s and 1960s, do you think Frederick Exley would say the same things about football in 2012?


2. What did you think of the sobbing mourner at the funeral of the author’s father?  Who was he?  Why do you think this memory struck Exley as he was on his way to his first post-college interview?


3. How would you describe Frederick’s relationship with his father?  Do you think he became obsessed with football because of, or in spite of, that relationship?


4. In remembering his father’s last days, Exley said that he wanted to punch the young doctor who slapped his father in frustration because he couldn’t ease his father’s suffering.  He also wanted to kill the mental hospital attendant who berated the patient who believed he needed surgery to remove the devil inside of him.  Were those two incidents similar?  Given his general hatred for people, were you surprised that he felt such outrage over the mistreatment of others in these situations?


5. For Exley, football seemed to provide comfort and transcendence:  it allowed him to be in another reality.  Was this why Paddy the Duke’s dominance at ping pong so greatly distressed Exley and the other patients at the mental hospital?  Do sports have the same effect on you?


6. Exley’s father seemed at peace with his death.  Do you think it was because he knew he would live on through his fame?  If Frederick Exley ever achieved such fame, even localized fame like his father’s, do you think he would have found peace?


7. In the chapter “Journey on a Davenport,” Exley offers a bitter indictment of television, saying it “undermines strength of character, saps vigor, and irreparably perverts notions of reality.”  What do you think he would say about television as a medium in 2012?


8. Was Exley really “unhinged,” or is sanity better defined as wanting to conform to society’s ideals?  Remember his thoughts upon seeing an enormous Kodak billboard depicting the ideal American family.  He said, “Surely this was the coveted America…Well it was not the America I coveted.”  He loathed to “yearn after this mindless milieu populated with these Technicolored and felicitous goons.”  Did this discourse make you uncomfortable?


9. What was it about Frederick Exley that made men like Mr. Blue and Bumpy “fall in love” with him?  Why do you think that the men he met assumed he has vast amounts of knowledge concerning women?


10.  Were you surprised by the curious case of Mr. Blue?  Was this bizarre scenario something you could see happening to you (or anyone) today?


11.  Ultimately, Frederick Exley’s problem was that reality could never live up to his fantasies, and he couldn’t accept that—or couldn’t accept it enough to function in society.  Is there a lesson here for the rest of us?


12.  To Exley, you are either the person to be admired or a Fan (he eventually accepts his life sentence as a Fan).  Is it really so black and white?  Have you ever (or are you now) an ardent fan of someone or something?  If so, do you see any of yourself in Exley?  To use a psychology term (hopefully correctly), Exley “projected” his fantasies onto both Frank Gifford and his father.  Have you come close to that level of fanaticism? 
13.  Conversely, are you a “sports widow,” or ever feel distanced from a loved one when they are engulfed in their fanaticism?  Did this book help you understand that person a little bit more?
14.  Critics have compared Notes to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  If you read that book, do you see similarities between the two?  Differences?


I hope you enjoyed A Fan’s Notes.  If you would like to respond to any of these questions in a public forum, feel free to use the Comments section below.  And if you belong to a book club in the “real world” and would like to recommend A Fan’s Notes, feel free to refer to these questions to get your conversation started.


By the way, if you're a lover of books like I am, check out a new Facebook page that I've joined, Book Lovers Haven:!/bookloversdomain

They've got book lists, photos and news from the book world. Enjoy!

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