Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Why do you think the author chose to write this novel not only in the second person but also in the form of a selfhelp book? What effect did these choices have on your experience as a reader?
How does the transition from rural to urban life affect the family? What challenges does it alleviate for them, both individually and as a unit, and what new challenges does it create?
What first intrigues the hero about the pretty girl? In what ways does her rise paralleland diverge fromhis? Were you surprised by the course of their affair? Why do you think the author chose to give it this form rather than craft a more conventional romance? What does the book ultimately have to say about love?
What happens to moralityfor the hero, his father, and the pretty girlin the pursuit of ambition? What happens to love?
Apart from continents, no place is named in the book and all of the characters are anonymous. Why do you think the author chose to forgo names? What effect does this anonymity have on the telling of the story and on your experience reading it?
The story spans the hero's entire life, from early childhood to death. How does the author convey such a broad sweep of time in so few pages? What insights about mortality does the story offer?
The book is set against a backdrop of massive and often brutal economic and social change. In what ways does this context limit the hero's life choices? In what ways does it liberate him? What might this story look like played out elsewhere in the world?
At one point the hero becomes affiliated with a group of "idealists," and at other points his father's faith and his wife's religiousminded activism are discussed. What do you think the novelist's attitude toward religion is?
In Chapter 9, "Patronize the Artists of War," the role of "information" and its lessthanbenign uses emerges, and the tenor of the narrative shifts as well. How would you describe this shift, and how are these two developments related?
After finishing the book, what do you think of the title? In what sense does the novel ultimately offer "selfhelp"? How does it blur the boundaries between genresfiction, nonfiction, selfhelp, and even scifi?
What did you think of the ending of the book? Was it surprising, given the title? Satisfying? Where did it leave you as a reader, and where do you think the author intended it to leave you?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Riverhead Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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