Reading guide for The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg

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The Year of Pleasures

By Elizabeth Berg

The Year of Pleasures

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Betta’s departure from Boston at the beginning of the book is abrupt, even rushed. Is her choice to move so quickly a good one? What is she running away from, and what is she running toward?

  2. In the early pages of the book, while driving to the Midwest with all her belongings in tow, Betta finds a kind of freedom and relaxation on the road. What does moving, or even driving, have to do with this release Betta feels?

  3. Betta refers to a belief that one is sometimes closer to someone after death than before. What does she mean when she says this? Have you experienced this, in your own life?

  4. Moving to a new place fulfills a promise Betta had with John, but she makes the move alone. Discuss the ways that Betta finds strength and independence in her new life. In the moments when that strength falters, how does she cope?

  5. Betta hopes to love John and to be loved by him after his death. Does she succeed? Do you think love can transcend death?

  6. Do you agree with the philosopher Kierkegaard’s suggestion that no matter how many years have passed, when good friends meet again, they will simply pick up where they left off? How does this play out in the novel? In your own life?

  7. Is Betta’s relationship with Tom doomed from the start? Why or why not?

  8. Why do Betta and Matthew become friends? Do they want the same things from the friendship? Do you agree with the decision Betta makes, to rent the room in his apartment?

  9. Betta says there are times when food is not just food. She uses food to heal, to comfort, and to seduce. Are there other ways in which food is important in this novel? In your own life, what roles do food and cooking play?

  10. Finding joy in small things is important to Betta, and she uses joy as a vehicle for change. Do you agree with her philosophy? If so, what small things bring you great happiness? If not, why not?

  11. What does Betta’s store symbolize? How does opening the store change her personality, and emotions? What is the importance of risk, and taking chances, in creating a new life? Have you ever undertaken a similar project?

  12. A major theme of the novel is the transformation from tragedy to joy. Could Betta have found this certain kind of joy without the tragedy of losing John? How does the relationship between tragedy and joy operate, in the book and in your own life?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine 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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