Reading guide for Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Specimen Days

by Michael Cunningham

Specimen Days
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2006, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About This Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Specimen Days are intended as re-sources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this novel. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Specimen Days.


About This Book

Specimen Days, the much anticipated follow-up to Michael Cunningham's award-winning inter-national bestseller The Hours, reconfirms the author's daring imagination and storytelling gifts. Comprised of three thematically linked novellas, Specimen Days is both inspired by, and an homage to, American visionary poet Walt Whitman. The first, "In the Machine," is a ghost story at the height of the industrial revolution; the second, "The Children's Crusade," is a con-temporary crime thriller about a kids' terrorist ring; and the third, "Like Beauty," is an inter-species romance circa 2150. Provocative, entertaining, and unexpectedly moving, Specimen Days is, as The New York Observer states, "an extraordinary book, as ambitious as it is generous."

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think Michael Cunningham chooses the particular epigraph from Walt Whitman to introduce his book? In what ways does it prepare you for the three stories that follow?
     
  2. In the author's note, Cunningham, addressing the issue of novelists using actual events or people in their work, writes: "the strict sequence of historical events, however, tends to run counter to the needs of the storyteller." What do you think he means, particularly in regards to Specimen Days? Do you agree with him? Why?
     
  3. Why do you think Cunningham chose Walt Whitman as the representative poet for the story he tells? Could you imagine other poets serving that role? Were you able to identify when Cunningham was quoting Whitman in the text? Do the quotes function differently in each story? How do the quotes serve Cunningham's work as a whole? Which quotes from Whitman did you particularly like? Why? Does there seem to be a particular sensibility or spirit to Whitman's poetry that mirrors Cunningham's own vision for Specimen Days? Explain.
     
  4. Would you classify Specimen Days as a novel? Why? What themes and motifs link the three stories? What qualities distinguish them? Did you find yourself responding more pas-sionately to one particular story? Explain.
     
  5. Can you identify the different literary genres on which Cunningham models each of his stories? How does Cunningham remain faithful to, or transform, each of the genres?
     
  6. What do you think is the significance of the titles "In the Machine," "The Children's Crusade," and "Like Beauty"? Can you identify specific examples, such as historical events, literary themes, or certain characters, to support your ideas?
     
  7. Which characters did you find most compelling or sympathetic? Why? Do you see any progression or change in each of the three similarly named characters as they move throughout Specimen Days? Explain.
     
  8. How does the geography of New York City play an important role within Specimen Days? Did you detect any similar geographic details or references to specific historical events within all three stories? If so, what's the effect?
     
  9. How might "In The Machine," "The Children's Crusade," and "Like Beauty" each be described as a love story? Cunningham, who has touched on gay themes in A Home at The End of The World and The Hours, has called Specimen Days a "queer" work but not a gay one. What do you think he means?
     
  10. Do you see Specimen Days as a politically or socially engaged novel? Why? Are there events in all three stories that seem to comment on current political, cultural, or social conditions? Explain.
     
  11. One recurring quote from Whitman throughout Specimen Days is "urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge of the world." How do you interpret that quote? Why is it significant to the book as a whole?
     
  12. Do you find the ambiguity of each story's ending optimistic or pessimistic? Explain. Consider Simon's final quote from Whitman: "The earth, that is sufficient, I do not want the constellations any nearer, I know they are very well where they are, I know they suffice who belong to them." Is it an appropriate closing to both "Like Beauty" and Specimen Days? Explain.

For more information on Picador Reading Group Guides: Call: 646-307-5629.  Fax: 212-253-9627. E-mail: readinggroupguides@picadorusa.com.  For a complete listing of reading group guides visit: www.picadorusa.com.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
    All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
    by Bryn Greenwood
    Bryn Greenwood's debut, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, is a harsh, raw, and ultimately, truthful...
  • Book Jacket: Hot Milk
    Hot Milk
    by Deborah Levy
    When people reach their early 20s, they often choose to go abroad – they want to get away from...
  • Book Jacket: Ninety-Nine Stories of God
    Ninety-Nine Stories of God
    by Joy Williams
    I have to preface this review by saying that I am not a fan of religious fiction - not even books ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Ashes of Fiery Weather
    by Kathleen Donohoe

    "Admirers of Pete Hamill and Kate Atkinson will appreciate this gripping novel." - Library Journal

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Underground Airlines
    by Ben Winters

    "The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller." - PW Star

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Circling the Sun
by Paula McLain

An intoxicatingly vivid portrait of colonial Kenya and its privileged inhabitants.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.