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NPR calls Dirty Words "A celebration of our splendid imagination."

 

Book Clubs

Book Club Reading Guide:
Bad Girls

If your book club is reading Bad Girls, check out these questions Ellen suggests for your discussion.


  1. We’ll start easy. Which is your favorite essay? Why?
  2. Which essay shocked you? Upset you? Enraged you? Excited you? Talk about it. Sometimes we learn the most from our strongest emotional response to what we read.
  3. Are bad girls born or made? A few of the contributors claim they were bad from birth – some claim that they aren’t very bad by nature.  What do you think?
  4. Kim Addonizio writes about a one-night stand, Caroline Leavitt and Maggie Estep write about their affairs, Tobin Levy writes about her sexual wish list. Why do women often act out sexually? Is the bedroom our battlefield?
  5. Both Kaui Hart Hemmings and Lolly Winston write about the phases in their lives – from bad girl to wife and mom, or from bad girl to middle-aged worry wart. Both of them seem determined to claim something important from their bad girl days – their gutsiness, perhaps, or their disdain for the rules. Do bad girls grow up and become good girls?
  6. Elizabeth Rosner rebels against the rigid rules of orthodox Judaism, especially the ones written for women. Madeleine Blais writes that at her Catholic school “occasions of sin lurked everywhere.”  Mary Roach imagines a priest she can lust after.  How does religion bring out the bad girl in us?
  7. Sometimes “badness” is hard to define. Is Pam Houston misbehaving at her father’s funeral? Is Laura Lippman fighting for her rights at work or behaving like a pest? Can we interpret Joyce Maynard’s decision to end her silence about her affair with J.D. Salinger as a bold attempt to reclaim her own story? What’s so bad about that? (Just ask her critics!)
  8. Ann Hood describes how she reinvents herself through lies; Susan Straight speeds down a country road in homage to the brother she lost. Susan Casey cuts out on family Christmas in search of something more personally meaningful. These might be looked at as small transgressions. What are the ways in which we misbehave in order to find ourselves? Is acting out a way of looking in?
  9. Is bad really a feminist issue? Elizabeth Benedict wants her boyfriend’s perfect daughter to boldly use the f-word. Daphne Merkin dares to talk about the penis. Erica Jong asserts: What is a bad girl, after all, but a full human being? Are these writers (and maybe even the women you know) striking out against the rules of society that still don’t give women the freedom they need?
  10. OK, fess up. You’ve got a few secrets. Bring to the book club meeting a list of three things your book club friends would never guess about you.
© Ellen Sussman, 2008. All rights reserved. Site by Shelly King.