Friday, November 16, 2012

The Finer Things Book Club: The Night Circus

Some friends and I decided to start a book club, and from now on I'm going to post what we do to inspire your own reading groups. I named it after the book club in The Office because they focus on a broad range of art and culture, and I try to encourage my club members to get creative.

This month, we discussed THE NIGHT CIRCUS. (That book is awesome beyond words, by the way.)

I asked everyone in the book group to come wearing black and white with one item of red clothing. The circus had a fan club called the rêveurs who would dress that way.

On Erin Morgenstern's website, she posted a playlist of music that inspired her while writing the book, so I had that playing in the background. I also showed them a fun game online based on the book. 

All the food was in black and white: a white cake decorated with black frosting, white chocolate covered pretzels, and black-and-white cookies. In the future I'm going to ask other people to bring food as well so it's not too much work for the host.

The cake turned out more horrible than I could have imagined. I thought I'd be clever and use a shake-and-squeeze can similar to Cheese Whiz, but it gave me zero control. The frosting came out in large, sporadic chunks. I had to smooth all the lines with my fingers.

Well, you live and learn.

I think it's important for the host to thoroughly research the book; history, the author, details about how the book was written. I was able to tell the guests about how Erin Morgenstern is also a painter and that's why her books are so visual, that it started out as a Nanowrimo book, stuff like that.

We watched the book trailer on Youtube and then watched an interview with the author. Some authors will do Skype for book groups so you can talk to them in person, but Erin is too famous to have time for that.

The discussion questions (which I've pasted below) sparked one of the greatest discussions I've had with a book group. I printed them out for the group so they could read through them, put some thought into them, and look at them while we discussed each one. The club members answered a lot of questions I had and enriched the book for me.

One of my favorite topics was whether or not it was feasible for the rêveurs to be so obsessed with the circus that they'd define their lives by it. We came up with real-life groups of people who are the same: Trekies, Groupies, Whovians.

When it was over we had extra treats, so I sent them home with each person in a bag.

I loved hosting this group and I can't wait to see what we do in January!

If you liked this post and want to see more, tell me in the comments any books you would like to see us do. The club members get the final say, but we're very open to suggestions.

Click below for the discussion questions.

Discussion Questions
1.       What was your favorite part of the circus? Which tent would you most want to visit?
2.      Why do you think Bailey was willing to give his life to the circus? Would you have done the same thing?
3.      Discuss themes of good and evil and free will verses being "bound."
4.      How do you view the morality of the circus in regards to the performers and developers being unknowing pawns in Celia and Marco’s competition? Do Celia and Marco owe an explanation to their peers about their unwitting involvement?
5.      What did you think of Marco and Celia's relationship? Why did they fall in love?
6.      Why do you think some people, like Mr. Barris, don't mind being trapped by the circus while it drives others, like Tara Burgess, mad?
7.      Why does the man in the grey suit feel so passionate about stories? What sort of commentary do you think the chapter "Stories" is on the novel? On life?
8.      Celia emphasizes that keeping the circus controlled is a matter of “balance.” And Marco suggests that the competition is not a chess game, but rather, a balancing of scales. However, both the circus and the competition get disordered at times—leaving both physical and emotional casualties in their wake. Is the circus ever really in “balance,” or is it a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the next?
9.      From the outside, the circus is full of enchantments and delights, but behind the scenes, the delicate push and pull of the competition results in some sinister events: i.e. Tara Burgess and Friedrick Thiessen’s deaths. How much is the competition at fault for these losses and how much is it the individual’s doing?
10.   Tsukiko is aware of Isobel’s “tempering of the circus” from the outset and when Isobel worries that it is having no effect, Tsukiko suggests: “perhaps it is controlling the chaos within more than the chaos without.” What, and whose, chaos is Tsukiko alluding to here?
11.    Friedrick Thiessen confirms that, “I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark.” Do you agree with this standpoint? What inherent dangers accompany a purposeful ignorance? What dangers present themselves when ignorance is not chosen? Is one choice better/safer than the other or are they equally fraught?
12.   The novel opens with a quote from Oscar Wilde: A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world. How is this sentiment explored in The Night Circus? Who in the novel is a dreamer? And what is their punishment for being so?
13.   At the closing of the novel, we are left to believe that the circus is still traveling—Bailey’s business card provides an email address as his contact information. How do you think the circus would fare over time? Would the circus need to evolve to suit each generation or is it distinctive enough to transcend time?


  1. i love your book club idea! and the night circus is such a unique story with an immersive setting. your decor and questions were perfect! wish i could have partook! amazing!

  2. Hello,
    I found very interesting questions that you guys discussed about the book ... you could also write what was the conclusion you reached each answer? I would compare it with mine and see the ideas of you.
    If you want you can send to my email ... tanks!!! :D Marcela

  3. One other aspect of the story that makes it relatable is the underlying question of how much of what happens to us is out of our control, maybe in ways we are completely unaware of. Regardless of what one believes about the supernatural, magic, etc., this question is one that deep down inside begs our attention and consideration. It's one of those questions that has to be faced, even if it cannot be fully answered, in our pursuit of understanding the meaning of our lives.

    1. I never thought of it that way. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.


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