Reading Guide for Forgetting English

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: On Reading

Forgetting English has been chosen for several book clubs lately (thanks so much, readers!) … and I wanted to post a few discussion questions. So here they are:

1.    In what ways do foreign cultures and languages affect who we are, how we act, how we perceive ourselves? When you travel, do you tend to feel more removed from yourself the farther you are from home – or does it make you feel closer to who you really are?

2.    Communication – between sisters, lovers, friends – plays a role in several of these stories. To what extent does being in a foreign environment exacerbate or alleviate challenges with communication?

3.    A couple of these characters arrive in foreign countries having fled unpleasant circumstances in their own lives. Other characters travel for work. How are their experiences and revelations different, given the reasons for their travels?

4.    Loneliness is a theme in many of the stories in the book. In what ways do the characters try to preserve their isolation? In what ways do they try to forge new connections?

5.    Relationships play a key role in the stories in Forgetting English. How does being away from home — outside our normal, everyday lives — influence our responses to people we’re close to, as well as those we meet along the way?

6.    Choose the story that you responded to the most strongly. What do you imagine will happen to the characters after the story ends?

7.    What is the role of metaphor in these stories? Are there any metaphors in particular that resonated with you?

8.    Animals figure prominently in several of the stories. In what ways to they influence the stories and your perception of the human characters?

Anything else to add? Feel free to add your own comments / questions / random thoughts.


  Comments: 6

  1. Janna Cawrse Esarey

    I’ve chosen “Forgetting English” for my book club, though I don’t think it’s my turn until October–I’m hoping someone will switch with me so we can discuss it sooner. Either way, I’ll likely read the collection again; they’re such beautiful stories. I love the way the language of business and science act as metaphors for the emotional underpinnings of the characters–so you’re talking about international web design at the same time you’re really examining love and loss. Brilliant! And it occurs to me, after reading Truman’s comments, that the languages being spoken here aren’t just foreign ones–they’re trade languages, business speak, scientific jargon. The characters reveal a whole lot about their inner lives by what they do in their outer lives (maybe we all do!). E.g. The woman in “The Ecstatic Cry” gives us a landscape of her inner life while describing the bleakness of her outer surroundings in Antarctica. Great food for thought in these stories. Bravo!

  2. Sean Truman Farley

    Well, don’t ponder too long…I’d like to read some new stories some time soon! You know, this is something I’ve been considering regarding the title of your collection, “Forgetting English.” A lot of the characters in your stories are doing things that aren’t of their nature, i.e. they are escaping events, or trying to avoid some kind of personal confrontation. In a sense, what they are doing is trying to “let go” of what is “normal,” or “natural” to them, whether it be conscious or subconscious. What is more natural to these characters than their own language, English? I’m just saying the title is a good reflection of their actions, letting routine and normalcy fall by the wayside for the sake of…change? Living? Wanting something new? Is ANY of this making sense, or do I sound like a pseudo-philosophy student? 🙂

  3. Truman, I love your comment, and it makes a great addition to the discussion questions — the notion of how we change (or not) when communicating in different languages. You lose your sense of self, in a way, because you’re adopting a new one — particularly because language is so closely tied to culture, and you have to not only adapt to the language but to the culture itself.

    Thanks for your comment! You’ve given me something to sit here and ponder when I should be writing. 🙂

  4. Sean Truman Farley

    Sadly, I’m not part of ANY book club right now, let alone one for “Forgetting English.” I DO, however, find the themes on communication quite fascinating, as learning a new language has been a big part of my life these past two years. There is something jarring about taking yourself out of your comfort zone, i.e. entering an atmosphere where one’s native language is left at the door and engaging one’s new language skills — especially intermediate — takes over. There’s nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable in your own skin. I now have empathy for those learning English and having to employ it in a variety of situations. I know this doesn’t really fall into any of the categories of questions you pose, but I just wanted to visit your blog and say hi!!