A ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH BEST MEMOIR OF THE YEAR
INCLUDES AN AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH LESLEY STAHL
Marie Brenner's extraordinary memoir of sibling rivalry asks a universal question: How can two people from the same family turn out so entirely different? Brenner's brother, Carl, lives in the apple country of Washington State, cultivating his orchards, polishing his guns, and attending church, while Marie, a world-class journalist and bestselling author, leads a sophisticated life among the "New York libs" whom he loathes. His life far from their secular Jewish childhood in Texas was as mysterious to her as their tangled past. In this affecting family saga, Brenner investigates their contentious history and discovers how inspiring it can be to turn a brother into an ally. Honest, funny, and true, Apples and Oranges is a moving story of sibling rivalry and redemption.
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|Edition description:||First Edition|
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About the Author
Reading Group Guide
1. Marie Brenner's memories encompass a variety of settings, particularly central Texas,
New York, and her brother's Washington orchards. What identities and cultures are captured in each of these settings? Where does she feel most at home? Which locale would you prefer? To what degree does birthplace shape our sense of self?
2. What is the effect of the memoir's timeline, weaving the near present with the distant past? In what way does this structure mirror the way memories enter our lives?
3. What accounts for the tremendous personality differences between Marie and Carl,
despite their having had the same upbringing? What may have contributed to Carl's conservatism in the face of a family history that often embraced progressive ideas? In terms of temperament, did Marie and Carl share any similarities?
4. How did the past repeat itself in Brenner family history? How is Marie affected by her research into family lore, particularly her findings about Anita? Who are the most colorful figures in your family's past? How are we shaped by the knowledge of these legacies?
5. In what ways does religion as a cultural institution figure into the Brenner identity? As
Marie captures the experience of Jewish immigrants who arrived in the United States through Galveston, what costs and benefits are ascribed to assimilation, or life as a secular Jew? How does Ilene's approach to Christianity compare to Carl's?
6. Marie describes her sorrowful encounter with her ancestors' correspondence at the Harry
Ransom Center, as well as her childhood home, filled with typewriters on which many carbon-copied letters were produced. What does it mean for her to come from a verbal family that left miles of documentation in its wake? Is the truth captured in such documents? Is the quest for answers a defense mechanism, as Marie proposes?
7. Discuss the experience of reading about Carl's beloved orchards and the landscape of rural Washington. What does his enthusiasm for agricultureand his rejection of the family's apparel tradesay about him? In what ways does the perfectionistic process of nurturing, harvesting, and exporting world-class produce serve as a metaphor for his understanding of life?
8. Speaking before a crowded church, Ilene recalls that "we were going to weave a new family, and no longer be part of the tapestry of brainy squabblers that had ended their time together in silence and separation." What degrees of reconciliation are achieved in
Carl's lifetime? What are the greatest hurdles to reconciliation?
9. How did Thelma and Milton, at the helm of the Brenner household, shape their children's lives? What did Marie learn from Thelma about being a woman, and what did Carl learn from Milton about becoming a man?
10. What does having a big brother signify to Marie? How does Carl seem to view the role of his little sister? What binds them together, despite their extreme differences? How does her perception of her brother differ from the way others see him?
11. How does Marie compare to the other women in Carl's life? What qualities does he appear to be drawn to? How do women respond to him?
12. With a reporter's precision, Marie describes the tumultuous emotions with which her brother confronted his illness as he tried both Chinese and western medicine, culminating in a loss of confidence in the possibility for healing. What controls our reaction to fate?
What personality traits are reflected in the very different responses Carl and Marie showed to his prognosis?
13. The closing scenes capture a memory of peace and laughter between Carl and Marie as well as the beauty of the acreage he once tended. How will Casey's generation remember
Carl's and Marie's? What will this sibling legacy be?
14. Marie's preface begins with an advertising line from a movie trailer: "Every life has moments that change us forever and make us who we are." She observes that, despite the hyperbole, it's a true statement. What were the most pivotal moments she encountered in her life? Which experiences have made you who you are?
15. How did you respond to the psychoanalytic theories described in the book regarding siblings? How would you describe your relationship with your siblings? Do these relationships affect (or reflect) the other interactions in your lifein love, at work, or