The Big Book of Misunderstanding › Reading Group Guide

Please send an e-mail to let us know when your book club is discussing The Big Book of Misunderstanding. Jim Gladstone may be available to participate in your meeting via speaker phone.

Topics for Discussion

  1. The Big Book of Misunderstanding has been described as "the story of one family's collective adolescence." How does each member of the Royalton family "grow up" or become more mature over the course of the novel?
  2. In the novel's second scene, Josh recalls a hallucination from a childhood bout of fever. At the end of the book, when he awakens in his father's house, Josh metaphorically refers to his time in the Elbow Bends as "a fever dream." Discuss the relationship between Josh's childhood fantasy and the months he lives in the Elbow Bends?
  3. Josh and his brother Lewis deal with their father using remarkably different strategies. How are each of the boys successful and unsuccessful in their approaches?
  4. It has often been said that as children become adults, they unconsciously model themselves on their parents. To what extent do Josh and Lewis seem similar to—and different from—Harris and Becca by the novel's end?
  5. Compare Josh's romantic relationships with Meredith, Vincent and Eugenio. Which relationship do you think effects Josh the most within the book? Which relationship do you think would end up having the most impact on Josh in the future, beyond the end of the novel.
  6. As a youngster, Josh frequently compares his own family life to that of the Cleyskil family. On the other hand, one of the Cleyskil children refers to Harris Royalton as "a great dad" in comparison to his own father. Josh and Lewis are also intrigued by the Spanner family. What are the differences and appeals of these three households?
  7. What does Harris Royalton value most throughout the novel, and why? How does this effect his ability to meet the rest of his family's needs? Do the other members of the Royalton family have different values than Harris?
  8. Josh's namesake grandfather is a major presence throughout the novel. Why does Josh generate a significant fantasy life around this man he barely knew? Discuss Josh's imaginings about his grandfather in relation to Josh's struggles with Harris?
  9. In addition to being about finding one's identity within a family, The Big Book of Misunderstanding is about finding one's voice as a writer. What is the significance of Josh's fascination with children's books? What is the role of Josh's blank book throughout the novel and how does this change in the final scene?
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