BKMT READING GUIDES

How to Be Good
by Nick Hornby

Published: 2002-04-30
Kindle Edition : 324 pages
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10 clubs reading this now
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A wise and hilarious novel from the bestselling author of Funny Girl, High Fidelity, and About a Boy.

A brutally truthful, compassionate novel about the heart, mind, and soul of a woman who, confronted by her husband’s sudden and extreme spiritual conversion, is forced to learn “how to ...
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Introduction

A wise and hilarious novel from the bestselling author of Funny Girl, High Fidelity, and About a Boy.

A brutally truthful, compassionate novel about the heart, mind, and soul of a woman who, confronted by her husband’s sudden and extreme spiritual conversion, is forced to learn “how to be good”—whatever that means, and for better or worse…

Katie Carr is a good person…sort of. For years her husband’s been selfish, sarcastic, and underemployed. 

But now David’s changed. He’s become a good person, too—really good. He’s found a spiritual leader. He has become kind, soft-spoken, and earnest. Katie isn’t sure if this is deeply felt conversion, a brain tumor—or David’s most brilliantly vicious manipulation yet. Because she’s finding it more and more difficult to live with David—and with herself. 

Editorial Review

In Nick Hornby's How to Be Good, Katie Carr is certainly trying to be. That's why she became a GP. That's why she cares about Third World debt and homelessness, and struggles to raise her children with a conscience. It's also why she puts up with her husband David, the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But one fateful day, she finds herself in a Leeds parking lot, having just slept with another man. What Katie doesn't yet realize is that her fall from grace is just the first step on a spiritual journey more torturous than the interstate at rush hour. Because, prompted by his wife's actions, David is about to stop being angry. He's about to become good--not politically correct, organic-food-eating good, but good in the fashion of the Gospels. And that's no easier in modern-day Holloway than it was in ancient Israel.

Hornby means us to take his title literally: How can we be good, and what does that mean? However, quite apart from demanding that his readers scrub their souls with the nearest available Brillo pad, he also mesmerizes us with that cocktail of wit and compassion that has become his trademark. The result is a multifaceted jewel of a book: a hilarious romp, a painstaking dissection of middle-class mores, and a powerfully sympathetic portrait of a marriage in its death throes. It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry as we watch David forcing his kids to give away their computers, drawing up schemes for the mass redistribution of wealth, and inviting his wife's most desolate patients round for a Sunday roast. But that's because How to Be Good manages to be both brutally truthful and full of hope. It won't outsell the Bible, but it's a lot funnier. --Matthew Baylis

Excerpt

I am in a car park in Leeds when I tell my husband I don't want to be married to him anymore. David isn't even in the car park with me. He's at home, looking after the kids, and I have only called him to remind him that he should write a note for Molly's class teacher. The other bit just sort of...slips out. This is a mistake, obviously. Even though I am, apparently, and to my immense surprise, the kind of person who tells her husband that she doesn't want to be married to him anymore, I really didn't think that I was the kind of person to say so in a car park, on a mobile phone. That particular self-assessment will now have to be revised, clearly. I can describe myself as the kind of person who doesn't forget names, for example, because I have remembered names thousands of times and forgotten them only once or twice. But for the majority of people, marriage-ending conversations happen only once, if at all. If you choose to conduct yours on a mobile phone, in a Leeds car park, then you cannot really claim that it is unrepresentative, in the same way that Lee Harvey Oswald couldn't really claim that shooting presidents wasn't like him at all. Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions from the Publisher's Reading Guide:


1. In what ways are the notions of what it means to be "good" explored in this novel? How do Katie and David Carr each represent—or defy—these notions? Discuss the role of "goodness" in the couple's relationship to each other, their children and their community.


2. Vocation plays a central role in the characterizations of both Katie and David. Compare his work at the outset of the novel ("The Angriest Man in Holloway" columnist) to her job (Katie Carr, GP). To what extent is each defined by what they do? How does their relationship to their work change as their marriage stumbles?


3. In what ways does economic class play into the theme of the novel? Compare the Carr family's economic status to that of DJ Good News, their neighbors, and the homeless kids. In what ways does each defy or exemplify class stereotypes? Is the meaning of "goodness" reliant upon these social and economic class distinctions?


4. The idea of guilt arises a number of times in the course of Katie's thinking about her marriage and her parenting tactics. Does the novel suggest that "good" behavior stemming from guilt is something less than true goodness? Why or why not?


5. Discuss GoodNews' position in the Carr household. Is he an example of "goodness"? Why or why not? What challenges does he offer them as someone who lives outside of the societal norms they've built their lives upon? Do you agree with his description of the "possessions game" as something that makes people "lazy and spoiled and uncaring" (p. 127)? Why or why not?


6. The private and public lives of the Carrs are considered in some detail by both of them. Katie muses, "One of the reasons I wanted to become a doctor was that I thought it would be a good—as in Good, rather than exciting...thing to do. I liked how it sounded...I thought it made me seem just right. (p.8), while David demands the right to "spin my version before you spin your version." Discuss ways in which the characters' concerns for their public personas impact their personal lives.


7. "When he's asleep, I can turn him back into the person I still love," Katie says of her husband (p.11). "I can impose my idea of what David should be, used to be, onto his sleeping form..." Contrast the Carr's marriage before and after David's 'conversion.' In what ways do both partners judge the evolution of the other? Is her desire for an opportunity to "rebuild myself from scratch" realistic, or is it illusory?


8. How do Katie's decisions—as a wife, mother, and woman—reflect her struggle to maintain her identity as the threads of her marriage begin to unravel? Identify the factors that lead to her infidelity. Is there a "kind of person" who "conducts extramarital affairs"? Who "moves out without telling her children?" Why or why not?


9. Discuss the role of spirituality in the novel. How is the family dynamic changed by David's conversion to 'goodness?' Why are the Carrs inclined to identify David's new persona with religiosity (p. 95-97)? Why does Katie approach organized religion only after David has taken on his new persona?


10. Why does the act of reading and listening to music become a matter of spiritual survival for Katie? She states, "Can I be a good person and spend that much money on overpriced consumer goods? I don't know. But I do know this: I'd be no good without them (p. 304). What does she mean by this?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Divorce and mid-life crises"by sklewis (see profile) 07/27/06

Characters are a bit flat and not particularly likeable.

 
  "Mixed opinions about the book generated good discussion"by beckys (see profile) 07/27/06

 
  "Interesting discussion - many different points of view"by wirtzv (see profile) 04/13/06

After rereading the book I had a different opinion than the first read. I remember it being funny and enjoying it. After the second read I think I liked it even more. The story is a little different... (read more)

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