Book Discussion: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Book Discussion: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Whered You Go Bernadette by Maria SempleI love book club discussion questions! These are the questions for Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple from the Little and Brown website.

If you’ve read this book I want to discuss it with you!

If you haven’t read this book, here’s why you should!


1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told from the point of view of a daughter trying to find her missing mother. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from Bee’s perspective? What light does it shed on the bond between Bernadette and Bee? Bee was the least biased character in the book.  She was a window to show the exaggeration of all the adults around her.  I think it shows how close they were since Bee didn’t give up hope and collected a huge amount of documents just to find her.

2. What are your thoughts on Bernadette’s character? Has she become unhinged or has she always been a little crazy? What, if anything, do you think sent her over the edge? Have you ever had a moment in your own life that utterly changed you, or made you call into question your own sanity? I thought her character was a little extreme.  At the beginning of her life she picks a fight and holds a grudge to the point that she loses her house.  She was very hot headed.  I think her extreme swings in personality were a little crazy.  She then became apathetic when she went to Seattle to the point that their house sounded like a health hazard. I wonder if it was the miscarriages that really sent her over the edge.  I think at first it seems like she was moping over her lost house, but I think she was really mourning for her lost kids.  It was an interesting experience reading about her because from an outside perspective she did seem a little crazy, but at the same time she was so relatable that it felt like I really understood why she did things.  Maybe crazy people are just people who have motivations that we can’t see or don’t understand.  In my own life I wondered if I could even handle having a kid.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but three kids later it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done.  Hard things make you grow the most.

3. When Bernadette relocates from Los Angeles to Seattle, she must cope with being a transplant in a new city. Have you ever moved, or even stayed put but switched jobs, and had to adjust to an entirely different culture? What was it like? I moved a lot when I was first married and I really empathized with Bernadette feeling outside the community.  To feel a part of any community you have to make an effort.  Being on the outside feels like this constant, small fear that you are doing something wrong or that there is something wrong with you.  It’s unsettling and I could see that her reaction would be to hate all her neighbors.

4. The idea of going to Antarctica becomes too much for an already frazzled Bernadette to bear, but the trip itself, surprisingly, turns out to be exactly what she needs to get back on track. How do other characters in the novel experience their own breakthroughs? Which character is most transformed? I kind of think her gossipy neighbor, Audrey, changed the most.  She really started to see Bernadette’s side of the story and put other people first.  Audrey faced reality for the first time and dealt with it better than I thought she would.  Bee realizes she wants to stay with her family.  Bee’s father realizes he works too much.

5. How are Audrey Griffin and Bernadette Fox more alike than they realize? This question surprised me.  I think the thing that they have most in common is that they are a little disconnected with reality.  I couldn’t think of anything else!

6. Bernadette often behaves as if she is an outsider. Do you think she is? If so, do you think her feelings of being an outsider are self-imposed, or is she truly different from the other members of her community? Do you ever feel like an outsider? I think she is different from the community but that doesn’t mean you have to be an outsider.  Like I said before, feeling outside a community often comes from distancing yourself from the community or not being involved or not putting yourself out there.

7. The book has a very playful structure. Do you think it works? Why do you think the author chose it rather than a more straightforward, traditional structure? Think about other books with unusual structures and how their formats influenced your reading experience.   I love the structure and humor of the novel.  I wish more literary fiction was written this way.  I would read more of it if it was.  I think this structure added to the mystery since it allowed you to come to your own conclusions by seeing things from many perspectives but without being confusing.  I also think it did a great job of showing the story so the reader could use their imagination which made it very entertaining and fun to read.  I can’t think of many stories that have a unique structure but one that comes to mind is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that was partially told through photographs.

8. What do you think of Bernadette and Elgie’s marriage? Is it dysfunctional? Is there real love there? How has their marriage changed over time? Think about romantic relationships you’ve been in that have evolved, positively or negatively, and why. I don’t think it’s dysfunctional but they have grown apart.  I think they do love each other, but they have stopped talking to each other and have stopped trying.  They had different expectations about the other person and about their relationship.  Elgie just assumed that Bernadette must be happy and would start doing her work again eventually.  He doesn’t really bother to find out why she never fixes their house.

9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is, at its core, a story about a woman who disappears, both literally and figuratively. Were you able to relate to the book? How and why? Do you feel Bernadette’s disappearance was unique, or do all women, in a sense, disappear into motherhood and marriage?  I could relate a lot to the book.  It’s easy to feel sometimes that your personality and your goals get lost in marriage and family.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the responsibility and stop having yourself as a priority sometimes.  I love the service and satisfaction of being a mother but sometimes I even feel guilty just taking time for myself to be happy.  I think it’s very easy to let yourself disappear into a marriage and being a mom.  I know that for me, when I set aside time for myself, I’m much more relaxed and patient with my children.  When I’m giving more of myself than I’m capable of, I blame the stress on my kids which is not true.  They deserve to be loved unconditionally and I do that best when I’m happy.

About Maria Semple

Maria Semple

Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles, where she also wrote for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. She escaped from Los Angeles and lives with her family in Seattle, where her second novel takes place.

How Do You Deal with Racism in Classic Novels?

How Do You Deal with Racism in Classic Novels?

I like to read classic novels.  Anything that’s 100 years old that is still being read is a classic in my mind but I know not everyone labels books that way.  I was reading The Scarlet Pimpernel a few months ago and I came across some blatant racism against Jews that made me very uncomfortable.  A better description would be disturbed and deeply sad.  I know this is me reading it from a modern perspective since I know how history has treated Jews and many other minorities.  It’s still kind of shocking to come across any racism or discrimination and have it be presented as normal.  I almost wanted to put the book down.  Here’s my dilemma and I wanted to know what you thought.

  • Is it fair to judge this old novel by my modern standards?
  • If I just let it slide because it’s old, is there a point where the discrimination in classic novels has passed the point of teaching me something and is just disturbing to me and therefore not worth reading?
  • Is reading about racism in older books a teaching tool for me or my kids to not think that way about people?  Or am I just justifying reading something I don’t agree with?

I posted this discussion mostly because I don’t know for sure how I feel about all those questions yet.  I don’t know that it’s fair to judge a classic by my modern standards but I am concerned about reading classics that are discriminatory, especially if it’s not blatant like in The Scarlet Pimpernel.  I think reading affects who we are and how we think.  Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I think reading enough books that had racism in it would eventually desensitize me to it.  But maybe I could learn something from these old novels about how not to be racist.  I don’t know!!

How do you react when you come across discrimination, sexism, racissm etc in classic or old novels? Have you ever read a classic novel that was so racist/sexist/discriminatory that you couldn’t finish it?


Can Blogging Survive in a Mobile World?

Can Blogging Survive in a Mobile World?

Last month, 25% of the visits to my blog were made from a mobile or tablet device.  Compare that to December of 2012 which was only 12%.  I was surprised when I checked my stats that so many people read my blog from a phone.  I honestly thought it would be lower.

This is not another post about how blogging is dying.  I really don’t think it is.  I do think that our Internet habits are changing and our blogs are not changing with it.  Blogging was designed to function on a computer but now most of us – including me – access the Internet and blogs from our phone more often than our computer.

There are things I do like doing on my computer.  Typing long things and doing multi-tasking are hard to do on a phone.  But I am only on my computer for a short time in the morning and an hour or two in the evening.  It’s not enough time to really interact with the book blogging community.  And I’ve really felt lately (and I’m sure some of you have too) the disappearing of the book blogging community.  I think it’s directly related to the changes in how we read blogs – especially reading them from a phone.

I’m not the kind of person to blame others if I’m feeling lonely out here in the blogging world.  I know if I feel like no one comes to my blog it’s because of me and my habits.  I was overwhelmed by my Feedly that had close to 300 unread posts and over 100 blogs that I subscribed to.  I just stopped looking at it because it overwhelmed me.  So I went online trying to brainstorm and find ideas of better ways to follow blogs.  What I was looking for doesn’t really exist.  I wanted a way to read blogs and then be able to comment on them on my phone.  I tried commenting on a blog from my phone but after typing it three times and not being able to log in to leave a comment, I gave up.  I tried subscribing to blogs on Facebook and found that less than half of the blogs I wanted to follow even had a Facebook page.  Some of these blogs were author blogs and the authors hadn’t updated their Facebook page in 6 months or more.  Facebook has the ability to easily read posts and then leave a quick comment.  The only drawbacks are that it uses your real name and not your blog name so the conversation can be very one sided and it makes it hard to develop relationships with bloggers if they don’t know who you are.  The other drawback is that to see all of the posts from blogs you follow you have to make an Interest List which is not intuitive at all.

There are drawbacks to the other ways I read blogs on my phone.  Feedly is nice but it only really allows you to read things.  Commenting is hard and even tweeting the person from Feedly that wrote the post would take more research than I have time for.  Twitter is nice if I happen to stumble upon a cool post, but it’s not a reliable way to find blog posts from blogs I follow.

I think this is why book-tubing on YouTube has really grown and thrived (at least from what I can see).  It is so easy to watch a video on your phone and you can comment there in the app which you only have to log into once.  You can subscribe to lots of blogs and watch them as you have time.  I really want to get more into book-tubing for those reasons, but I just love writing so much that I don’t think I could do book-tubing full time.

So here I am.  Frustrated.  And I don’t really know what do to about it.  I think blogging needs to be more mobile friendly and it needs to go beyond having a mobile theme for your blog.  There needs to be a way to read posts and easily interact with other bloggers no matter what device you are using.  Is there a better way to interact with book bloggers besides comments?  Since social media is easy to use on a mobile device, is there away to interact with readers that way?

I’ve taken all my frustrated energy and decided to try an experiment.  I’ve placed my twitter username in my RSS feed, my header, and my footer for each of my blog posts.  I’m really hoping that if people are reading my posts on their phone and want to say something it will make it easier for them to send me a tweet.  I’m also going to tweet my new post of the day several times instead of just once.  I’m hoping more people will see it on twitter and then hopefully tweet me back.  I’m also following a lot of blogs on Facebook.  I get on there often to like posts and sometimes leave comments to bloggers.   I’m hoping these things can help make blogging a little more mobile friendly for me.

If you want to have a Facebook page but don’t know how to have your blog posts go there automatically, The Book Vixen wrote a great post on how to do it with IFTTT that works for Blogger and WordPress and is free.

I want to hear what you think.  Do you think the blogging community works in a mobile world?  Do you have social media sites that you read and interact with blogs from?

Stuff John Steinbeck Made Me Think About

Stuff John Steinbeck Made Me Think About

When I was writing my google diary for East of Eden, there were so many great quotes that brought up awesome thoughts and ideas for me that I decided to make a new post with them and chat with you guys :)


The split second has been growing more and more important to us.  And as human activities become more and more intermeshed and integrated, the split tenth of a second will emerge, and then a new name must be made for the split hundredth, until one day, although I don’t believe it, we’ll say, “Oh, the hell with it.  What’s wrong with an hour?”

-John Steinbeck, East of Eden pg 530

If Mr. Steinbeck was alive today, I’d be almost ashamed to tell him that we DO have a name for the split hundredth second and we even went so far as to split it into one millionth.  It’s called the microsecond.  I thought this quote was hauntingly accurate.  It made me wonder why such small units of time are really so important.  I know that computers are part of the reason we split time so small, but has it made us impatient?  Or do we only expect small amounts of time to matter when we are using a computer?  Because with me personally, I am extremely impatient with computers.  Thirty seconds is just really too long for my website to load.  But if someone delivered me pizza or something in 30 seconds I would be amazed.  I kind of lean towards the idea that we are impatient with computers and it doesn’t leak that much into regular life.  But I want to hear your examples.  What areas in your life, besides computers, where small amounts of time really matter? Trains, buses etc?

And why haven’t we reached the point that he jadedly predicated about not being obsessed anymore with the small amounts of time and just saying “what’s wrong with an hour?”


 Maybe, kneeling down to atoms, they’re becoming atom-sized in their souls.

-John Steinbeck, East of Eden pg 538

Is that really true?  I say kind of.  I don’t think you have to leave your morals behind to study science, but I do think that he has a point that if we start studying very small parts of things we forget to appreciate what they are as a whole.  Maybe studying frog’s atoms too much could desensitize you to the fact that they are a living thing.  Gandalf said “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”  I think there’s a lot of truth to that.


There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know.  Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because the tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good.

-John Steinbeck, East of Eden pg 130

I think this is a beautiful quote about the fear we all have of change.  Ebooks are not bad but a lot of people hate them because they are slowly eliminating printed books which have been a part of our culture for so long.  And that really makes sense to me.  If you removed the technology from what it was replacing, I think change would happen much faster.  I’m not saying that’s better or worse, but it would be faster.


Samuel rode lightly on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe.  But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden pg 280

First of all – what an awesome quote about reading styles. So who are you more like when you read?  Samuel or Tom?  I’m a reader more like Tom. Hence the reason I write really long posts like these.

Are you a reader like Samuel or Tom? free polls 


There is no dissatisfaction like that of the rich.  Feed a man, clothe him, put him in a good house and he will die of despair.

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden pg 306

I kind of laughed when I first read this, but when it sunk in, it was kind of sobering how unhappy we can be even though we have everything we need.  I know I do this all the time.

Long Distance Relationships

There’s nothing sadder to me than associations held together by nothing but the glue of postage stamps.

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden pg 415

My first thought when I read this was “or Facebook posts.”  Sometimes it’s sad to me the relationships I have that are held together by nothing more than kitten pictures on Facebook.


It was a weltscherz – the world sadness that rises into the soul like a gas and spreads despair so that you probe for the offending event and can find none.

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden pg 175.

I remember reading that quote and thinking, “yeah. I’ve felt like that.”

How to Bug Doctors

The medical profession is unconsciously irritated by lay knowledge. 

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden pg 587

I love this quote because it feels so true sometimes.  Heaven forbid I should google stuff, right?

About John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck III was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939 and the novella Of Mice and Men, published in 1937. In all, he wrote twenty-five books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories.

In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley region of California, a culturally diverse place of rich migratory and immigrant history. This upbringing imparted a regionalistic flavor to his writing, giving many of his works a distinct sense of place.

Is Podcasting the New Blogging?

Is Podcasting the New Blogging?

I feel like the book blogging community is going through growing pains and changing a lot.  I’ve seen lots of blogs that I love stop blogging and it’s mostly because people just don’t have time anymore.  I’m feeling this same adjustment.  I don’t have the time to blog 5 days a week like I used to.  When I get 3 posts up I’m happy.  I also seem to have less time to comment on other blogs.  I see a trend of more and more blogs getting co-bloggers to help get enough content on their site.

I was talking about this with my friend, Karena, and she said that she thinks podcasting could be the new blogging.  She loves podcasts and talked about how convenient they were.  She felt like she was learning something as she did chores around the house or driving.  In other words, she could listen to things when she didn’t have time to actually sit down and read blogs.

I didn’t know what to think of that because no book bloggers that I know of listen to podcasts, let alone make them.  But Karena planted that seed in my head and I looked up some podcasts on my new iPhone.  I found 10 podcasts that I wanted to try out.  And I love them so far.  When I thought about it, the connection between podcasts and blogs totally made sense.  I mean, newscasts really came from the idea of someone reading the news to you because you didn’t have time to sit down and read the paper anymore.  A podcast could be as simple as me recapping the books I read and got and talking about the books that are coming out.

It had me seriously considering starting a podcast for two reasons.  One, I feel like hobby blogging about anything, but especially books, is going to become less and less common because people don’t have the time anymore to read tons of blogs.  So I wanted a fun way to bring my blog to more people.  Two, I literally could not find a young adult news centered podcast.  I wanted something that talked about the latest releases in the YA genre, current events in the YA book world, the YA books that they were reading, and news about YA authors.  If you have one, tell me!!  After lots of searching I found my very favorite podcast, Book Riot, but they talk about all genres.  That’s not a bad thing and I love the current events they talk about.  I just wanted one that was more focused on the books I like to read.

As much as I want to start a podcast, I don’t think it’s possible for me right now.  I would need someone to do it with me.  I would need equipment.  I would need to learn a lot about the technical things.  But the biggest thing holding me back is I would need to do it consistently and that’s not possible for me right now.  But I might want to someday.

One of the first things I noticed about podcasts is that they are almost always sponsored.  I looked up Book Riot‘s website and I was surprised to see that there are 4 editors and over 30 contributors to the site and they are all compensated.  Granted it doesn’t say how much, but I’ve always thought that book bloggers should be paid.  Not like tons and tons of money, but enough to make it worthwhile and cover the basic expenses.  Just because you love to do something and would do it for free, doesn’t mean you have to.  Authors love writing but no one expects them to just do it for free because it takes work and time.  So does book blogging.  I think what book bloggers do is invaluable and I don’t see why they shouldn’t be given something for their time.  I kind of think that book blogging will eventually become a community of a few huge sites with lots of contributors.

Here are the podcasts that I started listening to:


What do you think of my theory? Crazy or no? Do you listen to podcasts about books or anything else? I want recommendations if you do!