Fat Soul Fridays Reading Guide
1) There are several themes in Fat Soul Fridays including happiness, aging, and social justice (for gays and lesbians). How does Madeline’s Fat Soul Philosophy come into play with each of these themes? Which of these themes most resonates with you at this point in your life?
2) Among the major Fat Soul Friday characters—Madeline, Alex, Darcy, George, Geraldine, Elena, Lucy—which one do you most identify with? Why?
3) Madeline struggles with the transition from work to retirement, with the past colliding with the present, and with frustrated maternal longings. How does her Fat Soul Philosophy help her grow in these areas?
4) What part does the past play in Madeline’s new life? Are painful memories best buried, or are they to be faced and integrated? How does Fat Soul Philosophy help in this regard? If, as Jay McDaniel says, “faith is trusting in the possibility of poetry,” how does Madeline’s painful past become poetry? How can your own painful memories become poetry?
5) Throughout the novel, Alex struggles with his own mortality. How does this affect his decisions? How does Jewish wisdom, Fat Soul Fridays, and his own dramatic experience change his life? How does the knowledge of your own mortality affect your own decisions as you grow older?
6) George’s estrangement from his parents prevents him from the happiness he should be experiencing. How does Fat Soul Fridays help in this regard, and how does Big Happiness help to transform his life? How does his relationship to “that creature,” Socrates, mirror this transition?
7) How does the discussion on homosexuality and the Bible affect your own feelings about marriage equality? How does Fat Soul Philosophy help?
8) Darcy struggles with courage as his desire for a “soul mate” haunts him. What part does courage, especially moral courage, play in Big Happiness? How do his values, theology, and friendship with Alex help him overcome his inertia with regard to Elena? In other words, how does his soul expand?
9) How does Whitehead’s philosophy help in the discussion on happiness? How is happiness related to beauty and creativity? How can Big Happiness be happiness if it includes the possibility of sadness and suffering? How does Big Happiness relate to Fat Soul Philosophy?
10) How does Fat Soul Philosophy challenge Madeline’s negative reaction to Andrea? In what ways can Fat Soul Philosophy help you with your own aversions to people and ideas and cultures that irritate you?
11) Madeline also is influenced by Buddhist thought. How does the idea of contrasts and differences from her Fat Soul Philosophy relate to meditation and Buddhist thought?
12) How are Geraldine, Elena, and Lucy affected by Fat Soul Fridays? Do they change or grow? How so?
13) Heaven and consciousness-after-death are themes that appear throughout the book. Why does Madeline entertain the idea of the heaven? How does Alex’s experience change him? What is your own view on this issue?
14) In Madeline’s imaginary tea with Rilke, she ponders impermanence and aging. How can aging be beautiful? What do you think about her idea of “Beauty’s Big Tent” with regard to Alex’s radical experience? How does Fat Soul Philosophy help her?
15) Alex and Madeline recall how the lecturer Bernard Loomer would challenge his listeners with the most important question in life: “How big is your soul?” After reviewing how the concept of Fat Soul Philosophy affects each member of Fat Soul Fridays, can you think of ways in your life where this question challenges you? Does a bigger soul mean a happier soul?