Genre: P

Poison Squad, The by Deborah Blum

By the end of the nineteenth century, food in America was increasingly dangerous–lethal, even. Milk and meat were routinely preserved with formaldehyde, a practice based on the embalming of corpses. Beer and wine were preserved with salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical; canned vegetables were greened-up by copper sulphate, a toxic metallic salt; rancid butter was made edible with borax, best known as a cleaning product. This was not by accident; food manufacturers had rushed to embrace the rise of industrial chemistry and were knowingly selling harmful products. Unchecked by government regulation, basic safety, or even labelling requirements, they put profit before the health of their customers. By some estimates, in New York City alone, thousands of children were killed by adulterated and chemically ‘improved’ milk. Citizens–activists, journalists, scientists, and women’s groups–began agitating for change. But although protective measures were enacted in Europe, American corporations blocked even modest regulations. Then in 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University, was named chief chemist of the United States Department of Agriculture, and the agency began methodically investigating food and drink fraud, even conducting shocking human tests on groups of young men who came to be known as the Poison Squad. Over the next thirty years, a titanic struggle took place, with the courageous and inimitable Dr. Wiley campaigning tirelessly for food safety and consumer protection. Together with a gallant cast, including the muckraking author Upton Sinclair, who fought to reveal the horrific truth about the Chicago stockyards; Fannie Farmer, then the most famous cookbook author in the country; and Henry Heinz, one of the few food producers who actively advocated for pure food, Dr. Wiley changed history. When the landmark 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act was finally passed, it was known across the land as ‘Dr. Wiley’s Law.’ Deborah Blum brings to life this timeless and hugely satisfying David and Goliath tale with righteous verve and style, driving home the moral imperative of confronting corporate greed and government corruption with a bracing clarity, which speaks resoundingly to the enormous social and political challenges we face today.


Genre: Book Club Kit, P

Promise, The: How One Woman Made Good On Her Extraordinary Pact To Send A Classroom Of 1st Graders To College by Oral Lee Brown

One morning in 1987 Oral Lee Brown walked into a corner store in East Oakland, California, to buy snacks for work. A little girl asked her for a quarter, and Brown assumed that she wanted to buy candy, but surprisingly she bought bread and bologna–staples for her family. Later that day Brown couldn’t get the little girl out of her mind. Why wasn’t she in school? Why was she out begging for money to buy food for her family? After several weeks of not being able to sleep, Brown went to look for the girl at the local elementary school and soon found herself in a first-grade classroom. She didn’t find the little girl, but before she left she found herself promising the kids that if they finished high school, she would pay for their college education. At the time, Oral Lee Brown made only $45,000 a year. But years later, after annually saving and investing $10,000 of her own money and establishing the Oral Lee Brown Foundation, this remarkable woman made good on her promise: after nineteen of the original twenty-three students graduated from high school, she sent them all to college. And in May of 2003, LaTosha Hunter was the first of Brown’s “babies,” as well as the first person in her family, to graduate from college.

Discussion Questions


Genre: Book Club Kit, P

Prize Winner Of Defiance, Ohio, The by Terry Ryan

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the “contest era” of the 1950s and 1960s. Standing up to the church, her alcoholic husband, and antiquated ideas about women, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for innovation, all the while raising her six sons and four daughters with the belief that miracles are an everyday occurrence. The inspiration for a major motion picture, Evelyn Ryan’s story is told by her daughter Terry with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit and sense of humor can triumph over adversity every time.


Genre: Book Club Kit, P

Princess Bride, The by William Goldman

William Goldman‘s modern fantasy classic is a simple, exceptional story about quests—for riches, revenge, power, and, of course, true love—that’s thrilling and timeless. Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you’ll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.

Discussion Questions


Genre: Book Club Kit, P

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.


Genre: Book Club Kit, P

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn to read and write. When her brother is killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak and identity, goes to the monastery of Fulda, and is initiated into the brotherhood in his place. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion and politics. Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest throne in Christendom, the throne of St. Peter.


Genre: Book Club Kit, P

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl is pregnant and alone, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known. From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together.


Genre: Book Club Kit, P

Patty Jane’s House Of Curl by Lorna Landvik

A comedy on two sisters running a beauty parlor in Minneapolis which they turn into a women’s support center. One sister is Patty Jane, whose husband skipped town just before she gave birth, the other is Harriet, whose rich boyfriend was killed in a plane crash before they could marry.

Discussion Questions


Genre: Book Club Kit, P

Patron Saint Of Liars, The by Ann Patchett

Rose, married for three years, decides she has made a mistake and leaves her husband, traveling from California to Kentucky to take up residence in a home for unwed mothers where she plans to have her baby and give it up for adoption, but she soon discovers life still holds some surprises.

Discussion Questions


Genre: Book Club Kit, P