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Zanesvilleby Kris Saknussemm
Reading Group Guide
1. In Chapter 1 we learn that the protagonist, Clearfather, has the beginning of a quotation carved into his back. What is the significance of this quotation? Is it important this this scarring takes the form of language and do your thoughts about the wound change by the end of the story?
2. We meet several different types of families throughout the course of the book, both literal blood-related families and chosen or accidental families-tribes of circumstance. What are some of the conclusions about the definition of a family offered by the novel? How does the story make you feel about the role and the responsibilities of the individual within a family unit? In your view, which characters behave the most honorably in this regard?
3. Two major questions that contemporary speculative fiction frequently focuses on are What does it mean to be human? and What is real? What kind of answers or suggestions does this story put forward? Is there a link between humanity and reality in the book, and if so, what is it?
4. Each of the major female characters can be said to have a special gift. What are they and how do they influence Clearfather?
5. Dr. Tadd puts forward the argument that trivia is important-that knowing what type of animal a certain cartoon character is may be more significant than it appears. Why does he say this? What role does the exchange of such information play in peoples lives?
6. Dooley Duck tells us there is hope for us all because of what happened to him. Why does he see himself as an inspirational figure?
7. Stinky Wiggler makes the point that Clearfather and Blind Lemon have one major thing in common, which he values above all else. How does Wiggler phrase this characteristic and what do you think he means?
8. Wiggler calls his enemy APPARATUS. How would you describe this adversary? What other names might apply?
9. The novel advances the concept that Ideas are alive, that they are creatures with an independent existence from humans. If you had to defend this proposition, which ideas would you point to?
10. The story tells of both a physical and a psychological/spiritual journey. By the end of the book, what do you think the most important lesson Clearfather has learned? Are the discoveries worth the price? Does he ultimately act wisely or selfishly? Can selfishness ever be wise?
11. Issues for Further Discussion
A. The author Kris Saknussemm has said that he has had two abiding life interests:
The private obsessive theme park-shrines of what are termed “Outsider Artists,” some examples of which are The Ideal Palace of Ferdinand Cheval, Simon Rodias Watts Towers, Reverend Howard Finsters Paradise Garden and Leonard Knights Salvation Mountain, among many others.
The relationship between Magic, Religion and Science.
How do these two personal fascinations express themselves in Zanesville?
What sort of personal shrines on whatever scale do you know of in your own life? Do you have one, however small-or even secret?
Do you think that we live in an age of Magic, Religion or Science?
B. When asked in an interview what was the seed crystal for writing the book, Saknussemm indicated that it was the following quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your own private heart is true for all men-that is genius.”
Why is this observation both empowering and uplifting and also dangerous and disturbing? It was made a century and a half ago-does it have more or less relevance today?
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