Object Lessons

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A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
"Elaborate and playful...Honest and deeply felt....Here is the Quindlen wit, the sharp eye for the details of class and manners, [and] the ardent reading of domestic lives."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
It is the 1960s, in suburban New York City. Maggie and her family, are in the thrall of her powerful grandfather Jack Scanlan. In the summer of her twelfth year, Maggie is ...
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Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
"Elaborate and playful...Honest and deeply felt....Here is the Quindlen wit, the sharp eye for the details of class and manners, [and] the ardent reading of domestic lives."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
It is the 1960s, in suburban New York City. Maggie and her family, are in the thrall of her powerful grandfather Jack Scanlan. In the summer of her twelfth year, Maggie is despertately trying to master the object lessons her grandfather fills her head with. But there is too much going on to concentrate. Everything at home is in upheaval, her grandfather is changing, and Maggie is unsure if what she wants is worth having....

The popular columnist's much-awaited first novel is a highly acclaimed national bestseller. From first love to sudden death, the events of one summer in the late 1960's changed the Scanlan family forever. "Intelligent, highly entertaining, and laced with acute perceptions."--Anne Tyler.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World

Anna Quindlen's first novel is about an experience that is the same for everyone and different for us all: the time when we suddenly see our family with an outsider's eye and begin the separation that marks our growing up. . . . Quindlen knows that all the things we ever will be can be found in some forgotten fragment of family.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this absorbing coming-of-age novel, a Literary Guild selection in cloth that spent 10 weeks on PW's bestseller list, New York Times columnist Quindlen skillfully conveys the fierce ethnic pride of Irish and Italian communities. (May)
Library Journal
This first novel by former New York Times columnist, and now syndicated columnist, Quindlen is a well-written but not particularly engaging reflection on growing up. Maggie Scanlan, product of an Irish father and an Italian mother, lives in a New York City suburb in the 1960s. We follow her through her 12th summer, as she endures the trials and tribulations of the transition to adolescence. Maggie is not particularly insightful, though, and none of the other characters give her much insight into growing up. The characters themselves are not as lively as they might be, and the plot is standard: marriage problems, family quarrels, a problem pregnancy. Libraries may get requests for this from readers familiar with Quindlen's nonfiction. Literary Guild alternate; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/90.-- Gwen Gregory, U.S. Courts Lib., Phoenix, Ariz.
School Library Journal
This first novel is an insightful family chronicle, an informed commentary on the '60s, and the coming-of-age depiction of a mother and daughter. As 13-year-old Maggie struggles with her identity within the boisterous Scanlan clan, her mother also finds her own place within the patriarchal family that has never accepted her. Both women experience rites of passage during the fateful summer that a housing development is being built behind their home, infringing on their emotional and physical spaces. A fast-paced plot involves small fires set in the development by Maggie's friends and romantic tension between her mother and a man from her past. Readers will appreciate Maggie's dilemmas as she grapples with peer pressure and sexual bewilderment, and as she begins to understand her mother, whose discontent oddly parallels her own. --Jackie Gropman, Richard Byrd Library, Springfield, VA-
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394569659
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/9/1991
  • Pages: 262

Meet the Author

Anna Quindlen
ANNA QUINDLEN is the author of three bestselling novels, Object Lessons, One True Thing, and Black and Blue. Her New York Times column “Public & Private” won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and a selection of those columns was published as Thinking Out Loud. She is also the author of a collection of her “Life in the 30’s”columns, Living Out Loud; a book for the Library of Contemporary Thought, How Reading Changed My Life; the bestselling A Short Guide to a Happy Life; and two children’s books, The Tree That Came to Stay and Happily Ever After. She is currently a columnist for Newsweek and lives with her husband and children in New York City.

Biography

Anna Quindlen could have settled onto a nice, lofty career plateau in the early 1990s, when she had won a Pulitzer Prize for her New York Times column; but she took an unconventional turn, and achieved a richer result.

Quindlen, the third woman to hold a place among the Times' Op-Ed columnists, had already published two successful collections of her work when she decided to leave the paper in 1995. But it was the two novels she had produced that led her to seek a future beyond her column.

Quindlen had a warm, if not entirely uncritical, reception as a novelist. Her first book, Object Lessons, focused on an Irish American family in suburban New York in the 1960s. It was a bestseller and a Times Notable Book of 1991, but was also criticized for not being as engaging as it could have been. One True Thing, Quindlen's exploration of an ambitious daughter's journey home to take care of her terminally ill mother, was stronger still—a heartbreaker that was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep. But Quindlen's fiction clearly benefited from her decision to leave the Times. Three years after that controversial departure, she earned her best reviews yet with Black and Blue, a chronicle of escape from domestic abuse.

Quindlen's novels are thoughtful explorations centering on women who may not start out strong, but who ultimately find some core within themselves as a result of what happens in the story. Her nonfiction meditations—particularly A Short Guide to a Happy Life and her collection of "Life in the 30s" columns, Living Out Loud—often encourage this same transition, urging others to look within themselves and not get caught up in what society would plan for them. It's an approach Quindlen herself has obviously had success with.

Good To Know

To those who expressed surprise at Quindlen's apparent switch from columnist to novelist, the author points out that her first love was always fiction. She told fans in a Barnes & Noble.com chat, "I really only went into the newspaper business to support my fiction habit, but then discovered, first of all, that I loved reporting for its own sake and, second, that journalism would be invaluable experience for writing novels."

Quindlen joined Newsweek as a columnist in 1999. She began her career at the New York Post in 1974, jumping to the New York Times in 1977.

Quindlen's prowess as a columnist and prescriber of advice has made her a popular pick for commencement addresses, a sideline that ultimately inspired her 2000 title A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Quindlen's message tends to be a combination of stopping to smell the flowers and being true to yourself. Quindlen told students at Mount Holyoke in 1999, "Begin to say no to the Greek chorus that thinks it knows the parameters of a happy life when all it knows is the homogenization of human experience. Listen to that small voice from inside you, that tells you to go another way. George Eliot wrote, 'It is never too late to be what you might have been.' It is never too early, either. And it will make all the difference in the world."

Studying fiction at Barnard with the literary critic Elizabeth Hardwick, Quindlen's senior thesis was a collection of stories, one of which she sold to Seventeen magazine.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 8, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College, 1974
    2. Website:

Reading Group Guide

1. Object Lessons unfolds mostly through the eyes of twelve-year-old Maggie. In which ways is Maggie older and more perceptive than her age would suggest? How is she naive? How do you envision Maggie’s evolution as she grows older and away from her family?

2. Does the book have the elements of a traditional coming-of-age novel? If so, what are they? Do you agree with Connie’s assessment at the end of the book that her daughter has become a woman? In what ways is Maggie still a little girl?

3. What does the development being built near Tommy and Connie’s house represent to the various Scanlans? To the neighborhood kids, including Maggie, Debbie, Bruce, and Richard? To the town of Kenwood as a whole? How does it represent a larger theme or symbol in the novel?

4. How do Maggie and Connie have a typical mother-daughter rapport? An atypical one? How is Connie’s attitude toward Maggie influenced by the attitudes of her parents toward her?

5. What factors motivated Tommy and Connie to marry? What initially draws one to the other? How are they well-matched? What causes their marriage to flounder?

6. Why is it significant that Joey Martinelli appears on Connie’s doorstep when he does? How has she become a different person from the girl he once knew? What attributes would she like to bring to the surface once again?

7. When he learns of Connie’s driving lessons, Tommy thinks that he “could take her anywhere she needed to go.” Why does he view her learning to drive as a betrayal? Are Connie’s driving lessons symbolic? If so, how?

8. What role does the Roman Catholic Church play in Object Lessons? How does the Church and its rituals represent a spiritual force for the characters? In which ways is it a business entity?

9. At the beginning of Object Lessons, John Scanlan rules over the family as an indomitable patriarch. What about his personality is so arresting, both to those within the family and outside of it? How does he inspire emotion—whether it’s fear, respect, or loathing? Why do he and Maggie get along so well? How do you see the family evolving as they adjust to his death?

10. Whom does Maggie look up to as a role model, both within her family and outside of it? What attributes do these people have in common? Why does she so dislike her cousin Monica?

11. The friendship between Maggie and Debbie Malone evaporates during the course of the book. Why do you think that Debbie turns on Maggie? How is their friendship different from the relationship Connie has with Celeste?

12. What does the Malone family represent to Maggie? Why does Debbie’s sister, Helen, take a liking to Maggie?

13. After his stroke, John Scanlan says, “It’s not the dying I mind, it’s the changing.” How is this statement typical of his character? Which members of his family would agree with him; who in this novel would disagree?

14. How do Maggie’s two grandfathers compare and contrast with each other? Which attributes from each does Maggie seem to have? To which one does she seem most similar? Why?

15. Debbie decries always being known as “Helen Malone’s sister”; Maggie counters that she’s always “John Scanlan’s granddaughter.” How do the two girls grapple with the idea of identity, especially as it relates to their relationship to other family members? How does each girl try to form her own individuality? How do names and nicknames play a part in identity in Object Lessons?

16. “Until this horrible sweaty summer, lines had been drawn,” Maggie recalls sadly. What connections and boundaries are erased from Maggie’s life during the course of the book? Which fissures are the most apparent? How does Maggie handle the disintegration of these connections?

17. In your opinion, why do the kids begin setting fires in the development? Why does Maggie initially participate? At the last fire, are Maggie’s actions heroic or cowardly, or a combination of the two? Why? Do you think that her behavior hastens the end of her friendship with Debbie?

18. In which ways does John’s death free Mary Frances? Why is she consumed by the memory of her dead daughter, and why does she want to be buried with her? Why does Mary Frances prefer Connie and Tommy living with her to her other children?

19. At the beginning of Object Lessons, Maggie “listens too much”; by the end of the novel, she’s found her voice. Why did it take so long for her true self to emerge? How do you think she’ll merge her newfound consciousness with the competing voices of her past influences?

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Customer Reviews

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( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2001

    Incredible!!!

    This novel changed how I view life. Only Quindlen can accurately portray the complex emotions a young girl can feel in the course of one summer and how much things can change in the course of a few months. Through her poignant writing style I have been able to come to terms with changes in my own life. I would recommend this to anyone who has been a thirteen-year-old girl or knows a thirteen-year-old girl!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2000

    Dull with no story

    There was no plot to speak of and the characters were about as stereotype as they come--Irish Catholics vs. Italian Catholics, tyrannical patriarch, unhappy housewife who hasn't mastered the art of birth control and none of her relatives, who are so shocked that she keeps getting pregnant, care to share the secret with her. I could only get about two thirds through before I had to call it quits. I am amazed this book was even published, let alone a bestseller.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2000

    Excellent Novel

    'Object Lessons' is a very well-written novel about a time that is the same for everyone, yet is different for each individual: the time when one must learn to deal with the various changes that life throws upon him/her, good or bad. Through accepting these changes, one not only matures, but learns more about his/her identity: who they are, and who they want to become, which is a very important factor in life. The events in this novel are ones that many people can relate to, regardless of age: the breakup of a friendship, the start of a new one, a death in the family, a wedding, a divorce. Then there are those deeper issues, such as holding on to past memories, and discovering who the people close to you really are. I feel this is a 'must-read' for anyone who needs an uplifting on how to live his/her life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2014

    And so......

    Reading the entire book was like reading one chapter, I was still eaiting for the story to be told. This was disapointing. Not one of her best.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2012

    Highly relatable

    I really enjoyed this book. I think anyone, especially women, can identify with Maggie in one way or another. All the characters were fully realized and you really felt for them. I only wish this book had been a little longer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2007

    Anna Quindlan does it again!

    I have only read two other books by her, they were both great, and this book was no exception. She is my favorite author!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2005

    A good read

    I enjoyed this book. It was a fairly quick read and the author really did a good job of making you feel for and understand the characters. It was not the most stimulating or captivating book I've ever read but still worth the effort.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2003

    Intellectual and Honest

    I was required to read this book for english class in the 9th grade,and I can honestly say that I have read it at least 9 times. I love this book. Quindlen does a great job in the growth and chance of the characters in Object Lessons. I found it to be honest and intersting at the same time. It is my #2 book of all time and I highly recommend it.

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    Posted November 2, 2011

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    Posted October 2, 2010

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    Posted September 16, 2011

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    Posted September 10, 2010

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