Reading Group Guide for
Thinking of Miller Place:
A Memoir of Summer Comfort
- Thinking of Miller Place is filled with childhood scenes of summer. Which scenes were the most memorable for you?
- “On Our Way” tells of the predictable journey to Miller Place. “There was a sense of security in our world by the repetition of the Miller Place journey.” (p.6) Why do you think the author includes that car scene? How does it set the stage for the rest of the memoir?
- Miller Place is depicted as an idyllic place and yet there are “pokes and holes.” Discuss the tone of the book, the “pokes and holes.” Do you think the author achieved the effect of an idyllic place mixed with that reality?
- The chapters of Thinking of Miller Place are brief in page count yet serve to take the reader to a special place of the author’s childhood. How did this affect your reading of the book?
- Discuss the metaphor of the red ribbon and what it signifies for the protagonist. (pp. x, 1-2, 28) Do you have a ‘red ribbon experience’- a time that defined your life?
- Ethel’s mother, as viewed through young Ethel’s eyes, is a mix of snob and courageous person. Does the scene with Summer Cat show her mother’s softer side? (p.72) How do you think the era influenced her mother’s viewpoint?
- The author’s father is a mix of hero and all too human man. Is this portrayal clear? How does the parental relationship compare to your family?
- What character traits does the protagonist inherit from her parents? How do you think those traits shaped her life?
- The chapter entitled “My Finn” introduces us to Eileen, Ethel’s twin. (p.13-19) What insight did this section give you into a twin relationship? How does Ethel’s possessiveness affect her relations with both her twin and her older sister?
- Discuss the role the three sisters played in one another’s lives. How did twinship shape their relationship? What is your experience with twins, multiples, and a sibling influence on the family system? Is your experience the same or different from the book?
- Consider Ethel’s family: smiling, hardworking dad, reserved mother, twin sister, older sister. In what ways is this family dynamic typical of the 1950s?
- The Red Ribbon Grandma is an active character in only two scenes and yet her influence is strongly felt. How does the author achieve this? Who in your family has had this "power"?
- How was Ethel affected by peripheral characters - Cousin Hank, Mr. Jaasman, Mr. Woodson, Mrs. Demaisons, the “big kids,” Frankie and Honey, Eddie? What purpose do they serve in the book? Can one character symbolize a concept?
- In later years, Lee-Miller remembers Eddie and sees ‘Eddies’ in her classrooms. (p. 109) Has something like this ever happened to you? How have you over/under compensated for childhood self-centeredness?
- At first glance, Thinking of Miller Place appears to be a collection of assorted scenes, almost like a scrapbook. Yet the chapters reveal detail, dialogue, and emotions as if they were part of a novel. What scenes do you recall from your childhood summers?
- Miller Place helped the author view life through rose-colored glasses. Is this helpful or harmful during her childhood, in adulthood? How would you say her parents viewed life? How do you view life?
- Memoir is said to be a retelling of a story with the author’s memories and musing over the motivation, and subsequent changing point of view as an adult. What does the author muse about? (pp. ix-x) What musings did your reading of Thinking of Miller Place prompt about your childhood?
- Memoir differs from autobiography in that it is a slice a life, rather than an entire life, and held together by a theme(s), rather than chronology. What themes thread their way through this book?
- Numerous memoirs have been published that expose deeply painful childhoods. Ethel Lee-Miller alludes to a few dark shadows of life in her family, (family jealousy, racism, and alcoholism). Does this add or detract from the idyllic tone of the book?
- What parts of the author’s childhood would be rare in a household today? Which of her memories seem most like the late 1950-60s?
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