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Interviews

Author Talk
August 2004


Books by
Jan Karon


IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS:
A Father Tim Novel


HOME TO HOLLY SPRINGS:
The First of the Father Tim Novels


LIGHT FROM HEAVEN

JAN KARON'S MITFORD COOKBOOK & KITCHEN READER

SHEPHERDS ABIDING:
A Mitford Christmas Story


ESTHER'S GIFT:
A Mitford Christmas Story


THE MITFORD YEARS SERIES Reading Group Guides

Book I: AT HOME IN MITFORD

Book II: A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW

Book III: THESE HIGH, GREEN HILLS

Book IV: OUT TO CANAAN

Book V: A NEW SONG

Book VI: A COMMON LIFE

Book VII: IN THIS MOUNTAIN

Book VIII: SHEPHERDS ABIDING


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THE MITFORD YEARS SERIES
by Jan Karon

Come away to Mitford, the small town that takes care of its own. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Mitford is a crazy quilt of saints and sinners --- lovable eccentrics all. Seen through the eyes of Father Tim, the long-suffering Village Rector, Mitford abounds in both mysteries and miracles, compelling readers to return again and again to this beloved series.

In the tradition of James Herriot, Bailey White, and Garrison Keillor, author Jan Karon brilliantly captures the foibles and delights of a hilarious cast of characters.


Book I: AT HOME IN MITFORD
Penguin Books
ISBN: 014025448X

ABOUT THE BOOK

Father Tim finds himself running on empty. Even after twelve years of shepherding his flock, he finds that Emma, his secretary, persists in treating him like a ten-year-old. Barnabas, a huge black dog, adopts him, and a hostile mountain boy, Dooley, is thrust into his care. To add to his confusion, a growing friendship with Cynthia Coppersmith, his new neighbor, stirs emotions he hasn't felt in years.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What role does Barnabas play in Father Tim's life? What other characters seem to invade Father Tim's already busy life, only later to prove enriching elements? Are there any that are a permanent drag on his spirits? How does Father Tim come to terms with them?

2. Dooley appears on the scene untamed and uninvited. What is it that finally makes Father Tim and Dooley aware that they need each other? How does Dooley contribute to Father Tim's life? Have you had "Dooleys" in your own life?

3. Choose two of your group members to read the dialogue between Dooley and Puny in the middle of Chapter Seven --- the scene where they first meet. How does the dialect differ in your part of the country? Try reading a brief part of a Dooley speech in the dialect of your own region.

4. Which characters did you dislike at first, only to later come to appreciate or at least understand them? What characters in the book react that way to someone new?

5. Compare Miss Sadie and Miss Rose. They are very different characters, but both make a powerful contribution to the books. What makes them such vivid characters? What would Mitford be like without them? What unique contributions do they make?

6. Priests seldom have people they can confide in. Who are Father Tim's confidants? What secrets does he entrust to them? What role does prayer play in giving Father Tim a chance to truly vent his feelings?

7. "Mitford takes care of its own," says Mayor Cunningham. How does this happen in the book? Is this limited only to small towns? What other types of communities can it take place in?

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Book II: A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0140254544

ABOUT THE BOOK

Father Tim is in love and running scared. Cynthia has won his heart, but he is set in his ways and afraid of letting go. To complicate things, a wealthy and powerful widow pursues Father Tim, plying him with crab cobbler and old sherry. In the ensuing comedy of errors, he just can't set his foot right. Somehow the antidote to this confusion rests in the history of his oldest and dearest parishioner, Miss Sadie, and the discovery of family she didn't know she had.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Why do Father Tim's deepening feelings for Cynthia frighten him so? What are Father Tim's fears about marrying? Is it a good idea for Father Tim to marry Cynthia? How might Father Tim's marriage to Cynthia enhance his role as a priest? How might it detract from it?

2. Minor characters are an important part of the Mitford books. Can you name four minor characters? What does one minor character contribute to the fabric of village life in Mitford?

3. Many people don't like to talk about their faith. Why? Why do you think it is socially permissible to discuss sexual behavior, income, politics, and other highly personal matters, yet discussing one's faith is often discouraged?

4. Compare Miss Sadie's gift of money to build the nursing home with Edith Mallory's promise of donations to the children's hospital. What is each looking for in return for her gift?

5. Jan Karon says there are Mitfords all over the country. Do you live in one? If so, why do you think your community is like Mitford? Is Mitford necessarily a small town? Discuss whether it might also be a close neighborhood in a large city.

6. Have you ever had company like Cousin Meg? How could Father Tim have handled her presence in his house better? How can guests enrich your life? What kind of strain does having guests put on your life?

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Book III: THESE HIGH, GREEN HILLS
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0140257934

ABOUT THE BOOK

Father Tim fulfills Cynthia's conviction that deep down he is a man of romance, panache, and daring. Though his cup of joy overflows, his heart goes out to those around him who so badly need the healing aid of a loving heart. Chief among these is Dooley, his teenage ward, whose rough edges grate against the boarding school he both loves and hates. Can Father Tim face the much deeper needs of Dooley's mother, Pauline, and the battered young girl Lace, whose childhood has been a horror story of neglect?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. How has Father Tim's marriage influenced or changed his life? How have his relationships with Barnabas, Dooley, and Miss Sadie changed him?

2. Do Jan Karon's characters remind you of people you know? Have you ever lived next door to a Mitford character? Are you kin to any of the Mitford characters?

3. Faith in God is clearly a significant part of Father Tim's makeup. How would you describe his faith? What role does prayer play in Father Tim's faith?

4. The Seven Virtues are: Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice. Choose a character that exemplifies one of these virtues. For example, what virtue do you feel Uncle Billy exemplifies? What about Miss Sadie? Olivia?

5. What did Father Tim and Cynthia learn about themselves when they were lost in the cave? What did they learn about each other? What did Father Tim learn about his relationship with God? How did understanding and forgiving his father change him?

6. What gifts did Sadie Baxter give Dooley? Did her bequest surprise you? Why did she choose Dooley?

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Book IV: OUT TO CANAAN
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0140265686

ABOUT THE BOOK

Father Tim grapples with his sixty-fourth birthday and his decision to announce his retirement. That's just one element of change Father Tim and his beloved Mitford struggle with. A Mayoral election threatens to divide the town. Mitford's long-term mayor, Esther Cunningham, whose slogan is "Mitford Takes Care of Its Own", may be ousted by Mack Stroupe ("Mack for Mitford, Mitford for Mack"). Old friends are retiring, even moving away. Change seems to be the only constant, and when Mule Skinner, a regular at the Main Street Grill, grimly asserts, "I despise change," Father Tim wholeheartedly agrees. Is it unreasonable to hope that all Father Tim holds precious might somehow be preserved? Or is transformation the real way of things? Readers new and old will be reassured that the uncommon delight of life in Mitford lives on.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. In times of crisis, Father Tim and Cynthia pray "The prayer that never fails." What prayer are they referring to? Why is it a prayer that never fails?

2. Pauline's growth and redemption is a gradual, step-by-step process. Who helps her? Where does Pauline succeed? Where does she fail?

3. Father Tim's home is transformed from staid bachelor quarters into a topsy-turvy household. Lace quizzes Harley on his schoolwork in the basement, Dooley pounds up the stairs, Puny cleans with her twins underfoot, Violet the cat balefully eyes Barnabas from atop the refrigerator. How does Father Tim's household compare with your own? Do Jan Karon's descriptions make you view the chaos in your life differently?

4. The construction boss, Buck Leeper, is a diamond in the rough. In OUT TO CANAAN, what is Buck Leeper feeling? How does he view himself? How do you think he may view others?

5. Note the ongoing presence of children and the elderly in the Mitford books. How does this enhance these stories? What lessons do they teach Father Tim?

6. Why does Father Tim have such trouble going to Fancy Skinner, Mitford's unisex hairdresser, for his haircuts? Who does he press into service to cut his hair when he is avoiding her shop? Choose one of your group members to read the monologue by Fancy found toward the end of Chapter Five.

7. Do you have a Main Street Grill? What function does a place like the Grill fill in a town? Where do you get your town news? Where are you likely to meet friends and neighbors?

8. Esther Bolick's orange marmalade cake plays a role in each book. What is the specialty in your region? What food item makes an annual event special? Festive? What other object can fill this role?

9. Describe the ways in which those who come in contact with Father Tim are changed. How does contact with others change Father Tim?

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Book V: A NEW SONG
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0140270590

ABOUT THE BOOK

Father Tim, recently retired after years of serving as the rector of Lord's Chapel, agrees to pastor a small parish off the Atlantic coast. There's only one problem: How can he and Cynthia leave the town --- and the boy --- they love? Soon, however, the charming island of Whitecap reveals its own cast of unforgettable characters: a lovelorn bachelor trying his hand at personal ads, a church organist with a past, a gifted musician who never ventures beyond his gate, and a young mother struggling with paralyzing depression. Still, Mitford is never far from their minds-especially when Dooley ends up on the wrong side of the law. Like every other bestselling Mitford novel, A NEW SONG is a book you can't bear to see end.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Father Tim and Cynthia's good-bye to their friends in Mitford is long and painful. Have you experienced a similar good-bye? What have you learned that can lessen the pain? What can be done to ease the transition?

2. Ernie Fulcher said the yellow line down the center of the floor of his and Mona's building has helped save their marriage. Is having separate areas a good idea for a couple? How might it affect customers? Friends? In what other ways do people define their space? How do children sharing a bedroom define "my side"?

3. Junior Bryson advertises for a bride. How would you write the personal ad for Junior? Should he have been so honest about himself? How would you describe yourself in an ad?

4. Father Tim met his neighbor, Morris Love, when Barnabas dove under his fence. Father Tim was hot, angry, and feeling foolish. Have you met someone in your life in an unusual way? How do you feel about meeting people when you don't look your best?

5. What elements contributed to helping Father Tim see the suffering soul behind Morris Love's infirmity? Have you ever had such an experience?

6. Should Father Tim have welcomed the wayward ex-choirmaster, Jeffrey Tolson, back to St. John's? Should he have consulted with his parishioners or was it his responsibility to decide? Was repentance a fair requirement?

7. Was it wise for Father Tim and Cynthia to take Jonathan Tolson into their home? Did caring for a toddler help or hinder their work? Was Father Tim's concern about Cynthia's emotional attachment warranted?

8. How did the storm change the landscape of Whitecap? How did it change people's lives?

9. Was Helene Pringle right to come to Mitford? Was Father Tim right to give her his angel? Whom do you think it belonged to? What was he given in its place?

10. How does Father Tim react to the glowing praise of Mitford's new rector? Have you ever been in such a situation? How did you react?

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Book VI: A COMMON LIFE
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0142000345

ABOUT THE BOOK

A COMMON LIFE is set in the time between A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW and THESE HIGH, GREEN HILLS, as Father Tim and Cynthia finally become engaged and married. The sixty-two-year-old priest is still battling fear and conflict when, suddenly, the beauty of a heaven-sent sunset galvanizes him into a formal proposal. Mitford residents, stunned and thrilled by the news, indulge in their own plans and reminiscences as they prepare for the nuptials. The happy couple's phones ring off the hook with offers of bridal showers and visiting choirs, and the bishop --- in addition to his standard pre-marital counseling --- insists on lending them his cottage in Maine for the honeymoon.

But some have mixed emotions. Dooley likes Cynthia, but isn't sure about living with her --- he remembers the terrible domestic life he had with his parents. Cynthia wonders if she can truly be a mother to him, and the wife Tim Kavanagh deserves. Only after wedding bells ring out are such quandaries --- and some hilarious mishaps --- resolved.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Even after his proposal, Father Tim's long struggle between his inner fears and his love for Cynthia is not over. How does Jan Karon manage to make him both an inspiration to all and a very down-to-earth human being? Are there any figures like that in your life?

2. The flurry of competing plans-choir, cake-baking, flower arrangements, honeymoon-threaten to take away the happy couple's control of their own wedding. Should they have had a quieter ceremony? How would Mitford have reacted?

3. When Cynthia says she has no family, Hessie Mayhew tells her the whole parish is her family. What different kinds of families exist nowadays, and how well do you think they can substitute for the traditional one?

4. The Book of Common Prayer's description of marriage as "a common life" was written centuries ago. Do you think it still applies today?

5. A Common Life brings together Mitford characters' memories of their own romances and weddings, with moving incidents --- or those as comical as Cynthia's bathroom doorknob falling off at the last minute. What memories did A COMMON LIFE awaken in you?

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Book VII: IN THIS MOUNTAIN
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0142002585

ABOUT THE BOOK

Father Tim, three years after his return from Whitecap, faces the stresses of retirement, and of a happy marriage to a famous author. Cynthia's new children's book wins a big award, makes headlines in the Mitford Muse, draws fans right into their backyard, and takes her on a nationwide tour. Distracted, even a little jealous, Father Tim in a careless moment seriously harms an old friend. When this happens, he himself slips into a depression that challenges his faith and undermines his health --- with disastrous consequences. But through it all, Father Tim continues to be surrounded by caring Mitfordians, whose efforts to help sometimes mean more to Father Tim than their off-the-wall efforts to cheer him up, especially those of Uncle Billy, who remains convinced that the right joke will do the trick.

Father Tim can't help but get involved in the lives around him. He encourages "The Man in the Attic," who has just been released from prison, as he begins a new life and a new job at Hope Winchester's bookstore --- and watches as two lives are transformed. And he helps Dooley, now a college student and aspiring veterinarian, navigate the choppy waters of young love and stumbles upon an exciting but dangerous lead on his long-lost brother.

At sixty-nine, Father Tim has helped so many people discover a new lease on life --- can he find one, too? Will prayer, and an unexpected call to work --- plus his initiation by Emma Newland into the mysteries of e-mail! --- lead him out of this valley and onto the mountain top?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. When Father Tim neglects his health, it impacts not only himself but his wife, his friends, and his plans for a new mission. Is taking care of ourselves a responsibility to others? How can we balance our commitments with what we can realistically manage?

2. Father Tim is deeply torn between his need for Cynthia's presence and his concern that she not miss her thrilling trip to New York. What are some other examples of mixed feelings that haunt even the best marriages?

3. Mitford's longtime rector remembers how writing has helped him with unhappiness in the past. Have you tried that? What kinds of things would you write in a journal, an essay, or a story? Have you suffered depression, or cared for someone who did?

4. A year's ministry with Appalachian children could be, Father Tim feels, his legacy to the future. What do you hope to bequeath to generations to come?

5. When George Gaynor arrives in Mitford, several characters see a dilemma in the employment of an ex-con. Was it a wise decision? What are the arguments for and against?

6. Discuss how Hélène Pringle and Hope Winchester are guided to Lord's Chapel. How often does this happen through other people, and how often is it a direct revelation from God?

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Book VIII: SHEPHERDS ABIDING
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0142004855

Read a Review

ABOUT THE BOOK

SHEPHERDS ABIDING is a simple story that unfolds over a span of ten or twelve weeks --- a time in which Father Tim and a lot of villagers discover something new and surprising in themselves.

It's October, and already, the excitement of Christmas is in the air. Hope Winchester has just been given a thrilling, but scary new idea. Lew Boyd longs for his secret to be out, and his life to move on. Uncle Billy is getting ready to play his annual role of Santy Claus to Miss Rose. And Father Tim, who thinks he's giving Cynthia silk pajamas this year, spies a forsaken Nativity scene at the Oxford Antique Shop.

Once he sees the nativity scene, he can't stop thinking about it. He and Cynthia had used his maternal grandmother's scene once or twice, but its dull, base-metal figures seemed forbidding, so he packed it up and put it in the attic. The scene handed down from his Irish great-grandmother had perished in an Alabama flood, and the small scene that Cynthia created from clothespins and scraps of silk at the age of fourteen is definitely showing its limitations.

Thus begins Father Tim's journey to Bethlehem.

Advent takes on new meaning for Father Tim as he takes on this new challenge: repairing the shepherds, angels, and even Baby Jesus. As he works on the figures, exploring an artistic side he never knew he had, he experiences Advent in a way he never has before and discovers the best of all presents --- the gift of one's heart.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Father Tim is inspired to finish restoring the crèche by imagining Cynthia's face when she sees the time and love he put into her gift. What are some memorable and unique Christmas gifts you've given? You've received? When you give someone a gift, how important is his or her reaction?

2. Karon reflects on the season of Advent. What is this season all about, and what do you do to mark this time of preparation? Does your family have Advent and Christmas traditions?

3. Father Tim wrestles with memories of his father. What do you think of his decision to focus on the good time he spent with his dad? Is there anyone in your life you deal with this way or have chosen to remember this way?

4. With the possibility of entrepreneurship and a budding romance with Scott Murphy, Hope Winchester's life is suddenly turned gloriously upside down. Does it seem that major life events come in clusters? Can you think of a time in your life when everything was joyfully, to quote Father Tim, "berserk"?

5. Father Tim tells Esther Bolick that not taking a cake to Ol' Man Mueller out of spite would be much worse than feeling like a hypocrite for giving him a cake even though she didn't want to. Do you agree? Would you continue giving gifts to someone with whom you no longer had a good relationship? Does Ol' Man Mueller's reaction upon receiving the cake change your mind or reinforce your opinion?

6. Father Tim takes on a new challenge and discovers an artistic talent he never knew he had. Have you ever made or been given a handmade gift? Aside from the time it takes to make, can it be harder to give a handmade gift? Do you enjoy new challenges? What's Father Tim's attitude toward them?

7. Who do you think put the stable in the back room? Why do you think it was that character? What might his or her reasons have been? Have you ever given a gift anonymously? Do you think it's possible to be joyful about giving a wonderful gift, if no one knows the giver?

Click here to buy this book from Amazon.com.


© Copyright 2004 by Jan Karon. Reprinted with permission by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.

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