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A Reader’s Guide to “Well-Being: A Novel,” Oprah’s Book Club Pick

Oprah Winfrey selected “Well-Being: A Novel” by New York Times bestselling author Nathan Hill as her new book club pick.

“Wellness: A novel” looks at a 20-year relationship between Elizabeth and Jack, from their first meeting as lonely students in Chicago in 1993 to their turbulent marriage in 2014.

The questions, discussion topics, and other materials that follow are intended to enrich the group conversation about Hill’s love story that explores how science, art, religion, and culture shape the stories that people are told – and among themselves – and therefore shape the realities in which we live.

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“Well-being: a novel” by Nathan Hill


“Well-Being: A Novel” by Nathan Hill (hardcover), $21

“Well-Being: A Novel” by Nathan Hill (Kindle), $14.99

Reading Group Guide by Nathan Hill

Questions and Discussion Topics

1. Have you ever been under the placebo effect – in a medical or other context? After reading “Well-Being,” can you look back on certain events, decisions, or changes that have taken place in your life and attribute those changes to belief alone?

2. Dr. Sanborne’s theory of love is an explanation for why Jack and Elizabeth were attracted to each other (including the intimacy questionnaire Elizabeth uses on their first date ). Can you think of any other theories or explanations – from psychology, popular culture, or other traditions/systems – for how their relationship plays out?

3. Of the wellness trends mentioned in the book (Benjamin’s diets and supplements; Jack’s failed workouts; Elizabeth and Lawrence’s various healing potions, etc.), which ones have you heard of? or which you participated in? Did they produce the expected effect? Do you believe now, and did you believe then, that the product(s) or technique(s) “worked”?

4. Do you think Elizabeth and Jack are soul mates? Do you think they believe it? How does their own version of their love story evolve over time?

5. When Elizabeth and Jack discuss marriage on their first date, she says, “They say marriage is hard, but it seems to me that if it’s that hard, then you’re probably wrong” (page 36). If someone had said this to her later in the novel, ten years after they met, what do you think she would say: are they “hurting” because of their challenges?

6. What did you think of Toby’s explanation for why he ate the first apple turnover when Elizabeth tried the marshmallow experiment on him? What does this exchange reveal about the assumptions we make from scientific experiments, even when the results are “statistically significant”?

7. Discuss Elizabeth’s “untangling” at the grocery store. Has something like this ever happened to you? Which stressors she was responding to seem unique to the novel’s present moment, and which are more universal to motherhood/parenthood?

8. Kate and Kyle seem to “diagnose” the problems in Jack and Elizabeth’s marriage fairly quickly at the Club. Why do you think they were so blind to their oppositional and enabling qualities? Do you think they knew these truths all along?

9. How might Jack’s art have developed if he had not gone to art school, where he was introduced to a much more commercial and intellectual approach to art than that which he Did he learn from Evelyn?

10. Are there any works of art that, like American Gothic does for Jack, evoke certain personal memories or identities for you? If yes, which parts and why?

11. Jack interprets the history of landscape art – particularly that of the plains – to mean that “the things we think are beautiful are only the things that have been beautifully depicted.” And if they are not represented, they are not seen. It never enters the imagination. . It becomes a nothing” (page 209). How does this manifest in his own art, as it represents (or not) his grief and guilt over Evelyn’s death? Does his non-representational style make of Evelyn’s memory more or less a “nothing”? Consider the images placed throughout the novel intended to illustrate Jack’s art.

12. Elizabeth’s ancestors use various tactics to get ahead in business, primarily manipulation. In what way do these men embody the fate of America? Is their work different from that of the landscapers Jack admires?

13. How do art and science intersect in the novel? Consider the strategy and motivations behind Jack’s non-photos and the creativity of Elizabeth’s placebo experiments at Wellness.

14. What is the difference between the claims that Brandie’s Community Corps believes and Elizabeth’s placebo work at Wellness?

15. How does the city of Chicago change and transform over the course of the book? What inspiration do Jack and Elizabeth draw from this place where they emigrated to dissolve their ties with their hometown?

16. Benjamin predicts that the Internet – particularly hypertext – will liberate readers “from the hegemony of the book” (page 311); on the Internet, “there is no gatekeeper. No lord tells you what to do. You choose your own path through history, navigating a sea of ​​information, constructing personal meaning from a great constellation of meanings” (page 312). Does the novel suggest this is true, or do people make sense of their lives even without the Internet? In what forms and media do these stories unfold, and how are they shaped by the Internet? Consider Jack’s entry into photography and Lawrence’s attempt to search for a connection after his cancer diagnosis.

17. Why is Jack so troubled when he sees that the theories about art and society that he advocated as a young man have been adopted by his father in his Facebook posts?

18. What is Lawrence looking for on Facebook? What would have happened differently if he hadn’t met Jack on the platform, befriended him, and then been his friend?

19. What do you think really happened to Evelyn the night she died: Who was to blame, Ruth or Jack? Did she seem to prophesy her own demise?

20. Consider Jack’s reflection on his tattoo—and the nature of himself: “He realized that his current self—which seemed rather stable, decent, and more or less true—was no more true than his younger self. One day another person would emerge, a complete stranger, and around him new friends would emerge and a new town would emerge and a new wife and a new son would emerge and they would form a whole new family” (page 408 ).How are Elizabeth and Jack completely different at the end of the book? What parts remain the same?

21. Although they had very different material upbringings, Jack and Elizabeth seem to play similar emotional roles in their families, particularly when it comes to how Jack’s mother and Elizabeth’s father cope (or fail ) their own insecurities. How do these roles manifest in their marriage, in their professional lives and as parents? What coping mechanisms do you imagine Toby developing in response to his parents’ personalities? Consider Elizabeth’s reflection: “It turned out to be the wildest and most hurtful thing about being a parent: it wasn’t just coming face to face with all of your own flaws and inadequacies, but it was also seeing these faults. embodied in your child” (page 175).

22. What was the impact of learning more about Jack and Elizabeth’s past later in the novel, as opposed to early on? How might your impressions of them be different if you knew their childhood stories earlier?

23. According to Toby’s Minecraft universe, “The diamond was the most powerful item in existence, of course, but sometimes the invented items (Netherine) were even stronger” (page 589). Where does this idea prove true in the novel – and in your life experiences? What does this suggest about the value of art and the placebo effect in supporting our human frailties?

Suggested further reading

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Dave Eggers Circle

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Hello beautiful by Ann Napolitano

The general history of Richard Powers

Hope by Andrew Ridker

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

Involvement of Mona Simpson

My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

A spool of blue thread by Anne Tyler

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin


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