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Stanley and Sophie includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
“I fell in love with a prideful, tense bundle of muscle and sinew that stood seventeen inches high. You would see a small brown dog; I saw perfection.”
So begins the story of Kate Jennings’ unexpected love affair with two Border Terriers, first Stanley, then a few years later, Sophie. A fiercely intelligent writer, an astute observer of people and her surroundings, a recent widow now ready to face her grief, an irascible Australian with no time for indulgent New Yorkers and their pampered pets, Jennings falls hard. She is swept off her feet, stunned by the depth of her love. Her life is suddenly overtaken by Stanley, and, when she is seduced into getting a companion for him, by the pair of them.
But after several years with her willful yet cherished dogs, Jennings came to the heartrending realization that they needed more than she could give – and that she must reassess her own life, too. First and foremost, Stanley and Sophie
is a book about dogs, understanding them and doing the best by them. It is also a vivid chronicle of Jennings’ grief and sadness – for the loss of a husband, for the city after September 11, for two pigtailed macaques in Bali, for a world going to hell in a handbasket. This is a bittersweet and darkly humorous memoir about the way two demanding, idiosyncratic, exhilarating dogs gave Jennings daily purpose and showed her the way to her own heart. Discussion Questions
1. In Stanley and Sophie
, Kate Jennings describes having fallen in love at first sight only twice in her life – both times with dogs. What is it about dogs that allows for this kind of infatuation and emotional immediacy? How does the author’s love for Stanley and Sophie relate to her own heightened sense of need? How is her love story entwined with her feelings about the city of Manhattan, and to what extent might those feelings also be described in terms of love?
2. “Who can stay sad around a creature so evidently bent on discovery, so palpably pleased to be in this world?” What is it about Stanley’s personality that enables the author to transcend her own sadness and sense of loss? What do Stanley’s special qualities as a Border Terrier have to do with the author’s total immersion in his world? To what extent does her absorption with Stanley seem akin to a love affair?
3. What does the author’s research into the history and temperament of the Border Terrier breed reveal about her own interest in Stanley’s exemplifying the “best of the breed”? Why did she gravitate toward the terrier breed in the first place? How would you characterize Border Terriers, based on the author’s detailed descriptions?
4. “New York City is a moody city, transmitting emotions as if it were an organic being.” How does the author’s perspective on life in New York City change in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks? What role does Stanley play in her ability to process the tragedy? To what extent might a non-native be able to interpret New York and its moods with greater objectivity than a native New Yorker?
5. “How on earth did this happen? How did it come about that I was spending my days adjudicating between two dogs who were acting out the story of my life?” What compels the author to adopt a second Border Terrier? How do Stanley and Sophie’s responses to each other reveal their individual natures? Why does the author feel her dogs are repeating her own life in their canine dramas?
6. How does her identity as a dog owner come to shape the author? How does her role as parent to Stanley and Sophie transform her life in New York? To what extent does owning dogs enable the author to make deeper friendships and connections with people? How does her own attitude toward dogs change once she adopts Stanley?
7. “I inched toward a resolution that would have been inconceivable even a month before: to dismantle my life, to change it radically, beginning with Stanley and Sophie.” What prompts the author to consider giving away her dogs to new families? Were you surprised by this decision? What might giving the dogs away represent for the author?
8. How do the author’s experiences in Indonesia heighten her appreciation of the economic, environmental and social challenges faced by that country? In what respects does her attachment to the resident macaques at Puri Angsa, Chico and Cheeky, seem like an extension of her love for Stanley and Sophie? What ironies do you see in her returning to New York to escape from the terrorism in Bali?
9. “What Stanley recollects, what goes on in his noggin, who knows? But recollect he undoubtedly does, with an accuracy that can be astounding.” How does the author’s depiction of Stanley and Sophie offer a glimpse into the interior world of the Border Terrier? What aspects of her dogs’ personalities does the author seem to have an especially keen and instinctive understanding of? To what extent are these dogs like human beings? Of the many anecdotes of Stanley and Sophie described in this memoir, which were most memorable to you and why? Enhance Your Book Club
1. As Border Terriers – dogs renowned for their athleticism, independence, and sociability – Stanley and Sophie embody the best of their breed. Do you currently own a Border Terrier, or could you be interested in adopting one? You may want to visit the Border Terrier Club of America’s extremely thorough website: http://www.btcoa.org/. There, you can find extensive information about Border Terrier current events, clubs in your region, a photo gallery, and relevant publications regarding Border Terriers as a breed. Might there be a Stanley or Sophie in your future?
2. Kate Jennings’ deep love for Stanley and Sophie enables her to come to terms with her grief in both the aftermath of her husband’s death and the 9/11 tragedy that befalls her adopted city. Have you ever found yourself depending on a cherished pet or a loved one to help you cope with a difficult time in your life? Think of some of the challenges you’ve faced, and recall who came to your aid. If you’ve been fortunate enough never to have experienced a troubled period in your life, who would you depend on in a time of need? How might a loved pet help?
3. Would you ever consider visiting Indonesia, the country Kate Jennings visits in Stanley and Sophie? Whether you’re just intrigued by this amazing archipelago of some 17,000 islands or you’re planning an actual trip, you will want to visit the CIA’s comprehensive dossier on the country at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/id.html. Here you can read about Indonesia’s people, its government, its economy and some of the transnational issues that it faces.