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Luminous Airplanes



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About The Author

Paul La FargePaul La Farge

Paul La Farge is the author of two novels: The Artist of the Missing (FSG, 1999) and Haussmann, or the Dis­tinction (FSG, 2001); and a book of imaginary dreams, The Facts of Win­ter. His short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Harper’s Magazine, Fence, Conjunctions, and... More

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Reading Group Gold

1. If you have looked at the Luminous Airplanes web site, how is reading the story online different from reading it in book form? Why do you think the author chose to make Luminous Airplanes both a web site and a book, rather than just a book (or just a web site)?

2. The narrator of Luminous Airplanes is never named—either in the book or on the Web. Does this change the way you understand his character? What effect, if any, does his being nameless have on the way you read his story?

3. Luminous Airplanes is about a young man who has to sort through his grandparents’ belongings after his grandfather’s death. Sorting through the things a relative has left behind is an experience many people have, and it’s also an experience with many different emotional resonances. What does sorting mean for the narrator of this novel?

4. Luminous Airplanes is set in the fall of 2000, but parts of the book concern other times: the late 1960s, when the narrator’s father came to the town of Thebes; the 1840s, when the Millerites believed that the world was coming to an end. Does the narrator see some continuity between these times? In your opinion, is he correct? Do his ideas about history tell you anything about him as a character?

5. In the middle of the book, Yesim, the narrator’s friend, talks about the moment in her childhood when she realized that “the spirit of Thebes, and maybe America in general, loves failure more than it loves success.” Does that make sense to you as a description of America’s national character (if it has one)? Most of the characters in Luminous Airplanes are failures, in one way or another—is failure more interesting than success?

6. Why is this book called Luminous Airplanes? What part does the idea of flying (or trying to get off the ground) have in shaping the story?

7. Why does the book end where it does? Does the ending make you think differently about the story the narrator has told?

8. One of the themes of Luminous Airplanes is the danger of reliving the past. And yet nostalgia is a common experience; surely there are people who would revisit parts of their own lives, if they could. Does the novel give you any ideas about how to live (or not to live) with your own past, or with some larger history?

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