Dr. Brinkley’s Tower, by Robert Hough

Dr. Brinkley's Tower, by Robert Hough

In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to approach some of my reading from an intriguingly different angle. I’ve been asked to prepare discussion questions for some House of Anansi Press titles, questions incorporated in readers’ guides that could be used for book clubs or study groups. Anansi has made readers’ guides available for download from their web site for numbers of their popular titles, and they’re also working to have questions printed and bound in some book editions. Whether the questions are used to spark group discussion and debate or are quietly employed for individual consideration, I think they’re a great way to deepen one’s reading experience and probe further into what you’ve just read.

I’ve discovered that formulating these questions – even, reading a book for the first time knowing you will be preparing questions – is also a great way to more fully appreciate a work, even a work you might not necessarily expect to like. You go in as a book’s advocate when you know you’re compiling questions, because you assume from the outset that people have been motivated to obtain the book, read it and discuss it with others, so there must be some respect for the book and positive perspectives on its value, out of respect for those readers. It’s a different kind of respect than discovering a book disappoints you, and you want to be able to articulate that constructively but perhaps firmly, to dissuade people from reading it at the expense of what you feel are worthier books, or to perhaps give a writer genuine, albeit critical feedback.

It doesn’t mean, either, that you’re acting as a suspiciously nice or damning-with-faint-praise Marilyn Hagerty-ish apologist for books that wouldn’t hold up to the scrutiny of a more straight-up review or qualitative analysis. If anything, I’d contend that developing questions for others to ponder might force you, the question-concocter, to pay attention and fathom the writer’s craft and intentions more concertedly than if you were reading for pleasure.

The following are the reader’s guide questions that I developed for Dr. Brinkley’s Tower by Robert Hough. (These are the questions I submitted to Anansi. An edited version of the questions are provided to accompany the book.) If you’ve read the book, are these questions useful for exploring the book further? If you haven’t read the book, do the questions perhaps spark your interest in the book? Either way, do you use and contemplate the questions posed by reader’s guides when they’re provided?

  1. Señora Azula Mampajo, the town curandera or healer, is viewed more with fear or repulsion by the citizens of Corazon de la Fuente than with reverence or respect. Do those attitudes change by the end of the story? If so, why? If not, why not?

  2. Dr. Brinkley’s Tower is told from a variety of points of view. Does this give a better sense of the different perspectives on the benefits and challenges of the changes that come to Corazon de la Fuente, or does it make the story more cacophonous and confusing? If the story was only told from one character’s point of view (which, of course, might mean that certain parts of the story might not be told at all), which character would you choose?

  3. The colour green has almost consistently positive connotations and symbolic significance across cultures. Green conveys hope, fertility, abundance, birth and rebirth, freshness and purity, and is clearly associated with the natural world. How is the colour green used, with increasing intensity and pervasiveness, in Dr. Brinkley’s Tower?

  4. Dr. Brinkley’s Tower is a sensory cornucopia, spilling over with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations from the sensuous to the repugnant and horrific. Give appealing and not-so-appealing examples of vivid descriptions that pique each of a reader’s senses.

  5. What is more insidious: the physical effects of the transmission of Radio XER, or the mental and spiritual?

  6. From revolution and oppressions, to a post-revolution shell-shocked torpor, to the bewildering but perhaps promising early days of the construction of Dr. Brinkley’s tower, to the promise of prosperity and all that ensues … is there ever a time when Corazon de la Fuente is not in upheaval in one form or another? If there is a time, however brief, when in the story would you pinpoint it?

  7. Name three seemingly unlikely pairings of characters – in romance, business, crime and so on – in Dr. Brinkley’s Tower. Which pair is your favourite and why?

  8. Who is the most foolish or gullible character in Dr. Brinkley’s Tower, and who is the most savvy and resourceful? Who is toughest, perhaps the most hard-hearted? Who is most tender and compassionate? Which character surprised you the most, for good or for bad?

  9. Where do the satirical barbs of Dr. Brinkley’s Tower best hit their marks? Is it with individual human pride, hubris and folly; collective human pride, hubris, folly and duplicity in conflict or commerce; the differences and conflicts between men and women … or something else entirely?

  10. Compare and contrast the business acumen and managerial styles of Dr. Brinkley and Madam Félix.

  11. Who tells the most damaging lie in Dr. Brinkley’s Tower?

  12. When Ramon and his intimidating cronies come to Corazon de la Fuente, ostensibly hired to protect Madam Félix and her Marias in the House of Gentlemanly Pleasures, the town is quickly subjected to a new regimen of rules and social “justice”: “And so Ramón invented a code of conduct for the people of Corazón de la Fuente to disobey. Ironically, many of these bore a moralistic hue, which is always the case when laws are created by the despicable … There was no shortage of offenders — Ramón’s rules were so complicated and nonsensical that Ramón himself barely understood them.” In the mayhem that ensues, what is the book perhaps saying about contemporary approaches to crime and punishment?

  13. Will Francisco and Violeta live happily ever after? What will strengthen their bond and what might challenge it?

  14. Is Dr. Brinkley more a figure of premeditated evil or tragic folly? Does knowing that he is based on a real-life figure change your perception of him?

  15. “If there was one thing the molinero had learned in his long, long life it was that men will always find something to fight about, the rationale not mattering nearly so much as the fighting itself. This was just one of the reasons he so preferred women …” Does Dr. Brinkley’s Tower dwell too much on male and female stereotypes, or can you provide examples to the contrary?

  16. Ultimately, does the experience with Dr. Brinkley bring out more of the best or the worst of humanity? Pick only one and support that choice.

  17. Will Corazon de la Fuente rebuild, or is its future as Nuevo Laredo?

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for the opportunity to read an advance version of Dr Brinkley’s Tower by Robert Hough.

See also:

Book Review: Dr. Brinkley’s Tower, by Robert Hough
by Michael Hingston, National Post
February 24, 2012

I’ve also prepared reader guide questions for:



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