Running with Stilettos (Wagner)

Discussion Questions
1. In the book’s “Forward,” the author describes her “turning point” in footwear, going from sneakers and sensible shoes to spike heels for the first time when midway through her forties. After finishing the book, what do you think that first pair of stiletto heels really symbolized in her life? Was it just about fashion?

2. How did you respond to the author’s “voice”? Did her experiences with work and children and a failed marriage ring true with you?

3. The author describes some wrenching transitions in her life when she was a teenager in “Cookie Therapy.” How do you think her past family relationships affect her present relationships with her children? Do chocolate chip cookies really make everything better?

4. In the essay “Turbo Dating-A Year in Review,” the author describes jumping into the dating world with both feet after 25 years of marriage.  What did you think of her kamikaze approach? In retrospect, do you think she should have waited longer before making that transition? Was she brave, dumb, headstrong, or some other combination?

5. Many modern memoirs—think of Running with Scissors or The Men we Reaped or to a lesser extent The Glass Castle—thrive on peeling back family and relationship dysfunctions with brutal honesty and scalpel-like precision and sharpness, leaving no stones unturned or individuals spared. How is this book different?  Why do you think the author took a more veiled approach? Did it leave you feeling relieved…or short-changed?

6. Think back to your childhood. Was it a “safe” place? How has that affected how you view the world and the people around you? How do you think the family decision when the author was a teenager to leave the city and move to an abandoned farm affected her? Does it reverberate in her relationship with her children or in her choices as a mother?

7. In “Ripple Effect,” the author shares the story of how her life and career path was changed by someone else’s encouragement, and reminds her children that “kindness is never wasted” in that you never know where your good words may carry someone else to.  Has there been a time in your life when someone’s belief in you has pushed you farther than you thought you could go?  What do you think makes some people take that encouragement and run with it, and others turn a deaf ear and stay in place?

8. Which essay in Running with Stilettos was most memorable for you? Why? Was there one in particular that made you think “Hey, I could do that too!” or "Yes, I've gone through that as well!"

9. In “Love in Wood and Wax,” the author talks about how her definitions and understanding of “romance” and “romantic gestures” have changed over time. Have yours? Is that a good thing or not? If they have, do you still miss “the old romantic stuff”?

10. Liberation can take many forms, but in the author’s case, two major symbols of taking charge of her life are her power tools. Which do you think was the biggest leap forward for her—the cordless drill or the chain saw?  And where do you stand on the subject of doing “the manly stuff” around the house?

11.  After her divorce, the author’s transition in tools went by necessity from cupcake pans and a hand-mixer to the drill and a tool kit. Can you see yourself in her shoes? Are you in them already? What was the last tool you used and what for?

12.  In “Return to the Fatherland,” the author writes of taking her elderly father and her teenaged sons to Germany for a reunion with their relatives, only to find en route that his mind was far more fragile than she had known. The roles of parent and child immediately and sadly changed. Did the trip have the result that she had wanted? What good things came from the journey despite her father’s increasing frailty? Do you think that her sons learned more from it than they expected to as well?

13. The author describes the evolution of her thinking about healthy relationships between men and women in “The Devil on Horseback,” based on a romantic suspense novel from her childhood. Has your thinking about relationships changed as well? How? What made it grow or change? Did you ever harbor the same delusions and rescue fantasies that the author grew up with? Where did they come from?  Are fairy tales completely to blame?

14. The author clearly has a soft spot for animals, whether cats, dogs, or the horses she had since she was a teenager. Would she have been a different person without them in her life?

15. In “The Island,” the author describes renting a cabin in a vacation spot she had only experienced before this with her husband and children, long before the divorce. Her stated intention was to spend the week writing in peace and quiet. Was that the most important thing she took away from it? Could it have gone badly instead? How would YOU step out of your “pressure cooker” life for a week?

16. Is there a lesson to be taken away from this author’s life? What do you think it is, and why do you think it’s important?
(Questions provided courtesy of the author.)

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