Winter Reading Series: KEEPING THE FEAST Discussion Questions

Hello Winter Readers!

This month we’re reading Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini, a beautiful and inspiring memoir of food, depression, marriage, and family that took us on a journey from the dinner table in her childhood home in Connecticut all the way to the open air markets in sun-drenched Italy.  We are so excited to have Paula here in real time answering any questions you might have on Monday, February 22, at 5 pm PST (which is my time zone- she lives overseas but will be in Washington, DC, on the day of our discussion).  If you’ve read Keeping the Feast, or are curious about it, please mark your calendars and join us as we discuss the book with Paula!

Here is a synopsis of the book, followed by a few discussion questions:

Keeping the Feast is a story of love, trauma, and the personal and marital healing that can come from a beautiful place and its simple traditions. It’s a memoir about what happens when tragedy and its psychological aftershocks strike a previously happy marriage and a couple must stubbornly fight to find its bearings. Most significantly, it is a book about the power of one of the most fundamental rituals – the daily sharing of food around a family table. Food — the growing, shopping, preparing, cooking, eating, talking, sharing and memory of it — becomes the symbol of a family’s innate desire to survive, to accept and even celebrate what falls its way.

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to add your own questions, and respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book?  Did you enjoy it?  Was it what you expected?

2.  Were there parts of this book that were difficult to read?

3.  What aspect of the book did you enjoy most?

4.  John and Paula’s marriage was brand new when tragedy struck.  It might have been easier to leave than stay, yet they got through it.  Would you have had the strength to stay, given the circumstances?

5.  What role do you think Rome and rituals played in their recovery?

6.  What role does food play in your family?  Do you live to eat or eat to live?

7.  While reading Keeping the Feast, did you ever get frustrated with Paula?  With John?

8.  Paula had firsthand experience with depression through her relationship with her mother before it overtook her husband.  Were you surprised that she handled her husband’s bouts with depression the way she did, given her history?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Keeping the Feast. Thanks for reading along with us.  And don’t forget to join us on February 22nd for our discussion with Paula!


40 Responses

  1. Oh no, do I have the date written down wrong? I thought this was on February 16, so I haven’t read it yet.

  2. I am really looking forward to discussing the book and I am super psyched that Paula will be joining the discussion! See you Monday!

  3. I did enjoy this book, very much. I read it recently, partially while staying at the Grand Californian Hotel near Disneyland and California Adventure. This book made me crave asparagus, among other vegetables! Luckily, the hotel had a wonderful roasted vegetable soup with asparagus in it.

    While my kids went on some of the “scary” rides at CA Adventure, I sat on a bench with this book, quite content to read while they waited in line for rides. I must say that this book made me appreciate good, “simple” food more–all of the food mentioned in it sounds so delicious that I even have a short post about some of it:

    I will definitely comment again on this post, with some answers to the questions posed, and perhaps I’ll ask some new questions. And I will also be back on Feb. 22.

    • Asparagus is in all the stores right now, but my kids and I don’t eat it! My husband does, though. I’m such a baby- I should try it again. I haven’t had it since childhood, maybe I’d like it now.

      The book made me want to go to a Farmer’s Market..

  4. I’m just going to start with the first question for now. I absolutely loved the book, mostly because I’ve got a thing for reading about Americans who live overseas, preferably in Europe. I especially liked the contrast between Paula’s grandparents experience as immigrants in America, and Paula’s experience as an American in Rome.

    What surprised me the most about the book was how readable it was, and how well told the story is. Unfortunately, travel memoirs can be a gamble…it seems like anyone who has lived overseas lately gives themselves permission to write a book…and many of them shouldn’t have. But Paula can write! It’s a vivid, engaging story. Also, she has a variety of stories and experiences to share, so I think the book appeals to a wider audience.

    I do have a question for her. I was surprised by their decision to buy a house in France…I would’ve expected a return to Italy. I was wondering if she’d be willing to speak a little bit about what factors influenced their decision to buy a house in France, and if Italy was even a consideration.

  5. I loved this book (my review is here)…my favorite parts were how Paula started each chapter with a childhood memory of food and then related that to a point in the story. I definitely live to eat – I love food. To me it represents much more than just eating…and I can see how it was healing to Paula and her husband as they returned to the traditions which had brought them comfort in the past.

    I’ve suffered from depression before, and so I think I really empathized with John and what he was going through…at the same time, I wanted sometimes to reach through the pages of the book and shake him! I think these kinds of emotions are completely normal…and I was amazed at Paula’s resilience in the face of such a severe depression. I kept thinking back that she had also just suffered a traumatic event (the beating) but was not really able to process and work through that for herself when John was shot. She had to shelve her feelings related to the beating in order to help John…very difficult thing to do. I admire her strength. And I also think her anger was certainly appropriate given all of this.

    • Great review, Wendy! I also loved how each section began with a memory.. it’s so interesting how certain foods or smells can evoke such powerful, detailed memories..

      My husband went through a nervous breakdown and a serious bout of depression.. having never been through anything like that myself I have to say I was not that patient with him after a while, and not very understanding. ANd then I got angry. I desperately wanted him to snap out of it. Paula is a much better person than I am..

      I also wanted to shake John while reading the book!

  6. I have seen a couple of reviews for this. It looks interesting but depressing. I’m undecided

  7. Bookmagic, the book wasn’t depressing to me, although it does discuss very serious issues. Food in this book is a source of comfort and joy and healing.

  8. […] food can help us heal in times of crisis. If you have read the book, you might be interested in Lisa’s discussion of it on her blog for the Winter Reading Series…and don’t forget to catch the author there for a live […]

  9. Bookmagic: The book is “about” depression, but it’s not “depressing” if that makes sense. I thought it was very touching. It might feel depressing to some people because that’s the nature of the disease that Paula’s husband is dealing with, it’s heartbreaking, and that feeling comes across in Paula’s writing. But it was a beautiful story, I enjoyed it very much. My review is at The Crowded Leaf.

    I’ll be back on the 22nd!

  10. Pretty interesting site you’ve got here. Thanx for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

    Best regards
    Steave Markson

  11. I really enjoyed the book, it was very well written. At the end of reading the book, I took a look at the cover, saw the titles and thought yes, I know what Keeping the Feast means. I’m excited to join in the discussion and I posted my review this week.

  12. Here is a link to an article from my newspaper the Hartford Courant:,0,433639.story

  13. Just finished it last week! Here’s a link to a link to my review:

    Loved it!

  14. Paula had firsthand experience with depression through her relationship with her mother before it overtook her husband. Were you surprised that she handled her husband’s bouts with depression the way she did, given her history?

    Actually I was suprised. having faced it with her mother I think it could have been handled differently.

    • I was actually kind of surprised too, probably because I’ve recently gone through it with my husband. Paula’s patience astounded me- I was not that patient. How would you have handled it?

  15. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it? Was it what you expected?

    i think that it just wasn’t a book for me, personally. It was a well written book but not what I expected.

    • I can understand that. It was a little different than I expected too, but I found a lot of beauty in the writing and, maybe because of my personal experience, it just spoke to me.

  16. What aspect of the book did you enjoy most?

    Well, LOL, I wanted to eat the whole time!

  17. What role does food play in your family? Do you live to eat or eat to live?

    Being from the South food plays a big part in our lives. Most family gathering are centered around food so I get it.

  18. […] it! lisamm on Winter Reading Series: KEEPING…lisamm on Winter Reading Series: KEEPING…lisamm on Winter Reading Series: […]

  19. Clearly I’m late to this party! 🙂

    I will finish the book this week, it’s interesting for me (Loving the travel and the delight of the food).

    In general I don’t understand the pull towards food, call is a blessing or a curse… I can live without it and never ‘crave’ anything special. Maybe this is why I enjoy raw veggies so much! HA

    Can’t wait for Monday.

  20. I finished the book a couple days ago. It was very well written and my review is up now. It wasn’t what I expected at all really. It wasn’t depressing even though it was about depression. I too had those thoughts about shaking John out of it. Paula put up with a lot but it crossed my mind she was depressed as well. Who wouldn’t be after both their experiences. She just handled it differently.

    In regard to staying in the marriage. The thought probably would have never crossed my mind to leave. Yes, it was a rough way to begin a marriage, but how could anyone walk away from their partner just when they need them the most.

    I think being in a place like Italy with the outdoor markets and the need to shop everyday played a big part. Imagine living in a city where food stores weren’t as convenient and to drive to get there. Or you didn’t have the slow pace and the siesta time. The slower pace, the daily outings were necessary to survive. In turn, it turned into a ritual that helped give something to do each day. A goal. If that makes sense.

    I’m not a big live to eat type of person. I’m more of a eat to live and life doesn’t revolve around food. However, put me in Italy or france for that matter, I would probably change.

    It’s hard to say I enjoyed the book when you are reading a difficult subject such as what they went through. But the thing is it is well written and shows a real strength of character. I appreciated it and her vivid descriptions and sharing her memories. I’m glad I read it.

    My review is here:

  21. […] conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for […]

  22. I enjoyed this book, too. I hope that I would have been like Paula and stuck by my new husband “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,” but I will never know for sure. I do know that I wouldn’t have been as patient as she was, though. I admire her perseverance.

  23. I was wondering what kinds of thoughts were running through her head when her husband decided to try shock therapy? Not many with mental illness go that route, and I was curious about what made him want to try it for the first time. I am also curious if the procedure is seen as less stigmatizing in that part of the world.

    I really admired Paula and thought that the book really did a good job at capturing her gentleness and commitment to her husband. I do not know how I would handle something like this, but thought she did it with grace and an uncommon understanding.

    I also really liked all the food descriptions and found the scenes of Paula wandering the garden to be lush and intoxicating. I, too, had wished there were some recipes included!

  24. […] copy provided by Riverhead Books for The Winter Reading Series on Books on the Brain.   I am an Amazon […]

  25. […] update: Lisa M. of Books On The Brain, is hosting a discussion with Paula Butturini on February 22 at 5:00 PST. You may want to tune in […]

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