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1. Start with the book's title: what is the thematic significance of "tinkers" (plural, not singular) to the story? Who are the tinkers...and what does it mean to be a tinker, literally...and figuratively, within this story?

2. Consider, too, the evocative book cover with its vast white snowscape and the single figure in the distance. How might the image be related, symbolically, to the story? What connection is explored between wilderness and humanity, life and dying?

3. At the beginning, as George lies dying, the ceiling collapses on top of him. Think about the irony: in most deathbed scenes, souls float upward to heaven; in this one, heaven comes crashing down. Did it actually happen...or is it an hallucination? And why does the story begin as it does?

4. How would you describe Howard—a man who makes his living selling tangible goods but who stops, literally, to smell the flowers? What about his disappearance? Was Howard right to simply disappear when threatened with hospitalization? Was his wife justified in wanting him institutionalized?

5. Talk about the way in which the author writes about Howard's epilepsy, how seizures offer Howard a visionary sense of reality, of the world. Do Harding's descriptions of the seizures seem plausible...overly artistic...? Why, as an author, might Harding have given his character this disorder?

6. Howard is the link between two generations of men in this novel. Talk about those three men—especially Howard's relationship with his father...and with his son George? What impact did Howard's father's dementia have on him...and what impact did his own epilepsy have on George?

7. This book is concerned with the joining of matter (people and things) with the transcendent—unknowable space and time. Talk about George's love of time-pieces—ticking clocks with their gears and tumblers—and Howard's love of his tin pots, wrought iron, nails, and nylon stockings. What do these dual fascinations suggest about the ability, or desire, of humans to control time and space? Can time be tamed?

8. Discuss the book's structure, the ways the points of view, time frame, and even tenses change. Did you find the various ways of telling—through journals, manuals, diaries, meditations—difficult to follow? Does the book, to you, lack unity or seem disjointed? Why might Harding have chosen this unusual narrative structure?

9. What role do Native Americans play in this story? Why do we catch glimpses of them—chasing salmon beneath boats, as "silhouettes traced by the sun," repairing birch bark—only to see them vanish quietly back into the forest? What is their connection to the novel's themes?

10. Paul Harding says he is a transcendentalist (see "About the Author," above). What is a transcendentalist (think Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau) and how are those beliefs and philosophy expressed within this novel? In what way is this book a transcendentalist work, perhaps akin to Thoreau's Walden? (You might want to do a little research.)

11. Ultimately, what does this book have to say about the passage from life to death, about how the past shapes the present, and about our dreams? Can you put into words some of the life issues Paul Harding explores in this work?

12. Talk about the books publishing history. According to the New York Times (4/18/10), the book was rejected over and over again by major publishing houses. Harding says all the rejection letters suggested that "Nobody wants to read a slow, contemplative, meditative, quiet book." "It was, 'Where are the car chases?'" Of course...now Harding is vindicated: the book has won critical acclaim, including the 2010 Pulitzer. What do you feel about the remark that Tinkers is too slow paced and contemplative? Did you feel that way reading it? Do you think it will appeal to a wider audience—or to only serious readers? If you were an editor, would you have taken a chance on this book...or passed it over?


* Some questions from LitLovers.


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