Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Nancy’s Theory of Style includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Marta Acosta. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Nancy Edith Carrington-Chambers is a young socialite who appears to have it all: the perfect husband, whom she married in the perfect wedding; the perfect friends; the perfect connections; and she’s building the perfect house. But appearances can be deceiving, and
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. “’We should always live an authentic life,’ she said… even though
2. Nancy plays with language, making up words like “thrillified” and “delightmare,” and substituting unrelated words or expressions for the ones she means (parakeet for budget, ms pg 17; parabolic trooper for catatonic stupor, ms pg. 51). Did you find it witty or silly? Intelligent or confusing?
4. When did you begin to suspect that the people in
5. Early in the novel,
7. Miss Winkles refuse to call
8. Two themes in the novel are appearances versus reality and style versus substance. In what ways are the people and happenings in Nancy’s Guide to Style very different from how they appear?
11. In Nancy’s Guide to Style, there are various family arrangements that could be considered nontraditional.
13. Miss Winkles tells
14. “Eugenia was a problem. She was willful and impetuous and mischievous and very vocal and exasperating, which is exactly how she should have been.” (ms pg. 430) “She had thought that if she was careful and precise, if she planned everything, she would have a perfect life. But true style was messy, passionate and often impulsive.” (ms pg 446) What do you think caused
A Conversation with Marta Acosta
1. This novel is your first outside the Casa Dracula series, in which the main characters are vampires. Why did you decide to do something different with Nancy’s Guide to Style?
I tend to resist categorization as a writer, because I enjoy writing everything from feature articles to satire to more somber fiction. I consider both the Casa Dracula series and Nancy’s Theory of Style to be contemporary fiction with a strong humorous element. Much of the humor depends upon the protagonists’ self-delusions and misunderstandings, and there are also those who purposely mislead the protagonists. We may guess the destination, but the fun is in the twists and turns on the journey.
2. How would you describe your own personal style?
As a general rule, I like things that are uncomplicated, and I also like vintage style. While my preference is for less froofra, I can certainly appreciate extravagance. I prefer saturated color over pastels; I like pretty, but not cute; elegant, but not ostentatious; simple, but not boring. However, I do not suffer from the burden of perfect taste.
3. What gave you the idea to incorporate two seemingly very different things: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and women’s fiction?
I thought that
When we live with someone, we learn things we wouldn’t have otherwise, and
4. The novel has great details about architecture, design, fashion, and history. Can you tell us about the research you did?
My interests are eclectic, and I pick up information everywhere – whether it’s visiting a beautiful building, listening to an informed friend, reading a magazine, or going to a costume exhibit at a museum. I’m as likely to a documentary about architect Maya Lin as I am about designer Karl Lagerfeld, or prostitution during
I’d always been fascinated by tidbits of history about the Barbary Coast, and I’d bought my husband a copy of Herbert Asbury’s The
I listen to every word that Tim Gunn says on his many design shows. I wish I was wise enough to follow all his advice.
5. What do you consider to be your own runway music?
I could never pick one favorite song. I’ll say any song with ‘
6. You live in
I lived in SF for many years, but now I live across the bay. Every morning I go to the shoreline and enjoy the view across the water to the city. The locations in Nancy’s Theory of Style are real for the most part, and any visitor to
As for the people, one of the delightful things about
I couldn’t possibly list all my favorite things about
Classic San Francisco: a second-floor window seat at Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach, buying music on Haight St., checking out the vintage and arty shops in the Mission, having a drink at one of the funky waterfront bars, taking a walk on Ocean Beach, visiting Golden Gate Park, and going to a performance, whether it’s the opera or seeing a band.
7. Birdie gave birth to Eugenia but has very little maternal instinct, while
Yes. Some women know absolutely that they want to have children. I was one of them and there was never any question in my mind. I admire women who realize that they don’t have that mothering instinct and take care not to have children. However, I think that
8. There are a lot of funny moments in the novel, but it also deals with very real issues such as alcoholism, and people struggling to find their true paths. Is there a message you hope readers will take away?
The message with this novel is fairly simple:
Her need to control is the direct result of her parents’ problems. Children of alcoholics often need to bring order to otherwise chaotic lives. Her own experience with negligent parents makes her especially sympathetic to her niece’s situation.
9. Who are your favorite authors? Who would you consider your inspiration?
I know it’s cliché to say Jane Austen, but she’s one of my favorites. I love the sense of decency in her novels. Of course, I also love the clever banter, the well-structured plots, and the emotional depth of her characters. It’s not the fashion to admire books with a moral clarity, but I find them emotionally reassuring in an unstable world.
Mark Twain has always been a favorite. I respond to his dazzling absurdity, but I also love his intelligence and the darkness and cynicism in much of his work. He was a modern thinker often confounded by a foolish world.
I’ve read an awful lot of Henry James and admire the complexity of his characters. No one is simply good or evil; they are motivated by emotional, financial, sexual, and social desires.
P.G. Wodehouse has been an inspiration, because I so enjoy his deliciously extravagant characters and outlandish dialogue. There’s such joy in his writing.
10. What can we expect to see from you next? Are you working on another paranormal novel? Something more like Nancy’s Guide to Style? Or something completely different?
The fourth in my Casa Dracula series will be released soon, and I’m also working on another contemporary novel set in San Francisco. I’ve also written a young adult gothic novel set in an elite all-girls academy.
Tips to Enhance Your Book Club
4. Get a copy of The Art of War, and flag some of your favorite quotes to share with the group. Do you think the tenets can be applied to everyday life?