Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Journal of Best Practices includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with David and Kristen Finch. 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.
Filled with humor and surprising insight, The Journal of Best Practices is DavidFinch’s personal and candid exploration of his quest to become a betterhusband—in spite of and aided by his Asperger syndrome. Faced with thefailings of his marriage, David embarks on a ruthless self-improvement planfull of note-taking, spousal performance reviews, and a running journal ofthe ways in which he can be a better partner, a better father, and a betterman. A unique and moving look into life on the autism spectrum, David’sis a story that shows it’s never too late to change, and that love—with theright amount of hard work—can conquer all.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. “I was thirty years old and had been married five years when I learnedthat I have Asperger syndrome, a relatively mild form of autism.” Discussthis opening scene in which Kristen asks David a series of questionsfrom an Asperger’s evaluation test. How does this passage establish theirrelationship?
2. Discuss the way David stayed on his “best behavior” in the beginningstages of his relationship with Kristen. Have you ever hid a certain personalpreference, quirk, or eccentricity when first meeting someone?Did you ever feel comfortable enough to share this part of yourself ?What was the reaction?
3. David lists the four distinguishing characteristics of Asperger syndromeas “persistent, intense preoccupations; unusual rituals and behaviors;impaired social-reasoning abilities; and clinical-strength egocentricity.”In what ways does he embody these characteristics? To what extent hashe learned to manage them by the memoir’s end?
4. Why are David’s “optimized personalities” so effective for business butfall short when he is at home with his family?
5. What constitutes a lack of empathy? How does David more successfullyempathize with Kristen after starting his journal?
6. List and track David’s display of adaptability, or “going with the flow,”over the course of the memoir—from sharing living space with Delemontand Meredith to his weekend at the wedding in Charleston.
7. Do you think there is a general set of rules for maintaining a healthyrelationship? In your response consider David’s admiration of Andy andMary’s marriage, his notions of being a “flawless” husband, and his redefinitionof the word perfect.
8. How would you describe David’s portrayal of Kristen in The Journal ofBest Practices? How does she change over the course of the narrative?How would this account of their marriage differ if it were told from herperspective?
9. Did you think David’s application of employee performance reviewswas a good idea? Would you perform such an experiment in your ownrelationship?
10. When writing about his tendency to overthink things and his desireto be more present for his children, David states: “In order to feel, onemust suspend analysis and critical thinking. . . . You have to learn tohand yourself over to the moment.” Do you agree? Is the key to joy theexclusion of thought?
11. Why are routines so important to us? What are some of your own dailyroutines? Discuss David’s struggle with breaking rituals and considerhow committed you are to your own.
12. Do you know anyone with an autism spectrum condition? How hasyour knowledge of autism spectrum conditions changed after readingThe Journal of Best Practices?
13. Discuss David’s narrative voice. Was there a particular scene or descriptionthat stands out to you? What parts made you laugh?
14. Consider David’s moments of revelation, such as when he was watchingSportsCenter and had the epiphany of “going with the flow.” Why werethese specific analogies helpful to David? Did you see the logic in theway they related to his condition?
15. Do you think keeping a Journal of Best Practices would be useful for a“neurotypical”? Can you apply any of David’s Best Practices to your ownlife?
16. What inspired you or your book club to read The Journal of Best Practices?What are your overall thoughts about the book? What are youeager to discuss with your book club?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Try keeping your own Journal of Best Practices and document the waysin which you interact with others. Does writing down and being awareof how you communicate and react to others benefit your relationships?What are some of the Best Practices you discovered? Discuss what it waslike to keep a journal, and share your Best Practices with your book clubmembers.
2. Discuss the epigraph by Arthur Adamov: “The only thing to know ishow to use your neuroses.” Reflect on your own personality. How canyou channel your own neuroses or less-than-desirable personality traitsfor good?
3. If you’re brave enough, engage in a performance review with a spouse,significant other, family member, or even with one of your book clubmembers. How do you score? Is it easy to be honest with those closest toyou?
4. Consider reading Abby Sher’s Amen Amen Amen: Memoir of a Girl WhoCouldn’t Stop Praying (Among Other Things) or any book by A. J. Jacobsfor your next book club selection. How do the memoirs compare? Howsimilar are the authors’ approaches to self-improvement and realization?
5. Visit www.davidfinchwriter.com to watch interviews between Davidand Kristen, to read the He Said and She Said blog posts, and to requestDavid to call in to your book club discussion. Or check him out onFacebook: www.facebook.com/davidfinchwriter.
A Conversation with David and Kristen Finch
Author David Finch and his wife, Kristen, sat down with some fans at Simon &Schuster’s offices in New York to discuss The Journal of Best Practices. Here isan excerpt of that conversation.
Q: David seems almost comically committed to self-improvement. Was thisprocess about fixing him?
K: No, it was never about fixing him. Our relationship needed work, sothat’s what we set out to fix. Although, it’s not inaccurate to say he wasalmost comically committed to self-improvement. Dave sometimestakes things to what many people would consider to be an extreme.
D: After we learned I have Asperger’s, my first thought was that if I couldsimply rid myself of the condition, then I’d be someone Kristen couldlove. But Kristen helped me to see that I wasn’t broken, that we hadsimply gained new insight into how I work. Still, I knew that welive in a neurotypical world—that I was married to someone froma different planet—and I was motivated to understand how I couldfunction better in that world. Kristen was my very willing guide to herneurotypical world, and I was her guide to Aspergerland.
Q: So fixing your marriage wasn’t about overcoming Asperger’s?
D: No. I learned how to manage some of the deficits and leverage thestrengths attendant with the condition—applying my hyper-focus torestoring our friendship and learning methods for going with the flow,for example—and that helped our relationship. But most of the thingsI needed to work on were things that every husband and wife haveto work on: helping around the house, communicating, not puttingempty milk cartons back in the fridge.
Q: What Best Practice offered the biggest breakthrough?
D: The biggest breakthrough is so hard to pin down; they were all soessential. I’d say going with the flow and tuning in to the worldaround me were high up there. Learning how to go with the flow andappreciating reality was what opened the door to a whole new worldof joy and happiness for us. Our marriage is messy and chaotic andimperfect, and yet, it’s so perfect for us.
K: Those were huge, and I think using words was a biggie. Communicationenables every other aspect of the relationship, and without it we wouldhave remained stuck.
Q: Have all the Best Practices taken hold?
K: Oh, come on. Laundry?!
D: I do laundry all the—
K: Let me stop you right there. I want it to be known that the laundrychapter is completely fraudulent.
K: Nope. Fraud. Take it out, take out the whole chapter. Just yesterday Ifound you in there digging through the dryer for your cape, and don’ttry to deny it. I have pictures.
D: Ehh . . . okay, some of the Best Practices did not stick.
Q: What’s this about a cape?
D: Let’s move on.
Q: Kristen, how did you not know that David had Asperger’s?
D: Because I’m dripping with normalcy.
K: That, and I never understood how challenging things were for you.Until we took the quiz, you’d never explained how much effort wentinto things I tend to take for granted, like socializing or just gettingthrough a typical day with your sanity intact. Also, I wasn’t observingyou through a diagnostic lens; I was just coming home from work andspending time with my husband. Slowly the condition revealed itselfto us, one confusing situation at a time.
D: Yeah. The threshold of wackiness and drama and resentmenttends to creep up on you when you’re married and it’s just onemisunderstanding after another. Things heat slowly to a boil whenyou’re not communicating.
Q: David describes how playing characters has served him well throughout hislife. Are there still moments when you see those characters?
K: Yes, I still see roles being played in social situations that require himto be “on.” I think it helps him to navigate interactions. Businessmanmade an appearance recently in Boston. We were trying to get seated ina crowded restaurant, and I saw Dave go from Happy Dave to RuthlessBusinessman in a split second.
Q: Businessman showed up and took control? What happened?
K: We were seated right away; everyone else had to wait.
D: I remember that. I had the lobster.