Notes on a Banana Book Club Guide

Book Club

Hey, if you would like me to drop in on your book club discussion of Notes on a Banana via Skype, write me at Always happy to oblige.

Do you belong to a book club? Or, maybe, you like to have questions to make you think about a book? Well, here you go. A tailor-made guide to Notes on a Banana just for you.

  1. What’s unique about Leite’s family and childhood experience?
  2. Leite says that watching television, something he loved to do, caused him to be ashamed of his family. What does he mean? How did it affect his behavior over time?
  3. What is the meaning of the Azorean term veneta, used to describe Leite’s mother and later himself? In what ways is it a valuable or challenging quality?
  4. What’s the significance of the book’s title? What’s the effect of his mother’s small, consistent gesture of leaving a note for Leite each day?
  5. Leite sees his “unusual behaviors” beginning very early in his life. How might one distinguish between normal childhood fears or anxieties and early onset mental illness?
  6. What’s the significance of Leite’s childhood experience with Mr. Goode?
  7. Despite feeling “seen and heard” as a boy, especially when performing for his family, Leite’s first experience with a psychologist made him feel “heard in a way [he] had never been before.” What was different?
  8. Of what particular value in there in Leite’s watching Julia Child?
  9. Leite became aware of not just his feeling of fear but how it was also a physical experience. What is the relationship between the mind and the body? In what ways is concern for the physical self helpful regarding anxiety and fear?
  10. What signs—behavior, thoughts, language—might help identify symptoms of manic depression, particularly early onset illness with children?
  11. Talking about his powerful feelings in therapy, Leite “had begun falling in love with language.” What is it about writing and talking that is so potent and useful for him?
  12. During one of his first stage performances, in Carnival!, Leite “understood…what [he] wanted was to be acknowledged, to be seen.” How is this different from his experience with his parents or first therapist?
  13. How does Leite’s awareness of being gay emerge? What particular struggles does he have when he reaches his teens? What role do other people play in helping or hindering his self-acceptance?
  14. Leite sees the extreme “highs and lows” of his feelings as the source for his creative and artistic success. In what ways is it necessary or not to risk such emotional turmoil to make powerful art?
  15. In his struggle with his relationship with Bridget, Leite realizes that while “what [he] felt toward her was true, what [he] experienced with men was right.” What does he mean? What’s the difference? What else helps explain the complexity of his feelings for Bridget?
  16. Both Paul and Bridget provide Leite with a certain valuable “proof.” What is it that each verifies for him? Why is this so valuable? In what ways is David Lindsay’s demand for proof from Leite of his manic depression similar or different? How might the idea of proof be related to Leite’s need to keep secrets much of his life?
  17. In what ways was Leite’s time in the kitchen working for the Hollis family valuable? What experiences did it remind him of?
  18. What was Leite’s initial attraction to Aesthetic Realism? What are the fundamental ideas that such “treatment” is based on? How is it a cult? What about it does Ronnie believe to be so wrong and dangerous?
  19. Why does Leite feel “the most normal [he’s] felt in more than four years” when working at Windows on the World restaurant?
  20. In what ways was David Lindsey Griffin different and better as a therapist for Leite? How did this affect the work they did?
  21. What valuable qualities does Alan Dunkelberger bring to Leite’s life? What role does this play in Leite’s illness and recovery?
  22. What is it about food—both the cooking and the eating—that appeals to Leite? What are some of his most important moments with food?
  23. At one point, Alan’s profound and genuine laughter “short-circuited” one of Leite’s strong emotional moods. How did this work? What’s the role of laughter in a healthy life?
  24. Why did it take so long to get an accurate diagnosis for Leite’s condition?
  25. What’s the value of Leite’s visit to Portugal and Senora Elvira? Why had he “whitewashed” himself of his heritage over the years?
  26. Leite’s serious argument with Alan “uncovered a bunker of unexpressed feelings.” What are they? What is Alan finally expressing about the toll Leite’s mental illness has had on him? How have they each worked to keep this from ending their relationship as Leite expected it would?
  27. Leite describes the various ways he must negotiate the effects of his illness as “inelegant at best.” What might he mean?
  28. What makes a place home? What are the essential parts of that feeling for Leite? How is this satisfied or compromised by having to split time in the country and the city? How does it affect his relationship with Alan?
  29. The preparation for and experience of the elaborate cassoulet dinner party combines many elements essential to Leite’s health and happiness. What are these?
  30. How might Leite’s story be helpful in opening conversations about mental illness that might reduce the stigma, educate, and heal?