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Searching for Armando by Noelle Sickels



SEARCHING FOR ARMANDO can also be purchased as an iBook through your iBooks app.

Discussion Starters for Your Book Group

Warning: Some questions may be spoilers.




  • Choose three words to describe Snooky’s personality.  Do the same for Ralph and for Armando.

  • Why do you think Snooky and Ralph never told Noëlle and Brent about their paternity?

  • What is your opinion of the relationship between Snooky and Dorothy?  Did the positive aspects outweigh the problems or not?

  • How did Snooky’s relationship with Armando influence her?

  • Was Noëlle’s hesitancy to ask questions and search for answers understandable?

  • Did Armando’s status as an immigrant influence how he lived his life?





  • Though much of the book is biographical, the life stories aren’t presented in a straight, chronological way.  Is this a plus or a minus?

  • Does Snooky’s decision to remain in her marriage “make sense?”  Does the same decision by Ralph “make sense?”

  • Was the inclusion of excerpts from Snooky’s fiction helpful or distracting?

  • What did you think of the use of personal letters as a story-telling device?





  • Are there any secrets or mysteries in your own family’s history?  If so, how did you learn about them?  Who was the keeper of the secret and why?

  • If you were faced with a similar situation in your own marriage, do you think you’d react as Snooky and Ralph did?  Do the societal differences between 1945 and now make a difference?



An Author's Appreciation of Book Groups


Writing is both an extremely solitary occupation and an activity that presupposes the existence of an other --- the unknown reader.  I don’t write to seduce or even, necessarily, to please this reader; nevertheless, by the very nature of writing, I am constantly addressing her, inviting her to walk with me a while, to trust me enough to follow my map even if the ground is familiar, to see what I notice and listen to what I hear, to open her heart to invented pains and joys as fully as she does to those in real life.


The kind of readers who join book groups are the perfect hiking companions through a writer’s claimed landscape.  Metaphorically speaking, they know enough of botany and geology to appreciate the curve of the hills, the shadowy undergrowth of the fens, and the sweep of the beaches.  They see the forest and the trees.  They have, too, a firm purchase on human nature, both their own and various fictional representations of it, so they are able to judge a story’s people (and a person‘s story) with acumen and sympathy.


But above all else, they care.  They take the time and the energy needed for caring and give it to a book as they would to a friend.  They invest their reading and their discussions of what they have read with true passion.  They’re willing to spend their emotions and their intellect with openhanded generosity.  A casual observer of one lively book group meeting remarked with amazement on the involvement of the members with the book at hand, as if, he said, the characters under discussion were “real people they knew.”


It seems to me that the members of book groups think like writers.  They are acute observers.  To each book, they bring what they already know of both books and life, and, as importantly, they bring an openness to learning something new --- not learning in a dull, moralistic sense, but learning as discovery.  They are willing to let what is unformed within them well up and take shape in answer to words on a page.  Indeed, they invite this to happen.  For the writer, these things occur as the words come out; for the reader, they occur as the words go in.  The book group member then takes an extra step, entering with a kind of joyous bravery into the fray of explaining her reactions, harnessing yet more words --- her own and those of her fellow members --- to expand and extend the reading experience, and, in an intangible but substantial way, the book itself.


I have modest aspirations.  I do not covet a place on the best-seller list, nor a movie of the week.  What I want for my writing is an engaged audience.  (Not, perhaps, such a modest aspiration after all.)  Engaging them is part of my job, of course, but it’s a great boost to my spirits to know that readers exist who fervently seek engagement --- readers who will bring to my work as deep an attention as I spent in producing it.


I don’t know who will pick up the anthology that contains my short story, when someone will read my poem in a literary journal, or where someone will curl up with my novel.  I cannot know, either, what personal experiences, bitter and sweet, those readers carry in their backpacks as they trudge through my contrived territory, nor how they will spread their own meaning on my tale --- whether they will choose to lay their bedrolls on granite or on moss.  What I do know is that if this reader --- this intimate stranger --- is in a book group, half the battle is won, for critical but patient ears and eyes will be turned my way.  Private lives will be suspended for a brief span to make room for the lives I have devised.  I couldn’t ask for more.  I don’t.


So, to all book group members everywhere, leaning across crumb-strewn tables toward one another or circled in a living room with books open on your laps and arguments or laughter in the air, I say, keep up the good work. For it is work, and it is good, what you are doing.  Even if the authors you discuss never know a single word of what you say, even, in fact, if the authors are dead, you are contributing to their vitality and to the longevity and reality of their creations.  You are patrons of the arts, spending the invaluable coin of your minds and your sentiments.  Actions may speak louder than words, but words matter.  They matter very much.  Book groups stand witness to that.



A longer version of this essay appeared in The Book Group Book, edited by Ellen Slezak, 1995 & 2000, and in the journal, Fiction and Friends, edited by Natalie Kemmitt, 1999



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