The Overstory Book Guide—February 26th
Session, Wednesday, 6-7:30pm
Location: Grafton Public Library
great way to approach a discussion about “The Overstory” is to focus on just
one of the nine characters in-depth, as they move through the book. Think about
which character’s story is most compelling to you and why. Notice how or if
your character changes and how they interact with others in the narrative. Decide
if you can understand or relate to your chosen character’s decisions and
motivations. If time allows in our
discussion, we may split up into sub-groups for a time, based on your chosen
- Why do you think Richard Powers
chose the title “The Overstory”?
- What was your experience with
trees as a child, and what has it been as an adult? Have trees shaped your
life in any meaningful way? Do you have a favorite tree?
- Adam initially builds his
career on studying the faults in human brains, such as confirmation bias
and the conflation of correlation with causality. Meanwhile, Douglas is
convinced that humans’ greatest flaw is mistaking agreement for truth.
What questions does this book ask about human failings?
- What does Powers mean when he
describes humans as “trapped in blinkered bodies”?
- What do you make of the
voices Olivia hears, and her sense of conviction that “the most wondrous
products of four billion years of life” need our help?
- Did this book cause you to do
any further research on trees or any other topics or search for
information about the historical events mentioned in the book? What did
- It is a difficult moment for
Douglas when he learns that all of his years of planting trees have only
allowed companies to increase its annual allowable cut. How did this book
make you think differently, if at all, about clear-cutting? Do you see it
happening in your own community?
- What are you learning about
trees that you didn’t know before? Did some of Patricia’s research
surprise you, either about the “giving trees” or the ways dead trees
contribute to forests? Did any of it change the way you see trees?
- Patricia describes trees and
humans as being “at war” over land and water and the atmosphere, and that
she can see “which side will lose by winning.” What does she mean by that?
- The book is divided into four
parts: “Roots,” “Trunk,” “Crown,” and “Seeds.” What is the significance of
each section? Were you surprised when the stories began to intertwine?
- Were you surprised by the
lengths that Adam, Olivia, Nicholas, Mimi and Douglas went to try to wake
people up to the destruction of forests? What did you think of their
- What have you read in the
news lately that mirrors the stories in “The Overstory”? How is “The
Overstory” playing out in real life in your own community?
- What is the significance of
the worlds Neelay creates within his game, “Mastery”?
- What was your opinion of
“direct action” as a means of effective activism before the book? What is your
opinion after reading it? Do you think it should play a role in addressing
the destruction of our planet?
- Toward the end of the book,
Dorothy is arrested for her determination to let her yard grow wild. Did
this book change how you see your own backyard?
- As the book closes, Mimi
seems to say that the world as it has been is ending and a new one will
begin. Does that ring true to you? How does that make you feel?
- Richard Powers writes: “The
best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing
that can do that is a good story.” Do you agree? Did any part of this
story change your mind?