Step into the captivating world of celebrated NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg as she unveils the extraordinary memoir Dinners with Ruth.
In this enchanting tale, Totenberg shares her personal successes, struggles, and the life-affirming relationships that shaped her journey, including her cherished friendship of nearly fifty years with the iconic Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You will discover the origins of their profound bond, much before the glory years before their respective careers reached incredible heights.
Through triumph and heartache, Totenberg and Ginsburg stood side by side, breaking down barriers and transforming the workplace into a much healthier one for many more generations to come.
In this discussion guide, we will have a look at some amazing book club questions for Dinners With Ruth that will not just help you in understanding how to navigate the complexities of life but also aid you in learning how to savor the power of a friendship that transcends time with all its glory.
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Dinners With Ruth Book Club Questions
- “Dinners with Ruth” primarily revolves around Totenberg’s friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a relationship that has garnered criticism due to ethical questions regarding journalistic integrity. Totenberg’s portrayal of her association with Ginsburg has been described as celebratory rather than accountable.
How does this framing of their friendship affect your perception of the book’s central message and the credibility of Totenberg as a legal correspondent?
- The book seems to have an identity crisis, bouncing among biographical sketches, anecdotes, and summaries of Supreme Court cases. It has been argued that it lacks a clear focus or purpose, and thus for me, as a reader, it came across as a shallow exploration of the justice system of my country.
Do you agree with my conclusion? Also, do you believe that the book’s undefined genre adds to or detracts from its impact and readability?
- Totenberg’s portrayal of Supreme Court Justices as close friends might be seen as blurring the lines between professional objectivity and personal relationships. Anecdotes such as Justice Scalia’s playful response to a controversial case or Justice Breyer helping with household chores humanize these figures, but also raise concerns about the impartiality of Totenberg’s reporting.
How does the intimate nature of these relationships affect your view of Totenberg’s ability to provide unbiased reporting?
- The narrative of the book indicates Totenberg’s intention to celebrate friendship and its significant influence on people’s lives. However, critics argue that this intention might function as a shield against criticism for the potential conflicts of interest that arise from her friendships.
Does the focus on friendship legitimize these potential conflicts of interest, or should these relationships be more critically examined?
- Totenberg takes a neglectful attitude when it comes to delving into the complex nature of long-term friendships, instead presenting a largely harmonious and uncontroversial relationship with Ginsburg.
According to you, do you think a more nuanced exploration of the ups and downs of Totenberg and Ginsburg’s friendship would have added a bit more depth and authenticity to the book?
- Critics accuse Totenberg of a decline in her journalistic rigor compared to her early career. They point out her 1974 article about the Supreme Court’s mistreatment of Black employees, which sharply contrasts with her largely uncritical treatment of the justices in “Dinners with Ruth”.
How does this shift in her approach to reporting impact your opinion of her journalistic ethics and practices?
- The book contains a notable omission: Ginsburg’s limited hiring of Black clerks throughout her tenure as a Supreme Court justice and Federal Appeals Court judge. This absence could be seen as indicative of Totenberg’s reluctance to challenge her friends or to jeopardize her relationships with powerful figures.
How does this omission affect your interpretation of Totenberg’s portrayal of Ginsburg and her own commitment to social justice?
- Dinners with Ruth seems to prioritize maintaining access to influential figures over journalistic integrity, often downplaying how power and decisions have an impact on a regular citizen. A lot of people have argued that this diminishes the quality of her reporting and analysis.
How do you assess the balance Totenberg strikes between her professional responsibilities and her personal relationships?
- Towards the end of the book, Ginsburg confesses to keeping Totenberg uninformed about her failing health to avoid putting her friend in a compromising position. This revelation suggests that Ginsburg was aware of the potential conflict of interest their friendship presented for Totenberg.
How does this admission influence your understanding of Ginsburg’s perspective on their relationship and her views on journalistic ethics?
- The book underscores the need for journalists covering powerful institutions to remain detached and unbiased. Totenberg contends that her close friendships with Supreme Court justices hindered her ability to report objectively.
Given the arguments presented in the book and the critiques it has received, how do you think a journalist should navigate relationships with their subjects in order to maintain journalistic integrity?
- Dinners with Ruth displays an array of Supreme Court justices in light-hearted, everyday scenarios, which may offer an unprecedented glimpse into their off-duty lives. However, critics have noted that these depictions potentially overshadow the magnitude of their official roles and decisions.
How does Totenberg’s framing of these legal figures, as relatable individuals, influence your perceptions of the Supreme Court and the individuals who serve there?
- Totenberg’s selective presentation of events has been critiqued as self-aggrandizing, potentially transforming her memoir into an instrument of reputation management. For instance, she admits to past ethical violations but refrains from discussing the implications of her friendships on her current reporting.
What’s your take on this selective transparency inform your understanding of Totenberg’s motivations behind writing this book and its implications on her personal and professional image?
- Totenberg appears to fondly reminisce about the era of camaraderie among Supreme Court families, such as Martha-Ann Alito assisting with the posthumous publication of a cookbook of Marty Ginsburg’s favorite recipes. One might, however, argue that such nostalgia might serve to downplay the severity of the Court’s decisions.
Based on this context, how does this focus on personal relationships and domestic moments color your perception of the Court and its impact on contemporary issues?
- Totenberg’s handling of Ginsburg’s comments criticizing Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign provides a rare instance of professional tension in their friendship. However, the lack of detailed fallout or consequences mentioned raises questions about the actual impact of such moments on their friendship.
How does this episode, and the lack of any noticeable fallout, shape your understanding of the dynamics between professional obligations and personal loyalty in Totenberg’s experiences?
If you liked this set of questions, here are some other options for you to explore.
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Into The Water: From the author of “The Girl on the Train” comes a gripping psychological suspense novel. Dark secrets emerge as the deaths of two women disturb a town’s history, leaving a lonely teenager in the care of her estranged aunt. What follows next will haunt you forever.
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Beautiful Country: Follow Qian, a young girl from China, as she navigates the harsh realities of being an undocumented immigrant in America. Through resilience and the power of books, she finds glimmers of hope in a land that contradicts its ‘beautiful country’ translation. An evocative debut that shines a light on lives of many.