Reading Guide for Book Clubs

Book club guide to The Encore


1.     How did this book make you feel about life and death? Hopeful? Inspired? Anxious? Nervous?

2.     How do music and faith play off of one another in this book? What are the similarities between Charity’s relationship with music and her relationship with faith?

3.     What was the most surprising aspect of Charity’s and Yoni’s love story to you? How do you think two people with such different backgrounds and expectations could make a life together?

4.     In the hospital, Charity and her mother Annette spend a great deal of time together. Near the end of their stay, Charity says, “This whole period of recovery has been like experiencing the different stages of childhood in a hyper-lapse.” How is that true? How isn’t it? What elements of growing up could you identify?

5.     There is a complicated dynamic between Yoni and Annette. How does Charity’s illness impact that dynamic?

6.     What role does Charity’s career play in her recovery and her will to live? How does that relationship with music change over the course of the book?

7.     There are a number of challenging scenes in The Encore, particularly about relationships and medical care. Which was the hardest for you to read and why?

8.     During the wedding, Charity says that, “Maybe it’s easier for Yoni to be angry about something he feels he can control. Like wedding colors. His work is demanding, my health, deteriorating. Perhaps this wedding is the only thing Yoni can control right now.” Was Yoni trying to find something he could control, or was Charity being difficult? She claimed to not want a wedding. Should she have ceded control to her future in-laws?

9.     While it is a serious book, there is also a lot of humor. What was the funniest story or joke in the book?

10. Near the beginning of the book, Charity talks about the strain that illness places on family relationships. Of her siblings, she says, “, I fear somewhere in between resentment has begun to bubble. Even worse, I’m afraid it’s mutual.” However, by the end of the book, it feels like that has changed. How and why?

11.  At the end of the book, Charity talks about her opening statement on greatness.  She says, Even the greatest divas die. But, like a timeless melody, true greatness never does. The greatest … breakthroughs move from one person to the next, travelling to far off places – different continents and bodies. They are revised and amplified, deconstructed and stripped down until their very existence seems to be irretrievable. Only from that precipice – that abandonment of self for love of something more – can lasting greatness ascend.” What do you think about this analysis of greatness? What do you think “true greatness” is?

12.  Will this book stay with you? Will you forget it or will you continue to think about it?



Reading Guide for Medical Professionals

1.     PAH is a rare disease that is notoriously difficult to diagnose. What were the steps the doctor went through that enabled a fast, accurate diagnosis?

2.     Coordinating care, listening to the patient and carefully examining symptoms saved Charity’s life. What are ways you can integrate this into patient care?

3.     Charity’s family plays a big role in this book. What are some of the challenges and opportunities offered by families being involved in patient care?

4.     What made her first experiences with doctors so traumatizing?

5.     What mistakes did Dr. Barst make in approaching her care?

6.     What did Dr. Girgis do that changed the experience of care for Charity?

7.     There is an entire scene about diet sprite and hospital ice. What were the reasonable concerns and requests from the doctor who was angry about the diet sprite? How can we accommodate patients without putting them in danger? What are some examples of medical professionals going out of their way to make a patient’s life better in this story? What is the cause of the central conflict between Annette, Charity and the doctor?

8.     During Charity’s first transplant, there is a PA who correctly identifies Charity’s pneumonia. How did continuity of care impact his ability to care for Charity?

9.     In The Encore, PA’s, nurses, respiratory therapists, techs and physical therapists play a major role in Charity’s care and recovery.  How can we better facilitate communication between medical teams, families and the patient to optimize care?

10. When sharing disappointing news, what are some effective techniques that Dr. Girgis and Dr. Budev use? What are more and less effective techniques used in doctor communication throughout the book?

11.  How does the relationship with Dr. Barst evolve over the course of the book? How can sharing our vulnerabilities with patients help us to be better care providers?

12.  How does Dr. Budev approach end of life conversations with Charity and her family? Will it impact the way you conduct end of life conversations?

13. Was this book valuable to you as a care provider? Will it change anything about the way you care for patients or not?


Food and Entertaining Guide to The Encore

A collection of my favorite (and least favorite) foods from the book. While there are a few recipes, most of the list has ideas to expand on and enjoy, while others will be posted on Instagram and Facebook.

A Night on the Danube (p. 9)

Mimo’s Lecsó

Hungarian Peasant Stew with peppers, tomatoes, onions, paprika and garlic. Charity’s recipe was the grand prize winner for sauce in Denver, so maybe she’ll post it on Instagram.

Paprikas Gombas

Mushrooms with Paprika sauce


Hungarian Dumplings, to be eaten underneath either of the previous two sauces.

Rakott Krumpli

Potatoes layered with eggs, sausage, sour cream, and butter. It’s like heaven and cardiac arrest had a delicious baby.

Hard Boiled Eggs with Caviar


The New Year’s Fondue Party  (p. 161-163)

On New Year’s Eve, 1999, my dad was a little worried about Y2K, so he made us all stay home. As a consolation prize, he and my mother organized a fondue feast and ever since, it has been a family tradition. A wonderful meal to discuss a book or anything else, it is best enjoyed with warm drinks – mulled cider, herbal teas, or a gingered tea.


Traditional Swiss Fondue with French Bread

Gruyère, Compté, Emmental and Jarsburg cheeses are married together with a dry white wine, a touch of garlic and a pinch of nutmeg for a rich, indulgent treat. Eat with bread and fruit.

Havarti and Champaign Fondue with Sourdough Bread

Havarti, cream and Champaign mix to create a spectacularly decadent fondue. Serve with sourdough bread.

Aged Cheddar, Maple and Hard Cider With Soft Pretzels and Pumpernickel

Cheddar cheese, Maple Syrup and Hard Cider combine in this rustic, indulgent fondue. Serve with pumpernickel toasts and soft pretzels.


A Northwest Denver Fiesta

Joe’s Green Chili (p. 174)

This North Denver staple is so good you’ll want to eat it on and with everything. Purists use only a dark roux made with lard and flour along with finely diced hatch chilis. However, caramelized onions and corn add texture and sweetness to this addictive sauce. 

 Double Fat Quesadillas  (p. 174)

Quesadillas made with cream cheese and cheddar cheese, topped with a generous serving of Joe’s Green Chili and a dollop of sour cream

Grandma Sandoval’s Tamales (p. 93)

For the original, visit La Casita in North Denver. If you’re making your own, try filling them with a whole hatch chili and cheese.

La Norteña Horchata

In a kind of drinkable rice pudding, pulverized rice, milk, sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon create a beverage that cuts the heat and tastes like dessert.


The Wedding That Never Was (p. 240-241) 

Chicago Style Hotdogs (or Tofu-dogs)

Vienna or vegetarian dog with two tomato wedges, mustard, a pickle spear, sweet (preferably atomic) relish, hot peppers (preferably sport peppers) and celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

Corn on the Cob

Grill corn and brush with mayo, sour cream, chile powder and lime with cotija cheese on top.


Chicago Style is made with a mix of caramel corn, cheese corn and plain buttered popcorn, but Charity has only once met popcorn that she doesn’t like.


Crushed ice topped with syrups. Make your own using simple syrup with whatever your mind can conjure: cookies, fruits, nuts or other flavorings.

Egg Creams

Sodas with chocolate syrup and cream



Ices, Ice Cream, and Shakes

Momo’s Root Beer Floats (p. 174)

A spoonful of Nestle ® Quik powder goes in the bottom of a frosty glass with Vanilla ice cream and root beer to top it off.

Sprite Ices (p. 95-96)

Sprite and crushed ice

ABC Shake (p. 233)

Avocados, frozen bananas and either coconut cream or ice cream, blended together with vanilla extract


Christmas in Jerusalem Party in Cleveland (p. 151-152) 


For the creamiest hummus, soak chickpeas overnight and boil with baking soda and broth. Be sure not to use too much or you’ll end up with carbonated chick peas!

Baba Ganoush

This smokey eggplant dip is made with eggplants, garlic, lemon, tahini, olive oil and herbs.  A must-have for any Middle Eastern spread.


Cucumber, lemon juice, garlic and yogurt create a cool, delicious sauce that adds a wonderful dimension to any plate.


These herbacious chick pea fritters are essential eats for human omnivores and herbivores


Pillowy, middle-eastern flat breads, usually with a pocket.

Crunchy Saffron Rice

Saffron rice is a staple of the mid-east. But Persians do it a little differently. They cook their rice until the bottom turns to a golden cracker, adding texture and a nutty flavor to the entire dish.

Doughnuts with honey and rosewater

A Middle Eastern delicacy was one of the sweetest I enjoyed during my hospital stay.


 Yoni’s Perfect Picnic Lunch (p. 236)

A Cheese Board

St. Andre, Humboldt Fog, Burrata, Cornichon Pickles, Whole Grain Mustard, Honey on the comb, 7 grain boule, Challah

Burrata with Garden fresh tomatoes, aged balsamic vinegar

Fresh Pesto

Easy to make and a flavorful tour de force, go for an Umbrian pesto with pistachios in place of pine nuts along with basil, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and a generous handful of good, pitted olives

Assorted Olives (with pits)

Chocolate covered strawberries

Easy enough to make, try topping your chocolate covered jewels in cocoa nibs, saltine crumbs, shortbread pieces and toffee bits.

Blueberries, Cherries, Nutella

Butter Pecan Rice Pudding

Rice To Riches in New York has a wonderful take on this. Otherwise, make your favorite rice pudding recipe and add buttery caramel and toasted pecans


Cleveland Morning (p. 185- 186)

Croissants, Muffins, Danishes, Rolls, Jams, Butter, and Fruit


A Mormon Caffeine Fix

Dark Chocolate (p. 30)

Lindt Truffles (p. 174)

Salty Snacks (p. 30)


Hospital Favorites (and Least Favorites)

The lower items on this list will ensure that in the future, someone else is asked to host.

Charity’s Favorite Greek Salad (p. 114)

As a little girl, Charity’s mom used to visit a market in Denver called the Economy Market. While not impressed with the prices, she still went for their superlative feta cheese, olives and sweetmeats. Years later, her mom would learn that Economia was the family name – not a commentary on the value. Nonetheless, her indulgence instilled a love of all foods Mediterranean in her children and in particular, for a good, Greek salad.

4 tomatoes

1 large cucumber

¼ small white onion

1 8 oz. jar artichoke hearts

1 6 oz. jar Kalamata olives, pits removed and sliced in half

4 oz. peperoncini (optional)

4 oz. feta cheese

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. lemon juice

Wash all ingredients thoroughly. Dice onion and place into warm water. Cut tomatoes, cucumber and feta into ¼ inch cubes. Combine 1 tbsp. artichoke heart brine, feta brine, lemon juice, olive brine and olive oil in the bottom of salad bowl. Cut artichoke hearts into pieces similar in size to tomatoes and cucumbers. Chop olives and pepperoncini. Toss all ingredients together in dressing. Serve immediately or store undressed and without cheese in an airtight container for up to 48 hours before serving.

Charity’s Favorite Chipotle Burrito (p. 68)

Vegetarian Fajita Burritos white and brown rice, pinto and black beans, peppers, corn, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, guacamole and green tobasco sauce. Burritos are properly eaten cut down the middle and shared by two people.

Taco Bell® Bean Burritos with Cheese (p. 114)

Vanilla Pudding Cups colored Green (p. 113)

 Apple sauce colored green

Ensure®, Carnation Instant Breakfast®, and Glucerna® (p. 130)