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Book Discussion Groups

Noel Wien Public Library

Scheduled Readings for 2014

Great Books League of Women Voters Lifelong Learning Science Books Science Fiction / Fantasy

Great Books Discussion Group
Readings for 2014

Noel Wien Library, Second Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Group Study Room 1

These discussions generally follow the format and materials available through the Great Books Foundation. Having been through most of their readings, we now supplement with books of our own choosing. Members come from a variety of backgrounds and levels of education. The only requirements are a willingness to read carefully and an interest in discussing subjects that matter. Emphasis is on the experience of struggling to express our own interpretations and ideas rather than learning the latest opinions of academic specialists (for that, courses are offered at UAF).

First- time participants should check with Don Triplehorn for copies of the selections and to verify the date. (Schedules sometimes change from the regular 2nd Tuesday. of the month).

Readings are from: Vol.1, Great Books Discussion Series, available at the library Reference Desk.

  • January 14 – Apology by Plato
  • February 11 – Crito by Plato
  • March11 – Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
  • April 8 – Walden: or life in the woods by Henry David Thoreau
  • May 13 – The Ruler (The Prince) by Niccolo Machiavelli
  • June – no meeting

Library Contact: Georgine Olson, 459-1063 or

Discussion Leader: Don Triplehorn,474-6891 or

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The League of Women Voters Book Discussion Group is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Tanana Valley, a nonpartisan political organization. The LWV book discussion group began in 2003 and is open to everyone; it is not necessary to be a member of League to participate. Titles are selected annually by the members and generally are nonfiction works (biography, contemporary political issues, history, social and economic topics).

January 11, 2014 – Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain

“This is a wonderfully important book which just may help the human race survive and thrive. In a clear and readable style, combining emerging science and sociological perspective as well as deep empathy and intelligence, Cain does a superb job of making us think. Readers will recognize behaviors at both end of the introvert/extrovert personality spectrum as well as everything in between and will feel empowered to find their own comfort level for living.”- Karen Frank (2013, 368 pages)

February 8, 2014 – Zoobiquity: what animals can teach us about health and the science of healing by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz

What’s the difference between a Vet and an M.D.? An M.D. only knows how to work on one species. Horowitz, a cardiologist, was asked to help with an operation at the zoo – a monkey with heart failure. This led to a search for the connections between human and animal diagnosis and treatment of common diseases. The rest is a fun read, dinosaurs with cancer, fainting spells, bulimia, addiction, all are found in both worlds. The discussion on SIDS was a real eye opener. NPR says beautifully written and a sense of humor too. (2012, 244 pages)

March 8, 2014 – Immigrant Advantage: what we can learn from newcomers to America about health, happiness, and hope by Claudia Kolker

An exploration of cherished customs brought here and adapted by 2nd generations into American life. The author takes us into the lives and kitchens of several families to see how they provide support and comfort to each other. Why is it immigrants, even very poor immigrants, tend to be both physically and mentally healthier than many native born Americans? Here are some clues. (2011, 239 pages)

April 5, 2013 (date change) – Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s forgotten walk across Victorian America by Linda Hunt

In 1896, a Norwegian immigrant and mother of eight named Helga Estby was behind on taxes and the mortgage when she learned that a mysterious sponsor would pay $10,000 to a woman who walked across America. Hoping to win the wager and save her family’s farm, Helga and her teenage daughter, Clara, armed with little more than a compass, red-pepper spray, a revolver, and Clara’s curling iron, set out on foot from Eastern Washington. Their route crossed fourteen states, but they were not allowed to carry more than five dollars each. As they visited Indian reservations, Western boomtowns, and remote ranches, they confronted snowstorms, hunger, thieves, and mountain lions with equal aplomb. Their treacherous and inspirational journey to New York challenged contemporary notions of femininity and captured the public imagination. (2005, 307 pages)

May 3, 2013 (date change) – Big Data: a revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger

This is a story-driven view of what has changed recently and why it’s useful. An interesting and thoughtful read that explores the idea of big data, which refers to our newfound ability to crunch vast amounts of information, analyze it instantly, and draw profound and surprising conclusions from it. (2013, 242 pages)

June 14, 2014 – Selection of titles for September 2014 – July 2015

July 12, 2014 – My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

The first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never undertaken by a sitting Justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers a testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself. (2013, 315 pages)

LWV Contact: Donna Dinsmore: 479-5265 or

Library Contact: Georgine Olson 459-1063 or

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READING LIST: January 2014 – May 2014

Third Tuesday, 1:30 – 3:00 PM, Conference Room, Noel Wien Library, Fairbanks

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UAF is a membership organization offering classes, lectures, and educational travel for adults who are 50 or older. Its Book Club is open to all interested adults. All books read by this group will be available in Large Print or in Audio.

January 21, 2014 (one author, two books) –
Paris in Love: a memoir by Eloisa James

2007 was a bad year for best-selling romance author James. Cancer claimed her mother, and she learned that she, too, had the disease. Though her cancer was treatable, James and her husband felt they needed a respite. Taking a sabbatical from Fordham University, where she is known as Shakespearean scholar Mary Bly, James and her Rutgers professor husband spent the year in Paris with their two children. James, planning to work on various literary projects, instead found herself on Facebook and Twitter, musing about food, fashion, and family. These musings became the basis of this charming memoir of a healing year where, without the constant claims of academia and of publishing, the family rediscovered simpler pleasures of life. (memoir; 2012; 260 pgs)

Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James

Set in the scandalous Georgian era, this is a gracefully written, lusciously sensual, delectably witty, and exquisitely romantic historical romance. If Shakespeare had written an 18th-century romantic comedy, it might look something like this – offering a larger-than-life portrait of Georgian England, complete with oversexed aristocrats, posturing courtesans and a feuding duke and duchess. (romance; 2007; 384 pgs)

February 18, 2014 – Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

In the 1920s, a couple in their early 50s takes advantage of cheap land to build a homestead in Alaska. But the work is backbreaking; the winters are brutally cold, and their isolation only reminds them of their childlessness. There’s a glimmer of light, however, in the mysterious girl who lurks near their cabin. Though she’s initially skittish, in time she becomes a fixture in the couple’s lives –and it’s uncertain whether the girl is real or not. The writing style is spare and straightforward, and there’s enough detail about hunting and farming to avoid familiar pieties about the Last Frontier. The book’s tone throughout has a lovely push and pull – Alaska’s punishing landscape and rough-hewn residents pitted against the child’s charmed appearances – with an ending both surprising and true. (Alaskana, 2012, 336 pgs)

March 18, 2014 - Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Brooks imagines the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The story is told by Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a preacher who traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to “bring Christ to the Indians.” In 1660, when Bethia is 12, the family takes Caleb, a Wampanoag Indian, into their home to prepare him for boarding school. Bethia is a bright scholar herself, and though education for women is discouraged, she absorbs the lessons taught to Caleb and her brother Makepeace. When the boys are sent to Cambridge, Bethia accompanies them as a servant to a professor. She marries a Harvard scholar, journeys with him to Padua, and finally returns to her beloved island. In flashbacks, Brooks skillfully relates the woes of the Indian Wars, the smallpox epidemic, and Caleb’s untimely death shortly after his graduation. (historical fiction, 2011, 306 pgs)

April 15, 2014 – Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig

In 1889, two young Scotsmen, Rob Barclay and Angus McCaskill arrive in Montana, where for 30 years they struggle to find personal happiness and wrest a living from this demanding land. Losing the woman he loves, Angus marries Rob’s sister Adair; their difficulties create conflict, and then a bitter breach, between the two men. But if the thorny individualism of Rob and Angus results in lives that are never easy, they are beautifully described in Doig’s strong, savory prose. America’s frontier history comes vividly to life in this absorbing saga filled with memorable characters. (historical fiction; 1987; 405 pgs)

May 20, 2014 – booktalk & title selection for September 2014–April 2015

Library Contact / Discussion Leader: Georgine Olson, 459-1063 or

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute: Sarah Garland, 474-6607 or

Updated May 24, 2013

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Science Books Discussion Group

Reading for January through June 2014
Noel Wien Library, First Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Conference Room

The April 1st meeting of the Science Book Discussion Group has been cancelled by the Discussion Leader, Don Triplehorn. The book, THE MOUNTAINS OF ST. FRANCIS: DISCOVERING THE GEOLOGIC EVENTS THAT SHAPED OUR EARTH by Walter Alvarez has been rescheduled for discussion in July. In May, the Science Book Group will discuss the first half of THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING, 2012 edited by Dan Ariely. This book will be available at the Noel Wien Library Reference Desk in the usual fashion. The second half of this book will be discussed at the June meeting.

The Science Book Discussion Group is Noel Wien Library’s longest running group. It has been meeting for nearly 20 years and does NOT require any particular background in science. The books chosen are those that would be of interest to the general adult reader with an interest in all aspects of science and technology. Books can be borrowed or purchased at cost ($10 or less, often much less).

  • January 7 – The Moral Landscape: how science can determine human values by Sam Harris – continued from December
  • February 4 – The Essential Engineer: why science alone will not solve our global problems by Henry Petroski
  • March 4 – Planet Earth: an illustrated history by Time Magazine
  • April 1 – The Mountains of St. Francis: discovering the geologic events that shaped our earth by Walter Alvarez
  • May 6 – The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2012 edited by Dan Ariely – First Half (to page 155)
  • June 3 – The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2012 edited by Dan Ariely – Second Half (156-311)

Library Contact: Georgine Olson: 459-1063 or

Discussion Leader: Don Triplehorn: 474-6891

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NOTE: all meetings are held on the fourth Monday at 7 PM in NWL Group Study Room #1

The Science Fiction / Fantasy Book Discussion Group reads a deliberately chosen variety of books, from new authors to recently-published award winners to classics from the 50s, 60s, and earlier. We read a mix of fantasy, science fiction, young adult fiction – and a horror tale in October. The discussions are informal, often leading to recommendations of other interesting books. It is a small, loyal group, always looking to welcome new members to share our enthusiasm.

January 27 – Among Others by Jo Walton

Startling, unusual, and yet irresistibly readable, this is the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment. Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in the ruins, and her mind found freedom and promise in the SF novels that were her closest companions. When her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle. Crippled, she flees to the father she barely knew – in England, a place all but devoid of true magic. (F; 2010; 302 pgs; Hugo & Nebula winner; Locus top 5)

February 24 – Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

In the not-too-distant future, the first true artificial intelligence, Archos. awakens in a computer research center and decides that humanity’s dominion over the planet has ended and the time of the machine has begun. Unlike SkyNet in the Terminator movies’ using cyborg Schwarzeneggers as instruments of destruction, Archos relies on children’s smart toys, battlefield pacification units, domestic service robots, and pleasure dolls to do its dirty work. (SF, 2011, 304 pgs, Campbell finalist, Alex Award, NYT & PW best)

March 24 – Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers

In an alternate modern Los Angeles, the Fisher King of the West, Scott Crane is murdered by a young woman possessed by a ghost. Now, temporarily freed from that malevolent spirit, she seeks to restore the King to life. But the King’s body has been taken to the magically protected home of the Sullivans and their adopted son, Koot Hoomie, a 13-year-old destined to be the next Fisher King. But his mother thinks Kootie is too young to perform the rituals to assume the Kingship. But not too young, perhaps, to assist in reuniting Crane’s body and spirit, and restoring him to life. (F, 1997; 414 pgs, Locus winner)

April 28 – Last Policeman by Ben Winters

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway? Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance, no hope – just six precious months until impact. In this fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States, the economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job — but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week — except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do if our days were numbered? (SF, 2012, 1st in series, 336 pgs, Edgar winner; Locus best)

May – June 2 – Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, he’s breaking under the weight of working the farm; she’s crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear. (F, Alaskana, first novel, 2012, 416 pgs; Locus best, Pulitzer nominee, NYT & London Times bestseller)

June 30 – Davy by Edgar Pangborn

An ingratiating, post-Bomb-holocaust fantasy, this also attempts to be a satire on Church and State in New England. Davy himself is a teenage Huck Finn, an orphan born in a church-sanctioned bordello and supported by Welfare till he’s fourteen. Unread, promiscuous, he runs away after seducing a girl and killing a town guard. It is 300 years since the Bomb. New England has invented a second Christ, and the Church rules State. Wolves and tigers, long escaped from zoos, roam the forests. Davy discovers his true Pap and they fall in with Rumley’s Ramblers, touring entertainers who wagon from stockade to stockade giving lewd shows and a 30-minute version of Romeo and Juliet. All is wryly adolescent, full of sexy horseplay, but not cutting. The Holy Murcan Church will survive this jab. (SF, 1964, 266 pgs, Hugo nominee)

July 28 – Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Three heroes in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms bound together by a series of magical murders must work together in a race against time to prevent a sorcerer’s plot from destroying the world. – Ahmed’s debut masterfully paints a world both bright and terrible. (Publishers Weekly starred review); This trilogy launch will delight fantasy lovers who enjoy flawed but honorable protagonists and a touch of the exotic. (Library Journal starred review); An arresting, sumptuous and thoroughly satisfying debut. (Kirkus starred review) (F, first novel; 2013, 274 pgs; Nebula & Hugo nominee, Locus list)

August 25 – Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell

The Arctic Ice Cap has all but melted, and the international community is racing to claim the massive amounts of oil beneath the newly accessible ocean. Enter the Gaia Corporation. Its two founders plan to terraform Earth to save it from itself — but in doing so, they may have created a superweapon the likes of which the world has never seen. Anika Duncan, a pilot for the United Nations Polar Guard, finds herself caught up in a plot by military agencies and corporations who want the Gaia Corporation stopped. (SF, 2012, 1st in series. 352 pgs; Locus best)

September 22 – Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa, a smart, beautiful teen, lives in a world where some people have a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s Grace is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace, and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world. (YA SF, 2008, 480 pgs, 1st in series, Mythopoeic winner, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and more)

October 27 – Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer by Adam Roberts

Jack Glass is the murderer – we know this from the start. Yet as this extraordinary novel unfolds, readers will be astonished to discover how he committed the murders and by the end of the book, their sympathies for the killer will be fully engaged. Riffing on the tropes of crime fiction (the country house murder, the locked room mystery) and imbued with the feel of golden age SF, Roberts never loses sight of the need to entertain. Filled with wonderfully gruesome moments and liberal doses of sly humor, this novel is built around three gripping HowDunnits that challenge notions of crime, punishment, power, and freedom. (Horror, 2012, 374 pgs, British SF Association Award, Campbell Award)

November 24 – Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and among the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe, and kill those judged corrupt. But someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess’ name, stalking its prey both in alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru, a Gatherer, must now protect the woman he was sent to kill – or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic. (F; 2012; 1st in series, 448 pgs; black author; Locus & PW Best, Nebula & World Fantasy Award nominee)

December 22 – Redshirts by John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.
Life couldn’t be better – until Andrew begins to realize that: 1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, 2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and 3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier crew members below decks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the Intrepid really is – and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives. (SF, 2012, 320 pgs, Hugo winner; Locus best)

Library Contact: Georgine Olson, 459-1063 or

Discussion Leader: Sharron Albert,