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Book Discussion Groups

Noel Wien Public Library

Scheduled Readings

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

Great Books Discussion Group
Readings for 2017

Noel Wien Library, Second Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Group Study Room 2

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).

All readings are selections from Great Books Foundation, Great Conversations 5

  • January 12 – Masks by George Santayana; Philosophy and Knowledge by Bertrand Russell; The Man Who Loved Islands by D. H. Lawrence
  • February 14 – Anthropology and the Abnormal by Ruth Benedict; Hell Screen by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
  • March 8 – tba
  • April 12 – tba
  • March 14 – The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness by Reinhold Niebuhr; Why Write by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • April 11 – Bright and Morning Star by Richard Wright; Human Personality by Simone Weil
  • May 9 – A Still Moment by Eudora Welty; To Room Nineteen by Doris Lessing
  • June, July, August – no meeting

Library Contact: Georgine Olson - 459-1063 or
Discussion Leader: Don Triplehorn - 474-6891 or Pat Sackinger – 479-6808

Updated: December 21, 2016

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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. Titles are selected annually by the members and generally are nonfiction works (biography, contemporary political issues, history, social and economic topics).

July 9, 2016In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria

The author argues that a liberal education feeds the most basic urge of the human spirit- to know. A liberal education is the foundation for finding your voice, writing and speaking your mind. Currently, some states have announced that they will no longer fund the liberal arts, and majors like History and English are being questioned. (2016, 204 pages)

September 10, 2016Reclaiming Conversation: the power of talk in a digital age by Sherry Turkle

For over 30 years Sherry Turkle has been studying technology and the effects on culture. What are the impacts of cell phone and remote conversations on the lives of our children and grandchildren? How does this technology relate to empathy, loneliness, love, and learning? Why do I love book clubs? (2015, 436 pages)

October 8, 2016Broad Influence: how women are changing the way America works by Jay Newton-Small

Newton-Small interviewed hundreds of women who are changing the way decisions are made and how business and governments are run. (2016, 240 pages)

November 12, 2016Defiant Brides: the untold story of two Revolutionary Era women and the radical men they married by Nancy Rubin Stuart

The true story of two passionate teenagers who defied their families to marry radical patriots with conflicting loyalties. We know the men. Now we can read about the women who raised their children and supported their careers. Politics, spies, heart break, heroic deeds, tragedies – it’s all here. (2012, 248 pages)

December 2016 – no meeting

January 14, 2017Treat Me, Not My Age: a doctor’s guide to getting the best care as you or a loved one gets older by Mark Lachs, MD MPH

A must have manual for anyone 40+ to take control of their health in a broken health care system. Too often our culture defines the aging process negatively, instead of embracing it as a natural part of life. Nowhere is this problem more pronounced then in our health care system where “ageist” medicine often serves to worsen our medical issues instead of helping us figure out how to address or avoid them. (2010, 400 pages)

February 11, 2017Just Mercy: a story of justice and redemption by Bryan Stevenson

An unforgettable account of a young lawyer dedicated to defending those most in need, the poor, women, children and those wrongly condemned. Unfairness in our justice system is a major theme of our age. This book will make you angry but also hopeful. (2014, 336 pages)

March 11, 2017Death of the Grown Up: how America’s arrested development is bringing down Western Civilization by Diana West

According to the author, grownups are extinct in Western culture. How can we fight Islamic terrorists when we are still playing with our toys and haven’t yet learned right from wrong. This disease emerged in the fifties, grew in the sixties, and became an epidemic in the seventies. With knowledge and wit, Diane West takes us on a wild ride to a mixed up post 9/11 world. (2008, 256 pages)

April 8, 2017America Walks into a Bar: a spirited history of taverns and saloons, speakeasies and grog shops by Christine Sismonde

As we know, many decisions made by the founding fathers were debated in the local gathering place, the tavern. Even the Puritans enjoyed a good “beere”. From the Whisky Rebellion, to the Temperance Movement, prohibition and repeal, America, as we know it, was born in a bar. (2011, 314 pages)

February 11, 2017Just Mercy: a story of justice and redemption by Bryan Stevenson

An unforgettable account of a young lawyer dedicated to defending those most in need, the poor, women, children and those wrongly condemned. Unfairness in our justice system is a major theme of our age. This book will make you angry but also hopeful. (2014, 336 pages)

May 14, 2017 The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and his decision that changed American history by Jonathan Horn

This well researched biography tells the story of Robert E. Lee from childhood to military glory to disaster. Both sides sought his service but Lee could choose only one. The story is complicated and tragic. (2015, 384 pages)

June 11, 2017Selection of titles for September 2016 – July 2017

July 8, 2017 Abundance: the future is better than you think by Peter Diamondis and Steven Kotler

A refreshingly positive and optimistic overview of how the World’s challenges – energy, water, food production, health care, and education are being solved in spite of negative news that bombard us daily. 2012, 386 pages)

LWV Contact: Donna Dinsmore: 479-5265 or

Library Contact: Georgine Olson 459-1063 or

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READING LIST: September 2016 – April 2017

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.

September 20, 2016 – The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton

Part adventure tale, part love story, this beautifully written novel offers a moving portrait of a couple whose lives are forever changed by the only battle of WWII to take place on American soil. Following the death of his brother in the war, grieving journalist John Easley feels he must report on the war and talks himself onto a plane on a bombing run over the Aleutians. When the plane is shot down on Attu, he is in a fight for his life as he battles hunger and cold while hiding from the Japanese soldiers, who have taken over the island. Meanwhile, John’s wife joins a USO troupe set to entertain American soldiers in the Aleutians, deciding that she will be more likely to locate John and bring him home if she is closer to battle action. Payton illuminates a little-known aspect of WWII while portraying a devoted couple who bravely face the isolation, pain, and sacrifice of wartime. (Booklist) (Alaskana Fiction, 2014, 308 pgs)

October 11, 2016 (date change) – The Blindfold Game by Dana Stabenow

Stabenow has crafted a taut, credible thriller in which a husband-and-wife team oppose resourceful, ruthless and well-funded terrorists ready to bring unimaginable devastation to American shores. Hugh Rincon is a Langley-based CIA honcho; Sara Lange is the executive officer of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Sojourner Truth patroling the Maritime Boundary Line in the northern Pacific. Globe-hopping action moves from Thailand to Hong Kong, Korea and Russia, culminating in a naval showdown off the Alaskan coast. The depictions of the Alaskan environment, its seas, storms, and cold, have never been more vivid, while the sea and air operations are both heroic and enthralling. Stabenow is established as a fine mystery writer, but she may have found her true metier with this excellent thriller. (PW) (2006, Alaskana Mystery, 260 pgs)

November 15, 2016 – Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

This chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, where Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge with her children. Stevenson, too, is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world. Horan has recreated a love story that is as unique, passionate, and overwhelmingly powerful as the one between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney that she depicted so memorably in Loving Frank. (2013, Fiction, 474 pgs)

December 2016 – No Meeting

January 17, 2017 - America’s First Daughterby Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

This brings a turbulent era to vivid life. All the conflicts and complexities of the Early Republic are mirrored in Patsy s story. It’s breathlessly exciting and heartbreaking –a personal and political page-turner. – Donna Thorland, author of The Turncoat – Painstakingly researched, beautifully hewn, compulsively readable – this enlightening literary journey takes us from Monticello to revolutionary Paris to the Jefferson White House, revealing remarkable historical details, dark family secrets, and bringing to life the colorful cast of characters who conceived our new nation. – Allison Pataki, author of The Accidental Empress – [A] triumphant, controversial, and fascinating plunge into the complexities of Revolutionary America, where women held power in subtle ways and men hid dangerous secrets. You’ll never look at Jefferson or his legacy the same way again. –C.W. Gortner, author of Mademoiselle Chanel – Whether it’s detailing Patsy’s life as a debutante in Paris, where she dances with Lafayette and witnesses the first flickers of the French Revolution, or recounting the world of a Virginia plantation, the authors done their homework. A thorough and well-researched if sometimes flowery saga of the Jefferson family -Kirkus (2016, Historical Fiction, 590 pgs)

February 21, 2017 - Behind the Beautiful Forevers: life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercityby Katherine Boo

A dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the 21st century’s great, unequal cities. In this fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human. Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and, as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees fortune in the recyclable garbage of rich people. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from childhood, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. Even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to good times. But then, as individual hopes meet global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. (publisher) (2012, Non-Fiction, 256 pgs)

March 21, 2017 - The Bone Is Pointed by Arthur Upfield

The Napoleon Bonaparte mysteries are classic Australian police procedurals featuring a half- Aborigine detective. This title is often regarded as the “most popular” title in series. Jack Anderson was a big man with a foul temper, a sadist and a drunk. Five months after his horse appeared riderless, no trace of the man has surfaced and no one seems to care. But Bony is determined to follow the cold trail and smoke out some answers. Suggested because these tie into the cultural disconnects hinted at in Australian fiction recently discussed by the group. (1947, Mystery, 288 pgs)

April 18, 2017 - Last Words by Michael Koryta

PI Mark Novak has not done well since his wife was murdered on her way to an interview on behalf of their employer, a Florida firm that specializes in exonerating death-row inmates. Two years later, Mark, who’s now at risk of being fired, receives an unusual request. Ridley Barnes, an eccentric cave explorer, wants him to look into the decade-old murder of a 17-year-old, who disappeared inside Trapdoor Caverns in Garrison, Indiana. Barnes was a prime suspect in the case, though he was never charged. The event plunged Garrison into an economic depression when the owners sealed the cave, ending the tourist trade. In Garrison, Mark encounters people who refuse to talk – and violence. Koryta sensitively portrays regret and grief while plunging readers into exciting scenes inside the massive cave. (PW) (2015, Mystery, 420 pgs)

May 16, 2018 - booktalk & title selection for September 2017 –April 2018

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

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

Updated August 11, 2016

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Science Books Discussion Group

Readings for 2017
Noel Wien Library, First Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Conference Room

TThe 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 3 – Irrefutable Evidence: adventures in the history of forensic science by Michael Kurland
  • February 7 – Fifty Machines that Changed the Course of History by Eric Chaline
  • March 7 – Beyond Human Nature by Jesse J. Prinz
  • April 4 – Noise: a human history of sound and listening by David Hendy
  • May – No Meeting
  • June 6 – Heretics: adventure with the enemies of science by Will Storr

Library Contact: Georgine Olson: 459-1063 or

Discussion Leader: Don Triplehorn: 474-6891 or

Updated: August 3, 2016

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NOTE: 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 28 – Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix (YA Fantasy)

Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilip. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating. With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance to both prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. (YA; F; 2014; 382 pgs)

February 25 – Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (SF)

Peter Leigh is a missionary called to go on the journey of a lifetime. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Peter sets out on a quest to take the word of God to the farthest corners of the galaxy. His mission will challenge everything — his faith, his endurance and the love that can hold two people together, even when they are worlds apart. Note: Author was born in Netherlands; now lives in Scotland. (SF; 2014; 500 pgs.)

March 27 – Abyss by Orson Scott Card (SF)

Read this and you won’t have to bother with the movie. – And that’s a pretty strange recommendation to make for a movie novelization, it’s supposed to be the other way around. Following writer/director James Cameron’s recommendation to write a real novel based on his story rather than just write it in narrative form (which so many writer-for-hire types do) Orson Scott Card crafted a well thought out expansion of the film’s story. In addition to having the pre-special edition cut sequences (which go a long way in explaining the abyss’s residents motivations and such) Card also contributes some welcome background material for the main characters. In an interesting note about the novel’s origins (it was written during filming) Card shares that Cameron actually had the principle actors read their individual character’s background material from Card’s early drafts to better understand the inner workings he wanted communicated in their performances. Highly recommended. Chadwick H. Saxelidon, (SF; 1991; 363 pgs)

April 24 – The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge (YA Fantasy/Mystery)

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered. In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder – or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself. (YA Fantasy/Mystery; 2016; 384 pgs)

May 22 – Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (SF)

1967: University student Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China’s Cultural Revolution. His crime? Failure to recant his belief in science. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind. Four decades later, after a spate of apparent suicides among elite scientists, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of international scientists. During the course of his investigation, Wang is inducted into a mysterious online game that immerses him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable and unpredictable interaction of its three suns. This is the Three-Body Problem and it is the key to everything. The key to the scientists’ deaths, the key to humanity’s place in the cosmos and the key to the extinction-level threat it now faces. Notes: Locus, Hugo & John Campbell best novel nominee; Nebula finalist; 1st of a trilogy. (SF; 2014; 400 pgs)

June 26 – Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Fantasy)

“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hotel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hotel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.” Set in the late 19th century – when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house – a resourceful group – and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap – a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered. Note: Locus finalist. (F/Steampunk; 2015; 352 pgs)

July 24 – Dorothy Must Die by D. M. (Danielle) Paige (YA Fantasy)

Amy Gumm thought life was tough in the trailer park with her druggie, depressed mother and the mean girls in school. But that was before she was carried to Oz by a tornado, before she was rescued by a series of strange individuals, and before she was instructed, Dorothy must die. Sweet Dorothy returned to Oz only to rule it with an evil, greedy hand, gradually stealing all its magic for herself. Amy, also from Kansas and arriving on a tornado, has to reverse the earthling’s power by killing her. Paige has spirited readers back to The Wizard of Oz, fracturing the already strange classic by having good and wicked witches exchange places, amputating the flying monkeys’ wings, and creating a fear-eating lion, a nefarious Dr. Jekyll scarecrow, and a vicious tin soldier. Amy’s assignment? Navigate through magical defenses, while struggling with her own values of good and evil, to get to Dorothy. It’s a classic made more sinister and will be continued in a subsequent volume. (F; YA, 2014, 452 pgs)

August 28 – The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (Fantasy)

Two men rebel together against tyranny – and then become rivals – in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series. Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions – two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice. Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty. Notes: Chinese author; First in an SF series, Locus winner, Nebula nominee. (Fantasy; 2015; 623 pgs)

September 25 – Planetfall by Emma Newman (SF)

Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. More than 22 years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret. Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi. The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart. (SF; 2015; 336 pgs)

October 23 – Slade House by David Mitchell (Horror/Fantasy)

Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door. Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents – an odd brother and sister – extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story. (Horror; 2015; 272 pgs)

November 27 – Neuromancer by William Gibson (SF/Cyberpunk)

Nebula, Hugo, Philip Dick winner, John Campbell Memorial, BSFA, Aurora/Prix nominee, Locus finalist – The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace… Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction. Note: often referred to as the first cyberpunk novel. (SF; 1984; 271 pgs)

December 18 (date change) – God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Fantasy)

Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn t make any difference. On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there’s one thing everybody agrees on: there’s not a chance in hell of ending it. Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war–but at what price? The world is about to find out. Notes: Author went to UAF; first book; first in fantasy trilogy; Kitschie winner, Arthur Clarke, Nebula and BSFA nominee; Locus finalist. (Fantasy, 2011, 288 pgs)

Library Contact: Georgine Olson, 459-1063 or

Discussion Leader: Sharron Albert,