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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 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.

  • June, July, and August – no meeting
  • September 9 – Persuasion by Jane Austen (selected edition available at the Reference Desk)
  • October 14 – Pompey by Plutarch (use of Great Books publication resumes)
  • November 11 – Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  • December 9 – Of Civil Government: the second treatise by John Locke

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).

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)

September 13, 2014 – The Weather of the Future: heat waves, extreme storms, and other scenes from a climate changed planet by Heidi Cullen

Author is a climatologist and an expert on weather and climate change. At the end of the book she includes 2050 predictions for different parts of the world, one section focuses on Fairbanks, Alaska. I read this book last summer and found it to be very easy and enjoyable reading. It was a clear narrative of what has been happening and will continue to occur without conscious changes. (2011, 352 pages)

October 11, 2014 – The Triple Package: how three unlikely traits explain the rise and fall of cultural groups in America by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

Heard interview with Chu and the book seemed to be an interesting follow-up to The Immigrant Advantage with another perspective. “That certain groups do much better in America than others—as measured by income, occupational status, test scores, and so on—is difficult to talk about. In large part this is because the topic feels racially charged. The irony is that the facts actually debunk racial stereotypes….puncturing the notion of innate group differences and undermining the whole concept of ‘model minorities.'” A superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control are the elements of the Triple Package, the rare and potent cultural constellation that drives disproportionate group success. It is open to anyone. America itself was once a Triple Package culture. Even as headlines proclaim the death of upward mobility in America, the truth is that the old-fashioned American Dream is very much alive—but some groups have a cultural edge, which enables them to take advantage of opportunity far more than others. Provocative and profound. (2014, 226 pages)

November 8, 2014 – The Limits of Power: the end of American exceptionalism by Andrew J. Bacevich

This identifies a triple crisis facing America today: the economy; the government; the nation’s involvement in endless wars. These pressing problems threaten us all, Republicans and Democrats. If the nation is to solve its predicament, it will need the revival of a distinctly American approach: the neglected tradition of realism. The realism he proposes includes respect for power and its limits; sensitivity to unintended consequences; aversion to claims of American exceptionalism; skepticism of easy solutions, especially those involving the use of force; and a conviction that, at the end of the day, the books will have to balance. Bacevich dedicates this book to his son, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army who was killed in Iraq. Bacevich has long been a strong conservative critic of U.S. policy in Iraq, but it’s difficult to escape the impression that the impassioned indictment set forth here draws on a deep reservoir of personal anguish. A leading “conservative historian,” Bacevich supports his case with remarkably well-chosen facts, anecdotes and quotations, without ever bogging down unnecessary detail. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, getAbstract recommends his book to anyone interested in contemporary American history and events. (2008, 182 pages)

December 2014 – no meeting

January 10, 2015 – Destiny of the Republic: a tale of madness, medicine, and the murder of a president by Candice Millard

This reads like a mystery. We know who the killer is in the first chapter but the suspense continues till the end. I knew little about President Garfield other than his short time in office and his assassination. I did not know he was brilliant, well loved, and that Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister were involved in the long battle to save his life. A brilliant and absorbing book. (2011, 352 pages)

February 14, 2015 – Know Your Power: a Message to America’s Daughters by Nancy Pelosi

Easy to read and initially I thought she was too personal about her history. But I came to note that she learned to be a very strong person in her personal and political life. I lived near Baltimore, MD where Pelosi grew up and her father was mayor, among other jobs, so I related to some of her comments about the area. (2008, 174 pages)

March 14, 2015 – Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the dawn of a new America by Gilbert King

This is a powerful Pulitzer winning story about Thurgood Marshall and the Groveland Boys, a story of social injustice in the South. I was amazed to read about this civil rights fighter, his conviction and his courage in the face of constant death threats. This was chilling, suspenseful, compelling and historically meticulous. It read like a Gothic novel, not a work of history. (2012, 361 pages)

April 11, 2015 – Mansion of Happiness, a history of life and death by Jill Lepore

The title refers to a board game, the precursor of the Game of Life. This is a beautifully crafted history of American ideas of life and death and how they have changed over the ages. There are lots of ideas that would lend themselves to lively discussions. On the list of 100 best Non-Fiction of the year. (2012, 282 pages)

May 9, 2015 – The Professor and the Madman: a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

This is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary – and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. (1998, 288 pages)

June 13, 2015 – Selection of titles for September 2015 – July 2016

July 11, 2015 – A Call to Action: women, religion, violence, and power by Jimmy Carter

I heard an interview with Jimmy Carter discussing this book. It caught my attention. It addresses the suffering inflicted upon women by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts. It seems like a good follow up to our discussion of Unnatural Selection. Carter was encouraged to write this book by a wide coalition of leaders of all faiths. His report covers a system of discrimination that extends to every nation. Women are deprived of equal opportunity in wealthier nations and “owned” by men in others. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have visited 145 countries, and they have seen inequality rising rapidly with each passing decade. This is true in both rich and poor countries, and among the citizens within them. This is an informed and passionate charge about a devastating effect on economic prosperity and unconscionable human suffering. (2014, 211 pages)

LWV Contact: Donna Dinsmore: 479-5265 or

Library Contact: Georgine Olson 459-1063 or

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READING LIST: September 2014 – May 2015

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.

June, July, August 2014 – no discussion (summer break)

September 16, 2014 - The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

Lehane’s first historical shares much with his crime novels: narrative verve, sensitivity to setting, the interweaving of complicated story lines, an apt and emotionally satisfying denouement — and, above all, fondness for its characters and the human condition. In 1917, Boston’s policemen have a grievance – with wages scaled to the cost of living in 1905, their earnings are below the poverty level, plus working conditions are appalling. The city has reneged on its promise to readjust wages after the War. With bomb-planting anarchists and social unrest in the air, there is little sympathy for the policemen’s strike threat. Against this background, an unexpected friendship develops between an Irish American policeman and an African American on the run from gangsters and police. (from Library Journal) (Historical Fiction, 2008, 704 pgs)

October 21, 2014 - The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

In the near future, a decimating flu pandemic has left only scattered pockets of survivors. For nine years, Hig has coexisted with a loner at an abandoned airport in eastern Colorado. He finds sanity in fishing, stargazing, and flying the edges of their safety zone in his 1956 Cessna. On one of his forays, Hig hears another pilot over the radio. This haunts him until he goes on a six-week search of this other person, discovering more than he bargained for. An award-winning adventure writer and NPR contributor, Heller has written a stunning debut novel. In spare, poetic prose, he portrays a soaring spirit of hope that triumphs over heartbreak, trauma, and insurmountable struggles. (from Library Journal review)(Fiction; 2012; 319 pgs)

November 18, 2014 – Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

In this compelling, heartrending debut novel, quiet, thoughtful Tom returns home to Australia after World War I, seeking refuge as a lighthouse keeper. Isabelle, a high-spirited young woman, works her way into Tom’s heart and joins him at his remote outpost. Yearning for a family, they lose three babies in three years. Then, a small boat washes ashore, carrying a dead man and a tiny but healthy infant. Tom and Izzy must decide whether to keep the baby or to report it to the authorities. Years later, in another lighthouse, the story circles around to a satisfying conclusion. Stedman’s engrossing, emotionally driven novel sensitively treats the issue of loss and its aftermath. (from Library Journal review) (Fiction; 2012; 345 pgs)
December 2014 – no discussion (winter break)

January 20, 2015 - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

As Henry VIII’s go-to man for his dirty work, Thomas Cromwell isn’t a likely candidate for a sympathetic portrait. He dirtied his hands too often. In the end, Henry dropped him just as he had Cromwell’s mentor, Cardinal Wolsey. But Cromwell was a man of many parts, admirable in many respects, though disturbing in others. Above all, he got things done and was deeply loyal. Nor was Henry always bloated and egomaniacal: well into his forties the king shone brighter than those around him. Peopled with appealing characters, this has appeal well beyond history buffs. (from Library Journal) (Historical Fiction, 2009, 532 pgs)

February 17, 2015 – Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

My high concept definition of this fast-paced, brilliantly written, and extremely disturbing book: Indiana Jones meets Dr. Who. Two U.S. Marshals are sent to Shutter Island to find a female patient who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane. There’s no way this patient could have escaped without being spotted, yet she seems to have done so. Things begin to happen: a hurricane, violent patients running loose and creating havoc, cryptic messages left in weird places, doctors and staff that appear to be as insane as the patients. You’ll become so involved in the story that you won’t realize what’s really happening until it hits you in the last paragraph. It was not the most enjoyable book I’ve ever read, but it is going to be unforgettable. Very highly recommended as long as you don’t mind being scared out of your wits. (from Rendezvous Review) (Fiction; 2003, 336 pgs)

March 17, 2015 - Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

In 1913, a little girl arrives in Brisbane, Australia, and is taken in by a dockmaster and his wife. She doesn’t know her name, and the only clue to her identity is a book of fairy tales tucked inside a white suitcase. When the girl, called Nell, grows up, she starts to piece together her story, but before she can go to England to find answers, her granddaughter, Cassandra, is left in her care. It’s Cassandra who eventually journeys to England to solve the puzzle of Nell’s origins. Spanning nearly 100 years, this is a sprawling, old-fashioned novel, as well-cushioned as a Victorian country house, replete with family secrets, stories-within-stories, even a maze and a Dickensian rag-and-bone shop. (from Booklist review) (Fiction; 2009; 552 pgs)

April 21, 2015 - George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

Without the Culper Spy Ring, the authors argue, the Americans would have lost the Revolutionary War. Washington chose Major Benjamin Tallmadge to develop a spy network to help drive the British from New York. The six spies Tallmadge recruited had an immense effect on the outcome of the war. Their work in Manhattan and Long Island exposed not only a British attempt to destroy the American economy, but also Benedict Arnold’s treachery. In one of their final acts, they got the British naval codebook, which turned the tide at the Battle of Yorktown. In the five-year period during which the ring operated, only one member was exposed. That she was a woman is the only clue to her identity, though there’s a suggestion that she hung her laundry in such a way as to pass information. This slim, quick-moving book brings attention to a group that exerted an enormous influence over events during the Revolutionary War. (from Kirkus) (Non-Fiction; 2013, 235 pgs)

May 19, 2015 – booktalk & title selection for September 2015 –April 2016

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 – December 2014
Noel Wien Library, First Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Conference Room

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 Canceled, Rescheduled for July 1
  • 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)
  • July 1 – The Mountains of St. Francis: discovering the geologic events that shaped our earth by Walter Alvarez (rescheduled from April 1)
  • August 5 – Mycophilia: revelations from the weird world of mushrooms by Eugenia Bone
  • September 2 – Einstein: the life of a genius by Walter Isaacson
  • October 7 – The Numbers Game: the commonsense guide to understanding numbers in the news, in politics, and in life by Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot
  • November 4 – The Radioactive Boy Scout: the true story of a boy and his backyard nuclear reactor by Ken Silverstein
  • December 2 – Hew, Screw & Glue: how stuff is made by James Innes-Smith

Library Contact: Georgine Olson: 459-1063 or

Discussion Leader: Don Triplehorn: 474-6891

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NOTE: Except for “May” discussion, 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,