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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 2016

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).

January Reading is from:
Set1, Great Books Discussion Series, available at the library Reference Desk.

  • January 12 – Dubliners by James Joyce
  • February 9 – tba
  • March 8 – tba
  • April 12 – tba
  • May 10 – tba
  • June, July, August – 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).

September 12, 2015 – The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the fire that saved America by Timothy Egan

On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, wind tore through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno that jumped from treetop to ridge as it raged, destroying towns and timber. This is a fascinating account of THE fire of the century, from the human perspective, the political fights involved, and consequences to the conservation movement. Considering our exposure to forest fires, it may offer insight into how current fires are managed / extinguished. A follow up to Egan’s, The Worst Hard Time, which we discussed in 2013. (2009, 283 pages)

October 10, 2015 – Cooked: a natural history of transformation by Michael Pollan

Pollan explores the enduring power of the four classical elements – fire, water, air, and earth – to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink through grilling, braising, baking, and fermenting. Learning to cook elevated humans from lone animals to increasingly intelligent civilized groups. Through his own experiences in making and enjoying food with pit masters, bakers, chefs, and “fermentos,” Pollan retraces our path to connection with real ingredients and health for people and planet – with the cook occupying a special place in the world, standing squarely between nature and culture. (2013, 480 pages)

November 14, 2015 – Catching Fire: how cooking made us human by Richard Wrangham

This looks like another cook book, but the author presents a convincing argument that gut size and brain size are related. He believes that learning to control fire and cook our food is what led to the evolution of man as a social animal – that the habit of eating cooked rather than raw food permitted the digestive tract to shrink and the human brain to grow, helped structure human society, and created the male-female division of labor. Despite the title, this is a serious book on evolution which has won several science awards. (2009, 270 pages)

December 2015 – no meeting

January 9, 2016 – Ghost Map: the story of London’s most terrifying epidemic – and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world by Steven Johnson

The writing makes you feel you are there – and very glad you are not. Cities have changed since we added indoor plumbing. The author shows how ideas persist even when facts prove they are wrong and how difficult adopting new ideas can be. It has many fascinating “historical nuggets” including the fact we have all inherited a tolerance for alcohol due to the danger of drinking bad water. (2006, 256 pages)

February 13, 2016 – Farewell Fred Voodoo: a letter from Haiti by Amy Wilentz

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography, this is the author’s account of a long, painful, passionate – and unreciprocated – affair with a country that has long fascinated the world. Farewell Fred Voodoo is a journey into the depths of the human soul as well as a vivid portrayal of the nation’s extraordinary people and their uncanny resilience. (2013, 329 pages)

March 12, 2016 – Underground Girls of Kabul: in search of a hidden resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg

How would you cope with being raised as a boy – an asset to your family- until puberty and then forced to change back to a female, marry a man you have never met, and become a mother confined to the her house? Nordberg, an award winning journalist, traveled all over Afghanistan interviewing women to reveal this unusual but rather common practice. “Bacha posh” is a term you will never forget. (2014, 350 pages)

April 9, 2016 – Dead Wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Eric Larsen crafts a historical narrative leading up to a thrilling, if known, conclusion. Focusing on the politics of WW1, on nautical craftsmanship and strategy, and on key players in the eventual attack and sinking of the “fast, comfortable, and beloved Lusitania”, Larson seduces us with history, giving it a human face. (2015, 430 pages)

May 14, 2016 – Firecracker Boys: H Bombs, Inupiat, and the roots of the environmental movement by Dan O’Neill

Here is the unbelievable, but true, story of an attempt to build a harbor in Alaska with thermonuclear bombs – as part of the Atoms for Peace program under Eisenhower. Because some staff at UAF were willing to put their careers at risk and question authority, the project was delayed and finally defeated. Every Alaskan needs to read this book. We are very pleased to have the author in attendance for this discussion. Note: This event will be in the Noel Wien Library Auditorium, not the Conference Room. (1994, 388 pages)

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

July 9, 2016 – In 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. (2015, 204 pages)

LWV Contact: Donna Dinsmore: 479-5265 or

Library Contact: Georgine Olson 459-1063 or

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READING LIST: September 2015 – May 2016

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 15, 2015 – The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The first “Dennis Lehane book” for a new HarperCollins imprint. In this atmospheric tale, Locke confronts matters of race and conscience. Some days, Caren Gray can hardly believe she is still rooted to Belle Vie, the Louisiana plantation where she grew up, where her mother was a cook and her great-great-great-grandfather was a slave. Now the single mother to a nine-year-old daughter, she manages the showplace, which has long been owned by the prosperous Clancy family and is a popular site for weddings and banquets. Despite the beauty of the house and grounds, Caren still feels uneasy whenever she visits the former slave quarters, a stark reminder of the antebellum plantation’s notorious past. When a cane worker is found with her throat slit, Caren is drawn into the investigation as the police target one of her employees as the murderer. Soon, though, Caren learns some rather unsavory information about the Clancy family and their nefarious dealings in both the past and the present. This is a nuanced look at the South’s tragic past and one strong woman’s stand against ingrained cultural and economic oppression. (Booklist) (Mystery, 2012, 374 pgs)

October 20, 2015 – Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

This is a heartfelt page-turner about two women finding a sense of home. Seventeen-year-old Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer has spent most of her life in foster care. When she’s caught stealing a copy of Jane Eyre from the library, she ends up cleaning out elderly Vivian Daly’s attic. Molly learns that Vivian was herself an orphan, an Irish immigrant in New York who was put on the Orphan Train in the late 1920s and tossed from home to home in Minnesota. Chapters alternate between Vivian’s struggle to find a safe home, both physically and emotionally, in early 20th-century Minnesota, and Molly’s similar struggle in modern-day Maine. Kline lets us live the characters’ experiences vividly, and even the use of present tense, which could distract, feels suited to this tale. The growth from instinct to conscious understanding to partnership between the two is the foundation for a moving tale. (Publisher’s Weekly) (Historical Fiction, 2013, 278 pgs)

November 17, 2015 – The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

In this sweet, uplifting homage to bookstores, Zevin perfectly captures the joy of connecting people and books. A. J. Fikry, the cantankerous owner of Island Books, is despondent after losing his beloved wife and witnessing the ever-declining number of sales at his small, quirky bookstore. In short order, he loses all patience with a new sales rep, his prized rare edition of Tamerlane is stolen, and someone leaves a toddler at his store. That baby immediately steals A. J.’s heart and unleashes a dramatic transformation. Suddenly, the picture-book section is overflowing with new titles, and the bookstore becomes home to a burgeoning number of book clubs. With business on the uptick and love in his heart, A. J. finds himself becoming an essential new part of his longtime community, going so far as to woo the aforementioned sales rep. Filled with interesting characters, a deep knowledge of bookselling, wonderful critiques of classic titles, and very funny depictions of book clubs and author events, this will prove irresistible to book lovers everywhere. (Booklist) (Fiction; 2014; 260 pgs)

December, 2015 – No Meeting

January 19, 2016 - Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history by S.C. Gwynne

Journalist Gwynne tracks one of the U.S.’s longest-running military conflicts in this gripping history of the war against the Comanche on the high plains of Texas and Colorado. The Comanche stood for decades as the single most effective military force on the southern plains; their mastery of horseback warfare and their intimate knowledge of the trackless desert of the plains stymied the armies of Spain and Mexico, and blocked American westward expansion for 40 years. Gwynne’s account orbits around Quanah Parker (ca. 1852-1911), the brilliant war chief whose resistance raged even as the Comanche, increasingly demoralized by the loss of the buffalo and the American military’s policy of total annihilation, retreated into the reservation. Rigorously researched and evenhanded, the book paints both the Comanche and Americans in their glory and shame, bravery and savagery. The book combines rich historical detail with a keen sense of adventure and of the humanity of its protagonists. (Publishers Weekly) (Non-Fiction, 2010, 371 pgs)

February 16, 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 in Europe, grieving journalist John Easley feels an obligation to report on the war and talks himself onto a plane doing a bombing run over the Aleutian Islands. When the plane is shot down on Attu, he finds himself in a fight for his life as he battles hunger and the cold while hiding out from Japanese soldiers, who have shipped the natives off to internment camps and taken over the island. Meanwhile, back in Seattle, John’s wife, Helen, lies about her lack of experience and joins a USO troupe set to entertain American soldiers in the Aleutians, determining that she will be more likely to locate John and bring him home if she is closer to battle action. The author illuminates a little-known aspect of WWII while portraying a devoted couple who bravely face down the isolation, pain, and sacrifice of wartime. (Booklist) (Alaskana Fiction, 2014, 308 pgs)

March 15, 2016 - Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

A superior religious thriller, notable for its existential and spiritual profundity. Set in 2004, in and around the Vatican, the story revolves around two brothers: Alex, a married Greek Catholic priest who’s estranged from his wife and lives with his five-year-old son; and Simon, a Roman Catholic priest who works as a diplomat. Both brothers are involved with a controversial museum exhibit involving the Shroud of Turin. When the exhibit’s curator is found murdered and Simon is arrested, Alex sets out to find the truth and becomes entangled in a grand-scale conspiracy that could resurrect a poisonous ancient hatred. An intelligent and deeply contemplative writing style, along with more than a few bombshell plot twists, set this one above the pack, but it’s the insightful character development that makes this redemptive story so moving. (Publishers Weekly) (Fiction, 2015, 431 pgs)

April 19, 2015 - A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

In 1928, Rose Wilder Lane – world traveler, successful journalist – returned to her parents’ Ozark farm. Almanzo was 71, Laura 61, and Rose felt obligated to stay and help. She built them a new home, while she and Helen Boylston (who wrote the Sue Barton nurse series) transformed the farmhouse into a writers retreat. Then came the Crash. Rose’s money vanished; the magazine market dried up. That’s when Laura wrote her autobiography, “Pioneer Girl,” the story of growing up in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, on the Kansas prairie, and by the shores of Silver Lake. The rest — the eight remarkable books that followed — were publishable only with Rose’s expert rewriting. Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House books — the collaboration that Rose and Laura deliberately hid from agents, editors, reviewers, and readers. Why did they conceal their writing partnership? And what happened to change Rose from a left-leaning liberal to a passionate Libertarian? (Historical Fiction, 2014, 302 pgs)

May 17, 2016 - 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

Readings for January – June 2016
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 5 – The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2012 edited by Siddhartha Mukherjee – First Half (to page 155)
  • February 2 – The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2012 edited by Dan Ariely – Second Half (156-311)
  • March 1 – Nature’s Clocks: how scientists measure the age of almost everything by Doug Macdougall
  • April 5 – The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks
  • May 3 (17?) – Human: the science behind what makes us unique by Michael S. Gazzaniga
  • June 7 – Your Brain: a user’s guide by Jeffrey Kluger, editor

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 25 – Mirage by Matt Ruff

11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, the third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers. The United Arab States declare a War on Terror. Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C. Summer, 2009: Arab Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured suicide bomber. The prisoner claims that the world they are living in is a mirage — in the real world, America is a superpower, and the Arab states are just a collection of third-world countries. Other captured terrorists have been telling the same story. Gangster Saddam Hussein is conducting his own investigation. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee — a war hero named Osama bin Laden — will stop at nothing to hide the truth. Mustafa and his colleagues venture deeper into the unsettling world of terrorism, politics, and espionage – facing questions without answers and the possibility that their world is not what it seems. ( (F, 2012, 448 pgs.)

February 22 – Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren -a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body – and only one purpose – to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch. [FF] (SF, 2013; 409 pgs., winner of Hugo, Nebula, British SF, Locus and Arthur C Clarke awards)

March 28 – Girls at the Kingfisher Clubby Genevieve Valentine

Jo, firstborn and ‘The General’ to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the girls have in place of a mother. Jo is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of their father’s Manhattan townhouse and into the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. They elude their distant and controlling father – until the day he decides to marry them off. Until then, they continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they’ve come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom. Suddenly Jo must balance not only the needs of her father and eleven sisters, but her own as well. An engrossing and delightful reimagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. (F, 2014, 277 pgs.)

April 25 – Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin

A brilliant cult classic of literary science fiction. Called “fascinating” by the New York Times when first published in 1984, Native Tongue won wide critical praise and cult status, and has often been compared to the futurist fiction of Margaret Atwood. Set in the 22nd century, the novel tells of a world where women are once again property, denied civil rights and banned from public life. Earth s wealth depends on interplanetary commerce with alien races, and linguists – a small, clannish group of families – have become the ruling elite by controlling all interplanetary communication. Their women are used to breed perfect translators for all the galaxies languages. (F, 1984, 301 pgs.)

May 23 -Goblin Emperorby Katherine Addison

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court. But, when his father and three older half-brothers are killed in an ‘accident,’ he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir. Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the knowledge that those who assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment. Surrounded by those eager to curry favor with the naive new emperor and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators lurking in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, trying to find even a single friend, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him. (author’s web page) (F, 2014; 446 pgs.)

June 27 -Zooby James Patterson

Once in a lifetime, a writer puts it all together. This is the thriller Patterson was born to write. All over the world, brutal attacks are crippling entire cities. Jackson Oz, a young biologist, watches the escalating events with an increasing sense of dread. When he witnesses a coordinated lion ambush in Africa, the enormity of the violence to come becomes terrifyingly clear. With the help of ecologist Chloe Tousignant, Oz races to warn world leaders before it’s too late. The attacks are growing in ferocity, cunning, and planning, and soon there will be no place left for humans to hide. With wildly inventive imagination and white-knuckle suspense that rivals Stephen King at his very best, Zoo is an epic, non-stop thrill-ride. (Time) (SF mystery/thriller; 2012; 395 pgs.)

July 25 -Ocean at the End of the Laneby Neil Gaiman

This is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly’s wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark. It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers. Dark creatures from beyond are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive. There is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest claims that her duck pond is ocean. The oldest remembers the Big Bang. (FF) (F; 2013; 181 pgs.)

August 22 -The Martianby Andy Weir (SF)

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces the rest of the crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive – and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old ‘human error’ are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit – he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. (SF; 2012; 369 pgs.)

September 26 -Random Acts of Senseless Violenceby Jack Womack

Jack Womack’s fifth novel centers on Lola Hart, a girl whose family falls on hard times and moves to near-future Harlem. There, surrounded by the new language and violence of the streets, Lola’s metamorphosis begins. Womack astounds and entertains. (Publishers Weekly) (SF, post-apocalyptic & humorous; 1994; 255 pgs.)

October 24 -The Woman in Blackby Susan Hill

A solicitor sent to a small village to settle the estate of a dead client fuels the wrath of a sinister, mysterious woman in black and is driven to the brink of insanity. This is classic ghost story: a chilling tale about a menacing specter haunting a small English town. Psychologically terrifying and deliciously eerie, The Woman in Black is a remarkable thriller of the first rate. (H; 1983; 186 pgs.)

November 28 -Bowl of Heavenby Gregory Benford & Larry Niven

When the Sunseeker leaves Earth, bound for the planet called Glory, its crew knows they will never see home again. None of them can ever have imagined, however, what they will find along the way. A gargantuan object, with its own tar nestled inside. The bowl-shaped structure is following the same path as the Sunseeker and it has a habitable area the size of millions of Earths. A landing party is sent to the surface, where they encounter some of the structure’s inhabitants – wildly differing species, and not all of them friendly. (SF; 2012; 448 pgs)

December 19 (third Monday) -Memory of Waterby Emmi Iräranta

Arthur Clarke and Philip Dick nominee. Some secrets demand betrayal. ‘You’re seventeen, and of age now, and therefore old enough to understand what I’m going to tell you,’ my father said. ‘This place doesn’t exist.’ When Noria Kaitio reaches her 17th birthday, she is entrusted with the secret of a freshwater spring hidden deep within the caves near her small rural village. Its preservation has been the responsibility of her family for generations. Apprenticed to her father, one of the last true tea masters; taking possession of his knowledge, Noria becomes much more than the guardian of ancestral treasure. She will hold the fate of everyone she loves in hands. (YA; F; 2014; 266 pgs.)

Library Contact: Georgine Olson, 459-1063 or

Discussion Leader: Sharron Albert,