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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
  • September 13 – Cancer Ward by Alesandr Solhenitsyn
  • October 11 – begin reading from Great Books Foundation Great Conversations 5
  • November 8 – assigned selections from Great Conversations 5
  • December 13 – assigned selections from Great Conversations 5

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. 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 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
  • July 5 – Science is Culture edited by Adam Bly
  • August 2 – The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow
  • September 6 – Darwin: portrait of a genius by Paul Johnson
  • October 4 – The Periodic Table: a visual guide to the elements by Paul Parsons & Gail Dixon
  • November 1 – Irrefutable Evidence: adventures in the history of forensic science by Michael Kurland
  • December 6 – Fifty Machines that Changed the Course of History by Eric Chaline

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,