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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 2015

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:
Set 1, Great Books Discussion Series, available at the library Reference Desk.

  • June, July, August – no meeting
  • September 22 (not 2nd Tuesday) – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (first half)
  • October 13 – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (second half)
  • November 24 (not 2nd Tuesday) – The Gospel of Matthew from The Bible, New Testament
  • December 8 – The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

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

Reading for September – December 2015
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).

  • September 15 (not 1st Tuesday) – The Power of Habit: why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg
  • October 6 – The Disappearing Spoon: and other true tales of madness, love, and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements by Sam Kean
  • November 17 (not 1st Tuesday) – The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, human origins, and the invention of the Pleistocene by Lydia V. Pyne & Stephen J. Pyne
  • December 1 – On Being: a scientist’s exploration of the great questions of existence by Peter Atkins

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.

August 24 - Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

This chilling tale wonders, “What if Count Dracula didn’t die via the stake, but managed to become an adviser to Queen Victoria? And what if Jack the Ripper was in reality Bram Stoker’s hero, Jack Seward, killing off vampiric whores? (FF) Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula is back in print, and we must celebrate. It was the first mash-up of literature, history and vampires, and now, in a world in which vampires are everywhere, it’s still the best, and its bite is just as sharp. Compulsory reading, commentary, and mindgame: glorious. (Neil Gaiman) (F/H, 1993, 359 pgs; #1 in series; world fantasy nominee)

September 28 - Replica by Jenna Black

At 16, Nadia has done everything her parents and society expect of her even when she is engaged to her best friend, Nate, whom she knows will never love her. When Nate is murdered, Nadia learns she has more strength than she imagined, and she is willing to risk everything to discover the dark truth behind his death. Luckily, she has Nate’s replica to help her. In this future world, Nate can be replicated even after death because he is the son of the dictator/CEO. However, the replica Nate is missing two weeks of memories, including the events leading up to his death. Despite their oppressive culture, Nate and Nadia need to learn the truth to safeguard those they love. Told from alternating viewpoints, this fast-paced, futuristic novel will delight fans of Orwellian science fiction, as well as readers of dystopian literature. This explores love, loss, and loyalty against the backdrop of a chillingly familiar future world. (a VOYA Perfect Ten) (YA SF, 2013; 368 pgs)

October 26 - Games by Ted Kosmatka

Jurassic Park meets The Hunger Games in this stunning high-energy, high-concept tale from a first-time novelist. A brilliant geneticist oversees U.S. selections for the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned blood sport with only one rule: No entrants may possess human DNA. Desperate to maintain America’s edge in the upcoming Games, his superior uses an experimental supercomputer to design the ultimate, unbeatable combatant. The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. But no one could anticipate the consequences of allowing a computer’s cold logic to play God. Growing swiftly, the mutant gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and – most chillingly – intelligence. Before hell breaks loose, it’s a race to understand what unbound science has wrought – even as professional curiosity gives way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror. ( (SF, 2012, 360 pgs, Locus best list)

November 23 - Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a future of bioengineered plagues, widespread food shortages, and retrotechnology, calories have become currency. Rediscovery of foods thought to be extinct can lead to great success or spectacular failure. An encounter between AgriGen’s “calorie man” and a genetically engineered member of the New People sets off a cataclysmic chain of events. This captivating look at a dystopic future seems all too possible. East meets West in a clash of cultures brilliantly portrayed in razor-sharp images, tension-building pacing, and finely etched characters. Fans of China Miéville and Neal Stephenson might well flock to this cautionary thriller. (LJ, starred review) (SF, 2009; 359 pgs; #1 Locus first book)

December 28 - Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente

September, aged 12, had an ordinary life until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, she is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. Their new Marquess, not much older than September, is unpredictable and fickle. Only September can retrieve a talisman he wants from the enchanted woods. If she doesn’t, the Marquess will make life impossible for those living in Fairyland. With exquisite illustrations, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when Valente first posted it online. For readers who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful. ( Strongly endorsed by Patrick Rothfuss, too. (YA F, 2011, 247 pgs.)

Library Contact: Georgine Olson, 459-1063 or

Discussion Leader: Sharron Albert,