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

  • January 13 – Politics by Aristotle
  • February 10 – The Federalist Papers
  • March 10 – The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  • April 14 – The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Frederick Engels
  • May 12 – Democracy in America by Alexandre de Tocqueville
  • 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).

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: January 2015 – 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.

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 – July 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).

  • January 6 – Hew, Screw & Glue: how stuff is made by James Innes-Smith (rescheduled from December)
  • February 3 – The Science of Liberty: democracy, reason, and the laws of nature by Timothy Ferris
  • March 3 – Hitler’s Scientists: science, war, and the devil’s pact by John Cornwell
  • April 7 – Design In Nature: how the constructal law governs evolution in biology, physics, technology, and social organization by Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane
  • May 5 – How Birds Migrate by Paul Kerlinger
  • June 2 – Why We Like Music: ear, emotion, evolution by Silvia Bencivelli
  • July 7 – The Natural World Close-Up: highly magnified color images of life, the animal kingdom, plants and fungi by Giles Sparrow

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 26 – Ice is Coming by Patricia Wrightson

Wirrun, a young Australian Aboriginal, must save Australia from being overrun by ice caused by malicious ice spirits. He encounters a variety of spirits, both helpful and malevolent along the way. The storyline is predictable, but instead of familiar elves, gnomes and such we meet Mimis, Narguns, Ninya and a variety of other unfamiliar types of fae. The scene in which the People (Aborigines) are helped by an Inlander (White rural Australian with some ability to feel the power in the land) is laugh out loud hilarious. Wrightson is the only Australian to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award. (YA F, 1977, 222 pgs; 1st in series; Australian Children’s Book of the Year Award)

February 23 - Patternmaster by Octavia Butler

A telepathic race is ruled by the strong mind of the Patternmaster. His ruthless son craves the ultimate power of the position and has murdered everyone who stands in his way – except his younger brother. This is fine, old-fashioned SF about a distant future in which the earth is ruled by Patternists, whose psi powers let them control the “mutes” who have no mental voices and do battle with the Clayarks – creatures with four legs and human faces. A brief passage offers a throwaway explanation of how this state of affairs came to be, but this less important than the compelling conflict between the brothers who seek to rule. (Kirkus) (SF, 1976, 186 pgs, series finale)

March 23 - The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

A high-ranking member of a secret organization that battles supernatural forces wakes up in a London park with no memory, no idea who she is, and with a letter that provides instructions to help her uncover a far-reaching conspiracy – a wonderful tongue in cheek mash up of a John le Carre’ mystery and the X-Men. (UF, 2012; 486 pgs; Australian; first novel)

April 27 - Probability Moon by Nancy Kress

Aliens stumble upon ancient star gates that make interstellar travel possible, and humankind sends scientists to study a newly discovered planet with an alien society in which all agree on the truth. To avoid violating the global shared reality” experienced by these people, a research team treads a delicate path between truth and lies. When the knowledge of a secret military mission involving one of the World’s seven moons becomes public, the humans find themselves trapped on a planet suddenly turned hostile. This blends a taut story of survival and culture shock with a thoughtful exploration of the nature of human consciousness. (LJ) (SF, 2000, 334 pgs; Probability Trilogy #1)

June 1 (for May 25) - Contest by Matthew Reilly

Unwittingly entered into a dangerous contest along with his young daughter, Doctor Stephen Swain is placed into the labyrinth of the New York Public Library from which only one of seven contestants will emerge alive. NoveList: Australian fiction; Science Fiction; Action-packed; Fast-paced; Suspenseful; Compelling (SF/H, 2003; 334 pgs)

June 29 - Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies instantly. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For, as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history has plans for her, for in Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization. Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant – Atkinson is at her best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for its audacity and endless satisfactions. (FF) (F, 2013; 529 pgs, Locus list 2014)

July 27 - Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

With breathtaking command of her shocking material and with her customary sharp wit and dark humor, Atwood projects us into a conceivable future of Earth, an outlandish yet wholly believable place left devastated in the wake of ecological and scientific disaster and populated by characters who will continue to inhabit your dreams long after the book is closed. This is Atwood at the absolute peak of her powers. For readers nothing will ever look the same again. (FF) (SF, 2003; 416 pgs)

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,