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Our Current Book is A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

One of the world’s most beloved and bestselling writers takes his ultimate journey — into the most intriguing and intractable questions that science seeks to answer. In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trail — well, most of it. In In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand — and, if possible, answer — the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

Come discuss A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson on August 10th, 2016. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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Our Current Book is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

A profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all.

Come discuss When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi on July 13th, 2016. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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Our Current Book is The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, decide that now is the time, finally, for them to set off across this troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they have not seen for years, the son they can scarcely remember. They know they will face many hazards–some strange and otherworldly–but they cannot foresee how their journey will reveal to them the dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Nor can they foresee that they will be joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight–each of them, like Axl and Beatrice, lost in some way to his own past, but drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life’s memories. Sometimes savage, sometimes mysterious, always intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade tells a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.

Come discuss The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro on June 8th, 2016. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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Our Current Book is Twilight by William Gay

A Southern gothic novel about an undertaker who won’t let the dead rest. Suspecting that something is amiss with their father’s burial, teenager Kenneth Tyler and his sister Corrie venture to his gravesite and make a horrific discovery: their father, a whiskey bootlegger, was not actually buried in the casket they bought for him. Worse, they learn that the undertaker, Fenton Breece, has been grotesquely manipulating the dead. Armed with incriminating photographs, Tyler becomes obsessed with bringing the perverse undertaker to justice. But first, he must outrun Granville Sutter, a local strongman and convicted murderer hired by Fenton to destroy the evidence. What follows is an adventure through the Harrikin, an eerie backwoods filled with tangled roads, rusted machinery, and eccentric squatters-old men, witches, and families among them-who both shield and imperil Tyler as he runs for safety. With his poetic, haunting prose, William Gay rewrites the rules of the gothic fairy tale while exploring the classic Southern themes of good and evil.

Come discuss Twilight by William Gay on May 11th, 2016. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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Our Current Book is The Color of Water by James McBride

Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared “light-skinned” woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in “orchestrated chaos” with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. “Mommy,” a fiercely protective woman with “dark eyes full of pep and fire,” herded her brood to Manhattan’s free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion–and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain. Interspersed throughout his mother’s compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.

Come discuss The Color of Water by James McBride on April 13th, 2016. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch. Then meet the author in person at the Nashville Reads finale event on Monday, May 9th, 6:15 PM, Main Library, downtown.

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Our Current Book is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives. Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life-as she sees it-is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good? Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

Come discuss The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins on March 9th, 2016. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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Our Current Book is Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

Come discuss Being Mortal by Atul Gawande on February 10th, 2016. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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Our current book is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men–bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son–and readers–the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Come discussBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates on January 13th, 2016. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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Our current book is Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet, as bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick reveals in his spellbinding new book, the true story of the Pilgrims is much more than the well-known tale of piety and sacrifice; it is a fifty-five-year epic that is at once tragic, heroic, exhilarating, and profound. The Mayflower’s religious refugees arrived in Plymouth Harbor during a period of crisis for Native Americans as disease spread by European fishermen devastated their populations. Initially the two groups–the Wampanoags, under the charismatic and calculating chief Massasoit, and the Pilgrims, whose pugnacious military officer Miles Standish was barely five feet tall–maintained a fragile working relationship. But within decades, New England would erupt into King Philip’s War, a savagely bloody conflict that nearly wiped out English colonists and natives alike and forever altered the face of the fledgling colonies and the country that would grow from them. With towering figures like William Bradford and the distinctly American hero Benjamin Church at the center of his narrative, Philbrick has fashioned a fresh and compelling portrait of the dawn of American history–a history dominated right from the start by issues of race, violence, and religion.

Come discuss Mayflower by Nathan Philbrick on December 9th, 2015. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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Our current book is American Gospel by Jon Meacham

American Gospel by Jon MeachamThe American Gospel—literally, the good news about America—is that religion shapes our public life without controlling it. In this vivid book, New York Times bestselling author Jon Meacham tells the human story of how the Founding Fathers viewed faith, and how they ultimately created a nation in which belief in God is a matter of choice. At a time when our country seems divided by extremism, American Gospel draws on the past to offer a new perspective. Meacham re-creates the fascinating history of a nation grappling with religion and politics-from John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” sermon to Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence; from the Revolution to the Civil War; from a proposed nineteenth-century Christian Amendment to the Constitution to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for civil rights; from George Washington to Ronald Reagan. Debates about religion and politics are often more divisive than illuminating. Secularists point to a “wall of separation between church and state,” while many conservatives act as though the Founding Fathers were apostles in knee britches. As Meacham shows in this brisk narrative, neither extreme has it right. At the heart of the American experiment lies the God of what Benjamin Franklin called “public religion,” a God who invests all human beings with inalienable rights while protecting private religion from government interference. It is a great American balancing act, and it has served us well.

Come discuss American Gospel by Jon Meacham on November 11th, 2015. We meet at the Main Library in the Third Floor Program Room at noon. Feel free to bring a lunch.

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