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Books in the Afternoon
Book Discussion Group

Join us for lively discussions of contemporary fiction, non-fiction and other notable books! All are welcome. Discussions are free and open to the public. No registration is necessary. We will usually have copies of the current month's book available for you to check out at the Ask a Librarian desk on the First Floor.

Discussions are held on the third Thursday of the month from
1 to 2 p.m. and again from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Large Print Room on the First Floor of the Main Library.


Upcoming Discussions:

January 21, 2016 1-2 pm
January 21, 2016 6-7 pm

Daniel James Brown
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
The University of Washington rowing team was made up of working-class boys — sons of loggers, farmers, and shipyard workers. They were never expected to win against the elite teams of the East Coast or Great Britain. Theirs is an exhilarating story of beating the odds. This group of dedicated young men eventually went on to defeat the German team at the Berlin Olympics. At the center of the story is Joe Rantz, his personal growth a direct result of his rowing career.
Participants in this month’s discussions will be eligible to win a pair of tickets for the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Literary Evenings, Monday Night Lecture Series with Daniel James Brown on March 14. Click here for more information about the lecture.
February 18, 2016 1-2 pm
February 18, 2016 6-7 pm

Fran Ross
Oreo, a biracial girl from Philadelphia, searches for her Jewish father in New York City, navigating the labyrinth of sound studios, brothels, and subway tunnels of Manhattan in a journey of self-discovery.
March 17, 2016 1-2 pm
March 17, 2016 6-7 pm

Paula McLain
Circling The Sun
A fascinating portrayal of Beryl Markham, a complex and strong-willed woman who fought to make her way in the world on her terms. McLain paints a captivating portrait of Africa in the 1920s and the life of expats making their home there.
April 21, 2016 1-2 pm
April 21, 2016 6-7 pm

Junot Diaz
This is How You Lose Her
Diaz presents a collection of connected stories that explores the heartbreak and radiance of love as it is shaped by passion, betrayal, and the echoes of intimacy.
May 19, 2016 1-2 pm
May 19, 2016 6-7 pm

Karen Joy Fowler
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Coming of age in middle America, 18-year-old Rosemary evaluates how her entire youth was defined by the presence and forced removal of an endearing chimpanzee who was secretly regarded as a family member and who Rosemary loved as a sister.
June 16, 2016 1-2 pm
June 16, 2016 6-7 pm

Charles Belfoure
The Paris Architect
A Parisian architect is paid handsomely to devise secret hiding spaces for Jews in his Nazi-occupied country but struggles with risking his life for a cause he is ambivalent towards, until a personal failure brings home their suffering.
July 21, 2016 1-2 pm
July 21, 2016 6-7 pm

Lauren Groff
Fates and Furies
Fates and Furies is a modern portrait of marriage. Lotto Satterwhite is the center, the hub around which all the characters revolve in the first half of the book. In the second half of the book, the lens turns to Lotto’s wife Mathilde, and her side of the lopsided partnership gives us a totally different view.

Previous Discussions:

January 20, 2011 1-2 pm
January 20, 2011 6-7 pm

Stewart O’Nan's
Last Night at the Lobster
Managing a failed seafood restaurant in a run-down New England mall just before Christmas, Manny DeLeon coordinates a challenging final shift of mutinous staff members, an effort that is complicated by his love for a waitress, a pregnant girlfriend, and an elusive holiday gift.
February 17, 2011 1-2 pm
February 17, 2011 6-7 pm

Kathryn Stockett's
The Help
Limited and persecuted by racial divides in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, an African-American maid and her sassy and unemployed friend team up with a recently graduated white woman for a clandestine project.
March 17, 2011 1-2 pm
March 17, 2011 6-7 pm

Robert Goolrick's
A Reliable Wife
Ralph Truitt, a wealthy businessman with a troubled past who lives in a remote 19th-century Wisconsin town, has advertised for a reliable wife. His ad is answered by a woman who makes every effort to hide her own dark secrets.
April 21, 2011 1-2 pm
April 21, 2011 6-7 pm

Dan Chaon's
Await Your Reply
While Miles pursues elusive letters and clues in a perpetual search for his missing twin, Ryan struggles with the discovery that he is adopted, and Lucy finds her daring escape from her hometown posing unexpectedly dangerous consequences.
May 19, 2011 1-2 pm
May 19, 2011 6-7 pm

Muriel Barbery's
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The lives of fifty-four-year-old concierge Rene Michel and extremely bright, suicidal twelve-year-old Paloma Josse are transformed by the arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu.
June 16, 2011 1-2 pm
June 16, 2011 6-7 pm

Garth Stein's
The Art of Racing in the Rain
Nearing the end of his life, Enzo, a dog with a philosopher's soul, tries to bring together the family, pulled apart by a three-year custody battle between daughter Zoe's maternal grandparents and her father Denny, a race car driver.
July 21, 2011 1-2 pm
July 21, 2011 6-7 pm

Graham Greene's
The Quiet American
An eager American envoy is mysteriously assigned to Saigon during the French occupation of Indochina.
September 15, 2011 1-2 pm
September 15, 2011 6-7 pm

Abraham Verghese's
Cutting for Stone
Twin brothers born from a secret love affair between an Indian nun and a British surgeon in Addis Ababa, Marion and Shiva Stone come of age in an Ethiopia on the brink of revolution, where their love for the same woman drives them apart.
October 20, 2011 1-2 pm
October 20, 2011 6-7 pm

Geraldine Brooks'
In a story inspired by the father character in Little Women and drawn from the journals and letters of Louisa May Alcott's father, a man leaves behind his family to serve in the Civil War and finds his beliefs challenged by his experiences.
November 17, 2011 1-2 pm
November 17, 2011 6-7 pm

Bryce Courtenay's
The Power of One
Peekay, a white British boy in South Africa during World War II, survives an abusive boarding school and goes on to succeed in life and the boxing ring, with help from a chicken, a boxer, a pianist, black African prisoners, and many others.
December 15, 2011 1-2 pm
December 15, 2011 6-7 pm

Helen Simonson's
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) leads a quiet life in the village of St. Mary, England, until his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But will their relationship survive in a society that considers Ali a foreigner?
January 19, 2012 1-2 pm
January 19, 2012 6-7 pm

Patrick Somerville's
The Cradle
An expectant mother is overwhelmed by the desire to reclaim an antique cradle that her mother took when she abandoned the family years earlier. As her husband searches for the cradle, he confronts his own childhood memories and makes a discovery that will change everything he knows. The story is interwoven with that of a middle-aged couple who worries about their son's imminent stationing in Iraq.
February 16, 2012 1-2 pm
February 16, 2012 6-7 pm

Rebecca Skloot's
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine. In this nonfiction account, Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the "colored" ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta's small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia-a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo-to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.
March 15, 2012 1-2 pm
March 15, 2012 6-7 pm

Lisa See's
Shanghai Girls
Forced to leave Shanghai when their father sells them to California suitors, sisters May and Pearl struggle to adapt to life in 1930s Los Angeles. Bound to old customs, they face discrimination and confront a life-altering secret.
April 19, 2012 1-2 pm
April 19, 2012 6-7 pm

Jonathan Franzen's
The idyllic lives of civic-minded environmentalists Patty and Walter Berglund come into question when their son moves in with aggressive Republican neighbors. Green lawyer Walter takes a job in the coal industry, and go-getter Patty becomes increasingly unstable and enraged.
May 17, 2012 1-2 pm
May 17, 2012 6-7 pm

Kyong-suk Sin's
Please Look After Mom
Family members try to find their mother, who went missing from Seoul Station, and come to sobering realizations when they recall memories that suggest she may not have been happy.
June 21, 2012 1-2 pm
June 21, 2012 6-7 pm

Louise Erdrich's
The Plague of Doves
Unaware of a violent event that marked the beginning of her mixed ancestry, ambitious young Evelina Harp, a part-Ojibwe, part-white girl prone to falling hopelessly in love, learns disturbing truths from her gifted storyteller grandfather.
July 19, 2012 1-2 pm
July 19, 2012 6-7 pm

Jennifer Egan's
A Visit from the Goon Squad
Working side-by-side for a record label, former punk rocker Bennie Salazar and the passionate Sasha hide illicit secrets from one another while interacting with a motley assortment of equally troubled people from 1970s San Francisco to a post-war future.

September 20, 2012 1-2 pm
September 20, 2012 6-7 pm

Jeffrey Eugenides'
The Marriage Plot
Madeleine Hanna breaks out of her straight-and-narrow mold when she enrolls in a semiotics course and falls in love with charismatic loner. Her life becomes more complicated by the resurfacing of man who is obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is his destiny.

October 18, 2012 1-2 pm
October 18, 2012 6-7 pm

Stewart O'Nan's
Emily, Alone
Newly independent widow Emily Maxwell dreams of visits by grandchildren and mourns changes in her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood before realizing an inner strength to pursue developing opportunities.
November 15, 2012 1-2 pm
November 15, 2012 6-7 pm

Laura Hillenbrand's
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (nonfiction)
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared. The plane's bombardier surfaced in the ocean, struggled onto a tiny raft, and drifted into the unknown. The lieutenant's name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he'd been an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running. But when war came, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Telling an unforgettable story of a man's journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

December 20, 2012 1-2 pm
December 20, 2012 6-7 pm

Isabel Allende's
Diego de la Vega, the son of an aristocratic Spanish landowner and a Shoshone mother, returns to California from school in Spain to reclaim the hacienda on which he was raised and to seek justice for the weak and helpless.

January 17, 2013 1-2 pm
January 17, 2013 6-7 pm

Chad Harbach's
The Art of Fielding
A baseball star at a small college near Lake Michigan launches a routine throw that goes disastrously off course and inadvertently changes the lives of five people, including the college president, a gay teammate, and the president's daughter.

February 21, 2013 1-2 pm
February 21, 2013 6-7 pm

Hillary Jordan's
In 1946, Laura McAllan tries to adjust after moving with her husband and two children to an isolated cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta.

March 21, 2013 1-2 pm
March 21, 2013 6-7 pm

Jennifer Haigh's
Mrs. Kimble
Haigh’s story follows 25 years in the life of a charismatic opportunist as seen through the eyes of his three wives.

April 18, 2013 1-2 pm
April 18, 2013 6-7 pm

Geraldine Brooks'
People of the Book
Join us this month for Allegheny County’s One Book One Community selection.
Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered a coveted job to analyze and conserve a priceless Sarajevo Haggadah. She discovers a series of tiny artifacts in the volume's ancient binding that reveal its historically significant origins.

May 16, 2013 1-2 pm
May 16, 2013 6-7 pm

Charles Frazier's
Thirteen Moons
At the age of 12, Will is sent alone into the wilderness to run an Indian trading post. His life becomes intertwined with the destiny of the Cherokee Indians, as he falls in love with a girl named Claire and builds a friendship with a chief named Bear.

June 20, 2013 1-2 pm
June 20, 2013 6-7 pm

Patrick deWitt's
The Sisters Brothers
Set against the backdrop of the great California Gold Rush, this darkly comic novel follows the misadventures of the fabled Sisters brothers, two hired guns, who try to kill a man who gives them a run for their money.

July 18, 2013 1-2 pm
July 18, 2013 6-7 pm

Alice Hoffman's
The Dovekeepers
The Dovekeepers is inspired by the tragic first-century massacre of hundreds of Jewish people at Masada. The narrative weaves the stories of a hated daughter, a baker's wife, a girl disguised as a warrior, and a medicine woman who keep doves and secrets while Roman soldiers draw near.

September 19, 2013 1-2 pm
September 19, 2013 6-7 pm

Amor Towles
Rules of Civility
A chance encounter with a handsome banker in a jazz bar on New Year's Eve 1938 catapults Wall Street secretary Katey Kontent into the upper echelons of New York society, where she befriends a shy multi-millionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow.
October 17, 2013 1-2 pm
October 17, 2013 6-7 pm

Cheryl Strayed
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
This powerful, blazingly honest memoir tells the story of an 1,100-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe--and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State--and to do it alone. Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
November 21, 2013 1-2 pm
November 21, 2013 6-7 pm

Orhan Pamuk
After years of lonely political exile, Turkish poet Ka returns to Istanbul to attend his mother's funeral and learns about a series of suicides among pious girls forbidden to wear headscarves.
This title is part of our Muslim Journeys grant-funded program. Learn more about the people, places, history, faith and cultures of Muslims around the world; including those right here in the U.S. Join us for book discussions, movies, lectures and other community programs throughout 2013.
December 19, 2013 1-2 pm
December 19, 2013 6-7 pm

Julia Stuart
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise
When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen by foreign dignitaries, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Penguins escape, a bearded pig goes missing, giraffes are stolen, the komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives, and canaries suffer fainting fits. As he attempts to cope with this four-legged invasion and his marriage continues to crumble, Balthazar must confront the secret he has been harboring about his son's death if he wants to save his marriage and his sanity.
January 16, 2014 1-2 pm
January 16, 2014 6-7 pm

Eowyn Ivey
The Snow Child
A childless couple working a farm in the brutal landscape of 1920 Alaska discovers a little girl living in the wilderness with a red fox as her companion. They begin to love the strange, almost-supernatural child
as their own.
February 20, 2014 1-2 pm
February 20, 2014 6-7 pm

Ayana Mathis
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family.
March 20, 2014 1-2 pm
March 20, 2014 6-7 pm

Adam Johnson
The Orphan Master's Son
Pak Jun Do is the son of a singer mother whose career forcibly separated her from her family and an influential father who runs an orphan work camp. He rises to prominence using instinctive talents and eventually becomes a professional kidnapper and romantic rival to Kim Jong Il.
April 17, 2014 1-2 pm
April 17, 2014 6-7 pm

Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried
Heroic young men carry the emotional weight of their lives to war in Vietnam in a patchwork account of a modern journey into the heart of darkness.
In partnership with the Community College of Allegheny County, April's discussion is part of The Big Read, a program that supports organizations across the country in developing community-wide programs which encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences
May 15, 2014 1-2 pm
May 15, 2014 6-7 pm

Penelope Lively
How It All Began
The mugging of a retired schoolteacher on a London street has unexpected repercussions for her friends and neighbors when it inadvertently reveals an illicit love affair, leads to a business partnership, and helps an immigrant to reinvent his life.
June 19, 2014 1-2 pm
June 19, 2014 6-7 pm

Anthony Marra
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Set primarily in rural Chechnya during the region's war with Russia, an eight-year-old girl witnesses her father's abduction by Russian soldiers. Swearing to protect the girl, local doctor Akhmed brings her to a crumbling hospital, run by a hardened but dedicated surgeon, for safety.
July 17, 2014 1-2 pm
July 17, 2014 6-7 pm

Malala Yousafzai, with Christina Lamb
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. When she was fifteen, she was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school. Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.
September 18, 2014 1-2 pm
September 18, 2014 6-7 pm

Jess Walter
Beautiful Ruins
The novel begins with a young Italian innkeeper watching a mysterious woman in a boat approach the rocky shoreline near his tiny hotel. The American actress has come to the little-visited town to recover from an illness. What follows is a story that moves from 1962 Italy to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival then contemporary Hollywood and is filled with interesting characters navigating life and clinging to their dreams.
October 16, 2014 1-2 pm
October 16, 2014 6-7 pm

Sue Monk Kidd
The Invention of Wings
Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a Charleston plantation owner, longs to break free from the strictures of her household and pursue a meaningful life. She befriends Handful, the slave placed in her charge as a child. The story follows three decades in their lives and their search for freedom.
November 20, 2014 1-2 pm
November 20, 2014 6-7 pm

Melanie Benjamin
The Aviator’s Wife
A story inspired by the marriage between Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh traces the romance between a handsome young aviator and a shy ambassador's daughter. Their relationship is marked by wild international acclaim.
December 18, 2014 1-2 pm
December 18, 2014 6-7 pm

Rachel Joyce
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her. On his journey, he meets various characters and reminisces about the events and people from his past, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.
January 15, 2015 1-2 pm
January 15, 2015 6-7 pm

Tony Horwitz
A Voyage Long and Strange
What happened in the century of American history between the time Columbus sailed in 1492 to Jamestown's founding in the 1600? The author embarks on a journey of rediscovery, following in the footsteps of the many Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims to America. This nonfiction book blends history, myth and misadventure.
February 19, 2015 1-2 pm
February 19, 2015 6-7 pm

James McBride
The Good Lord Bird
Mistaken for a girl because of his features, 12-year-old slave Henry Shackleford realizes that his accidental disguise affords him greater safety and decides to remain female. Henry accompanies his liberator, abolitionist John Brown, on his crusade to end slavery. The increasingly fanatical Brown takes them from Bloody Kansas to Rochester, New York, where they attempt to enlist the support of such notables as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman before embarking on the infamous, ill-fated 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry.
This is a Black History Month 2015 Program.
March 19, 2015 1-2 pm
March 19, 2015 6-7 pm

Laline Paull
The Bees
Thanks to her courage and strength, Flora 717 finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum even though she's a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive. She discovers secrets about the hive that cause her to challenge authority and perform unthinkable acts.
April 16, 2015 1-2 pm
April 16, 2015 6-7 pm

Sheri Fink
Five Days at Memorial
Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink investigates what happened at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. She draws readers into the lives of those who struggled to survive and to maintain life amid chaos. After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.
This is the One Book, One Community selection for Allegheny County for 2015.
May 21, 2015 1-2 pm
May 21, 2015 6-7 pm

Helen Oyeyemi
Boy, Snow, Bird
A reimagining of the Snow White story recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity set in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.
June 18, 2015 1-2 pm
June 18, 2015 6-7 pm

Martha Woodroof
Small Blessings
English professor Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. His wife Marjory is a shut-in whose neuroses have left her fully dependent on Tom and his formidable mother-in-law, Agnes Tattle. Tom considers his unhappy condition self-inflicted, since Marjory's condition was exacerbated by her discovery of Tom's brief affair with a visiting poetess. When Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the bookstore's charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to dinner, her first social interaction in a decade, Tom wonders if it's a sign that change is on the horizon. That evening, he receives a letter from the poetess telling him that he'd fathered her son, Henry, and that Henry, now ten, will arrive by train in a few days. Clearly change is coming whether Tom's ready or not.
July 16, 2015 1-2 pm
July 16, 2015 6-7 pm

Christina Baker Kline
Orphan Train
Close to aging out of the foster care system, Molly Ayer takes a position helping an elderly woman named Vivian and discovers that they are more alike than different as she helps Vivian solve a mystery from her past.
September 17, 2015 1-2 pm
September 17, 2015 6-7 pm

David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas
The disparate lives of a multitude of characters, from 1850 to post-apocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii, intertwine in this story.
Participants in this month’s discussions will be eligible to win a pair of tickets for the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Literary Evenings, Monday Night Lecture Series with David Mitchell on November 2. Click here for more information about the lecture.
October 15, 2015 1-2 pm
October 15, 2015 6-7 pm

Celeste Ng
Everything I Never Told You
This profoundly moving story of family, history and the meaning of home, is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait. It explores the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovers the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
November 19, 2015 1-2 pm
November 19, 2015 6-7 pm

Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See
Set during World War II Europe, this novel is sobering without being sentimental. The tension builds as the alternating, parallel stories of Werner and Marie-Laure unfold and their paths cross.
December 17, 2015 1-2 pm
December 17, 2015 6-7 pm

Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven
An actor playing King Lear dies onstage just before a cataclysmic event changes the future of everyone on Earth. What will be valued and what will be discarded? Will art have a place in a world that has lost so much? What will make life worth living? These are just some of the issues explored in this beautifully written dystopian novel.
Participants in this month’s discussions will be eligible to win a pair of tickets for the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Literary Evenings, Monday Night Lecture Series with Emily St. John Mandel on February 15. Click here for more information about the lecture.

Book descriptions are taken from Novelist, copyright 2015 EBSCO Publishing