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Critic’s Choice

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2017-18 Season Lectures

Critics Choice 1

The Nix

by Nathan Hill

Thursday, November 30, 2017, 10am
Saturday, December 2, 2017, 10am
Elaine Newton, Ph.D., lecturer
Nathan Hill, author

In this astute, hilarious, sprawling debut novel, full of plot twists, digressions and set-pieces, a young, frustrated professor and stalled novelist agrees to write the tell-all biography of his estranged mother who had abandoned him at age 11. Now, after over 20 years, she has resurfaced, splashed all over the news as the "once radical hippy prostitute-teacher" who has just been arrested for throwing rocks at an ultra-right-wing presidential hopeful. The Nix is a fascinating journey through the last 50 years of American history, from the 1960s counter-culture to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Author Nathan Hill will join Elaine on-stage on both Thursday and Saturday mornings.

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Critics Choice 2

The Women in the Castle

by Jessica Shattuck

Thursday, January 4, 2018, 10am
Saturday, January 6, 2018, 10am
Elaine Newton, Ph.D., lecturer

Drawing on her grandparents' experience, Shattuck takes us inside the world of "ordinary Germans" before, during and after WWII. This is a novel full of compassion, shame, heroism and complex relationships. Never denying the savage atrocity of the war, Shattuck presents three fallible German women whose husbands have been executed for their role in the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. The women are very different, with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and principles. Left to survive together with their children in a crumbling Bavarian castle, they struggle with fear, shame and shared grief. Each has experienced the war years differently, having made difficult choices and decisions. Eventually, each will each be forced to face the secrets she has hidden and relive the truths of her life, while coming to terms with sorrows, dreams and the sins of her nation. The Women in the Castle does not ask for forgiveness. Instead, it seeks an understanding that serves the phrase "never again."

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Critics Choice 3

The Underground Railroad

by Colson Whitehead

Thursday, January 25, 2018, 10am
Saturday, January 27, 2018, 10am
Elaine Newton, Ph.D., lecturer

Winner of the National Book Award, this daring blend of comedy, tragedy, history and imaginative fiction ingeniously envisions the Underground Railroad’s hidden metaphoric passage, used to smuggle escaped southern slaves to northern freedom, as an actual underground railway network, complete with tracks, tunnels, conductors and platforms. The story follows Cora, as she escapes from a Georgia plantation and flees from state to state, witnessing a culture determined to demonize, brutalize and degrade the lives of African Americans. Author Colson Whitehead spins a moving, astonishingly effective story that takes us right up to the present day.

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Critics Choice 4

A Gentleman in Moscow

by Amor Towles

Thursday, February 15, 2018, 10am
Saturday, February 17, 2018, 10am
Elaine Newton, Ph.D., lecturer
Amor Towles, author

Set in Russian in the fraught years from 1922 to the `50s, the novel centers on Count Alexander Rostov, a cultured aristocrat placed under lifetime house arrest in a small attic room in Moscow's Hotel Metropole Hotel, across from the Kremlin. Insulated from the outside world, yet very much influenced by it, the Count has lost his possessions, his status and his freedom. But, he makes endearing friendships with a chef, a nine-year-old girl and a famous actress. Though he sees all he loves about Russia being uprooted by the new regime, the Count retains his humor, civility and honor as a gentleman and his ingrained optimism, navigating his diminished world with elegance and an increasing sense of humanity. This is, quite simply, an irresistible novel.

Author Amor Towles will join Elaine on-stage on both Thursday and Saturday mornings.

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Critics Choice 5


by Ann Patchett

Thursday, March 8, 2018, 10am
Saturday, March 10, 2018, 10am
Elaine Newton, Ph.D., lecturer

An illicit kiss at a christening destroys two marriages and blends together the lives of the six children from the various families. From shards of conjured memories, family lore and legend, gossip and outsider information, we follow parents, children, siblings and step-children over a period of 50 years, discovering secrets that have been carefully hidden and truths that have been slowly revealed. As always, Patchett is a masterful, insightful storyteller, combining emotional depth with narrative skill.

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Critics Choice 6

Anything is Possible

by Elizabeth Strout

Thursday, April 12, 2018, 10am
Saturday, April 14, 2018, 10am
Elaine Newton, Ph.D., lecturer

Nine intertwined stories, narrated by the friends, neighbors and family of Lucy Barton, create a richly human portrait of the pain, desires, disappointments and kindnesses in the lives of the people living in rural Amgash, Illinois. The novel speaks of the ways in which the past remains with us and how tightly held secrets, gossip, indignities and unexpressed emotions can warp life and how compassion and forgiveness can redeem it. This is writing that is powerful in its understatement and deeply insightful in its quietly beautiful prose. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout is at her very best in this latest work.

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Printable Reading Lists

  Summer 2017 Reading List

  2016-17 Series Reading List
  Summer 2016 Reading List

  2015-16 Series Reading List
  Summer 2015 Reading List

  2014-15 Series Reading List
  Summer 2014 Reading List

  2013-14 Series Reading List
  Summer 2013 Reading List

  25 Years of Book Reviews

All programming, lectures and dates are subject to change


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