Nevada County library hosts ‘Pushing the Limits’ book discussion series |

Nevada County library hosts ‘Pushing the Limits’ book discussion series

Many of us fail to consider science an interesting topic in our everyday lives. But Nevada County’s librarians are working to change that with a monthly book discussion series pondering beer, birding and bread, among other topics.

The program — Rural Gateways: Pushing the Limits — is a science café and book club hybrid for adults funded by a National Science Foundation grant, said library technician Jill Davidson.

The book discussion series at Nevada County libraries got its start last year, Davidson said, with a small stipend being used for four sessions this year. The Pushing the Limits grant, aimed specifically at small and rural libraries, offers libraries subtle STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programming aimed at adults not already interested in science topics.

Modeled on the American Library Association’s long-running “Let’s Talk About It” program, Pushing The Limits is organized around four works of popular fiction that explore broad scientific themes. Libraries will partner with experts in the community to come and lead informal discussions of each book.

In keeping with the “pushing limits” theme, the goal is to get adults talking about science who aren’t typically interested in science, explained Davidson.

“We bring in partners to talk about the scientific aspect (of each book) in a non-threatening atmosphere,” she said.

The Big Year

The series will get its start at the Madelyn Helling Library at 10 a.m. on Jan. 19, with “The Big Year” by Mark Obmascik. There will be a book discussion with coffee and doughnuts, door prizes and a talk by guest speaker Rudy Darling, president of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society.

“The Big Year,” which was turned into a film starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, is billed as a “tale of man, nature and fowl obsession.” Every Jan. 1, a quirky crowd storms out across North America for a spectacularly competitive event called a Big Year — a grand, expensive and occasionally vicious 365-day marathon of birdwatching.

For three men in particular, 1998 would become a grueling battle for a new North American birding record. Bouncing from coast to coast on frenetic pilgrimages for once-in-a-lifetime rarities, they brave broiling deserts, bug-infested swamps and some of the lumpiest motel mattresses known to man.

“Even though it’s a light-hearted book, it will be fun to have someone who is an expert on the topic,” Davidson said. “People can talk about local birds and get tips for birding.”

Upcoming plans

The remaining sessions do not have firm dates as of yet.

In February, the book to be discussed will be “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng, which is also this year’s selection for Nevada County Reads & Writes! Ng’s novel is many things — a thriller and mystery, but also a look into suicide and mental health, expectations of oneself and family, race and culture in America, communication and gender identity. Davidson is looking to recruit longtime local pediatrician Sarah Woerner as the speaker for that session.

In March, the book will be “Sourdough” by Robin Sloan. The protagonist, Lois Clary, is a robotics engineer locked in a meaningless existence when she inherits a magical sourdough starter. Soon she is fusing food and technology and finding love.

“It’s set in San Francisco and the sourdough starter goes through different hands,” Davidson said. “I’m hoping someone from Dupre’s (Baking Company) can come and be our expert for that, to talk about the chemistry of baking.”

The series finishes out in April with “The Comic Book Story of Beer” by Johnathan Hennessey and Mike Smith, a graphic novel that recounts the many-layered past and present of beer.

“It’s very fun to read,” said Davidson, who plans to partner with a local brew and possibly have the discussion off-site at a brewery.

The series was a “pretty big hit” last year, she said, adding that she hopes to keep it going next year as well.

Space is limited; sign up online through the Library Events Calendar or call 530-265-7050. Limited copies of all books for this series are available at the Madelyn Helling Library.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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