Pushing the Limits of reader endurance 2013.02.06

Written by David Green.


There’s one thumb up and one thumb down at the Mepham house.

Rick is having a good time with the first of four books in the Pushing the Limits program at Stair Public Library, but his wife, Karen, is still waiting to be taken in.

The book “Thunderstruck” by Erik Larson weaves a true story of love and murder with a major scientific leap forward in communication.

Morenci’s library is one of 20 in the nation selected to serve as a pilot site to try out the new program which encourages people think more about the role of science in their everyday lives.

A book discussion, paired with two short video presentations, is scheduled at the library Feb. 28. Other discussions will follow on the last Thursday of the month through May.

Karen Mepham said she and her husband are working through the book together by listening to it read on CDs. So far they’ve heard two of 10 discs.

She’s not very fond of listening instead of reading, but they decided to give it a try when they had a short trip coming up.

“Rick really likes it,” she said, but she’s finding it challenging.

A major part of the story tells the process that Guglielmo Marconi went through in developing “the wireless,” a telegraph without wires. Marconi was eventually successful in sending messages across the Atlantic Ocean—a feat that astounded people around the world.

Adrian College professor Adam Coughlin, who will serve as the “science guy” during the four book discussions, really appreciated “Thunderstruck” for a couple of reasons.

“I’m a little bit of a history buff and also a science nut, of course, so I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “I really think it’s worth reading.”

Adam recalls a project he was engaged in while working on his doctorate and it took him more than a year to make it come out correctly.

“So when Marconi had his failures, it took me back to a year in grad school,” he said.

All the trials and errors of the scientific process dogged Marconi for years before he got it right, and Larson writes about that time in great detail.

“I can see where many people would struggle with the minutiae of Marconi’s work,” Adam said, and Sharon Bruce seconds that opinion.

“It’s a good story, but it took too long to get there,” she said. “I know the author wanted it to be historically correct, but there are too many details. I’m not much of a science person.”

Sharon is the sort of person that the creators of Pushing the Limits had in mind when they designed the program. They knew it would be of interest to someone like Adam, but their goal is to draw in those who don’t think about science on a daily basis.

Sharon said she found it very interesting to learn about Marconi’s invention and the role it played in the murder mystery told in the book.

She’ll be sure to attend the book discussion at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 to compare notes with others who read or tried to read the story.

She figures that the mixed reviews of the book will lead to a more interesting discussion than if everyone loved it.

As with all of the library’s book discussions, there’s no requirement that a book has to be read in order to join the group. The public is invited to participate in the talk or just listen in.

Karen heard from Stair Public Library director Colleen Leddy that it wasn’t until the final few chapters of the book when she really started enjoying the story. 

“That’s the part I’m really interested in,” Karen said, but she’s willing to work through the early material.

Edwardian London with its Scotland Yard detectives, its séances and magicians, its jealous inventors and enormous ocean liners, and a very mysterious murder—that’s what lies ahead for those who ply through the pages.

• Pushing the Limits is a reading, viewing and discussion program for adults in communities served by rural libraries, made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The program is the work of a team of library professionals, scientists, and filmmakers. Their organizations include Dartmouth College, the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, the Califa Group (a California-based library consortium), Dawson Media Group, and Oregon State University.

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