By Laura Anne Bird | Photographed by Hillary Schave

Mary Morgan’s love of books isn’t just a hobby: She works tirelessly in two jobs to promote literacy and advocate for writers across the country. In her role with 702WI, the newly opened writer incubator (see CONNECT in our June issue on P.15 for more) she coordinates memberships and plans author events. As owner and president of Reading Group Choices, she publishes an annual guide every September to recommend new releases for those who want to explore a variety of books and have “real conversations” about them.

Morgan holds a master’s of fine arts in nonfiction writing, has managed an independent bookstore, worked for a handful of magazines and taught both GED and college classes. “The reason I’m drawn to literacy and reading is because writing is a way for us to make a historical record and creatively express ourselves,” she says. “Whether real or imagined, books transport us.”

Mary Morgan’s own bookshelf is as bold and varied as her career, but right now, she’s consumed by five books whose authors have appeared or will make a visit to 702WI this year.

Once in a Blue Moon Lodge by Lorna Landvik

When Lorna Landvik burst onto the literary scene 20 years ago with her bestselling “Patty Jane’s House of Curl,” readers were charmed by her comical and unapologetically Midwestern take on women’s friendship. Patty Jane and her daughter, Nora, are back in Landvik’s newest novel, which skips between Minnesota and Norway. “Although it’s exciting to see familiar characters, this is a stand-alone book that will appeal to new readers,” says Morgan.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

This painstakingly researched book tells the true story of female factory workers who painted watch dials with poisonous radium. Eager to join the workforce during the early 1900s, these women were assured that the paint was harmless, but it ultimately destroyed their bodies and futures. Mary Morgan calls the story “devastating but inspiring,” because these brave women fought back and forever changed workers’ rights in the United States.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

Meet Mitza Maric, a brilliant young physicist and the only female mathematics student at Zurich’s Polytechnic Institute in 1896. Maric didn’t just marry Albert Einstein—she made countless scientific contributions of her own, even while facing sexist attitudes and double standards. Tragically, many of Maric’s insights were not attributed to her, including her impact on the theory of relativity. “This historical novel is based on research, but it also imagines ‘what if?’” Morgan says.

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby

In this novel, Cooper Gosling takes a survey and discovers that she is abnormal enough to live in Antarctica as part of the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers Program, so she relocates. She and fellow “Polies” become the center of a global controversy after a fringe scientist shows up and threatens their newfound home. “All the characters are misfits who are trying to find somewhere to belong,” says Morgan. “It turns into this funny, quirky and witty book.”

Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello

“This special collection of essays offers a unique look at the relationship between humans and animals,” Morgan says. Drawing inspiration from a medieval bestiary, Elena Passarello takes an intimate and clever peek at 16 creatures, from a woolly mammoth dug out of the Siberian tundra to a spider that orbited earth in the International Space Station. Morgan describes Passarello as a “refreshing voice”—one that delightfully incorporates history, myth and science.

Lorna Landvik and Kate Moore have already made appearances at 702WI, but we can look forward to upcoming readings from Marie Benedict, July 11; Ashley Shelby, Sept. 21; and Elena Passarello, Oct. 27. For more information, visit 702wi.com/eventscalendar.html. Print copies of  Mary Morgan’s own “Reading Group Choices: Selections for Lively Discussions” are available at local libraries and bookstores nationwide and at readinggroupchoices.com/store/.

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