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Summaries & Reviews from 2007-2008 Selections

  Saturday  by Ian McEwan  -    January 2007

Six class-conscious Mercedes drivers arrived at a 14th Street Arts and Crafts London Club accommodation leased for the occasion by the host.  Once there, we welcomed intrepid Placitas traveler Dave Southwick.  Dave has traveled to London and actually lived in the neighborhood where IM's Saturday occurs.  A geologist who [like most of us] has not read Origin of Species or played squash, yet he has enjoyed handball. 
The host informed us that Ian McEwan is 58 years of age (Henry was 48), well known English novelist with a degree in writing. 
The Group made the mistake of intimating that the squash sequence was too lengthy and were promptly corrected with a 28 minute presentation on "The Science and Strategy of Squash" delivered by a member whose identity may be revealed to the careful reader of these reviews.
The Haves spoke out:
Don:  I rambled around on the website and now realize I must be careful what I say as my ramblings end up for all to read.  Thus I state:  This was a Mitchnerian multi-generational saga in literature, inching along minute by minute through the day.  Seldom has so much been written about so little.  Personally, "I really enjoyed reading this book" is what I usually say - This time:  not smooth, not enjoyed as much.  I enjoyed most of my days better than Henry enjoyed this one.  He presents the details in the life of a neurosurgeon - it was a slog to read for me.  However, the book was consistent in its tone, an engaging vignette - I give it an A-
Joel:  I went through it fairly fast - a good read.  One of the benefits of the book:  if in a plane someday the captain calls out over the PA system, "Can anyone perform a transsphenoidal hypophysectomy?" - now any of us can go forward to help out.  <Ken:  "I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night!">  The characters were all realistic, but the father-in-law was stock:  heavy drinking poet.  Americans think poetry is superficial, but poetry is really getting down to the heart of the matter - different from opening a person's head.  I felt it was not a chore to read:  A-
Dave:  Well, I had a little trouble getting rolling with this book - once Henry finally moved away from his bedroom window, the story started moving for me.  I could relate my various acquaintances to people in the novel.  I know a Grammaticus-type who considers himself the world's leading expert, and is more profound as he proceeds deeper into his cups, before he eventually passes out - to the relief of all.  Tidbits of the book applealed to me, once I got into the flow.  A-
Mike:  This was a story of one of our greatest fears as upper middle class:  a clash with the lower class.  This was a present-day conflict that H.G. Wells described in the future between the Elois and the Morlocks. 
The story line initially reminded me of Bonfire of the Vanities (Thomas Wolfe) where the upscale investment banker has a hit and run incident in Harlem while lost in his fancy car, and his life unravels from there.   Except unexpectedly here, the Morlocks didn't eat the Elois in the ultimate encounter because of a poem that apparently brought forth the Eloi spirit buried within the evil Morlock.   Some of McEwan's writing soared to A+ however the plot contrivances distracted me back to a grade of A-    [The 17th Century Exequies poem may be found in my notes in RTF.]
Tom:  What the World needs is more novels with fifteen pages of squash game descriptions.  I connected with 85% of the book (not the music part).  Middle-aged male realizing he must soon give up squash.  The dismantlement of the parent (Sheila and I went back East recently to clear out the house of my father-in-law); the son playing the guitar; the daughter arguing politics; experiences with literature.  Plot contrivance:  McEwan set out to put all these incidences together, declarlng "I am going to jam all these things into one day." Once you accept that premise, you can go with the flow.  As Joel has said, "That's why they call it fiction."   A-
:  As Tom said, most of the relevant comments have been made by the previous members.  I expected a boring book on one day, but I never lost interest.  I was enchanted by McEwan's superb writing and Henry's desciption of small random events have much more influence on us than the "big" fears (e.g., terrorism).  A comple of things that bothered me:  the locks and security on Perowne's condo and yet Rosalind strolled in with a couple of thugs?  The two events with Baxter seemed farfetched:  e.g., Baxter was going to slice, pillage, and rape, and the reading of a poem turned him around.  A-
Charlie:  The tradition is that the host who reads the book and then selects it assigns it an A.  I was prejudiced after Atonement.  I particularly enjoyed the micro-essays from preparing fish stew to neurosurgery.  A

From Saturday's Children Who Couldn't Arrive By Thursday:

Jack Ferrell:

Ian McEwan’s Saturday is one of the best and most timely novels I have read in the last three years.  It is a suspenseful, thought-provoking story written in clear prose—at times as sharp as Henry’s scalpel. 


At a time of uncertainty and outright fear of violent crime and terrorism, we have become obsessed individually and as a nation with security.  McEwan’s skill in writing descriptive prose and telling the story through Henry’s eyes, personalizes our fear and questions whether we can ever secure our lives.  McEwan's ability to develop characters, who juxtapose empathy and violence among themselves and within themselves, added to the uncertainty and suspense of the story. 


I loved it and give it an A.

Ron B:
My fellow literati,
Greetings from the Land of the Golden Gophers.
Here we are  in Minneapolis where grandson Jaden had extensive bladder surgery at U. of Minn Childrens Hospital. He is on his way to slow recovery, I regret I will not be able to attend the meeting at Charlie's temp digs.
I had mixed fellings about the book, but it grew on me. At the beginning I was not that interested in reading Henry's musings about himself. As the narrative unfolded and other charcters were introduced I became more interested. I like the description of his visit to his mother. A foreshadowing of Henry's own fate? I liked the passage about his parents photograph in the last paragraph at the bottom of p. 164. Maybe someone will read it aloud at the meeting for me?
Description of the squash game was too long. Tense situations with Baxter was good point.
I don't know about the surgical descriptions...maybe slightlty too pendantic? But that was the general tone of the book and one either likes it or not.
It left me thinking about the book after I was finished, so I guess it has some draw.
I'll give it a B+ but am prepared to admit the grade might be higher on rereading.

 -- Quick review: B
Saturday -- started with sex and ended with sex.  Not much in between.  What a day! -- just kidding.
Not as good, for me, as Atonement.  Strained my credulity a couple of places: when he diagnosed Baxter's brain condition and broke up the mugging; when Baxter went soft when the naked daughter read a poem.  Couldn't help saying, "Oh, come on."
Extremely impressive writing though -- describing neurosurgery, describing jazz, establishing characters and inter-relationships, ...
Susie doing well, but I will stay home with her tonight.
We'll always have February.

Hola C..sorry to miss your soiree..found IM nimble wordsmith..but babbles thru deep decimal places,e.g.,neurosurgery + squash..Toiled 300 pages of intricate relationships + plodding plots ..Any book taking longer to read than this one day in Perowne's life is discursive candidate for enema..!   B-minus..good low flow toilet

      Young Men and Fires  by Norman MacLean  -    February 2007
Nine literary smokejumpers dropped into Placitas, throwing away their Pulaskis along the route in order to find their way home after dark.  Our foreman pushed aside the salmon and the hamas {aka chick peas} in order to sacrifice a tin of popcorn to provide the appropriate smoke and flames for the occasion, admitting that he was intrigued with MacLean's retirement focus - working on a project that would never be completed. He had many more questions he could have answered:  Why did no one report finding the thrown away tools?  Could Dodge have decided to break for the Missouri River?  He might have made it.   We could all relate:
Joel:  I'm glad I'm not in that line of work.  [Joel once hired roofers who took off to fight fires.]  The bottom line:  Pray for rain, run like hell.  A fascinating book I would not have read on my own.  A-
CharlieB as an unedited.  Very interesting, but a little too literary for the subject, not crisp.
Ed:  I enjoyed it also - interesting, I did learn a lot about the subject.  I have a friend firefighter who would be interested in this book.  I viewed it as a staff report, not unlike in the military.  B+
Jack:  Phrase from American Bandstand comes to mind:  I didn't like the beat but I could dance to it.  Very interesting.  B
Dave S:  I had some difficulty but the discussion tonight here helped.  First part was interesting, a report with literary asides.  The second part I had problems with, kept replowing the same ground.  The book needed a tech editor. Informative but redundant.  B
Mike:  In Part 2 I felt at times like I was reading “The Science and Strategy of Squash” – far too much repetition and recounting of semi-facts that were not of that much interest unless one were, like MacLean, near-obsessed with the Mann Gulch fire.  I couldn’t help thinking of how disciplined a writer Norman MacLean was under his father’s tutelage, and that he would never have published this 300 pages if he had been around to review and edit the material.  He would have cut it down to at least half.  Actually, the 14 page PDF file by the “mathematician” from the Northern Forest Laboratory described everything pertinent to the fire in less than 14 pages; MacLean added a few areas of interest, in particular tracking down Sallee and Rumsey and bringing them back to the scene, back to Mann Gulch.  A few nuggets of the MacLean touch could be found throughout the book, however not enough to convince me to recommend to someone else to read the book – unless he was from Montana, or wanted to know more about the dangers of being a smokejumper.  B
Tom:  At his best when talking about people - the scene reminded me of "A River Runs Through It" - "Now nearly all those I love are dead.  I still reach out to them."  This was a mix of report and literary effort - in 100 pages could have been purely literary.  May not have read if it was a pure report.  With the 2nd half I had trouble - slog through it in some literary gems to help.  B+
Rob:  My impression evolved as I read through the book (to begin with I was not enchanted).  First part was over dramatic (e.g., stations of the cross).  Part 2 I enjoyed as his quest (like Ahab after Moby Dick, the Old Man fighting for his fish).  Then I came across the Blood-Thirsty Republicans, which brought my grade to a B.
Ron:  I agree with almost everything that has been said.  I enjoyed reading the first part (with the human drama).  I found (in the 2nd Part) I was racing through the pages looking for literary nuggets.  I thought it was written by an obsessed person.  Paced it off for modelers - I too would have hard time recommending the book but I enjoyed the nuggets and learning how the Smokejumpers started.  B.  Better book to discuss rather than to read.
Don T:  I have to first say that besides bitching about details, I totally love this book - I hate puzzles, no tolerance for repetition, details, yet these did not bother me.  I really liked to see MacLean's starts, stops, metaphors tried, no better in his writing than me, some he would edit out.  You know he would throw some out, expand some.  Overall:  A-

From outside the fire break:
Hola Biblios..sorry to miss  " perfect storm "...this perfect fire is replete with fictional extrapolations..yet solid spin...
" B "  for


Overall I found many aspects of the book to be quite enjoyable.  I was fascinated by the history and descriptions of firefighting and smokejumpers and, as a semi-retired scientist, appreciated following Macleans’ thought processes and his determination as he attempted to unravel the controversial aspects of the Mann Gulch Fire.


On the other hand, there were many aspects of the book that I found frustrating.  The book seemed long-winded and often quite repetitious.  On pages 47 and 49, for instance, the author tells us three times that each of the crew is sitting between the others legs (p. 47, line 12, p. 49, twice in last paragraph).  It often read like a stream of consciousness.  I concluded that perhaps one third of the pages could have been eliminated.  With the above in mind, I found it ironic that Maclean notes on page 215, 3rd paragraph that “a storyteller should never look at a day as lost if he has learned something about how to tell stories, especially about how to make them shorter.”  It is also interesting to me that the Publisher’s Note (p.viii, line 3) states “we have cut certain repetitions in the manuscript.”  In my mind, they did not cut enough.


The same Publishers Note goes on to say that “"Facts have been checked for consistency and accuracy”," an interesting statement given that Maclean’'s longwinded Pythagoran arguments (p. 229) are grossly in error.  Instead of the 1320 yards growing to 1400 yards on the hypotenuse, it really only grows to 1327 yards, a trivial difference in distance from 1320 yards.  Given that Maclean recognized his mathematical deficiencies (p. 243, 2nd last sentence), a check of his math by the Publisher would seem prudent.  As Maclean said in concluding his Pythagoran section, QED.


Overall grade- B+
     -  Ken

   Ironweed  by William Kennedy  -    March 2007
Albany, NY:   In an apparent harmonic convergence of bums, a half-baked dozen came together last Thursday in the jungle area just south of Pearl Street to warm themselves at the fire stoked by Tom "Two Shoes" and parse the nuances of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winner.   Jack "Placita Pee Wee" talked of memories of going with his father to hire bums down at the jungle; Dave "Newbie Shoes" told similar tales of his father hiring bums to cut tree limbs around the house.  Why didn't Francis stay with Anne after he came back to the house?  Perhaps he felt too strong a responsibility for Rudy and for Helen, two bums he loved and felt he was helping to survive.  We learned that there was more to this book than many of us had gleaned in a first reading.  Don "The Pope" pointed out that all of Francis' skills as a ball player worked against him in life - his hands were his profession, yet he dropped Gerald.  He used a baseball bat swing to kill the American Legionnaire.  He threw a baseball-sized stone and killed a scab.  Later Francis was saying the guy on the trolley was probably just doing what he had to do – and Big Shoes says, baloney!  You can say that about anyone:  murderers, thieves … The author presented philosophy through Francis' sardonic sense of humor.  Ken "No Shoes" pointed out the last chapter of the book in which the narrator changes from present tense to "He would" do this or that - this was after Francis had thrown his bottle off the train and followed it - that last section was ambiguous ... perhaps Francis was dead. Again the blurring of life and death which was the theme set in the first chapter:  Rudy:  A kid?  What'd he do,  die young?  He fell.  Rudy:  Hell, I fall on the floor about twice a day and I ain't dead. "That's what you think," said Francis.
Jack:  I enjoyed it.  I thought it was well written, well constructed.  A theme of guilt was over-riding:  Life and Death reinforcing each other.  I can relate somewhat to the persons and the time.  A-
Don:  The author was very kind. (Recall I was upset as to how Faulker treated the poor people.)  The author showed nothing but respect for these marginal people.  I just loved it - best book I've read with this group.  More than an A?  A.  I took pages of notes - mixed in metaphors - I couldn't think of anything the author should have done differently.  The conversations with dead people were not silly but moving.  He captured something there.  I really resonated.
Rob:  I liked this book a lot too.  I admired the author's creativity - I liked the mood he established.  I didn't have sympathy for Francis, but Helen moved me - a victim.  Francis loved her but abandoned her.  He didn't want her to die.  A-
Keith:  Depression and despair on two levels.  Overt attack on my olfactory senses - a mix of crotches and armpits.  Blur of line between dead and living.  Even their dreams were dashed.  Downlifting.  Good blue collar book.  B
Mike:  What a unique book!   What insight into characters!  I liked the bums Francis and Helen – both were not what one thinks of as bums. The author portrayed the demons one is fighting.  I liked the way the spooks were introduced without apology.  This was not magical realism, this was a personal, rich, experiential reality for the way Francis saw the world.  Excellent!  The shades were there, with their personalities, just hanging around … I liked the way Kennedy handled the flashbacks, mainly for Francis with Katrina, and the one flashback for Helen to when she worked with the music store – and was “disposed of” late in life. When I finished the chapter on Helen, I didn't want it to end, I was upset that the next chapter was on Francis.  Then I got into that chapter and again was captivated.  I loved this book!  A all the way!
Joel:  I thought it was a very good book.  Somewhat creeped me out as my nightmare is to lose my teeth.  I see the dentist regularly, and the descriptions of teeth like chiclets got to me.  The book gave the feeling of being cold all the time.  I've had patients like that - one was a man who fell asleep on the railroad tracks and lost a leg.  He made a leg for himself out of 2x4s, with some tire tread, and painted it green.  A substance abuser.  I noted there were no drugs in this story other than alcohol and nicotine.  Francis dug a hole for himself.  B+  Very well written.  Could be understood on many levels. 
Ron:  Well written book but depressing - nothing uplifting, and I found myself saying, "Do I really want to read this?"  I enjoyed the literary devices - some poetry.  I enjoyed the dead being able to communicate.  At first I was going to give the book a B for Bleak, but now an A- as it is written so well, difficult but depressing.
Ed:  I agree with Keith and Ron's comments.  Well written but the story sucks - why would I want to read this?  C
Dave:  I greatly admired the book but did not enjoy it.  From literary devices (I admit I was slow to catch on) I thought that was terrific - developing the culture of the bum's life.  The devastaing effect of guilt was so slowly.  But so depressing - do I ever want to read anything about bums again?  No!  B+
Ken:  I really enjoyed the book - I got into it one afternoon and at 10 pm I was still reading it.  It pulled me in.  Even though it was about bums, it was very creative, the characters were well developed.  It was wonderful.  One of the most worthwhile reads.  A
Charlie:  A lot of parsing occurred here tonight.  What bothered me was the sympathetic portrayal of a very bad person (ref:  the video on Women's Prison inmates).  Francis was a very bad boy!  At a certain point in your life you don't want to read about such people.  B+
Tom:  Since I'm the host, I'll take some extra minutes.  This was a story about a depressing situation.  One of the enjoyments you get out of literature is reveling in the artist's work.  My favorite book is by an unreliable pedophile narrator.  The rush for me is how the author creates this mood.  Our other top book Grapes of Wrath keeps giving false hope page after page.  A theme of this book:  all these bums have a story.  In San Francisco you walk down the street and soon the homeless become part of a landscape - you don't think (or bother yourself) with their underlying story.  From page 31 with Rudy and Sandra, Francis asks:  "She a bum? ... No, nobody's a bum all their life ... Then that's somethin'.  A little kid's somethin' that ain't a bum or a whore."   So we understand that these people weren't created the way you see them now.  A-

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night  by James Haddon  -   April 2007

Why didn't Christopher talk about the inclusion or exclusion of the number 1 in the collection of prime numbers? Or zero? Very disturbing.  Fortunately we met in Number 701, one of the few prime numbers on the South side of Loma Linda.  There are nineteen characters (with three spaces - spaces are good!)  in Loma Linda Place NE, however rumor has it that no primes existed on the north side.  Mike kindly and softly explained Euclid's proof of the infinitude of the prime, yet Don fell to the floor, groaning loudly.  Thus it went.  Our host chose reviewers in random order, and we learned the following:
CharlieA-  I really enjoyed it, very educational.  I didn't know much about autism.  Not a perfect book but well crafted.
Ed:  I liked it - interesting and educational as well.  The Math added to my enjoyment.  I give it a B, B+
Jack:  I found it very creative, downright delightful.  The author did a specially good job of pulling me in.  Another book like this is the Poisonwood BibleA-
Joel:  It seemed dopey at first; after a while, it didn't seem dopey.  Extremely interesting - a lot of stuff I could identify with.  Christopher just panics when he's put on the spot - well crafted, not great literature.  I rate it as a B+  (would negotiate as high as an A-).
Ken:  I was happy to see the book was for readers ten years old and up - a compelling story - I was moved by the discovery of the mother's letters and the trip to London.  Some of the sketches in the book were not accurate (like the circular approach to finding a street, p. 140).  A-
Keith:  I was very attracted to it.  I have a grandson, 12 years old, who is autistic.  No social skills, and has a fascination with poo.  Yet he is highly creative.  I give the book a solid A.
Tom:  I liked this book.  Since we talked about group therapy, I think I am out on the right hand side of the spectrum.  I get obsessed with closure - thus I don't understand how my wife handles millions of
parenting problems.  I have a friend who doesn't like foods touching.  The London thing dragged for me.  It didn't push the story along, make you feel like the kid.  A-
Mike:  Mark Haddon had written many children's novels and young teen novels.  This was his first novel aimed at adults, and I felt he took extreme measures to scream, "THIS IS NOT A KID'S BOOK!"  The first was the killing of the dog with a garden fork, a pitchfork.  That is an extremely violent action, and I was disturbed both with the act and that it turned out to be Christopher's father that did that action.  The second was the quick introduction of the F-word, when Mrs Spears comes running out shouting at Christopher, "What in fuck's name are you doing with my dog?"  Seemed way out of line, unnecessary, overly shocking.  I liked the way the author remained true to Christopher, seeing the world through his eyes.  However, the book again seemed like two teen stories stapled together:  the first was the mystery of the dog and the second was Christopher's journey to London.  Regardless, I was moved by the closing sentence, "... and that means I can do anything."  B
Don:  I really liked this book.  It captured me, who I am and how I see things.  Very consistent.  "My teacher says take 50 breaths."  Father learned to "forewarn" the kid:  "I am going to run water in the bathtub, and then I am going to come back and take your clothes, and then I am going to put you in the bathwater."  Some kindnesses - mother stayed really kind.  The voice stayed consistent with Christopher's voice.  If anything, this book has potential.  The Mystery.  I felt the Ending was rushed.  The Parents did not get together, so not a Disney ending, that was good.  The Author was done, so he finished quickly.  "You look awful and old." Humor, all in all:  A  Opened me up again.
Ron:  There were A parts and B parts.  First:  sounds like a kid's book.  Parts went on too much when he went into "The sign looked like this."  Autism point of view was well done.  Christopher had no apologies for how he saw the world.  The Story was good.  Not experiential.  I don't think I'll forget this book.  The A parts, B parts fighting results in a  B+   -  not great literature but clever book.

Late Homework not eaten by Christopher's dog Sandy:

For a while I was intrigued by the author'’s ability to see the world from inside the head of an autistic teenage boy.  But about halfway through the novelty wore off and I just wanted to get this soap opera over.  There were not one, but two (!) parents philandering with the neighbors.  Carefully preserved but hidden letters from a presumed-dead parent (or lover, etc.) that conveniently get found is a too well-worn plot contrivance.  Christopher's grueling journey to London stirred memories of one the first books that I remember reading: – “Lassie Come Home”  (speaking of dogs and grueling journeys).  Lassie’'s story was better (at least at the time).  C+ for this one.

Rob Easterling

This book gave me a deeper understanding of the autistic mind and greater
sympathy for autistic persons. The use of Christopher's own narrative
"voice" lent interest and plausibility to a story that otherwise would have
been uninteresting and implausible. The contrast in Christopher's mind
between extreme irrationality about colors, touching, etc. and deep
rationality about mathematics, quantum theory, etc. was impressively
developed. On the other hand, I thought the book was needlessly hard on
Christopher's parents and other adults who obviously were trying to cope
with a very difficult and disruptive situation.

Overall grade: A-

Dave Southwick 

      A Question of Loyalty   by   David Waller       May 2007
Billy Mitchell was Old School Air Force - he supported the Force before it was cool.  The book is an example of resistance to change - this continues to be seen in the military as recently as 1991 when the services introduced GPS as a navigation device.  One member of the discussion group inferred a big reason we have global warming today is that we stopped atmospheric testing - can one explain that?  The North American B-25 bomber, utilized by Jimmy Doolittle to bomb Tokyo in 1942, was nicknamed the "Mitchell," after Billy Mitchell. The B-25 "Mitchell" is the only American military aircraft that has been named after a specific person. The group watched the 1955 movie with the ill-cast Gary Cooper as the 5' 8" Billy Mitchell - recall the family wanted James Cagney for the role.  Was the court martial nothing but a forum for Mitchell's arguments in favor of an independent Air Service?   The group had many opinions:
Keith: Mitchell's leadership skills were consummate in wartime; he couldn't shift gears in peace.  The story shows that thinking outside the box won't necessarily help one's  career.  The story was well presented - Mitchell left an indelible mark.  He is considered the Father of the Air Force yet he had to train himself to fly at 38 years of age.  Quite a prophet:  predicted Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.  He was an albatross  with many skills whose reputation has grown bigger over time.  He even was awarded a special Congressional Gold Medal (1946).  Very uplifting story for me - Mitchell will be forever remembered as one who fought the system.  Good B.
Ron:  There was the story of Billy Mitchell and then there was the way the book was written.  The number of flashbacks meant that the trial itself was boring.  Mitchell himself considered the court martial as just one point in his life.  He was promoting this vision - but did the most for the Air Force by converting his subordinates to his vision for them to carry on.  Mitchell was not an honest visionary about the way things were. Waller ends the book by stating of Mitchell:  "He had the courage of his convictions" - no, but he was willing to promote his agenda.  I also didn't agree with the author "infantry men will mop up" and "fewer civilian casualties" - actually more civilains are killed in today's wars, with no armies massed on the battlefield or mopping up.  The writing was pretty good but courtroom didn't bring out any point of view.  Billy Mitchell reminded me of Rush Limbaugh - willing to rant to make a point.  Not good in peace but good in war.  Overall:  B
Ken:  I was fascinated by the story, as I knew nothing about Billy Mitchell.  No civialian population "Explosion in New York City" effects that a plane as a single explosion implies large civilian populations killed.  The part of book covering the actual trial was way too long.  I got so bored page after page after ...  B
Tom:  I liked this book pretty much.  Too long, we say that about every book.  Gave me a window of the Armed Services in the 19th Century to early 20th Century.   It brought me back and forth from sympathizing and realizing the guy had a huge ego, way over the top.  I think the resistance to change was too strong - maybe if he resigned and went into civilian life he could have gotten his point across (but he didn't draw crowds when he resigned from the service).  In another war, we still need people like Mitchell.  B+
Gary:  Not a page turner for me.  I read the first 180 pages.  It tells of a time of history we don't hear about - after the Phillipines and the Spanish American War.  Mitchell was a visionary and most people don't respect visionaries.  Bombing cities is not very efficient.  A lot of prophets
(like Jean Dixon) make many prophecies so some of them come true.  He was a useful person - did get the Air Service established.  I'm glad I read it.  B+
Mike:  Ron is correct in that we should separate the story of Billy Mitchell from Waller's telling of the story.  I found many times in the book where I was irritated with the way Waller told the story.  One example:  Why do you think the author had to walk us through all eight counts against Mitchell, list every one of them ( which had no description, just the legal jargon of another count) and listed his "not guilty" response to each count - what did that add over a summary statement of that action?  Nothing!  Just used up a page of text!  I would not recommend this book for someone to read who wanted to learn about Billy Mitchell or the court martial - I would say, "Go out on the Internet and read the Wikipedia entry."  C+
Joel:  This was definitely a piece written by a journalist.  Interesting period piece.  I am reminded of the quote:  "Military justice is to justice as military music is to music."  Today the military would not let a court martial, or the defendant's rantings, go on so long.   They would just tell him, "Go ahead and resign."  Seeing a prophet, but not a popular opinion so quashed, Mitchell goes down as a martyr to the cause, which he did willingly.  Those days just as much corruption as today.  "Civilize 'em with a Krag" was the cry from the Phillipines, and much death was due to disease.  Again, we were soldiering using the weapons suitable for the previous war.  I enjoyed it - it was interesting.  B+
Charlie:  I found the story interesting but the book not particularly well written.  I give the book a B.
Ed:  I agree with most of what was said tonight.  I read the book to expand my knowledge of the history of the Air Force - how do you make changes happen?  From my own experience, there was a situation where the SECDEF needed to hang someone - Fogelman as Chief fought the good fight - when it didn't happen, he retired.  That's one of many examples of falling on one's sword.  I found the story very interesing.  I have read "The Commandos" which also was written by a journalist.  B+

Teletype Messages sent from outside the Beltway:

I will be in New York leading a seminar for mid-sized book publishers on thursday.
Here are my thoughts on A question of Loyalty.
First,  I am disappointed to miss this meeting, since I would love to hear the dialogue back and forth between you who have such depth of military training and experience.  It would be fascinating to me. And, I am sure the discussion will be rich.
Second, I grew up in Milwaukee and my dad had a plane at Mitchel field in the late fifties, and I also lean personally toward being a rebel myself, rather than an obedient one in the chain of command -- (oh, you knew that already did you?)  nevertheless, despite these two factors that prejudice me toward loving brother Billy, It's pretty hard  for me to feel supportive of someone so arragant who works so hard to write off everyone but himself -- and who has elevated the ability to make people feel betrayed and angry to an art form. 
The ethical dilemmas and contrasting principles interest me.
a) obedience to the chain of command to which one has sworn loyalty vs. telling the greater truth for the greater good.  (Colin Powell, in my opinion got caught in the same issue and gave a different answer than Billy Mitchell.)
b) the crushing resistance to change exhibited by those on top who focus first on defending their power and turf rather than asking the creative questions and being open to finding the best answers for the future. (so what is new?)
c) telling the truth in order to build a safer future vs. going for flashy publicity and the cheap shot that gets media attention.
d) wanting the truth to be known vs. wanting mainly to be honored not only as the visionary, but also as the divine right ruler and sole decider and most honored person.  Billy wanted more than the truth to be told, he also wanted to be the one in charge of it all.
e) being a flawed person, but also brilliant, and in the end making a great deal of positive difference.  ( I believe that Billy was both.)
e) taking a risk and losing. ( or winning big)  You pays your money and make your choice, and you live with the cost.  So, Billy took a calculated risk (which didn't seem like a risk to him), that if he made dramatic challenges directly to the public he would get to testify to congress about the military, and gain greater visibility and success.  Instead, he was outmanouvered, and tried by his military peers as a criminal.  Most people who scramble to the top took calculated risks at some time in their career.  The ones we hear about are those who won their gamble.  Those who lose the calculation, drift off and out.....Billy lost.  Later, MacArthur did the same.
f)  the kind of leadership that emerges and leads best in war, vs, the kind of person who rises to the top in peacetime and times of staff reduction -- two different skills, two different animals -- one decisive, daring and impatient, the other patient and political, and careful.
One interesting tidbit from page 61 of my copy
General Howze....." During Pershing's punitive expedition to Mexico, Howze and his cavalrymen had chased Pancho Villa's bandits relentlessly over some of the country's most hostile terrain."  What an incredible and unlikely positive spin -- in an officer's resume.  Nancy and I just spent ten days in the Sierra Madre Oxidental Mountains where Poncho and his men hid, and the real history is that Pershing and Howze spend several years and never even found him!  Might better read, "During Pershing's illadvised, illegal and punitive expedition to Mexico, Howze and his 100% inefective cavalrymen spent several years chasing around looking for Pancho Villa and they managed only to became the laughing stock of the locals, taking their horses into terain for which they were illsuited,  never once finding any trace of Poncho and finally returning to the U.S. redfaced and empty handed-- following which Colonel Howze was promptly promoted to General by the grateful Army."
The book:  well written, easy to read.  I enjoyed it.
One drawback -- the number of flashbacks in the first half of the book.  They should be used to generate interest.  For me they were used so much as to throw me off.  He had my interest, why did he have to keep jumping back and forth?  At one point there was a flashback within a flashback!  Fortunately, the last half settled down a bit, and read more seamlessly.
A solid B+
Thanks, Ed, for selecting this book.  A good read.
A Question of Loyalty is a fascinating tale and even though it was well researched, I would not consider it a well-told one.  I learned a lot but had to struggle at times with the cinematic technique of flashbacks.  Flashbacks within flashbacks were almost too much.  Also a bit disappointed with some of the editing -- typos and run-on paragraphs, for example.  Overall I enjoyed it though and would give it a B.
Regards from the road.

First, I apologize to the group and especially to our host for missing the
May 31 meeting without proper notification in advance. I had to make a trip
to Baltimore on fairly short notice (departed 5/31, back 6/5/07) and just
plain forgot to do the right thing.

Here are my belated comments on the Billy Mitchell book.

Waller's biography of Gen. Billy Mitchell treats a segment of military
history that I knew very little about, and therefore it was for me an
informative, worthwhile read.  However the staccato, journalistic writing
style flattened rather than enlivened the events and personalities
described, and the interspersed "family flashbacks" contributed little more
than confusion to the general narrative.  My overall impression --
interesting subject, mediocre writing, grade C+.

Dave Southwick

    Bang the Drum Slowly  by Mark Harris  June 2007

Nine seasoned veteran ballplayers showed up for late spring training under the direction of long time manager "Dutch" Easterling.  None appeared to be in shape after the long winter, however all nine had opinions:
Keith:  Outstanding dimension was the patois; jargon.  A classic scene was management finding Bruce had cancer and hiring Red as back-up.  Second clever characteristic was everyone dumbed down to 3rd grade level like ballplayers (including lawyers, doctors).  On a more somber note:  why did Harris drop the last narrative?  This was a good B+ book, light summer reading.  (next month:  look for same patois)
Ken:  I thought it was a nice, enjoyable, humorous story - an easy read - I never opened my dictionary.  The first line drew me in, the last line got me.  "Me really enoyed this book." A-
Mike:  “It might or might not probably ever happen” - Good story, clever dialogue held true throughout the 243 pages (even the doctors talked like baseball players), believable plot, believable characters working toward teamwork.  Excellent summer reading.  I wept at the last line, give it an A-   "A fan is in title to be bushed sitting on their ass keeping score."
Tom:  I liked it too - the author didn't sugarcoat, Bruce was not perfect, wasn't bright, was prejudiced.  I have to disagree about the inability to portray fantasy in sports - I think Field of Dreams and the book on Shoeless Joe was as good as this.  A-
Ed:  I enjoyed this book.  It brought back memories of the 50s, reminded me of when I got to see the World Series in '56 at Ebbets Field.  Quite believable.  B+
Dave:  I also really enjoyed it.  It took me back to Rochester.  My dad was the catcher on a local team; I got my first glove at age 3;  I was a lefty relief pitcher.  I tremendously liked the dialog and that the author Author was able to maintain  it.  I used to listen to the crackle of the games coming in over the radio from Des Moines.  I give it an unequivocable A.
Joel:  Baseball has gone downhill with more money.  But Field of Dreams and this book remind us of what it once was.  When I was growing up, if we school kids were all good, we got to listen to the World Series in class.  It was part of our society.  Here the author took a minor player like Bruce whose major pastime was spitting out the window and made him the focus of the story.  I rate it A- , not a great A book.  Best of a small genre of baseball books.
Ron:  Well, nobody mentioned Piney Woods. (Ron gets guitar, hat, boots:  plays and sings an excellent rendition of "As I walked out on the streets of Laredo...").  Yes, it turns out the phrase in the original song is "Beat the drum slowly" vice Bang.  I thought it was a good book, I liked the dialog, seemed like authentic ballplayers of the 50s.  I would give it a good B+.
Charlie:  Not much to add - to get to an A it must be of Ian McEwan quality.  A-
Dutch:  I liked it too.  I saw it in a book list.  It is about friendship, teamwork, interactions among teammates.  I laughed out loud at the negotiations scenes - this is the funniest book we have read.  Not great literature like Grapes of Wrath or A River Runs Through It.  I give it an A.

And from the Grapefruit League:
Dear Dutch,
I am sorry I missed the meeting last night.  We have been on the road for the past 7 weeks with only intermittent access to the internet.
Any way, I did read Bang the Drum Slowly.  It destroyed every image I had of major league ball players growing up in the 50's in Ohio.  It was hard for me to develop any empathy for Henry Wiggen or to figure out the point of the story.  The highlights for me were the descriptions of the games they played.  Sorry, Rob, but I would have to give it a C.

  The Things They Carried   by Tim O'Brien    July 2007

"If I die in a Combat Zone
Box me up and send me home."
Nine of us vets humped SE toward Parkland Circle to gather once more around the old solar panels and share near forgotten memories.  We spoke of Worthington, MN and the slaughtering of turkeys and hogs.  We spoke of O'Brien's formative years at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN.  We noted the author was perhaps a unique Viet Nam vet, returning in 1968 to acquire a Poli Sci degree at Harvard.  We mentioned how Alex Burnham writes of only three soldier writers:  Ernest Hemingway, James Solter, and Tim O'Brien.  Dave spoke of  O'Brien's "Tomcat in Love" as one of the funniest books he has read, and far from Viet Nam.   And we spoke of how war is dehumanizing and we spoke of the impact of The Things They Carried:
Rob:  The book was very good at drawing out emotions -  it was gut-wrenching at times.  Thus it was good to learn that this book is assigned to high school English students to learn of writing and of VietNam.  The story that was too much for me was Mary Anne - this came across as "Gidget Does VietNam."  If this was supposed to be Rat Kiley's dream, OK.  For emotional impact, for use of language, I give the book B+
Dave:  I found the book very powerful.  I have no military background, no personal perspective as to what went on in VietNam other than as a professor at a college where kids struggled with the concept of being drafted for service.  I found this book to be an eye-opener of what war was like for the grunts.  This brought home for me the horror of war.  A-
Tom:  I liked the book a lot.  Lots of different ways it will impact the reader.  I read it like a memoir - maybe it happened or maybe not, but these incidents happened regardless. 
The only people I have sympathy for are the grunts.  Not those of us back in safety of our home country.  You send somebody out to fight, perhaps die in a war and then to expect them to moderate their behavior in that environment is unrealistic.  I could not have survived in that environment.  I thought O'Brien was a great story teller.  A-
Jack:  I found it powerful.  I had to sit quietly for awhile after reading each story, could not proceed directly on to the next.  The beauty of the book is that it seemed to see-saw between raw passion and cold objectivity.  Heart wrenching:  A
Ken:  I thought it a fascinatingly well written book.  Gave picture of what would happen to me without my deferrals.  To me, it brought out the futility of war - nothing is really resolved, nothing ever happens except Death and Destruction.  A
Ron:  I thought it was well written.  Reminds me of my Bible Class instructor's description:  "It's all true and some of it actually happened."  I think that was the case here - The author wants to tell you a story to make you feel how he actually felt - to do that, he had to tell a different story from what actually happened.  I would recommend it to someone interested in VietNam:  A
Joel:  Contrast this book with "We Were Soldiers Once and Young" - the American experience in VietNam.  One has a hard time coping with the intensity of these experiences .  The author mentions the tunnel rat with a flashlight in one hand, a 45 in the other.  Scared you, and described the futility of it.  The Fog of War is another theme -  no one knew what the outcome would be, or what was happening.  I've worked on a study of Agent Orange - after a while you realize there are no clean parameters, it was just dumped everywhere so any participant may have been exposed to some degree.  Here we have 18 year-old kids taken out of their home environment and dropped into a war zone.  I gave the book an A.
Mike:  I could not consider this book as a novel - more of a series of short stories pieced together with some repeating dialogue and repeating characters.  Most of these stories were published earlier as individual efforts.  The two stories I liked the best:  The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong (story of Mary Anne and the Greenies) and On the Rainy River (story of the old man Elroy and The Trip (almost) to Canada).  Somewhat irritating to repeat the themes, e.g., “Now I’m 43 years old.”   Another example was Ted Lavender's refrain:  “How’s the war today?”  “Mellow, man.  We got us a mellow war today.”  All Right already.  Interesting read at times, and I find myself conflicted as to whether or not I would recommend.  You do remember the things that were traumatic to Tim O’Brien (if they really occurred) like picking Kurt Lemon’s body parts out of the lemon tree.    B.
Keith:  Rhyming review hereA-

  The Castle  by Franz Kafka    August 2007
Seven mysterious travelers (A. - G.) arrived in the small town of Placitas late at night to learn that Kafka’s father was a "large, overbearing man" –  didn’t all of our fathers appear that way?  Both of his parents worked 12 hours per day.  Albert Einstein returned a loan of "The Castle" to say, "couldn’t read it it for its perversity. The human mind isn’t complicated enough. " Kafka himself had several interesting quotations attributed to him: "Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy."  ""Everything you say is boring and incomprehensible," she said, "but that alone doesn't make it true."    We learned that The Castle is not a plot but a situation. We learned (from Wikipedia) a new word: "Distopian" vice Utopian. A world of chaos and bureaucratic rules. We learned that "The Prisoner" (the excellent 1967 TV series created by and starring Patrick McGoohan) was Kafaesque, and only lasted one season [McGoohan originally intended to shoot just seven episodes. The channel wanted a full series of 26 to sell it to CBS, and they compromised on 17.]. And finally, we learned that Das Schlass (The Castle) can also mean The Lock.  Did K. invent the cover story that he had been sent for by the Castle as The Surveyor? Did K. actually have a family or was that part of his cover story?  Tom reminds us from near the bottom of page 5, very first chapter, K. says:
                        "Anybody traveling as far from his wife and child as I am..."
Was that true?  False? Kafka or not, it appeared we didn't all trust this guy K. - Pipi and the Chambermaids we could live with - beyond that, the strangers each provided their opinions:

Tom:  Mike challenged me to explain why I liked this book. I’m at a loss to do so. I found it strangely fascinating, it carried me along, I read it in two days. I found it somewhat like the HBO Series, "John from Cincinnati." I loved the dialogue, the clarity, the detail. Somehow I really enjoyed them. In Nabokov's "Lectures on Literature," he speaks of Kakfa and tells us although his book is strongly reminiscence of "The Trial," he never read German, and although he lived in Berlin for several years, did not read Kafka until translations became readily available. Nabokov marks Kafka’s style and clarity, that his writing contains no "poetic metaphors." Contrast in unity. I give it an A-

Rob:  I got tired of it.  Not sure if it was Kafka’s fault or mine.  Lots of details. Do I want to carry this book with me on a trip? So I started reading the first page and the last page of each chapter. This cut to the chase. The blurb on the dust jacket says this is "one of the great novels of the century." For me, it was not. C+ (the plus is for Kafka’s reputation).

Mike: What he said. This was not one of Kafka’s novellas, however I was wishing it were so. I liked a few sequences in the book, but for me it was tedious. I definitely felt the dream-like quality of the writing, however this dream went on too long.  Had a little (almost hidden) sex with K. and Frieda but almost no violence (just the swatting of the assistants). I felt K. was never a surveyor, he made up that story to get the officious subclerk off his back on his first night in town. I cannot see myself recommending to someone else that they read this book, however I am grateful to our host for having us read something by Kafka. C

Joel:  "John from Cincinnati" weirded me out like this. Sleep-like sequence (more than dream-like). I have undergone a few Kafaesque situations in this past week as I was renewing my Driver’s License, and was signed up for Jury Duty. I found some brilliant writing, mostly tedious. Felt like I was sitting on the steps of the Castle as I awaited jury duty selection. I want to say it was disturbing. I was interested in the letter he got praising him for survey work he never accomplished. My wife’s Jury duty went through something like this: my wife had influenza, but got "threatened" by the judge, then ended up with a certificate of thanks for "Grand Jury" duty. I give the book a C only because Kafka is so well thought of. Present company expected, I just say I use the same filing system as the Councilor in Chapter 5.

Ron: On the plus side, I thought it was an interesting idea: to approach an authority which cannot be approached. Chapter 5 was interesting. Discourses I read were rambling, it was difficult to read (much different from "The DaVinci Code" I read this month). No progression of the plot. I’m sure it was an important book, but "Tedious" is the one word description I would use. I found myself saying, "I’m 66 years old, do I want to read this?" I give it a C. Now I have read a book by Kafka.

Charlie: This book brings up the classic problem of the reader: genuflecting before this shrine of western culture and I just don’t get it. This is the first book of the LTBC that I didn’t finish. 316 pages of discussion of bureaucracy is too much. I give the book a C. (Charlie did read the play, which was 56 pages by Max Brod.]

Ed Duff: I kind of agreed with what Tom said (I’m looking for a big piece of strudel). I liked the language, the dialogue, the description – but I didn’t get it – "black comedy" – if this was made to be read to an audience, individual parts and pieces that didn’t hang together.  I studied German in High School, grammar, I’ll give it a B .

Jack: Let me preface my comments by how I chose this book. Looking over the 100+ books read by the LTBC, I had seen that you had read two of Herman Hesse’s books, a compatriot of Kafka – and a couple of other German books (The Reader by Bernard Schlenk). I must mention that this is my 3rd or 4th reading of the book – I agree with Nabokov that books take on more meanings in subsequent readings. The clarity of the language in describing ambiguous situations appeals to me, intrigues me. I approach not as a religious interpretation, but as a novel, as a work of art. For me, dealing well with ambiguity is not a bad thing. In my life, decisions are faced with ambiguity. So I take some comfort that others have struggled with such. I give it an A-, the minus because Kafka didn’t finish it (like an Incomplete).

And from the peasants in the village:
Hola Biblios...sorry, must defer tonites Castle parley..,Kafka crammed 125 page novella into 400 + .. not plot, but dark, saturnine "situation" which characters assumed guilty, with innocence undefined...writing rambling and discursive..unlike Schubert's Unfinished Symphony or Mozart's Requiem , Kafka/ Brod should have left this Castle unfinished..or greatly diminished...grade-
Gentlemen of the LTBC:

I just found out a day ago that my wife of 48 years has planned a “surprise” birthday party for me on Thursday evening, Aug. 30, which is the 71st anniversary of my natal day.  It would be most impolitic for me to miss this event, and therefore I must excuse myself from the club gathering at the Ferrells’ next Thursday.  I deeply regret having to make this choice, inasmuch as I have dutifully plowed through Herr Kafka’s paranoia almost to the end, and would be much interested in the discussion of this enigmatic work.  I offer my apologies to K. and ask that you also deliver them to Klamm, with my profound and humble regrets.

After much reflection and strong drink I have decided to award the grade of C+ to the "Castle."  I could discern neither plot nor message. The characters
are two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. The writing does not exhibit "brevity, simplicity, and clarity", which, according to my 12th grade composition teacher (some 53 years ago) are the hallmarks of good prose. If this were not a piece of classic literature according to experts far wiser than I, I would give it a really scathing review and corresponding low grade. As is, a Charlie Plus is the best I can do. Call me a literal-minded blockhead if you wish.

Dave S.

    Deliverance   by James Dickey    September 2007

On Thursday, nine would-be weekend adventurers wandered northward into the wilds of Sandia Heights to learn of a poet's first novel and a movie proved faithful to the book.  James Dickey was born in 1926 in Buckhead, GA and died in 1999 at age 73.  The 2nd son of lawyer Eugene Dickey, James excelled in football and track and was an expert archer (aha!).  He spent some time in the US Army Air Corps as a cook and then entered Vanderbilt Univ where he took his poetry seriously.  He earned an MA in 1960 and published his first book which won an award in 1966.  In 1968 he was the Poet-in-Residence at Univ of South Carolina.  In 1970 he published Deliverance and Last Thursday he earned the following aclaim:
Ron:  I thought it was a good story, engaging.  I give him an A for the story but some of his writing was not as good as the story line.  I liked that he left open the idea that the guy that Ed killed might not be the right guy.  A for story, B- for writing, results in a B+.  But I would recommend the book.
Rob:  I thought it was a good read, even though I had seen the movie.  It deserves to be on the top 100 list (which it is).  Dickey's writing is pretty gripping - the rape scene actually hurt to read it.  Some of his poetic descriptions were carried away, however I liked the unspoken interaction between the four guys, most of whom wanted to be macho like Lewis.  A-
Tom:  I have nothing to add to the two previous reviews - a great story, a page turner.  I think it added to the mental pictures I had from the movie.  I occasionally had some problems with his poeticisims.  The story carried the writing.  A-
Jack:  I found it suspenseful and entertaining.  A bit of it was uneventful (like the section on Drew's wife).  Depressing:  B+   I would recommend the book.
Mike:  Forty years ago an Air Force buddy gave me two books and insisted I read them both.  One was Vandenburg by Oliver Lange (set in New Mexico), and one was Deliverance.  I thought both were outstanding, some of the best stuff I had ever read.  This gave me the opportunity to read the book before I ever saw the movie - once you see the movie, it is near impossible to separate the character actors from the book description.  My first read I thought the poetic writing was outstanding - this time around some of it seemed forced, and some sections (such as Ed's job as a graphic artist) seemed extended - let's get on with the story!  And why couldn't Lewis give the other three a 5 minute lesson in how to paddle a canoe?  Easy to do!   A-
Keith:  Everybody is waxing poetic, so I have a Limerick review:
    Shoulda called this The River Runs Red
    Two murders, in total three dead.
        Yet the Georgia Blues
        Blew off beaucoup clues
    Thus forensics fell flat on its head.
An incredulous story - great action but doesn't hold together.  The river climb and the coppers' analysis had serious holes.  Grade:  B--
Dave:  I had a problem with believability of the whole thing.  Yet the story drew you along like the current of the river.  I couldn't accept the credulity of getting beyond the first rapids with equipment and bows and arrows.  Engaging story.  B
Joel:  For the most part, it was a ripping good yarn.  I think the guy at the top of the hill was the right guy - no one else would be looking down at the river if they were out hunting.  The author was trying to emphasize the banality of Ed's life.  Good example of how not to go on a rafting trip - not enough beer.  A-
Charlie:  Page turners are inplausible by their nature.  The author set out to make it a page turner (good entertainer).  The writing was frosting on the cake.  A
Ken:  Charlie said exactly what I would say - a page turner, interesting, so much beautiful prose, better than the movie because you can see the characters' thought processes.  I give it an A.

  The Friends of Eddie Coyle   by  Higgens   October 2007

The 10 friends of Joel Nash met at the Delwood railroad station at 7:14 pm to look into Higgin's trunk and select a few facts. We noted that Higgins had been married twice; wrote for the Wall Street Journal, and had worked as anti-organized crime proscecutor. In 1973 he entered the Law. When he died in 1999, he had written more than 30 books. He was known as a stylist for his dialogue. He was a "17 year overnight success" (wrote many novels which he destroyed). Higgins said, "If you do not seek to publish what you have written, then you are not a writer and never will be." He destroyed 14 "books" before publishing Eddie Coyle.

Charlie: I enjoyed this book - it was a fun read - written for entertainment, so it makes it difficult as to how to judge this book. I enjoyed his economy of words - there was no big middle section, the book was the right length. The author inferred a great deal using dialog without narration. I enjoyed his descriptions of the middle subclass. Real conversations would be much longer. Well written in context. A-

Ken: About six months ago, I get a strange e-mail from Joel, just to me. He says, "the news/FBI - just like The End of Day." What the heck? Turns out in the last book exchange, Joel must have given me The End of Day. So I read it - Higgins' last book, 388 pages, c. 1999, 190 pages extraneous, very similar story.  Bad guys hooking up with the FBI, giving them information. I gave End a B, loaded with excessive description, I liked Eddie Coyle better: B+

Ron: I agree with Charlie's comments. I enjoyed the book but it was not an A level book. It was a good B level book, hard to recommend to a Women's Book Club. I'll give it a B+. Good for what it was.

Keith (by proxy): Didn't care for it much. B-

Mike: Well written as a page-turner, kept me interested throughout. This is the kind of book that Ben Smith would have taken on his airplane ride to London with his grandson. 180 pages was just right for this story. No added padding in middle like so many books written today. As a 1972 product, I found that the book was indeed a forerunner of The Sopranos series - hard hitting, tough language, tough life, not much respect for women [Higgins makes note of this through Wanda: "My kid brother talks about his goddamned Mustang the same way you talk about me."], and characters that are anti-heroes - was this ahead of its time? (compare Clint Eastwood in spaghetti westerns). Two fatal flaws: 1) Jackie Brown would never have told Eddie Coyle the detail that allowed Jackie to be captured, and 2) because of the heat after the shooting, one would think that the bank robbers would split up, call it a day, never band together for another attempted bank robbery. In summary, Good yarn, not great writing, Grade: B- but I give it a B for being so far ahead of its time vs. other products of the 1970s.

Don: I'm always intrigued with what books we get to read. I've read more different kinds of books since I've joined this group and I've really enjoyed the glimpse into different styles. This was the perfect airliner book - read it in 2 hours, 20 minutes. We don't have a criterion for the type font. I can't give it a low grade as it was so enjoyable. Can't give it a high grade as it didn't move me. Like it's font size: it was in the middle. Dilemma: b (small type) - but no negative feelings.

Dave: This is like grading term papers. My opinion largely reflects what's been said. Enjoyed it once I got into it. Greatly enjoyed the read - the book moved along briskly. Described a slice of society I know nothing about. Not great literature but it broke new ground. I liked that the cops didn't come off as heroes with great glory. They are involved in the same grimy world as the criminals. I give it a B+

Tom: Nobody had used the phrase "a little gem." On the way over I made the observation that I can't remember another book without a "disjointed" third person narrator. I found myself not rooting for someone. Eddie Coyle got killed, yet I never felt he couldn't make it. I was totally removed, as a dispassionate third person. A-

Jack: I thoroughly enjoyed it. The most entertaining book I've read this year. I admired Higgens' ability to create a page-turner. I give it an A-

Joel: (quote from Wikipedia by Norman Mailer). I never felt it was great literature. I wanted something not long and complex, entertaining to read. I think a lot of it was the phrases, e.g., "It's an ill wind that doesn't blow." and "he shows up as often as Santa Claus." Reasonable contract. It was his use of dialog that I liked the most. A-

    That Old Ace In The Hole   by Annie Proulx     November 2007
Eleven former executives of Global Pork Rind who had matriculated Cowboy College by age 16 met at corporate headquarters in Placitas to discuss the aftermath of the situation in the Panhandle.  We had read Proulx previously [May 2001], but had only dropped the X before.  Now we drop half the name and pronounce it as PRU.  Writing previously as E. A. Proulx and Edna Annie Proulx, Annie was born in 1935 in Connecticut and graduated high school in Portland, ME. She left Colby College for unspecified reasons and later received her BA in History in 1969. She first worked as a journalist and her first published story was Sci Fi. We learned she wrote the short story "Brokeback Mountain" and that her "The Half Skinned Deer" has been called by John Updike "one of the best half dozen short stories of the 20th Century." The LTBC noted her talent for short stories:

Jack: I found it very entertaining and to a certain extent educational.  It brought back memories of my bike ride across Nebraska -- stopping at cafes, talking to cowboys, meeting characters as unique as those from Woolybucket.  The plot was loose but the collection of stories saved it:  B+

Ken: This was the coming of age of a 25 year old, not knowing what he wanted to do with his career and his life.  I found the characters enjoyable. I found the book disjointed at times but it kept my interest. Some of the descriptions were excellent: "clouds with bulging gray udders" (page 227).  First rate descriptive writing. The far-fetched ending bothered me. The book had pluses and minus:  B+

Joel:  I knew a lot of people in this book or have treated them as patients. I've stayed in places like Guymon, OK. Driven along those roads and seen tornadoes off to the East.  It is rough trying to live out there. A lot of the book came across as authentic, perhaps amplified over what one would see. I give it a B+, not great literature but a lot of fun.

Keith: This opus was a loosely knit ensemble of short stories. Reminds me of the 20 foot woman - looks great from 20 feet away, but as you get closer, not so great. A tepid tale, a 350 page tome that could have been enemaized down to 200 pages. B--

Charlie:  I really liked it - for its strengths, makes me forget about its weaknesses.  Random stories woven loosely.  Reminded me of Larry McMurtry and his stories of Texas; also reminded me of a Robert Altman movie with all these things going on in every direction. I give it an A.

Ron: My reaction to the book was one of pleasure. I thought it was going to be tales of the Good Ol' Boys in the Panhandle. I enjoyed the prose. (My wife Grace is a nurse. One day the doctor she was accompanying asked this good ol' boy from New Mexico: "Does your penus burn when your urinate?" "What?" "Does your penus burn?" "Well, I don't know - I never tried to light it." [Doctor to nurse:] "I'm going to have to find another way to ask this question!" Story #2: Nurse: "I want to tell the doctor that you drank all of your Go-Litely." Good Ol' Boy: "Well, then, you're goin to hell, 'cause I ain't drinking no more!")   If not charming, then fascinating collection of stories.  All fiction distorts in some way - this book documents a way of life.  I'll give it a B+

Mike: I have the feeling Annie Proulx began a project (much like Bob Dollar) which proved too big and too difficult for her. A promising start, some interesting characters, and then - whamo! Stuff in all the Panhandle stories you can come up with! Annie Proulx demonstrated the attributes of a lazy writer in this book - she may have done a great deal of research, but she didn't spend enough time pulling the story together. Instead, she filled the book with side stories. She was also lazy with her dialect of the panhandle Texans: using "awl" for oil, but not for "oilman" - and used the "a" for "of" - but not much more.  At times, it appeared PETA was giving advice on what to write about the treatment of animals raised for slaughter. The author did try to pull some of it together at the end (the handsome cowpoke Ruby Loving showed up later as a lounge singer) but I felt like I was reading "Florence of Arabia" at the end - but without the exploding camel and the well-written wrapup. The end of this book, with Tazzy shooting all the "bad" characters, was just too much. This sadly turned out to be a B book.

Don: This book hooked me into a fantasy trip. (Like a road trip on the back roads to my Wisconsin cabin). I wanted to give it an A, but the ending pushed it to A-

Rob: I started off expecting to like this - I liked Shipping News I liked Chapter 1. I like small town life, stopping in cafes with photographs of the local cheerleaders and football players on the walls. Both my parents came from just across the border from the Texas panhandle - there is a heroic story out there. These are the people who stuck it out during the Dust Bowl - perhaps they were not industrious enough to leave, but for whatever reason, they stuck it out. I expected this book to treat these people with respect. But from the bedwetting sheriff to Francis Scott Keister, Proulx had an outsider's view: overdone, stretching: The book is a put-down of panhandle people, but moreover it's a heavy-handed, mostly unfunny putdown. From what we heard about Proulx's personality, I think her editor(s) must have been afraid to question such weird stuff as "lips the color of genitals." I give it a C-

Tom: It's all been said. I fall into the B- camp. I thought the plot was beyond anemic - it was distracting. I thought there was the potential, the seed of a good story: Bob Dollar's family history, his uncle, his friends - but it turned into a collection of short stories. B-

Dave: I read this first when it was first published. My opinion went down on my second reading. It really isn't a novel. The Bob Dollar "plot" was very weak. The last 50 pages (with the rodeo description) weren't necessary, and did not bring it together in a meaningful sense. On the other hand, it provided many truths. When I was growing up, we would go out in the country to visit family. I worked on a farm during the summer and experienced life in rural America. Later I worked on projects about hog farm. I thought she did a good job of describing the threats people feel from the outside. - like the abortion stories, I could see people exchanging those stories, as far fetched as they were. The high point of the book was capturing the rural thinking - a good read. A-

 Terrorist   by John Updike    December 2007  [meeting:  3 Jan 2008]

Eleven devils seeking to take away Ahmad's god made a pilgrimage to the 14th Street mosque, perhaps for the final time. They knew that the covenants of their gathering were the Right Path for does not the Qur'an state in the second sura, Separate yourselves from women and approach them not until they be cleansed. Yet the women had prepared thereunto a feast meant for great multitudes. Though it lacked lentils and fava beans, hummus and halvah, falafel and couscous and tabouli, did it not provide broccoli and young carrots, even unto brownies and powdered sugar almonds?  Indeed, the devils learned that the Master was himself a critic who attended the holy Harvard and ventured even unto Oxford. The devils spoke:

Dave: I enjoyed this book - I had some problems with plot contrivance, but I liked the emphasis on a problem that is with us in today's world.  I learned how a terrorist might develop and function. A-

Rob: I really admire Updike's writing - from the first chapter I heard the ticking of a bomb in the background.  I liked the character development.  I liked the description of New Jersey, with a lake of rubble near the high school.  I can empathize with the view that our culture appears disgusting with baggy pants, etc. we infidels don't deserve what we have.  As for the last chapter, I couldn't believe it when the bomb didn't go off - I went back and read it again.  I can only conclude that Ahmad was convinced to choose life over destruction.  Perhaps Ahmad's next career is to bring this message to other would-be terrorists. The book was well-written (up until the last chapter). B+

Ron B: I thought it was a well written book. The end was not satisfying. The Motivation for Ahmad to become a terrorist was a little weak. (He was a U.S. citizen who didn't adopt the outside world as his home country.)  Not clear - either an A- or B+. The writing puts it at an A-.

Don T:  I'd give it an A-   I have a slightly different view from the other reviewers - the one similarity I have was with the ending.  I admire his phrases.  How do people do this? They see the world differently.  I really enjoyed the writing (an A).  His cynicism was controlled.  It is so much easier to be clever when cynical rather than uplifting.  Updike's description of Ted Williams last baseball game was all uplifting and it moved me to tears. A lot of this was downtaking. A-

Ken:  I actually agree with many of the comments already made. The book was well-written, the dialogue was great, the characters well developed. Some of the detailed parts of the story were contrived, but some truth throughout. B+

Mike: Some of the details were a little silly, as in Ahmad's mother listing for Jack Levy that Ahmad had to check the engine oil, the transmission oil, the brake fluid, etc., etc. No kidding!  Plot contrivance was distracting to me several times, perhaps no more so than when the prostitute that Charlie lined up for Ahmad to meet upstairs at the furniture warehouse was none other than Joryleen, his interest from high school.  I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to others - I learned a lot about the study of the Qur'an and I appreciated seeing the American culture from a Muslim view. B+

Joel:  I had never read any Updike before.  It was certainly enjoyable - a master writer.  I was bothered by the plot and by the ending.  I am in basic agreement with the other reviewers. B+

Tom:  I also wept when I read the Ted Williams description.  Updike is beyond worrying about writing.  He could put together a 200 page book that is next to perfect, but he doesn't worry about it.  His treatment of sex is so unromantic, so clinical it is almost like viewing it in a doctor's office.  Very uniform treatment of sex throughout all his writing. Rabbit, Run is the best of his novels.  This is a B+

Ed:  I liked this book, probably a B+   I see as a moral a kind of "How to become a terrorist."  The Right Path was chosen - why?  Maybe because of the influence of people in Ahmad's life like Jack Levy.  He has a pessimistic view of all bad guys that do bad things.  Ahmad was guided down that path but detoured at the end. B+   Small criticism of our host: my friend's book club back east invited John Updike to attend their meeting - and he did!

Keith:  I will offer a totally different insight.  I believe this book was a monologue by Updike.   Jack Levy was Updike, and Ahmad is who Updike would like to be. The book shows Updike's prejudice against black people and fat people.  The Updike Alter-Ego and Ego appear together in the truck at the end of the book and discuss their/his views of life and death.  I believe any good terrorist would blow up the tunnel given this scenario.  We learned absolutely nothing about terrorism.  I give it a C+   Slightly north of palaver.

Charlie:  I don't have much to add. I give it an A-  A page turner at the end.  I can forgive a lot for the great writing.

From the devils at large:

Jack:  I am a big fan of John Updike, so needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed your selection of his most recent novel, Terrorist. I have been reading Updike's work since the 60's and have been fascinated by his interest in the terrors of faith, sex and marriage -- all of which appear again in Terrorist. Even though Updike is about 8 years older than I am, I see him as a contemporary whom I have aged with over the past 40 plus years. I feel an affinity to him and the issues he struggles with. The subject matter of this novel is timely, the prose is first rate, and the issues complex and thought provoking. I give it an "A".

Following the meeting, an Iowa-style caucus was held and the vote for January book selection was Charming Billy: @  70% vs. 30% for No Country for Old Men.

    Charming Billy   by Alice McDermott    January 2008

Charming Billy

Twelve reformed Irish drunks each stumbled forward thus completing the entire 12-step program as a team with minimal effort. They learned that Alice McDermott has led a most charmed life. She met her husband at a singles bar when she went to celebrate her first published short story. Club members were polarized for or against and thus spoke as follows:

Rob: The image that this book brought to my mind was when the Book Club was in Pagosa Springs at the Hogsbreath Saloon, and sitting nearby were two women who carried on a conversation about relationships, and talked and talked and talked. I got bored early reading this book. In contrast, I was reading a Flashman novel, which I found much more fun! It seems like a story of a charming Irish drunk has been done many times before, not the least of which was Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.  I didn’t get wrapped up in this family.  Most Irish drunks are more self-destructive than Billy.   I didn’t care for her style, the way she jumped back and forth, disconnected. I couldn’t talk myself into liking it. C

Dave: My opinion of the book changed as I read it. I started out not liking it. As I persevered, my opinion changed. I ended up thinking parts of the book were very insightful as to relationships with families. Most of us have seen unsavory human behavior. In the end I found it quite favorable. B+

Don: Thanks for changing from the Brother of Darkness (Cormac McCarthy). I borrowed the book from Jack and read it fast – I was able to get by the 2 ½ pages of description of driveways in Long Island and I got the story quite compact. So I really did enjoy it and I give it a B. I enjoyed reading it, it was a good book to read, but I wouldn’t say to someone, "you gotta read this."

Charlie: What he (Rob) said. She went on and on about inconsequential things. She didn’t deal with the dark side of alcoholism, just went on forever and ever. Slow going. C

Ed: This was real to me. It fits with my experience base. My family has stayed in that same area. The concept of the close nuclear family came across as very real. Thus it was good. B+

Ken: Overall, I enjoyed this book. I thought parts were beautifully written. Dennis seemed to be the main character. B+

Jack: Coming from an Irish family with a predispositon to alcohol, I empathized with this book.  When I went back over it again, I got a better appreciation of the structure.  I would now kick it up to a B+

Joel: Although I recognize some of the characters in the book, they were not in my family - they were in Jack's!  I liked the description of the grandmother "cooking the toughness into a roast" and also of her belief that vegetables and Brussels sprouts had no intrinsic taste but only received flavor from the salt and butter you put on. Perhaps the most poignant line in the book was the message from the young lady awaiting word from her former suitor: Tell him "I am still here." B

Tom: Like Dave, I started out struggling with this book and not sure I would like it. Harold Bloom reminds us, "Worthwhile reading should be a difficult pleasure." I never start a Book Club book until the Sunday before the meeting. My family would have big Sunday dinners every week. I was touched by the strong feelings of love implied by the narrator for her father Dennis. Looking back, I'm much more aware of the relationships now then I was as a small child. I'm 1/4 Irish. A-

Ron B: This is not a Flashman kind of a book. I've just read a Penelope Lively book that traces a family through three generations in England. I like McDermott's style of writing. I was carried along by the prose. It is diffuclt to follow, and changed the narrator from personal "I" to "we" to "they." The book is a Solid B from my point of view. Like memory, fragments make sense once you have lived the story.

Keith: I offer the ultimate discursive comment:

  • National Book Award?  who was sleeping with whom?
  • Title: I suggest, "Many Funerals and a Wedding"

Proscotic view, not enough to carry the book. The reader is left afloat in a sea of ennui and minutiae. Instead of the reader being put in a coma, I was put in a comma - paragraphs that read on and on.  I did finish the book.  Many books have an ebb and flow. This book was ebbing endlessly.  Reminded me of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" - no plot.   C

Mike: I heard about this book from a lady calling in to NPR's Friday Book List and saying this was the best book she had ever read. Then she said, "It's about an alcoholic and how he affects his family." I couldn't imagine how one could write such a book and not dwell on alcoholism, however Alice McDermott did that here. She captured all that was needed about alcoholism when she stated that Billy would cough up flesh and blood. Billy was the pivotal character that represented some of the glue that bound together the other family members. I loved the way she told the story, from back to front. I loved the way she shows us how life works out, with early choices driving many outcomes. Some beautiful writing.  A-

     Infidel   by Ayaan Hirshi Ali    February 2008

In far off Placitas, the absence of the webetary was duly noted....and a rough icon of his likeness was placed on the chair next to the Elder -- and was appropriately honored.....although many thought the photo was probably taken about 20 years ago.  Discussion and comments (by a male-dominated clique of infidels) ensued:

Joel A long and comprehensive, and truly scary, account of the life so far of a brave and truly remarkable woman. Writing style is clear ( I don't expect too flowing a prose style from someone's fifth language) and very informative.  Includes an in-depth exposition of life and attitudes of a woman and her surroundings in a variety of cultures making up a significant fraction of the world's population.
To quote p.296:  " the largest and most important issue that our society and our planet will face in this century". Unfortunately I think she is right.
I would rate the book an "A".

Ken Although a little slow in spots, this spell binding autobiography was a compelling and interesting story.  I had previously heard about the difficulties Muslim women faced in increasingly conservative Islam societies but the detailed descriptions in this book of the extent of the brutality was eye-opening.  The summation at the end was outstanding.  An important book that everyone should read.  A-

I watched the YouTube video of Ayaan's address to the 2007 Atheist Alliance International convention and was won over immediately.  I found her to be beautiful, charming, articulate, humble.  She has her critics apparently and has been variously called bomb-thrower, opportunistic, and a chameleon.  I suspect this stems largely from resentment of her willingness to challenge the prevailing climate of political correctness in Holland and the US, and in part from jealousy of her ability to command international attention at such a relatively young age.  In any case, I am not aware of any serious challenge to the basic truthfulness of her message.  It is after all her own personal story, and she backs up her scathing criticism of the abhorrent aspects of  Islamic culture with plenty of evidence as well as numerous quotations from the Quran itself.
I found her story absolutely compelling although the writing itself was fairly ordinary. The first half of the book was a little tedious but it gathered momentum as it progressed to her experiences in Holland. I thought the most powerful writing was in the Epilogue in which she gives us a glimpse of her emotional side that was purposely restrained in the main body of the book. She describes her life experience as a journey from "faith to reason", and has come to the conclusion that "faith, belief, religion" are neither necessary nor sufficient prerequisites for humane and moral behavior.

DonThis is a first class book for several reasons. 
A. The subject matter is emotionally difficult, but very important.  Four levels of the subject are relevant:  (1) the almost total physical, social, and emotional abuse of women justified by Islam and the principles of the Koran (at least as experienced by the author) is revolting, but important to know of as real. (2) Identifying who speaks for Islam -- the theological "boys" who say that all is well and holy and going according to "God's" plan, or the abused and beaten down "girls" who are owned like cattle and who never have a chance at life, and for whom nothing is well?  Unfortunately, the female story is all too prevalent, and all too accurate.  (3)  When does a society (Dutch, in this case) become too tolerant of another culture's customs that it loses its own soul by tolerating criminal abuse in its midst.  There must be some bottom line principles that are simply ruled unacceptable. When does a host society step in and say, "You live here, you live according to our rules of moral conduct and human rights that we espouse."  (4) What issues in our own current US culture are amiss, but simply not talked about openly due to the fear of being politically incorrect.  (On what subjects should each of us call out, "Hey, the emperor has no clothes."  -- in a manner similar to the way Ayaan Hirsi Ali is calling out)
B. The author is an incredibly resourceful, charismatic, clear and courageous human being.  She is someone worth encountering, simply to soak up her story and her spirit.  Just listening to a person of this strength is inspiring, uplifting and personally challenging.
C. Beyond the challenge embodied in her story, she also presents a clear case study of the difficulty in changing ones personal beliefs -- especially in the face of a cult-like atmosphere.  Cult-think is difficult to crack, since it has already established a seamless pre-positioned set of reasoning that defends against every criticism leveled against it.  What one grows up believing as true -- even when it is a set of beliefs that are personally destructive -- seem to have a life of their own -- actually many lives of their own, as they bounce back again and again.  The agonizingly slow and staggering process through which the author moves in shaking her beliefs and ultimately rejecting them entirely, gives testimony to why the dictates of reason and common sense do not instantly change beliefs and the resulting insane behaviors in any culture -- in any cult.  In other words, in my own opinion as well as that of the author, judgmental, abusive beliefs that are harmful to others and are self-justifying and self-perpetuating within their own coherent stand-alone system are damned dangerous (read "daemonic and evil") -- no matter what god-inspired origin that they claim as their source.
An intense book which moved me deeply, an important book from which I learned much, a book that accomplishes what it sets out as its goal, a book written by an incredibly admirable and courageous author who inspires me with her story, despite the deep pain of her experiences.  I wish every book and every author could communicate as well, and make such a positive difference with their effort.
for all those reasons  a solid  A.

Interviews gathered from the immigrants in the camps:

I won't be able to make February or March LTBC meeting. My review of Infidel follows. I hope to get my comments to Tom about Max Frisch's work before the March meeting.
Even though I had read The Caged Virgin and consequently found much overlap with Infidel, I am even more impressed with Hirsi Ali's determination and courage. Her work has obviously sparked a debate in Holland and much of the rest of Europe, which I can only hope will prod Islamic moderates to push for their own reformation.

I found reading it slow going, primarily because of all the details, including names of family and clan members, friends, colleagues, and politicians, which I had difficulty keeping track of. I also found many of the episodes she described redundant, but much of that may be because I had read The Caged Virgin . Overall, I would give it a B.


 I was suddenly hit with the stomach flu just after I got to Don's last night, so left before the discussion.  My comments on Infidel:
This is an important book -- a clear-eyed, wrenching look at Islam from the inside.  I thought the most important part of the book was Ali's reaction to 9/11 and the dramatic change it wrought in her -- abandoning Islam.  Also she points out the nonsense in many of the reactions to 9/11.  Ali challenges the common multicultural, tolerant view: don't interfere with immigrant culture even if it involves wife-beating, honor killing, mutilation of infants.  She points out that those who argue that true Islam is peaceful and tolerant haven't read the Quran.  In fact, the Quran is taught in Arabic which most Muslims don't know.  Hmm, maybe this is why the 9/11 attackers were mostly Arabic. 
The assimilation/integration issue is very difficult: You want various sub-populations to maintain their culture (e.g., American Indians), but you want these groups to be able to survive and thrive in the prevailing culture.  It's disastrous to destroy minority cultures.  It's also harmful to turn minority populations into wards of the state just for the sake of preserving their culture.  There's got to be a better way.  Some sort of Tough Love, perhaps.
Europe is well on the way to becoming Muslim.  Ali notes that most of Holland's large cities are approaching Muslim majorities.  Native European populations are shrinking; the Muslim populations are growing.  But, the Muslim populations are isolated, in "suburbs," as the French areas are known, where they erupt in riots every once in a while.  Danish Muslims are rioting now over re-publication of those cartoons and want to kill the cartoonist.  They want to kill Ayaan Ali.  We can't wait 500 years for enlightenment to come to the Muslim world.
Grade: A.  a must-read
I'm sorry I missed the group's discussion of the issues raised by Infidel.   Look forward to reading the summary.

   -  Rob

The continuing thought that came to mind as I read this book:  a 180° view from a novel the Club read in June 2001.  In “The Sparrow” by Maria Doria Russell, Jesuit priest and linguist Emilio Sandoz experiences a first encounter with an alien culture who in turn sodomize his body and mutilate his hands.  The author Russell wanted to create a first encounter of two alien cultures, and decided the only way to do it was with an encounter in outer space.  A religion and an outcast dominated by a culture; versus a culture dominated by a religion. Here in Infidel, the cultures have shared this planet for hundreds of years, yet through my biased Western eyes the descriptions by Ali of African and Muslim traditions and laws and mutilations seem at least as alien as those of the fictional Runa creatures in Russell’s novel.

A fascinating story, so much more than a coming of age story, this was an amazing ‘born again and again and again’ experience.  What made Ayaan different from every other Somali woman, past or present?  How did she obtain the self-confidence in this culture to be able to look a Somali elder in the eye and say “No”? It was her mother that first showed that a Somali woman could break with tradition and ‘run away.’  It was her father who is most dishonored by her actions that we see as courage, yet her father can also be pinpointed as the primary cause of her independent streak.  The father’s ‘vocation’ of leading an insurrection against the dictator of Somalia was the background, and Ayaan’s environment was enhanced even more by being raised in four countries, four similar yet different cultures: that of Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

I had heard before of excision and was in denial that it could continue.  Now I learn that excision predates Islam.  Horrible mutilation, inhumane treatment of women.  Thanks be to Allah that Ayaan could rise above this culture to speak out for all Islam women - if Allah is merciful he would not treat women in this way.  I am embarrassed to say an alternate title to this book came to mind as I read this, a la mode de Gilbert:  one might call this book, “Rebel Without a Clit.

The only criticism I have of the book is that much of Ayaan’s later Dutch adventures could have been edited out.  The death of Ayaan’s sister is tragic and important, the rejection and later acceptance by each of her parents is crucial, however some of her Dutch roommates, boyfriends, politics and life experiences could have been deleted.

This was not only a well-written book but also an important book for our time.  I wonder how many brave Somali women can step away from their culture and follow Ayaan’s "Alternate Path" as an inspiring goal if not a blue print. After we read “Endurance” I felt that book should be required reading for every course in leadership.  I equally feel that “Infidel” should be required reading for every course in comparative religion, as well as in political science.  Wouldn’t it be remarkable if other African women could achieve this escape from the bondage and beatings of Islam.  Excellent:  A-

     -  Mike

      Man in the Holocene   by Max Frisch   March 2008

Nine well-seasoned males attempted to escape from the Holocene by following the old path that first descends then ascends into the four hills.  We finally came to a barn - or was it a house.  The front door was not answered so we looked in past the shutters.  Most of us could not recall why we were wearing our hats.  We brought plenty of extra long thumbtacks and searched for meaning with the audacity of hope.  Someone's daughter called to say it is OK to post messages all over the stucco walls.  Extra Magic Tape was provided.  No phones were answered during the discussion.
We recalled that we have survived global warming once before.  Human civilization dates entirely within the Holocene.  Ice melt caused world sea levels to rise about 35 m (110 ft) in the early part of the Holocene.

Our host confessed that the source of his selection was a recommendation by his daughter’s ex-boyfriend who teaches German.   Frisch was born in Zurich in 1911. His father was an architect and young Frisch studied architecture at (don’t go Ugly American on me) ZIT (Zurich Institute of Technology).  When he visited the USA, he loved New York City and soon gave up his professional life for writing. He wrote for over 50 years: plays, essays, and four novels.

[see the link to Frisch’s obit in the NY Times (1991): by Stade: "each novel has someone who strives to escape a luminous parable of indeterminate purport."   "I believe it is much more negative to say how wonderful everything is - praising things as they are is giving in."

Geological Time: "The Recent" = Wholly Recent = Holocene (from the Greek) is measured from the retreat of the last galacial period (11,000 years ago). Now a new name is being proposed: Antropocene in the Quaternary or Pleistocene = Ice Age. Note1: Jack Horner, the paleontologist, is giving a lecture in May at Albuquerque's National History Museum – tickets now on sale here. Note2:  Charlie lauds Jay Gould's well written book "Wonderful Life."

We noted that erosion was a theme; Geiser’s mind was eroding.

On this Holocene occasion, we bid a sad yet fond farewell to our resident geologist Dave S. who is moving away from Placitas on 22 April and returning back to the wilds of Minnesota - a retirement center in Stillwater, due east of St. Paul.   We appreciate Dave's insights and contributions and look forward to his mailing down the dessert we missed.  Our readers spoke:

Don: This was a confusing book; I was utterly intrigued. The author had an idea and carried it out: he painted a picture and left. Recalls to me the context of two similar theme books I have recently read: Coetzee’s "Slow Man" has the protagonist break his leg and survive, well told with tricks of a really good writer. He hated what he has done with his writing skills, thus the story of a bitter old man writing. Also: "The Sea" by John Danville showed some initiative but was long and windy. Our book, however, was to me really clean, meaty, had a puzzle to it. I saw a really beautiful depiction and didn’t get the feeling of a depressed old man. A.

Mike:  I was confused by the voice of the narrator – at first I thought I was reading a journal by Geiser. It was a third party narrator, yet one who was in Geiser’s head. I also wondered about the source of the excerpts posted by Geiser – reminded me that I had shorted James Joyce when a minister was credited as the source of the fire and brimstone sermon included in his "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." [Charlie points out the bibliography at the end of the book.]  I’m not sure I would be recommending this book without some additional explanation such as we have enjoyed in our discussion this evening. B

Keith:Keith's Review of Geiser

Solid A.

Ron: A couple of errors relating to speed of lightning vice the speed of light, and 25 amperes should have been 175 amperes. He set the mood.  I would recommend this book if I could explain what it is about.   I give it a B.  Mercifully short – which is why it worked.

Ken: I actually thought it was a wonderful description of someone noticeably losing their mind. I thought it was a haunting book – my identical twin brother didn’t like it, I give it an A-

Charlie: I thought it was well done – short, limited in scope, it was to go into memory loss, other things slip. Didn’t lean on the dementia for its impact.  B

Dave: can’t say I enjoyed the book but I was moved by it. You know you’re losing it, but oh, god, can I still derive the Pythagorean Theorem. Slippery slope of losing it by degree but then getting assurances that he still had it. I see myself going through this. I unhesitatingly give it an A.

Joel: I do everything he does except tape/tack the info to the wall. I keep it in folders. Not just dementia gets to you but also the isolation. Also nutrition problems – Geiser was holding up well as shown by his hike. Via his note-tacking, he’s trying to preserve rationality – like collecting stamps or keeping track of all the railroad engines in Britain – keep rational through organization. I did enjoy it. B+

Tom: I give it an A. I enjoyed it more on re-reading, I knew some of the nuances. The word ‘haunting’ keeps coming up – Amazon reviews used that word. It pulled me in and kept me there. Two stories: one of an individual and an author making observations without providing answers to questions. Man’s place and how this erosion process is occurring. Other word is "oddly comforting" – third interpretation is realizing the individuals small place. Very short, can read it in two hours.

Cover: Frisch is great in showing that an act of analysis is a passionate act.

Closeout: [Ron B.] Two other words describe this book: courageous, and kindness (author never took potshots at Geiser – and Geiser himself was kind.)

And from outside the valley came more comments on Man in the Holocene:

Entertaining little book, sad but oftentimes amusing to watch an aging man losing his mental capabilities – interesting to see how he tried to hang on to what seemed important, for a while, but in the end, not worth keeping.  Key sentence to me: p. 58:  “When Geiser sees in the mirror that he'’s still wearing his hat, he remembers where his passport is.”  Been there, done that.  It's scary – especially since my mother is afflicted with Alzheimer’s.  At the same time, Geiser remembers every minute on the Matterhorn.  My Mom remembers church hymns, not much else.  I think Frisch captured Geiser'’s aging process (from a glimpse of a very few days) perfectly -- hauntingly.  Then the end: Geiser had at least one stroke and his daughter came to get him.  And life went on in the valley, no more noticing his departure than that of an ant.

I must admit that I didn'’t read many of the clippings -- didn't try to puzzle out their why and why now inclusion.  I did work out the golden section equation. – I’'ve still got it!

I’'ll give it a solid B-plus. – It is a novella being ranked against larger, broader works.  Glad Tom picked this one for us.




Rob Easterling

Sorry I won't be able to make the meeting.  I wish I could participate in the discussion.  I would think it would be a good one.  Won't get back from Mexico until Monday.  Having trouble bringing up your ballot for 2007.  (The internet connection is mediocre at best and the operator is beyond help.)  Will get my ballot to you as soon as I get home if that is OK -- probably won't have much bearing on the outcome anyway.

My quick review of Frisch's book follows:

I thoroughly enjoyed Man in the Holocene.  I have read other works by Frisch.  Fear of the inevitable and our inability to stop it or change its course are themes I found in many of his works.  He was known in the post-WWII German-speaking world for crafting radio plays in which a sparsity of words concentrating on a single event or series of actions reflecting a single theme (sans commentary) told powerful personally-felt stories.  I give it an A.

Hasta luego!

I will not be able to make Book Club this evening.  Sorry to miss.



For those readers who need a little help in expanding Keith's posted post-its here are a few examples:
Keith redux:  In this book entropy is increasing exponentially for Geiser – which is close to geizer. He has purloined his present tense and preserved his past tense.  He focuses on decimals of knowlege while ignoring integers of understanding. Metaphors for disintegration and disunion are replete – flood, rock slides, landslides – it’s all coming apart under the call of gravity. He can’t get away from his past and on his sojourn he returns to where he came from.  Simple story, very pithy & profound.  To me a sympathy of staccato, quite a comfortable solid A.

 The Birth of Venus  by Sarah Dudant   April 2008

On the first day of May, Anno Domini 2008, nine of Girolamo's Angels came from the four points of the compass to the twisted and cobbled streets of the Southeast Heights.

Three others had already fled the city to take in the healing airs of the countryside. Friars Michelangelo and Robelangelo sought relief from its putrid and stomach-turning ways, while Fra Tubesino in his journey saw visions of wonderous machinations and contradictions.

This saintly group of Literati said a prayer wishing Godspeed to Dave Southwick who had already flown to the state of the Twin Cities and they welcomed to their gathering the newly recruited angel, Dick Jensen.

 What follows here are the true testimonies of the Angels in the same order as given to me, and I pass them on to you for recantation, correction or addition. (It should be noted that this book may have set a LTBC record in that it received every grade from A through F.)

Given by my hand,
The Painter

The Testimonies

Ed...  B+   Historically relevant.
Ken... B  Not great literature but good history.
Jack...C  Too Predictable.
Tom...A-  Despite its faults, the story of a young wilfull girl pulled me in.
Charlie...  B+   Pretty good junk fiction.
Dick...  B+  Interesting historical femininsm.
Keith...  A  Scintillating story.
Joel...  B+   Interesting historical view of Florence. Enjoyed reading it.
Ron...A   Page-turning history with kinky twists.

The Strange Case of the Tattooed Nun.  Thoroughly disgusting book, dull, weak, stomach-turning, ... .  I should have known from the cover blurbs and artsy cover: F for "foney."
Sorry about that.  I found out later from Amazon that lots of people liked this.  I resonated with the one-star reviews. 
Cheers to all,

This book began with a promise and a premise.  The prologue on the death of Sister Lucrezia appeared to foretell of an interesting story well told.  Once into the book  I found as the Acknowledgements at the end proclaimed that this book is built on a scaffold of history.  I learned of the loyalty of the body slave that apparently remained in some financially well off homes a thousand years after the fall of Rome.  I learned of Charles VIII's invasion of Italy in 1494 and of Italy's existence as a collection of city states two thousand years after the rise of the Greek city states.  I learned of Friar Savonarola's attack against the house of Medici and his ultimate excommunication and hanging and burning in 1498.  Throughout 300 pages I was reminded again of man's limited span of life, of the facility of man's inhumane treatment of his fellow man, and that torture brings whatever one wishes to hear from the victim and whatever one desires to perceive as truth.

Yet upon that scaffold of history Sarah Dunant constructed a Hollywood B-movie, a sick chick flick.  The Birth of Venus is a defiled placenta.  Almost halfway into the book, our heroine coolly describes in detail her middle-aged spouse's attempts to arouse himself on his wedding night and we are horrified to suddenly learn that the sixteen year old's hubby is a homosexual having an affair with her handsome brother.  Say what?  Days of Our Lives goes medieval on our ass.

But wait, there's more:  every 30 pages or so we must be told of yet another brutal murder on the streets and the mutilation details to convince us that it was not just a straightforward killing.  The author lives in London and Florence - was she attempting to transfer the crimes of the 19th century Jack the Ripper to the 15th century Dominican monks?  The book devolves into an attempt to infuse the writing of Dante and the glorious art of Florence with the prurient interest of the human species and the degradation of the human spirit.  Our heroine ends her book by telling us that "my chapel is sadly mediocre."  Sarah Dunant's book is sadly mediocre.  I find nothing built on this scaffold to encourage me to recommend this effort to others.  I am most curious as to Ron's desire to have us read this book.  The writing may flow but the stream is putrid.  Florence deserves better; Dunant deserves a D.

   -  Mike

A very engaging book for me -- a nice structure for the story line, and quite well written.  I enjoyed the author's humorous twists of phrase and unlikely, but workable, combinations of images. I have just finished watching two Teaching Company series of lectures, one on 15th and 16th century European art, and the second on Michelangelo.  Both covered a lot of the art, and the chapel locations in Florence. So, I enjoyed reviewing this subject matter from a different perspective --  the Medici period, the art scene of the time, the storied chapels and works of art, and the sense of the history.  Also, I cannot neglect to mention the feisty, independent and talented women (always a draw for me!), as well as the focus on the church with all its machinations and variety of contradictions, and Savonarola (who I have studied in both history and theology, but never from a perspective that depicts him as a wild eyed mutated genetic combination of John the Baptist and Pat Robertson
a fine book.    A-minus
enjoy the evening together, sorry to miss it.
thanks for picking this book out -- since I would never have read it otherwise.

   Out Stealing Horses  by Per Petterson   May 2008

Eight sixty-seven year olds of Norwegian descent gathered at a summer cabin among the trees of Sandia Heights to learn of Quisling, Sweden's neutrality, and why you don't want to have two Norwegians, two Swedes, two Finns, and two Icelanders on an island. We learned that Per Petterson likes symmetry in his books - two sets of twins and one of each is killed. We found unusual harmony among the Scandinavians present:

Mike: The author as Trond Sander creates a refreshing, non-edited voice. By non-edited, I liked the way he corrected himself in the narrative, and allowed us to see those changes of thinking. Thus it had a refreshing way of narration similar to story-telling. "All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this." Sometimes his descriptions are short and choppy, sometimes poetic and drawn out. Overall very refreshing writing, well-told story of the somewhat coming of age of a young boy who discovers that his father is having an affair, yet learns to accept it and understand it if not to condone it. A very subtle sense of humor. He paints his mother as 'weighty,' uninteresting, and he describes his own teen crush on Jon's mother very well. I liked his embarrassment at being aroused by the milkmaid - actually, I liked the milkmaid. I'm not sure if this is one of the top 10 books we have read, but it must be up there in the top 10%: A

Don: I was surprised by the book. I liked Trond. I liked for myself seeming some reflections - what do I let hurt, who do I leave - growing strong but scarred. The book/author tackles more than one depth. I liked it. A

Joel: Scandinavians don't know they are quiet. When the book started, I thought it was a lot like Lake Woebegon without the jokes. The book has several levels, intertwined - patterns (1942-44, 1948, and the present). I thought it was an entertaining read - how to spend our aged years. A-

Tom: Having seen the Estonia film, I am reminded of how significant WW II experiences are to Europeans - even this Per Petterson, a Norwegian born in 1952 must have been affected by the experiences of his countrymen or his family. Per talked about how WWII made it into the book. I thought of the Man in the Holocene but this was very different - more of a rite of passage into manhood. Not so much of Trond's later life. Thus more ambitious than Man in the Holocene. I am torn between an A- and an A. The ending left me hanging, as I wanted more about Trond - and I wanted him to ask Lars about the life that was rightfully his. A

Dick J: One of the things I have done since I retired is read a lot of murder mysteries - I thought this would be similar and in some sense it was. Rite of passage occurred twice for Trond (at age 15, and at retirement). I liked the book, I've read it twice, although I didn't care for the ending, I would give it an A. Great book.

Charlie: Not much to add, looks like this book is headed for our top 10. I give it an A. It was about transition/old age, but not about fear, death. Retirement is a period of enormous change. The book addressed this. A

Ron: I give it an A. I thought it \would be an A after the first couple of chapters as I liked the writing style. If a movie, this would be in black and white, with a lot of snow. I liked the fact it was non-linear, unfolded as it went. Horse, chain saw, river - what more do you need? Strangely comforting about the farmer with the snowplough.

Ken: Joel gets the small piece of dessert with his A- grade. I read the book twice, really enjoyed it. A.

Reviews from Traveling Norweigans:

I thoroughly enjoyed Out Stealing Horses.  Not as tragic as Frisch's Man in the Holocene, but it too reflected some of that melancholia many of us 67-year-old men experience occasionally.  I found it succinct and well written--I never got lost when he moved from present to past or from one subplot to another.  I would give it an A.


I don't know anything about Bergman films besides the little bit I've read about them, but I have the feeling this book is what they're like -- lots of brooding, with dark events bubbling beneath the surface.  I kept waiting for something to happen, but not much ever did.  I wish I'd learned more about what Trond's father was doing during the occupation.  Trond in the river getting a rope on a log to break the logjam was a little hard to believe, one of those plot devices -- I felt the author must have told himself, I've got to put some excitement in here -- it's been a long time since Trond saw his father with the neighbor's wife -- another Scandinavian staple, I presume.  The atmospherics were very good -- Trond and his dog setting up housekeeping in a remote Norwegian cabin (just down the road from Lars!), the neighbor's wife, the milkmaid -- and often moving, but I eventually became distracted by the ambiguity: maybe it was this or maybe it was that.  B-

   Lord of the Flies  by William Golding   June 2008

Seven biguns and one "littlun" climbed the mountain and plunged through the undergrowth to crowd upon the platform in Placitas and take a turn with the conch:
    Tom:  Outdid Ballantyne.  A good adventure story.  B+
    Joel:  You humans are no dam good.  B+
    Dick:  A good read.  Depressing world view.  B+
    Ron:  Choir boys gone bad.  No Dad.    B+
    Joe  (Guest--Ken's son-in-law):  We've met the enemy and he is us.  A-
    Ken:  Enjoyed it as a story.  A-
    Charlie:  Heavy-handed and overdone like Marxist art.  B
    Ed:  Readable.  Difficult to tell what he was getting at.  B
    Jack:  Good over evil...only in fairytales.  B+

Some additional comments beyond the six-word formula Ron suggested we use. 

One of the main reasons I chose this book (very much like the reason I chose The Old Man and the Sea a couple years ago) was to re-read a piece of fiction which had made an impression upon me as a young man, in order to see if and/or how it moved me now 40+ years later.
When I read it in the early 60's for the first time my take then was probably very much influenced by my idealism, and so I interpreted it as a triumph of good over evil.  In this most recent reading, however, I found the outcome to be far more pessimistic--lacking little hope for the triumph of good over evil.  The "good" or civilized tribe's members had dwindled to just one major character, the protagonist Ralph.  This was after the only person who appeared to be innately good, Simon, was brutally murdered; and after the twins, Samneric, were "recruited" to join the other side; and after Ralph's rational lieutenant, Piggy, was killed.
The final blow for me was what happened in the last two pages, which I saw as perhaps the weakest part of the novel's structure.  Even if Golding felt the conflict could never be resolved, using the naval officer as a deus ex machina to rescue Ralph seemed to easy if not a cheap trick.
On the other hand, I found the economy of his language and the development of the theme through his use of recurring contrasts between the two sides and his use of symbolism exemplary.
I give it a B+.
Jack Ferrell  (not Merridew)
 My short review of Lord of the Flies is summarized by Prof. Frank Hibben's statement "You humans are no damn good". With a change of scene the boys could have grown up and moved to the blood meridian.
I will spare you my political rant and quotation from Thomas Hobbes.
Grade : B+
Bigun Joel
I enjoyed rereading Lord of the Flies.  I had read it as a college student in the early 1960s and was really moved by the book at that time.  At the meeting last night I told a story about what seemed like a very deep discussion that I had about the book with a very attractive public school teacher.  She and I had a date for a Fats Domino concert in Salt Lake City.  After the concert we were driving back to Ogden, Utah where we both lived--we spent most of the trip talking about the book.  I wish I could remember what we said but I just could not.  It then dawned on me that we had been drinking at the concert and maybe the discussion was not so deep.

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when I read the book this time.  I had expected to be able to find all kinds of parallels between the story in the book and contemporary politics.  I found some but they were not as strong as I thought.  I guess that's one way of saying that the book was more a product of the 1950s than one having a universal message.

I also found that I was not as concerned with the messages in the book as I was when I was 21.  Maybe I am more jaded or with age we just are not as concerned with the issues that Golding raised.  I also was not as shocked with the violence (such as Piggy's death) as I was when I first read it.

I still enjoyed the story--I read it in one day though I did find myself moving through it quickly at times.

I gave it a B+ because I think it was a good story quite well told--just not as good as I remembered it.  

Dick Jensen

My comments on Lord of the Flies  - A fast read that I found hard to put down.  Disturbing but truthful view of mankind'’s innate inclinations towards violence.  I wonder how different the story would have been if the planeload of boys would have been replaced with a planeload of girls.  Ron’'s comment about the impossibility of Piggy’'s nearsighted glasses starting a fire prompted me to look up fire starting methods on the Web.  One interesting approach is to use binoculars with the large openings pointed towards the sun and the eyepiece section pointed at the fire-starting material.  No wonder they tell people not to look at the sun through binoculars.  A- 



And from those boys who never made it to the island: 

Sorry I won't be able to attend the meeting Thursday....will be visiting in Portland, OR
Here are my comments on The Lord of the Flies

Here is a book chock full of symbolism and allegory but somewhat lacking in literary style. I enjoyed the story line and trying to decipher the various symbolisms...I'm sorry to miss the discussion on this. As one critic put it, its continued cultural value seems to be as a useful admonition against latent human violence raqther than its aesthetic acheivement.

Golding himself described its theme as an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature and that the "shape of society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable." This seems to me to be the enduring truth of the story. Witness our present times.

The pig's head impaled on a stick (sharpened at both ends), and the dead parachutist were, I thought, particularly effective images.

I have a small technical quibble. Since Piggy was apparently very nearsighted, his eye glasses would have had diverging lenses and so could not be used to start a fire.

I give it an A for story and hard work at symbolism and B for writing style.

Overall grade = B+


The theme of Lord of the Flies seems to be to demonstrate how quickly civilization can collapse when moved outside the boundaries of a larger moral structure.  Using a group of English schoolboys to represent civilization speeds up the process and provides focus on a small-scale experiment.

My book had scribbling inside the back cover to give insight as to the meaning of some of the names Golding chose for his characters.  I have checked these out and my Internet sources show they are not far off the notes (in parentheses): 
Ralph        (English)    wolf counsel  (council fair)                                                      Jacob    (Hebrew)    the supplanter
Simon        (Hebrew)    he heard  (listener)                                                                John    (Hebrew)    god is gracious
Jack        (American)    Jacob or John  (one who supplants by force)                     Roger        (German)    renowned spearman  (spear)
Piggy        pig        (foreshadowing)

I also checked these:
Sam (Samuel)     Hebrew    heard God                   Eric            English    brave ruler                      SamnEric        combo    confused duo

And finally:
Percival Wemys Madison        English    one who is named for comic relief
So maybe it doesn't mean that much ...

Newsweek runs a survey each week of a celebrity, listing his/her five most influential books or favorite books.  One sidebar of the survey is to ask about a Classic, which upon re-reading, disappoints.   This book fit into that category for me. 

The dialogue and sometimes the narrator cannot seem to decide if the characters are adults or children.  The language bounces back and forth from soap opera attempts at philosophy to over-doing double negatives to remind us from time to time:  why these are just kids after all!

Some of it reads like dialogue from the old "Get Smart" sitcom:  (page 160)   "Why should they try to sneak in, Chief?"

Why is young Ralph's mind fading?  From an overdose of underripe fruit?  At the conclusion, (page 202), "Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend known as Piggy."  If we didn't catch the Conrad references before, Golding is dedicated to ensure we'll see them on the way out.  And weeping for Piggy's fall through the air?   How about his sudden landing?

The writing and the descriptions and the story-telling mostly improved as the book progressed.  However, this book had many of the markings (pig scat?) of a first novel.  I was originally inclined to give Golding a pass on plot contrivance for his first novel - however, in re-reading I wish Golding had just posited on page one:  "Once there were a bunch of English school boys who suddenly and inexplicably found themselves abandoned on a desert isle and the following is what happened."  But (page 8) claiming they were dropped from a burning plane?  And the cabin the boys were in has since been blown into the sea?  And not a single boy died in the drop or suffered a broken clavicle or a concussion or even a bruised noggin?  Come on!  And then isn't it convenient to have a parachutist land spot on the very top of the mountain where the signal fire is maintained ... and then he is conveniently lifted up and away into the sea!  Also, Simon's body is taken away into the sea, as is Piggy's.  This book gets an F for failing Plot Contrivance, an A for idea and a C for execution.  (By the by:  an A+ for cover art on the Perigee paperback.)

One can hide many defects by claiming "this is just a parable" however at some point one must decide if we are grading a parable or a novel, a work of fiction.

Summary:  I love the smell of burnt pig flesh in the morning!   Sharpen the stick at both ends and hear this then from the Beast:  Thou shall not compare Golding's games to Conrad's power or thou shalt have a Kurtz on thee forever!  C+

     -   Mike

   A Thousand Splendid Suns  by Khalid Hosseini   "July" 2008

According to the teachings of the Prophet, peace be unto him, each month of the lunar calendar shall have within it a last Thursday.  And on this last Thursday, the mullahs of the village shall gather under one tent to discuss the laws of the true religion and the books of the true faith.

Yet within the hadith, there is related the apocryphal story of how the Archangel Gilbert took the Prophet, peace be unto him, for a ride upon the great white steed Hosseini into the dark sky through the monsoons of Mecca and the southeast heights, and related unto him how within the seventh month, there will be no last Thursday.  Rather it shall be seen that the last Thursday of the seventh month shall be transformed into the first Thursday of the eighth month, and then will the mullahs gather.

And thus it came to be that the mullahs gathered, and much was the discussion, and they spake unto the multitudes, and it was perceived as goodness and light. 

Ken:  I thought it was a bit melodramatic - but the plot twists were more believable than The Kite Runner.  A page-turner synopsis of Afghanistan with women as third class citizens.  I liked seeing Mariam's hatred of Laila turn into Friendship.  B+
Joel:  Worthwhile read.  I didn't like it as well as The Kite Runner.  Good job of describing the problems of women doing something as simple as riding the bus.  The Beauty of Kabul?  Today it resembles the South Valley on a bad day - prehistoric stone boxes, all the trees have been cut down for firewood.  B
Tom:  I formed an opinion and tried to find a review that agreed with me.  Most of the reviews were positive, most were just a rehash of the story line.  I did find something by Jonathan Yardley, the former reviewer for the New York Times:  "Most people ask, is this as good as The Kite Runner?  In a word, No.  It's better.  His prose is competent but lacks grace and distinction.  Unwieldy.  Not above using melodrama.  Pop fiction of the first rank but not Literature and should not be mistaken for such."  The idea:  a page-turner; unsubtle writing, lacking lyracism.  A- for the story, C- for the writing, so on average B-
Charlie:  I agree with Tom:  B-  Political message; terrible time with circumstances.  Not well written; characters are shallow.  Plot lies somewhere between a soap opera and melodrama.  But I feel more informed about Afghanistan after reading so B- rather than a C.
Mike:  An alternate title for this book could be:  The Young Reader's Guide to Afghanistan.  Throughout the first half of the book, I could not escape the feeling that Hosseini's primary motivation is to lecture us in all things Afghan.  That he had no real story to tell, just wanted us westerners to learn a few words of Farsi and Pashayi and school us in women's rights under Sharīʿah.  The character Rasheed was a bad joke - he would carry the story line along by talking to his women as equals, and telling them about the current administration, be it communist or Taliban.  Then he would turn around and attempt to beat them to death.  Ridiculous.  This was a sequel that provided no more than a recent political travelogue, not great writing, often poor and not even that interesting.  Perhaps he should have written it in Farsi, then he could have blamed the translator for the poor English writing. I can't help wonder what the manuscript read like before the publisher and editor worked on it.  If you want to learn about women in the Muslim world, why would you even consider this book when Infidel is available?  C
Dick:  I've read this one twice, and felt myself sucked in both times.  Very good book, good writing.  A three word summary:  "Men are pigs."  I liked both of Hosseini's books, and my wife and I seem to validate each other on this.  A
Jack:  It reminded me of a terrible car wreck, I couldn't help but look at it - I kept thinking, "things can't get worse" - and yet by Gawd they did!  Good story but not great literature.  B
Ed:  I had similar feelings to Jack.  Very interesting, excellent description of the treatment of women by men.  Interesting to read - if you believe that's the way things are, this represents a significant part of the Muslim population.  The impression of the Islamic world for women was well done - I felt their pain!  B
Keith:  I agree with Ed - despair permeated the story.  I was driven to verse:  Kabul:  Then and Now.   B+

and from the mullahs high up in the Hindu Kush: 
Silly me, I didn't read the whole lesson.  So, there I was tonight [31 July], parked in front of Keith's house.  His car was there, his dogs were there, barking inside the front screen door, but no Keith and nobody else showed up.  Finally, I called Susie and asked her to read me the whole lesson.  Anyhow, Keith, if your neighbors say something about a stranger hanging around your house, tell them he was harmless and clueless.
Sorry, I won't be in town next Thursday.  I liked this book a lot.  Felt it had a more credible, touching, grabbing story than Kite Runner.  Also, in the meantime, we've had Ayaan Hirshi Ali's true story of a woman in this extreme Islamic culture, so we sort of know what it's like.  We're not surprised, but it's still stomach-turning the way Laila's "husband" treated her.  I'll give the book an A-, just because it's not quite comparable to some of the books I'd give an A.
The book got me to wondering again, as I did after reading Ali's book, what was being done to provide safe havens for abused Afghan and other Muslim women.  I know Jay Leno's wife is involved, as is the author vis a vis refugees.  I came across The Shuhada Organization's website -- focused on healthcare for Afghan women and girls.  I found that there's pending legislation pertaining to an International Violence Against Women Act, but I have the feeling that may be more posturing than real help.  You'd think there's be more visible worldwide outrage, but I guess, as Ali wrote, there's both hesitation and fear about challenging somebody's culture.  So, female mutilation, forced marriages, wife-beating, honor killings, ... happen and are not punished in the midst of cultures that don't stand for such stuff. 
Seems to me like the solution has to include education for men -- sensitivity training for Taliban types.  But who would dare teach that?  It's got to come from the Muslim world, not outside, but outside support and protection is needed.
Trust the group will solve this problem next week.
See you in August, I think.
A Thousand Sorrowful Regrets
So sorry will not be able to attend gathering of mullahs thursday evening. Will be gathering with infidels at Santa Fe Opera that night...reservations made many moons ago.
My review for 1000 Spendid Suns:
I enjoyed this book more than Kite Runner. I thought both the writing and the story line were good. A year or so ago i saw a documentary on PBS made by 2 young Afgani women film makers. They traveled the country interviewing women and men in the villages formerly under Taliban control. The stories of terror under the taliban were worse than anything portrayed in the book. Also on a news program there were images of mansions in Kabul which were owned by war lords and corrupt officials being paid off by the govenment not to cause trouble, refecting one of the last scenes in the book where Laila almost gets hit by a warlord's SUV. A good historical (now) novel.
I give it a solid  A.
I will miss the meeting in August due previous travel plans...Maine and Ohio. Will send Bel Canto review later.

   Bel Canto  by Ann Patchett   August 2008

Two dreamy elitists were captured by seven agrarian terrorists and taken for interrogation in Pebble Beach in the South American country of Tanoan. The elitists appeared to be quite sensitive. The following emanations were heard from the interrogation closet:

Charlie: I really enjoyed reading it - some parts I especially enjoyed such as the Russian Fyador's story, and the interpreter. What bothered me was the improbability of so many things - she ignored the adverse situation - would be better to have a counterpoint. I understand this is fiction but it would be better if more realistic. B

Tom: I started reading it like a novel, then I let my sensitive side take over. Half way through I "got" it - the book has a lot more humor than we've talked about. I didn't care for the first half. I didn't like the ending. A-

Rob; I was captivated from the beginning. I avoided the blurbs - Chapter 1: I liked the description of music and Roxane. The middle was slow for me - yet every page was funny. Example: The French Ambassador got sent to this "Heart of Darkness" - and funny when in this midst of all this chaos, the VP says, "Well, I guess we're not getting a new factory." Some lines made me smile, some made me laugh out loud. The end was jarring - I got to where I wanted them to live happily ever after - It really hurt that Mr. Hosokawa was killed - I was under her spell, I didn't even think of the Peru kidnapping situation. A-

Mike: As you know, I have no soul. I didn't feel I learned anything from this book. It indicates to start Chapter 6 that "Years later, when this period of internment was remembered by the people who were actually there, they saw it in two distinct periods: before the box and after the box." I agree the world changed when the box of opera scores was brought in - the story went from silly to ridiculous. Grade went from B to C. Here we have 17 troops from off the farm in a South American Country, and would you believe it - 3 of them turn out to be geniuses! Wow! The genius of the proletariat! Marx would be so proud!

Joel: When I started to read the book, I thought "This will be gruesome." About half way through, I said, "Hey, I know this story" - the Peru hostage situation. The juxtaposition of people was interesting but not great literature. I thought it was well crafted. A-

Dick: I started out liking it, felt it was going to be good. Then I made a note: "There is no tension." Only note I made for quite a while. Got to the point where I was just reading it. I give it a B-. On the back, now I note it says: "a dream-like fable." It was not realistic.

Ken: I agree with everybody - a range of opinions. The love affair between Mr. Hosokawa and Roxane seemed ridiculous. Gen and Carmen did seem plausible: here was a girl he could relate to. Same opinions others have stated: far-fetched, didn't like the ending, yet the story took you in. B+

Keith: I liked the priest describing the diva  - like Soleri describing Mozart: "God put him here to ruin my career!" This book had a problem with the beginning and the end - they were too far apart.  I think her editor told her, "Now finish up in 2 pages!"  And she did her best! Gen was strumming Carmen, and then ended up playing second fiddle with the diva. B-

Ed: My wife recommended the book. I read it and I enjoyed it. I enjoy the description of the opera soprano as a truly talented person, other folks fell in love with her and respected her. I read it twice (almost), and a lot of things came clear on the second reading. Sometimes I fell asleep while listening to it. The focus was on the community and the environment she created, then letting the characters interact. I enjoyed it. A

Rob redux:  The book seemed like a dream, then in the last two pages the alarm goes off and you wake up. 

  To A God Unknown  by John Steinbeck   September 2008
The Last Thursday Lovers of the Land (if you know what I mean) gathered by the rock in the glade nestled in the pines of Cedar Crest ......there they found that at the end of the story, the priest had turned blood into water – meanwhile trees were girdled, thoughts were captured, blessings were bestowed as follows:

Keith: My perspective is that this was a young author trying to find his way (his earlier novel Cup of Gold did not pay back the $250 advance he had received). It was full of symbolism – vast deserts of pulp with an occasional oasis. If he had written only three novels, we wouldn’t be here discussing him. When Joseph’s brother Barton killed the tree, Joseph Wayne’s house of cards failed. B

Dick: I would echo Ron’s analysis of the uneven writing. I found I had to re-read paragraphs, go back and see what he had said. I felt like I was in a traffic jam, then eventually pulled out of it. I kept thinking of Pearl, there were elements of that story in here. I’d give it B-

Joel: I’d echo the earlier discussion comments – there were enough good parts in the novel to see that this Steinbeck is an up and comer. In general the novel is dismissed; I’d give it a B

Ron: I would recommend it as the good parts outweighed the bad. The first part [discussions of Joseph with father] deserved an A, I’d give it a B+ as literature in general. Perhaps we should look back at authors in their earlier days.

Jack: I enjoyed it, found it fascinating. Steinbeck developed these characters with human frailties, jump start his writing career, give it an A-

Mike:  This book continued to surprise me:  from the embracing of the earth with passion to the passion of Rama (one time only).  Joseph Wayne appeared slightly deranged.  I understand his tree was his father to him, but why be so defensive?  Why not just be proud of your tree?  I think Burton girlded the tree because he was angry at his father for not giving him the blessing.  And was the blessing that much?  Wasn't in words - so where was the hand placed?  B for Blessing.

Charlie: Not much to add. B- as of historical interest; characterizations were rather weak; humanism was not enough.

Rob: Similar comments to those previously expressed: why did I choose this book? Steinbeck was learning how to write about people struggling with drought – according to my guru Robert Yardley (formerly book critic of the New York Times): he re-read Steinbeck and on his second reading was not so blown away. I could feel the growing sense of tragedy - he had a stilted language, style. Steinbeck really feels connected with the earth and with Salinas County. I could see the young writer at work. I’d encourage him to keep writing: B

   Winter in the Blood  by James Welch   October 2008

Eight stalwart braves gathered on the Dellwood Reservation to celebrate Chief Joel’s recovery and the sacredness of clear liquids and rest.  The Chief had found that Winter in the Blood was used as a classroom text.  He had associates that practiced in the Chinook and Havre areas of Montana and where in the Southwest, tribes are attached to community because the Spanish conquerors brought in religion and order, the Plains Indians were left disorganized, without a center, and suffered from what is called “collective trauma.”  They lost their support systems, which the Spanish provided in the southwest.  The Plains Indians had a tendency to be poorly organized and frequently depressed.  One counterexample is “Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que.” 
The Chief had not heard of James Welch before this book and learned he was born in Belknap Reservation (which is 40 to 50 miles from the Canadian border).  Quote from page 24:  “…Long Knife had become shrewd in the way dumb men are shrewd.  He had learned to give the illusion of work, even to the point of sweating as soon as he put his gloves on, while doing very little.” 
The gathered tribe noted that the protagonist/narrator never was named, nor was ‘the airplane man.’  The elders spoke:
Ed:  I apologize – I read the book while traveling – my own Montana story is that I had two roommates and I had never been there – In the book, the descriptions were poetic but I didn’t get it.  B*
Tom:  I liked it quite a bit – not sure I got it right away.  I expected an interlude in the middle (when the narrator was going from bar to bar) was going somewhere – the author pulls you in to that feeling, that culture.  (Tom read from the 2008 intro in the newer version of the book that the author was annoyed that his novel was called “bleak.”]  This description gives food for thought.  I would have called it bleak.  A-
Rob:  I read it hurriedly as I did not expect to be at last week’s meeting.  I found it depressing – the familiar story of Life on the Reservation:  pinballing through life, vomit, drinking.  Then I went back today and re-read the ending.  I appreciated the conversations with Yellow Calf, the saving of the horse, and found the writing better.  I upgraded it to a B.  The author demonstrates skill in describing people’s life styles –
Dick:  I was really taken by it – writing people interesting.  I found it not bleak, coming as I do from a small coal mining town, I don’t look at life as bleak.  The narrator had hope.  Very good description of life.  A-
Mike: I liked the humor in the book; the middle of this book was fun, with our protagonist becoming somewhat of a follower of the (supposedly white) Airport Man (who had allegedly torn up his airplane tickets in front of this family) and his spy-vs-spy mentality.  Carrying the stuffed bear around and giving away the boxes of chocolate-covered cherries to the young ladies.  Good analogy for the white man in that he was caught up in the spy game until he started winning on the gambling/punch card.  Good voice for main character, carried it through well.  Yes, he ended up coming back home, however I did not think it was that depressing - and didn't he save the cow?  B+?  A-
Keith:  Negative point:  rambling and discursive.  Like ten economists in the room, one could get ten different views.  I felt the protagonist to be robotic, devoid of any feeling:
    Welch’s “Winter” ‘tis a well-written note
    Earthy, vivid views of life get my vote
        Yet, I give it a B
        ‘Cause nowhere did I see
    The Protagonist even slightly emote.
Ron:   “There Once was a Brave from Montana…”  ...  OK, that could be a later challenge to complete ... 
I vacillated between A and B and perhaps I will decide as I summarize.  Culturally it was outside of our (middle class) culture.  But there is a truthfulness – the author/narrator had a good voice.  I think I would like it more if I read it again.  I think he wandered around, but that didn’t bother me.  I started as a B, worked up to a B+.  Lame Bull was doing OK.
Joel:  As I’ve said, I was a little bummed as I first read it.  The view of the narrator, and many touches were great – like the chocolate covered cherries as the prize at the little store – those are always near-petrified.  I liked the background stories like First Raise always planned to hunt elk in Yellowstone but never made it.  I’m motivated to read more of his stuff, and other from the genre (Ceremony by Silko; Scott Momaday was first, Welch was second in this area.  B+

The group noted that two of our read authors had died in the past week:  Tony Hillerman  (age 83 from pulmonary) and Michael Crichton (age 66, from cancer, was 6’9” tall). 

... and from those traveling outside the reservation ...

Sorry but I can't make the LTBC meeting on Thursday.  My wife Diane and I are flying to Los Angeles before the meeting to help her aging parents move out of their home of 54 years and into a retirement community.


Comments on book  - Beautifully written but disturbing picture of an Indian trying to come to terms with his heritage and his own life.  Best book by an Indian author that I have ever read (although it may be my first book by an Indian author).  Found it somewhat confusing when the main character (did he have a name that I somehow missed?) concluded at the end that Yellow Calf was his grandfather since he referred to Yellow Calf as “grandfather” on p. 67 in my edition. Perhaps “grandfather” is used as a respectful term for addressing or describing an old man.  Definitely worth reading.  A-
    -  Ken

Dear Joel,
Glad to hear that just liquids and rest will put you back on your feet.  Sorry I won't be able to attend the meeting next week, but my comments follow:
I believe Winter in the Blood was a great story, in which a young man alienated from everyone around him, including himself, finally comes to terms with his heritage and his circumstance in the end.  I saw parallels with Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.  I found Welch's use of language and his ability to pull me into his story topnotch. 
Look forward to seeing everyone next month.

  The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michel Chabon   November 2008

Six wannabe yids gathered in the newly refurbished Park Ave Synagogue to discuss chess puzzles, noir films and Philip Marlowe vs Sam Spade. Unorthodox comments were documented as follows:

Joel: I thought it was a pretty weird book. I had trouble with the suspension of disbelief. I learned more ethnic detail than I needed – everyone calling each other "Yid" was distracting – I think of yid as a derogatory term. All those metaphors – I felt we were in "The Kingdom of Metaphors."  Not that funny but an interesting read: B

Ken: Tom mentioned [during discussion] that he got into it right away – I thought the first 100 pages had way too many characters, too many Yiddish words. After awhile, the creative humorous writing, fumbling main character got me.  By the end I really enjoyed it: A-

Tom: I liked it a lot – brought together several of my favorite things – I loved the Film Noir feeling aspect; I liked all the immersion in the Jewish culture. I grasped the idea of the main character, I think I know how he feels. [I can't’extract my Catholic background; still a part of me). Then he took it over the top with the Nabokov extraction from Speak, Memory. Nabokov competed this chess puzzle in a Paris hotel in 1940 the night before he departed for the United States. A