The Last Thursday Book Club

Summaries and Review Comments by the Members

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Summaries & Reviews from 2013-2014 Selections

    Cry the Beloved Country  by  Alan Paton      January 2013

Nine bedraggled Zulu warriors came down from the mountain and straggled down theSoweto - kids road to Hawthorn. One among them had traveled south from Kenya in days gone by, and knew of the prejudice in favor of natives from Madagasgar and had visited Soweto.  The once proud warriors partook of guacamole and Dutch apple cobbler, and spoke of many things: 

Ron B.:  I did enjoy reading it – an excellent book, I liked the writing style.  The story provided a window for me into South Africa – a moving story.  A

Charlie:  A good read – my objection is to political overtones.  This was OK – I give it an A

Jack F.:  A strong, emotional story, read like poetry in many places.  I liked the character Stephen Kumalo, who was emphasized in the film.  I would recommend this book:  A

Bob W.:  I approached this book with a negative attitude, but as I got into it, I enjoyed it.  The rough-hewn dialogue was well done.  I give it an A-

Keith:  Simple, a work of genius, read like poetry.  This is one of the top ten books that the Club has read.  The author knew what he talked about – a solid A.

TomB+  For me, I don’t like political tracks, and the book got a little preachy at times.  The writing style was effective, I had no problem reading it.  Pointing out the political system in South Africa was the point of writing the book.

Ken:  I thought it was great writing, great story:  haunting, poetic, entertaining, a solid A.

Mike:  Paton put the fun back in umfundisi.  I will remember it for some time – and like Bob, I liked what he called ‘the rough-hewn dialog.’  However – did Kumalo have to be that old, with such a young son?  And did the son of a preacher-man have to kill the most pro-black white man in all of Johannesburg?  And then this death converts the white father to become the great benefactor of the black village?  All a little contrived!  But the scene near the end, of Kumalo going to the mountain, and sitting vigil, awaiting the rising of the sun and the death of the son – au, that was special.  B+

Dick J.:  A beautiful story, very well written.  I have read it three times now, and it gets better each time.  A

and from well outside of Johannesburg:

Mike, I have recently discovered that our book club meeting on the 31st falls on the day that I am scheduled to make my annual pilgimage to Taos for the Winter Wine Festival. 


I have read Cry the Beloved Country and wish to note that I enjoyed it immensely.  I think it is the best book I have read in my Rookie year with the Club and I give it an A+.


My favorite quote in the book appears on page 104-105 when Rev. Kumalo is first read the newspaper article of the shooting death of Arthur Jarvis, the only son of his neighbor, James Jarvis of High Place Farm, Carlsbrooke, Natal:


"There is not much talking now. A silence falls upon them all. This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country. Sadness and fear and hate, how they well up in the heart and mind, whenever one opens the pages of these messengers of doom.  Cry the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone.  Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved.  Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end.  The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy.  He knows only the fear of his heart."


Paton skillfully creates links from the immediate factual circumstances, to the tribal identity, to the identity with country, to the universal and cosmic and then back to the immediate for each of the main characters in the book, not once but twice; all in one paragraph.


I am reminded this week about how effectively this technique can be used by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that when we lift up one of us who is downtrodden we are all benefited; and the second inaugural speech by President Obama in which he reminds us that programs he wants strengthened by legislation are a means to meet the bold promise contained in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence because they support the promise that our government's job is to advance the stated goals of "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." and that it is government's role to promote "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".


Combining the the immediate with the universal.  It makes for great speeches and great books. 




Bob  S

Regretfully, I am having trouble with vision after the surgery today.  I cannot see how I can go tonight.  That particularly disappoints me because I feel the book was one of the best I have read.  I wanted to hear the discussion. I would give it an unconditional a+ for both style and content. Sorry for such late notice.

Dick Arms

A heart-breaking story, with glimmers of hope for a better life, far in the future, told with beautiful, simple prose.  The umfundisi, Stephen Kumalo, is a character I will long remember.  Not a perfect man, but a man shaped by his love of and loyalty to God, family, and country.  I was captivated by his story throughout the book.  Makes me want to go to South Africa and see the hills and valleys.  Grade: A.  Very glad I read the book.  One of the best we've read.  Sorry I wasn't here for the Club's discussion.


Rob E.


   Barney's Version  by  Mordecai Richler      February 2013

Ten impenitent rotters of obloquy slouched toward Caribou to confess and compare our most shameful moments, of which there are many to haunt us in our dotage.  Dr. Johnson knew the fear of death is natural to man.  "So much so, Sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of it."   Barney did his best to keep away thoughts of it.  And perhaps the beast is slouching toward Bethlehem at this very hour.  The rotters spoke:  

Mike:  When I started reading this book, I felt, “What is going on here?  This is pushing Canada too much. Who cares about Canada?”  The more I read, the more I got into it, and the more I enjoyed the book.  The author did a Lolita-like job of creating an un-reliable narrator, with clever credibility touches such as the correcting footnotes by son Michael and never giving the true name of The Second Mrs. Panofsky.  I loved Barney’s letters, and I loved this book!  A

Keith:  This memoir was like the author going out in the garden and taking a giant dump.  He rambles on disjointedly.  Barney’s outlook was jaded and black.  If Babe Ruth had been a Canadian, they would have talked only about his striking out 1400 times.  I did read the whole thing.  Is this the kind of guy that you would ask to join our Book Club?  Is this the kind of guy you would have asked to come into your home and have a beer?  Would you recommend this book to others to read?   Just asking … My grade:  2  (irrational).

Bob S:  I haven’t given much thought to whether I liked it or not – I give it a B.  At my age, I’ve had afflictions, and this hit close to home.  I did warm to it – yeah, in Paris, crazy things happened; Barney was a misanthropic person.  He was hard core, somewhat incoherent.  Honesty to him, truthful; I give a B as it didn’t hang together.  The author slapped it together from an organizational viewpoint.  No plot, no way to tell if Barney was truthful or not until you got to the punch line at the end of the book.  I was somewhat lost at times, which was unpleasant for me.  I liked the insights into Canada.  B

Jack F:  I also had trouble at the beginning. I believe Mordecai Richler is an excellent writer of dialog; however, I found the novel (in spite of a large number of very funny lines) very sad as it traced the aging of an insensitive man.  Barney comes across as a pathetic self-centered character, who did a good job portraying Richler's pessimistic view that life is absurd and with whom I have difficulty empathizing.  B+

Rob E:  I was late in starting as I was finishing last month’s book.  The contrast with Cry the Beloved Country is stark.  I felt I was in a Jewish comedy by Mel Brooks, or perhaps a Don Rickles routine throwing out insults. After hearing tonight’s discussion, I will finish the book (no grade).

Ron B:  I have read 160 pages; this character I found to be such a boor.  If he was sitting next to me on a plane, I would move.  He was cynical, the plot was disjointed.  I didn’t find it compelling – the whole did not add up to the sum of the parts.  Lots of obscenity (not necessary).  I’ll give it a B.

Charlie:  I guess it’s a matter of personal taste.  I felt like I was reading a Michael Chabon book.  The structure was like a swarm of insects in the summer:  all moving around, but at the end, it comes together.  Crazy:  I give it an A

Dick Arms:  I have read about one-third; it was disjointed, which bothered me.  It’s funny, but completely cynical.  I didn’t see any body of redeeming social value.  I couldn’t give it more than a B.

Tom:  I liked everything about the book.  I read it over a 3-day period so it was not disjointed to me.  I live up with his beliefs.  I challenge anybody to claim Life is not absurd, and that one can really know anyone.  And I love the unreliable narrator.  I came away thinking Humbert loved Lolita, and Barney loved only one thing:  Miriam.  To answer Keith’s questions:  Yes, yes, and yes.  Yes, I’d love to have Barney in our Book Club – he would add a level of biting humor to our discussion.  A

Bob W:  I would give it an A.  I really enjoyed it.  By the time you finish it, you feel this is a real person.  Very little slapstick, very profound humor.

... and from outside of Montreal:

I am off to LA tomorrow for my granddaughter's birthday so I will not be at the gathering this Thursday.  I have read the book and have attached a brief review.


    I had mixed feelings about Barney's Version.  Parts of it were very funny--especially the letters that he wrote to people but I also found myself very tired and frustrated with Barney.  He was his own worst enemy with his sarcasm and his drinking.  At some point I found myself wishing that he would just crawl off somewhere and die or else quit feeling sorry for himself--as my dad used to say, "You made your bed--lie in it."  I wish Barney had.  I also had a hard time understanding how anyone could really like him--especially his third wife.

    I did not see the Alzheimer's coming--I just thought he was forgetful like the rest of us--but even with Alzherimer's I did not feel much sympathy for him.

    I think the book was quite well written but it was much too long--My inner Keith was wishing for a shorter version.

    I would like to have heard what you movie buffs thought of the movie based on the book.

    Grade: B-

Dick Jensen


    Train Dreams  by  Denis Johnson      March 2013

Nine old men gathered Thursday evening under a dark Placitas sky beyond Meadow Creek at the outskirts of Las Huertas Canyon, at Ferrell’s Cabin in the Moyea Valley.  There they rendered wise and considered judgment on gay marriage, bestiality, pageants of pulchritude, and Miss Galveston of 1932.  Much of what they once knew has been lost to the passage of time, but they agreed on the following with respect to the train dreams of the former century:

Ron B:  I enjoyed reading it, and the fact that I could finish it by the meeting was a plus.  I was enchanted by the stories, and found myself wishing it would go on longer.  I give it an A.  The style was readable, a good read.

Keith:  I thought the Chinaman episode set the stage, established the environment for the rest of the book.  I had trouble with the staccato style.  The book was like a Picasso painting:  you could enjoy the splash of color but you didn’t know that it was about.  B

Bob S:  It’s been a few days since I read it, but what I remember was that it was a page turner, well written.  A-

Tom G:  I liked it, well written, good prose, created a mood.  Like “The Man in the Holocene.:  A-    I marked it down because it was too short.

Ken:  I enjoyed the book; I think it was the shortest book read by the Club.  Very few words were wasted.  I thought the descriptions were tremendous.  I was hoping for more detail on the life of the protagonist.  A-  The book skipped all over his life.

Dick J:  After I read “Tree of Smoke,” I vowed to myself never to read another Denis Johnson novel.  Thus when you announced this selection, I said, “Oh, shit.”  However, the book changed my mind, I really enjoyed it.  A-

Mike:  I don’t know of any other book I’ve read that jump-starts you like Train Dreams – before you have been introduced to the countryside, the characters, you find yourself dragging a Chinaman up a hill to throw him off the train bridge you’ve just built. 

What this book made me think about most is how many lives of desperation like this have existed, do exist, and we know nothing of them.  They struggle through childhood and adolescence, they work, they burn themselves out, they have a few triumphs and many desperate times, and they are extinguished.  Wow.  Most of Life is undiscovered, hidden in the woods.

Also made me think of how many 300 – 400 page books that are written could be better accomplished in 200 pages.  I’m not sure what I would say could be, should be added to this story … many strong characters are in there, from the poignant, dying child molester with his ligaments cut behind his knees, to Granier himself, with his wife and daughter wiped out before he really got to know either of them.  A

Dick Arms:  I had no problem with the fact that it was short; the author covered a series of vignettes.  I liked the briefness.  Something to be said for going for fewer words.  Here the words flowed so well, it carried me along.  If it had been 400 pages, I don’t know if it would have worked.  The book I have chosen, “Youth” is quite short.  I think this book was well written, distinct characters.  Only the ending wasn’t conclusive, but taken as the entire book, a solid A.

Jack F:  I enjoyed Johnson’s Train Dreams.  I like reading stories about small towns and the characters who people them.  Robert Grainier, like Johnson’s prose, was straightforward and honest and I admired that.  I thought Johnson depicted Grainier’s determination, sadness, and yearning in a powerful and emotional way.  I would recommend the book to my friends and I plan to read Tree of SmokeA

and from off the tracks:
  A few years ago we spent about a week in the Idaho panhandle, so I could picture the setting of Train Dreams in my mind's eye.  This book pays homage to that country and to the people who partially tamed it, who built train tracks, bridges, even highways.  To some, pristine nature is the ideal.  I'm often more moved by seeing how man has interacted with nature.  Consider the miners who lived and worked in the high Rockies.  Consider the new bridge over the Colorado River at Boulder Dam; Boulder Dam itself.  Trivial example: Looking from my house up the east face of the Sandias.  A few scattered homes make that view more interesting, to me, than the untouched mountainside would be.   But, I digress.   I'm glad the United States was expanded and made more livable by laborers like Robert Granier.  Not a perfect man, by any means - e.g., the opening scenes of helping to try to kill the Chinaman (I thought and hoped that resourceful fellow might show up later in the book) - but one who was generally honorable and steadfast and loving.  I enjoyed the book and the emotions and scenes it evoked. 
A.  Also, thanks, Jack, for reducing our average pages per month average for 2013.
   -  Rob


   Cannery Row  by  John Steinbeck      April 2013

Last Thursday evening, a curious thing happened on Cannery Row.  It occurred at the time between sunset and the lighting of the street light on Loma Linda Place SE.  There is a small quiet gray period then.  Down Montclaire, past the Palace Flophouse, down the chicken walk and through the vacant lot came a collection of eight bums, hoboes, readers. A little group of men who have in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment.  Some of them wore ancient flat straw hats, blue jeans, both coat and trousers, and heavy shoes from which their soul flaps the ground, far from heaven.  Their faces, you will note, were lean and brown and corded as jerky and their old eyes were deep set so that they looked out of holes.  They came just at dusk and crossed the street and went through the opening at Doc's.  The following voices were heard until dawn:

Dick Arms:  I thought the book was delightful.  I had read it before.  Steinbeck found something good in everybody, and I think he is a great writer.  I love these vignettes.  He would see people in a different light.  Fun and interesting.  A

Tom G:  I liked it too.  “Delightful” is the operative word – I was more struck by the tragedies he purposely interspersed.  He definitely meant those observations.  A-

Mike:  I did not expect every paragraph, almost every sentence, to be humorous.  Fairly strong on the ‘humor of exaggeration’ but humorous none-the-less.  I even liked the gopher, who built a great burrow and still couldn’t get a mate.  Not sure if that was but pure symbolism, but I liked the little guy – one more loser living in the vacant lot.  Loved the idea of having the big party to honor Doc, at Doc’s place of course, and no Doc, but the party blazed on.  And then, to follow that party with another, ‘surprise’ party on 27 October.  And Doc cooperating!  …knowing it needed food, and it would be a disaster, but he could protect some of his records, some of his glass items.  Great!  Much fun, very clever manipulation.  A

CharlieA-  Charming story, adds up to sadness.  Very well done.

Ken:  I thought it was great writing, great character development.  Often depressing, often humorous, but never boring.  Makes me want to read more Steinbeck.  Solid A.

KeithseeCannery Rowtranslated from the Sanskrit.

Bob S:  This was my first Steinbeck, and I had mixed feelings.  I was somewhat put off by all the derelicts.  It was like total reportage.  I didn’t think that Steinbeck would be that way.  I enjoyed it.  I was put off by parts, people who never want to work or be productive.  A-

Rob B:  I enjoyed it because of the different characters; he painted a view of the environment through the eyes of these characters.  I thought it was nostalgic (not like Ironweed, which was so much darker, but with similar down-and-outs).  He knew how to work the dark and the light (even the really dark like slitting the child’s throat).  I give it an A

Cannery Row

Lee Chong, the Chinaman,
   owns Cannery’s store,

Gives firm lines of credit …
   but not much more.

And Bio Lab “Doc” ministers puppies
    and waifish gals,

The latter he oft “sacks”
    in his bedroom “corral”.

Mack’s wayward cohorts …
    drifters/derelicts all.

Drunk, rummy bums,
    Tramps and loafers I’ll call.

These same scalawags
    Cast innocent Love on “Darling,” the pup

Who eats their “sole” shoes and
    Pees puddles to mop up!

Then Mack’s mendicants show
    Doc Love” by planning a gig.

Alas their plan explodes and
    Doc’s homecomings BOOM – BIG!

Next, there’s Big Mama Dora
    Who combines flaming orange tresses

With a bodacious taste for
    Nile-green dresses.

Yes, Big Dora heads Cannery’s ’hos
    Or you might prefer “tarts,”

They service Cannery’s men,
    but what sets these girls apart

They showed “Cannery Care” when
    The burg’s hit by flu,

Bringing hot soup to the ill, when
    Their ‘work shift’ is through!

Misfortune & despair be
    Cannery’s common link,

Which of course, are fueled
    By copious drink.

So, our bottom dwellers
    of Cannery Row

Live in a land “tidal pool’ –
    yet this I know:

Just as our sea tide
    Raises all boats to the sky,

Steinbeck’s sweet verses
    Lift Cannery high.

Yes, John’s poetry ‘bout
    Peons, paupers, & bums

Raised me to great heights,
    Thus an “A” comes!

... and from East of Monterrey, just outside the tidal pool:
   I will not be at the monthly meeting on Thursday.  We are going to St. Louis to a celebration of some friends' 40th wedding anniversary.


   Reading Cannery Row brought back many memories.  It was like a reunion with an old friend.  I had read the book several decades ago.  I enjoyed it then and I enjoyed it just as much this time.  The story is delightful and the characters are an intriguing collection of misfits and rogues.  The book is extremely well written.  It was simply a pleasure to read.  Grade: A-

   One of the episodes that I particularly remember was when Doc ordered ice cream in his beer--a beer shake.  A couple of years ago I went out with a group of guys to a restaurant in Portland.  After dinner several of them ordered a glass of local beer with ice cream in it.  I told them about Doc's reaction to the beer/ice cream combination.  They assured me that it was excellent and offered a drink--I declined.

   I am sorry that I will miss the discussion.


I eagerly look forward to reading next month's very brief volume.



I'm sorry I won't be able to attend the LTBC meeting on the 25th.  That evening we'll be on a barge on the Canal de Bourgogne sipping a glass of wine somewhere near Venarey-les-Laumes, where Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls in  52 BC -- but I digress.  I am a big fan of John Steinbeck and would have enjoyed participating in the discussion.  My remarks follow:
I thoroughly enjoyed Steinbeck's Cannery Row for the same reasons I was drawn to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, in which place is so important and in which the authors capture the feel of that place--in these cases small communities, where most people accept life as it is and find goodness in it. 
I was drawn to Steinbeck over 50 years ago when I read The Red Pony as a teenager and came to appreciate a style of writing in which words and actions could portray a person's motivation as much as descriptions of a person's inner feelings.  And it is that same style we find in Steinbeck's portrayal of Mack and Doc in Cannery Row which I find so powerful.  A
Now I can get a head start on The Poisonwood Bible.
Warm regards,

Mike and bums, hobos, and readers -- Sorry I can't be at the meeting this week.  Hav a committee meeting in DC this Thurs and Fri that has to do with testing combat helmets -- the committee is evaluating current DoD protocols - test methods, how many helmets to test, analysis of test results, procurement-decision rules, yada, yada, yada,... .

When we spent a quarter in Monterey five years ago, I tried to soak up some Steinbeckery.  Here's a Tuzigoot link

And here's a Cannery Row mural, Steinbeck on the left: 

I'll send in a review soon.  Have a good meeting.


I missed the discussion of Cannery Row which really annoyed me since I had read the

monthly selection in great detail.  It was a learning experience for me none the less..

I learned not to trust a GPS or at least to back it up with a cell phone.


Was that beautiful body that Doc saw really an hallucination?


Bob Woods

My belated review. 

 -- Sorry to be late and sorry to have missed the discussion. 

At first, it seemed to me that this was something of a knock-off, an exaggerated tale about the people he mingled with in Monterey, biding his time until he got into some serious writing.  I thought the story of the frogs was funny, but too slapsticky.  But, the more I read the more I appreciated Steinbeck's creativity, insights, and skill.  The animal insights were fascinating.  My favorite:

"A lady cat strolled lonesomely along the gutter looking for adventure.  She wondered what had happened to all the tom cats who had made life interesting and the nights horrendous."

And things just kept getting better.  Doc's party, the real one, was great.  The love poem, the sad tale of the gopher who built a wonderful burrow, but couldn't find a mate, Doc's reverie after the party.  Even now, it moves me.




    The Poisonwood Bible  by  Barbara Kingsolver      May 2013

Before first darkness on the fifth Thursday of the fifth month, ten non-Muslim, non-Baptist tribal missionaries came together at the edge of the village, not down by the river, where Our Father would have gathered us, but away from there, on the side toward the hill, where our salvation lay.  We made our march into the White Oaks region outside of Kimshala.  We feasted on chin-chin, the crisp nguka caterpillars, which resembled small twigs, washing it down with Palm beer.  Easier to find were the dikonko, edible locusts and crickets, whose plump abdomens were shrunk translucent like balloons half-filled with water.  We slaked our desire for sweets on 72% cacao butter fudge.  We needed no dessert after all that, yet we gladly accepted it to honor the starving Congolese.  It was memorial, and our words captured our feelings:

Bob Simon:  I’ve only awarded one A+ grade (Cry the Beloved Country).  I thought this was a great book – I liked her take on missionary milieu.  I give it an A.  I enjoyed reading the book.  I commend Ken for giving us an interesting behemoth.  At the end, I was sad it was ending.   The first half was more difficult to read and enjoy, with the tension around Nathan.

Dick Arms:  From the standpoint of craftsmanship, with the viewpoints of the three girls and the mother looking back – terrific.  To me, the first half of the book was more interesting. I felt the book went on too long: a story of crisis and redemption.  A great writer, beautifully done – but too political.  B+

Rob E:  I picked up Arthur Schlesinger’s “Journals” – a Kennedy advisor in Dec 1962, and found them discussing the Congo, with comments like, “The battle for identity can only be decided by the country itself.  The British say, every country needs its War of the Roses.  A hands-off policy is best.  Communism is not going to get anywhere; we’re not going to get anywhere.”  This problem shows itself in many places – Western civilization butts up against the native populations.  Perhaps the best solution is to build a fence around Africa?  As to the book, I liked the first part, with the girls telling their own stories.  I felt the author had a cartoonish picture of Nathan.  I felt after they left the village, they became four whining women - there was too much Pop Psychology (Nathan was Pop).  I give it a B for creativity.

Jack:  I thought it was a spell-binding story – hard to put down, despite its weight.  It helped me to understand the tragedy of the (Congo) (colonial) (African) situation.  I did find her prose lyrical, and I give it an A.

Dick J:  I approached this book with trepidation – a running joke within the Club?  For months we had been warned, “If you’re bad, you will have to read The Poisonwood Bible.”  Then my wife says, “Oh, that’s a good book – her later works were crap.”  I was fascinated with the first half, which I found more interesting than the second.  I felt the Father was despicable and got what he deserved.  It did not bother me on her politics.  A-

Mike:  I will try to justify why I am not giving this book a C, as I cannot recommend it to others.  I felt the story was plot contrivance built upon plot contrivance.  One example was Nathan dying by The Verse (Second Maccabees 13:4):  “So this will be the end.”  The natives burned the tower down with Nathan atop it?  Wow, it fit the verse!  … or, wait, perhaps the author worked in the verse?  I thought Dick Arms had the best insight presented tonight:  The Congo was the allegorical Garden of Eden, and the snake dropping on Ruth May drove man (in this case, four women) out of Eden.  Excellent!  So Kingsolver saves herself – from a C – because of her creativity and humor.  I give it a B-

Tom:  I won’t try to justify not giving it a C.  I think that Dick Arms is a man of graphs, his interpretation was a steep up-slope, followed by a rapid drop-off.  My slopes would be stronger.  I don’t like being preached to.  If we were to take an exam on where Barbara Kingsolver stood on every social issue, I think we would all get 100% correct.  I might agree with her politics, but it does not belong in literature.  I was very interested in Leah and her devotion to her father.  I thought Rachel was a cartoon character, and that the minister was a very shallow character.  I don’t think anyone is that one-note.  Anatole was too handsome, too wise.  I did like the different voices, it reminded me of Faulkner in “As I Lay Dying.”  After Ruth May died, so did the story.  I give it a B for the first half, a D for the second, = C.

Bob Woods:  I would give it an A-   I thought her control of language was beautiful.  The entire book was a Rorschach test – you could see in it what you would.  About an A-

Ron B:  I liked it – I liked the technique of different voices.  It falls in the category of an historic novel.  Maybe we can’t see it now, but 100 years from now, it shows a family caught up in the events of time.  I thought it was well written – I was willing to suspend my belief to enjoy the novel.  A Solid A.

Ken:  I thought the writing was superb.  The characters were well-developed, interesting.  I enjoyed the combination of history, people, the flora and fauna of Africa.  It was a coming of age of three daughters.  It could have been shorter.  Solid A.

and from the other side of the Congo River:
Hola BP's..will miss 30th...Fly-fishing Big Horn,MT...Sundry comments- 1-Better title..."Sinister Minister"..2-Tour de Force read..first 1/3-glacial, 2nd 1/3 meaty,..last 1/3-BK veiled political views/history...3-Concision yields ~300 pager...4-Price's wife +4 grow to detest him..and in end I hated 'em all...5-This monstrous minister is despicably diabolical..NO redeeming values..a noir novel that creeped the bejesus from my soul...C+....keith

I won't be going to book club on Thursday.  Susan's 91 year old aunt in Salt Lake City died, and we have to drive up  for the funeral.  Leaving Wed afternoon, will be back on Sun afternoon.
Thought the book was really good.


     Lucky Jim  by  Kingsley Amis      June 2013


The book was chosen by Jonathan Yardley (Book Critic of NY Times) on his list of “Books I enjoyed reading again.”  Kingleys Amis was born in 1922 in London and was educated in Oxford.  Bob Woods says you would also like his book, “One Fat Englishman,” and he also recommends Amis’ protégé David Lodge for other humors books on British Academia.  The academicians spoke:

Dick J:  I came to one conclusion:  I don’t find British humour funny.  This was not Lucky Jim but Bumbling Jim.  The book was well written, however:  B+

Mike: Given that some parts of this book felt stretched, wordy, yet there were nuggets in Lucky Jim that made the experience both enjoyable and memorable.  And as silly as it was, I really perked up at the Joe Higgins note going to Johns, where "Im not threatennning yu, but..."  I haven't read a book before where I felt that the narrator was so aligned with the tenor of the protagonist, but here they were both equally cynically and enraged at the world. When Christine started calling him "Jim" rather than "James" I felt his world was brightening.  The first kiss scene with Christine won me over.  A-

CharlieB.  Light humor, too British, too much like a Grant Hugh movie – not unpleasant to go through, but one has nothing to show for it afterwards.

Ken:  I really enjoyed the humor.  Artistic prigs with frustrations.  Jim had many of the experiences of my early career.  I particularly enjoyed the fire scene, and trying to recover from it.  A-

Bob Woods:  I give it an A-   Did not get me emotionally involved.  Presented a good picture of academic life.  Harmless.

Bob Simon:  I was most interested in the psychological analysis of Jim’s thoughts.  I felt they were expressed most eloquently.  Not as humorous as JeevesA

Tom:   I loved the use of language and the humor.  True, it was not as funny as Jeeves, but this was not meant to be a farce.  The romantic interludes were overdone and not as humorous.  Maybe the academics spoke that way.  A-

Jack:  I would echo Dick and Charlie:  entertaining, I enjoyed his style.  Comic novels are not German enough.  I give it a B+

and from well outside academia:
Hola [Mike/Ron...Will miss "Lucky Jim" soiree [fighting CO fires]...first 60 pages banal, remainder sardonically simpatico..although dialogues with Margo/Christine a mite garrulous...would be a snappy 75 page novella...grade "B"


      July's People  by  Nadine Gordimer      July 2013

The nine tribesmen gathered in the hut learned that Nadine is 89 now, still alive, still an activist.  She was born in 1923 near Johannesburg and moved to the city at age 25 and been there ever since.  Her father was Jewish, her mother political.  She went to a Catholic Convent for school, never graduated, as she was first published at 16.  Her writing, her political activism is her life.  The readers had their own opinions:

<>Keith:  The book was an affirmation of greed and fear rule the world.  Black over White.  I’m amazed she won the Nobel Prize – it shows the degradation of the award, such as Jimmy Carter.  I found the book to state:  “Fear and greed rules, Screw you!”  C+

Tom:  I thought the author (as a political person) showed admirable restrain in not bombarding the reader with her politics.  It was a book of relationships:   the wife and husband, the wife and July, July and his people.  The backdrop was apartheid.  When I finished, for that restraint, I give it an A.  Different, if one invests time in it, it was worthwhile.

Dick J:  Somewhere I read about the liberal family – but I did not see liberal politics in the book.  I read it straight through, and I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it more than The Poisonwood Bible.  I have been fighting myself all day as to the grade – A- better than OK.

Ron Bousek:  I liked it – there was a mood created.  The writing was often too obtuse, it would have been better it it were less Faulkner.  The literary quality verges on something good.  B+

Dick Arms:  I didn’t like the style of writing.  I don’t dislike the writing, but it was OK, not great.  I guess B-  I wouldn’t tell friends to read it.

Bob Simon:  I am on Keith’s end of the spectrum.  I had trouble with the ending – why would one rush out into the open – the helicopter could be Russians.  Those issues were not resolved in the book.  I didn’t see enough of what Life was before.  B

Jack:  I was intrigued by the story, and upset by the ending.  The structure was too odd (dashes were sometimes quote marks, sometimes simply dashes).  One had to look for the antecedent to pronouns.  B

Mike:  I kept being distracted by feeling like this was an attack on capitalism:  The white system has been overthrown, and the natural course of events is to devolve to a socialist system, or a tribal system.  I was impressed that the word “apartheid” did not appear in the book – the reader could read what was happening without labels.  B+

Charlie:  I had read Nadine’s bio before, about her personality and character.  With July and Maureen, she did a good job with character development.  Obscure writing I do not like.  A-

and futher opinions from those outside of Jewburg


  Uncle Tom's Cabin  by  Harriet Beecher Stowe      August 2013

We've spent a busy summer mostly on the road.  Sorry to have missed the last two meetings.  My alibis are recorded at

I picked Uncle Tom's Cabin more than a year ago, not realizing how much of our subsequent reading list would be dealing with racial issues (continuing the theme, my choice for next year is about Africa).  I hope that the perspective from a century and half ago will provide helpful context and look forward to our discussion.   Comments follow.

Jack:  Although I am not a big fan of sentimental novels,  I found Uncle Tom's Cabin a powerful critique of 19th century American society which could still capture my imagination today.  It's hard to believe I had never read it before.  Harriet Beecher Stowe kept my attention throughout.  I would recommend it to every student of American history.   A

Keith:   UT black Jesus..lived ~ perfect life, then was crucified ,died and buried...seldom has a book so altered the course of a nation...perhaps " Silent Spring" is a [non-fiction] candidate..UTC...a prodigious propagator of progress..!..keith

Ken:  I found the book a fascinating read from an historical perspective.  However I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by the writing and the many melodramatic and unlikely events.  Some examples- “Escapees Eliza and her husband George Harris miraculously meeting up in Ohio.  Just before officially freeing Tom, St. Claire is killed.  After being sold to Simon Legree, Tom is beaten nearly to death for disobeying orders.  Meanwhile George Shelby arrives to buy Tom’s freedom but he is a bit late.  After escaping LeGree and taking a boat toward freedom, Cassy and Emmeline meet George Harris’s sister and travel with her to Canada, where Cassy realizes that Eliza is her long-lost daughter.  Overall worth the effort with a grade of B+

Rob:  When I first started reading this book, free on Kindle, over a year ago, my interest was captured by Stowe's literary ability - the way she described people and scenes.  Just after being well-introduced to Ophelia, I decided to put off completing the book and make it my next LTBC choice.  Reading the whole book last month did not change my opinion.  A minor piece of the narrative, but indicative of Stowe's literary skills and ability to paint a complete picture, was her description of a rocking chair in the Quaker's house.  It had more personality than some authors give to their lead characters.

Stowe was writing for a cause, but it didn't come across to me as a screed.  She provided some balance through the discussions that St. Clare and Ophelia had on the slavery issue.  Ophelia nailed the politicians  and the accommodationist Christian church leaders and members.  St. Clare nailed the hypocrisy of Northerners (essentially for the "soft bigotry of low expectations," which still exists and is harmful).  Primarily, I think Stowe's objective was to show "Negroes" as real humans with the same emotions and feelings and family ties as whites and the evil of slavery to treat them as sub-human and deny those human rights -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  To this end, she provided very detailed and enlightening pictures of all the characters in the book. I was moved by the book and think that it should be regarded as a classic, influential American novel.  It's unfortunate that "Uncle Tom" has become a pejorative term, meaning someone who is a sell-out of his race, because Tom was heroic in his character and steadfastness.  He didn't bow and scrape.  My grade: A

... and from outside the plantation:

Dear all, I have read one-half of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and find it fascinating.  I see why so many people include  it in their list of great American novels.  If I do not get back to you with further thoughts, you may register my grade as an A+.


One additional thought, I find it intriguing, although perhaps coincidental, is that the two novels I liked the best, "Cry the Beloved Country" and 'Uncle Tom's Cabin"  both deal with the lives of people on both sides of the color line who are dealing with racism and both were written in a period of time that preceded by ten or so years, periods of extreme tumult over racism; apartheid in South Africa and the Civil War in the U.S., perhaps when more reasonable minds prevailed.  I ask myself if both of their authors were prompted to write their books in response to the perceived impending chaos.  If the group comes up with answer to this question or doubt my assumptions, please let me know.



  Bob Simon
[and later, Bob adds:]


After reading the entire book, I can say that my opinion did not change.  I still give it an A+.


It strikes me as being a lot like Cry the Beloved Country with its intertwining of white and black lives and a lot like Briarwood Bible at the end with its protracted argument in favor of abolition.


I can not imagine being a slave.  It was really terrible.  And Stowe does an elegant job of describing it.



I am most grateful to Rob Easterling for selecting this book for our Book Club, especially during our annual Black History Year.  I would be most interested in how many Book Club members had actually read this book prior to this year.  Like Charlie Palmer, I was raised in Houston, and we have related our experiences e.g., “Colored – White” sections on the city bus.


I had never read one page of the actual book previously.  I had heard of Uncle Tom’s Cabin all my adult life, and thought I knew “the story.”  I knew of Eliza jumping from ice floe to ice floe, I knew of Simon Legree, and I even think I knew of little Eva and Uncle Tom.  I was in for many surprises in reading this book.

To begin with, its length: 400 pages.  Secondly, the many characters in the book, and the character development.  Thirdly (and this one you would have thought I’d be ready for), the strong abolitionist bent – to include Quakers ready to shoot, and (what I consider the heart of the book now) St. Clare’s monologue on the evils of slavery, and countering all the arguments about “they are better off.”

Perhaps the most profound statement I have come across in my adult life is the statement by Christopher Hitchens:  “Our species is in its infancy.”  I think on that almost every day.  That is part of my lead-in to my characterization on UTC:  a coming to age story for the country.   I could write an essay on that subject, and I’m sure there must have been many so written.  But the context is:  Great Britain (and thus Canada, where Eliza was headed) abolished slavery as of 1833, and our Emancipation Proclamation was in 1863, thus this novel was of a nation on the trail between.

Bruce Catton, the great Civil War writer, tells of the days when slavery was "common" throughout the country.  It died out in the North, he says, simply because it didn't pay.  He lays the continuing slave situation in the South at the invention of Eli Whitney, and for the western world's sudden infatuation with cotton.

As for a grade, I would love to hear the justification for the high grades.  I recognize the historical aspect of the book, but do not see it as a literary gem.  I give it a C+ however I hereby absolve Rob of all the bad things I said about him during his Bluefeather Fellini era.

-           Mike


      On Top of Spoon Mountain  by  John Nichols      September 2013

Hungry wolves were howling at the edges of our perimeters as we closed in on the circle at Parkside… A few of us were prescient enough to wear warm clothing as we gathered at the base of Spoon Mountain in darkle.  QuorkQuorkwe called out as we approached.  Strange sounds were returned:

<>Mike B:   As Dick Arms mentioned, we’ve all read ‘coming of age’ stories – this was a ‘coming of old age’ story.  The first third was way too much Greg Gutfeld for me:  rapid fire, clever wording, but perhaps clever by half again too much.   I couldn't escape the feeling that I was reading a cheap American rip-off of the very clever "Barney's Version" that we had read earlier.  The second third, built around the family fiasco in Kepler’s kitchen, brought the story and the characters much more into focus.  The final third, the trudge up the mountain, was a ‘coming to Jesus meeting’ for our atheist protagonist.  I loved a few lines and images that the book brought to bear, and as I read on, and learned more, the book climbed up the mountain from a C to a B.

Ken:  I felt this book was enjoyable, including the descriptions of New Mexico.  I liked the interactions with the family members – however, I didn’t like the ending.  B+

Charlie:  I have experience with high school students writing and producing plays.  They usually have very little depth in their characters.  This book read as if it could have been written by a 17-year-old.  Very shallow.  C.

Bob Simon:  I think the dialogue was engaging – however, I thought the end was contrived.  I thought the book was insightful into his family – not overall great writing.  I was bored with the talk to the ravens.  B

Dick J:  Last month on the ride home from the meeting, Keith mentioned that he felt this selection was “not a good book” so I was prejudiced as I began reading it.  I like Nichols’ books on Nature and Taos.  This book gave me the impression of a heavyweight boxer who stayed around too long.  I didn’t find it funny.  Disappointing.  C+

Bob Woods:  This was a pot boiler – nothing profound, and not a work of great literature.  B

Dick Arms:  I enjoyed it.  I wish I could write this way.  I read it twice, as I felt I didn’t like it after the first reading and I wondered why.  On second reading, I felt that it was a personal story for me.  A-

Tom G:  I didn’t care for the book.  I can’t stop thinking he was trying to describe himself as Miranda did of John Kepler:  “You’re funny, you’re a flake, and you’re a great human being.”  It’s the way Nichols thinks of himself.  When I hear someone older say, “I wish I had spent more time with the kids,” I always wonder if they are bragging about how hard they worked.  I think Nichols is a smart, clever, skilled, excellent writer, and this book will not discourage me from reading some of his other work.  C

Keith:  If I were a cynic (which I am), I would say the purpose of John Kepler writing this book is as a warning to others:  How to straighten up your Life.  Kepler was a whiner, a wheezer, had occasional sex.  I did write this poem in response:  Wings & Wisdom.

And from outside of Taos:
Sorry I won't be at Thursday night's soiree.  We're in northeastern Ohio attending family reunions, so we'll probably see our own versions of Ben, Jamie, Miranda, and Michael.   My comments about the book follow:
I found three-quarters of John Nichols' novel, On Top of Spoon Mountain very funny and entertaining, but I got bogged down in the last 12 chapters.  It seemed the whole atmosphere and flavor of the story changed.  Additionally, I could find nothing to admire about Jonathan Kepler.  He seemed to have some of the same qualities I disliked in Richler's Barney and Woodhouse's Bertie.  Perhaps I should view the book as autobiographical and give Nichols credit for realizing that he reached the top of his mountain 38 years ago and cannot climb all the way to the top again.  B-

  -  Jack

Sorry that once again I'm going to miss LTBC.  Going to be in OK celebrating the birthday I share with my sister, attending HS homecoming weekend, going to bluegrass festival the following weekend.

I don't know whether Jonathan, the narrator of the book, is Nichols as he sees himself, or is the person he wishes he was, or is the person he thinks others see him as, but, whatever the case, I found him to be fairly obnoxious, over the top, not very real.  The many analogies and similes were often overwrought, ditto for the humor.  When he used the image of "a fetus being flushed down the toilet" as a laugh line, that was too much for me (I may not have the quote quite right - couldn't find it when I looked back for it).

I liked the idea of the book - climbing Spoon Mountain with his kids on his 65th birthday - and once Jonathan got on the mountain (and that didn't come soon enough) I was pulling for him. I can empathize a bit with him.  A group of four of us from Sandia took annual backpacking trips.  We went out in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.  One of the 90s trips was to Wheeler Peak.  There was a sudden gale and blowing snow as Nichols describes, but on top it was all worth it.  We tried a fifth decade, 00s trip in the Pecos.  I was terribly unprepared for it and really suffered - carrying a pack and trudging up a mountain side.  And I wasn't even 65 at the time. 

But, I digress.  Nichols writes with a flamboyant style in other books of his that I have read and enjoyed, but this time, I think, he took it too far, so that it became a parody of a Nichols book.  I"ll give it a B-.
     -  Rob


    Youth:  A Narrative  by  Joseph Conrad      October 2013

"And after some talk we agreed that the wisdom of rats had been grossly overrated, being in fact no greater than that of men." - Joseph Conrad, Youth

The gentlemen of the Last Thursday Book Club gathered to discuss the wisdom of rats and politicians.  One discussion took longer than the other.  One of the Club Founding Fathers, Gary Ganong, took notes as follows: 

Bob Simon: This was the first book by Conrad that I have read to completion, although I started “Heart of Darkness”  35 years ago. “Youth” was beautifully written and engaging.  A-

Keith Gilbert: I penned a few words:

                  Youth Wasted on Young

Marlow waxing at the mahogany table

But is it fact … or is it fable?

His ship, Judea, he will tell

Tis a barque bound for Hell.

Marlow weaves a gripping story line

But tis fueled by endless quaffs of wine

So I for one remain a skeptic

Indeed this read left me dyspeptic

Perhaps Marlow … so soon old, so soon senile

His sotted brain so soon beguiled

Thus, alas, for my part

I consider “Youth” a big wine fart

This is not great Conrad, you may see

And I offer up a Minus B

Tom Genoni:  The passage about racial differences would not pass muster today. The story was short but beautiful. A-

Rob Easterling:  I am not captivated by talking about the East. Maybe I am jaded. I did not find this to be the best book of Conrad. There was good craftsmanship. Boy meets ship. Boy loses ship. Boy is pretty excited. B

Ken Gillen:  I read both “Youth” and “Heart of Darkness” and preferred “Youth.” There were good descriptions about the ocean and the ship. The book was enjoyable even on the second reading. A-

Bob Woods: The book was not perfect. Conrad books are worth reading. I got a feeling for what life was a like on a tramp ship. There was not much of a plot. We should read “Moby Dick.”  A-

Dick Arms: I wish that I could put words together as well as Conrad did.  ”Heart of Darkness” was convoluted. “Lord Jim” was Conrad’s best book. A

Dick Jensen: It is hard to grade “Youth.”  It is well written short story, but how can you compare it to a 400 page book? B

Ron Bousek: I liked this short story with Marlow’s “Pass the bottle.” I liked the way he discussed youth. It seemed to add another dimension. I did not have time to read a long book this month. “Youth” was charming.  A

Gary Ganong: I especially enjoyed this story. It was well done and compelling. You want to hear him out without interruptions. I cannot recall a better short story. Conrad’s descriptions of places, people and events were remarkable. The dialog was excellent and captured the way people speak. His sentences often used implied subjects, verbs or objects, but were complete. A

... and from back on land:
A nostalgic look back at one's youth; a great story; masterful writing.  From our vantage point as old men, what isn't there to like about a feeling that we could last for ever....Pass the bottle.  A


   The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier  by  J. Michael Orenduff      November 2013

 Seven erstwhile cooks headed for Bob Simon’s home cooking as he hosted a special Book Club event on the Thursday before Thanksgiving.  The Group enjoyed snacks reminiscent of the book:  Gruet Blanc de Noir Champagne and Londer Vineyard’s 2009 Paraboll for Keith and the other red wine drinkers as similar to depth of flavor and complexity to Archery Summit with Smoked Whitefish Salad, chips and salsa, onion dip and little quiches and nuts and candy.  For our dessert after the discussion Bob served a Linzer Torte baked fresh at the Greenhouse Bistro and Bakery with coffee.


At 7:10 pm the gathering rang J. Michael Orenduff and spoke to him for about 45 minutes.  At the end of our conversation we invited him to attend one of our book club meetings next summer when he and Lai visit Albuquerque again.  Michael is a gourmet cook and so this topic was easy for him.  He was influenced by Lawrence Bloch’s burglar mystery series.   He also admitted “The Producers” as an influence.

After the telephone conversation the usual suspects provided the following comments:

Ken – enjoyed the book, with all the open portions of pages it seemed like a long short story, Hubie was an interesting character, and he will read other books by Orenduff in the future.   Grade = A

Keith – agrees with Ken, witty and humorous, he would recommend this book, Keith has bought all six of the Pot Thief series and read one of the other ones.  This book gets more into cooking that the others get into their subject.    Grade = A

Ron – started by reading several poems by Billy Collins, who was poet laureate of the U.S. and N.Y., including “Feedback”.  For the kind of book it was good, like a good “B” movie,  it does not rank as great literature, more like pulp fiction, but within that category, good.  Not an “A” grade book and not enough emphasis on mystery, less plot more humor.  Grade = B+   

Charlie - had a problem with the book, entertaining but not of the highest stature.  Tony Hillerman is his benchmark for Southwestern mysteries and this book does not reach that level.  Grade = B

Tom - recommends Rex Stout mysteries over this book.  They feature Nero Wolfe, a rotund gourmet who lives in N.Y.C. and raises orchids on his rooftop.  The Nero Wolfe novels are better and more humorous.  This book does not compare favorably to Nero Wolfe novels.  Grade = B

Rob – is a fan of Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr “The Burglar who -----“ series and found lots of parallels in this book that reminded him of those novels, because Bloch’s novels deal with a burglar who finds bodies where he burgles and is often accused of those murders and is forced to find out the culprit and has a lesbian girlfriend, like in this Pot Thief book.  This did not have as much interest for him as the Bloch mysteries.  He was sent Orenduff’s “Billy the Kid” novel by mistake and so he read it also and found its Billy the Kid theme even more peripheral to the plot than the food elements of this novel and not as rich a plot.  Grade= B-

Bob Simon – enjoyed the book because of the food theme and enjoyed the humor and catchy dialog.  Not a “Cry the Beloved Country” Grade = A-

 And from outside of Old Town: 

Jack Ferrell - I enjoyed Orenduff's sense of humor, but found the story a bit choppy and disjointed.  I was disappointed by the number of typos which also interrupted the flow for me.  I also did not understand his reasoning for the inconsistency in capitalizing the German nouns.  C+
Sorry I won't be there for the discussion.

Dick Arms - Unfortunately I will not make it this month.   Last minute - have to go to my Colorado home and get it set for winter before they turn off water etc. on Friday. 

 I did read the book and looked forward to the discussion with the author.  I was going to give it a B 

Mike Blackledge:  I haven't read that many formula books however I quickly found that I resent the process.  I kept saying internally, “OK, where’s the mystery?  When does the body show up?”  Too much tutorial – it appeared I was expected to learn more about Austrian food and cooking and chefs than I ever wanted.  Much of the time I felt I was reading a way-too-extended EatingWithBobAndSuzette blog.  In fact, I kept having thoughts like, "Bob Simon has got to be loving these cooking details while Rob Easterling is saying, "I don't really care about sautéing bacon or the concerns of chopping parsley."  Damn gahm!

I can’t picture myself recommending this book to anyone other than Bob!  And that’s for the blog aspect; the ‘mystery’ wasn’t worth looking for.   C


        Light in August  by  William Faulkner      December 2013

Eleven disgraced reverends met at Stalgren Court to consider the past twenty years of sins, indiscretions, and literacy.  They learned that Faulkner is one of seven to receive both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature (others: Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, Pearl Buck, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison).  They were told that both Faulkner and Steinbeck were hired by Hollywood as screenwriters. Faulkner’s Nobel banquet speech can be heard here.  Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily can be read here.  Meanwhile, the disgraced deacons devoured cake and ice cream and offered the following comments:

Rob:  I found I had mixed reactions:  this was at times awesome writing, however there were some weird passages.  I would be most curious to learn of Faulkner’s process for writing – did he go back and edit quite a bit?  Jack brought up the senses described in the book:  light, smells.  This was not Cormac McCarthy, but reminiscent.  Chapter 20 on Hightower, describing all his problems – why was it written, why inserted then?  I’m glad I read this book, I liked it, I learned a lot from the discussion tonight:  A-

Jack:  I couldn’t put it down – which may have had to do with the deadlines and a long book.  I found it fascinating with three themes:  1. Alienation (misfits) – Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, Eudora Welty, even Sherwood Anderson also explore these themes.  2.  Power of his language – wrapped up in a web.  3.  Last theme was Structure – The way Faulkner handled point of view, which changed constantly, with different ways of observing the same scene.  I would recommend this book, in fact I have.  A

Bob Simon:  I have had difficulty reading Faulkner – I found the first 200 pages slow going – more interesting with relationships explored.  But now I’m familiar with his style, and the book picked up for me.  Similar to Sherwood Anderson.  I have trouble with characters with no redeeming values.  I would recommend his short stories “Bear” and “A Rose for Emily.”  A-

Ken:  I thought there were pluses and minuses.  The story was quite good, the writing was elegant.  Should have been shorter.  Flashbacks were confusing; sentences were too long, often on uninteresting themes.  B+

Charlie.  I just don’t like books that are difficult, trying to figure it out.  His portrayal of the South was excellent, he often described my relatives.  I would not recommend this book to others.  B-

Dick Arms:  I recommended it to a friend – try this for good writing.  Craftsmanship is enjoyable.  Each chapter is a well crafted story.  Faulkner chose every word carefully as we see it.  Definite A, represents extremely good writing.  I like the way the girl rides out of the story.  The townspeople are believable, Lena is a straightforward as could be, Byron Bunch is as straightforward as could be, the Grandfather (“Doc” Hines) is evil.  A solid A for me.

Ron Bousek:  I guess I was hooked after the first chapter – so glad it wasn’t like the Sound and the Fury.  I liked the structure, the way he told a simple story, what’s going to happen next.  I was put off by some of the confusion but I went past these parts.  Sometimes he had a second person tell the story.  l found I didn’t want to rush through, I wanted to enjoy the writing.  I think this is in our Top 10 books:  A

Keith:  I’m going to make the point that Joe Christmas is not the main character.  Rev. Hightower tried to make everyone better.  The writing was discordant, too difficult, too complex. No one likes to read Advanced Calu  I would give a B in the Book Club, a C overall.  Faulkner is a BS artists.  No 300 word sentences was the only good thing about this Faulkner work.

Dick J:  As a PhD and an Academic graduate of Weber State College … I’m a fast reader.  I’ve been reading a lot of Scandinavian murder mysteries lately.  I was dreading this book, but I got sucked in, really liked it.  It had paragraphs that bothered me, but interesting, weird characters.  I found myself stunned that I liked this book:  A-

Tom:  Keith, I like Advanced Calculus.  As I recall – it was the Spring of ’62 … I consider myself a personal friend of “Bill.”  I was completely caught up with the story.  Chapter 20 on Hightower was overly complex, so my grade is down to A-

Mike:    I had read the first third of the book earlier, and I was warned that it became too descriptive, too wordy in the later chapters.  Instead I found the book captivating.  The ‘long wordy sections’ became more interesting when I took some time and went back and re-read them (or simply read them rather than skimming).  It seemed to me that almost everything Faulkner wrote in Light in August was to further develop a character – how they thought, how they interacted with others, how they felt about life.  I was delighted about the way he interwove his characters.  Here comes Lena Grove, just trying to find her man.  And she brings us to Jefferson and the planing mill.  And that brings us to Joe Christmas and Byron Bunch – then Christmas leads us to Joanna Burden, and Byron brings us to Rev. Gail Hightower.  I could see Faulkner as the mentor of Cormac McCarthy.  The world of these writers is populated with interesting characters, some humorous, some violent.  It’s all there.  A

     The Yellow Birds  by  Kevin Powers      January 2014

We knew we were moving out.  The LT had long since announced it.  Some of the younger troops couldn't handle it - Murph and Simon wouldn't be there, of course.  But the rest of us were forming up for deployment to Hawthorn, the next Thursday and the last Thursday, 30 Jan, 1900 hours.  There is nothing else to be said.  It was cold in the shadow of Alameda.

But we had done it before, we could do it again.  I'd come to accept that parts of life are constant, that just because something happens on two different last Thursdays doesn't make it a goddamn miracle.  Order became an accident of observation.  All I know really for sure is that no matter how long I live, and no matter how I spend that time, those scales aren't ever coming level.  

Murph and Simon couldn't make it.  Those who could spoke up: 

Keith:  The book was well written but gloomy and saturnine.  It makes Heart of Darkness look like a comedy.  This was like asking Edgar Allen Poe to write about the war.  As eloquent as any comment is “War is Hell!”  (Keith shared this short poem by Kevin Powers:  Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting).  I give it a B.

Dick Arms:  I think the military portions in the book rang true.  I was after Korea, but before Vietnam.  The juxtaposition of the way things happen was excellent.  Good piece of work – I’d like to re-read the whole thing to see how he did it.  I give it an A, I was impressed.

Jack:  I was moved by the book – a clean style, very powerful portrayal of the war.  I would recommend it to anyone.  I give it an A.

Tom:  I thought that the story was compelling.  However, sometimes it was overwritten.  At times it read like a creative writing assignment.  B+

Ken G:  I thought that it was beautifully written.  I agree that sometimes it was overwritten.  Only 228 pages, but at times it seemed too much, could have left out some.  Good description of the effects of war.  This short book could have been shorter.  A-

Mike:    I have a new theory:  that the best writers are poets – poets writing prose.  Despite the crudity from the opening unknown marching song throughout the book, this book left me feeling like I had experienced an epic poem, a love story of two men, maybe three.  I loved the opening line, the opening paragraph, the opening chapter.  I loved the way he kept trying to move us closer to Murph’s death, but just couldn’t bring himself to do it, and veered away again and again into a flash-forward.  My favorite line from the book:  (when living alone):  “I was like the curator of a small unvisited museum.”  I give it an A.

Charlie:  Jack summed it up perfectly – when I started reading it, I reacted, “Oh, he’s going to manipulate me!” but he did it gracefully.  Perfect first novel, one of the best we’ve read.  A

Ron Bousek:  The Colonel in the story had the bigger view, had to motivate the men:  “You will be asked to do great violence – I can’t go with you boys.”  The low level fighters at a certain consciousness know, we have to do this.  A compelling story, at times disturbing, describing lives altered by the experiences of war.  I liked the personal point of view – certainly the honesty of the narrator rang true.  A

Rob Easterling:  I have mixed feelings about the book.  It was a little too poetic like literary showing off.  At times animate objects became inanimate, inanimate objects became animate.  This was distracting.  I haven’t served in combat, but I have a step-grandson who has gone through some experiences.  I drop it down to an A- for stretching some of the poetry.

Bob Woods:  I thought that it was too perfect, too polished.  The prose is as good as anything that Hemingway wrote.  The flashbacks were contrived but gracefully executed.  A-  (nearly perfect).

Dick Jensen:   Two years ago I read it and really liked it.  I put it at the top of my list of potential books for hosting the Club.  Finally, it has come out in paperback and I could choose it and the thought hit me, “Oh, what if it is not as good as I remember!”  But I enjoyed it even more the second time.  I was pleased with my choice; but I am still uneasy as to why our narrator ended up in jail.  Maybe to tell his own story?  A-

and from outside the defensive perimeter:
Dear all, I shall not make it to book club this month.  We try to attend the Winter Wine Festival in Taos each year and its Reserve Tasting is usually Thursday evening.  This year is no exception, so we will be in Taos on Thursday evening.
I read the book and enjoyed it. Dick, thanks for suggesting it.  I particularly liked the rendering of the tale by a poet in a poetic manner.  It had the poetic cadence of a Homeric poem like the Odyssey set in the physical and emotional circumstances of contemporary warfare.  The description really made me think, "Why are we in Afghanistan?" Mainly because I find it hard to equate the cost to our culture and lives of the men and women we ask to go and fight seems with whatever geopolitical gain we derive.  That seems to be the premise of Bob Gates' new book, Duty, based upon his interview with Fareek Zakaria on Sunday.
The other thing that I noted was that the author was a UT graduate, like Charlie and me. It Is nice to be reminded that UT produces something as noteworthy as good athletes in the field of literature.  Kind of like Michael McConnaugh?  and Renee Zellwiller? in the field of film.  
Grade = A-
  -   Bob Simon

     The Stranger  by  Albert Camus      February 2014

The book club met last Thursday. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. It was getting dark. Some strangers came alone. Others came in groups. One brought a bottle of wine to share. On the label it said Whispering Angel, Cotes de Provence Rose 2012. There might have been two Arabs at the meeting, but there was no way of knowing for sure. In any case we discussed the book, The Stranger by Albert Camus. He lived in Algiers. He wrote in French but he could just as well written in another language. But he didn't. In any case, it doesn't matter. The strangers were all of the opinion that the book was short. They had other opinions.

Ken: Liked simple style. Will long remember the main character, Meursault. I recommend it. A-minus

Jack: Classic. Powerful. Enjoyed it now more than when I read it 40 years ago. A

Tom: Character was unique. He couldn't attach meaning to events. A-minus

Dick J: Really Liked it. Interesting. Memorable characters. A-minus

Bob S : Facinating. Loved it. Great. M. took things as they came. A

Bob W: Why would anybody behave that way? Two dimensional story. Totally left me cold. B

Rob: Well-crafted. I found M. to be a disturbing individual. A-minus

Dick A: So different than my first reading. Elicited good discussion. Camus made us think, and that's good. A

Ron: A good read. I liked the transition in the writing style from short sentences in the first half to longer sentences in the second half. The trial was amusing in the absurdity of the emphasis of how Meursault behaved at his mother's funeral rather than the murder.  A-minus

From beyond the gathering:

Keith:  Dark, haunting, gloom 'n doom..despair, despair..! Meursault ..indifferent to all..animals,Mother, friends,commitments.." The Stranger" popularity..?..Humans attracted to " - 3 sigma" folks.."M" has APD[Anti-social Personality Disorder]..Had "friend " with APD..incisive inertia , completely uncaring..He, too, got sucked into vortex of his vicissitudes...I attended his was actually uplifting..!!...CONCISE< WELL-WRIT,ALBEIT HUMORLESS..B+

Mike:  As I write this, I bask in the Southern California sun, with occasional lines of brown pelicans gliding effortlessly North, later returning South along the coast against the blue-white clear sky over San Clemente.  Algiers could hardly be better.  

  L’Etranger is a work that I found fascinating on many levels.  It was all the better for me in my ignorance:   I did not read the Preface first, I did not know the story, and thus I read Part I, remarking to myself as to how mundane these events were, and yet I felt fascinated, I definitely wanted to continue reading.  The narrator’s descriptions were all so simple, yet here he tells us he had no emotions on his Maman’s death.  (I soon translated Maman into Mama in my mind’s interpretation, as it made sense, and the N would not be pronounced in the French).  Thus I was quite shocked when Meursualt shot the Arab on the beach, and shocked again when he fired the next four bullets into the body as well.


  As I began reading, I wondered why Prof. Bousek had insisted on the translation by Mathew Ward, since those opening lines, those opening chapters were so simple, what interpretation could a translator add or miss.  However, reading Ward’s notes (after reading the book), I see that the earlier, and accepted (for 20 years) translation, had done just that:  it had forced the translator’s version upon the unknowing English reader.  With my years of French training at the fine Faulkner-free Service Academy upon the Severn, I immediately translated Ward’s sample (from when Meursault meets old Salamono and his dog in the dark stairwell of their apartment house):  ‘Il etait avec son chien.’ as ‘He was with his dog.  Yet the earlier translator forced a change:  ‘As usual, he had his dog with him.’  The simplicity is gone, the perhaps cold look at life is gone.  It goes from Hemingway to Any Author. 

 There are so many fascinating lines and passages in this short novel.  Here is just one:  when the examining magistrate is waving the crucifix at Meursault, he tells us, “…I had found it very hard to follow his reasoning, first because I was hot and there were big flies in his office that kept landing on my face, and also because he was scaring me a little.”  I loved that!  The simple truth and then the part 2 punch!

  I would love to hear the discussion on this book, and I would love for us to read more on man dealing with the approaching of his death.  As Meursault reminds us, “Whether it was now or twenty years from now, I would still be the one dying.” 

  As to the grade, for the impact on me, for the story, for the interpretation of Life and facing Truth – for so many reasons, this is a solid A.  I thank Prof. Bousek once again for bringing us to the author and this specific text.

    The Crying of Lot 49  by Thomas Pynchon      March 2014   

pony expressThe Annual Meeting of the New Mexico Chapter of the Peter Pinquid Society occured on Thursday, 27 March 2014, at the home of the Chapter's President, the Honorable CDR Robert Woods (CSN, ret.).  This being the 150th anniversary of the historic encounter of the CSS Disgruntled with elements of the Russian Fleet, the dessert featured a near life-size replica of the ship itself.  We learned of the CDR here.  A plethora of the historian-philatelists present presented Peter Pinquid papers:
Ron: I didn't really understand the book.  It seemed like a collection of vignettes, centered around a quest.  I read the first chapter, then the second ... then it hit me:  This reminded me of what a college or high school student would write:  he had learned a few things, and he was demonstrating that, stringing them together with humor.  Basically I was confused by the story, but I could understand that it was a cult book.  It didn't appeal to me and I don't understand it's appeal.  B-
Dick J:  This was like a reading assignment in English.  If I had picked it up in a library, I would not have finished it.  I had read that this was humourous, and I found I don't have this sense of humor.  I didn't like Mike Fallopian or other names.  I did not like the writing - it came across as Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl" on the corner in Berekley.   A review I read said it is dated.  I did not like this style of writing.  B-
Keith:  Did it occur to anyone that Bitcoin is the Tristero of today?  The book: nebulous, rambling.  Like Coleridge's Kublai Khan, Keroac's "On the Road," Egar Allen Poe, all the authors writing on drugs - like Hunter Thompson.  I agree with previous comments.  If we invited Timothy Leary to address our book club, he could probably enlighten us on this book.  It was not devoid of homor, but was a joke without a punch line.  C
Tom G:  All of the previous comments have merit.  The book had enough humor to keep me going.  I first read this 50 years ago - definitely a period piece.  We should read V.  Good writer, excellent command of the language, overwhelmed by the period and plot.  B

Mike B:  A most strange book. 

Did I like anything about this book?   Yes, I loved Mucho Maas as the used car salesman who could not handle the people bringing in their life in the form of their old used car, and exchanging it for another old used car.  Gad, great insight!   Would have loved a story just on Mucho, and his daily hatred of his work. 

Some flashes of cleverness, some rapier wit, but overall I felt like I was being half dragged, half run through an overly disjointed version of The DaVinci Code with Oedipa having to play the role of Tom Hanks (but with no support) and with the screenplay written by Greg Gutfeld.  I was not engaged by worrying about this 400 year old conspiracy to apparently work around our Postal System.  Heck, our USPS has been losing money for probably 50 years (since stamps were 3 cents, from 1932 to 1958) – I would welcome Tristero or whomever to give some competition.  Did it not bother anyone except me and Oedipa that this conspiracy had been around for hundreds of years, and now all the pieces fall into place for Oed no matter where she goes, who she talks to, even some navy bum in the stairwell.  I would not recommend this book to anyone, not even a fellow philatelist like Prof Gillen.  If they want to read some Pynchon, I would say, “Try V. or try Bob Woods’ favorite, Gravity’s Rainbow.”   B-

Bob S:  I share many of the previously expressed thoughts.  This book brought back some of my own drug experiences.  Love Pynchon's taking me back to those exciting days at the point of transition of culture in 1965 from the earlier Beat/Coffee House/folk days of the early Sixties to the later 60's electric/cool/free love days, especially the California vibe. This was a guy experimenting with drugs in the 1960s.  I would be interested to see the original article Pynchon had published in GQ or wherever that inspired this novel.  Your mind goes off in tangents as you read this, but I felt the work composed of three main areas:  1. The quandry for Oedipa in handling Pierce's estate; 2. The Restoration drama, "The Courier's Tragedy" as a literary element; and 3. an extremely lucid explicative with Mucho Maas on LSD.  Then the historic/paranoia of a 400 year-old battle for communications.  B

Bob W:  This book consisted of a series of vignettes, strung together under the quest for Tristero.  The author demonstrated an excellent command of language.  I found tonight's discussion illuminating.  I read this book at a naive level.  I enjoyed the satire of the 1960s, well drawn.  Parts were silly but the author is not.  Pynchon is recognized as very profound to literary icons.  B    

... and from outside the search area for Flight 370:The Crying of Lot 49
I am sorry I will not be able to make our LTBC meeting next week.  I'll be somewhere in Joshua Tree National Park that night.  Thanks for your book selection.  Would have enjoyed the discussion among all those who lived the 60s.  My comments follow:
I'm glad I was forced to read Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49.  What I remember about Gravity's Rainbow is probably why I avoided him for nearly 50 years.  Although labeled as a comedy, it dealt with serious issues.  Pursuing mysteries we don't understand seems to be at the heart of the story and this is something I believe we all wrestle with at one time or another, and so I appreciate the way Pynchon illustrated that struggle.  The story did bring back memories of the 60s--love, drugs, and rock and roll.  It took place in California after all.
In spite of the fact that the novel is short and I'm a philatelist (and a stamp collector too), I still got lost at times in the detail.  I did love the names though--at least 20 before I lost count.  B+
   -  Jack
 I'm not going to be at the meeting tomorrow night.  I tried to read the book, but just couldn't get into it.  I know it's satire, but that didn't encourage me either.  Maybe it was names like Fallopian that put me off.  Found that working on taxes was more fun, so I didn't finish the book.  Moreover, as a March Madness Fanatic, I really want to watch tomorrow's games live.  I was planning to be in Memphis with the Lobos this weekend, but that didn't work out, either.  So, I didn't start the book until a couple of days ago.  Maybe Lobo-depression is my problem.

Resolve: Do better next month.
     -  Rob

      The Sportswriter  by Richard Ford      April 2014   

Eight erstwhile sportsreaders arrived in Placitas on the Last Thursday of April.  They argued over the Glendale Spaghetti as MVP.  1941 is Hallowed Ground in the annals of Major League Baseball and you don’t mess with it – or was Richard Ford messing with our collective heads?  The discussion was lively and opinionated, as most sports talks are:

Mike:  I’ve often read books that come across as fluffed in the middle to make it to 300 pages for the publisher.  The Sportswriter was different:  as a reader I was captivated with the cemetery meeting, turned off by Vicki, captivated by Walter Luckett, turned off by philosophy, captivated by Wade … a roller coaster of literary impacts.  Overall:  B

Ken:  I had mixed emotions on this book – the tale of a lost, lonely, horny guy – at times the passages were hard to understand.  The plot was straight from Seinfeld – much ado about nothing!  But I’ll never forget Jim Bascombe.  B

Ron B:  I enjoyed parts of this book, other parts were too wordy.  Maybe the wordiness was part of its charm.  The story with Herb and with Walter, the conversations, was good writing.  Too much ruminations, too much therapy.  B

Charlie:  I agree with what has been said.  Ford is a clever writer.  But 375 pages to say “Life’s a bitch – and then you move to Florida” is a bit much.  I wish he had done more with his characters.  B-

Tom:  I disagreed with a lot of the book:  Vicky was not a good match for Frank.  But the trivia on the 1941 MVP?  He blew that – unforgiveable!  Overall the book was too long – a lot of the passages went on and on.  In the end, the quality of the writing carried me through, without being burdened.  Interactions with Walter were great.  B+

Keith:  I think Ford is into self-therapy.  I created a word for this:  a literary selfie.  He is too verbose:   when he reached the end of his sentences he kept going.  C

Dick Arms:  From craftsmanship viewpoint, I think it could have been a better book with half the words, half the pages.  None of the characters were believable.  He (Frank) never added up – everything he did, he took much too long to get there.  A travelogue that went nowhere.  C

Bob Woods:  I started late on the book, and request a pass at this time.  I’ve been impressed with his style.

Jack:  re: the literary selfie:  as it turns out, Ford was named the literary executor of Eudora Welty’s estate.  I found the book fascinating.  Ford did force me to read slowly and thoughtfully.  His skills as a story teller drew me into Bascombe’s pathetic life.  Ford sees alienation as self-imposed.  B+

and from well outside of Haddam:
 Sorry, but I won't be at this month's meeting.  Tuzigooting off to OK for a wedding and a HS graduation in the family.

For your tally, Mike, I did get an e-loan of the book from the Abq/Bernalillo County library.  

Now, for the bad news: I didn't like the book -what I read: three chapters.  Too much introspection, navel-gazing.  At the beginning of chapter 2 Frank Bascombe criticizes writers who spend too much space on character background.  Maybe it's clever self-awareness, maybe it's cluelessness, maybe intentional irony, but this was hard to take after the author had spent all of chapter one doing this and was about to indulge in even more in chapter 2.  

Thought the attempt to characterize midwestern and southern regionalisms was pretty lame.  

When Frank's girlfriend, Vicki, said "Me and Everett drove to Galveston once," that was enough.  I couldn't finish the book.  Sorry.

My score: Chapters 1-3: C.  Me: Incomplete.

p.s.  Mike told me it gets better.  That's good to know.  

   - Rob
I will not be at this month's meeting.  We are off on a cruise on Monday.  We will be in Croatia on the day the group meets.  I wish I could be at the meeting because I think the book will lead to a lot of discussion.  So, here is my review:
    I had read The Sportswriter (and its sequel Independence Day) several years ago.  I was surprised at how little I remember from the book, however.  I normally have a good memory for books I have read but I just did not remember very much about this one.
    I found this to be a difficult book to read.  There is little action and most of it takes place in Frank Bascombe's head.  At several times I felt like Frank when he said that his life was kind of like living is a dream state--that's how I felt--it was like I was dreaming that I was reading the book.  I had to interrupt my dreams on many occasions and reread sections.  I do have to say that parts of the book were interesting to read but I just had to plow through most of it.
    Frank was a disappointing narrator (I read a review that called him an untrustworthy narrator).  He manages to mess up a marriage, mourns his lost son, has a terrible trip to Detroit where he has a horrible interview, he had sex with 18 women while he was married (but who's counting), he offers to marry Vicki (a nurse from Texas) and a muslim woman who was his girl friend and even tries to reconcile with his ex-wife, and he sort of befriends another divorcee who then kills himself.  In the end he runs off to Florida on a wild goose chase.  In the sequel he quits sportswriting and become a real estate salesman.  By the end of it all, I find myself just not caring about him or his ideas.
    Ford has done a good job of putting us into the mind of a person who really doesn't know what he wants in life. Frank is in his late 30s and you get the feeling that his life is going to dramatically change and that his story points to some sort of change.  It's not a midlife crisis but he needs to change.
    This is a tough book to grade.  In the end, I will give it a B.
Hope you all have a good meeting.
  - Dick

      Unbroken  by Laura Hillenbrand      May 2014   

Soon to be a movie directed by Angelina Jolie –  This is the kind of book where the theme was that expressed by Joel Nash several times:  People are no damn good.”    Summation from a hostile crowd:  “I knew Eddie Rickenbacker.  I flew many missions with Eddie Richenbacker.  Louie, you are no Eddie Rickenbacker.”
The group discussed many issues and explored many questions:  How did the Japanese bomber know that the raft was American, or at least non-Japanese?  Why was the grafitti not written in Kanji?  If there were no Bird, would there have been no story of Louie?  What are the odds of Louie making it to the 2015 Rose Bowl parade?  The dangerously overeducated spoke:

Ron B:  A well written book.  I enjoyed the writing.  However, the middle was tedious.  It was as it she had to put it all in, as she had collected the stories.  I did finish the book.  I enjoyed Part 1 up to the war, and the Afterword was interesting – how the Japanese war criminals were let loose.  Very educational.  I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.  I give it an A- or a B+ ...  OK, a B+

Keith:  I have a contrarian view.  Like Lone Survivor, this was a vomitarium of decimal places [primarily] by one guy – the Japanese people are introverted and taciturn.  One guy writing the story appears as a hero, and America loves heroes.  Taken in the big picture, he was a minor hero who has been inflated into a Hollywood hero.  C.  From a scientific point of view, it was Unproven.  [from Keith, 31 May 2014]: "Mike,, ..Am raising grade to B...America NEEDS heroes..even "mousy" Italians who wear garlic garlands...and hyperbolize alot...."

Tom G:  I don’t know how to prove or not the veracity of details.  It is a remarkable story, the raft alone.  I think the author detracted from the story.  The prose was sing-songy, her writing was unemotional and flat.  The story itself:  it was remarkable what Louie endured.  History should remind us of such stories.  However, I didn’t like her writing.  She did a great job of gathering data.  B

Dick Arms:  Great job of documentation and research.  I can’t imagine going through this:  200 people line up to hit you in the face?  It was reportorial but not literature.  A staple of literature is how they write.  This was well written, well done – she is a huge writing talent.  I enjoyed it.  I listened to a tape of it in the car, and read it through again.  I thought the writing was good.  B+

Mike:  I thought of the similar strong non-fiction accounts which emphasized either man’s struggle to survive, and/or man’s inhumanity to man that we have been privileged to read, as what else can you compare this story to?  Endurance by Alfred Lansing; Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; In the Heart of the Sea: story of the SS Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick ; Flyboys by James Bradley;  Hiroshima by John Hersey;  War Trash by Ha Jin.  Perhaps even In Cold Blood and The Killer Angels and Pompeii and The Warmth of Other Suns.  Did Hillenbrand come across the best story to tell? Perhaps the best comparison was the group's discussion on The Lone Survivor – true or exaggerated?  I felt this rendition was uneven:  from the beatings of Louie, then the cleverness of Louie and his POWs, but especially the cleverness of Louie on the raft:  e.g., the fishing by hooks on the hand.  I felt this was at times a mixture of some Hogan’s Heroes gags [e.g., when Louie shaved off the mean guard's eyebrows] with the most horrific Fight Club sequences.  Why did the POW commander Fitzgerald not command the enlisted men NOT to hit Louie?  The 220 punches was the most egregious – any one of the enlisted men could have/should have stood up to the guards, and taken a beating – but if all 220 had refused, that would have been a statement.  Guards are minor gods (like football coaches), but there are lines that if crossed, lose the respect of the underlings.  You can't initiate random acts of a cruel god when you're a guard. 

Was Louie’s face torn by the belt buckle?  He never lost an eye, and there was no indication in the book that his flesh was ripped badly from day to day – was it?  Why do I not know?  I feel the author did not push Louie or question the story line.  Note that [in Unbroken] no POW was killed by a guard, not in Noetsu, not in Omori, not in Ifuna.  A few POWs died, true, but … one has heard it say that the Jews at the concentration camps did not do enough to save themselves, that they went too willingly to their deaths.  Did it not seem that the POWs and in particular CDR John Fitzgerald could have stood up to  “corporal” The Bird, spoken to the Camp Commander on this and other atrocities?  Arguably 1/3 to ¼ of Unbroken is about The Bird.  Would Louie’s story have been anywhere as compelling without the arch villainy of The Bird?  I’m very glad I read this, and I'd really like to read "The Devil at My Heels."  B

Bob Simon:  I had a similar reaction.  The explication of survival techniques was almost beyond belief.  Some of it seemed like manufactured fact, which was distressing to me.  The heroic ideal made it a good story.  Sharing the reportage, the recitation of facts, became dry and even uninteresting.  I did not think the book merited our top tier.  B

Bob Woods:  I refer the group to Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordoff;  where the survivors had to continually knock over sea birds to survive.  One has to separate the story from the storytelling.  B+

Rob: In my library copy of Unbroken, a previous reader had written inside the cover: "Surpasses Seabiscuit.  I have no tears left."   

I have a mental model of this book being written:  Interviews, written up on 3 x 5 cards, color coded, sorted, put it together.  I felt that the beginning gave too much on his early life.  l was willing to suspend belief on all the beatings every day.  I thought the emotional zenith came later – after Japan surrendered, and the food started coming in, air dropped by American planes - this was an emotional junction with which I resonated – it made me feel good about the human race.  Then Louie came back and began drinking;  and his wife and Billy Graham saved him.  I give it an A-  I felt the book turned around after a weak beginning.

Ken G:  Maybe I’m naïve in terms of believability – but unlike the Lone Survivor, which was told by just one guy, in the back of this book, we see that it was not just one guy, but evidence that most of what was reported in the book, actually happened.  Like the crew knew that Eddie Rickenbacker went down and survived 27 days in a raft – can we beat that?  I tended to believe a large part of the story.  I was more interested in the story, which was an exciting story.  For me, a solid A.

And from two rafts considerably outside the Pacific Rim:
I will be on the island of Hvar investigating why the Germans have been flocking to Croatia for one hundred years.  We'll be traveling there by ferry from Vis--hopefully not on a life raft.  Are there sharks in the Adriatic? 
I will miss the next three LTBC meetings, so here is my review of Unbroken and I will try to get through Tom's choice in June before you meet again, assuming I get out of Croatia before the Bird (or should I say "der Vogel") tears my head open with his belt buckle.
It never ceases to amaze me how much a human being can endure.  I cannot imagine how Louis Zamperini and his fellow POWs found the physical and spiritual strength to survive.  A very powerful story strengthened by Hillenbrand's skill as a writer.  Could not put it down.  A
Warm regards,

Hi Mike:

Last evening we got back from Utah.  I had not looked at my phone during the drive and I discovered all kinds of messages.  My 94-year-old mother had fallen yesterday morning and broken her hip.  She was in the hospital and was to undergo surgery to repair the hip.  I didn't know if I had to go to the airport and catch a plane.  I waited for word about the surgery--it went well. She is doing well--I even talked with her on the phone earlier today. 

I'm sorry that I missed the meeting but I want to give you my review.


I read Unbroken soon after it came out.  I had read Hillenbrand's earlier book, Seabiscuit, and loved it.  I was a bit disappointed in Unbroken.  It seemed to move slowly and I thought it was too long.

I changed my mind after reading it the second time.  The book focuses on an interesting subject, is well researched, and is well written.  I now look forward to her next book.

Grade: A-


I will be at the meeting next month and will try not to miss any in the future.


Dick J

 ... our host engaged in some follow-up research:

I just finished Zamperini’s book (Devil at My Heels) and share some comments on this book and on the origin of the title “Unbroken” below.

The origin of the title “Unbroken” answered by Laura Hillenbrand- ” I spent years trying to come up with a title. It was a daunting task, because the story had so many different acts—the rebellious boyhood, the running career, the Olympics, time as a bombardier, time as a castaway on a raft, years as a POW, and the emotional aftermath of the war. I needed a word, or phrase, that could capture its essence. I didn’t want to use Louie’s name, because it was too unusual a name to remember; one of the first things my sister Lisa said to me when I told her Louie’s story was “Don’t call it Zamperini. No one will remember it.”

The word “unbroken” came to me one day. It has two meanings, and both fit Louie’s story ideally. The most common use of the word refers to something that has not failed under pressure. In that sense, it captures Louie’s resilience. “Unbroken” in the equine sense means “untamed,” and that was the perfect word for Louie when he was a boy, and when he was rebelling against his captors in Japan. That one word, with its two meanings, was appropriate to every part of this story. It just felt right to me.

I quickly went through Zamperini’s book “Devil at My Heels” and some comments follow:


As might be expected, much of the book covers identical stories and very similar information to those given in Unbroken.  I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book which covers through his release from captivity.  Compared to Unbroken, there is a bit more detail on his juvenile delinquent days and on his track career and a shorter discussion of the time between the plane crash and his release.  I felt that the last third of the book resorted to too much name-dropping and significantly dragged.  Besides seeming self-centered, this section, which covers his life after release, spent too much time on his finding and spreading his conversion to Christianity.  Thankfully, Hillenbrand covered this part of his life with less detail.


I believe it was Bob Simon who wondered how Zamperini knew that he captured his first seagull on the 24th day.  Other people clearly had the same question which Zamperini addressed on p. 105 of The Devil at My Heels where he said


“People always ask “How did you keep track of the time and days?  A lot better than with pencil and paper, where one might make a mistake writing it down.  Every day was so precious we had no trouble remembering; in fact, we had all day long to think about anything we wished to- even if it was only our names…”


Chapter 29 of Unbroken titled “Two Hundred and Twenty Punches” describes on p. 289 the incident where the foreman discovered that fish had been stolen by POWs from the galley.  Bird decided to have all of the enlisted men punch the officers (Wade, Tinker, Louie and two others).  It was Wade that made the estimate of 220 punches (P. 290 with reference to notes on p. 244).  As noted at the LTBC meeting, there certainly was reasonable skepticism over whether someone could take 220 hard punches without significant damage.  Given that Louie collapsed and eventually blacked out and Wade and Tinker probably met the same fate, I wonder how Wade could make his estimate.  In addition, I doubt whether the punching continued on someone who had collapsed and blacked out.  I therefore tentatively conclude that Hillenbrand bought the 220 punch exaggeration made by Wade.  It is interesting to see the description of the same event when described in Zamperini’s book (p. 182) which states, without an estimate of punches absorbed,


“When two enlisted men stole a piece of dried fish from the coal ship, someone snitched……Back at camp, the Bird indulged in his favorite form of punishment: having the enlisted men beat the officers.”


This makes it sound like such beatings were a regular event but unlikely to involve 220 punches.


I’ll be turning in my library copy of “Devil at My Heels” in the next few days (the only one in the library system) so if anyone is interested in checking it out, it should be available shortly.



      The Book of Evidence  by John Banville      June 2014   

  How good it was then to get up in the cool of evening and amble down to the village through the stark geometry of sun and shadow in the narrow streets.  I liked to watch the erstwhile elocutionists of the Book Club, hunched over their pastis and their thimbles of turbid coffee, swivelling their lizard eyes as the illiterate masses tromped by.  That's right, you bastards, yearn, learn and yearn.

   In the house there was always a bar, always the same whatever the book selection, with a few tables and plastic chairs outside, and crooked sun-umbrellas advertising Stella or Pernod, and a swarthy, fat host leaning in the doorway picking his teeth.  It was always the same readers too:  a few lean, tough types in bleached denim, hard-eyed types gone leathery from the sun, a fat old guy with a yachting cap and grizzled sideburns, and of course a queer or two, with bracelets and fancy sandals. They were our crowd, our set, and they needed a week or so of preparation to gather their thoughts, prepare their comments.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have seen us, we were part of the local colour of your package holiday, you passed us by with wistful glances, and we ignored you.  But what would you have said?

Bob Simon:   I am enchanted by good plots that hold my interest as the facts of the plot line unfold.  I found the plot to be less than compelling and found it hard to read the book.  Perhaps that is a lawyer talking, but I suggest that any of us would have concealed our actions more than Freddie did: the rental of the old car that was left with the evidence of his actions, going to the big house in broad daylight and announcing his presence, taking the picture and the maid as hostage, killing her with a hammer he bought at the hardware store, dropping the painting at the beach, staying in town.  How many things can one do wrong and expect there not to be evidence of criminality.  


Having said all that, I am compelled to see Freddie as a failed attempt to create a character that is a near relative to the main character in  Camus' The Stranger.  The existential similarity of the development of the characters is unmistakable to me.  Even the parallel division of the books into two parts seems similar.


Although I enjoyed the literary skills and some of the insights into human character in the early part of the book, it fell apart for me as Freddie went to pieces and into his criminal behavior.  Instead of Camus' interesting inquiry into the existential musings of his main character, I was left with the unpleasant feeling that Freddie had no redeeming characteristics or personal insights and was just a bad person acting very badly and deserved whatever punishment the criminal justice system served up for him.


I gave the book a B  

Ken G:  I have mixed feelings about this book.  The author clearly knows how to write impressive passages.  That said, I found the book to be depressing and a bit boring.   It follows the meandering, sometimes long-winded thoughts of a despicable self-absorbed loser of a character who exhibits confusion, self-pity and a sick desire to achieve his 15 minutes of fame.  Overall grade:    B

Charlie P Banville is an excellent writer, perhaps in the same league as our August author, Ian McEwan.   Unfortunately, this novel is a bit weak in the plot and character departments.  However, his fiction is so well crafted that it matters less what he is writing about.   I gave it an A- rather than an A because of these weaknesses.  I enjoyed the read and would recommend it.   A-

Dick Arms:  Although I felt that the writing of the book was extremely good, I was bothered by some of the details that did not add up for me.  I was unable to “suspend disbelief” as I read of the ineptitude of the blundering killer.  B+  

Dick Jensen:  his review    A-

Rob E  I enjoyed the book at the start - thought it was quite creative for the author to get inside the protagonist's head and make some sort of legal case.  But, after finding out about the brutal murder of the maid, the pseudo-high-mindedness of the murderer just didn't jibe with the crime itself.  I mostly cringed after that. B

Tom:  Excellent, stylish writing. For me, the benchmark for this type of book is Lolita. I don't think Banville is quite as stylish, his humor doesn't match Nabokov, and Freddie was not as compelling a character as Humbert. Falling a little short of the Nabokov standard is no disgrace however, and I enjoyed the book a lot. Hence, A-.

And from well outside of Coolgrange:
Sorry I won't be able to make the LTBC meeting at your house next week.  We'll be in our camper somewhere in northeastern Ohio as we work our way on to New England, so my comments about your book selection follow:
John Banville is a master wordsmith, creating unique metaphors and strong emotional sentences in his telling of an engaging story by a completely unreliable and amoral narrator.  I had no empathy for Freddie Montgomery, but found myself caught up in the story, primarily because of Banville's skillful use of the language.  For me it had overtones of Kafka, Camus and Nabokov.  Yes Kafka.  Thanks for choosing it.  I would recommend it to my friends.  The fact Banville is Irish helps.  A
Wish I could join the discussion.    Warm regards from the road,
                 - Jack

Our long-lived Book Club has had some experience with unreliable narrators.  Lolita is the gold standard, however Humbert Humbert never harmed a fly.  This rendition made me think of Lolita immediately, but really The Debt To Pleasure was the forerunner of Book of Evidence.  (I submit Debt to Pleasure is more clever and funny than Book of Evidence, but which came first?  Could one have known of the other?)  As demonstrated in the preamble to this collection of reviews, some, perhaps the majority of the writing was a thing of beauty, but the crime had little relationship to the reality of Freddie's world.  I found myself (after the fact, without the discussion) in agreement with Ken G's review remarks.  B+

     -  Mike

    Last Train to Zona Verde  by Paul Theroux      July 2014

Nine former street urchins gathered around the bucket of chicken parts in Ventana del Zona, arguing over which one they should select.  Some concentrated on the flies, a few on the fly-specks, most on the caloric intake.  Tongs at the ready, their opinions varied widely:

Ron B:  I read the book early and lost my notes.  I liked the book.  Some of the details sounded fishy to me.  The author had a bias – he was depressed when he took the trip, as exemplified by his theme of “Why am I here?”  Finally he had had enough, as shown in the last chapters.  I would see things differently, through incremental changes, not sweeping.  The Chinese are in great presence in Angola; the mines from the 20 years war helped to destroy the wildlife.  I enjoyed the trip and the read.  A

Dick J:  I liked Tom’s comment:  This book is a conversation.  I enjoyed it – except at the end!  The author was like a boxer who stayed in the ring too long – he should have gone on a Holland America Cruise instead.  He found out that his ideal of bare-assed natives were actually not.  He said he didn’t like zoos but he was in a zoo.  A-

Charlie:  B  The author was not rigorous in his thinking.  This was a travelogue with opinions, and was not necessarily true to history.  Lelandsike many works of non-fiction, this was too long.  It would have been an excellent magazine article (or three) for Smithsonian.

Tom G:  I agree there was a lack of rigor but this was not an academic work.  Sitting down and talking with the author was the format.  The book read smoothly and gave a great introduction to Southwest Africa and the Portuguese colonization.  A-

Ken:  I thought it was interesting, well-written, describing the problems of Africa.  A bit repetitious.  Continually depressing at the end.  I will definitely cross West Africa off of my Bucket List.  I give it a B+

Dick Arms:  Keith isn’t here, so I will be the curmudgeon.  This was really two books:  a travel book and a diatribe.  Too much on hovels, shacks, slums – not inspiring writing.  The author never offered anything positive, except the one interlude with the young girls after the ceremony.  I was turned off, and I give it a C 

Bob Simon:  as the book went along, it developed that this was not a will-of-the-wisp trip, the author had agendas of his reactions.  I had more trouble at the beginning, and it got better for me as it progressed.  It was a conversation, and he treated the trip as interactions with individuals.  I award it my standard A-

Mike:  B.  I got the Zona Verde in the title, but not The Last Train.  He didn’t really travel to Zona Verde, he went to urban cities and towns and villages.   I submit Theroux would have done better to name the book with his sub-title, My Ultimate African Safari, and then created a new subtitle.  We could have a contest here – for example he could have chosen his subtitle from one of his chapter titles:

     My Ultimate African Safari -
                What Am I Doing Here?
                This Is What The World Will Look Like When It Ends

Other choices for a subtitle could be taken from some of his own words:

     My Ultimate African Safari -
               Exploring the Difference Between History & The Smell of a Skunk  (page 310)
               You Will Get Sick.   You Will Die.   (page 148)
               Where the Streets Have No Names   (page 317)
               I Never Want to See Another Place Like This    (page 306)

But I submit one of the following provocative book jackets might work well:

     My Ultimate African Safari -
               Taking the Fun out of Dysfunctional
               Cabinda Ain’t Contiguous
               Attn Italy:  Why Africans are coming to a neighborhood near you!
               Picking up that dead dog is not the Government’s responsibility!
Rob E:  A.  I have enjoyed his writing for several years, it is not rosy-tinted.  I enjoy the way he talks about travel as a process, not so much the destination.  In this book, he did work along the way – he taught classes – as I have done, e.g., in New Zealand.  I can appreciate that mix.  I thought he does give his unvarnished opinions.  He’s been there firsthand; he has earned the right to his opinions and developed these opinions over time and space.  From all that, an A

... and from well outside the Zona ....
I'm sorry I won't be able to make the LTBC meeting tomorrow evening.  We're on another beach of a different sort on Cape Cod and feeling very guilty.
I was fascinated by Paul Theroux's The Last Train to Zona Verde.  It provided a valuable insight into modern urban Africa.  It was a thought-provoking observation of the under-reported poverty and misery of people exploited by a series of colonial powers, greedy corporations and tyrannical political leaders.  Theroux's picture is diametrically opposed to the pictures of sub-Sahara Africa we see in travel brochures.  His account could truly be a picture of what the future world will look like.  I admire Theroux's curiosity and courage.  I couldn't put it down.  I thought it was well structured with an easy flowing prose.
I will recommend it to my friends.  A
Wish I could participate in the discussion.

Hola Biblios..Must defer 31 Jul soiree..honorarium for long friend...

               Zona Verde
Like sloughing thru a rotting tomb of despair,...
At each step ask "Why am I there?",...
        Yet one looks for some light,...
        Finding but darkness in sight,...
And with each gloomy breath...only fetid air"...
B- is ALL I Can Bear..!!

PS... My top 5 LTBC list of SATURNINE selections.

       Sweet Tooth   by Ian McEwan      August 2014

OnThursday last, nine MI5 wannabees boarded the 7 pm train and head out to Brighton, for an enjoyable evening of snacks, wine, and talking about Ken switching roles with his brother, and sex with apes.  Hey, don't tell me you haven't wanted to do that!  The comments were insightful, the grades were scattered:
Rob:    I think that as some authors become rich and famous they become self-indulgent - no editor can touch them, no reviewer dare criticize them.  It's a case of the emperor's new clothes. I think that happened with McEwan and  Sweet Tooth.  There's all the 'author-dropping' - mentions of authors most readers won't know, the book within a book trick, the strange short stories embedded in the book, ...  I suspect these were stories that McEwan had had rejected early in his career, so he embedded them here - nyah, nyah, nyah.  The whole premise, that MI5 would find value in Tom Haley's writing, that it would help win the Cold War, did not seem plausible to me.  Of course, I believe in the MI5 of Smiley and PBS, serious people doing serious things, even the moles, so I didn't care for this put-down of MI5.  The Monte Hall problem was well-explained, but. again, I thought McEwan was mostly just showing off.  No one would expect a novelist to be able to 'splain it.  I give McEwan credit for creativity, but that only gets me to a B minus for the book.
Tom:       A-
Ken:  As a chess player (mainly in high school, several years ago), I was interested in determining what was the meaning of the "famous Saavedra position" mentioned on p. 34 in my edition.  It turns out to be one of the best known chess endgame studies.  It is named after a Spanish priest Rev. Fernando Saavedra (1849–1922), who spotted a win in a position previously thought to have been a draw.  The solution (click here) is a famous example of a necessary under-promotion (a promotion of a pawn to a piece other than a queen).  
Positives- As expected from Ian McEwan, excellent writing.  Negatives- not much of a plot for a 300 page book; many un-interpretable British acronyms.  I enjoyed Atonement and Saturday much more than this novel. B-
Dick A:     C
Bob S:   This was my first Ian McEwan book.  I am glad to hear there are better more, perfect books.  Several mentioned Atonement, so I am putting that on my "must read list". 
   I was a little confused by the lack of insight into the mental machinations of the Serena, especially her views regarding the easy going sexual attitudes of the 70's until I found out near the end of the book that we were being told events through Haley's eyes and head.  Anyway, I liked the book and its English take on things.  A-
Keith:      B
Jack:      Don't know what to think about Sweet Tooth.  Ian McEwan spins a good yarn and it was full of surprises, but how did Shirley get pretty?  I enjoyed the way he blurred the lines between what people (and the reader) imagine and what is real; however, I found the story perhaps too clever and too contrived.  It did not measure up to Atonement in my view.  B  (Would have given it a B- had it not been for the sex.)
Ron:        B
Charlie:   I'm a big fan of McEwan, who I think is among the best living novelists.   I chose this book as a summer read --  lighter than our usual fare, but still serious fiction.  It has elements of both a romantic novel and a spy thriller, genres which Ewan hasn't previously done. Characters and plot are well crafted, and the plot has the convoluted and multi-layered complexity that is expected in spy fiction. It certainly isn't the heavy-duty and serious art that we found in both Atonement and Saturday -- and it wasn't intended to be; it is fun fiction by a great writer.  I give it an A- rather than an unqualified A, not because of any faults in the work, but simply because it isn't Atonement or Saturday; also, because it's hard to give a full A to a piece of fun fiction.A-
... and from outside of the MI5 safe house:
I will not be able to make the book group on the 28th.  I will be in LA helping to celebrate my granddaughter's 8th birthday.  I would like to attend the book group because I think there will be a good discussion of the book.  So, here is my review:
I just finished reading Sweet Tooth for the second time.  I first read it soon after it was published.  I have read several of Ian McEwan's books -- I liked most of them -- a couple of them I really disliked. 
I enjoyed Sweet Tooth a lot.  The writing was clear, the story and the characters were interesting, and I liked the ending.  It brought back memories of the 1970s when we faced the oil embargo and Watergate.  I also found his discussion of M15 and the people in the service very interesting and a little frightening. 
In some of his books, McEwan takes a long time to get to the point.  I did not feel that way about this book.  It was a pleasure to read. 
Grade: A-
Enjoy your discussion on the 28th.
Dick J 

As my deal ole Dad told me so many times, “Son, you’ll have to kiss a lot of mannequins before you find your doll.  This is the third Ian McEwan novel we have read (all thanks to Charlie, I believe), and to me this was the first disappointing effort for a number of reasons.  At first I was distracted by McEwan doing the voice of the female narrator.  I got past that after some tens of pages, but it came back to bother me later and during some of the sex scenes.  Finally, the ending justified my disquiet.  But other things bothered me:  did anyone else find it disturbing that Serena wanted to jump the bones of every man she came into contact with?  From old Tony and grey-chested Tom to young Max.

Post Script:   I woke up this morning with a Eureka! moment.  The reason this was such a bad Ian McEwan novel was that Prof. McEwan didn't write it as Ian - of course, he had to write it as Tom Haley, a writer so bad he has plots with identical twins exchanging roles, and apes making it with female writers.  So McEwan really did a bang-on job of creating Haley's first full-length novel - which is as it should be, terrible!  

Nevertheless:  No bonus points for a super job of creating an excellent rendition of a bad novel.  Unfortunately, the reader is still obligated to read the novel, it ain't that funny, and it still deserves the grade as posted:  C  Yes, it would have given Hitch a laugh - as he downed another Johnny Walker Black Label with his best friends Martin Amis, James Fenton, and Ian McEwan.  I'd probably sacrifice my reputation too, and a great deal more, in the hopes of hearing Hitch laugh once again.

    -  Mike

      Shane   by Jack Schaefer      September 2014

All twelve homesteaders from along the river just outside of Cheyenne showed up for an historic meeting at the Gilbert General Store.  They were boisterous, they were rambunctious, they were lustful for Jean Arthur.  Some comments could not help but be heard over the ruckus: 

Bob Woods:  I thought the book was classic.  There is an whole genre of books and movies based on roots in this book.  Today, the obligatory bar room fight has been replaced by the required car chase.  The writing was good, Hemingway-like at times.  B-

Ron B:  It was an enjoyable read, a good plot.  I give it an A

Dick J:  I read the book in one sitting, then 800 pages of “Nathez Burning.”  My wife and I discussed how to grade Shane.  A fun, easy book to read.  A formulaic book:  A-

Charlie:  This is the problem of comparing good entertainment vs. great art.  A- is the grade – a perfectly done entertainment.

Dick Arms:  A genre book, but very well done.  Well told from the kid’s point of view.  The descriptions were well done.  Entertaining, I read it right through.  A

Jack:  Delightful, with the theme of good vs. evil.  Even Shane had a shadowy past, and in the end, Good won over Evil.  A

Rob E:  This was a Stand by your Man book.  If the story were told by Hollywood today, Shane and Stark Wilson would go off together hand in hand at the end.  No surprises in the book, rather predictable.  The narrator got the feelings across well.  A small –

Bob Simon:  I enjoyed it – well written, well developed plot, great American Novel.  A

Tom G:  I don’t have enough time to express my thoughts on this book.  I loved the movie – I love Jean Arthur in some of her 40s romantic comedies such as “Talk of the Town” and “More the Merrier”.  I’ve been calling Sheila “Marian” for the last two days.  I consider the greatest romantic stories to be subtle, implicit,  forcing the reader to read between the lines.  I loved how Joe Starrett recognized what they were doing to Shane – Schaefer was terrific.  I was ready to hate the book, but I found it beautifully done.  I will always love Jean Arthur.  solid A

Ken:  Classic, easy read, the story of good and evil.  The book seems a bit dated now, so predictable, not much character development.  I had mixed emotions on this book.   B+

Keith:  I thought I was simply elegant.  A-

Mike:  I loved the building structure of this book – and using the grown up kid as the narrator was perfect.  The opening of the kid seeing Shane ride up, the bonding experience between Shane and Joe of working on removing the stump, the clash between Chris and Shane, then the great bar room fight (no guns) with five guys taking on Shane, and finally the climatic gun fight with Shane, Wilson, and Fletcher.  Beautifully, simply constructed and carried out.  A-

      The Moon and Sixpence   by W. Somerset Maugham       October 2014

Ten esteemed art critics of Albuquerque gathered at an exhibit of the impressionist works of Charles Strickland, dec.  Their whispered affirmations were overheard as follows:

Mike:  Some authors are great short story writers; some authors are great novella writers; a few are great novel writers.  This book appeared to me, like several we have read, as a collection of short stories bound together and presented as a novel.  We have discussed before that nowadays we don’t have letter writers like we used to, as young folks live in a Twitterverse of 140 character bursts.  Perhaps that is not all bad; we don’t want the excess verbiage as displayed by Maugham in The Moon and Sixpence, especially with some of his side adventures of Dirk, our narrator, and Tiare.  B+

Keith:  The book was twice too long.  I enjoyed the end game. Gauguin in his last five years created The Pleasure Palace – two stories with a ladder – and was heavy into opiates.  I don’t see Gauguin rising to the legendary acclaim he has received.  I enjoyed the book and the writing:  B

Ken:  I thought the writing was good.  Strickland was a desperate character.  B+

Charlie:  I give it a B; Maugham writes well, good character development.  The main value for me was to learn more about Gauguin.   

Rob E:  I enjoyed the book, it kept my attention.  I read it on two three hour flights on successive days.  Maugham captured my attention with his depiction of artist fanaticism – a person who throws off all bounds of civility to pursue his muse.  Every time I drive through Madrid, I think:  could I drop out, and become a starving artist in Madrid?  (So far, the answer is No!)  I thought the book was well-written - I enjoy the elegant writing style of that period.  I thought the book bogged down when Maugham turned to arm-chair psychological speculation on what make Strickland, and his enablers, tick.  A-

Dick Arms:  I like the old fashioned writing, makes you see the characters such as Dirk.  We tend to get the two lives confused (Strickland and Gauguin).  A   I hope the members will be encouraged to read more Maughan on their own.

Jack:  I tend to agree with Mike and Charlie.  Maughan is an artist with words.  I enjoy his wit.  The story line dragged for me.  B

Bob Simon:  The book piqued my interest in Gauguin.  I liked the short chapters and the teasers at the end of each chapter to keep you going.   This book reminded me of “The Good Soldier” with its similarities of delving into the psychology of the characters.  The crafting of the writing was better here.  I didn’t like the characters but I like Gauguin.  A-

Ron B:  The chapters could have been longer but this was easy for me to read.  The writing was from 100 years ago.  The story line was good:  A-   I would read another Somerset Maugham.

Bob Woods I have problem as I had read many of his short stories as a boy but none of his novels.  Maugham is psychoanalyzing to explain why people do what they do.  B.  I urge you to read some of his short stories. 

and from off-shore Tahiti:
I will not be at the meeting next Thursday.  I will be in Maui.  We go to Maui each October.
I read the book and would like to make some brief comments.  I was surprised to find that I had it on my Kindle and had read it in the past couple of years.  I thought the book was extremely well written, the story was very interesting , the characters were well developed (though many of them were wretches), and the narrator did a good job of story telling.  I think the book will lead to a very interesting discussion--I'm sorry to miss it.  I would give the book an A-.
   -  Dick Jensen

      Short Story Collection of Saki   by Hugh Munro       November 2014

Nine erstwhile Edwardian lords considered the words of Saki:  “The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened.”  They felt that Saki understood the world when he said “The people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally.”  And finally, looking around the room, the nine concluded, “There was something alike terrifying and piteous in the spectacle of these frail old morsels of humanity consecrating their last flickering energies to the task of making each other wretched.”  The morsels spoke:

Bob Simon:  I love the guy – I give him an A.  One of my favorite writers – like Alexander King on the Jack Paar Tonight show, Saki is the best I’ve read. 

Dick Arms:  I enjoyed it tremendously.  I had never read Saki before – reminds me of the writing of Somerset Maughn, Conrad, the Edwardian period.  He had to have influenced P.G. Wodehouse.  Drawing room humor – really enjoyed it all the way through:  A

Dick Jensen:  I hate to be the downer – I didn’t like it at all.  Maybe I am not inclined to British humor or stories.  B

Charlie:  Clever, well-written, I give it an A-

Keith:  I read the wrong book:  Cooked.  This book was the PhD level of cooking.  Two I would prefer was when we had Michael Escofier on the phone, and the Isabel Allende book “Aphrodite.”  A morsel of humor:   What is the one food guaranteed to reduce the libido of women by 80%?   Answer:  Wedding cake.

Mike:  I’m glad I was introduced to Saki and will introduce my sister to his collected works.  These stories reminded me of Twilight Zone episodes – almost any of these short stories could become a half hour show for Twilight Zone.  Some ended too abruptly.  The writing was very well crafted, the jokes were mostly timeless.  I realize Bob suggested the ‘best’ of the stories, or at least those he liked the best.  I read a few that were not at that level, and my grade hovered between A- and B+    However because of the language and the spirit, I go with A-

Ken G:  I found the stories intriguing.  I read all the recommended stories and I have mixed opinions.  Some were A stories, some I didn’t get at all, or did not like, such as "The Unrest Cure".  [Ken introduced Hitchens' 2008 review of The Unbearable Saki by Sandra Byrne.]  I was vacillating between a B or a B+ and I’ll go with a B+

Tom G:  I just read the six recommended stories.  I plan to read more.  At this time I don’t feel qualified to give a grade on his entire work.  I though the stories were fairly slight, not overly deep.  I think the best was his use of language and vocabulary and sentence structure.  As a society, that’s gone pretty much.  We had all that in the writing of Nabokov, Austen.  I’d like to read his novels.  I’ll give it an A-  

Ron Bousek:  I don’t think they were made to be read sequentially, but rather read one in a magazine and wait for the next issue to be released.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to read Saki.  A- 

...and from just outside the wire mesh temple to the great god Sredni Vashtor:

Dear Bob and Mike,
Bob, sorry I won't be able to attend your soirée on the 20th, but my brief comments on the short read follow.  And unfortunately, Mike, I won't be able to make yours on the 18th of December either.  It seems the flight back from our South American voyage doesn't arrive in ABQ until after 10 pm that night; nonetheless, I hope to get my comments about Saul Bellow's work to you before then.
Although not particularly thought-provoking, I found Saki's short stories easy to read and entertaining.  I enjoyed "Tobermory" and "Sredni Vashtor" from The Chronicles of Clovis the most.  B
Warm regards as we anticipate our own "River-of-Doubt" adventure,

      Humboldt's Gift   by Saul Bellow       December 2014

Nine naked nabobs of negativism gathered in the steam rooms of Stalgren Court to discuss money, success, and happiness.  Profs Ferrell, Bousek, and Woods were unable to climb the stairs and join the discussions.  In their absence, the nine decided the following comments were appropriate:

Ken:  I have mixed emotions; I think that Bellows is a great writer, humourous, insightful – but tedious.  I think it could be cut by 30, 40, 50% with the same message.  B+

Charlie:  The book was way too long.  Narcissistic ramblings; his philosophy was tedious:  Aristotle to Nietzsche to Freud – a graduate level student in philosophy might be interested in this.  Not much plot; rambling.  C-

Dick Arms:  I didn’t finish the book, but I find myself in Charlie’s camp:  page by page the book was interesting, but not much of a plot.  I only read 100 pages, so I will pass on awarding a grade.

Rob Easterling:  I didn’t start the book. failed me – however, in a Cliff Notes version of the book, it came across as a soap opera.  No grade.

Dick Jensen:  After I bitched and moaned about reading this long of a book, I thought about it for awhile, and came to the conclusion that I really liked it.  What the heck, read and get through it.  The Narrator I could understand.  The End was too unsettling.  High:  A-

Tom:  I still don’t know what he was portraying, but it was an interesting character.  I think Saul Bellows was intelligent.  Rudolf Stein must have been a fraud.  We all think of these questions – no answers exist, nor will they ever exist.  I like the interaction with the other characters:  Naomi Lutz, Cantabile.  But half the book was philosophy.  C

Keith:  Comedic ebony (i.e., Black Humor).  The subject was saturnine (gloomy).  My roman à clefDelmore Schwartz was Humboldt, Bellows himself is Charlie Citrine.  Schwartz is listed as #338 out of the top 500 poets of all time.  Here is a snippet (final 3 verses) from his poem All Night, All Night:

   O your life, your lonely life 
     What have you ever done with it,
     And done with the great gift of consciousness?
     What will you ever do with your life before death’s knife
     Provides the answer ultimate and appropriate?

     As I for my part felt in my heart as one who falls,
     Falls in a parachute, falls endlessly, and feel the vast
     Draft of the abyss sucking him down and down,
     An endlessly helplessly falling and appalled clown.

     This is the way that night passes by, this
     Is the overnight endless trip to the famous

I think Bellows took us into the vortex, the endless abyss from which we would not recover.  B-

Bob Simon:  I appreciate that poem – I like plot lines, but I was interested in the philosophy.  B

Mike:  This novel is an untypical modern day example of a picaresque novel.  Earlier examples are Tom Jones and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Such novels are built around a rogue character who lives by his wits, not by hard work, and such novels do not have a plot, but follow the character's ramblings.  Perhaps when we read and gushed over Huck Finn, we did not realize that there really was no plot, just rambling.   I didn’t need all the anthroposophy philosophy, but this was Charlie Citrine’s world that Bellow has us experience, not our vision of the ideal novel.  A

... and from outside of Chicago, we have a review on another Saul Bellow novel, Mr Sammler's Planet:
I am sad I will miss the discussion tonight.  Our flight out of Fort Lauderdale has been delayed, so we may be later than we originally thought returning to ABQ.  In any case, my brief comments about your [earlier] selection for this month follow.

Certainly not an easy read, but I found it intellectually challenging and interesting.  I believe Arthur Sammler’s observations shed light on Saul Bellow's attempts to understand how a modern, advanced and cultured society can commit such crimes against humanity as the Germans did in the 20th century.  His inquiry is made from a Jewish perspective of course, but it is a subject of interest to me as a student of German history.  A tough read, but I would recommend it to anyone who shares my interest in German or even a broader interest in European history.  A-

Regards,  Jack

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LTBC Summaries & Review Comments
[January 2013- December 2014]

This LTBC Book Reviews Page  last updated:
 27 December
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