The Last Thursday Book Club
Summaries and Review Comments from the Meetings


Select Summaries & Reviews from 1999 Selections
Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
by Alfred Lansing
Despite the inexcusable lack of a map in the text, and the curious lack of explaining in detail such crucial survival items such as the history and workings of a blubber stove, and how to squeeze hoosh from a seal, this 'thrilling reading experience' was awarded some of our book club's highest marks, from B+ to A, and even one A+. 

Review of the Photography Exhibit [WSJ]

Angela’s Ashes
A Memoir by Frank McCourt
   When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all.  It was, of course, a miserable childhood:  the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.  Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

Captured Review and Commentary.

Cusack's review in the American Journal of Psychiatry

The Life of Samuel Johnson
by James Boswell 
 The most quoted man of the 18th Century.  Received an average grade of B; low was C; most enjoyed the Johnson sound bites, but were disappointed there was little of his actual work.  "Abridged Too Far." Chewing his cud, making annoying sounds, wearing his undersize wig stuck on top of his head - would you invite this man to dinner?

 Samuel Johnson on Hollywood Celebrities and Professional Athletes.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller C and lower grades.  Several members felt it was necessary to get past the 20 page Introduction by Karl Shapiro and the first 80 or so pages of the book itself before finding some well-written essays on life and Paris. 

Two sentence wonderfully depressing description of life:
"One is ejected into the world like a dirty little mummy; the roads are slippery with blood and no one knows why it should be so. Each one is traveling his own way and, though the earth be rotting with good things, there is no time to pluck the fruits; the procession scrambles toward the exit sign, and such a panic is there, such a sweat to escape, that the weak and the helpless are trampeled into the mud and their cries are unheard."      [pages 183-184] 

Select Summaries & Reviews from 2000 Selections

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce
"James Joyce's supremely innovative fictional autobiography is also, in the apt phrase of the biographer Richard Ellmann, nothing less than "the gestation of a soul." For as he describes the shabby, cloying, and sometimes terrifying Dublin upbringing of his alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, Joyce immerses the reader in his emerging consciousness, employing language that ranges from baby talk to hellfire sermon to a triumphant artist's manifesto."

Somewhat disappointing to many of us who had heard of this book all our life but never read it.  Certainly disjointed.  All of us were captivated by descriptions of scenes such as the Christmas Dinner (with adults arguing about Parnell), the 'unfair punishment' for Stephen and his brave visit to the school prefect.  I was a little surprised that Joyce's description of Hell was all taken from Piermonti's sermon, which you can learn from the Notes version of the book.  Grades ranged from B to C-, with one A.

by Leslie Marmon Silko
 Well crafted story of 'battle fatique' in a young Indian returning from WWII. Received grades from A to C; some thought it had anti-white sentiment; most felt it was very well done.

Apparently this book is assigned within schools to young readers - some love it, some hate it! 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
 THE American Novel.  Everyone loved the humor and the humorous descriptions; grades ranged from A to B; criticism is that of many 19th century novels: story hinges on highly inplausible events.  Example:  when Huck drifts down the river, and is about to give up, goes ashore and is welcomed at a farm - just happens to be the farm of Tom Sawyer's Aunt.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow....
When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out." 

One of our best selections:  mostly A grades.  Harper Lee only wrote one novel, but it was a classic.

 Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945

by Stephen E. Ambrose

Gives readers a real appreciation for the lives of W.W.II soldiers in Europe.  Even if you only read a few pages, you will learn something of our parents generation in W.W.II.

"Stephen E. Ambrose combines history and journalism to describe how American GIs battled their way to the Rhineland. He focuses on the combat experiences of ordinary soldiers, as opposed to the generals who led them, and offers a series of compelling vignettes that read like an enterprising reporter's dispatches from the front lines."

Summaries & Reviews from 2001 Selections

25 January 2001  -  The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) took something like 70 years and ended up in 12 volumes (now up to twenty).  They had volunteers read all of the printed literature from the time of the printing press through the 18th Century and make lists of all of the words in the books with the quotes showing use.  This would be written on slips of paper and mailed to Oxford where the sub editors would sort and collate.  The Editor, Murray, would then create definitions. Facinating process.

22 February 2001  -  Timeline by Michael Crichton

The male-dominant Last Thursday Book Club held its February meeting at the home of John "Big Pie" Taylor; eight members were present.  Warm-up acts included the erudite and high-energy Raisin displaying discipline and bi-lingual digestion; discussion of the City Council's ill-fated Noise Ordinance; and Coming to Closure with the ghost of our Founder, the self-separated but never-to-be-forgotten John Beresky.  Ron B. was applauded for completing the book a full three weeks ahead of the meeting, albeit in a high-fever, flu-driven state.

Somewhat surprisingly, all present members enjoyed reading Crichton's Timeline - but beyond that, critiques varied considerably.  When the Playboy review/bio revealed the difficult relationship between young Michael and his father, who rudely denounced Mike's initial writing effort as 'the most cliche-ridden drivel', the father was praised as a perceptive critic. The opening Timeline scenes captured all, appearing as a Hillerman-style mystery, but Detective Jim Nearly Chee and Dr. Tsosie quickly disappeared. Overall, the book was written considerably different from Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park;  this 1999 work appeared aimed at Steven Spielberg, as in "Steve-Baby!  Let's make another top-grossing movie together!  Look, here's the multi(verse)cliff-hanger screenplay ready to go!"

[If you both read and saw Jurassic Park, you may agree that Crichton did a much better job writing the novel - but Spielburg's self-proclaimed passion/forte is making everything into the old Saturday serials/edge-of-your-seat action.  Unfortunately, that style of writing is not Crichton's forte.  His Andromeda Strain was very well done, and so was Jurassic Park.   Not Timeline.]

The Saturday matinee adventure-writing detracted from Crichton's story, but the physics was not overdone after all.  Prof. Genoni provided an excellent capsule description of his love of quantum mechanics and the beauty of the theory as espoused and refined by Neils Bohr, Schrodinger, and Einstein at the end of the 1920's.  We enjoyed hearing of Bohr berating Schrodinger even in his sickbed.

Crichton did some clever things, very entertaining -  having super-guide Gomez's head removed within 2 minutes of landing in 1357 was shocking, attention grabbing.  Realizing that all of our 20th century sophistication bought exactly nothing in 14th Century France was eye opening - and reminiscent of the Y2K concerns, at a peak when this book was published.

Most LTBC members felt the convoluted adventures in 1357 were too much, but all felt they learned something - you mean those dead cow catapult scenes in Monty Python's Holy Grail were based on fact!  And the water-power based industrial revolution of the 14th century displayed sophistication we had not previously considered.  But characters like ITC's Doninger were a caricature.  And the 37 hour clock ticking down - can you believe they would be rescued with 45 seconds left?

Review by Rob Easterling:

Crichton's ability to write fantasy pales in comparison to Max Evans' ability manifested in the Bluefeather Fellini chronicles.  I really got tired of, then bemused by, all the scrapes our intrepid quantum-transported graduate students got into and out-of.  7-foot giants, etc., etc.  I did see it through to the end, partly because I spent three days on the road, riding not driving, last week so I had time to kill.  The writing was pretty pedestrian -- are all of this guy's best-sellers like this?

Grade: C-

Sorry to miss this month's meeting, but this grade wouldn't have earned me much dessert.

PS:  Great point about the disappearance of the Navajo sleuths.  When Doninger dissed them early on, I thought that revealed the ultimate outcome -- Jim Nearly Chee would put smarty-pants in his place.  I think Crichton got so involved dreaming up crises that he forgot where he started..

Grades ranged from A- to C-; B- occurred most frequently.

Parties interested in joining LTBC will be welcome at the March meeting.  Two billets are available; a wrestling match will decide the finalist.  Ron B. is composing a personal ad for The Alibi:  "Eleven males looking for 12th to complete the John at ..."

29 March 2001  -  Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence 

There appears to be much autobiographical material in D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers;  from this complete on-line biography of the author by Prof. Worthen of the University of Nottingham, consider this excerpt describing the author's father Arthur and mother Lydia:

"D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) was born on 11 September 1885 in the small house which is now 8a Victoria Street, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. Eastwood was a growing colliery village of around 5000 inhabitants: there were ten pits within easy walking distance, and a massive majority of the male population were colliers (Lawrence's father [Arthur] and all three paternal uncles worked down the pit)...D.H. Lawrence, 1885-1930 (Bettmann Archives)

"Arthur Lawrence was a butty - that is, a man responsible for the working of a small section of coal-face along with the team of
workmen he organized - and it seems possible that when he married Lydia he had not told her that he himself worked
underground. The loss of her own family, her disillusionment with her husband, and her anger at the ease with which - after
early promises - he slipped back into the male world of evenings spent drinking with his mates, her dissatisfaction with her own
roles as wife and mother in the succession of - to her - alien villages in which they had lived, had created in Lydia Lawrence
both depression and a great deal of anger. Finding herself pregnant again in the early months of 1885 cannot have helped. The
Victoria Street shop had not done well (Lydia was probably not an engaging saleswoman): and a new baby born in September
1885 - they called him Bert - she had to care for signalled, perhaps, the end of her attempt to be independent which the shop
had marked. In 1887, shortly after the family had moved down into a larger company house in "The Breach" - and the Breach,
if well-built, was notoriously common, even by Eastwood standards - she had another baby, Lettice Ada (1887-1948): another
link in the chain she felt binding her down.

"Home life for the Lawrence children became polarized between loyalty to their mother as she struggled to do her best for them, in scrimping and saving and encouraging them in taking their education seriously, and a rather troubled love for their father, who was increasingly treated by his wife as a drunken ne'er do well: and who drank to escape the tensions he (as a consequence) experienced at home.

"Lydia Lawrence consciously alienated the children from their father, and told them stories of her early
married life (like, for example, the episode when Arthur locked her out of the house at night) which they never forgot, or
forgave their father for. All the children apart from the eldest son George grew up with an abiding love for their mother and
various kinds of dislike for their father. Arthur Lawrence, for his part, unhappy at the lack of respect and love shown him and
the way in which his male privilege as head of the household was constantly being breached, reacted by drinking and
deliberately irritating and alienating his family. It seems quite likely that, for long periods of their childhood, his drinking and
staying out in the evenings, until his tipsy return would lead to a row, effectively dominated the children's experience. His
behaviour - and his spending of a portion of the family income on drink - caused all the major quarrels between the parents,
divided the children's loves and loyalties, and left Bert with a profound hatred of his father and an anxious, sympathetic love for
his mother. The young Paul Morel lying in bed at night praying "Let him be killed at pit" (Sons & Lovers 85) is probably a true
memory of the young Bert Lawrence, lying in bed waiting for his father's return home at night.

"It is as well to keep this matter in perspective. Arthur Lawrence never left his family (though he may have threatened to): he
never seems to have had to miss work because of his drinking: his earnings were never so diverted into drink as to leave his
family seriously hard- up: he was rarely if ever violent; and it is probably wrong to think of him simply as an alcoholic. And, as
always, the problems with the marriage did not stem from the behavior of only one of the partners. Lydia Lawrence certainly
played her part in alienating the children from their father and in setting the agenda for their behavior. They were not to look
forward to becoming colliers, like their uncles and their father, and like the vast majority of their contemporaries at school. They
would take the teetotal pledge; they would treat school and its possibilities very seriously; they would go to Sunday school and
chapel; they would become clerks and teachers; they would not grow up believing that men should boss women about; they
would have ambitions to rise, if possible, into the middle-classes. All this, of course, still further alienated and angered Arthur
Lawrence. But, in short, the Lawrence children would conform to the Beardsall family's image of itself rather than to Arthur
Lawrence's; and they would grow up to do the things, and take the chances, she herself would have liked to have done and

"For - without her children - all Lydia Lawrence had to look forward to, in the long- term, was the growth of her children, and
especially her sons, into manhood and independence. Both literally and metaphorically she always seems to have looked
forward to some kind of painful struggle back up the hill into respectability. In 1891, the family managed the literal move when
they moved up to a bay-windowed house in Walker Street commanding a magnificent view over the valley and beyond; and,
the same year, the eldest son George left school and started work. Her favorite child, however, was her second son Ernest,
who was the cleverest of all her children at school (Bert was delicate in health and missed too much school when young to do
particularly well). Ernest left Beauvale school in 1893, and quickly found work as a clerk; and his mother's hopes became
bound up with his success. George was always rather a problem to his mother: he ran away to join the army in 1895 and his
mother had to buy him out: and then, in 1897, he had to marry his pregnant girl-friend Ada Wilson (1876-1938). Altogether he
probably seemed (to his mother and to his siblings) rather too much like his father, whom he always thought very highly of. But
Ernest went from strength to strength, through a succession of relatively well-paid jobs. As well as working, he studied in the
evenings, read widely, taught shorthand at the local night school and also gave private lessons. He ended up, at the age of 21,
getting a job in London at 120 lbs. a year. Arthur Lawrence, even in a good year, would not have earned as much as that, and
would normally have earned considerably less."

"It was while he was at work in Nottingham, at Haywoods, that the great tragedy of the family occurred. Ernest was still
working in London, and had recently become engaged to a London stenographer. Louisa "Gipsy" Dennis. He had been home
for the traditional October Nottinghamshire holiday, known as the Wakes; but had fallen ill with erysipelas on his return to his
south London lodgings. His landlady sent a telegram to Eastwood, and Lydia Lawrence braved the trains and the suburbs to go
and nurse him. She found him unconscious and dangerously ill when she arrived; doctors could do nothing (the disease
commonly led very quickly to blood-poisoning, high fever and pneumonia); and he died within a day of her arrival.

"Of all the possible disasters in Lydia's disappointed life, this must have been the worst. She took little interest in her family that
autumn; and when Bert himself fell ill, just before Christmas, it came only as a dull shock to his mother. But the work in the
factory, the strain of the long day (twelve hours at work, and two more hours travelling), combined doubtless with the fact that
his mother was effectively ignoring him, weakened him, and Bert went down with double pneumonia. And his mother nearly lost
him too. Release from the emotional traumas of the autumn, and Bert's recovery, led her to identify her hopes and emotions
with her youngest son to an extent which she had never done before; he came back to a new and very significant kind of
intimacy with his mother. He would now be carrying the weight of her hopes and expectations - and of her love: a love to which
he instinctively responded, and never forgot."

"Portrait of the Artist" meets "Angela's Ashes" [Genoni]; quite a range of grades [A- to D] sparked quite a range of opinions, which included:

26 April 2001  -  Crossing to Safety  by Wallace Stegner

Mary Stuart Page and Wallace Stegner   About relationships between husbands and wives and between couples.  LTBC grades ranged from A to C, with A- the mode.
Provoked some unusual discussion.  Ben felt the book was about Charity Lang, everything else was the framework to tell her story.  'She must have been an oldest sister, because she was so bossy, had to organize everything and everyone.'  Rob felt that Sally Morgan was the strongest character in the book, the glue that held the two couples together - 'but they didn't get together for the eight years before the closing scenes, so the glue must have become a little watery!'  Interesting enough, we never even talked about the Italian year that the couples spent together.  Rob or Tom pointed out that in another Stegner novel (Angle of Repose?), a character is wheelchair bound.  We all felt that the first two chapters were excellent; some felt the writer's gift drifted away toward the end, others were very moved by the closing chapters.  Interesting.  Strong writing, well crafted phrasing.  Excellent in parts. Parts were unforgettable.

The Shipping News by Anne Proulx  - 26 May 2001

Logistical Notes:  Brakes locked on Keith's Mercedes on the way to Vern's East Mountain abode, derailing himself and Ron B. from attendance.  [Secretary mentioned the irony that he was attending the meeting because of a brake lock-up ... in 1929.]  Members are reminded that our by-laws state "...members will abandon their vintage vehicles whenever and wherever such an emergency occurs, and continue moving toward the meeting location on foot."  Gary G. made up for it somewhat, driving up from White Sands to make the [2nd half] of the meeting.  What a Book Club!

About the Author:  E. Annie Proulx ['X' is silent] born in 1935, lived for some time in Vermont woods, learned survivor skills, wrote several related 'How To' books.  Apparently her Postcards has even a less happy ending, so she wrote the ending to The Shipping News first.

The Shipping News has many of the makings of a great book:  original writing, excellent writing, different style, captivating content.  Perhaps a downer, perhaps an affirmation of the human spirit.  Only the LTBC can decide that, so we will have to wait until the grades are requested for the lifetime rating.  Meanwhile....

What we enjoyed:  The farewell party for Nutbeem was great - some super logic, that you want to show you love the guy so much that you chop up his boat so he can't leave.  We also appreciated the poignant story of the Home Children [Billy Pretty's father, William Ankle, pages 167-169].   We liked the four women in every man's heart, which certainly fit Quoyle's life:  The Demon Lover, the Maid in the Meadow, the Stouthearted Women, the Tall and Quiet Woman.  We loved Quoyle thinking in headlines:  "Dog Fart Fells Family of Four" - that one by itself pushes the book into the 'A' category [B. Smith].

What was Unusual:

What was surprising: Concerns:
    Were we being manipulated by the author?  By both the Ashley Book of Knots theme/chapter, and the cover etching of Hauling Job Sturge's House -  how much was a story wanting to be told, and how much was driven by forcing a story [or tieing the author's loose threads] to these external drivers?
    Was the resurrection of Jack Buggit at his wake too much?  [See the origin of the tradition of  'wakes' and the actual 'awakening' of Irish miners thought to be dead.]  Some did not like the ending.  The author states she wrote the ending first - not really a happy ending, but simply the absence of pain.

Insightful Comments:

Grades:  Ranged from A to B-;  mode was A-  [5 of 'em, including the two phoned in from the braked members.].

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell - 28 June 2001

Logistical Notes:  Meeting started at Rob's Retirement Party, where we filled our pockets with barbeque chicken wings, then happily chopped his car to smithereens, then proceeded to meeting location [Blackledge's].  Those of us who made it to Rob's Party enjoyed the 'Secret Life of Robert Easterling' [Microsoft Word 97] presented by his Sandia Statistical Colleague, Kathleen Diegert, with collaborating evidence by Rob's sons Michael and Jeff, and Rob's statistical arch-nemesis, Harry Marx of Los Alamos.
   Note:  Through special arrangement with the State Department, the Port of Galveston, and several well-placed bribes, a collection of Havana cigars in the original Book-Like humidor was made available to the members at the June meeting, partially to honor Rob's retirement, and partially because the meeting was held outdoors.  [Unfortunately, the purveyor of the cigars, B. Smith, who smuggled them into the state, was unable to attend the June meeting, as he is currently serving 5 to 10 yrs in the Big House.]

The Sparrow:  Requires high tolerance for anquish; science fiction plot, enjoyably and well written.
"an astonishing literary debut, takes you on a journey to a distant planet and to the center of the human soul. It is the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a twenty-first-century scientific mission to a newly discovered  extraterrestrial culture. Sandoz and his companions are prepared to endure isolation, hardship and death, but nothing can prepare them for the civilization they encounter, or for the tragic misunderstanding that brings the mission to a catastrophic end."

Dear Father Sandoz:

Your hands have arrived.  They will be shipped to you COD within the next
two hours.  We hope to soon solve the problem of 10-light-year intervals
between order placement & receipt of product. Hope you're still alive.

Please inform other members of your expedition that we carry a wide array of
appendages, internal organs, and asteroid appurtenances.  We would like to be
part (in a manner of speaking) of your next trip to Rakhat.  We are including
for your consideration a small sample of the kind of products that we would
have available for your purchase.

Thank you for your business.

We live to serve.
Jesuit Jesters

 Invoice of items:

Interesting Reviews and Essays:

Thinking makes it so:  The central concern of the book "The Sparrow," by
                       Mary Russell Doria, is not so much the existence or
                       non-existence of a maker, but the make-up of the maker as
                       far as we can understand the planning and purpose (or lack
                       thereof) involved.

The Sparrow, reviewed by John Kahane:  I will be one of the first to admit that I'm not all that fond of religious science fiction and fantasy. There are exceptions to the rule, notably the work of James Morrow (Only Misbegotten Daughter, Towing Jehovah) and that of Walter M. Miller, Jr. (A Canticle for Leibowitz), but I find the majority of these books to be too preachy. Jesuits tend to be the most common religious figures to show up in American sf, for reasons that I'm not sure about, but perhaps because the Jesuit mission of education and remote, missionary work coincides with the sf theme of exploration and discovery. Or perhaps because Jesuits tend to get into trouble. The central figure of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, Emilio Sandoz, is one of the most tormented Jesuits I've ever encountered in modern science fiction.

The Sparrow, reviewed by Jim Mann:  I am generally at least a little wary when approaching a novel by an author I haven't heard of before. This is especially true when the novel is a first novel and when it's clearly an SF novel (using standard SF situations and settings), but is marketed as literature. Such novels can be good, but often they don't work well as SF. (Some of Kurt Vonnegut's later works come to mind here.) Thus, I approached The Sparrow thinking "this might be quite good, though it'll probably make some of the mainstream-author-writing-SF mistakes." I'm delighted to say that I was wrong. The Sparrow is a superb novel, that functions as SF, while addressing a number of the concerns, and having a depth of theme, typical in good mainstream novels.

The Sparrow, reviewed by Kristen Pedersen:  Sometimes you read a book that changes the way you think, that has
                                 characters so well drawn and experiences so beautifully described that they
                                 become a part of you. Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart was like that for me; I
                                 first read that book over 15 years ago, and I still love to reread it. Watership
                Down also did it, but I find fewer and fewer books move me in such a way as I
                                 get older. The Sparrow, however, is one of those rare, precious books.

The Sparrow, reviewed by Ben Smith, LTBC:   I hate missing the meeting but London (with my grandsons) calls. Don't forget to hang on to my humidor. I want it back and any cigars that the guys (and your wife) don't smoke.

I have the same paperbook version of "The Sparrow" that you do and I thought the interview and notes were quite interesting. I thought Russell did a great job of writing, developing the alien planet, its creatures and the story very well.  I kept wondering if she was a member of PETA when she referred to the Runa kids as "veal".  A similar theme was told about 40 years ago in a Damon Knight short story entitiled "How to Serve Man". I agree that the tale of Sandoz required a high tolerance for anguish and hope she was kinder to him in the sequel. It was awful to replace years of celibacy with being the boy toy for a bunch of  weirdo sodomizing aliens who use their claws to hang on to his ankles. I could see how it might turn him against sex (as well as God and his fellow humans).

Some might argue that there are other concepts of God other than the controller of fate who does good and bad thing to us (the "puppet master" or the"cosmic bell hop" as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Him). Maybe in the sequel Sandoz will find Love and redemption.


I'll think about you guys as I eat my fish and chips.


The Sparrow, reviewed by Rob Easterling, LTBC:  Mike -- Because someone has company in town today, someone probably won't
make the meeting.  So, here's someone's review.

I enjoyed the first half to two-thirds of the book and thought the general development of the characters was well-done and convincing.  The book's premise was intriguing and credible.  The one character who got increasingly on my nerves was D.W.  He was way over the top as a good ole' boy Texan.  Then, when I read the acknowledgments, I found out why -- Molly Ivins.  To me, she's one of the most irritating columnists around.  She was good several years back explaining Ross Perot to us, but has gone overboard since.  It's pathetic that Russell had to use Ivins's characiture of a Texan.  Then, when D.W. came out of the closet, I thought, Give me a break. What a cliche -- the homosexual priest.  That's when I decided Russell was a scientist trying to write a novel by a conventional formula.  Almost painting by numbers.

From that point on, I took a more jaundiced view of the book.  The cannibalism and the murders and the buggery were not dramatic, thought-provoking moral calamities -- the horror, the horror! -- just the expected completion of the scientific formula.  Well done, though, for a scientist.  And I had a lot of sympathy for Sandoz, though I'm still not quite sure why his hands were mutilated.  I'll give it a B.

Sorry to miss my last meeting for a while.  Keep me on the mailing list and I'll try to read the monthly books.  I'm really going to miss the LTBC.


The Sparrow, reviewed by Ron B., LTBC:  The Sparrow was a fun read but disappointing in its theological superficiality. Here we have a merry band of Jesuits encountering intelligent extraterrestrial aliens, and issues of salvation and redemption, central to Jesuit thought, are ignored.

Have the aliens also been redeemed by Christ on Earth, or are they yet awaiting a Redeemer? Must Christ come to their planet too? Who knows, but surely this would have been a matter of some reflection for the Jesuits.

These questions could be safely ignored in science fiction, but for the fact that there were Jesuits on board.

Someone wonders, what does it mean when the central Jesuit figure is not only sodomized by aliens but has his hands, which have been consecrated to say the Mass, mutilated?

Grade(s): Science = C, Fiction = B, Theology = D

Review by the LTBC:  Someone would prefer a sequential book.  Someone would prefer no books about man searching for God.  Many someones would prefer not having the characters impersonate Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, "Hey, let's go out in the barn and put on a show and fly off to another planet!"  Someone thought the clever dialogue/banter was at times too much.  Someone thought women writers are more into dialogue than male writers.  Someone thought D.W. was a plastic character, but John Taylor said Millsaps was just as eccentric a prof for him.  Someone thought it was a good read. Someone enjoyed Triple Berry Jumble, warmed, with ice cream on top [created and produced by Tricia Blackledge].

John Taylor proposed that the LTBC produce, star in, and sell a Full Monty calendar for the year 2002.  Meeting adjourned.

Grades:  Ranged from "at least an A" to C+;  mode was B+.

Discussion Questions - reading book guide.
Children of God - reading book guide to the sequel.

The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan  -  July 2001

The Last Thursday in July occurred on the First Thursday in August -  this is no harder to understand than the fact that the official end of World War II occurred on December 31, 1946.  Our host, Gary G., reminded us that Cornelius Ryan, a newspaperman like Harrison Salisbury (The 900 Days), flew many combat missions and was recognized by Malcolm Muggeridge as 'the most brilliant of journalists.'

Most of us did not know much about the Battle of Berlin prior to reading this book.  Heinrici came across as a most brilliant general - was he that good, or was it just that he provided a great interview?  Our LTBC was cleanly divided between A scores and B scores on this book.  The B contingent felt although it might have been a forerunner of Ambrose's style of using 'real interviews' to tell the history, Ryan did not carry it off as well.  B-raters felt it was good Readers Digest level writing.  The 'A' contingent felt it was a very compelling read, covering the chaotic, horrible mishmash that is war, and allowed the reader to understand the Battle of Berlin from the German soldiers' viewpoint, the civilians fear, and the Russian perspective.  Amazing that Stalin brought his two best generals back to Moscow in the Spring of 1945, had them each work up an independent plan as to how they would attack Berlin, and then turned them both loose.

The LTBC was treated to strawberry/blueberry shortcake surprise by S. Ganong, with chocolate mint brownies as an extra. The other highlight of the meeting was the Poet Laureate's rendition.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells  -  August 2001

A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo  -  September 2001
   Ten veterans of the LTBC met in the tent of Ron B. and welcomed a replacement:  Earl Kinsley (1000 Stagecoach, 299-2334).  Earl thinks our group should be named 'The War Book Club.' 
   John T. thought Ron's selection was clairvoyant - much discussion ensued concerning our current conditions and comparing the recent events with Caputo's experiences in VietNam.
   Ron felt the book as a journal had no political agenda; Genoni felt it was strongly anti-war.  Keith said it was a linchpin book:  gruesome, graphic, & graceful.  This was the first book for which Keith did not have to look up definitions of words.  Mike felt it was repetitous with deaths that did not move the reader - perhaps when compared with today's tragedies.  The grades were fairly tightly grouped, like a good firing pattern:  3 A, 3 A-, 1 B+, 3 B. 
   Perhaps all non-fiction war books are anti-war.  This was certainly the story of young idealistic American wanting to 'do for his country' and finding disillusionment in the fact that war no longer requires acts of courage, only showing up. 
   The Club is hoping for a lighter book in October.

Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling   -   October 2001

This House of Sky   by Ivan Doig  -  November 2001    [ballots distributed following this meeting]

There is an Ivan Doig web site:

which has book discussion and reader's guides for Doig's
works. There are also a number of reader reviews at

Band of Brothers   by Stephen E. Ambrose  -  December 2001

The Band of Brothers known as the Last Thursday Book Club met at the home of Henry Ellis to sip wine, munch on brie, and exchange war stories.  Ron felt Ambrose had provided a service to mankind by capturing this history of Easy Company, and awarded the book an A on those humanitarian grounds.  Most members felt it was not Ambrose's best work, citing insufficient attention to seques between paragraphs and anecdotes; the book included several typos and exhibited glue marks from cut and paste [see for example pgs 187-188 on Cpl. Gordon's story - Gary asked if assembled by graduate students?].  Henry noted a spastic quality in the writing.  Keith felt that the greatest disappointment was that this 3-Sigma Company was comprised of extremely ordinary soldiers who were at heart killers, looters, and scofflaws.  However, the book was a treasure trove of information from an historical aspect about a good war that will never be fought again.  Readers actually enjoyed the hedonistic looting of Berchtesgaden.  Grades [other than the Humanitarian Award] ranged from B to C+.

Band of Brothers, reviewed by Ben Smith, LTBC:   We'll be in Little Rock and I will miss the Last Thursday of 2001 Book Club Meeting this month.  However I have finished Ambrose's Band of Brothers.  I thought it's strength was the very human stories of the guys in Easy Company. The other side of the same coin is that I also almost developed battle fatigue from reading so many "war stories".  Also I felt that this book, though written first, could have been written from interviews left over from his book on D Day and Citizen Soldiers. It lacked the strategic overview of the other Ambrose books and Ryan's Last Battle (I like maps and that sort of thing). Still very good and worthy of a "B".

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 7 January 2004

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