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+.|
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.|
|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?|
|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:
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
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
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||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
"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
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?
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?
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..
"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)...
"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."
The Shipping News by Anne Proulx
- 26 May 2001
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:
Grades: Ranged from A to B-; mode was A- [5 of 'em, including the two phoned in from the braked members.].
Requires high tolerance for anquish; science fiction plot, enjoyably and well
"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.
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
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,
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.
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
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.
| 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
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".
|Summaries & Review Comments
LTBC Summaries & Reviews last updated:
7 January 2004
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