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

April 2003 - December 2004

To Latest Review

Summaries & Reviews from January 2002- March 2003 Selections

Kim  by Rudyard Kipling  -  January 2002

 What do you get if you cross a Babu and a lama?
 - Ben Smith, c. 2002
  - Desi Arnaz, c. 1952

Aiee!  My heart cracks!  Yess, the holy gathering occurred on the Last Thursday of the First Month of the New Year, despite the defiling of the Web Site by some Pathan.  All twelve of the chelas huddled together for warmth within the temple of ganong, an act which has not occurred since the Wheel of Life first began its ceaseless revolution.  The timing was auspicious!  The devil-dance was begun!  And many were the pearls of wisdom that dripped from the mouths of the chelas.
Some of the chelas were not pleased:  "This felt like a High School reading assignment."  "Kipling should have stayed a poet!"  "The Quest is tedious!  Bring me not another Quest!"  "Convoluted, complex -  reading it was like dating the High School cheerleader, and then finding out after the third date that she was a lesbian!"   And the marks given by these chelas were C's, yea verily unto D's.
Some of the chelas found The Way:  "Window to an entirely different culture."  "Anti-materialism."  "Characters were well drawn, interesting."  "Second half made it all worthwhile."  And the marks given by these chelas were B's, even unto A's.
Some of the chelas had questions for the Master:  "Were these players of the Great Game not traitors against their own country's nationalism?"   "What Pathan placed this book into the Children's Section?  What child could read this book?"  "Was not Kim a half-caste?" [and the Master answered that he was not;  the name of his mother was given ~ p. 84.]  And Kim doth appear on the Modern Library top 100 at the 78th position.
Aiee, I am only a beggar's brat - but on that Final Thursday of the first lunar month, I did abide with my brethen within the temple of ganong, and ate of thy bread, and tasted of thy salt, and made the River of our healing upon the floor of thy living room, and then how canst we separate from one another in this life?
Friend of All the World, I have sinned against thy lama!  As well with my llama!  I am bound too tightly upon the Wheel of  Life, and the binding has severed the flow of  fluids to my wretched beggar's organ, and I am clever not!
 I shall beat thee in the morning.  I lovest not Hindus.

    -  Be not afraid!  ...  This thing is the work of the government!  -

-  Manhattan Project, c. 1943

ba·bu also ba·boo (bä'boo) noun
    1. Used as a Hindi courtesy title for a man, equivalent to Mr.
    2. a. A Hindu clerk who is literate in English. b. Offensive. A native of India who has acquired some superficial education in English.


Hin·du·ism (hin-doo-iz´em) noun
A diverse body of religion, philosophy, and cultural practice native to and predominant in India, characterized by a belief in reincarnation and a supreme being of many forms and natures, by the view that opposing theories are aspects of one eternal truth, and by a desire for liberation from earthly evils.
Da·lai La·ma (dä´li lä'ma) noun
The traditional governmental ruler and highest priest of the Lamaist religion in Tibet and Mongolia.

[Tibetan : Mongolian dalai, ocean + Tibetan bla-ma, monk (so called because he is known as the ocean of compassion).]

Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov  -  28 February 2002

Compiled revues by Gary Ganong et al of the Feb. 28 meeting.
Rob Easterling: A-
             "I thought Bend Sinister was great writing.  Nabokov has dazzling creativity and craftsmanship.  One surprising turn of events or phrase after another.  He writes about gruesome, abhorrent stuff in a captivating, subtle way.  There were some really funny scenes in the book -- the bridge, the faculty meeting, Mariette, more -- but you don't forget the sinister undercurrents beneath the surface -- like the Jaws theme.  Tom waxes rhapsodic about N and I've joined the fan club."

              Nabokov was a genius who could make subtle illusions about ghastly topics.

            Gary Ganong: B+
             The book was an excellent satire. The humor in the book relieved the tragedy.

            Tom Genoni: A-
           I agree with some critics (and club members) that Nabokov went a bit overboard in his use of distracting literary devices (e.g., word games, foreign language passages, nearly an entire chapter devoted to Hamlet esoterica), and as a result I lowered my grade from A to A-.

Nevertheless, it was a compelling story, masterfully crafted, providing further evidence (as if any were needed) that Nabokov was an absolute magician with the English language.  I hesitate to use the term genius (Keith used it at the meeting), but it may well be applicable to our favorite Russian.

            Finding perfect felicity in specialized knowledge,

                    -  tcg

Tom is part of the Nabokov cult. "Nabokov puts words together well. The book is fabulous. This book has the most gimmicks and esoteric references. Nabokov was an elitist snob, not close to anyone but his wife. Nabokov's homosexual brother died in a concentration camp. The fact that his wife was Jewish also made Nabokov anti-Nazi. Nabokov hated the Nazis and the Bolsheviks. He said that he was not a writer of social commentary."
            Krug objected to getting involved with politics. The black humor of  “You can kill six people, a sensational offer” was great. Tom loved it when Krug was asked about his colleagues and responded that they had perfect felicity in abstract knowledge and did not commit physical murder. This was Nabokov's most gruesome book. Tom enjoyed the anagrams of Adam Krug’s name.
            Bend Sinister was not well received when it was published. Nabokov let Krug go mad to relieve him of his pain.  Krug refused to be seen taking the political people seriously. The political people were treated as black comedy.
 Ben Smith: B-
             The story was entrancing, but Nabokov's arrogant word games detracted from the narrative. There were recurring images. Nabokov wrote for himself. Nabokov wrote a powerful political book. He was carried away by his hate for the Bolsheviks. The lesson of the book is to be careful whom you sit on. The death of David is an attack on Russian pseudo science. The death of David was more brutal than life. Nabokov borders on schizophrenia. Krug was an idiot, too detached. He could have saved himself and his son and did nothing.
     Earl Kinsley: B+
             He has read six books by Nabokov and likes his writing.

            Keith Gilbert: A
             This was the best book that Keith has read in two years. Nabokov is touched by genius. The book is poetry, a wonderful book. The father and son were in metaphor.  It was pure creative comedy. The plot was a roller coaster ride. Keith was amused when Mariette took off her clothes and made sucking sounds with her thighs. The Hamlet chapter (7) did not fit into the book well.

            John Taylor: B+
             John was glad that he picked this book. It is at a different level than other books. The book started off strangely and was not fun to start.  Nabokov was fluent in English, French and Russian.

             Ron B. read “Walk in the Woods” when he could not get Bend Sinister.  Substituted Katz for Krug.
            Mike B. read John's original book suggestion, Nabokov's "Pnin", or at least started it.  Very clever, good humor, worth reading.

Man and Superman  by George Bernard Shaw  -  for March 2002 [meeting on 2 April 2002]
   For most of the LTBC, this was the first they had read of GBS - and it may be the last - although most were glad to have had the experience - once.  Grades were grouped strongly in the C category.  Some found it plodding, stilted, some nuggets, but primarily fool's gold.  Struggle to get through.  Some enjoyed the 'Revolutionist's Handbook' added at the end as the work of Jack Tanner, MIRC [member of the idle rich class].  However, the letter preceding the play did not fare as well -  most found it impenetrable, and found themselves 'praying for a paragraph.' 
   Genoni indicated that it showed GBS' interpretation that life should have art and philosophy intertwined in all our lives.  One should not just be an accountant, but an accountant-philosopher.
Overall, the play was amusing and dated and typical of the man-woman struggle, but here the man wimps out at the end.  Great writer, showing intellectual acrobatics.  Dated in showing women taking the lead in pursuing man.  The socialist tendencies showed through sometimes:  political thinking - getting rid of property rights. 

Longitude by Dava Sobel  -  25 April 2002
   The members of the LTBC cruised in to Longitude 1000 Stagecoach to view the museum-like collections of Earl, everything from first edition Mark Twains to early American pedestal cameras.  'Where is H-1?' demanded Ron B.  'I have it right over here,' sez Earl, 'as I am an amateur horologist.'   'As was I,' sez our fearless leader, 'before I married and had to give up the wild life.'

   The members in general found Longitude to be interesting, fascinating.  Keith described it as 'A timeless message of an idiot savant battling the bureaucracy.  Undereducated, overachiever, he battled until at last the King stepped in and saved him.  Very uplifting, great message.'   Genoni added, 'a clear example of what Nabokov described:  "seeking perfect felicity in specialized knowledge."  -  the writing was not that strong, wasn't a well written book, but it provided a window back into time.  John Taylor triumphed:  "175 pages, large font -  I made it through!" 

   The recalcitrant secretary rebutted the group, stating that not only was Longitude not the greatest scientific problem of the time, but that Sobel (and perhaps Parliament) claiming that longitude was at fault in the Scilly Isles disaster of 1707 is no better than claiming the recent winter pileup of 14 cars on Interstate-40 should be blamed on the lack of a GPS system in each car.  Bad judgment during bad weather creates accidents, not navigation errors!

   Grades grouped tightly around a mid-B:  one A-, one C+, the rest all B or B+  -  Ganong e-mailed in an A-.

Rule of the Bone  -   recalled on 1 May 2002

Well, that's a relief, even though I won't be there for the meeting.  I started reading the Bone book, but got so disgusted I decided to return it to the library, rather than carry it on this trip.  For about 1.5 pages I  thought this was an updated Tom Sawyer gets mixed up with a bunch of rogues sort of book, but didn't find much redeeming humor or empathy, so quit after  maybe 50 pages.

             Thanks.  Maybe I'll pick up Antonia on the way.



Afterthought:  Ben Smith made it all the way through Rule of the Bone, and found it a good updating of the Huckleberry Finn novel;   all the characters were there, perhaps not so lovable, but cast in the present juvenile delinquency of the late 20th century vice the late 19th century of the original.  Gave the book a B- overall.
Ben also read the original selection of this host, 'Love Warps the Mind a Little' by Dufresne, and liked it the best of the three - awarded it an A-.

My Antonia  -  30 May 2002

Winter comes down savagely over a little town on the prairie.  The wind that sweeps in from the open country strips away all the leafy screens that hide one yard from another in summer, and the houses seem to draw closer together.  The roofs, that looked so far away across the green tree-tops, now stare you in the face, and they are so much uglier than when their angles were softened by vines and shrubs.  ...   The pale cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify - it was like the light of truth itself ... as if it said, 'This is reality , whether you like it or not.  ... this is what was underneath.  This is the truth.'  It was as if we were being punished for loving the loveliness of summer.
My Antonia: The Hired Girls, VI, p. 172
The Last Thursday Book Club met on the pale cool back deck and amid the rings of smoke from semi-legal Havanas, courtesy of the good Doctor, and discussed life, truth, and the Albuquerque Isotopes.  The nuggets within My Antonia were many:  the shock of Papa Shimerda's suicide; the strong presence of Antonia; the story of Pavel and Peter and the wolves - and the doomed bridal party; the advantages of town life over country, and the draw of the farm life.
Interestingly, more than one club member had difficulty picturing the narrator as a man, or a young boy, and kept thinking that the viewpoint was that of a woman -  thus they were quick to classify Jim Burden as a wimp, unable to get it up and make a decent pass at Tony.  Others pointed out the difference in ages, women mature early while we menfolk are still looking forward to achieving maturity -  Tom has been told (by Sheila) that maturity is a nebulous wisp for men ...
Grades were high;  Keith was the most critical of the book, but recognized its nuggets, and thus awarded a reluctant B-.  The other members chose either a B+ or an A- grade.

Dessert was 'Banana Split Surprise' by Tricia Blackledge -  received high accolades from all members present!

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul   -  27 June 2002
Decay and disappearance.  As the smoky orange sun settled over the north ridge for the last time, two of the once great water buffalo slid into the murky watering hole and and grunted contentedly as the herd gathered once more in the age old ritual.  Life on the Congo, by V. S. Naipaul.
V. S. Naipaul, self-proclaimed 'intuitive writer.'   From whence cometh this man?  Who is this writer who appears twice on the 100 Books of the 20th Century and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature?  Why have we not read him before?  Why have we not heard of him within the herd? Keith remarks that like Gabriel Marquez-Garcia, of 100 Years of Solitude fame, he was born in '32, wrote of colonial times moving into independence, had a sense of the mystical realism, awarded a somewhat controversial Nobel prize.  Keith, looking for compassion, found none in this book or in its characters.  No emotional highs or lows, but some surprises.  The characters lived in limbo, amorally adrift with no direction other than what each day brings.  Deliberately:  no joy, no despair.
We found that slaves can be a burden, once they have tenure.
The book reads like an autobiography, it has authenticity, the characterizations came across as real, as if the author had lived these events.  Not quite lyrical, yet moved the reader forward, wanting to return and pick it up again.  We admired the craftsmanship, as the characters interact masterfully.  Perceptive - but so sad.  It's an honest book - a tragedy.
The Big Man's White Man's Medicine Man could not make it to the gathering, but sent his summary:
         I enjoyed reading Naipaul's  Bend of the River.   Until I read about Naipaul I would have sworn he had  lived in some former African colony as it progressed and regressed though various stages of chaos.  To me the important point of the story is that the normal activities of life (making a living, dealing with friends and  relatives, fornication, etc.) go on even during times of extreme political instability, and that much in life is determined by chance encounters. 
        Wasn't Salim lucky he got along with Ferdinand?

               Congo under Mobuto?



The grades of the herd included one A [host?], two A-, three B+, two Bs.  Inspired Quote of the Month.

Next month's meeting will occur a week earlier than scheduled.  We will vote on changing the name of the club to LPBC [Large Print Book Club].

Swift As Desire by Laura Esquivel         18 July 2002

Top 10 Reasons Why Keith Chose This Book:
10.  A sensuous romance is "Good for the Soul."
 9.  To lighten up Post-Menapausal Males' Libidos.
 8.  A book dedicated to a Father:  Julio Cesar Esquivel.
 7.  To licentiously lure J. Taylor.
 6.  To provide a respite from recent heavy reads.
 5.  A lighter Bill of Fare to combat hot, humid summer.
 4.  Select a book > 2 sigma out of the mainstream (this keeps my track record intact).
 3.  To see if the sequel after the widely acclaimed entrée, "Like H2O for Chocolate" would "measure up."
 2.  Two words:  207 pages

... and the number one reason for choosing this book ...
 1.  To understand that the Kama Sutra is not the "Last Word" (Hindu: Love and Marriage Rules).

   The Last Thursday Book Club met on the outside terrace of Keith's South Carlisle abode, and were enchanted with the opportunity to meet Gina, his Silicon Valley [actually peninsula: Los Altos, CA] daughter, and his grandson Brandon.  Gina was lovely, clever, quick-witted, hospitable, which was more than most could say of Laura Esquivel.
   The grades for Laura's 2nd novel ranged from a B-flat to C-flat.  Most members found something nice to say about the book, but most also found one or two distracting elements:
  Great read.  Enjoyed picking it up and continuing the story.  Don Pedro certainly described with a string of adjectives, not Hemingway-like.
   Wasn't great writing, but different, a change of pace.  Why did she have to throw in her 'scientific insights'?  "Like Water For Chocolate" was great.
   Was this Magical Realism?  - or Sloppy Science?  Sure, the Mayans were a fine people - but three orders of magnitude more accurate in their calculations of the sun's orbit?  Where do people get this stuff? If I were grading this in a creative writing class, I'd flunk her. 
   One good thing:  this was not an anti-male book.  The father Jubilo had serious flaws, but was still loved and respected.
  The good Doctor Ben had expected his plane to have a chance to get him to the meeting sometime on the 18th, but it was not to be. [foreshadowing]:
               Missed a connection in Houston and got in too late to make the meeting. 
               Sorry to have missed it.

               I thought that Esquivel's book was interesting in a "chick chic" way. 
               Lluvia's (Laura's) idealized view of her father and his sexual prowess was 
               especially interesting and, I'm sure, similar to the way my two daughters 
               think of me (though I must confess I never tried the anatomical Morse code 
               tricks). The whole story of Jubilo, Lucha, Pedro, Lolita, and Ramiro was 
               tragic but in a soap opera sort of way.

               I liked your rationalizations for picking it.



Several members worried that the beauty of the book, which was all about communications, may have lost much in the translation.  Here's a story to illustrate that possibility:

    A Mafia Godfather finds out that one of his underlings has screwed him for ten million bucks. This underling happens to be deaf, so the  Godfather brings along his attorney, who knows sign language.

    The Godfather asks the underling: "Where is the 10 million bucks you embezzled from me?"
The attorney, using sign language, asks the underling where the 10 million dollars is hidden.

  The underling signs back: "I don't know what you are talking about."
The attorney tells the Godfather:   "He says he doesn't know what you're talking about."

    That's when the Godfather pulls out a 9 mm pistol, puts it to the underling's temple, cocks it and says: "Ask him again!"
The attorney signs to the underling: "He'll kill you for sure if you don't  tell him!"

    The underling signs back: "OK! You win! The money is in a brown briefcase, buried behind the shed in my cousin Enzo's backyard in Queens!"

   The Godfather asks the attorney:   "Well, what'd he say?"

    The attorney replies:  "He says you don't have the balls to pull the trigger!"

The Chosen by Chaim Potok          29 August  2002

Such a deal !  I got wholesale BookClub for you, this one night!  Eleven for the price of a dozen! Every member present except John Taylor, who channeled through Earl Kinsley in the guise of Leonard Labinowitz, who really lived in a Jewish neighborhood, like they were not only my friends in high school, and I went to all their activities, so I was elected student body president as a gentile but I had two Jewish campaign managers, and then the principal asked if Leonard could be my roommate at University of Maryland, and he could have gone to Harvard or Princeton, I mean like he won the Westinghouse Science Fair competition, so: . . .    B

Actually, everyone seemed to like the baseball game except for Earl [and Leonard].  Ron said this was a book about tension - in the baseball game, in the hospital, between Hassidic and Orthodox, between father and son, tension, tension everywhere ... 
So Ben says the hospital scene was a good look at life before managed health care.  So stay awhile, enjoy !
Ron was going to vote an A- for the book, but Rob Hassidiked him down to a B+
The dedication was pointed out:  the trout and the hook, and who sees the suffering of the trout?  Keith says its similar to the lesson to be learned when the teacher drops a worm in a glass of water, and a worm in a glass of Jim Beam.
This book had to be a catharsis for Potok; he had to be Reuven.
So is the life spent arguing interpretations from the Talmud a life well spent or a mind wasted?  Better or worse than watching Gilligan's Island reruns?  Mental exercise or religious fervor?  What, there was a mistake in the baseball game?
Perhaps it could have been called "Fathers and Sons" - but didn't the mental exercises remind you of the Glass Bead Game?  Or was that only Rob?  Was this book a one-trick pony, with holding off on the explanation of The Silence?  Was Reb Saunders a wire father, or a charismatic inspiration? Didn't Danny get more fathering than he realized, with the opportunity to shine in the light of his father by finding the mistakes?
A little history, some understated drama, what, it's going to kill you to read a book?  Don't be a schmuck!  Read, already!  Discuss among yourselves !  B+ !

26 September 2002:  A Gathering of Unix;  Christians Gored

      The Seven Unix all congregated at the temple of Ben Augusta to discuss the initial historical novel by Gore Vidal.  The Philosophy Student Thomas found Vidal smart, clever, enjoyed the interaction between Libanius, Priscus, Julian.  Periodic wonderful humor, jabs back and forth e.g. cost of copies.  Interesting to get Vidal's read on history.  A-
     Ah, not so fast, spoke Oracle Rob.  I have recently reached six decades and have wisdom beyond the young courtesan.  The book was too long, tedious, especially the court dialogues.  The two commentators were not so much clever as prissy.  Gore tried way too hard to bash Christians. OverwrittenC+
    Ah, yes, spaketh Gallatiean Don.  I was surprised to hear the student Ganong go on about this book.  He said he could not put it down.  I had no trouble putting it down !  Don went to the Library to check out the references and the facts - and I found, like Earl, that the text closely followed the text of the references, like Gibbon's 'Rise and Fall.'  And how did this military genius rise up from the boondocks of Turkey?  He cleverly 'island-hopped' down the Rhone, with his objective in mind.  B-
   The Great Hellis-nist spake positively:  This was quite interesting - it was history I knew nothing of before, and I took it as I read it.  Great sections of the book were well written - with humor and suspense (e.g., going into Gaul); other sections which were heavy conversational dragged.  If edited down, it would be far better.  A solid B.
   Earl has read The Twelve Caesars - only five of which died natural deaths, apparently from high cholesterol.  He also read the 180 pages devoted to Julian in Gibbons' "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."  Earl felt Julian would be a very good book if halved; and wished it had been so cut. B.
   Augusta Ben wrapped his toga a little tighter around himself, and declared this to be one of his favorite books - it tells of the beginning of the Byzantine Empire - where soldiers spoke Latin, and the royal families spoke Greek.  He liked the twist of telling a story as the mean Christians against the poor pagans.  To straighten out the scoring average, he gives it A+  ... yes, he is serious, an A+.  What, do you want to be a eunuch forever?  Shut up and eat your banana foster !
The LTBC had three reviews from the hinterlands beyond Antioch:
Dear Ben:

               Since I must miss the next meeting of the LTBC, let me give you a review
               of "Julian."

               Thank you for choosing "Julian" and getting the books for us all from
               e-Bay. I really enjoyed 90% of "Julian". It is a great tragedy. Julian
               was so perceptive of the flaws of Christianity but was blind to the
               flaws of paganism. He also seemed like a very decent man. You could not
               say that Julian persecuted the Christians from reading Vidal. The web
               says that Julian stripped Christians of their privileges, rather than
               persecuting them.

               I especially enjoyed the Vidal's changing perspectives from Julian, to
               Priscus to Libanius. It seemed awkward at the beginning, but very
               humorous later on. Everyone had some ridicule of the others.

               The best part of the book was the part before Julian became emperor. His
               struggle was so human. Once he became emperor, his character seemed to
               dull a little. The pagan rites were almost comical, certainly pathetic.
               The derelict pagan priests and oracles were quite funny.

               I agree with the above web site, that "Even so, and even though
               seventeen hundred years later, we are predominantly a Christian society
               in terms of our beliefs, it may have been the pagan attitude of
               religious tolerance that prevailed." Of course tolerance did not prevail
               during the Inquisition, the Reformation and the Salem witch trials.
               Perhaps the American and French revolutions did more for religious
               tolerance than Julian's legacy.

               Good book:  A-


My Fellow LTBCers,

               I must send my regrets for this month's meeting as I will not be attending...

               I will host the October meeting, but would like to meet on 24 Oct. instead of
               the last Thursday, if it's OK with you all. That would give 4 weeks for my book
               and 4 weeks for Tom's. My book is It's Not About the Bike, as planned.


               After reading about 53.98% of Julian, I sort of lost interest (and was
               distracted by 10 days of visiting relatives in Ohio). I enjoyed some of the wry
               writing, but on the whole it seemed to lack human warmth and human drama.

               It had many interesting details of life at the time, but I wondered what was
               fiction and what was carefully researched. So should I take it seriously or
               not? I couldn't get into it.

               I'll give it a C-minus.


Yo can attend 26 sep soiree..tackled tome in
               pagosa..soporifics set in @34.4%..stuff a fictional historian might
               enjoy..clinical detail dazzled me with ennui..a C grade tied to a Sept.
      @ oct cyclethon

It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong       24 October 2002

May the peloton be with you...

Gary Ganong summarizes:
Keith Gilbert was the secretary. It was a real
sharing session. Half of the club are cancer survivors: Ben, Henry, Earl, Don,
Tom and Vern. Unfortunately Henry, Don and Vern were absent. The rest of us
shared cancer stories. Ron and Grace are retiring Dec 1 and Nov 1 to care for
their granddaughter who is getting a kidney transplant in January from her

Rob Easterling reports in:
Sorry I can't make the meeting.  I read the book and really enjoyed 
it -- and it was quite a bit about the bike. Actually, I thought it
was a fascinating and well-told account of what Armstrong went
through. I read it quickly early in the month -- read it so quickly
that I felt like I was at Genoni-like speed. But then I realized that
Tom probably read it in the time I'm taking to write this report. I
used to spend quite a bit of time on a bike, so I can empathize a
little with what he did and continues to do -- very little. It's
unbelievable to watch him and others climb those French mountains like
they do. But, enough about the bike. Beating cancer like he did
really seems miraculous, supernatural. Was it luck, strong character,
good medicine, God, ... ?? I look forward to the answer the group
determines. For captivating reading, I'll give it a B+.
Read a book recently by a German adventurer who retraced the 
Shackleton boat trip to Georgia Island and the mountain crossing to
get to the whaling station. Title is Shackleton's Wake, by Arved
Fuchs. Fuchs and his crew of 3 had a pretty harrowing sail themselves
in a replica of the Caird that Shackleton and crew sailed. He has a
few negative things to say about Shackleton that provide some useful
context to the accomplishment.

 The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene      22 November 2002

Seven members showed up and we had a great discussion of
                   Graham Greene's "The Heart of the Matter."

                   Reactions to Scobie as a character/person were mixed. The more
                   empathetic among us felt that Greene successfully portrayed a
                   believable crisis of conscience, with Scobie torn between a sense
                   of responsibility to his wife and to his mistress on the one hand,
                   and his strict interpretation of the rules of his Catholic faith on
                   the other. Other less sensitive members saw him as a depressed,
                   perhaps neurotic "wuss" (see limerick below), unable to see beyond
                   his own personal problems and unable to make a decision regarding
                   the direction his life should take. (Where is the love???)

                   A couple of people felt that the book gave them some insight into
                   the workings of the Catholic mind (albeit the Catholic mind of 60
                   years ago.) Ron made a few comments on the history of the practice
                   of Confession in the Catholic church, and he pointed out that today's
                   Catholic would almost certainly not interpret the role and rules
                   regarding Confession as literally and strictly as Scobie did.

                   Most everyone seemed to appreciate the quality of Greene's writing
                   and the grades were in a tight grouping - 3 B's, 4 B+'s, and an A-.

                   Our poet laureate mailed in his grade (one of the B's above) along with
                   the following limerick entitled "The Heart Doesn't Matter":

                   Duty, God, Women and Gin

                   Scobie: A Likeable Wuss Who Can't Win

                   His Losing Grapple With Life

                   And Sordid Betrayal of Wife

                   'Tis a "B" Read:  Too Dark and Too Thin

Ballots now being accepted for member votes on the 12 books read this past year. Send (email preferred) your votes to Blackledge (

Founding Brothers by Joseph E. Ellis      19 Dec 2002

A hearty and healthy Seasonal Spirit was all but palpable in the Four Hills home of Henry Ellis for the Last Yearly meeting of the Last Thursday Book Club.  Henry opened the meeting by claiming he is of no relation to the author - yet apparently both have been educated.  However, the author Ellis is apparently the same sweetheart who enthralled his little Mt. Holyoke girls with tales of his exploits in VietNam, whereas in truth he spent the entire war safely ensconced behind a desk in the English Dept. of West Point.  He said he had no idea why he did that; Mt. Holyoke responded by removing his professorship.  Joseph also gained notoriety for bringing up the theory of the Sally Hemmings- Thomas Jefferson affair, which DNA evidence later indicated had some family basis in fact.

  When we were learning Civics/American History in the 50's, Jefferson and Franklin and Washington were presented as superior beings; Adams was mentioned primarily for his bluster and counterpoint to Jefferson; and Abigail's influence was not really known or presented.  When we learned history, the time that our land had been a bunch of independent 'colonies' was almost as long (1776 - 1605 = 171 years) as the time we had been a single country (1955 - 1776 = 179 years). 

  How would you compare these Founding Brothers to modern American Leaders?  Perhaps Washington's political stature reminds us of Ronald Reagan.  "The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other." --- Ronald Reagan.  Other comparison to today:  most of the Founding Brothers would not have entered the media circus as represented by today's politics; one exception might be Burr.

  Vern's Question:  Why was the Duel of any significance in American History, other than a sidebar?  Why start this book with The Duel?    Ron B's Answer:  Why do they showcase the murderers at the top of the 10 o'clock news?

  Ben:  Reminds me of tales of "American Political Tradition."  But this was rather wordy at times. A-
  Don B:  The book kept my dictionary at hand.  Ellis pulled together facts, particularly on Jefferson, whom I had always kept on a pedestal before as "the ultimate" revolutionary icon - but apparently there were a few dark spots in his life [note: not a reference to Sally H.].  I learned a lot about Adams - he was a legitimate part of the founding brothers, with a strong role.  In some of Ellis' descriptions he overdid use of high-powered words.  B+
  Vern:  I had mixed emotions on the book.  Three of the chapters were quite good, and three were obscure.  The Silence was interesting, as was The Friendship.  The Dinner suffered from two much personalization.  The Collaborators seemed chaotic, as perhaps they were - serial collaborators.  Very wordy.  B
  Keith:  The book needed an enema - stuffed with way too much words.  Chap. 1:  sleazy start with bullets.  Then 2, 3, 4 - saving grace was the sense of humor.  Washington;  Adams described as hoary, hot revolutionary - you don't hear those descriptions today.  I wished I had been a dyslexic reader so I would have read Chap 6 six times - this was Ying and Yang, Jefferson and Adams, 6' 2" and 5' 6" - wonderful!  ... not the author's words, but the letter writers'.  B 
  Mike:  I love history, but I did not love this book.  We've read three by Stephen Ambrose:  how would Ambrose have told this story to make me enjoy it? -  he would have expounded on Washington's 'well-known temper' which is not well known to me; on Hamilton being stoned by the crowd as he was trying to defend Jay's Treaty, amazing to think about when we consider these people untouchable icons today. [Keith:  Clinton was stoned several times.]  What great senses of humor these people had in troubling, highly uncertain times - e.g., Justice Jay describing how the entire eastern seaboard was lit by people burning him in effigy.  B-
  Tom:  I liked it a lot - it humanized these people.  Focused the slavery question which is important to focus on as it is the center of political discourse today, and will continue to be for perhaps another century.  After reading "The Silence" I could not read another chapter without having that focus, that context in mind.  A-
  Gary:  Reading the Preface, I thought Ellis to be the master of the 5-line sentence.  Didn't care for the Preface.  You don't get a lot of these "people details" in history - never hear about their flaws.  I enjoyed it - Life is complicated, and Ellis took a long time to write each chapter because many complex characters and issues.  A-
  Earl.  I just finished a 700 page book [biog. of John Adams].  Also book on Monticello: Jefferson was in heavy debt for ~ $150,000.  After his death, a Jewish Naval Officer (Commodore Levy) bought Monticello for $2,500 and kept it for 80 years.  Claimed he spent $50,000 per year in upkeep, but it still was run down.  Congress bought ~ 1910.  In this book, I learned a lot about dueling (e.g., hidden hair trigger).  B+
  Ron B.:  Read the first third.  Ellis was too taken with his own verbosity; I thought of Stephen Ambrose and what he would have done with The Dinner Party.  B
  Henry E Author was good at showing intricacies and complexities of an issue; but made elliptical, not direct writing.  Loved it, but could use more straight-forward analysis.  A+ for concept and content, but overall:  B+
  All in attendance were treated to Florence's "only three times a year" chocolate fudge cake, as topped with vanilla ice cream.  Revolutionary !

Rob Easterling mailed in his review:
Looks like I'll miss another one -- unexpected company.  Very sorry about that.  I will definitely host the Jan. meeting -- Jan. 30.

                   I'm enjoying founding brothers -- the really-truly greatest generation.  Best chapter so far is Washington's Farewell Address.  Especially liked learning of the Washington/Jefferson disputes. Took some of the luster off of Jefferson, which is healthy.  My knowledge of the American
Revolution and early days doesn't go much beyond grade school, so this has been educational.  Do think, however, that author has historian's penchant of going on too long in some areas, probably in
order to get all those footnotes in.  The Burr-Hamilton duel was an example of overkill -- pardon the expression.

                   See you in January.

                   Rob Easterling

A Little Yellow Dog by Walter Mosley  -  30 January 2003

A dark Thursday night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but high above the busy streets, within the gated community of Ventana Aqui Yo Mama's Soul Don't Shine, one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions   -   Easy Rawlins, School Custodian   -

   This is Mosley’s 1996 addition to his series featuring Easy Rawlins.  Rawlins solves mysteries utilizing the classic Sherlockian method of unraveling the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life, searching through the tangled threads of 1960’s Los Angeles to unravel a baffling combination of murdered twins, sexy teachers and flight attendants, and LA drug traffic.  The difference from other detective story series is that Rawlins is not a detective but a superintendent of school custodians and most of the action takes place in the Los Angeles black community.  Followers of Rawlins' earlier adventures are aware of his origins in Houston's Fifth Ward, how he became a pioneer in the single parent movement and his involvement with one of the more interesting psychopathic buddies in crime literature, Raymond “Mouse” Alexander.  I was disappointed that Mouse played such a short role in this story and was eliminated from future tales by his redemptive death in support of his friend Easy.  Mosley avoids the trap of imitating John Ball’s Virgil Tibbs who demonstrated that an educated middle class black can function successfully in the rural South and keeps Rawlins close to his working class origins. 

     I like the stories and consider them excellent “period pieces” taking us into the black culture of urban Texas and booming Los Angeles of the post World War II era.  This story holds your attention well despite sometimes tangling the thread to the point of confusion.

Grade B
                                                                            - Ben Smith

This book started off with a bang - and raised my prurient interest.  Then there was not another encounter till Chapter 17.  Too many meaningless characters.   Islands of scintillating prose surrounded by oceans of ennui, drivel, and palaver.  Gulp!  I'm drowning in pulp!

Grade C
                                                                             - Keith Gilbert

   Easy's lying to himself, he tells you the others are lying - I give up! Distressing to say the least.  The book had major faults but it gave a look for me into the subculture. 
   Who was murdering whom?  I didn't carry away a message.
   Went over the top with the race card. And as Marlene said (Seinfeld, 23 Jan, 1991):  "Well, to be honest, it just didn't make it for me. It's just so much fluff.  I can't be with someone if  I don't respect what they do."  "You're a cashier!"   "It was fluff, Jerry -  I heard the material."  "I HAVE OTHER STUFF!"
   Entertaining period piece.  I didn't worry about solving the mystery.  I liked the phrasing, liked the humor - similar to the black character in "Confederacy of Dunces."  Mosley was able to use a few sentences to sketch a character.  I could see Etta, Mouse, Idabell, Bonnie.
   The book carried my interest.  I was somewhat distracted by the large number of characters and the convoluted plot.  Used lots of black clichés.  I wouldn't recommend it to a lady.

  LTBC Grade range:  highs of B+, lows of C-.

What did not play well for me in this book:
  • I kept checking back to see when this book was written – where was the early text clue that this was set in the 1960s vice current day?  [Ron found the clue in the inside book jacket!]
  • Identical twin brothers – and Easy had been custodian at Idabell’s school for two years, yet as a black man never invited to a party, did not even know that one of his employees was invited to a party and was dating Holland's brother.  Idabell was school's only black teacher, yet Easy didn't know Holland’s brother was working for the school district.
  • Buying the photos – and the negatives.  Are you kidding?  Like there couldn't be any more photos?  or negatives?  This is street smart?
  • Jesus has always been pronounced “hey-ZEUS” - why would "Juice" be a euphemism?
  • Why were Easy’s two kids at home on a school day?
  •  Fake scare:  Idabell fake dead on floor of this small house, where they were to meet  “after 11 pm,” how could she fall asleep?  How did she get into the house without Easy seeing her?
  • The two incongruous insertions of what educated readers these street people are: 
    • 2nd was with Stetz, p. 273:  “The desk in front of him was empty except for a Modern Library edition of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.”
    • 1st was p. 250, Jackson Blue and Jewelle: "Real nice.  Like a little country home for a Roman senator....You know, the Greeks started democracy but the Romans made law.  They had elected officials too.  Ain't that right, Easy?"

What I liked in this book:

  •  Description of Mouse (p. 94):  “Mouse would have shot me for luck.”
  • p. 205:  “You’re the first black stewardess I’ve ever met.”  “There’s lots of black people doing things outside of America.”

Mosley is apparently compelled to describe every character in his book according to color:

  •  p. 70:  Hopkins:  “He was an older man, more washed out than white.”
  •  p. 81:  Preston:  “Friendly in that superior-feeling white man kind of way.”
  •  p. 83:  Preston:  “There he was a white man with a college education … - certainly no colored man – was going to disobey the rules.”
  •  p. 91:  “I guess I’m always a little gleeful when I’m in the seat of power with a white man.”

The one description that pushed this book down to C- for me:
In the climactic scene when Mouse and Easy get caught up a blind alley by Joey Beam and Sallie Monroe:
Mouse has been shot twice.  And what does Easy do?
p. 282:  “Sallie Monroe was swinging to shoot me when I leapt up on top of the roof of Mouse’s car and landed on top of the gangster.” That was ridiculous by itself.  But wait, there’s more!  “He dropped his gun.”

Meeting ended with a summary of Al Zelicoff's detective work re:  1971 smallpox outbreak in Aralsk, Kazakhstan.

For Rob and Henry boldly going where Capt. Cook has gone before, for Ben bravely venturing among the harsh chemo landscape, and for all our members as they traverse this month outside the safety of our gated wilderness, the LTBC  PL offers a blessing: 

...may your latitudes be blue ,and your longitudes true  ...  pax upon thee..

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz  -   27 February 2003

With Rob in New Zealand and Henry in Australia, a surprising nine members gathered to discuss those regions and the rest of the world - which began with Iraq.  Ron B. felt quite strongly that Bush43 was living in his own world - or at least the world of Donald Rumsfeld - as any war at this time was totally unjustified.  No link with Al-Qaeda has been shown, no link with the terrorists.  For Bush43 to imply otherwise is scare tactics.  
Don finally regained control, to the amount anyone does, of his gathering.  The grades on Blue Latitudes ranged from a low of C+ to a high of A-, with B the median.
Ben:  Horwitz' approach (also in "Confederates in the Attic"):  "Combining history with weird characters I met while seeking history."
Gary:  Turned me off from visiting any of those islands.  I don't think this book will stand the test of time - maybe 20 years, but not many more.
Keith:  I was disturbed by the ying and yang - the pseudo-historian and the debauchery - Can you imagine going to New England today and asking people you met about George Washington?  The time difference is the same.  I also thought it ironic that to some degree, the death of the man who traveled hundreds of thousands of miles over oceans was due to the fact that he could not swim.  The book was frivolous, light, not a classic.
[Earl brought show-and-tell:  Ironwood native club from Tahiti; his visits there cost more in a week than NZ in a month.]
Tom:  My attention lapsed; writing was good; could have emphasized the diseases and today's mantras concerning the evils of western discoverers on native peoples, but did not - remained objective.  Horwitz had much respect for Cook.
Ben:  Documented stuff well; "Confederates in the Attic" was very similar, but of course was a little more relevant to life in the South.  There he sees that the attitudes still persist, so Confederates was sociological, Latitudes was anthropological.  
John:  My reaction when reading about islands today:  "Not going there!"  Got some of the educational aspects; but Tony's time with people was dull.  Similar to the Cubans and blacks in Miami blaming Castro, the people in the islands are whining, "Our lives are crap because of Cook !" - yet Cook seemed to have restraint, so we see the tendency: rewrite of history in light of the impact of current day.
Ron:  Capt. Cook had no meaning to me before I read this book - I enjoyed learning about the sea voyages, life back then.
Don:  In the first chapter, I almost fell asleep.  Then scene moved to Tahiti, and things changed.  [Crowd:  You did fall asleep?]   Very informative, interesting way to attack the telling of history.

What I liked about Blue Latitudes:
  • Learned something on every page
  • Nice balance between historical facts and today’s environment.  Good job of reporting, no bleeding hearts despite Tony’s liberal media background.
  • First Contact (like Emilio Sandoz in “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell):  Occurred in real life for Cook at … Bora-Bora?  New Zealand?  Definitely with the Aborigines at Botany Bay.
  • Obsessions Tony lists:  sex in Tahiti, food in NZ.  
  • Good quote:
“They eat their enemies slane in battell – this seems to come from custom and not savage disposition.” – journal of Capt. James Cook
  • Interesting how little time between Cook’s voyage of discovery of the Pacific and world, and Lewis and Clark’s voyage of discovery which also took about the same time:  2 ½ years vs. 3 years.
  • Excellent maps!  Liked maps by chapter;  would have liked some photos as well.
  • Liked the story of the Endeavor vs. the Great Barrier Reef – what luck to live through it !
NZ, page 121 – so what happened to the “surprise” arch?  (hole in rock) – later reported on, but does not seem any longer to be one of the 7 wonders of the world …
p. 176:  How clever of Cook – to ignore the Aborigines.
p. 177:  Fascination: Aborigines, had no interest in material goods; loved fish, turtles; no women with them.

Good Humor man:
p. 174:  Ad for groceries with a very badly photo copied fake $100 bill.
p. 132:  Tony to Mongrel Mob:  “I’d worn bulldog pajamas.  I didn’t mention this.”
p. 133:  What if the Chinese had conquered us?  I don’t like Chinese food. 
Cook:  “Had a face like a dropped pie.”
Roger:  “I only get the dregs as a crew.  Guttersnipes and barflies, mostly.  Not to mention you.”
Best name for a yacht:  “Occasional Coarse Language
p. 151:  Aborigines to Cook:  “Warra warra wai!”  (“Go away!”)
p. 258:  Cook kept “Percy” in his pants.  Demonstrates the Yorkshireman’s self-discipline.

Sad; Poignant
p. 136:  “Thus are the consequences of commerce with Europeans.”  -  Cook
p. 166:  with English  ~ sodomy, Cooks biographer Beaglehole.
p. 137:  Cook:  “ …was a self-made man;  he got where he was through sheer competence at his job.”
p. 177-8:  very nice: Cook’s description of Aborigines.
p. 178:  Banks:  “I believe I have eaten my way into the >>>Animal Kingdom>>”
p. 179:  Churchill on courage:  “the greatest of all virtues as it makes the other virtues possible.”

What surprised me:
p. 212:  That Joseph Banks would have made a 2nd voyage, and that the shipbuilders would not be cognizant of what design would make the ship unsafe/top-heavy.
p. 212:  Banks' “naturalist Burnett” – have some Madeira, m’dear?
p. 212:  check on incubus:  Johann Forster
p. 213:  Amazing:  that Cook set off again one year after arriving “home” from trip #1:  July 13, 1772
p. 213:  elsewhere:  it delighted me to see the references to other LTBC efforts, from Longitude (Sobel) to Patrick O’Brian novels, “…and reminders of “Endurance” and “Undaunted Courage.”
p. 255:  Cook’s looking for the Tonga (supreme) King akin to Lewis and Clark expecting one supreme Indian Chief for each tribe.
p. 216:  Wow!  Can you believe that the 2nd world voyage, in Resolution, was almost twice the distance as the Endeavor’s trip in miles:  40,000 to 70,000
p. 216:  “died while revising magnum opus” – send this to Team
p. 220:  only lost 4 (four) men on 2nd voyage:  3 years + 118 days !
p. 221:  Nice self-governing – “Savage Island”
p. 222:  Modern travel:  like reading the book after seeing the movie
p. 222:  NEW-ay was ONE-way !  Once a week, plane flies to Niue, then on to Tonga before come back  to NZ.
p. 225:  Niue:  17 mi. x 11 mi.:  two hour circumnavigate very, very slowly.
p. 228:  no one had heard of Niue, but, it has an ISP  !! (domain)
p. 230:  Thumping of drums/ log for mail:  Mike brought his “Tin Can Island” canoe mail envelope and write-up.
p. 360?  I did not know that the Japanese had actually seized some of the Aleutian Islands during WWII.

Would have been nice:
If Horwitz had included some of the artwork images from the journals.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian  -   27 March 2003

Well, kiss my hand but this Patrick O’Brian is a terrific yarn-spinner!  The battle scene between the Sophie and the Cacafuego has to be some of the most exciting ten pages of action I’ve read.  The way he sets you up with the rumor of this hunter ship, then the escape from the earlier meetings with the Cacafuego, and his brooding about Dillon thinking him shy – plus Jack’s own pre-battle statement appreciating action with the Spaniards – “not that they’re shy, for they’re not, but that they are never, never ready” gives the reader some hope, and yet, and yet … how can he do this?  No, Jack, no, don’t even try it !  but O’Brian throws you into battle, and everything flows, so audacious and yet it all makes sense:  we need every man-jack of you, the cook with his cleaver, the young midshipmen – and he makes it all work, and has you cheering at the end.  Then drops you into several sub-stories of the “joy” for the victory , the after-effects to ease you out of the action, then the disappointment.  Masterful !
Minutes of the 27 March 2003 LTBC Meeting
- Thanks to Gary Ganong
Eight members attended the meeting: Don Benoist, Ron Bousek, Henry Ellis, Gary Ganong, Tom Genoni, Keith Gilbert, Ben Smith and John Taylor.

Tom Genoni recommended that we see the documentary movie “Stone Reader,” about one man’s search for a lost author.

Henry Ellis described his trip to Australia and New Zealand and the many monuments to Captain Cook. He visited many of the sites mentioned in the book “Blue Latitudes.”

Ron Bousek heard Isabel Allende speak at Popejoy Hall this week. She is an excellent speaker and had many interesting anecdotes to share with her audience.

The book for this month was “Master and Commander” by Patrick O’Brian. The grades and comments follow.

Don Benoist:   Grade B+:   He enjoyed learning about the history of Minorca. Don found the companion book “A Sea of Words” by Dean King made “Master and Commander” more readable. Don thought that Mowett’s explanation of the sails to Maturin was excellent.

Mike Blackledge (absent): Grade A- Mike enjoyed the book more than anyone else in the LTBC perhaps because of his family background in the Navy.  Mike's notes.

Ron Bousek:  Grade C:  Ron found the book difficult to read and was not compelled to finish it. Ron never got connected to the book. The book gave lots of insight into the day-to-day life of seamen in the British navy of the 1800s. The characters were not interesting and Ron did not learn enough about the characters to like or dislike them. Ron thought that the book is a sea story but not a novel.  He never discovered the plot.

Gary Ganong:  Grade B+:  Gary enjoyed reading the book slowly and taking time to enjoy O’Brian’s descriptions of everyday things. When he first read the book, Gary tried to ignore the day-to-day events and concentrate on battles. The second leisurely reading has been more satisfying. Gary liked O’Brian’s handling of Cheslin, "the sin eater.” O’Brian emphasized the social isolation of a captain, which Aubrey thought was “It is the price that has to be paid. And by God it’s worth it.” Gary enjoyed the orders: Travel at a great pace, but don’t endanger the sails. Shrink from no danger, but incur no risk.” He also liked the detailed description of the mantis sex scene. “You do not need a head, nor even a heart to be all a female can require." The book immerses the reader in a new vocabulary of nautical terms. Readers can look up every unknown word, or figure it out from its context and flow with O’Brian’s story.

Tom Genoni: Grade B:  Tom enjoyed the book more than he expected. He did not see how a book in a series of 20 could be any good. Tom was confused by the transition when Jack Aubrey became a P. O. W. He was disappointed that the friction between Jack and James Dillon was unresolved because of Dillon’s death. Tom did not like the character Maturin, who seemed too serious and noble. O’Brian is a better author than Tony Hillerman, but falls short of George McDonald Fraser (author of “Flashman”).

Keith Gilbert:  Grade C+:  He found the book full of awkward, rambling transitions and holes. The plot was tepid with no structure: a Master and Commander strives for advancement. Keith thought that O’Brian developed his characters very well. He enjoyed the description of Aubrey: ruddy, obese, a fool on land and a genius at sea. Jack Aubrey was aggressive or amorous under stress. Jack loved battles and wenches. The book was an encyclopedia of nautical knowledge.

Ben Smith: Grade B+: Ben enjoyed the book and found it an interesting period piece. Ben thought that most sailors got well in spite of the surgeons and their medicines. The medicines of those days caused either diarrhea or constipation. Ben could not identify with Dr. Maturin, even though the doctor is given a flattering description by O’Brian.

What the ol' Naval Salt liked about Master and Commander:
  • Different style altogether from Blue Latitudes, yet again I learned something on every page
  • At first, I was upset about the way O’Brian unmercifully immersed you in 17th century nautical/sailing terminology – a fished yardarm? – but he certainly set you up for appreciating/paying attention/having the context to understand and appreciate the terminology by the time he had Mowett explain to Stephen starting on p. 98.  Similarly later on with a few nuances such as Jack Aubrey commenting on the inconsistencies of calling the Sophie a sloop when in fact it was a brig.
  • O’Brian nicely emphasized the absolute power of a vessel’s captain at sea; and how shocked the People were by the impropriety of Stephen Maturin speaking casually/personally to them as equals.  The uncomfortable menage a trois between Capt. Jack Aubrey, Dr. Stephen Maturin, and James Dillon is well conceived, well used.
  • The way something was always afoot (awash?) – often Aubrey would wake to some unfamiliar noise and thus would start another mini-plot within the total novel plot.  Examples were attacking the Spanish gun tower with his marines on land; the James Bond-type intrigue e.g., painting Sophie with a yellow strip and dressing Pram as a Danish commander.
  • Liked the way O’Brian drew up his characters, e.g., the unfortunate Babbington as a young (12-year old) midshipman – example was having to write a 2-page letter home, not knowing what to put down so starting asking about his town people, cats, dogs, town clock, and ended up making himself so nostalgic (read: homesick) that he wept uncontrollably; but at the same time this emphasized the sleep deprivation, worse on young people, of watch and watch (never able to sleep more than 4 hours at a stretch).
  • P. 285:  the weaving into the story of young Henry Ellis, unlucky midshipman, son of two of the ugliest people in Port Mahon, yet a likable lad, and the shock of hearing the cry of “Man Overboard” while trying to escape the frigate and Jack seeing young Ellis sweep by with an “amazed” look – beautifully done, with Henry retrieved “drowned,” Stephen saving him, only to lose him a short time later in the climatic battle … 
Questions, terminology and a few answers
p. 10:  trabacaloes, tartans, xebecs, settees – all merchant ships. 
p. 37:  last stages of phthisis.  “No man should die of carbuncle except in last stages of phthisis or diabetes.” Mr Browne's eparterial bronchus– The right superior lobar bronchus is a branch of the right principal bronchus before the hilum of the right lung. The right superior bronchus is the most superior of any lobar bronchus within the thorax. It is even superior to the pulmonary artery; for this reason, it is also termed the eparterial bronchus.
p. 122:  sempiternal unikas
p. 122:  Jack explains some of the inconsistencies in naval terminology, such as “master” vice “master and commander”
p. 156:  … a tame genetAny of several Old World carnivorous mammals of the genus Genetta, having grayish or yellowish fur with dark spots and a long, ringed tail.
p. 178:  … a gremial friend …
p. 182:  …so very exigent upon the point of honor. Requiring immediate action or remedy; urgent.
p. 183:  getting rid of their wealth in the most compendious manner known to man.  Containing or stating briefly and concisely all the essentials; succinct.
p. 190:  …she was moored with simple warps fore and aft… Warp:  To move a vessel from one place to another by means of a rope made fast to some fixed object, or to a kedge.
A warp <noun> is a rope used for warping. If the warp is bent to a kedge, which is let go, and the vessel is hove ahead by the capstan or windlass, it would be called kedging.
Kedge.  A small anchor, with an iron stock, used for warping.

To kedge is to warp a vessel ahead by a kedge and hawser.
Hawse-Hole. The hole in the bows through which the cable runs.

p. 228 and earlier:  loblolly boy    Loblolly is a combination of lob, probably an onomatopoeia for the thick, heavy bubbling of cooking porridge, and lolly, an old British dialect word for “broth, soup, or any other food boiled in a pot.” Thus, loblolly originally denoted thick porridge or gruel, especially that eaten by sailors on board ship. 
p. 229:  grinding creta alba …
p. 232:  non fui non sum non curo   Actually, non fui, fui, non sum, non curo
"I was not, I was, I am not, I care not" -old generic Roman epitaph.
p. 240:  fished foretopmast  - Fish. to strengthen a spar when sprung or weakened, by putting in or fastening on another piece.
p. 256:  solomongundy
p. 268:  Cacafuego? – is this for real? – my limited understanding of vulgar Spanish would translate this ship’s name as perhaps the Hemorrhoid … [Hmm – turns out this is a vulgar term, but historical – see at end note]
p. 271:  For all that clysters is not gold – clyster: An enema. [Middle English clister, from Old French clistere, from Latin clyster, from Greek klustēr, clyster pipe, from kluzein, to wash out.]

Good Humor man:
p. 153:  I loved the gentle humor of the seamen depressing the landsmen with how bad the weather would become.
p. 184:  the “poisonous snake” while Stephen is getting on his silk stockings.
p. 345:  Wow!  Hilarious!  Clerk David (“they call me ‘Hellfire Davy’”) Richards telling his family how the clerk’s position “is the most dangerous there is in a man-of-war” – and how the Capt. turned to him, “I don’t know what to do” – “Board ‘em,” says I, “board ‘em fore and aft” – this constitutes two of the funniest pages I have read anywhere, equivalent to Dave Berry at his best.

p. 181:  “I know few men over fifty who seem to me entirely human.  It is odd – will I say heart breaking?”

What surprised me:
p. 242:  Even in 1800, Americans had “that odd colonial twang.”
p. 245:  I never realized commanders (& others) might take a woman aboard ship – or a dog – especially aboard Royal Navy vessels
p. 255:  emphasized the rarity of swimming among seamen (this we had learned in Blue Latitudes, even to the point of this being a contributing cause to Cook being killed where he stood.)

Why this book was not perfect:
 p. 243:  A little contrived:  to have Stephen Maturin caught ashore at the very time Jack Aubrey learns of the sweep for the Irish rebels – so Jack is with James Dillon, and uses him (and his French) – his own Irish rebel (but this background unknown to Jack) – to search the American ship.
 P. 296:  A little contrived:  Stephen telling of overhearing the peasant’s conversations on land which led to the disguising of the sloop – but I liked the way this was all carried out.

End Note:
About the name Cacafuego – it is steeped in naval history, but it is indeed vulgar:
(Spanish treasure ship; captured March 1, 1579)  With the Cacafuego, Sir Francis DRAKE took one of the greatest booties of all time – certainly the largest haul ever by one ship with only 85 crewmen. Including smaller prizes, the Spanish ambassador later assessed Drake's total plunder at 1.5 million ducats (£450,000).  Taking into account unregistered treasure and jewels, the Spanish estimate probably was close to the truth. The value in modem money would be at least a thousand times greater.

The Cacafuego, a 120- ton merchant vessel, was bound from Peru to Panama, where her treasure and passengers would cross the Isthmus and continue on to Spain. Although pirates had been raiding the West Indies for decades, Drake was the first to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of South America. Since the Spaniards did not expect to encounter marauders, most ships went unarmed. The Cacafuego originally was known as Nuestra Senora de La Concepcion (Our Lady of the Conception) She received her vulgar nickname (meaning "Crapfire") because she was one of the few Spanish ships with even a few cannon.

[secondary note:  this Cacafuego is also mentioned in James Mitchener’s book, Caribbean.]

Drake had been feverishly pursuing the Cacafuego for several days. On March 1, she was sighted near Esmeraldas, Ecuador. It was only midday, and Drake did not wish to attack before dark. He was afraid that reducing sail would arouse suspicions and trailed wine pots filled with water to slow his speed. Some nine hours later, Drake caught up to the Cacafuego.  Expecting to meet only Spanish ships, her captain turned toward the stranger. Drake waited until the Cacafuego came alongside, then sent his boarders swarming to the attack. The Cacafuego's crew quickly surrendered. Drake led the captured ship out to sea beyond sight of the coast. Elated by this marvelous piece of good luck, Drake treated these captives generously. He dined with the officers and gentlemen (on their own provisions). All prisoners were released with presents appropriate to their rank. Three days were needed to search the Cacafuego and to transfer her rich cargo. The ships separated on March 6. According to an anonymous history of the voyage, the English raiders enjoyed a wry comment by a Spanish youth.  "Our ship," the Spaniard joked, "shall no more be called the Cacafuego, but the Cacaplata "crap-silver". It is your ship that shall be called the Cacafuego." Only Drake knew the amount of his booty, and he obeyed Queen Elizabeth's order never to reveal the secret.  Spanish merchants in Seville claimed that the Cacafuego carried 400,000 pesos in illegal cargo in addition to registered treasure worth 360,000.  If this estimate was accurate, Drake took some £266,000 in gold and silver. And he also seized jewels and other valuables concealed in the passengers’ luggage.

When Drake landed at Plymouth in 1580, Queen Elizabeth grabbed his booty, and no accounting was ever made. Before the treasure was taken to London, Drake took out £10,000 pounds for himself, and £8,000 or so was distributed among the crew. Under the usual English booty rules, the crewmen would have received a third of the entire plunder. But they had agreed to sail for set wages and thus had to accept whatever Drake gave them. The remaining loot was stored in the Tower of London, and the queen and her courtiers furtively removed most of the treasure and all the jewels. The Tower still held 12 tons of silver and 100 pounds of gold in December 1585, only a small part of the original amount. Drake said his backers received £47 for each pound invested in his voyage, a profit of 4,700 percent.

Smithsonian Magazine's articles on Patrick O'Brian, and Thomas Cochrane, the "real" Jack Aubrey.  

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