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


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Summaries & Reviews from 2003-2004 Selections

Ulysses by James Joyce  -   10th Anniversary Meeting: April 2003
Six of the twelve apostles gathered at one of Dublin's finest, the Blackledge Pub just off of Backside.  The Guiness was set aside in favor of Merlot and Chardonnay to consider by what means Ulysses was pegged at  #1 on the list of English Novels of the 20th Century.  The apostles covered the spectrum of comprehension and ineluctability:  one had read every word of the 650 pages; one had not prejudiced his opinion by reading even one word.  One had read the Nabokov interpretation; several had read the Cliff Notes summary.  One had read the censorship battles.
Nora Barnacle (1884-1951)
  We can agree on this:  Joyce was born in 1882 in Dublin; his life follows closely with that of Stephen Dedalus in Portrait and Ulysses - he was in Paris in 1903 when he was called home by a telegram from his father that his mother was dying.   [see preface to Ulysses on the Liffey for the following.]  In 1904 he met Nora Barnacle on the streets of Dublin - they agreed to meet again, but she didn't show.  On 15 June Joyce wrote a letter to Nora, stating how much he regretted her not showing, and asking that they meet again.  So on 16 June 1904, James (22) and Nora (20) "walked out together."   On 9 Sept 1904, Joyce asked his acquaintance Gogarty for "sufferance" to sleep in his [1804] Martello tower  at Sandycove, as Joyce had no money.  On 14 SeptMartello tower at Sandycove Samuel Trench (the Haines character in the Tower) had a nightmare about a black panther, grabbed a gun and started shooting.  Gogarty took the gun from Trench, but then fired a couple of shots at the pots and pans over the area where Joyce was sleeping.  James got up, dressed, and decided to leave not only the tower but Ireland.  He asked Nora if she would accompany him to the continent; she immediately agreed.  He left Dublin soon after, and really never returned to the city, spending the rest of his life (he died in January 1941) in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich.  [see the excellent Chronology of Joyce - explains the eye patch].

Some have said Hamlet is the greatest crossword puzzle every published; we would nominate Ulysses.  Not content with a standard two-dimensional interleaving of perhaps one or two themes, Joyce has taken his basic theme of the Odysseus myth and woven into it and across it multiple themes and numerous word clues for relationships - between father and son (Shakespeare and Hamlet/Hamnet, Bloom and Dedalus), Ireland and England, Roman Catholic and Jew, the real and the ideal ... and we are left to sort it all out.  Thank heaven for Nabokov.

Ineluctible modality of the audible:  the Apostles speak:

Ben:  This was a monumental effort, both on Joyce's part and ours.  I think Joyce had more fun than I did.  I didn't like it as much as the original;  I think Joyce trivialized a great myth by reducing it to one day.  Some are great writers, some are great storytellers - why couldn't Joyce tell a good story?  I read it all, but I wouldn't do it again.  I suffered from  literary indigestion.  

Tom:  I'm going to try to keep going in the manner I've gone so far (set aside two hours for a single chapter; first read the Cliff Notes summary; then read the Nabokov section; then read Joyce).  I can't help but think of Joyce as someone on an exponential curve - he had to keep surpassing his previous work, from Portrait to Ulysses to Finnegan's Wake.  He couldn't just write a novel, he couldn't be satisfied with a novel, he had to write the greatest novel ever.

Vladimir:  What then is the main theme of the book?  It is very simple.
 1. The hopeless past. Bloom's infant son has died long ago, but the
vision remains in his blood and brain.
2. The ridiculous and tragic present. Bloom still loves his wife Molly,
but he lets Fate have its way. He knows that in the afternoon at 4:30 of
this mid-June day Boylan, her dashing impresario, concert agent, will visit
Molly--and Bloom does nothing to prevent it. He tries fastidiously to keep
out of Fate's way, but actually throughout the day is continuously on the
point of running into Boylan.
3. The pathetic future. Bloom also keeps running into another young
man--Stephen Dedalus. Bloom gradually realizes that this may be another
little attention on the part of Fate. If his wife must have lovers then
sensitive, artistic Stephen would be a better one than vulgar Boylan. In
fact, Stephen could give Molly lessons, could help her with her Italian
pronunciations in her profession as a singer, could be in short a refining
influence, as Bloom pathetically thinks.
This is the main theme: Bloom and Fate.

Keith:  The book was (1) cathartic, (2) discursive, (3) rambling.  Stream of consciousness?  Let me tell you what stream of consciousness is:  We receive information from all sources, from your own thoughts; you process it; perhaps 300 thoughts come in, and you filter it to what your focus is.  Joyce didn't filter it, he wrote it all down!  I tried this at work - wrote down everything in my head - "oh, here comes my secretary - she has nice bubs - ..."  it's exhausting!  anyone can do it, but it constitutes verbal diarrhea, and that is much of what results from Joyce's efforts, with a few well polished turds.  If you gave this book to the blue collar working class, they wouldn't understand it, they wouldn't accept it - a book cannot be a classic, it can't be at the top of the list if its audience is restricted to a few elite snobs of literature - it must have universal appeal.
One thing Joyce did well:  excellent job of developing the three characters (Stephen, Bloom, Molly) - I felt I really know them - but then, in 600 pages you should be able to develop your characters well !  

Summary:  Joyce had good command of the English language but he does not appeal to the folks at 4th and Central.  A classic should have broad appeal.

Don:  I get the impression that this guy is a rhetorical elitist - he makes up these word games that people might like to solve.  But it doesn't come across to me, doesn't paint a picture.  When I read Mark Twain, it gives me a mental image of the Mississippi River - but the main function of Joyce's writing is to satisfy his rhetorical ego.

Vern:  Listening to all of you - I couldn't help but feel that I had the best of it.  We blokes at 4th and Central don't know what to make of this.

Mike:  I'm glad I selected this book, I think this was a good stretch exercise.  I pay homage to Ben for reading it all the way through;  I pay homage to Tom for providing the Nabokov insights and helping me prepare.
As a bookclub, we (re-)read Lolita, and enjoyed it/appreciated it much more because of the annotated version, the guides.  I think Nabokov was greatly influenced by Joyce - he taught classes in Ulysses, and if you think about it, Lolita was an Odyssey across the United States, with word games, hidden clues - but not with what Nabokov objected to in Joyce, not with the excessive vulgarity and obscurity.  Some personal humility about who can fully understand such literature with 
no guides beyond their own minds  - Joyce had Nabokov, Nabokov had Frederick Exley.

One attribute I always appreciate in a writer is a sense of humor, and Joyce had a sense of humor.  When his book was banned in the United States, in Canada, in England, in Australia, he said he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for uniting the English-speaking peoples.   To me he obviously had great literary intellect, somewhere out there in the six sigma level - he impresses me as a Renaissance Man of literature - he had apparently read most, if not all, of the world's great literature, and could process it and weave it together and compare and contrast with all sorts of new ideas.  The other night on PBS I heard Charlie Rose interview Harold Bloom (Joycean name!), b. 1930 to Russian immigrant parents, "America's Leading Literary Critic" and currently Sterling Professor of Humanities  at Yale Univ and at NYU (see also the anti-Bloom school) - and Bloom went into this description of Shakespeare having lost his son Hamnet, and how he was speaking to him in the play as the ghost of Hamlet's father, perhaps the only place in his plays (except where he gives the instructions to the players) where we hear the true voice of Shakespeare.  Well, who developed this theory first - certainly, Joyce had examined it in great detail in Ulysses in the 1920's.  [
- so much of this world am I ignorant of:  apparently there is a strong school arguing about a precursor version of Hamlet from 1594, known as "Ur-Hamlet" - well, Joyce's 4th novel (which even we won't read) was called something like "Ur-Stephen Hero" - so all this discussion/controversy goes back farther than we modern LTBCers recognize - see also "Sources of Hamlet."]
In the end I find I agree with both Ben and Keith in this sense:  it was a monumental work, and its appreciative audience is restricted.   This brings us back to where we started, with the Washington Post essay by Carlo Parcelli, who raises the question:  Just because a (supposedly intelligent - see the Fredo comment) critic could not understand Ulysses, or couldn't get through it - does that disqualify the novel from being the greatest?   To which Ben would rejoin:
I would add to your summary that just because it is incoherent
 and incomprehensible doesn't make it Number One either.

I have come to understand and love the first two lines of Chapter 3, Proteus.

I suggest that we tackle Finnegan's Wake for our 20th Anniversary.  

Nabokov's insight as provided in "Lectures on Literature" regarding 
but five brief phrases from Stephen's mind:
, Chapter 1, [p.13-14: L. 478-482 in the Gabler edition]:

"Haines from the corner where he was knotting
easily a scarf about the loose collar of his tennis
shirt spoke:
I intend to make a collection of your sayings
if you will let me.
Speaking to me. They wash and tub and scrub.
Agenbite of inwit. Conscience. Yet here's a spot."

Stephen's thought runs as follows: he is speaking to me -- the
Englishman. Englishmen tub and scrub because of their bad conscience
in regard to the countries they oppress, and he remembers Lady Macbeth
and her bad conscience -- yet here's a spot of blood which she cannot wash
off. Agenbite of inwit is Middle English for the French 'remords de
conscience', the bite of conscience, remorse. (It is the title of a
religious tract of the fourteenth century.)
The technique of this stream of thought has, of course, the advantage
of brevity. It is a series of brief messages jotted down by the brain. But
it does demand from the reader more attention and sympathy than an ordinary
description such as: Stephen realized Haines was speaking to him. Yes, he
thought, the English wash a good deal, trying perhaps to scrub away the
spot on their conscience which old Northgate called agenbite of inwit, etc.

From our friends at the Literary Society of San Diego:

Thanks for the invite; I pass it along to all members here at the LSSD
(with, I hope, your tacit blessings) in order to raise our own bar a bit.
As I said when first you mentioned this project (i.e., actually reading
"Ulysses") you're a braver man than I. The LSSD just this past month
tackled the gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John from the New Testament
and while certainly not on a literary scale of "Ulysses" it definitely
challenged us a book group in some very interesting ways.

All that being said, the LSSD wishes to convey warmest congratulations to
the LTBC on it's 10 Anniversary and thank you for the support (moral only,
alas, not financial) which the LTBC has shown the LSSD over the last couple
of years.

Here's to future meetings!


Fairview-University Hospital

Sorry i won't make the meeting, but I'm here with my
grandson Jaden who received a kidney transplant last
wednesday. the transplant went very well, but not with out
some major anxieties, and Jaden and the donor are doing
well. the donor will be going back to abq on wednesday.
We'll be here for another week or two.

The hospital here is great and the natives are very
friendly. We are staying at the Ronald McDonald House which
is super! The rooms are nice and spacious. Volunteer groups
serve meals most nights, and there is internet access. A
first class operation. Only 5min walk to the hosp. front

I did read the first chapter and would like to read more,
but I thought it would have been too much to tackle under
the circumstances. Have been reading mysteries here for
escape. U of M campus is very impressive. The medical
center is HUGE.

Looking forward to seeing the minutes...
Your comrade in exile,Ron

Lessons Learned Comment:   Sure.  You can read ULYSSES without a guide, but why?   There's so much that even Joyce himself couldn't catch if he hadn't written the book. There are many forward references. I'm reminded of an advertisement Bloom finds in one of the early chapters. The address is encoded with all sorts of information that Joyce hasn't yet disclosed. [A Guide] explains a lot of this for you. Well, who's to say what "a lot" is when talking of ULYSSES. OK, he explains some of it.

As noted in another review, one of the satisfying things about (this guide) THE NEW BLOOMSDAY BOOK is that it doesn't give away all the fun stuff. Which leads me to my recommendation on how to use it. For the first half of the book, I read the episode and then read The Guide. This, I think, is the usual way.

Then I tried to read The Guide first. What a difference. My fear, and maybe yours, is that reading The Guide first will be a spoiler. Well, when you a finish an episode and don't know what has happened there's really nothing to spoil. I recommend reading The Guide first. Armed with the knowledge of what to look for you can discover the ingenious ways Joyce tells the story.

Again, any Guide just gives you the essentials. There will still be plenty of thrills if you read the episode after reading The Guide.
From Tom Genoni:  
Here's that quote from Reader's Encyclopedia:

"It has been said that in order to fully understand 'Ulysses'
one must, at the very least, be familiar with the theology of
the Roman Catholic Church, the history of heresy, Irish legend,
European history, mythology, astronomy, Hebrew, Latin, Gaelic,
and Gypsy slang."

At the very least!!
From Ben Smith:
Many years ago I bought Stuart Gilbert's "James Joyce's Ulysses", the first 
commentary, but gave it up as being as difficult to read as "Ulysses"
itself. This effort I bought Daniel R Schwartz's "Reading Joyce's Ulysses",
much more readable but still pretty heavy and a real nuisance to go back and
forth between it and the original. Your email prompted a web search which
mainly turned up offers to sell a copy, complete texts and arguments about
the "corrections" and revisions, but the site below on a cursory glance
looks like a pretty good summary of the chapters of the book and Homeric
references. I might just read it.


  • Blamires, Harry.  "The New Bloomsday Book - a Guide Through Ulysses."  Third Edition, New York. 1996.
  • Ellmann, Richard.  "Ulysses on the Liffey."  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1972.
  • Gifford, Don, with Robert J. Seidman.  "Ulysses Annotated - Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses."  Revised and Expanded Edition.  New York:  E.P. Dutton, 1974.
  • Joyce, James.  "The Dubliners."
  • Nabokov, Vladimir.  "Lectures on Literature."
  • Vanderham, Paul.  "James Joyce and censorship - the Trials of Ulysses."  1998, New York University Press, New York.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke          May 2003

28 May 2003:  Half a dozen of Albuquerque's finest ersatz-coonasses gathered at the local franchise of  Dave Robicheaux's Dock and Bait Shop, New Iberia, LA, to try on Dave's hat, congratulate Keith on his retirement of two weeks, and partake of a sumptious feast of strawberries, garfishballs, and dirty rice on the gallery of Hogman Ben Smith.  The group rose as one to discuss psychotics, sociopaths, and psychoceramics (a.k.a. crack pots).   While comparing pedophiles to child molesters, a literary discussion broke out, as follows:
Don:  Enjoyed the book, as it exposed us to some "real life."  Enjoyed the descriptions of the Louisiana countryside, could feel the humidity and the heat.  But the author described too much violence.  Grade:  B
Solid cut above Hillerman and Mosley.  However, I felt somewhat manipulated as a reader, as two examples will show:  Just too much to have Kelly Drummond wear the shirt with Dave's name on it that Elrod got the day before, then Dave gives her his raincoat and puts his rain hat on her head, to send her out into the rain - to be shot as Dave, of course.  Give me a break!  Also, as smart as Dave was, certainly didn't ring true for him to be asking the Sheriff to exhume the victim's body to see if the slashes were consistent with Murphy's utility knife.  Cut me some slack!  Interesting that I now enjoy the descriptions that authors add, although it did appear somewhat of a formula with Burke to add a paragraph of description at end of each section or chapter.  Burke (and Dave) appears to be a rare creature:  a southern Liberal.   B.
Tom:  I felt a guilty pleasure with this book:  liked it a lot better than I should.  Twice as good as Hillerman, an order of magnitude better than Mosley.  Dave as a character was without a sense of humor, as advertised, but Burke showed his humor. B.
Ron:  I liked the description of the environment, and the humor:  a smart-[coon]ass detective a la Sam Spade - could almost hear Dave narrating his story on the radio.  You were in his world of violence.  Loved the comment with Hogman:  "We're still living in Louisiana, aren't we?"  The book had more violence than I'm comfortable with - yet was not gratuitous violence but what fit with these low-lifes --  felt like we were taking a journey in the 7th circle of Hell with Dante.  I liked the Confederates in the swamp.  A.
Henry:  I enjoyed the book - the characters were colorful and the location description was realistic.  Having undergone Basic Training in Biloxi, Mississippi, I found it accurately classified this part of Louisiana.  Burke's style is to take off on one tangent - stop - off on another tangent - stop - then another tangent.  So the book did not advance linearly (Ron:  had fractal quality).  As to the mystery, it turned out that a coonass (not even Tripod) didn't do it.  All the foibles of humans were displayed.  B.

Keith:  I had prepared some erudite, perceptive, perspicious comments - but after listening to all you coonasses, I threw them away.
   The monikers of Burke's characters are unparalleled:  Cholo Mannelli;  Julie Baby Feet Balboni;  Cheryl LaBlanc.
    Having said that, this was a slime-ball book.  Burke's style:  going this way, that.  What I will remember one year from now:  Baby Feet Balboni being hogtied to a toilet in a trailer.  C.
Ben:  I liked it or I wouldn't have picked it.  I love his dermatological descriptions:  For example:  Dave's streak and Bootsie's independence:
Dave has a streak of white hair, a "whitlock" which is part of what is 
medically called "partial albinism". Bootsie has lupus erythematosus, an
auto immune disease characterized by flares following sun exposure. Despite
knowing that the sun is bad for her she insists on working out in the sun in
her garden, thus, like some patients with juvenile diabetes, she tends to
challenge her disease, instead of adopting habits which would prevent
flare-ups of the disease. Burke's descriptions of these conditions and his
insight add to the realism of his writing.
Definitely a good airplane read.  A-
[Ben has read all 12 Robicheaux books and most of Burke in general; also recommends Black Cherry Blues, which is another Dave Robicheaux novel and one which is found on our LTBC coffeetable.]

Gary:  I will be in CA at the time of the next LTBC meeting.  Here is my

James Lee Burke: "In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead"

This book is easy to read and very entertaining. The big downside is the
Confederate dead fantasies. The detective story is compelling and hard
to put down. It is easy to identify with Dave Robicheaux becasue he so
honest and human. All of the characters were very realistic except
General Hood. Burke has built a good story around well developed
characters. Even the low-lifes are believable. I wonder if the story
would work just as well without the fantasies. Maybe ghost stories widen
the book's market appeal.

Grade:  B+

Hope that you have a good meeting.

Dirty Rice
   Dirty rice is a popular Cajun dish made with chicken livers and gizzards, vegetables, long grain rice, and lots of pepper.  It is served as an accompaniment to poultry and meat.  If the main dish has a gravy, you pour some of it over the dirty rice.  Don't use leftover dirty rice warmed up; the dish will have an unpleasant texture.
"The New Orleans Cookbook" by Rima & Richard Collin

John Taylor's "Fiesta Vienticinco de Poe" - June 2003

                 Streaky Genoni

It was many and many - ten years ago
    In four hills o'er rio grande library
That a reader there lived whom you may know
    By the name of Streaky Genoni.

We were so old and he was less old
    In those hills above the library
Till a wind blew out from the golden gate, chilling
    The Streak of Thomas Genoni.

So the high-born giants, they
him west, far away from thee and me
To offer him dark in a sepulchre park
    With nothing to read but old programmes,
    By the light of candlestick by the sea
No candlestick parked by the sea.

Despite book club dessert, now we must play hurt, 'gainst  the club
    Of those dodgers more agile than we
    Of many mariners far wiser than we
But neither the angels in anaheim above
    Nor the devil rays down under the sea
Can ever dissever our soul from the soul
    Of our streakin' Thomas Genoni.

For the moon never beams, without bringing us dreams
    Of young streaking T. Genoni
And the stars never rise, but we recall the bright eyes
    Of old streaking Thomas Genoni

And so, all June almost
    He must go to the coast
For the diamonds have called him away
    No candlestick there by the bay,
    Lonely pacbell by the bellicose bay.

But a streak never ends
    Lest one Wills it to end
So it is with the travails of man
    And we know he'll return in some days
    Sail easterling back in a daze
To start it again, all over again
    Inspired by McCovey and Mays.

with apologies to Edgar Allan Poe and Yogi Berra

Minutes of the June Meeting

    The five tattered remnants of the once proud Last Thursday Book Club gathered on the breeze-cooled deck of the Hugh Graham home of John G. Taylor.  As the first big palmetto bug swooped down from the adjoining  palm tree, the admissions, the secrets, and the champagne began to flow, not necessarily in that order.
April 5, 2003
    First announcement went to the host:  "I am pleased to announce,"  voiced young John, "that I have married Sharon Shelley as of 5 April 2003 - at high tide in the old Venetian Swimming Pool of Coral Gables, Florida."  

     John and Sharon have known one another for many and many a year, John having dated Sharon when he was at Gainesville - Univ of Florida - and she was a mature 16-year old in high school back in Miami.  John claims he had no idea she was that young - Sharon appeared fully mature.   Her parents were uneasy with the situation, thus John was cast out ...  for 40 years and 40 nights.  

     Once we had surveyed the accompanying pictures, the LTBC could not but highly endorse John's decision.  However, eventually this decision will place John's Hugh Graham house on the market, bring about his retirement from Sandia, and inspire his move to Miami, FL to join his absolutely gorgeous bride.  Since his daughter has recently purchased a home here, John expects to return often, or at least whenever the sprinkler system needs work.  

    So far, Sharon has shown remarkable patience.  New domicile will be 8383 SW 144th St., Palmetto Bay, FL.  
Sharon is in charge of the Social Studies Curriculum of the Dade County School District, and the financial advantage of a "drop" pension plan encourages her to continue working there for the next several years.  Sharon had two grandchildren, so this will now give John a total of nine (9), to include his daughter in ABQ who should be delivering within the next few months.   Since Sharon supplied the bio of Poe (below), the LTBC feels it is not losing a member, but gaining a literary conscience.

    Not to be outdone, Gary Ganong ended the meeting with his own announcement:  On Monday, 30 June, Gary dance team and Susan will be closing on a house in the Sacramento, CA area - just three miles from Christina, Drew, and the grandkids.  Gary has not retired, but is currently working at 3/4 time (which is sometimes extended to 1.5 weeks/week), and may take advantage of the situation to retire as early as 30 Sept.  Stay tuned.

   And Poe?  Strong following, strong influence on today's literature:  Ben credits Poe with being the influence on Arthur Conan Doyle.  Mysterious death at age 49 in Baltimore -  but it ended up today with the Baltimore Ravens being named in his honor ... not bad immortality, huh?  

Edgar Allan Poe
Compiled by the Lovely Sharon Shelley, Palmetto Bay, Florida

Best known for his poems and short fiction, Edgar
Allan Poe deserves more credit than any other writer
for the transformation of the short story from
anecdote to art. He virtually created the detective
story and perfected the psychological thriller. He
also produced some of the most influential literary
criticism of his time--important theoretical
statements on poetry and the short story--and has had
a worldwide influence on literature.

Edgar Allan Poe, son of Actress Eliza Poe and Actor
David Poe Jr. was born in Boston on the 19th of
January 1809. Poe's parents were touring actors; who
both died before he was 3 years old leaving Edgar and
his brother and sister, orphaned. Edgar was taken in
to the home of John Allan, a prosperous tobacco
merchant in Richmond, Va. His childhood was
relatively uneventful, although he studied (1815-20)
for 5 years in England.

In 1826 he entered the University of Virginia.
Although a good student, he began to gamble and run up
large debts since John Allan did not provide adequate
funds. Allan refused to pay the debts and Edgar was
forced to leave the University after only one year.
Allan prevented his return to the university and broke
off Poe's engagement to Sarah Elmira Royster, his
Richmond sweetheart.

With no means of support, Poe enlisted in the army. He
had, however, already written and printed (at his own
expense) his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems
(1827). The book was published anonymously under the
signature "A Bostonian." This is such a rare book now
that a single copy has sold for $200,000.

Later in 1827 Edgar enlisted in the Army under the
name Edgar A Perry where his quarrels with John Allan
continued. Edgar did well in the army and reconciled
with John Allan, and published his second book of
poetry. Allan secured Poe's release from the army and
his appointment to West Point but refused to provide
financial support. After 6 months Poe apparently
contrived to be dismissed from West Point for
disobedience of orders. His fellow cadets, however,
contributed the funds for the publication of Poems by
Edgar A. Poe...Second Edition.

Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Maria
Clemm, and his first cousin Virginia. In 1832 he won a
$50 prize for his story "MS. Found in a Bottle" in the
Baltimore Saturday Visiter. In 1835 Poe brought his
aunt and cousin to Richmond where he worked as an
editor at the Southern Literary Messenger. In May of
1836, Edgar married his cousin Virginia, only thirteen
years old.

Poe's slashing reviews and sensational tales made him
widely known as an author. Poe published fiction in
the Messenger, but most of his contributions were
serious, analytical, and critical reviews that earned
him respect as a critic. His contributions undoubtedly
increased the magazine's circulation, but they
offended its owner, who also took exception to Poe's
drinking. The January 1837 issue of the Messenger
announced Poe's withdrawal as editor but also included
the first installment of his long prose tale, "The
Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," five of his reviews,
and two of his poems. This was to be the pattern for
Poe's career: success as an artist and editor but
failure to satisfy his employers and to secure a

Edgar moved around New York and Phildelphia from
1837-1849, trying to establish himself as a force in
literary journalism, but with only moderate success.
He did succeed, however, in formulating influential
literary theories and in demonstrating mastery of the
forms he favored--highly musical poems and short prose
narratives. Both forms, he argued, should aim at "a
certain unique or single effect." Poe published some
of his most famous tales during this time:
  • Ligeia (1838), the tale Poe considered his finest
  • The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)
  • The Gold Bug (1843).
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)
  • The Mystery of Marie Rogêêt (1842-1843),
  • The Purloined Letter

These are regarded as predecessors of the modern
mystery, or detective, story. Among Poe's poetic
works, poems such as The Raven, The Bells, and Annabel
Lee are remarkable for their flawless construction and
for their haunting themes.

The year 1846 was tragic for Poe. The Broadway Journal
failed, and Virginia became very ill and died on
January 30, 1847. After his wife's death, Poe gave in
more often to a weakness for drink, which had troubled
him at intervals since early manhood. Even a little
alcohol brought about a change of personality. During
the last years of his life, he continued to write and
lecture. In the summer of 1849, Poe was reunited with
the fiancee he had lost in 1826.

The circumstances of Poe's death remain a mystery.
After a visit to Norfolk and Richmond for lectures, he
was found unconscious on a Baltimore street in a
pitiful condition. He was taken unconscious to a
hospital where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849. No
aspect of his life has so fascinated Poe's fans and
detractors as his death. Details of Poe's final days
leave us with more questions than answers. We have
tantalizing facts but no conclusions. Poe's death
will probably remain a mystery - but it continues to
tease and excite .. We review the stories again and
again... was it alcohol, disease, medical problems, a
vengeful beating, or as some conclude ...that Poe was
shanghaied by a political gang (Cooped) shortly after
his arrival in Baltimore, given liquor and opium, as
was done as part of the corrupt politics of the day.

In a brief obituary the Baltimore Clipper reported
that Poe had died of "congestion of the brain."
25 June 2003
Hello Mr. Secretary -

By now you've heard the media reports that the longest consecutive
attendance streak in modern book club history is about to come to
an end. Sadly, I must confirm that the reports are true. I only hope
my achievements can serve as inspiration to some rookie book club
member out there who also aspires to greatness.

My best to JT and the other book club members. Tell Henry we had
lunch at the Tadich Grill and it was great. Tonight while you meet
I will be watching the Giants and Dodgers at the finest ballpark in the
major leagues. Godd luck dealing with the crowd of reporters and
adoring fans who are certain to gather in front of John Taylor's to pay
tribute to me,

Tom Genoni
The above shocking announcement brought immediate response from around the world:

Sad! The end of an age!

Ben (United Kingdom)

Well, if the streak had to be broken, it's fitting that it's because Tom
will be in Dodger Stadium.

Rob (Auckland, New Zealand)

Congrats to JT...I myself have swum in the healing waters
of the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables and can highly
recommend it!

Also, Gary and Susan are moving to Sacramento?? They are
abandoning their Manor House in 4H??

All these changes are enough to give one congestion of the
brain, but we shall miss our comrades and keep a stiff
upper lip, wish them the best, etc.


PS...The ode to Streaking Genoni reminds me of the letter
to the ed in the abq journal concerning the 2 Air Force streakers
at the Isotopes game. The writer who observed the event
commented that he was shocked but not awed.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wollf          July 2003

Six of the surviving Ramsey offspring (Don, Keith, Ron, Tom, Mike, Vern) gathered at the xeriscaped refurbished  Catron summer house to discuss patricide, misogamy, matchmaking, marriage, the pathetic fallacy, and the mystery of women.   Much was shared, much was learned.  Time passed.  Grades from solid C to B were awarded, and the host displayed talent in defrosting an excellent dessert.
  Our host liked the first part, and the Time Passes.  Now enjoys that style of writing, reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence in Sons and Lovers.  Liked the poetic quality of the excess verbiage.  Didn't like the third section - felt it was disconnected, and the (surviving) characters were not developed sufficiently to carry the story.
  Our Poet Laureate offers this free verse of observations:  Hark from Hebrides.
One sibling tackled the first 30 pages, and felt no energy in dealing with it - discouraged with an early section in which Ms. Woolf introduced several characters, and then followed up with "her and him, and him and her" - lack of clarity.
  Don struggled with the first part as Mrs. Ramsey's stream of consciousness described the problems of a family but struggled with understanding any kind of a feeling that the book was trying to portray.  Felt it was like looking at the family through the 'wrong' end of a telescope.  As to the inner thoughts of Mrs. Ramsey, "I found them neither pleasurable nor enlightening."  
  Ben provided his thoughts electronically, from El Tovar ("to the tower") as part of his anniversary adventure:

"This novel brought considerable attention to Virginia Woolf when published in 1927. Coming in the LTBC schedule after Joyce’s “Ulysses” and published only five years after that milestone novel, it is easy to note similarities. Wolff also wrote a highly introspective stream of consciousness novel, an effective technique to give insight into the psychology of her fictional characters. She is more concise (some sentences only take one-third of a page), uses better punctuation, and writes a much shorter story than Joyce (mercifully), but lacks Joyce’s humor, brilliant imagination and skillful use of various styles and techniques of writing.

"Joyce’s Bloom is much more interesting than the entire Ramsey family and their whole entourage of friends, servants and hanger-ons. As I joined Woolf’s characters through their thoughts, I was struck by how mundane and boring one’s thoughts can be. Maybe it is best that we cannot read each other’s minds. An occasional erotic fantasy would certainly have been welcome and some action would have made the book much more interesting. I kept hoping a German submarine would take out the boat and it’s passengers on the way to the lighthouse so that James could abandon his pitiful thoughts of resentment against his father and in some heroic action get all of most of the characters safely to shore.

"Conclusion: Interesting historically, but a deadly read.   C+
- Ben Smith
... ten days later, from a terminal somewhere near your neighborhood  ...
My friends,

My curiosity was aroused by my esteemed colleagues'
description of "Time Passes" section in "To the
Lighthouse", so I went back and read it. I thought it was
very good, this section, yes it was very good. I would say
this section deserves an "A" . One could almost feel the
old house yielding to time's arrow as the elements wore it
down. Alas, the last section was more difficult, despite
two very charming poetic sections, and had little else to
recommend it; a book well written, but on the whole not
such a good read.

The End.

Ron B.

Seldom Disappointed:  A Memoir   by Tony Hillerman         August 2003

"When we climbed off the bed of our truck in the woods and stood in the midnight darkness awaiting orders while the sleet rattled off our helmets, we knew nothing."  The remnants of Charley Company formed up in the dark of the far East mountains this side of Buschbach.  Lightning flashes illuminated pine trees along the railroad and the Muerthe and a light rain fell outside of our foxholes. The replacement, a company namesake, survived his first engagement with the unit and easily handled the initiation ceremony.  "I remember digging deep, cutting through roots with my trenching tool, and sitting huddled in the bottom, head down with my arms folded over my helmet listening to the shells coming in, estimating the distance of the explosions."
Some discussion occurred over what is a memoir vs. an autobiography vs. an autobiographical novel, and does not an author always control what he chooses to remember, and what he chooses to transcribe.  Our Rock 'n Roll Historian and Truthsayer pointed out:  highly unlikely that Hillerman and the girls 'went off to see a Fats Domino concert' in New York in 1943, as Fats would have been only 15 at that time, and was not 'discovered' until 1949.  And speaking of truth, do your really think Tony is that crazy in love with his wife?  LTBC wasn't buying it.   She was looking over his shoulder when he wrote those effusions, or he was waiting for lunch.
    The Club commented on the numerous typos in the book - skiped for skipped ?  twice in one paragraph? - which seemed to increase as the book progressed.  Vern shared an unauthorized biography of Hillerman, published in 1994 with professional, well-posed photos but completely without Tony's cooperation as to interviews - and with insight gained through his books, writings, talks, interviews, colleagues.  The judgments of the Club were varied, and ranged from A to Jade.  Median was a solid B.
Keith:  <rhyming review>  This Bio Gets No Tony
Mike:  I was disturbed by Rob's offer to award an A as a memoir - Angela's Ashes was an A-memoir, and Nabokov's autobiography contains some killer writing.  Not this.  Perhaps the best writing in the book was the Journal article by Tony's daughter Anne. I felt what Vern's review indicated:  cynicism, egotism, emotionless.  
  I've never been captured by Hillerman's novels but I think this book is worth reading, especially if you've read any of his novels.  Grade:  solid B
Tom:  The cynicism was balanced by optimism; the egotism was balanced by a deprecating sense of humor.  Here is a man who was successful at everything he did (except writing novels).  He was a good soldier, a good journalist, a good husband and father.  I was impressed by his adopting five children.  I consider his novels formulaic, and the least impressive part of this book was when he wrote of his novels.  B+
Ron:  Some parts of the book were A, some were B.  I consider Hillerman a good, not great novelist.  I've read about four of his books and my interest flagged.  I was impressed with how much an author must remember; I liked his analogy of the bag lady with the shopping cart, going through life, throwing things in because they may be useful some day - but how much memory does it take to recall all those things!   I think people read him who want to learn more about the Southwest.  I've taught at UNM, and I enjoyed reading about his UNM Prof politics, and about Santa Fe.  Good read!  grade:  B+
Gary:  The title was appropriate.  I've read several of Hillerman's novels - and only here was I disappointed!  I've read about 2/3, intend to finish (large print, so I have to turn more pages).  His own story was not woven like his novels, which are good airplane books.  I was really bored with his childhood in Oklahoma - come on, get on with it!  The war stories were better, I like war stories.  But this was sloppy writing, not his best.  Grade:  C+
Ben:  Anyone who writes an autobiography has to be egotistical - but I'll admit, I hear better war stories at the VA Clinic.  A memoir is not all true, but how he perceived his life.  I didn't mind his childhood, thought that was interesting.  But the book seemed to peter out at the end.  Grade:  solid B.
Charlie:  I was always interested in Tony Hillerman since we moved here in 1973, about the time that his books first started coming out.  I learned a lot about the Southwest from them, and I always had two questions:  1] How did he learn so much about the Navaho people? ... and 2] He only became very successful late in life - why?  This book answered both of those questions.  It also helped me understand a family member better, an Uncle who was a paraplegic from WWII.  Given Tony's success, I was impressed with him, that he adopted all those kids.  As a book, I wouldn't grade it that high, not that great.  From what I learned about Tony, though:  Grade A
Vern:  If grading his life:  A;  if grading him as a novelist:  B or C.  If only looking at this book:  B or C.  It seems hurried at the end, not proof-read.  As a country boy, I enjoyed his depictions about growing up in Oklahoma.  And his definition of a good journalist as one who is efficient in gathering
and prioritizing and writing all in one day.  Interesting war stories and about journalism.  He could have shown more ego, but he 'fesses up in the war:  confused and scared.  Reviewers categorized him as part of Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation.  Grade:  B

Vern --
Sorry I won't be at the meeting -- my shortest drive.
I listened to SD on CD about a year ago and really enjoyed it.  Great memoir.  Be interesting to see how all the military types in the group respond to Hillerman's observations on things military.
Any way, I give it an A as a memoir.

The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon   by Stephen King         September 2003

Greater love hath no man, that he give up his Monday Night Football for the Bookclub.
 The bullpen for the LTBC gathered on the back porch to discuss baseball, urban legends, and the chronology of Little Black Sambo.  We learned that Stephen King was born in 1947, has the horror writer Lovecraft for his hero, and claimed he was so heavily on cocaine and alcohol while writing Cujo (one of his more aclaimed works), that he remembers not a word of it.  King worked in many jobs, to include as a janitor and as a laborer in a knitting mill.  While the Book Club discussed Tom Gordon, the real Tom Gordon was closing a game for his new team, the Chicago White Sox, being broadcast on someone else's Walkman.
  Keith claimed he chose this book for seven reasons, some of which are that he felt the Club needed a light read after Ulysses; the page numbers were about right; in honor of Tom Genoni's streak and his love of baseball (although Ben is the real Red Sox fan); and that he himself experienced the extreme discomfort and fear when actually lost in the woods (for about 5 hours, in a Scout camp environment, at age 15).  Keith asked if any of his colleagues had experience a similar horror real-life experience.  "I've been lost in the Mall" sez Tom, and we were off .
   Ron pointed out that this was the fairy tale of L'il Red Riding Hood; the little girl lost in the woods, and at the end the hunter appears and shoots the beast to save the little girl.  Ron actually felt the book was Nabokov-like - but it was repetitive.  Ron was excited during the first half of the book, but felt it didn't carry on through.
    No one felt this was really a horror book, but it kept giving false signals that it may develop into that.  Tom felt the scariest part was that maybe Strawberry would drive in two runs and win the game for the Yankees.
Keith:  {see review on Poet Laureate page).  Summary:  B- book.
Tom:  "My heart wants to give this book an A; I read it in one day, about 4-5 hours.  I enjoyed beginning the book as baseball season is starting to wane.  I thought King did the baseball sequences excellently.  The baseball connection between the father and the girl rang true; he wove it in well.  It made me sad that I never made Carla into a baseball fan.  Strong A- ... oh, what the heck, give it an A !
Don:  I started being concerned, there were too many 'set' items.  I became emotionally involved, empathized with the little girl.  The book kept my interest - except while she was slogging through the mud - and then came the bear and the hunter, who knew she was the missing girl - which has the book go to a strong B.
Charlie:  I'll be negative and brief:  too many words - this should have been a long short story or a short novella.  I expected a Post Script at the end to resolve the family issues.  C+
Ben:  This was the first Stephen King I've ever read.  I loved the way he framed it (with the baseball innings, top and bottom halves).  That moved it along well (except the swamp).  B+
Gary:  I like baseball and hiking (liked our "A Walk in the Woods" book).  The baseball portions were woven in well - I dreaded this book, I don't like horror stories.  Thus I was relieved towards the end of the book that the author would let the little girl live.  It took the radio idea to create dialogue.  B-
Mike:  Where does he get his material?  Little Black Sambo?  Come on, how many kids in the 90's ever got to hear that story, or even see the book - it was banned as politically incorrect way back in the 60's and disappeared.  Stepehen King and LTBC members know that story, not a girl born around 1990.  And do you really think a 9-year old girl would use the 'effword' that freely?  
   The author boxed himself in as soon as he had Trisha wander off by herself.  He either had to kill her off, or let her live - and once I saw the chapters start "First Inning" I knew I was in for a long "let's let her live" story.  The baseball sequences were well done, but when I got to the end, and a hunter appears out of nowhere to shoot the beast?  give me a break!  That hunter action moved the book from a C to a D for me - but then King recovered with the hospital scene in which Trisha is signaling the save to her father.  A long, long muddling through to build to and get that save.  Should have brought in the reader in for just the ninth inning and the post-game summary, like a true closer, that would have been at least a B+ short story.  But this was a C book.
Ron:  Not being a baseball fan... I think he was writing for sports fans.  My attention level was growing, then got bogged down for too long in the woods.  It was like he was seeing how long he could write.  The baseball game/Walkman was a clever device.  I would recommend this book to someone who wanted a short read.  Perhaps a teenage girl - C+  (enjoyed reading it, but hesitant to recommend it to someone else.)

 Love in the Time of Cholera   by Gabriel Garcia Marquez         October 2003
  We gathered at the extreme end of Montclaire to welcome the newly arrived Jack Ferrell and to bid a most fond farewell to the departing Gary Ganong.  Most fitting transition ceremony, as Jack is the latest recruit introduced by our Chief Recruiter, who brought so many of us into the LTBC, and now departs to see if he can alter the intellectual terrain of the Sacramento Valley with 1500 lbs of books and a strong sense of what a book club can aspire to become.  This ain't your California book lecture series.  
  And this ain't your father's love story.  Nor was it steeped in magical realism, which the more senior members remembered with trepidation from GGM's One Hundred Years of Solitude.  This book was about aging and fantasy, obsession and decay - but not about love.  Granted, some lust, some loneliness.  622 long term relationships - well, perhaps there was a nodding consent to magical realism.  Wonderful ending, with the couple sailing forever up and down the river with the cholera flag flying.
  We discussed baseball in Florida, La Violencia in Columbia, decay in aging.  Fifty years, nine months, and four days?  Hell, some of the stalwart men of the Last Thursday Book Club have had underwear for longer relationships than that.  The consensus was that of all the characters in the book, the one we would most like to invite over for dinner was the Parrot ... perhaps he'd be a little stringy, but considerable white meat on that over-educated avian.
  Most useful in understanding the writing of GGM was the host's research showing the author's influence by Kafka and by his grandmother in Columbia, a wonderful story teller who would relate tales of imagination and fantasy delivered in a calm, steady voice as if all of these magical adventures were but ordinary events.
Errata:  Tom Genoni receives credit for discovering what must be a flaw in the otherwise beautiful job of translation from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.  On page 13, when Dr. Urbino is led by the posthumous letter of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour to pay a confidential visit to the unnumbered house of the lady friend , the words are:
"This is your house, Doctor," she said.  "I did not expect you so soon."
He has seldom visited this old slave quarters part of town, so why would this be the Doctor's house?  As Tom points out, the translator here apparently faltered on a common Spanish idiom, "Mi casa es su casa."   The translated passage almost certainly should read,
 "You are most welcome, Doctor," she said.  "I did not expect you so soon."
Gary:  I didn't really like the book at first, looked for any excuse not to read more.  I found many examples of where the magical realism was too much for me to accept, such as Euclides keeping sharks away by waving his hands.  Best of the book was the ending, spending time with Fermina,  in their old age.  More redeeming time for both.  This book was hard to grade overall.  It started as a C, ended as an A, overall was a B+.
Tom:  I liked the book.  I started with a bias against the author from One Hundred Years of Solitude, although I couldn't remember enough about that book.  I found the writing in this book uniform in quality, lyrical - began strong and ended strong.  Seemed like a long book - I didn't need all the love life (lust) adventures of Florentino Ariza in the middle.  I'd give it an A.
Ben:  I agree with Tom.  But I didn't mind the love life adventures.  A.  (3-1, Marlins, bottom of 3rd).
Charlie:  B+.  The middle was interminable, meandering.  The author writes extremely well.  I really liked his looking at aging, as I start entering that phase of life.  Good!
Keith:  I had two problems with this book.  The beginning and the end.  They were too far apart.  The book was in three sections.  The first 100 pages was for fun.  The middle was foreskin - of no value, other than prurient interest - nothing but filling pulp, salacious.  The last section was foreplay - some of the best I ever read - finally requitted love.  Note that today Florentino Ariza would be considered a stalker, put in the pokey.  But he achieved his life long goal, in a Golden Pond environment.  B.
Mike:  I dreaded starting this book, as I too remembered how One Hundred Years of Solitude did not sit well with the erudite members of this Club.  Once I got into it, I loved this book.  The author had a great sense of humor.  I really loved the parrot - but I couldn't believe that Dr. Urbino actually died from his fall off the ladder - a shock to me equivalent to Janet Leigh being killed off in the first reel of Psycho.  (As recommended by the Club members, I will read the last chapter of the book.)  Grade:  B
Jack:  I read this book about eight years ago, after it was given to me by my son.  I was taken in by the use of language, symbolism.  I view most of the book as allegory.  I'm a Kafka fan, and I would give this book an A.
Ron:  This is the type of book where you go where the author takes you.  He brought in anecdotes well - overall it was not a novel so much as a collection of anecdotes.  Two passages that stay in my mind:  The balloon ride over the forest, the forts, Indians, an allegorical view of the land.  The other passage was the river.  Like today, we could see it being destroyed, no woods, the manatees gone, yet the river boat just keeps going up and down the river, the lives of people keep going.  The book had cholera but no love in it.  Good passages, but I had the expectation of a story, not just anecdotes.  On the whole:  A-.

Atonement   by Ian McEwan         November 2003

  Two medico princes and half a dozen erstwhile Arabellas evanesced from their homes to go to Eastmountains, where they entered the portal of Ventana del Sol.  The host, an extrinsic fellow, outlined the delights of teaching two hours per day in Auckland and entertaining local Iraq War political comments ranging from "Good on ya" to "Your President's crazy!"  
  In a doomed effort to emulate the more classy Literary Society of San Diego, the LTBC attempted to intellectually discuss the cover of Atonement - however, a fist fight broke out, and the Club was forced to retreat  to more familiar ground.  
But before we love, we must cogitate!  
  Rob revealed that his soul-mate literary critic is Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post.  Thus the selection of this book, which was Yardley's top pick for 2002.  In a Random House interview, Yardley all but categorizes Atonement as a masterpiece, a beautiful job of capturing state of mind and stream of thought.
  Tom pointed out that Part 1 of the book covered exactly one half of the book - 175 pages.  Jack added that he was captivated with the author breaking Part 1 into Chapters - each with a different point of reference, a different narration style/viewpoint, culminating with Chapter 11 being an omniscient view of the climatic (a bad spell of whether - whether or not the twins or Paul assaulted Lola) dinner party and announcements.  However, Part 2 had no chapters at all - it had breaks in the writing, but was not divided into chapters.  Why, asked Charlie, why would the author write such different books within a book?  Why, indeed.
   And what about on bottom of page 310, where "She ordered tea, and three pieces of toast and margarine..." - this is 1940!  Margarine didn't exist that early in the war!  {at this point the host left the room, and when he returned, announced, "Oleomargarine was invented in 1869."  Dang!}    See "The Sordid History of Margarine" (which also includes comparison with butter).  [Only four LTBC members had experienced crushing the color capsule within the plastic packet and kneading the yellow dye into the pale white margarine, circa 1947.  The dairy industry was able to have laws passed that prevented manufacturers from coloring the margarine. (The natural color of margarine is white).  Not until 1967 did Wisconsin repeal their margarine color laws! ] 
  OK, forget the margarine.  What reviews were provided by the members?
Don:  I enjoyed the book very much - one of the few books we've read recently which I consider in the A category.  For the first part of the book, however, I thought it was Jane Austen - but I was impressed with how he handled the material, how he wrote it, the things he did to control the reader.  A-
Tom:  I also gave it an A-.  The last half blew me away - the second half made up for the first half - and the epilogue where he brought it all together was beautifully crafted.
Mike:  This was not a masterpiece.  This is a flawed work, where the author tried too hard to manipulate the reader, force pieces to flow together.  McEwen couldn't decide if he wanted to emulate James Joyce or Virginia Woolf - he seemed to do both.  The plot contrivances were distracting and ill-conceived, e.g.:  Robbie typing out drafts of the apology letter to Cecelia, longhand writing the 'real' one, and then putting the wrong one in the envelope and sealing it?  Come on!  And if that weren't enough, giving the envelope to Briony on the bridge, and as soon as she ran off, realizing the mistake?  [but several Club members, perhaps in their dotage, claimed such mishandling was not inconceivable, and in fact this event seemed very realistic.]
One of the excellent pieces of the writing for me was the description of Emily with her migraine headache, lying so still, attuned to every noise and action in the house.  Also, the Dunkirk Part was good (Robbie was 'saving,' bringing out the two little corporals following him, not unlike his saving the twins Pierrot and Jackson in Part 1), and the hospital/nurse training was well written.  However, overall:   C+
Jack:  I'd give it an A, for some of the very reasons that Mike graded it down.  The author was manipulative, and I enjoyed being manipulated - manipulating reality so it makes sense is the lifework of a good author.  But I also enjoyed some of the writing - an example is at the culmination of the sex scene in the library where he says, "At last they were strangers."  Excellent!  
Ron:  First, two side bars:  The author provides a short bibliography on the history of Dunkirk - may make for interesting reading.  Secondly, the book was type set in  Garamond 3.
  The first fourth of the book dragged - but that was setting us up with this little bucolic scene, the family coming home for the holidays, the kids putting on a little play - to shock us, first with the wording in the letter, next with the assault.    The author was very creative, manipulative in a wide range of situations -  Grade A-

Ben:  The book started awfully.  I liked it better because it started so awful -  I thought it was a sad book, as Briony had only her imagination to achieve her atonement.  A
Charlie:  This is a book I would not have finished without the Book Club;  I rationed myself 30 pages a sitting to force myself to progress - but it turned out well.  The book was very complex, highly structured - it had a twist at the end just like a mystery - but structured.  A
Vern:  If we are striving to become a classy book club, our reach may exceed our grasp.  I think the moral here is if you're reading a British novel, then skip the first half.
  No one commented on the author's writing style.  I found not a jarring phrase or thought - very fluid writing.  I felt he could have made Part 1 about half the size.  Dunkirk (Part 2) was the best part, and I liked his big surprise at the end, which put everything into perspective.  B

Keith:  <as phoned in, paraphrased by host>  I made the mistake of reading the first half of the book - but the ending recovered nicely to provide it with a B-  
Yardley:  <unable to attend, but as represented by host>  I'm inclined to think it is a masterpiece.  The book remained on my mind for several weeks.  A
Rob:  The beginning really took me aback, after Yardley called it "the best book of the year."  It began so slow - then jolted by the C word - then Dunkirk - and the training by Sister Supervisor, always on the nurses, then worried about what to do for the soldiers.  McEwean says that writing is about the author getting into minds - the letter from the publisher to Briony really got to me - at the end, I breezed past the true ending.  Briony wrote her mea culpa - perhaps the story is that there is no atonement.  One can never wipe the slate clean of an injustice, a sin.    A-
Unrelated Club thoughts:  Tom recommends "The Stone Reader" which is a documentary of filmmaker tracking down author of his favorite book, "Stones of Summer."  Also, Vern highly recommends the film documentary, "Winged Migration."

All the Little Live Things   by Wallace Stegner         December 2003

  'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through Harwood, nary a reader was happy, they griped where they stood.  True:  eight erstwhile curmudgeons grumped into the hospitable home of Don Benoist, fell upon the beautifully prepared hors d'ouevres, ripped the Green Chile wine from Ben's holiday offering box, and proceeded to inform Wallace Stegner how to write and when not to show off.  At least two of our stalwart readers recognized the phrase agenbit of inwit  (remorse of conscience) when Stegner used it in his introduction.  We learned this phrase during our study of Jame Joyce's Ulysses.  
   The Theme (or an alternate title for the book) could perhaps be captured as "Deception in the Name of Love."    Ron states that we have in All the Little Live Things a modern day recounting of the Garden of Eden, with the couple in Paradise,  into which was introduced first the snake (Peck-Callaban), and then illness/knowledge  (Marian - cancer).  Heck, says Charlie, this Marian character was hardly well thought out - encouraging pregnacy in a breast-cancerous woman, thus egging on the estrogen, is like pouring gasoline on a fire.  Not so, retorts CIT (curmudeon-in-training) Vern - Marian's irrational behavior made her more believable as a woman!      

Vern:  I've found that with Stegner, one must be patient - the author will move you along eventually.  For me, the two highlights of the book were the unmailed Letter (father's relationship with Curt/Peck), and Joe's behavior at the party - saying the wrong thing at just the wrong time is something I can relate to.  I thought Joe's attachment to Marian after a few months was a little stronger than justified, but the book was powerfully descriptive.  B
Ben:   I liked the Letter also.  The Chaotic scene at the bridge was interesting, if contrived.  I considered Marian not saintly, but manipulative.  B
Tom:  This was one of the top 5 to 6 books we've read.  Funny, made me think of those philosophical questions of life and death.  A bit of a downer, but that's life.  Joe at the party was priceless.  A
Keith:  Saturnine; very gloomy; sex interest was implied between Joe and Marian (Tom interrupts to protest  No!  This was a classic (respectful if sometimes opposing) father-daughter relationship!).  The book was stacatto, did not flow.  What philosophy would you carry away?  The book was more of a patchwork quilt; I did not see the flow among the characters;  Peck was a stereotypical hippy.  C+
(P.S.  the book did make me go to the dictionary often:  ahisna:  (budhist and Hindu:  to not harm any living things.)
Rob:   I admire Stegner and his history.  I picked the first two Stegner novels that we read, but this one turned me off.  I felt it was Stegner/Alston showing off. (Example:  having been squirted with the garden hose, Marian states, "I feel like Keats, when he suggested eating hot chile followed by cool wine!" - come on!  - who talks like that after being squirted with a hose?) 
   I felt Stegner displayed a mechanical style, as if demonstrating the formula to his students for creative writing - put in a little tragedy, some sickness, a good dose of conflict between characters.  I was disappointed - the scene at the bridge goes beyond soap opera.  And the main character attempting to interfere with the personal choice of the couple regarding their decision against chemotherapy was too curmudgeon-like.  C

Ron:  Good book - Stegner delivered a sense of detail of the environment surrounding the characters and dialogue that usually you don't find in writing - often the books' characters seem to have no sense of what is going on around them.  Excellent characterization - was emotional to me to read about the cancer situation.  I sensed the pessimistic evolution of the author - but he did go overboard with his literary allusions and portraying of the curmudgeon.  B+
Charlie:  Stegner writes well, but all those literary allusions were aggravating.  His characters were one-dimensional or not well developed.  He had the curmudgeon well-drawn, but had him speaking in essays, which sounded contrived.  I felt manipulated with the scene with the horse on the bridge - a dark view of life, as perhaps most darkly expressed with his closing statement that you can't get off the treadmill in life, it's all treadmill. I would not recommend this book:   B-
Mike:  The introductory chapter,  really (as Ron pointed out) the concluding chapter placed first, with the couple  just returned from Marian's funeral, appeared when I first read it to be A+ writing, some of the best we've experienced.  I read it again after completing the book, and although all the allusions fell into place, it did not read as well to me in retrospect - perhaps I hurried it too much.  The letter was an excellent description of the near-universal natural tension existing between a father and his teenage son.  After a while, Peck seemed to drop out of the mix, and the book went on and on with Marian becoming sicker, although we're talking about a month, perhaps two at most.  The "harmonic convergence" of all parties at the bridge was ludicrously contrived.  B
Don:  I chose this book after spending some time looking around; it had many good reviews and is listed as one of the three top books by Stegner.   I liked the characters he draws - I was not offended with the scene at the bridge.  I feel that his wife is a real person as in his previous books.  The characterizations were excellent, not too irrational, as that sort of activity goes on in life all the time.  I was interested in his dealings with Curt, suicide, death, acceptance of cancer - then the dreary end.  The book was awfully dark at the end, I would have liked for it to lighten up.  B.  
Jack: (in absentia, as departed for the East Coast early Thursday morning)
"I can't say I enjoyed the book. Perhaps Stegner's portrayal of Joe
Allston as a grumpy old man (if not downright bitter) hit too close to home.
I found it difficult not to conclude that life is a hopeless struggle,
particularly when Marian, the epitome of the love of life, as well as her
unborn child die. On the other hand, the way Stegner developed the
circular ironies of the story was fascinating to me -- withdrawing to the
country to withdraw from life; evil as a groping toward good;
pregnancy/cancer; death/life; love/pain, etc. I would give it a B+."

The Club participated in its traditional end-of-year Literary Awards.  This year's recipients included:
  Mark Twain Hospitality Award went to Don for the outstanding Christmas-time meeting environment and for his recognition of the LTBC-related curmudgeon wisdom of Twain:  "
Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat."  
  Marian Catlin Humanitarian Award (presented to the Club Member who spent the most time during the year reading in hospital waiting rooms):  tie between Ron and Ben;
  LTBC/Mountain West Newcomer of the Year Award:  tie between Charlie and Jack.
  Prodigal Son Award (presented to the Club Member who missed the most meetings during the year, yet managed to show up for the Awards Ceremony):  tie between Rob and Vern.
  Best Review Delivered in Iambic Pentameter (For:  "This Bio Wins No Tony") went to Keith.
Finally, the coveted James Joyce Persistence Award:  tie between Tom and Ben for their accomplishments with Ulysses.

Girl with a Pearl Earring   by Tracy Chevalier         January 2004

Vermeer vs Hollywood
"Girl With A Pearl Earring" - Painting and the Movie - see NY Times article.

Nine well-burnished browns, blacks, and russets converged upon the pallette of the former Harpsicord Factory 
of SE Albuquerque and were immediately brightened into yellows and whites by the respectful hospitality of Lisa,
and the Art History aplomb of Susan, two attributes that this group never expects and rarely deserves.
Charlie reminded the members of why he is particularly entranced with the Netherlands of the 17th Century -
here was a time when humanity seemed to get it all together. The Netherlands had a middle class, and art
was aimed at this middle class. Several members brought their Vermeer books. Considerable discussion
focused on art history and why it took so much time for Vermeer to be "discovered" -  

Ben: Enjoyed the details on mixing the materials to create the paints. For the book overall, I liked it pretty well
for a chick-book. I caught the picture well in the description of Griet. But overall, not enough sex and violence: B
Rob: B book. A clever idea, nicely executed. I liked the meat market scenes, the farmers. A solid effort.
Jack: I enjoyed it - an easy read that provided insight into life at that time. Certainly from her view point. B -
Mike: When I started reading the book, I truly felt it was a "Books for Young Adults" - as Keith pointed
out with one of our other selections, there was no call to visit a dictionary with this book. I felt Chevalier went too
far with imparting artistic qualities in Griet - like it was her idea to place the garment on the table along the same lines
as the arm of the model, one of the key points that Vermeer is noted for. Also, her arranging the vegetables so
that "the colors don't fight" - such people like are not artistic so much as anal retentive! It is interesting to speculate
results if you gave 10 writers this problem - create a novel that explains "Girl with a Pearl Eaarring" - what books would
result? Not great writing, but Chevalier worked the problem well, with good research: Vermeer is A+, book is B.
Keith: (see Rare Rhyming Review) A.
: Liked the book. The first 1/3 was at a high school level. I'm really glad to learn more about Vermeer, who
has two inches of bio in the World Book, and one picture, under the "P's." Good love story at the end. B
Gary: This book gave insight into the culture of the time - Griet was involved with (or entranced by?) three men.
She was easily the most beautiful of Vermeer's models. The author gave her artistic ability. Interesting that it
was developed empirically - through practice. Tracy wove a nice story: B+
Tom: Having the Vermeer picture changed my grade on thi book from a C- to a B+ book. I'd like to spend a day
looking at Vermeer, so you, Charlie, have done a service for the Club members, these dregs of humanity.
Don: The picture of Delft was fascinating - so different - and the view of Holland. As I read the book, I gave
Chevalier more and more credit for researching the times and what the artist of that time had to go through.
The timing of "going to the alley" surprised me - was Griet already compromised by Vermeer, and was
covering? {Tom: a Conspiracy Theory!} In the story, Tanneke looked at the child, but Tracy (in interview)
claimed she didn't mean it in that way. The book grew into a B+ for me. I looked up information on the
Netherlands, and felt the book was representative of society in that time.
Charlie: There are two ways to look at this book: 1] as a piece of fiction, NY Times best seller - then it is about
a B level book. Or 2] a careful look at this period of history, as a window into a remarkable period of time. Then
this is an A- book. {Jack: So the book is a camera obscura ! }

Piet and Griet strolled up the street
Looking for a quiet dark alley
Johannes got a lick
But Piet used his stick
And planted little Jan in her belly
                  -  Anonymous Smith

Dear BWOCOE, Charlie,,

Sorry I'll not be at meeting. I'll be visiting my newest
grandson and family in Portland, OR.

I read the book about a year ago and will give it an
unadorned B.

Since one of my interests is optics, I found interesting
the description of the optical device used in painting.
The artist David Hockney has advanced the controversial
thesis that optical devices were used by the "old masters"
to dealing with perspective. I have a book by him (Secret
Knowledge - rediscovering the lost techniques of the old
masters) which has many interesting examples.

Hope to see y'all in February,


Debt to Pleasure   by John Lancaster        February 2004

The nine apostles of the Passion of the Book met in the foothills of Albuquerque, and were immediately self-
impressed with finding The Last Thursday Book Club's profile in the proof copy of "The Book Club Cook Book"
by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp.
There was some discussion over whether the voice of the narrator was the author or the character Winot. In
general, the group agreed that the voice was arrogant, intellectural, an eline snob, pompous. Another point of
agreement was that the vocabulary was impressive: we learned that lucubrations means that which is composed
by night, and that solecism (a faux pas by the young couple who didn't realize how extensive their appetizer would
be) is a violation of etiquette or an improprietary.
A reader's guide indicated that Winot committed ten murders, but initially the apostles could only name nine:
Mary-Theresa (nanny driven to suicide); poor Mitthaug (Norweigian cook pushed in front of train); Etienne (French
exchange student whose bee sting antidote was removed); Mrs Willoughby (uninvited pool neighbor who was sent
across the field and felled with a shotgun blast by the brothers); Father and Mother (gas explosion in summer
house); Bartholomew, Hywl, and Laura (brother, Welsh husband and interviewer, all felled by death cap mushroom).
The apostles finally agreed that the 10th must be the first: Bartholomew's hamster felled by rat poison.
This initial uinamity ended quickly once discussion of the month's selection began.

Don:  hmmmmm....   I couldn't get into it -  Lancaster knows how to handle words - but one sentence was 239 
words long. I give it a C+
Rob: I almost reached that point, then I recovered. I read all the recipes, even one analogy - but I thought it was
too much with the Arab, Indian words - impressed with how much he researched. I felt it was a New Yorker
article gone wild. Then I came across his sinister side, and I began to read more carefully. I resonated with
how the author handled this. B+
Ron: well, I never recovered. It went over my head. The writing was too erudite and pretentious. If I had known about
the murderer to begin with, I would have paid more attention throughout. But it never really caught on with me -
so I read the last chapter - like eating poi, I never really caught on. C
John: well, I'll give an eclectic review. Bob Knight and the magic mushrooms provide delusions. From my
perspective (reading 5 pages) I give it an A+. But I found that at 3 am in the morning, I laughed out loud. It
reminded me of the Confederacy of Dunces, and Court TV: sociopathics like Ted Bundy, serial killers.
Charlie: the book was too clever, too literary - there was no other character in the book that was developed.
The characters were all in the service of a Bad Character. The book changed significantly at page 165. C
Ben: I liked it! Clever, got worse as it went along, good portrayal, funny! An A.
Tom: It was an A- because of the ending - but give it an A. The Mother was hilarious - playing another role.
Never really motivated to kill. I caught on fairly early on. I fount it largely hilarious, fun from beginning to end.
I liked that he used a cook book as his cover story.
Keith: I had a slightly different take. I think it was autobiographical. The theme was dissing his brother, and de-
elevating his brother. Strip away that, and it was an unstable, fantasies in 20 different languagtes. There were
little islands of brillance, and oceans of trash. C-
Mike: This was great writing, very clever. Reminded me a lot of Nabokov, and there was an homage to Pale
Fire here (note that narrator complained about his writing environment in the Foreward, just like Winot.

What a wonderfully sick book. Good choice, Sicko!


Dear Mike,

I had hoped to obtain "The Debt to Pleasure" sooner from our library system,
so I have not finished it.

Based on the first 60 pages, I have the following remarks.

The first ten pages seemed very fresh and a nice approach to writing. I
recommended the book to my son at that point. However in the next 50 pages,
the book seems to have become entirely anecdotal without any direction
except to describe various menus. I cannot yet tell why this is a novel and
not a novelty. The anecdotes are very interesting, but the development seems
very tangential. So based on his fresh approach to writing I will give the
book an A-.

I hope to finish the book and give you a more complete assessment, but this
won't be tonight or in the next few days.

The first meeting of the Springfield Men's Book Club will occur on Monday
March 15 <2004> at 2 PM. I hope that I am not the only person there. Another reader
has promised to attend. The announcement goes out March 1 in our association
monthly newsletter.

Best regards,

As the "Jeep" in the outfit, I was not around when you read the book which
inspired Don to make his dessert, but I would be happy to help in whatever
way I can in May.
As I mentioned to you last month, we are leaving town next week for Europe
and will not return until March 24th. So unfortunately, I will not be able
to attend the LTBC meeting at your place on the 26th of February; however,
I did read Lanchester's Debt to Pleasure.
Wow! "Syntactic flair?" Perhaps I'm syntactically challenged. I enjoy
being challenged by ideas rather than syntax. Maybe the form was the
message. He certainly kept me alert--single paragraphs with multiple
topics. Which sentence is the topic sentence? From lavender to ghosts;
from lemon sole to clouds. The nonexistent transitions did keep me on my
toes and his vocabulary kept me near my dictionary. And what was with
those parentheses--approximately 1.48 pairs per page. (One pair
encompassed 28 lines.) I think he enjoyed teasing the reader and I had
some fun in the process. B+

The Life of Pi   by Yann Martel        March 2004

Nine wisened yet lovable meerkats snacked incessantly on sugary algae, snuggled within the warmth of Solano 
Place, and discussed the meaning of Life, Death, God, and Cherry Pi. Is Pi rational or irrational? Is life at sea
not a repeating pattern? Is there a Richard Parker within us all?
We all appreciated the humor throughout the book.
The inventory of items found aboard the lifeboat, ending with
 "1 Bengal tiger. 1 hyena. 1 boy. 1 ocean. 1 god."
Pi's list of what to do if you have a Bengal tiger aboard your
The interfaith dissing between the three religious leaders was priceless. Pi's description of himself:
"...puny vegetarian life form." And Pi yelling to himself on handling Richard Parker: "Plan 6! Plan 6! Even though
at that time I had no idea what Plan 6 was ! "

Two great discoveries: 1] the Japanese may have drawn the truth out of young Pi - and 2] some overly protective
typesetter removed a crucial phrase out of Jack Farrell's paperback copy - in the last portion of the pentultimate
chapter (pg. 317), Pi has told the second story - "In both stories the ship sinks, my entire family dies, and I suffer"
- and then asks the Japanese, "which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the
story without animals?"
Mr. Okamoto: "That's an interesting question ... "
Mr. Chiba: "The story with animals."
Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, The story with animals is the better story."
Pi Patel: "Thank you. And so it goes with God."

The amazing discovery was that the phrase about God was entirely missing from Jack's book! How could this
happen - with the same paperback publisher as most of us had? What does this mean? Is it rational?
The meerkats provided their reviews, then assuaged their hunger with Pi. Apple (rational) and cherry
(less rational) a la mode (French). "I fear the Tigers of Detroit." And so it goes with Hemingway.
Charlie:  I have no criticism of the book.  A
Keith: Here is a character named after a swimming pool in Paris who ends up in the biggest pool in the world - the
Pacific. Pi is an irrational number, and Pi Patel is an irrational character. Good adventure story or a parody - could
be either one, that was it's strength. The story was deeper the more you had to drink - I've got to give it an A-
Ron: I got bored with the middle, in the middle of the ocean. I give it a B+ and I still don't know why the story would \
make you believe in God.
Jack: I'm still suffering from jet lag - but I'm glad I came tonight. I thought I had it figured out. I was intrigued with
Pi's interest in the three major religions. But I too not believe that the real story is the better story. A-
Tom: I liked it a lot. A little long but a fun story. A
Don B: Even with the discussion tonight, I don't get it. It was a fascinating story, zoological-wise. But when I read
the last part of the book, I said: Good read, but this was fantasy covering reality. I give it a B.
Mike: This book had some great humor. One of the funniest lines ever is when the young tri-religion student gets
his first glimpse of Richard Parker aboard his lifeboat: "Jesus, Mary, Muhammad, and Vishnu!" He had it all
covered. Great fun! And I felt like I learned a lot. My club members discussion on the truth, and the better
story, raised this book for me from an A- to an A.
Bill N: When my wife read this book, I asked her how she liked it, and she ended up putting it aside. So I was a little
apprehensive when we had the book for our choice this month.  I really enjoyed the zoological Part 1 - and I have
spent quite a bit of time at sea, so I liked the part at sea. When he described the big storms, I could really envision
them in the lifeboat. However, the Meerkats on the island seemed like science-fiction to me, completely out of
place and turned be off. At the end, I agreed with the Japanese: the story with animals was best. I give it a B+
Ben: This was really a horror story disguised as an adventure story. I compare it to Poe. The true story was too
horrible. We are fortunate that man has an adaptable mind. A

<from Gary Ganong, 16 March 2004, with new e-mail address of>

The first meeting of the Men's Book Club was held yesterday. Five men showed
up. We expect more when we begin book discussions. Our April book will be
"The Old Man and the Sea." The May book will be "Ship of Gold in the Deep
Blue Sea." I hope we don't get waterlogged.

I completed reading "Life of Pi" in training for the above sea stories. Yann
Martel has written a delightful book, full of unexpected twists. I enjoyed
Pi's use of Exodus 3.14 (I AM who I AM) on page 20, for a good joke with
religious numerology. Martel taught us all about the secrets of lion tamers
and animal territories in a fascinating way that made the whole book
credible. Pi's ecumenical approach to religion is not unusual for a young
person. We all have a Richard Parker in our lives. How Pi triumphs over
Richard is a reflection of his character. The fresh water pools and meerkats
may be analogous to God feeding the Israelites in the wilderness. The second
story was a surprise and I agree with the Japanese story preference. Great
book. Grade A.

The Maltese Falcon   by Dashiel Hammett        April  2004

Sam Spade - the original isolated hero in a world where treachery is the norm.  The operatives of the LTBC met at the home of Tom Flitcraft, welcomed guest Joel Nash, retired Lovelace dermatologist, as well as basked in visit and questions  by the Journal's David Steinberg, and candid photos by photog throughout.  We had three absentees:  Ron B. was in N'awlings at the Jazz Festival, and Don B., Bill N. were also on travel.
"He went like that," Spade said, "like a fist when you open your hand."
Steven Marcus (in Intro to The Continental Op) claims that the parable of Flitcraft, as told by Sam to Brigit (and left out of Huston's movie version) not only explains the world according to Spade, but also the world of Dashiell Hammett.  "He felt like someone had taken the lid off life and let him see the works." 

We learned of Hammett's birth in Maryland in 1894, and his death from respiratory/TB complications at age 66, cared for by perhaps the true love of his life, Lillian Hellman.  In between, he left school at age 14, worked many jobs, served in both World Wars, was a Pinkerton man and a socialist, and ended up being 
blacklisted by Joe McCarthy as a communist.  When he solved a Pinkerton gold heist case too quickly and consequently missed out on a trip to Australia, he resigned.  While working at odd jobs, he began to hemorrhage again.  Feeling that he had little time left to live, and the one thing he wanted to do before he died was to write, he moved away from his family and began an odd an uncertain Bohemian existence.  Hit his peak as a writer in 1930 with TMF.  The LTBC operatives took the lid off the book and discussed who actually wrote the movie tag line, "It's the stuff that dreams are made of."
.... Sam shivered a little.  "Well, send her in."
Charlie  - An A, for all the reasons in the discussion.  I thought it started differently from Sherlock Holmes (hero was more of a misogynist rather than an intellectual).
Joel:  A, because such a pure example of the genre - the prototype - and having seen the movie 40 times probably influenced me.
Jack:  A-  ...  fascinated with the large array of characters - seemed sterotypical detective movie characters (like Tom, I may not have selected it if not familiar with the movie) - but fun to read.  Note the chapters have titles - what does "G in the Air" mean?  <recall:  Brigit drew a "G" in the air to silently communicate Gutman to Cairo - but Sam picked up on this.>
Rob:  Enjoyed it quite a bit, but somehow expected more out of it.  Tough detective that meted out justice himself.  Like <Lawrence Block>, he distrusted police:  "We need a fall guy."   B+
Keith:  <rhyming review:>  "Ode to Maltese Falcon"
Mike:  Reading this book was like eating candy.  Delicious, fun, great!  Different order from Steven Marcus, as I was familiar with the movie, then read the book, then saw the movie again.  But even though Hammett described Samuel Spade well in the first line of the book (tall, thin), couldn't help picturing Humphrey Bogart in the role.  A-
Tom:  Like Rob, but not like Ben (loyalty to Sir Conan Doyle) - it didn't quite do it for me.  B+

Ron B. on travel:
My fellow readers,

I am sorry to report I will be missing the meeting next
week due to a visit to the NEW ORLEANS JAZZ FESTIVAL!
Grace and I will spend all next week in the big easy eating
muffalettos, crawfish and other assundry n'awlins
We'll be meeting my son and his family from Boston there
for a week of fun, we hope.
I have read the book and did enjoy it. I will give it a
high B+... no... make that an A-. I would love to see a
picture of Sam Spade based upon the description of him in
the book.

Til May,

Bill Nelson on travel:  
Mike, am sending my regrets for tomorrow night's meeting.  Am leaving for CA in the morning.  The Maltese Falcon was as good as its reputation.  Give it an A from me.  Hope to see you in May.  Bill Nelson

Gary Ganong in absentia - aka California:
Dear Readers:

I had some difficulty getting a copy of the "Maltese Falcon" from the Placer
County Library system, but I was able to see Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor,
Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in the famous film version. The
portrayal seemed a little corny after all these years. Acting styles have
changed, but the exchange of lies and explanations was lots of fun. It is
considered one of the top 25 greatest films by the American Film Institute.
You would probably enjoy seeing this cast and comparing it to the book. I
give the film an A and will reserve judgment on the book.

I am impressed that you now will have Journal coverage. Web page, logo,
magazine article, cook book and now the society page of the Journal. I left
ABQ too soon.

Best wishes,

The Map That Changed the World   by Simon Winchester        May 27,  2004

Special Event - the nationally-recognized Last Thursday Book Club met its public live at Page One Books in Albuquerque, hosting an actual Club meeting on 27 May 2004 - Thursday evening, 7 pm, with dessert for our fans. Advertised by the write-up on Page 10 of the newsletter.  
Eight semi-fossiled strata of LTBC members were unearthed and exposed to their public at Page 1 Books in an enjoyable event for all parties.   The profiling of the Club by Judy Gelman and Vicki Krupp's Book Club Cookbook  facilitated the newspaper article by David Steinberg of the ABQ Journal, an excellent photograph, and hordes of fans (well, a small horde) who engaged the club members in discussion of Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed The World.  Becky Wilson, Page 1's high energy Graphics Designer, created a logo for the Club,  fashioned it into a book mark of the Top 75 selections, and served strawberries and whipped cream (in honor of the Club's CookBook selection) to all guests and members.   We learned that debtor's prison was not as bad as it sounds, and the concept (to pay to get into prison) not as ridiculous as it sounds, if legal bankruptcy does not exist and the government wants to establish a foundation for credit.  It was revealed that the book jacket did not represent strata but was in fact a folded replica of the Great Map, reduced from 6' by 9' to 20" by 28".  Club members signed three copies of the Cookbook.  Finally, the event presented the Club with two potential new members:  Ken Gillen and Chuck Lamb.
Author notes:  Simon Winchester was born and educated in England, and did indeed study geology at Oxford.  He worked free-lance as a writer for several employers, incuding the BBC, until he started winning awards and was able to concentrate on his books.  The Club members had varied accounts as to whether or not this effort should have been a book or an article:

Ben:  I thought the book was good, not great.  Parts of it were cumbersome, and the arguments for the map changing the world were understated.  B.
Joel:  I thought the book was overly long for the amount of information it provided.  My background includes geology, and I found the book interesting, but overall:  C+
Tom:  I felt Winchester overly dramatized the events in the book, and I too felt it was overly long.  However, the one section that makes me want to read other work by Winchester was Chapter 11 entitled Jurassic Interlude:  "...we were well beyond caring what the nuns might think...  This was summer, here was the sea, and we were schoolboys - a combination of forces that even these storm troopers of the Blessed Visitation could not overwhelm."  I'd like to see what a disinterested academic historian would do with the story of William Smith.  B
Bill N:  I've known a number of geologists, but knew essentially nothing of geology.  I really liked the book - I was amazed to learn several things I never knew, such as dinosaurs once lived on the little island of England.  A-
Charlie:  The NY Times book review by Janet Maslin says "This is a story worth telling" - but the 300 page book could have been a great 100 page took.  Way too wordy.  B-
Don:  Enjoyed the book.  Compare with my own family, which had some relation to geology:  my father worked in the oil fields, and I always found it fascinating to see how what is underground influences the people on the surface.  My grandfather started an oil well that is still going after 100 years  (and providing some income to me  - just about enough to pay the increase in oil prices whenever the gasoline price rises.)  Grade:  B
Mike:  A tale of moderate interest, told in a moderately interesting fashion - but with hyperbolic comments that promise much more.  I thought of Steven Ambrose collecting his WWII anecdotes on 3"x5" index cards - if Winchester had made this book a collection of geologically historic anecdotes, it would have been much more entertaining, and we probably would have learned even more.  His slight forays into this area were most interesting, left you wanting more:  e.g., the story of Buckland the skeptic (p. 284-285) who was intent on eating his way through the animal kingdom, yet "never lost his taste" -  "Gentlemen - Uxbridge!"  and the question of the Nobel prize not presented for geology or mathematics - what about Nash, "The Beautiful Mind," who won a Prize for game theory?  Winchester never made his case with me of the importance of Smith's work.  B-
Ron:  Interesting story, much better than a text book on the subject.  But I thought he was much better in writing Professor and the Madman.  B
   Notes from beyond Page 1:
Sorry I'm going to miss this Thursday's meeting, but want to give you my
impressions of Winchester's book.
Having long had an interest in geology (started out as a geology major in
college), I enjoyed learning about William Smith's life. I am always fascinated
by how a person's passion can drive them even when their efforts are not
recognized and their financial and other personal aspects of their lives
deteriorate. I thought Winchester's story was well organized (Chapter headings
again--yeah!) and flowed fairly well, even though he tended to be a bit redundant
at times. I'd give it an A-.
Can't wait to hear how the session at Page One went.

Nice article in the Journal. Thanks for sharing it.

Winchester's "The Map That Changed the World" was a good read. The beginning
was fascinating. I really enjoyed the explanations of the English industrial
revolution: mining, canal building and drainage. William Smith's life
combined tragedy and triumph. He seemed to be a spendthrift, but we cannot
assess the cost of being accepted into British inner circles from our own
common-man society. Science has not changed to the degree that Winchester
implies. There are still cliques of charlatans supporting each other, citing
each other's papers, researching nonsense and opposing evolution and change.
But Winchester is a good historian and story-teller. Grade A-.

Wish I could be with you. Hope that the Page 1 experiment is successful.

Best wishes,

Enjoyed your meeting yesterday.  Also looked at your web page --- exceptional!
One comment about the current book was interesting, "[paraphrased] ... has a great many words considering how little information it contains".  The reason I remember that comment is that it fits my reaction to almost all non-technical books.  It seems that the writer has a 10 page story and wants to produce a 400 page book.  I guess I read too many mathematics books and I now expect all books to provide the information with the fewest possible words.
Anyway, it was an interesting evening.
Wayne Godsey

The Reader   by Bernhard Schlink        June  2004

 Nine once hormonal fifteen-year-olds from post-war America headed north toward Santa Fe, barely literate enough to read the highway signs in search of the beautiful Placitas home and the warm hospitality of Jack and Cheryl.  There we discussed many subjects, we learned many facts.  
We learned of the Adventurous Trip of Ben and Silent Tom to San Francisco and Sam Spade's legendary John's Grill, where today you need not bring your six bits to obtain a meal of chops and mashed potatoes, rather bring your Visa Card with at least $26.99 credit limit.  And the tour of the upstairs
Dashiell Hammett room adorned with Lillian Hellman's letters in praise of John's capturing Hammett's spirit?  Priceless!  
We learned  that although Cheryl hails originally from Ohio, she spent what appears to be half her life, or 14 years, in Nebraska, and
returned there recently with Jack to pick some wonderful cherries, cherries which can transform into delicious pie.  And so they became, to accompany the cheesecake.  The Book Club Cookbook legend lives on.  Eat your heart out, non-included book clubs!
We learned also of Bernhard Schlink,  that his
dream today is to have a house on the dunes, and to walk the beach in the morning, then write into the night.  We learned that he was born into this post-D-Day generation on 6 July 1944 as the son of a theology professor, and grew up in Heidelberg.  That after an argument with his big brother, he wrote "The Fratricide" at age 8.  That finally he secured his first professorship at age 31, became a judge at age 44 and a Professor of Law since 1992, in '93 was guest professor at Yeshiva U. in NY, and resides today in Germany.   That he has written many courtroom/lawyer mystery stories; that The Reader this book was the first (and to date only) German (translated) book to hit the top of the NY Times Bestseller list - but perhaps being chosen as an Oprah Book Club selection didn't hurt its sales which constitute the metric for that lofty placement.  The book was written in German in 1995, and translated into English in 1997.
We learned The Reader has now been translated into a total of 25 languages, but as Jack pointed out, perhaps our version with "Kid" was not a good choice for what was originally "Jüngchen" (perhaps "Babe"?  - Ben Franklin would have used, "My Dear Child." )   Liebchen is "little love" but this was Jüngchen - young love?  
"The next night I fell in love with her."   "When an airplane's engines fail, it is not the end of the flight."  We learned of the wonderful first sentences with which Schlink begins each chapter, almost a sub-book in themselves.  We learned of his sparsity of language, of capturing much with few descriptive passages, Hemingwayesque, as Charlie Palmer had pointed out.  
How critical to the story was the "secret" that Hanna was illiterate?  Jack showed us that the author provided clues along the way, especially apparent in a re-reading of the book.  Early on, when the narrator was surprised that Hanna did not know his name either, although it was clearly printed on his school books.  Again, on p. 42:  "No, I like your voice" in response to "- read it yourself."  And it was made quite clear to the reader (lower case = us) when "Kid" Michael left a note for Hanna in the hotel room, which "disappeared" and was replaced with Hanna's anger for "deserting" her.
The Club discussed the dilemma for the young post-war generation in Germany - how could they atone for the sins of their fathers, their neighbors, their truck drivers?  The story provided some insight into this problem - even though Ron declared the narrator to be a "moral wimp."  Other opinions offered:

Joel:  A-  After I read it, I'm still thinking about it.
Mike:    One thing I liked was the short chapters - kept the story and the reader moving along.  I felt it was a plot contrivance to have the narrator just happen to be in a class where the professor asked the students to attend a trial, and there was his old lover, Hanna.  Would have been more believable if he had read about the trial, seen Hanna listed as a defendant, and then attended it.  I felt there was very little description in the book, very little "great writing" - which makes you think about the translation, how it reads in German with
Jüngchen - however,  I appreciate the book more now that Jack has pointed out features like the memorable first lines of each chapter.  Nevertheless, I award it what I came convinced with:   B+
Bill:  A good read - the last chapter was a shocker!  Simple and fast equates to A-
Ron:  Enjoyed the book:  one thumbs up, as I recommend it.  I emjoyed the simple read, but wouldn't want every book like this.  I didn't have sympathy for the main character, who was wishy-washy morally.  I hadn't thought about the moral dilemma of this generation.   A-
Keith:  Alas:  Too Germanic!  no emotion, no humor!  contrived; robots going through statistical events.  Born without personality, he betrayed Hanna; left her twisting in the wind - but unforgettable!   B
Tom:  It was Germanic:  dark, brooding.  It reminded me of The Assault - I learned much from our discussion.  Tjhe story elements kept me interested.  Introspection:  do we condemn our parents?  -  I don't know how we would deal with the Holocaust.  B+
Ben:  I liked the terse writing.  Here were two flawed people:  Her flaw was pride which made her live in shame.  His was lack of backbone.  Reminded me of any modern marriage!  Too much of a downer - suicidal!  B+
Ken:  Enjoyed it more the 2nd time than the 1st - I didn't expect to enjoy it the second time.  The story was predictable,but dealt with in a refreshing way.  I had much sympathy for Michael at the beginning, which lessened as the story went on.  I had little sympathy for Hanna at the beginning,which increased as the story went on, and made me sorry when she committed suicide.  A-
Jack:  I liked it for the reasons that some of you didn't:  It was Germanic!  I have spent time in Germany, and seeing the generation wrestle with their history.  Yes, it was contrived, but all of life, all of fiction is.  I liked the way he used contrasts:  order/chaos;  longing/shame;  dependance/independance;  and in the end, liberation/death.  In recogniton of  those themes, I applaud the author.  I give it an A.


I will not be able to attend book club this evening. My group at work has
its annual corporate meeting tonight; it is a command-performance, mandatory

Regarding The Reader: I very much liked the tight, terse Hemingwayesque
style of writing, which is different from most 20th century fiction. I
would give it a B+.

See you next month.

Charlie Palmer
I meant to respond earlier and with my profundity, but I see the LT is upon me.

I enjoyed Reader a lot. I deliberately did not read cover blurbs and thus was
caught by surprise when book shifted from every teenaged hormonal guy's fantasy
to Nazi war crimes trial. I regretted missing this meeting when I'm sure you all
would be exchanging fantasy, or in John Taylor's case, real stories from your
teens. The sobering last 2/3 of the book will probably temper the raucousness.

I did detect early on that literacy was her problem, but am not sure if it would
really have the dramatic effect the author gave it. On the other hand, can't
imagine what it would be to be unable to read in modern society.

Anyhow, I thought it was very good book: A- Have a good meeting.

August's meeting will be held in the Triple R Museum. Near Claremont and 2nd.
Come early for museum tour. I think you will enjoy it. When I get back I will
distribute an article I've written about the museum. Mike has read it, so can
clue you in.


Rob -- almost home.
Dear Mike and Jack,

I will have to miss another LTBC meeting, but I did enjoy the book.

"The Reader" was a fast read, full of surprises. It was easy to identify
with the characters. They seemed human and captives of circumstances and
fears, Michael did not tip his hand as he described events. He was a willing
victim with few regrets. He seemed to enjoy his seduction. When he was
attracted to people his own age, he felt that he betrayed Hanna.

Hanna's behavior at the trial made her a martyr and a target for our
sympathy. Her questions "What should she have done?" had no simple answers.
The questions were more complicated by her unusual circumstances. She just
tried to survive and asked for no mercy or fairness.

I don't recall the reason for Michael's recordings. He must have felt that
he owed Hanna that much. She took a strange approach to learning to read.
The prison staff could have taught her more directly. The labor of love of
Michael was matched by a labor of love of Hanna to learn. It all seemed
wasted at the end by their inability to communicate feelings instead of just
performing good deeds.

The Jewish daughter put Hanna's acts into perspective. She understood the
effects on Michael better than Michael did. The Jewish daughter, Michael and
Hanna all suffered because they could not reach out and share their
forgiveness. They acted out of duty rather than of brotherly love. They made
themselves unhappy. They were like the characters in most tragedies, victims
of pride.

Great book: grade A.


Dear Mike and other members

I will be unable to attend the meeting on the 24th as I will be in Medford
Oregon. I hope that is an adequate excuse for missing my first meeting?
(Yes, I was the guy who was so insistent on becoming a member of your group
at Page One last month.)

Barring death or hospitalization, I will be at the July meeting.

Chuck Lamb

Benjamin Franklin - an American Life   by Walter Isaacson           July 2004

While today's DNC caucused in Boston, the thirteen (some original) colonists congressed at the home of Don Benoist, where they partook of political skewering and praising of a true founding father and grandfather. Walter Isaacson (b. May 20,1952) tells us there are Franklin-lovers and Franklin-haters, and we learned from some of both. We learned that Franklin retired at age 42, on page 137 at exactly the half-way point of his life, all on a 2-year education.  We also learned that Isaacson himself squandered a good Pembroke College/ Oxford (1976) education by accepting employment by both Time and CNN.  His journalistic style was both appreciated and deplored.  Something for everyone.  Would it have hurt to have some poetic language ... and a few metrics? How many letters did Franklin write - half as many as Jefferson is famous for, or twice as many?  Should there not have been more humor?  That bit about BF "almost" coming up with the size/concept of a molecule, that was a joke, right?  Did Franklin (or Mmse. Brillon) invent the lap-dance?  
Should a biography stick purely to the subject, or should it provide the reader with descriptions of the envionment, give the context in which the subject operates?  Isaacson gave us a few teasers, reminding us that at this time, London was the 2nd largest city in the world, yet with population less than 1 million.  Philadelphia had 7,000 people when BF arrived in 1723, although it was growing at 20% per year.  And on the cover of 18th Century's People Magazine?  Men like Franklin, Lafayette, John Paul Jones – there were no professional athletic teams, no rappers, few actors, no rock stars!  No NASCAR!  However, our own Ben reminds us that there were some leisure activities in the late 18th Century:
In addition to fornication and such, there were spectator sports 
such as horse racing, boxing, tennis and bowls. Also there were playhouses
(remember Shakespeare). Gambling was quite popular. There were some
diversions even for geniuses. Franklin was rumored to be a member of the
Hellfire club. Might have been better than late night TV.
Men of note were often representative of the Enlightenment, they were true Renaissance men.  One could hang a thermometer over the side of the cruise ship and discover the Gulf Stream.  What a era of opportunity!

The world was indeed a wonderful oyster for humans to open –  the vast unexplored continents of North America, Africa, Australia. Letter writing was an accomplished art – consider BF and Jefferson.  BF enjoyed his experiments with electricity, but it had not been twisted into the extreme perversions – there were no e-lectric chairs, no e-mail, no E-Bay, no TIVO.  The entire 17th century was pre-train, so horseback still represented the standard for speed of travel and communications in general.  For Philosophy, we had Voltaire.  For music, we had Mozart (not mentioned in the book, but as we learned with previous LTBC selection, born:  Salzburg, 1756, died prior to end of century), followed closely by Bach and Beethoven. BF met and interacted with the author of The Marriage of Figaro.  In the military, men could still be national heros, they weren’t trying for that 3rd Purple Heart and a trip home - raw animal courage could make a differerence – consider John Paul Jones, and before the century was out, by the time of the rise of Napoleon, Horatio Nelson.

Life was far from perfect  – it still included terror and terrorism, in the forms of Indians and anti-Indians, superstitions and unfounded fears, slaves and anti-slaves.  ... so ... what did you think of the book?
Ben:  a readable history, an interesting character.  I liked BF, I liked the book.  A

Ken:  I enjoyed the book and learned quite a bit. I particularly liked the 17 page "Conclusions" section that showed how views of Franklin’s accomplishments shifted back and forth with time over the past 200 years. Franklin clearly enjoyed his press clippings and celebrity, ironic considering one of his famous quotes that said "People who are wrapped up in themselves make small packages."  I found it interesting that Isaacson seemed to belittle John Adam’s diplomatic contributions in France compared to Franklin’s. However, according to David McCullough in his recent book on John Adams (p. 267), Adam’s advised the French that "nothing would so guarantee a "speedy conclusion" to the war as a powerful French fleet in American waters."  The sensational American victory at Yorktown occurred when the French eventually followed Adam’s advice. Overall, I enjoyed McCullough’s book on Adams somewhat better than Isaacson’s book on Franklin (By the way, tourism went way up in the John Adams area of Mass. after McCullough's book became a best seller). A-  

Gary:  I did not like the beginning, but found that it laid the foundation for the last half of the book.  Note:  The "Conference House" referred to in the book, on Staten Island, is only three miles from where I grew up.  A-
Tom:  I liked the writing, and learned a lot.  Isaacson says the world is divided into Franklin-lovers and Franklin-haters.  I'm a hater.  The man was personally not that appealing to me; I didn't care for his social philosophy.  What was he doing flirting with those little girls, for Lolita's sake?  Don't ever compare this man's genius to that of Isaac Newton - Newton invented the Calculus, for Leibnitz' sake! To use a baseball analogy, Franklin was a lifetime .300 hitter who never would have made it into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.  B+
Mike:  Isaacson’s rendition is somewhere in between a scholarly work and a folksy story-telling of the life of BF.  Perhaps the best description of BF was by his 14 yr old grandson Benny:  
"Very different from other old persons, for they are fretful and complaining and dissatisfied, and my grandpapa is laughing and cheerful like a young person."
It took me a while to realize that his yearly sections were not necessarily unique – some of them overlapped the years – and the sub-titles within the chapters I liked, but I often felt that the book was a modern chugging version of BF’s life – start and stop, back and fill – rather than a smooth path pressing toward clear pragmatic goals, which BF must have felt he was living.  Franklin gets an A A RP, Isaacson gets a B.
Rob:  The book exceeded my expectations - today you might hear quoted Jefferson or Adams, but seldom Franklin.  But I came away impressed with the man.  He was negotiating serious policy with France and England while he was flirting with the ladies - the man was excellent at multi-tasking.  I think he would have been a first-time ballot winner for Hall of Fame Scientist, Politician, Statesman.  The way Isaacson's book was chunked allowed me to read a little, sleep, read some more.  A-
Keith:  500 pages exceeded my capacity, so I read another BF biography (by Edmund S. Morgan, c. 2003).  There are different types of genius, and Franklin was broad, not deep.  Genius comes in many forms.  His life was a dazzling dichotomy - he spent 1/3 of his life overseas, yet he is considered the prototypical American.  The dichotomy was from hubris to humility; from myopia to visionary.  B
Chuck:  I did read the book. I found Franklin to be a very complex character.  He was 84 years old at the end of his life, and he had changed his personality several times by then.  In many places, Isaacson's work was superficial.  B
Charlie:  I would give BF an A, and the book a B+ for many of the reasons previously stated.  The facts were there, the author was uncritical of Franklin's foibles.  He didn't point out Franklin's problems, he remained distant.
Bill:  I really liked the Autobiography - as you might suppose, there he doesn't say much bad about himself.  He was my hero - may not have been telling all the truth, but he made me appreciate his cleverness.  Part 1 (of Isaacson's book) was the Autobiography.  If I knew I could give a grade without reading the book, I would have stayed with that.  The last part was good!  But not finding my hero in the book, I have to give it a C.
Jack:  I read the Autobiography 40 years ago - so this was a good way to learn more, perhaps the truth, about Franklin.  He was not particularly a likeable character, but a fascinating one.  A-
Joel:  Fascinating.  My previous knowledge of Franklin turned out to be very limited.  BF was an amateur scientist, like the section in Scientific American, where home-brew experiments are described. He didn't know, he hoped he was making progress.  The book itself was relatively superficial.  A-
Don:  I didn't know what to expect when I started reading the book.  The BF we learned about in grade school wasn't who the man was - he had much more range.  He excelled in so many fields.  I was very pleased to learn more about him in the book, and from everyone's discussion here tonight, with many ideas coming into play.  A-    

Reading Lolita in Tehran   by Azar Nafisi           August 2004   (special treat:  tour of the Triple R Museum)

With the recitation of the Qu'ran chanted in the background, the seven pagan sons and three true apostles of the Prophet wrenched their way through revolution and demagoguery in the Smithsonian-featured confines of the Triple R Museum.  The Rs, Richard Rinehart and Rob, toured the new converts through floors of 19th century tools, early 20th Century toys and obscure novels, late 20th Nautilus equipment, and 1920s Ford trucks and Studebaker, with a '62 Impala convertible thrown in for nostalgia.  A 10,000 lb 1895 steam engine  tractor was discovered which apparently had been recently used to crush several  Dixie Chicks.  Or perhaps their CDs.  
We learned that Azar Nafisi was born in Iran around 1954 and while her father was mayor of Tehran, was sent to study in England at age 13.  She returned to Iran at age 17 as her father was imprisioned by the Shah, and experienced much of the revolution which deposed the Shah in 1979, as well as the return of the Ayatollah Khomenini and the subsequent 8 years war with Iraq (1980-1988).
The group had much heated discussion, some of which was actually centered on the book.  

Chuck:  When I started reading the book, I liked it very much - the Gatsby section, and Lolita was also well suited.   That's the last I liked the book.  The author insisted on forcing connections to novels (I won't say obscure again) and brought me to where I didn't like it.  B-
Don:  I was a little upset through the Lolita part - I thought I would get dead tired of all these women's meetings going on - however, as I got deeper into the book, I appreciated the insight on how women are treated under Islam.  I was informed of how the movement was allowed to grow as different groups came together.  It was enlightening and I began to accept the author's long dissertations on how she reacted to the influence of the state.  I give it an A-
Tom:  I liked it as an informative memoir.  I learned what life was like under the Islamic Republic, but the book became repetitive as it went over the same ground while blending the lessons of literature into life.  The author had a formula and insisted on following it through the book.  B
Ben:  I liked it pretty well - an innovative device that worked very well.  The part about James was appropriately ambiguous.  Coming from a family of all females (except me), I could sympathize with the ladies.  I'd give it a B+
Charlie:  It was good as an informative memoir.  Also as a personal look at relationships.  Too literary for me, twice as long as it should be:  B-
Rob:  (from NY Times Yardley review:  "The book is in the first 80 pages:  satisfying yet disorganized.").  The influence of the book was not just with Nafisi as a teacher but the insight by her students.  Very good in the first two parts, then the book got away from the book club and the teaching, and focused too much on Nafisi in the second half:  B
Ron:  I thought it was a remarkable book - took her experience and expertise in English literature and used it as a way to tell her story.  The way this framework allowed her to share her story and her own situation was remarkable.  But tough to get through the book, I found myself racing through the literature descriptions, looking for the kernels of interest such as the women's insight into life under the Islamic Republic, e.g., wearing the Burkah and interacting with the religious regime. Writing was very good, pleasant to read.  I give it a B+
Keith:  My high expectations, of a memoir by literata - with suppressed nubile women - were not met.  The words I wrote to describe it:  didactic, dilatory, dry, and disjointed:  showed her own development as a high-falutin' literary critic.  She dropped the women at the end (similar to lives at end of The Perfect Storm) and just left me hanging.  I give her a C.
Mike:  I was amazed that the two hotbeds of revolutionary thought and action in this book were Tehran, and Norman, Oklahoma!  And most interesting the "Keystone Kops" enforcement of the laws within the Islamic Replublic, where you could hide your satellite dish and buy western books with little interference.  What a paradigm shift!  For me, the two most interesting parts of this book were the discourse on Lolita as an oppressed female which certainly gave me more insight (along with the quote from Vera Nabokov), and the trial on the novel The Great Gatsby.  Other than that, the final two of the four sections of the book appeared forced. B
Joel:  This was a hard read:  a lot of pages I had to go over more than once.  I'll have to read Jane Austen - but my wife agrees with Nafisi:  Austen paints the fathers as inept, mothers as social-climbing airheads.  The enthusiasm for literature among the Iranian students was amazing.  The banality of evil:  government was capable of doing great harm - people were picked up for no reason, imprisoned, perhaps shot or "disappeared."   Even under a missile attack, life went on - and the people were sending kids off to be martyrs.  Amazing book:  A

Post Scripts: 1] Article Headline: "Reigning dissident refused to sign relations report" - actually, Nafisi claimed she had not read this report making the case for US to attack Iraq, thus did not feel she wanted to take sides/sign.
2] No one brought up during the meeting about how such experiments as that of the Islamic Republic are wonderful arguments for the separation of church and state.    

From the missing members:
Well gang I either screwed up or this is an initiation for the new member.  
I took the instructions given (near 2nd and Claremont) and looked at
the Website which also said at 2nd and Claremont and showed the red dot on
the Mapquest map as at 2nd and Claremont. So I went to 2nd and Claremont
and didn't see the RRR Museum. I drove around for 10 minutes or so and
asked several people (two thought I was looking for drugs) but no one had
ever heard of the Museum. I went into Pastian's Bakery (a block north) and
again none of the 4 people inside knew where it was (and no phone number was
listed in either the White pages or the Yellow pages under Museums). At
this point I threw in the towel but, given that I was in Pastians and my
anticipatory dessert juices were flowing, I bought several desserts to
soothe the stomach. Unfortunately none of the 4 people in Pastians wanted
to discuss Reading Lolita in Tehran.

As for the book, my comments follow:
Although the book seemed long-winded at times (especially in the early
sections), I found it quite a bit more interesting when discussing life in
Iran. Given the 350 pages I would have hoped to learn more about life in
Iran and more about the author’s background. I was somewhat frustrated by
the lack of continuity in the story-line and the sometimes awkward paragraph
structure. Many of the book discussions (Lolita, Great Gatsby) reminded me
of lit classes I had taken decades ago when I hadn’t read the book being
discussed, couldn’t really understand the teachers’ lectures and would
therefore crouch down in the back of the class so the teacher wouldn’t call
on me. In fact I haven’t read Lolita and it is definitely a mistake to read
this book before reading Lolita since much of Lolita’s plot is divulged.
Thankfully my short-term memory has degraded to the point that I’ll be able
to read Lolita in the not-too-distant future without recalling what was in
fact divulged. Overall I found the book boring at times, yet there were so
many interesting passages and anecdotes, that I still felt it was a good
read. B+
- Ken

Hi Mike,

<My wife> Susan brought "The Book Club Cook Book" to her meeting (The Springfield Book
Club). The ladies were most excited about the LTBC book mark with the 75 top
books. Of course they did not realize that they were the top 75 macho books.
They wanted to copy the list, but Susan suggested the LTBC web site for a
more readable copy.

The group did not want to read "Reading Lolita in Tehran" because one member
did not like "Lolita." That is the trouble with the ladies book club, they
seem to require unanimous approval for any selection. The men each pick a
book of their choosing for our book club. Otherwise you get into a majority
dictatorship and never try anything unusual.

"Reading Lolita.." is an interesting book with feminist perspective. Our
Men's club has to read macho books and prove our independence from the
feminist dominated Springfield Book Club.

It was great to attend the July meeting with you and share the discussion of

Tomorrow we head to Alaska so I won't make the August meeting. "Reading
Lolita in Tehran"
is a very thought provoking book. Nafisi's descriptions of
the Islamic revolution were so vivid and gave me a feeling for all
revolutions. She clearly explained the mental struggles of herself and her
students. She made me understand the feminist point of view better and
showed how we can look at characters from different directions. I enjoyed
the quote from Nietzsche on page 180, about fighting monsters and looking
into an abyss. We all fight monsters and look into abysses. The only
complaint that I have is that after 290 pages, I have not mastered the list
of her students. I wish that I had written comments about each student as
they were introduced and discussed and would recommend doing so for any new
reader of the book. I am looking forward to reading the last 50 pages on the
way to Juneau. My grade for the book is A.

Best wishes,
- Gary

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress  -   Sept 2004

Last Wednesday trumps First Debate
  Apparently the Liberal Media wanted to disenfranchise the Last Thursday Book
Club members of this Battleground State by sneaking in the First Presidential
Debate right across our established nationally recognized time slot: Last
Thursday, 30 Sept, 7 pm. Well, Bill Nelson did not let them get away
with it. At least eight of us proved to be agile, mobile, and (at times) hostile.
We eight stalwarts of the LTBC caucused pre-debate on Wednesday, yes, Wednesday
- unfortunately, Ron B. could not attend, as he was at a "Free The Dixie Chicks"
The LTBC discussions strayed often from the topic, but for the most part
stayed away from politics as Bill gallantly steered us back to China and the book.
Bill states the book is reviewed in "The Book Club Cookbook" and that he and wife Randi
enjoyed listening to it by "Books on Tape" reading, learning about life under Mao.
The translation by Ina Rilke resulted in her receiving the prize in 2002 for "best
translation of French book."
We learned from Bill's map a smattering of the majestic sweep of history in China, to include:
 5000 BC: farmers first grow rice along the Yangtze River - evidence later eaten.
220 BC: foundation laid for the Great Wall
219 BC: "squeeze" in play (Great Wall breached by paying off the guards)
2 AD: population of China already at 57 million people
584 AD: grand canal established, well before Joseph Smith in England - see "The Map..."
690 AD: rule by the only female ruler of China, well before Dixie Chicks
1086 AD: population now at 108 million
We also learned that Balzac lived from 1799 to 1850 and wrote 100 novels and short novels
- before he was "immortalized" in the Marian the Librarian song in musical, "The Music Man."

Two of our members in attendance (Ken and Don) have visited China, and both spoke of the Gen
Joe Stillwell museum in Chungking and the nine airfields that the people built in 90 days.
When they finally focused, the LTBC members gave mixed reviews:

Ben:  Liked it, interesting story, in a country we really don't know about.  It was funny, yet sad. I was let down at the end, when Little Seamstress was off to the city to see what price she could obtain for women's beauty.  B+
Ken:  Really enjoyed it.  The humor was reminiscient of Dave Barry, especially how the author would return to humorous themes like "I again played for them Mozart  is Thinking of Chairman Mao."  I learned a little about the country (I recommend visiting the Gen Joe Stillwell museum in Chungking.)  The book was a fable more than a novel, and a novella:  a great story but too short.  Overall:  A-
Rob:  I probably should not read the dust jackets; this one said "Enchanting!"  I kept waiting to be enchanted and it never happened.  A thin book with a thin story.  What made it a best seller?  C+
Tom:  Entertaining, but certainly not momentous.  Read like a fairly simple fable.  The climatic scenes leading to an abortion was odd - thin:  B-
Mike:  Some real similarities to Reading Lolita in Tehran, and some real differences. In a way, the two young men were being punished for the sins of their fathers.  Interesting interplay between Luo and the narrator – making the narrator hesitant, shy, the geek of the two, made for an interesting duo, and then trio with the Little Seamstress.  Quite a unique approach for a book about books.  Excellent start – like so many books – with the village headman discoursing over the violin.  I thought this would become a theme of the book, about the backwards culture and the superstitions of the farm people.  Picked it up some with the drinking of the bull’s blood, but was more a book about the age-old theme of boy meets girl, boy loses girl.  The abortion search was most interesting – usually you have all these characters seducing the young women, and no one gets diseases, or gets pregnant.  Here, it happened – and it was very clever plot twist to trade a book or two for the abortion.  But strangely, it made you applaud abortion as the only way for the Little Seamstress to survive her culture.
Don:  Character development was not well done.  Most of my concerns have been mentioned (above).   I got more out of last month's look at a totalitarian regime.  B-
Joel:  It was an entertaining book.  Couldn't decide if it was a French book or a Chinese book.  The engineer in me was reminded of Click and Clack reporting on Car Talk (NPR):  "The French copy no one, and no one copies the French."  The example is the Renault, with 3 lug nuts - won't fit on the standard tire stand.  The book shows well how the culture has not changed that much:  naked men still pulling chunks of coal by hand, with clothes off to keep them from getting filthy; and people boiling clothes for relief from a lice infestation.  Fun, but less profound.  B
Bill:  Randi and I really enjoyed listening to it - humorous, fun to listen to and a quick read.  I'll admit I was a little shocked when I saw how small/short a book it was in the hard copy form. The book opened my eyes to the Cultural Revolution.  I will give a lesser grade to reading (A-) than to listening (A).

Note:  The Club determined that a quorum would not be available for Pagosa Springs weekend of 16 Oct, and will request that Keith consider hosting at home on following Thursday (22 Oct).

From the missing members:

Dear LTBC:

Susan and I will represent you at the USAFA-USNA football game.

Dai Sijie's "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" is an enjoyable
It is a charming story about a time of great catastrophy. The author has an
enormous sense of humor and treated every anecdote in a light-hearted way.
Perhaps it gives insight to how the oriental mind can deal with sorrow and
hardship. Dai is somewhat like Nabokov in his ability to find humor
everywhere even under extreme conditions. Dai's book is so much more
cheerful than Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran." Both authors survive
their revolutions and emigrate, but Dai does it laughing. Grade A-

We will be in Death Valley for the October meeting, but I am most of the way
through "An Invitation to a Beheading." I'll be thinking of you and the
beautiful Autumn in Pagosa.

Best wishes,
Dear Mike:

Sorry I will miss the book club meeting tonight. We're still back east. Should
be home within the next 10 days.

I enjoyed Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Like Reading Lolita in
Tehran, it provided some insight into life under a dictatorship, highlighting
the strength of the human spirit and the universality of mankind. Additionally,
like Reading Lolita, it seemed to end abruptly, giving the impression the story
was unfinished, which may be as it should be. I give it a B+.

looking forward to next month's meeting.


  Invitation to a Beheading  -   Oct 2004

Kerry Activists Kidnap Kafka Fan
  In an unprecented move to convert voters, Kerry family cousins living on Parkside Circle in 
Southeast Albuquerque apparently swooped down on an unsuspecting member of the Last Thursday
Book Club as he circled the bases in a vain attempt to reach sanctuary in the Luau Room of the
Keith Gilbert Home and Roadrunner Wilderness Area. Some tap-tapping was heard throughout the
evening, but Cincinnatus Ferrell was not sighted again - however, a mysterious cell-phone
message was received from C-2. "By myself," said Jack. "What a silly boy," said M'sieur
Gilbert.  "Step back a little, gentlemen."

At that moment, little Emmie Genoni provided additional biographical background on V. Nabokov.
The book, which does not exist in the Rio Grande Library System, was written in Russian, in
Germany, in the 1930's. Was this a response to the Stalinist pogroms? or perhaps ...
Was not the book a Freud dream interpretation, queried Ben? Tom reminded
us that Nabokov hated Sigmund Freud - every one of his books is dedicated to his wife Vera, and
almost every Foreword includes a thinly-veiled Freud slam - in this one he says of the book,
"It is a violin in a void... No clubwoman will thrill. The evil-minded will perceive in little
Emmie a sister of little Lolita, and the disciples of the Viennese witch-doctor will snigger
over it in their grotesque world of communal guilt ..."

For the record, Ben and Mike did indeed perceive in little Emmie the foreshadow of little Lolita.
Ken noted that each Chapter was a new day, and the pencil reduced in length along with C's life.
Easterling and Genoni saw the morphing of several characters, sometimes separate individuals,
sometimes obviously the same: the director, Rodion the guard, the lawyer. Many of us enjoyed
the humor - all the characters were clowns except for Cincinnatus ... and perhaps little Emmie.
Dang, I liked the down on her little arms ...

Joel:   With apologies to Burkingetti - this book was a "Devil's Island of the Mind" (allusion to Ferlinghetti's "A Coney Island of the Mind," a seminal work of the hipster/beatnik era).   An unpleasant book.  I would rate it a B-  but I would re-rate after I re-read.  My impression now is unsatisfying, too surreal.
Rob:  My standard for the surreal is Bluefeather Fellini.  This book never made me stop and ponder the deeper meaning - and I did not want to dig it out.  As a book, I didn't enjoy reading it a lot.  B-
Ben:  I kind of liked it - more like a dream - involving family he didn't like, a mother he didn't know, a wife he didn't trust.  I liked it:  A-
Tom:  As an unabashed Nabokov groupie, this book struck a chord in me - but I like all of his books.  I felt like I was going in and out of his dreams - when I finished the book, I wanted to read it again.  A
Ron B:  I couldn't really get into it, too surreal for me - didn't want to get too much into it.  A period piece, art, but not my cup of tea - as a work as a whole, not that interesting.  C
Ken:  I'm a Nabokov virgin - I didn't know what to expect - but I would read something and kept going back, at times realizing something was beautifully written - "This is incredible!" - makes me want to read it again, and read what apparently is a classic for the Club, Lolita.  B+
Mike:  While reading the book, I thought of
Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner series, also quite surrealistic and dream-like, sometimes comical, and wondered if the series was inspired by this book.   I really liked the humor in the book - the chess game where M'sieur Pierre is doing both the color commentary and the play by play is hilarious, like playing chess with one of your mouthy lawyer-like kids.  The irony of thinking someone is tunneling to save C., and it turns out to be the only other inmate with the director - that was great.  Having said that:  overall, the book was not compelling for me, and I had trouble keeping up with the surreallism, of C-1 and C-2.  B
Charlie:  I give it a B, as the average of what I really thought of the book, and what I heard/appreciated from the discussion tonight.   An excellent example of the value of our Club:  I would not have read the book if not an LTBC selection, and I would not have appreciated it without our discussion.  A much better book then I can appreciate.
Keith:  I am unabashedly, irrationally mesmerized by Nabokov - a word genius.  Every word is poetry , and like the notes in Mozart's music, not one word would I change.  A

Note:  the question was raised during the meeting as to whether the translator, Dimitri Nabokov, lives on.  Vladimir married Vera in 1925 and they had one child, Dimitri.  Most intriguing is this e-mail message from Dimitri, praising Azar Nafisi's view of Lolita, which we read in our August selection.  So as of last year, Dimitri still lives, where his parents died, in Montreaux, Switzerland.

<from our inactive reserve, 23 Oct 2004>:
Dear Readers,

The Red Sox still need to win four games this week to end the curse.

I enjoyed "Invitation to a Beheading." It is an allegory, a dream-like
portrayal of life in a totalitarian state. The consideration shown to
Cincinnatus by his keepers is bizarre and not typical of real treatment to
prisoners or citizens. Perhaps Nabokov is ridiculing the power of the state.
The weakness of Cincinnatus is symbolic of passive citizenry, whom
Cincinnatus, the ideal citizen-farmer-soldier of ancient Rome overcame.
Nabokov must be saying that oppressed people just need to decide to be free.

This is not my favorite Nabokov book. "Lolita" and "Glory" were better.
Grade B+

Wish I could be with you.


Dear Mike,

Sorry I missed the meeting. Was looking forward to the discussion and sharing
in Ben's jubilation over the Red Sox win. Next time I'll use MapQuest or

Enjoyed the book and came to appreciate it even more after trying to deal with
Presbyterian Healthcare and Tricare over a billing issue earlier in the day.
That was then followed by my attempt to navigate in complete darkness through
the polyhedron to Keith's house.

In any event, I agree with those who compare the world Nabokov describes in
Invitation to a Beheading to the one Kafka's protagonist encounters in The
Trial, in which the struggle for justice pits an individual against a baffling
bureaucracy. Additionally, I saw parallels between Invitation to a Beheading
and the last two books we read, where the liberating aspects of imagination
played important roles.

Hoping in November to make my way in that direction where, to judge by the
voices, stand beings akin to me.


  Disgrace  -   Nov 2004

Eight dirty dogs sniffed their way into the beautiful White Oaks home of Host Ken.  They came disheartened and reeking of turpitude but not yet in despair.  With South African Soetkoekies awaiting the outcome, the soulless members "usurped upon a living thought that never more could be."  
We learned that South Africa is the number three murder capital of the world,  behind Columbia (#1) and Swaziland (#2), the latter sharing a bloody border with #3.  We learned that chasing car-jackers in Capetown is a two-person affair, with one as driver and one manning
the machine gun.  We heard that 7000 South Africans applied for amnesty after Nelson Mandela ascended into leadership, yet according to the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, only 125 were granted.  We felt much from this book by JM Coetzee, many themes, to include the redistribution of wealth, the battle for control by Arrogance and Eros, the question of whether apparent choices are actual choices, the deadening power of inertia.  It evoked the helplessness of a Kafka (1883-1924, died of pneumonia) novel and evoked strong feelings from the members.
Jack:  This book is hard to classify - a very powerful story - and very disturbing.  It dealt with human relationships, yet the conclusion you come to is, "There is no higher life - this is the life and we live it with and like the animals." Yet I really enjoyed reading it.  As one approaching/past middle age,  I give it an A.  Coetzee may have been born in Capetown, educated in Texas, and live in Australia, but he is a German cynic at heart.
Joel:  Fascinating, but somewhat repelling - David violated the taboo between teachers and students - disturbing but fascinating.  A-  (my wife would not recommend this book to her club - found it horrid.)
Don:  I'm afraid I just don't go with the rest of the crew.  The book was thought provoking, so absorbing of everything.  I think our lives ought to be different, this is not the way to look at life or let life treat us.  Most of these characters had chances to improve their lives - but wouldn't do it. Couldn't do it?  Baloney!  I admire the man's ability to capture this story, but my heart goes down to the ground - goes down to the daughter, as she talks her father into staying out of her life.  Too disturbing, not a valid piece of literature.  B- or C+ ?  C+
Tom:  I think it was uplifting.  I watched my sports team (the San Francisco Bushbucks) go down, and this book cheered me right up.  It contained two stories:  of South Africa, but also of mid-life crisis.  Coetzee's writing, sentences were terse - different sentence structure than other writers - not so overly mechanical.  A-
Mike:  D is for Disgrace.  D is for David and his daughter - for the dogs and the dying, and for the dying dogs. D is for despair, disheartening, desperation.  D is for Desiree and desire.  D may be indeed be a theme, but it is not a grade for this book.  This is a book I will remember for some time.  It taught me, it angered me, it frustrated me.  Why did David go back and visit Melanie's parents?  Did that make any sense?  (It did make sense that he would surreptiously watch Melanie in the play).  David, David, why didst thou forsake the little dog, which, like Lord Byron had a club-foot, perhaps the only sentient being that enjoyed your opera?  B+ or A- ?  A-
Ben:  Dismal story, with redemption at the end.  David found a humbling purpose to his life:  clean up dogs. A-
Ron B: Well written book by a good author, but I would not want to read another of his books !  Irony:  easy reading, but not a simple book.  I didn't understand the 
motivation of his daughter.  David did have concern for his daughter.  Her calling him "David" may have implied some difficult childhood issues.  They still have issues - he could stay, but ... Not an uplifting book, but dealt with David's spiral down - he did get compassion for animals.  I'd give it an A: well crafted, well written - hooks together all the themes of the book.
Keith:  David was an aging Lothario, of waning magnetism.  Short poem by Byron may be the lynchpin:

There be none of Beauty's daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me;

When, as if it sound were causing
The charmed oceans pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lulled winds seem dreaming;

And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o'er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving,
As an infant's asleep.

So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of summer's ocean.

- Lord Byron

There was a strong ying and yang of David and his daughter:  David was very rigid in his beliefs, his daughter was infinitely malleable, she would roll with the punches.  Well written book, actual poetry in some cases.  B
Ken:  after reading Nabokov and Coetzee, I agree, both are well written.  I enjoyed the book, so much action, so much happening.  I had the feeling of the 52 year old:  approaching the end of his career, he would never finish the opera.  Pipe dream, like my own pipe dreams, things I won't get gone.  I didn't like his visiting Isaacs.  A-
Keith:  There are two kinds of great novels - those that envelop you in warmth, comfort, a place you want to be, and those that create an uncomfortable place that you know you don't want to be in.  Disgrace was the latter.

LTBC Write-in Reviews:
Please mark me traveling for Nov (Las Vegas) and Dec (Grand Canyon).
Disgrace was a shocking book, but one that was hard to put down. In short, Disgrace = dismay, dishonor, disheartening - two generations of disfunctionals in a disintegrating society.  B+
Looking forward to attending your retirement party.  Thanks for the invitation.
Have a good Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Bill Nelson

Dear Readers:

My review:

Disgrace” is a very strange tragedy. David Lurie is the typical proud
protagonist. His actions seem so foolish. Perhaps being able to anticipate
the fall and decline of proud men makes tragedies so attractive to readers.
The saga of Lucy is a greater puzzle to me. There seems to be little
motivation for Lucy to remain on the farm. Coetzee uses Lucy to heighten the
fall of David. He also uses Lucy to show how innocent people suffer in
turmoil. David and Petrus are the principal villains. Petrus is cunning and
successful. David is brilliant and short-sighted. The book raises a lot of
questions about relationships and responsibilities. It makes us think about
subjects that we like to avoid. Grade A-


Seven Pillars of Wisdom - A Triumph  -   Dec 2004

In the name of God the merciful, the loving-kind.  We were nine in Wejh.  And 
just before dawn, Auda said, "Let us make a raid upon Stalgren Ct. this Thursday
at 7 pm." And we said, "in the name of God."

And we marched and we marched, and the land was barren, and we heard nothing.

And Auda said, "By God, you are right. We know not of the ancestry of Orens."
And so it was told that El Orens was of Thomas Chapman, as the 2nd illegitimate son of this
landed Englishman in Ireland, and the 2nd son of Sarah Lawrence, originally hired as
governess of Thomas' four daughters. Thomas left his wife to live with Sarah; they moved
to Wales and had a total of four sons. Lawrence spent a lengthy walking tour in Syria and
Jordan, and later in his archealogy work, learned to work with the Arabs without the use of
the British military.
... and the young sheikh Ken provided this link to
David Fromkin's excellently written view of T.E. Lawrence and his life:
David Fromkin is a Professor of History at Boston University and has
written several books about the first World War and the Middle East ("A Peace
to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East 1914-1922").

And the stories told by the fire that night were plentiful and by the end of Thursday,
by God, by my God, by very God, the sun rose upon us all.
NON nobis Domine!

    Not unto us, O Lord! 
Joel:  Fascinating book, slow to read.  If I mapped battles, I could recreate the campaign.  I would rate
as an A.  This is a significant book, if someone annoying.
Ron B.:  I was annoyed right from the beginning.  Preface by "T.E. Shaw" - who?  Gave a list of all the chapters,
which is good, but "Seven Pillars" as title, because he once wrote a book called "Seven Pillars" and liked the
title?  I had the feeling that Lawrence was bi-polar, or on too much cafeine.  He writes what he wants.  A signifi-
cant book, not history so much as how the events strung together.  Interesting, but was I learning anything or wasting my time?  As a read (not historically) I give it a B.

Ken:  Very mixed emotions- I found the first 50 pages or so very tedious and would have stopped reading except for my LTBC responsibilities. Good decision since the book began to become more interesting. It was hard to keep track of the characters and places since the new and mostly strange names kept pouring out page after page. The continuing detailed descriptions on the flora, fauna and landscape traversed in Lawrence’s journeys became so boring that I started to skip over many such paragraphs after the first 100 pages. These omissions made the pages go by quicker and focussed my attention on the more interesting story-line and anecdotes (e.g., "Feasting", Chapter XLVI). Lawrence’s writing style is both elegant and sometimes difficult to understand perhaps due to differences between "British English" and "American English" or perhaps due to my failure to master either. With this ongoing handicap, I clearly look forward to the next LTBC selection (Beowulf). Grade:  B

Keith:  Not a book for the common man.  A vomitorium of places - and I'm looking for decimal places.  I learned a word:  midden (refuse pile).   I'm giving it a C just to get some dessert.  The book is a classic but not for me.
Ben:  I liked it better as I got into it - very British - Ken, you had trouble with all the people, but I had trouble with all the Wadis.  The writing was very good, the descriptions of sickness were well done.  A-
Jack:  I fall somewhere in between Joel and Keith - a couple of insightful passages, but overall I found it very difficult, and I found it annoying.  C+
Charlie:  Very difficult to read, wasn't fun.  It is an important book but I would not recommend it.  But I'm glad I read it once.  B
Tom:  I finished the entire book, but did a disservice by pushing through the last half.  I did find some of the sentence construction difficult, but going back over it found it elegant.  Going back through it, I found interesting discussions of people.  The battles worked to advance the storyline.  The guy is brilliant, the writing is beautiful.  The book could really improve from an editor's touch - today an editor would cut out one third.  B
Rob:  Just like Magister Ludi, I was captivated by this book.  Provided insight into the British and Semite religous cultures.  I floated over some of it.  Lowell Thomas helped to publicize Lawrence.  I checked out and watched the '62 movie last week, and I liked the book more - O'Toole gave Lawrence a dazed, confused look in the movie - the 'real' Lawrence was much more interesting.  One example:  the way he described the beating in Naraa.  A
Mike:  When Malachy McCourt complained that he did not remember being anywhere as poor as described in Angela's Ashes, Frank responded that the book was a memoir, not a history.  Same is true of Seven Pillars, as Lawrence reminds us many times.  This is a wonderful book, beautiful writing, humorous and clever anecdotes from a brilliant linguist and leader.  I read this book 40 years ago, and never forgot its impact.  I don't give an "A" lightly, and this is an A book.  

Dear Readers,

"Seven Pillars of Wisdom" is an amazing book. T.E. Shaw's description of the
manuscripts in the Preface makes you wonder how such a long book could be
written with so much detail. As I reread the Introductory Chapter, I noticed
that Lawrence said that he changed the names to protect identities. An
Amazon reviewer wrote "It has been proven by historians (e.g. Lawrence
James) that Lawrence not only embellished, but fabricated in toto his so
called exploits, depravations and exploitations in the Middle East." I do
not endorse that review, but Lawrence's descriptions of so many incidents
and so many locations were filled with enormous detail. I attributed these
embellished descriptions to the similarity of places or perhaps repeated
visits to places or repeated activities in camp.
I introduce the Amazon review to show other people thought that Lawrence could not remember so
much detail. We had trouble today remembering what we did each day this week
in Pasadena. Of course Lawrence was younger when he wrote the book than I am
today. Maybe he had a photographic memory. He also went through a couple
drafts. Each draft may have reinforced his recollection of facts, or
reinforced his images of places and events. Sometimes people decide what
must have occurred rather than remembering events. They reject their
memories in favor of the logic of what should have occurred. Then their
memories adopt the logical sequence of events. This is like the mind
completing an image from eyes with blind spots from a nuclear detonation,
laser injury, etc. Anyhow I liked the book and the beautiful writing and do
not dispute the events or the history.
The book gives an insight
into the Arab mind, behavior and culture. The Arab people living in the
desert surely have not changed. I wonder how educated Arabs have changed, if
at all. We all carry our cultural baggage with us through life. As far as
the book goes, it is written almost poetically, with beautiful descriptions
of places and events. If the book is not accurate, it is at least charming.
Unfortunately, it is long and difficult to read since the names and places
are unfamiliar and numerous. I cannot read the maps, so I am confused with
the locations. Overall I give the book a B+ for the beautiful and different


Non nobis, Domine, Domine,
Non nobis, Domine,
sed nomini, sed nomini, tuo da gloriam.
Not unto us, O Lord, O Lord
Not unto us, O Lord
But unto thy name, But unto thy name, give glory

 Closing remarks from David Fromkin:  

As a citizen of the twentieth century, Lawrence valued history little and entertainment a great deal. Fiction is stranger than truth, and T. E. found it more fun: due to him, there are those who believe that Damascus was liberated in 1918 by a band of Arabs led by someone who looked like Peter O’Toole.

It is as a voice of our time that he is certain to be heard. As other men lust for power or wealth or women, he craved to be noticed and to be remembered—and he was and he is, and he will be.

Here endeth the reviews of April 2003 - December 2004. 
Proceed on to Reviews of 2005.

LTBC Summaries & Review Comments
[April 2003- December 2004]

LTBC Summaries & Reviews Part 03  last updated:
  17 December 2005 
See also Reviews Part 01 and
Reviews Part 02 and Reviews Part 04

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