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


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Summaries & Reviews from 2005-2006 Selections

Beowulf  translated by Seamus Heaney  -    January 2005

So: 'tis known that this bawdy band of Geeks
As the day of Thor advanced upon us all
Once more unlocked our word-hoard
And journeyed to the great hall.

No longer possessing the strength of the legendary son of Ecgtheow
But long life brings wisdom - with such treasures we must be frugal.
Though we were never much celebrated against the demon Grendel
Yet have we not searched out and slain the mighty Google?

Thus did we gather within the hall of the Great Dane of Dellwood
Nestled between the valleys of the Comanche and the Candelaria.
Proceeding toward the sunset, second abode: seven, five, nil, and eight -
We feared not the water nashed with reptiles, nor the insect with malaria.

- Bring forth the mead and the wenches !
...  well, at least some more mead ... 

Side by side comparison of ~15 lines in two translations:

Translation by Burton Raffel
  A powerful monster, living down in the darkness, growled in pain, impatient as day after day the music rang loud in that hall, the harp’s rejoicing call and the poet’s clear songs, sung of the ancient beginnings of us all, recalling the Almighty making the earth, shaping these beautiful plains marked off by oceans, then proudly setting the sun and moon to glow across the land and light it; the corners of the earth were made lovely with trees and leaves, made quick with life, with each of the nations who now move on its face.  
  And then as now warriors sang of their pleasure:  so Hrothgar's men lived happy in his hall till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend, Grendel, who haunted the moors, the wild marshes, and made his move in a hell not hell but earth.

Translation by Seamus Heaney
  Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark, nursed a hard grievance.  It harrowed him to hear the din of the loud banquet every day in the hall, the harp being struck and the clear song of a skilled poet telling with mastery of man’s beginnings, how the Almighty had made the earth a gleaming plain girdled with waters; in His splendour He set the sun and the moon to be earth’s lamplight, lanterns for men, and filled the broad lap of the world with branches and leaves; and quickened life in every other thing that moved.
  So times were pleasant for the people there until finally one, a fiend out of hell, began to work his evil in the world.  Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marshes, marauding around the heath and desolate fens;

So:  Less than half[Dane] of the band gathered had read Beowulf before this selection.  We few, we nine, asked many questions, and received geat (if not great) wisdom from within our Band of Brothers:  
Q: to what purpose was the speaking out of Unferth against Beowulf?  
A:  [Genoni] This was pre-game trash talk;  non uncommon among warriors even today - although you never want to say "Yo mama!" to Grendel.
 Ken was able to distill the NFL metaphor in the myth, and the hero's rebuke:  " was mostly the beer that was doing the talking" was not unlike John Wayne's admonition [in Red River? McClintock?  The Cattlemen?]:  "That's the whiskey talking, pilgrim!"  
Joel pointed out that Hrothgar was the last refuge for the protection of his people:  "The kröner stops here."  
Charlie reminded us that art is different from science, and translation of a poem is a work of art.
Jack noted the role that pride played in this story, and the downfall in old age.  All the forewarning by the narrator underscored the telling of the legend and the maintenance of the blood-feud:  here the Swedes were waiting in the wings to attack after Beowulf's rule ended.  During the banquet, the Finns were riling up their compatriots against the Danes.  Ben noted that Norway has always been the poor man of Europe.  Did it make sense for Beowulf to attempt this one last comeback, well past his prime?  He no longer had game -  it appeared to be "suicide by dragon."  But enough of this fireside chat - Ben says let's vote and get on with the dessert.

Ben:  I liked it - some compared the new translation of Gilgamesh with Seamus' here.  It gave recurring themes, pictures of society.  Beowulf was really the first Superhero myth, which today we see in Batman and Superman.  I liked the Heaney translation - except for the side stories on family.  A
Tom:  I liked it - also I listened to the CD -
the reading by Seamus Heaney covers two CDs, about two hours, but doesn't get you fidgeting.    I didn't know anything about it - I was impressed with what Heaney did - each line I read, I asked myself:  "how did he pick that word?  What process did he use?"  B
Mike:  I think we need to examine this story from the mother's viewpoint:  not unlike on Cold Case Files, I often see the mother of a mass murderer telling us, "But he was such a nice boy, always polite."  Wouldn't any mother be outraged if her kid ran home with his arm ripped off by some big blond Geat-bully?    I listened to Heaney on audio tape twice before I read it - I pictured Grendel as the Cave-Troll in Lord of the Rings, and Beowulf as the Mr. Hyde character in Sean Connery's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  When I read it, I was surprised to read sections that were not narrated in the tape.  I have difficulty grading this book - how much do I relate to the oral tradition?  how much to the transcribing monk?  how much to Seamus Heaney?  I ended up giving it a B.
Jack:  Fascinating story that reflects our heritage better than anything else I've read.  I enjoyed the way he handled the language:  strength of the words, gave a strong impression.  A
Ron:  I read the author's Preface, which kept me sensitive to the alliteration and syllable rhythm.  I could feel the rhythm as I read - I am still dealing with the themes.  B+
Keith: [proxy presented by Ron]:  Not that excited about it.  I give it a B.
Charlie:  I think there are two questions here:  Beowulf (in the original) was a monument of the culture.  It would be presumptious of us to vote on whether Beowulf was good literature, any more than we should vote on whether a Mozart concerto is good music.  So we are left with question #2:  what do you think of this translation?  I think it was extraordinary, wonderful.  I haven't listened to it yet, other that a little tonight, but I want to.  Reading Beowulf in college was hard, but this translation made it easy,  A
[note:  LTBC met on Mozart's 249th birthday: Salzburg, 1756. provided his Clarinet Concerto today.]
Ken:  I did not read Beowulf in high school but I heard about it from my comtemporaries, so I was not thrilled to hear that this was to be our selection.  I went to Page One Too, and found the cheapest copy - old English poems.  Then I heard that the Heaney translation was required, and I was delighted to find Seamus had included the Cliff notes in the margin.  I was hesitant, but now I agree with the others:  I really enjoyed it, the writing was beautiful.  And the genealogy chart in the back was great to keep up with the characters.  Impressiviely written, overall B.
Joel:  Of course this was my selection, I need to defend.  In the movies, this theme of the hero against impossible odds of evil is blasé, overdone - but this was where it was done first.  When this new translation was published several years ago, I received it from my family in hard cover, and I did not want to despoil it with my notes, so I went back and got a paperback when it came out.  I am rating the story on its performance.   The story is the sole entry in "Greatest Hits of 800" - it was among the first of the genre, and considering the previous reviews, one must listen to it:  A, as oral, seminal work.
Don:  My wife is Danish, so this encouraged me to look up some history of the Danes, Swedes, Scandinavia.  I got a copy of the CD, listened, studied the historical background and I got much more out of it the second time.  I was much surprised that I did so, as this was not totally my thing.  I'm glad we read it, I learned more.  B+

[from our dearly departed brethren:]
In Hetware and Hronesness, hurricanes hardly happen. By Jove, I think I've
got it! (The hurricanes hardly happen line infiltrated my mind fairly early in
the book and I couldn't get it and its cadence out of my mind.)

Also, in Habilene and Halbuquerque, ....

This book is interesting for its antiquity, but I'm afraid I didn't find its
story captivating or particularly interesting. I just don't care for these
sorts of fantasies with serial encounters with various sorts of strange
creatures -- a la Lord of the Rings or Dante's Inferno -- or Max Evans'
Bluefeather Fellini in the Sacred Realm for that matter, to cite one of the best
of that genre(:-). No doubt there's intriguing symbolism, too, but I don't have
the patience or curiosity to puzzle it out. Interesting choice, though. I
never encountered it in HS or college classes, as many apparently did. So, I am
glad to have become acquainted with Beowulf.

I'll give it a B-minus.

Having a good time in Abilene. Am keeping busy right now keeping class notes prepared
ahead of class, coming up with and reading homework, preparing for quiz next week.Cheers.


The Ornament of the World by María Rosa Menocal  -    February 2005

Readers Blast Tolerance;  Pope "Serene"

Dateline:  al-Palmer Park, Al-BurQuerque:  The seven not-so-deadly Cids came together with a Muslim brother to discuss the virtues of tolerance, poetry, Jedda cookies, Berbers, and Bedouins in Y1K Spain.   We learned the author,
María Rosa Menocal, was born in Cuba and raised in New York.  Her book is dedicated to her father, "the intrepid ... who has lived in lifelong exile from his own land of the palm trees."  - certainly evocative of her description of Abd al-Rahman. 
   We were honored to have as a guest at this meeting a friend of the host:  Mamdouh Morsy Adbel-Gawad, a dermatologist who lives in Port Said and works in Cairo.  Mamdouh is a serious student of Muslim history.  He was most interested that we were reading a history of al-Andalus, and offered his insights during  the discussion.
   General questions:  Is it true that Islam has no icons?  The crescent is a symbol, but - What about minarets?  Is it true that Judaism has no (overall, Pope-like, or Caliph-like) leaders?  Could the Patriarch of Jerusalem lead a military effort or call out Jews world-wide?  We learned that the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, whereas (initially) the Moors only lost power - they could still worship as Muslims (this "guarantee" was later lost also).
   We found the members present held views on the book quite divergent from those expressed electronically by members who could not attend the meeting.  Our views more closely agreed with those expressed by Harold Bloom (b: 1930), the outspoken Yale-based poetry guru, who wrote what must as a minimum be described as a most  surprising Foreword to Menocal's book - a carefully worded left-handed compliment. 
The readers questioned how much of a history the book is - Bloom probably more acurately describes it as a love song addressed to the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian poets of what once we referred to as the High Middle Ages.  Perhaps the most insightful theory on Menocal's book was offered by Ron B. in his summary remarks:      
Ron:   I could find no critical reviews of the book on the Internet, which is unfortunate. [Joel: some editorial reviews exist at; but for more critical, see these reviews.]  The book had a jarring discontinuity with a 1382 - 1492 leap, when Ferdinand and Isabella closed out the rule by Moors in Granada - what happened?  Why was this bloodless?  I took the liberty to look up this history, and found an interesting story of civil war within Granada, with an exile who brought in guards from Alhambra - this missing piece made me question the book overall.  Theory:  The book appears to be written by a group of, say, three grad students, each writing a third.  Some clues to support this theory:  the first third uses the term "polity" profusely, a term which disappears in the second and third portions.  The third section uses a Question and Answer approach to the writing which is not used elsewhere.  This changing of writing styles was very distracting to follow.  This book was not ready for publication - a good Editor would not have allowed it to be published, would have sent it back - it appears to be slapped together, didn't flow between major sections, and certainly omitted major historical events.
Having said that,
the subject matter was very interesting to me - I knew nothing about Spain.  (I recommend the movie "Stealing Heaven"  which is the story of Peter Abelard and Heloise, very good.)  I did find the book interesting - the first half was tough going, then in the latter part I saw some names I knew, and I found it more interesting.  I'll give it a B+
Keith:  [by proxy from Ron].  I didn't enjoy it - rambling, polyanna-ish, conflicts with scholars.  Grade:  D
  The lady from Yale
     I fail.
( it was rumored that Keith read only the first seventy pages)
Joel:  I was looking forward to reading the book until I started.  The first third of the book took forever - and she left out stuff I thought was quite interesting - the book would have benefited from an editor, and from more pictures.  The pictures in the book also appear to be the work of a grad student, armed with a darkly filtered Kodak Instamatic with only black and white film. ( I recently saw a show on travel to Santiago, where they cover the facade of a mosque with Arabic structure, then torch it.) As to the subculture expressed here, the tolerance was not that great - there was fighting going on - Grade:  C+
Mike:  I am quite relieved to realize that I was not the only one that was not impressed by the writing in this book.  I considered giving up the meeting in favor of the basketball game tonight, not wanting to depress the discussion with my opinion.  Ron's grad student theory works well for me.  The writing was some of the more irritating I have encountered.  I bogged down in the middle of this book, and prepared to quit - but went on to the back, as I wanted to read any stories of the 1492 expulsion of the Moors.  There I found the Don Quixote segment, and other stories that saved the grade from my initial reaction of a D.  I thought a better subtitle would have been:  "How Muslins, Jews, and Christians Had No Chance to Maintain A Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain."  The tolerance died on page 100 of the book, with the sack of Cordoba by the Berbers in 1013.  Why didn't she explore the idea of why tolerance didn't stick?  Why did the country disintegrate into taifas? Our USA has also enjoyed 250 years of religious tolerance - which is more impressive?  Can you imagine our country disintegrating?
    I found a one page summary under Spain on the Internet that gave all the history that Menocal presented in this book - she provided very little detail and raised more questions than she attempted to answer.  Why was Abd al-Rahman able to walk into Iberia and immediately be recognized as Caliph, to be declared over all of Spain in only five years?  That is a big-time accomplishment - is there no history to explain that?
   Overall, I longed for the effective meat-and-potatoes-with-anecdotes historical approach of Stephen Ambrose. Menocal tried to be "cutesy" to push her themes (e.g., it is manly to be a poet!).  She wandered around the time period and chose some incidents to support her love story.  She left out many harsh realities, e.g.: The Pope was requested
by Ferdinand and Isabella to sanctify the Spanish Inquisition in 1482 against the Jews.  Grade:  C+   
Don:  <First, a request to Gary:  don't publish your review until everyone has read the book!>   I was anticipating  looking at the subject through the eyes of someone who understood language well, someone interested in poetry, emphasizing bringing in the Jews:  a good Editor could have reduced this book to 50 or 100 pages.  This book was too long - great to an extent.  We've been to Spain - the architecture is tremendous to behold - but if the author's view is, "Tolerance did it all" - well, I didn't see any solid evidence of that.  Could have been a D, but I give it a C.
Tom:  Everybody is critical of the author for something she didn't set out to do.  She is obviously a romantic, not a historian.  I liked the short history, but anecdotal-wise, she did jump around.  The Don Quixote segment was inspired.  Here she was putting forth speculation, with the translation by the marisco - would have been a great way to end the book.  I'm a little worried that I'm losing my values, as here's a woman in an Ivy League college, that I like - but I also wanted more on the 250 years.  B+  ... and can't one view this
as demonstrating that much of the evil in this world appears to have emanated from organized religion?
Jack:  I found it tough to read, but persevered.  I wanted to learn more about this period - and the role that language played in this period of Spain.  I liked her incorporation of opposites, holding the "yes" and "no" in the mind at the same time, which is an interesting way to look at tolerance.  Granted, it only lasted for a few hundred years.  I'd give it a B.
Charlie:  Grade: B+ ... let's start with that.  It's an important book, we need to know more about this part of the world with its cultural history, not a sequence of events.  I had the same difficulty with the way she starts out with her fantasy sequence and then came back to pick up the facts - that was irritating.  She gets an A for helping my education along, but her writing was B.  Now I'd like to ask Mamdouh to provide some closing comments.
Mamdouh:  On the idea of Tolerance:  I can feel the end of the world now - everything is Power, Power - and Money, Money.  We need to go back to this idea of religious tolerance.

de la absentia:

Dear Readers,

I thoroughly enjoyed "The Ornament of the World." The book is filled with
wonderful stories of how knowledge and culture flourished for several
centuries in Spain. We can be thankful for the many individuals of different
cultures and religions who preserved classical learning and enabled the
western world to acquire classical and Islamic philosphy and technology. The
book describes a period which is in contrast with the world today. The
current rise of intolerance and the inability of people of different
cultures to live in harmony is nothing new. This book shows that the
synthesis of different cultures can lead to new heights in social, artistic
and scientific achievement. Grade A-.

There are excellent photos of the Great Mosque in Cordoba and other Spanish
Islamic sites with descriptions at:

Under country select: Spain-Andalucia (8 chapters).

The Great Mosque in Cordoba is called "The Mesquita."

Best wishes,

Great Mosque    
Although I won't be in Abilene or Aukland, I will be in Costa Rica (leaving tomorrow) so I won't be able to make the meeting on Thursday.  I tried to finish the Ornament before I left but only got through the first half.  I got sidetracked since I bought my first digital camera last week for Costa Rica and the manual was 161 pages.  Add to that fighting the leaks that found their way into my house from the recent rains.  In any case, the first half of the Ornament was so fascinating and eye-opening, I definitely plan on finishing it.

Flyboys:  A True Story of Courage   by James Bradley  -    March 2005

The Spirit Warriors of the Last Thursday Book Club came together at Camp Blackledge-san at the end of 
Stalgren Harbor to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the sunset services for the Land of the Rising Sun,
and for the Flyboys who helped to bring it about. They drank sake and ate rice balls and discussed moral
equivalence with their honorable guest, Chuck Loeber-san, author of "Building the Bombs."
Despite the best investigative efforts of these warriors, none brought forward hard biographical facts on
author James Bradley. We could only regurgitate that which he slicked up and prepared for our digestion.
Through deduction from his first book, "Flags of our Fathers," we determined that James was a product of
his father, John Bradley, arguably the only survivor of the six Marines who raised the American flag on Iwo
Jima's Mt. Suribachi on February 23, 1945. John returned from the war to his small hometown of Appleton,
Wisconsin, married Cora Gorp, his childhood sweetheart, fathered and raised a family of six boys and two
girls, and participated in community activities. James was one of the two middle children, born about 1954;
all the children were instructed to lie, "Dad's on a fishing trip" whenever a reporter called about "the" photograph.
After John died, the family found a box of mementos and documentation relating to the famous Iwo Jima
photograph experience, and that started James on his quest to tell the story. 27 publishers turned it down, but
today the movie rights have been purchased by Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood has requested to direct, and
Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby") wrote the movie script. Production is due to start in September 2005.
We all learned much from Flyboys, much about the horrors of war, and how moral barriers can be trampeled
down in time of world conflict. No one had prior knowledge of the brutality that was part of the training in the
Japanese army, of the 250,000 Chinese deaths as retaliation for allowing the Doolittle bombers to land, that
more deaths occurred by the Samurai sword in WWII then by bullets.

Charlie:  My grade for the book is B.  The subject matter was most fascinating, and I would award it an A for what I learned.  However, the presentation was disjointed, the writing skills lacking.  B.
Ken:  B+  - a fascinating read, I kept turning the pages, and didn't have to look up a single word in the dictionary.  I found the author to be a little excessive in his criticism of the United States, as in the Mexican War, which I checked in other sources.
Jack:  What came to the front of my mind as I read this was, "Why not use napalm on Chichi Jima?"   And also the cliché, "So what am I, chopped liver?"  The stories Bradley told (man's inhumanity to man) were so horrific I could not stop reading.  I thought I had a good understanding of the War in the Pacific, but learned I did not.   B+
Don:  I was 14 years old on December 7, 1941, and can remember when we sat and listened to FDR declare it as a "day of infamy."  I found Bradley's book heaped with too much information and poorly put together.  Very interesting, but it should be edited down to 250 pages.  C+
Joel:  (to answer Jack's question:) Flamethrowers used napalm (jellied gasoline), correct?  That works great in caves if you can force it into the cave, but from the air, flying several hundred miles per hour, may not have been the weapon of choice. 
I thought the subject matter was an A.  I agree that it was overly rough in attempting to demonstrate an equivalence of American to Japanese sins of war.  Amazing that so few Japanese were brought to justice.   Overall, the book was a B.  It appeared at times to be a journalism project, e.g.,  for the Albuquerque Journal - pieced together, not flowing smoothly.
Ron:  This was history written in a way people can read it.  Some was knew information, but the comparison of fire bombing to the atomic bomb has long been compared.  This was an easy read for the way it was written, difficult for the brutality of the subject matter.  You don't hear much about this happening in the Pacific War (and I would hope our grandchildren would not have to read this - yet they need to know to prevent such horrors in the future.)  This book was building up to the atrocities committed on the eight Flyboys, easy to read;  other books present a great author, great ideas, and perhaps hard to read.  How to balance the two types of books?  Not easy, but I give this book an A-.
Keith:  This book should have been titled, "Flyboys And Lots of Other Stuff."  The book needed an editorial enema.  200 pages would be good.  Why do we need so much verbiage to understand? Writing details to the first decimal point rather than the 10th is preferred.  The story is one we still see today:  fighting a theocracy.  An amazing turn of events is that three of these Flyboys ended up in Santa Fe.
For me, historical work doesn't get good grades.  It gets a C.  The lesson learned is the horror of war - this may be of some value to younger people.  But we are making the same mistakes ten years from now, with prison abuse.  US is not a lily-white country.
Tom:  Well.... I came away saddened by how history might have been different.  The book tells how Billy Mitchell had a squadron of bombers hover over the Naval Academy to emphasize the point of air power.  If he had just dropped a couple of 500 lb bombs ... opportunities lost.
  I thought of Stephen Ambrose and his 3 x 5 cards - here Bradley's cards were shuffled, poor organization.  C
Mike:  Concern:  Bradley did so much with his interviews and checking the records - but when he presented the talks alledgedly provided by the Japanese officers before they executed the Flyboys, he never challenged their claims of stating, "This is a brave fighter for his country..."  - I doubt that the Japanese would be so complimentary of the enemy as they were attempting to build up "warrior spirit" by executing the Flyboys - why did Bradley not challenge these statements?  I learned so much from this book - I enjoyed it from his opening paragraph, sitting down at the formica kitchen table with Bill Doran (USNA '46) and his pile of recently unclassified trial transcripts.  The middle hit me as not being well written, as many mid-books are not, but by the last third, I was so fascinated with what Bradley had collected, and the stories he told, that I judge the effort an A-.  World view changing book!
Chuck:  Little did I know when I had lunch at the Coronado Club some 8-10 months ago that it would lead to this discussion.  On the subject of novels vs. history - as a young man, I devoured novels, but as I've gotten along in years, I've wanted fewer novels, more history:  Ambrose's Undaunted Courage; Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August are right up there for me with Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.  Given that bias of history over novels, plus my interest in the Nuclear Weapons Complex, I considered this great history of WWII.  Yes, the author talked of this, then talked of that - but I was able to connect his dots - such as the "over-reaching" as retaliation to Doolittle's raid led to the over-reaching at the Battle of Midway, the decisive naval battle of the war.  Not great writing, but an A-
USS Baltimore (CA-68)
USS Biloxi
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin Roosevelt and Adm. Chester Nimitz aboard the USS Baltimore (CA-68), with Ron B's father- in-law, July 26, 1944. [ US National Archives]

American Prisoners of War after release coming aboard the USS Biloxi (CL-81), Commanding Officer A.D. Blackledge, at Nagasaki, Japan, c. August 1945.
in possession of M. Blackledge]

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson  -    April 2005

On the last Thursday of April, nine half-wild, lonely children ventured across the bridge, through the mist, over the nine speed bumps and past the four hills to discuss the housekeeping of Sylvie, the loyalty of Ruthie, and the gravitational pull of the iron horse.  There we met guest Ed Duff of Kirtland AFB, and Don Tubesing (henceforth known as Don T.) of Placitas who has transposed MN for NM.
Housekeeping - The Movie
Host's BackgroundHousekeeping by Marilynne Robinson was published in 1981, and Bill Forsyth, director of “Local Hero” (1983, starring Burt Lancaster), made this slice of life movie in 1987, which was seen by and captivated the host.  Robinson was born in 1943 in Sand Point, Idaho, received her BA from Brown in 1966, and her Ph.D. from U. of Washington in 1977.  In the late 1980s, she espoused environmental causes, writing the non-fiction “Mother Country” about nuclear power concerns in England.  Robinson was raised as a Presbyterian, but does not recall following a formal religion.  She had a love of The Bible, and later became a Congregationalist (today sometimes presenting sermons as a church Deacon) although she describes herself as a Calvinist.  For some time she has lived in Iowa City, Iowa, and has taught at the prestigious Univ of Iowa Writers' Workshop for 15 years.  She cites many writers and books as an influence, including Moby Dick and Dickens.  Robinson learned Latin and is a student of Cicero.

With Robinson’s interest in the Bible, Ron noted that Lucille means “Light,” and Lucille did try to move the family toward enlightenment.  He wondered what Ruthie meant, and recalled from the Bible that it was Ruth who stated her loyalty: “Whither thou goest, I shall go..., thy people shall be my people...nothing but death shall divide us.” and certainly Ruthie did follow Sylvie across the bridge like Ruth followed her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi.
(Ruth 1: 1-18)
Theme:  During the discussion, Don T. indicated that he had captured a page of different themes from the book.  This caused him to develop an alternate title:  “Lint Picking From Doilies.” Ron responded that it was more like “No Child Left Behind.”  Mike questioned whether the story was a good argument for home schooling.  One theme espoused by the critics was the theme of permanence and impermanence as related both to the town and the lives of the family members.  Don T. indicated that the town people of Fingerbone felt threatened not by the truancy, not by the messy house, but by the transience – if people were to leave the town might fade away, and this was a concern.  Jack suggested that the book offers its own theme – from page 13, after the grandfather’s death, “With him gone they were cut free from the troublesome possibility of success, recognition, advancement.  They had no reason to look forward, nothing to regret.  Their lives spun off the tilting world like thread off a spindle…” Don T. agreed that Sylvie lived purely in the present.  And four pages from the end of the book, Ruthie confesses, “I have never distinguished readily between thinking and dreaming.”  The Club members were more specific:

Charlie:   B-  My feelings about the book probably say more about me – I found it too literary, too studious; a tedious medium length novel.  It felt cold to me, difficult to approach.  B-
Ken:  I found the book quite interesting, beautifully written with a believable story line.  I do agree with Charlie, however – knowing this is supposed to be a great intellectual novel, I re-read paragraphs, trying to seek and grasp nuances.  This turned a three-hour novel into a ten-hour novel, so I sped up my reading, and lowered my comprehension.  I enjoyed it more.  B+
Ed:  As a newbie, I respectfully reserve judgment.  I read a lot, but not this kind of book, usually more realistic, realism, but not this kind of realism to calibrate myself.  It would take years for me to appreciate a book like this.
Don:  The book was Tedious with a capital T.   I could see the author’s handling of words, she brings out many thoughts.  However, if I compare, and look at my own family, if I had anyone in my family like these characters, I’d throw a bag over them.  As I approach the end of life, I find my own three year old grandson could make these characters look like nudniks.  I cannot appreciate such a book, as I am not that much of a person interested in the use of words.  C+
Keith:  Dark, dank, saturnine (for Naval Academy grads, that means gloomy).  The story was dysfunctional, about a very dysfunctional family.    One goes off to civilization, one goes off to transience.  The author does write well, poetically, but there is no product there, that is not product.  In two years, I will remember only that they crossed the bridge, like gorillas in the mist.  C
Ron:  I thought it was remarkable writing – like the middle section of To the Lighthouse, but even better than Virginia Wolfe.  This was poetic prose.  She created a mood, a story that has been experienced – survivors!  They were all survivors.  The Grandfather at the bottom of the lake, the Mother joining him, the Great Aunts, then ending with Aunt Sylvie.  Survivors – they coped.  They crossed the bridge, sang songs – I could suspend disbelief.  The word density of this book was low.   I give it an A- and would recommend it.
Mike:  Like we used to say about the DOE, this book put the fun back in dysfunctional.  What do writers do?  Keith once said they create places you want to be, or places you don’t want to be.  They also, I submit, capture events, feelings, emotions, so when you read the description, you find yourself saying, “Yeah!  That is right on!”  Don T. mentioned that her work with Writer's Workshop is evident - perhaps a writing exercise produced her description of the pages burning in the fire.  I found myself thinking of Robinson’s writing as Cormac McCarthy Lite.  McCarthy sees life as interspersed with random violence, and Robinson’s world is peppered with random tragedy.  Her characters are somewhere between Cormac McCarthy and Garrison Keillor, with something of the humor of both.  Many examples; this line from page 152 is very much like McCarthy to me:  "To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow."  I think this is one of the top ten books we’ve read [collective groan].  Definitely an A.
Don T.:  From your web site, I knew that you assigned a grade to the books you read.  When reading this book, my thoughts of a grade flip-flopped [between low and high].  I knew I couldn’t give it a B or a C, the grade would have to be an A or a D.  The book continued working, didn’t break the mood.  I would not have finished it on my own – I have to have a little action, and I read slowly – I wanted something a little upbeat, some hope or some meaning.  I’m glad she got it published – however, if I had been the editor, I would not have accepted this book, as how would I market it?  Where is it going?  I just didn’t “get” it, and I kept feeling dumb.  But then I thought, perhaps it's not all my fault, maybe the writer needs to help.  Too many themes.  In grading, I’d probably go with the A side, not the D.  So with clear equivocation, I give it an A-   I won’t recommend it, and would tell my wife not to read it.
Jack:  Not everyone likes Bud, and not all of life’s stories are beautiful.  I found this book a work of art.  She gave form to experience (as Mike & Ron said) – an A.
Tom:  I loved this book, it is in the top 10, maybe the top 5.  I found myself comparing her to Nabokov – she writes as beautifully, but not as sharp in her wit and her edge.  There were three or four climactic events in this book, and each was beautifully understated:  "...the rest of the train slid after it into the water like a weasel sliding off a rock."  I have not read as beautifully written a book in a long time.  The story is compelling, very believable, a young woman coming of age.  Top ten.  A

  Acqua Alta by Donna Leon   -    May 2005

Eight water-logged, opera-starved Venicians pulled on their plastic yellow boots and trudged through the snow melt waters overflowing from the Grand Arroyo to arrive at the Loma Linda palazzo of Ron B.  Here they gathered at Ron's outdoor cafe to sip Heineken and consider Donna Leon as the Tony Hillerman of Venice.  Ron had discovered Donna and "Death at La Fenice"  in the waiting room of a hospital in Milwaukee, and found she had created some seven mystery novels with Commissario Brunetti.  The first,  "Death at La Fenice" introduced readers to Brunetti (as well as Brett and Flavia) and grew from a joking discussion following the poor presentation of an opera for which Donna and colleagues felt the German conductor should be disposed of.  What's the best way to do it?  And thus a writing career was launched.
Donna is a contemporary, born 29 Sep 1942, in Montclaire, NJ.  She recently was still teaching English at "a university near Venice" which perhaps is a University of Maryland extension college. Her seven novels with Commissario Brunetti are very popular in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  Donna must have been a foreign service spouse, as she first moved to Italy in 1965, then lived in Iran, China, and Saudia Arabia. 
The host provided a large map of Venice on which were marked many of the locations of the story, including locating Brett's apartment.  Venician glass samples and other museum pieces were on display.  The dessert was carefully selected:  Neapolitan ice cream topped with evil Palermo chocolate and assisted with Milano cookies. The readers seemed to enjoy learning about Venice.  Perhaps Acqua Alta was a natural follow-on from last month's Housekeeping, where the main characters there also spent time slogging around in the water in their house as if it were a standard way to get through life.
Ken:  I really enjoyed reading the book for the main character:  Venice.  It was interesting to me to see how the bureaucracy works, and how the culture handles the problems caused by annual flooding.  The story line had lots of weak points, however it was fun to have a break in our reading.  B
Joel:  I gave this book to my wife - and I think we ended up kinda enjoying it.  This is not the type book I usually read (a mystery).  It does give a sense of place (beautiful yet miserable weather).  I found some author artifacts to be sterotyped and intrusive:  for example, the protagonist Detective's wife had connections, and thus Brunetti was able to carry more weight because of these connections. 
Towards the end (when the group was breaking into the palazzo to rescue Brett) it was like a TV show.  B
(note:   the pus under the fingernail or footnail relief with a heated paperclip is a true dramatic emergency room procedure. See Don T.)
Ed:  I liked it - the setting - having lengthy realism.  I like that kind of book.  For the inconsistencies:  perhaps the author was using these to see if you're paying attention!  B+
Don:  I was somewhat surprised with the quality of the writing - the main characters, how they felt - the city itself.  I've been to Venice and up and down the Grand Canal.  There was too much going on.  I give it a flat B.
Keith:  On a logarithmic scale, at the higher end is Grapes of Wrath and the classics.  At the other end is spagetti westerns.  This book was nearer the spagetti end.  However, it was written by a hooker - I got hooked!  B
Tom:  This book didn't make an impression on me - Larry Wright's wife reads many mysteries, and read all seven of Donna Leon's novels, and doesn't think this one is her best.  I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn't any real mystery, more like an action story/adventure.  Easy read:  B-
Charlie:  I have a problem judging a book like this by Grapes of Wrath.  In my youth I read a lot of junk.  By junk standards, this is an A; by Grapes of Wrath standards, a B.  Someone once asked Steven King, "Why don't you write any good books?"  He answered, "I'm doing the best I can!"  I think Donna Leon is doing the best she can.
Ron:    A good book, not a great book.  On a plane, sort of an easy to read book.  We did enjoy it like a Tony Hillerman. A-
Mike:  I knew I would miss Ben Smith, and I especially would like to hear his take on this book, and where he would place it in the spectrum of mysteries from Maltese Falcon to Yellow Dog to Hound of the Baskervilles.  Without Ben, I had to motivate myself by the words of Ken Gillen, who told us once he only kept reading one selection because of his Book Club responsibilities.  I really didn't want to keep reading this book - again and again I found myself saying, "Oh, no" to another improbable or just plain stupid premise.  What was the purpose of beating up Brett?  Did the perps think she would not tell the police about this?  (note they didn't warn her not to go to the police, just not to hold her meeting with the museum director Dottor Semenzato - how would that keep things under wraps?)   Why didn't Brunetti go interview the museum director
Semenzato as soon as he found out that was the connection with Brett's beating? No, he had to wait until Semenzato had been murdered.  Dumb, unrealistic.
I developed no interest or concern regarding these shallow characters.  I was further turned off by Brunetti telling his wife to lie to her class about the reference for the Henry James quote - why not just have the class try to find the source as an exercise?  What's the big deal here?  And then the "clever" scene about Brunetti finding the syringes in his teenage son's clothes drawers and, oh, isn't this funny, he actually thought his son was using drugs?  Ha, ha, of course he hides syringes that we are going to use to pump poison into our worm-infested wormwood table, what did you think?  ha, ha!  Gad, this was lame!  The detective wasn't clever, wasn't Columbo, wasn't anything special - the only unsual thing he did was break into La Cabra's pallazzo - and he had very little to go on there.  Acqua Alta also had little to offer, and I would not recommend it.   C
From the missing yet active: 
OK...I will be absent this Thursday -- standing idly by near Mayo Clinic in case needed.  All seems to be going well with my son so far.

Re the book.

The last 3/4 of chapter 16 brought me alive in my seat.

About ten years ago while helping to construct a medical clinic on the Amazon, downriver from Iquitos, Peru, I slipped on the silky smooth river mud that covered the open floor joists while carrying one end of a 200 pound mahogany plank --yep down through the beams and into the mud splat! And on the way down smashed my finger breaking the bone in the tip.  The paper clip surgery was just the relief MS Leon describes.  Later on the boardwalk, under a mosquito net, buffered by Tylenol with codeine (for the bone) and a beer (I know these don't mix well together!) and a cigar that would hardly stay lit due to the humidity I sat in a mud covered sleeveless T-shirt for a photo op in a Maharishi meditation pose.  My staff later had it blown up and put on my office door with the heading, "Would you buy a used car from this man?"

Five years ago coming back from Utah with a load of alabaster for carving I smashed my thumb between two of the boulders.  That night at "Bashful Bob's Apartments" near Lake Powell I tried making my left hand administer the treatment to my right thumb.  I would get the paper clip red hot...and boldly poke the nail.  But each time something in my brain in anticipation of the pain would make my left hand stop just before it burned through -- making the right hand, of course, hurt worse.  Then I would dry the sweat off, stop hyperventilating and spend fifteen minutes trying to sleep, only to get up and start the process over again.  By the time I finally burned the clip through the nail it had been more than two hours and the nail was polkadotted with seven partial soot rimmed holes ....and poor 'Bashful Bob's apartment walls were steaming with expletives.  One hand simply doesn't seem to want to do it to the other!  So, here is my favorite passage:

"That's all," he said, giving her ankle a squeeze.
"Do you think I could do it?" she asked.
"Do you mean on yourself or on someone else?" he asked.
"I don't see why not."

Well, it is certainly easier said than done!  Good luck, Ms. Leon and characters.

Oh, yeh, the book?
I enjoyed it -- especially the sex, which apparently was washed out by the rain and high water.  (nothing better than imagination!)

be well
Don T.

Dear Mike,
Sorry I was not able to get to a cyber cafe last week to share my comments. The
villages along the Saone River were too small. In short, I enjoyed the novel.
It was a well crafted mystery story which made for great reading on the plane
and trains we have taken over the past couple of weeks. I would give it an A-

  The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini   -    June 2005

Eleven Hazaras, S'hia, bearded readers of the LTBC kabulled together on the final Thursday of June, running kites through the Far Northeast Heights, nay, even unto the courtyard of Agha Don.  There we found food to fill our bellies and wine and cold drink to quench the desert's heat.  For it is written:  run west of Wyoming, dodge between the Comanche and Montgomery, and thou will find the blue kite, bachem.  We compared the gashes on our Western fingers (mostly from paper cuts) to the first novel of Khaled Hosseini.  We found no monster, just a beautiful day.
We found that Khaled was born in Kabul in 1965, the eldest of five children.  His mother was a teacher of Farsi and History at a large girls high school in Kabul.  When he was 11, Khaled's family was relocated to Paris where his father was assigned a diplomatic post in the Afghan embassy.  They tried to return him in 1980, but by then the Soviet invasion was underway and the family asked for and was granted political asylum in the U.S.  They moved to San Jose, CA that year.  Khaled attended Santa Clara University and graduated from UC San Diego School of Medicine.  He has been in practice as an internist since 1996, and wrote this first novel post 9/11, published in 2003.  Khaled Hosseini is married, with two children Haris (boy) and Farah (girl). has some 600 reader reviews of this book; most are positive, a minority are negative.  So are we to judge this book  on the basis of first novels, or of the entire known body of Afghan literature, as a work of insight into the Afghan culture, a beginner's glossary of the Afghan language, as a return to Islamic principles, as a work of art ...   let the readers come forth and speak ... 

Tom:  Did we have to have the villain of this Afghan story as a blond, blue-eyed psychopath?  A half-German Hitler-youth, no less?  Are there no swarthy villains in Afghanistan?   I fall somewhere in the middle of the reviews.  I was somewhat disappointed in the writing although I did like the story of the young boys - but all the plot contrivances were too much;   C+   Nothing memorable.
Ron:  I liked it - it was a Damn Fine Book - didn't dazzle the reader with how well it was written, but told a good story that was painted with the culture.  I was willing to suspend my belief and go where the novelist took me.  First novel, and I give it an A-     Good book, and I didn't notice the transition problems as did Ken.
Rob:  I liked the first part, but was put off by the heavy foreshadowing.  And the fact that he had to go to the Stadium and watch the stoning in order to make an appointment with the Taliban leader after the Blood Bath:  B-
Keith:  The range of emotions was primo - I was uplifted and dropped down - demons, euphoric - I compare getting a book to read with entering the lottery - buy a ticket and take a chance on your ten bucks or your ten hours - I hit it big here.  I give it a good solid B+
Although quite contrived at the end, the book was a page-turner with interesting and well-developed characters.  Fascinating portraits of the lives and thought-processes of Afghan people both in Afghanistan and as immigrants to the U.S.  Many absorbing passages  -  for instance the kite flying contest and the escape to Pakistan. The first 2/3 of the book was highly enjoyable but the last third (Amir's return to Pakistan) was disappointing.  I was turned off by the many coincidences and the feeble attempts at closure that occurred in this section.  Even so, I would recommend the book as an enjoyable read.  B+
Joel:  I agree that the first two thirds of the book were better than the last third.  But overall a good book.  Gave a current perspective on the country.  What we see on TV are hovels with no roofs and everyone carrying a Kalishnikov.  I don't know why the British, the Russians, or anyone would be interested in taking over Afghanistan - a dreadful place.  Their sugar cane growing was charming when times were better, but what a bad country to invade.  Like "Reading Lolita in Tehran" I am always surprised to learn of a third world country's accoutrements.  
The culture (before the communist coup) was indistinguishable from European civilization - they had upper class, servant class, shopping, candy stores - they had it all.  The plot was contrived, but overall A-
Charlie:  I'd give it a B.   I read it in two days, easy to read, and I was moved by the story, but not by the writing.
Ed:  I also enjoyed the book, give it a B.  I could understand Amir's perspective, desire to be loved by his father, his equivalency with Hassan, what drove his cowardice, and that he had to have a way to redeem himself.  I wonder why the book was so successful - because it appeared after 9/11?  To expose the western world to the "real" Afghanistan?  I enjoyed the book, it was a wonderful relationship success over ten years.
Mike:  How was this plot contrived?  - let me count the ways!  I would have accepted it if Amir had been too terrified to step in if Assef had pulled out his brass knuckles on Hassan.  But a sodomy rape?  Amir was going to take off running through the streets anyway, all he needed to do was to just yell (or throw something - anything!)  from his safely hidden area.  Assef had his pants down, the two toadys were holding Hassan, absolutely no danger to Amir!  Yell
"Look!  Assef's a fag!" which was an insult Assef had used during their earlier encounter - and run!  I've done this hundreds of times!  No, this became a stupid rape just for the plot advancement - in order that Hassan would have no visible marks for others to question.  And then Hassan apparently blabs all to Sahib Khan but to no one else?  Why?  Did that make any sense at all?  (except for the plot advancement to allow Sahib Khan to lay the guilt trip some 30 years later.)   But what really got me was that here are all these Afghans in the US, talking at every flea market, discussing the old country, and how they got to where they are today  - and Amir did not know that anyone can come into the US on a six-month visa?  How did his family first come in? (we were not told that segment.)  Even the specialty lawyer suggested by the US embassy rep had never heard of a six-month visit visa for little Soghrub?  come on!  (and then Amir finds this great secret from his wife, and runs into the bathroom to tell little Soghrub, "You're saved!" only to find ... oh, the IRONY!)  For me, the plot contrivances in this book were more than low reading speed bumps along the caravan route, they were amateurism truck bombs.  For you, a thousand Cs.
Jack:  I'm already impressed by someone writing in other than their mother tongue - (Nabokov, Conrad, ..)  most impressive.  I did gain some insight into the Afghan culture, but moreso I enjoyed the human story.  A-   (and Joel, I'm relieved to know that a candy store is a sign of civilization!).
Don:  I wasn't sure when I picked this book what it would be like.  Despite some flaws, I thought it was a really good book.  A-
From the NY Times review by E. Hower:  "When Amir meets his old nemesis, now a powerful Taliban official, the book descends into some plot twists better suited to a folk tale than a modern novel.  But in the end we're won over by Amir's compassion and his determination to atone for his youthful cowardice."
From BookMunch (on-line):  "Hosseini's debut begins with the kind of episodic story-telling you know first found life in a creative writing workshop but very quickly eschews its primitive roots to forge something quite special:  the passages detailing Amir and Hassan's life in Kabul as children is fierce and compelling. ... What you see in the book, the good that there is, remains even when the tale diverges most from the author's "truth" - he returns to Afghanistan, is beaten to a sticky pulp (with all the grace of bad pulp fiction) - but still, it doesn't completely derail the promise the book has.  Hosseini shows a great deal of promise and it isn't hard to imagine a lot of people finding a lot to like in The Kite Runner, but - for me - Hosseini needs sterner editing if he is to graduate to the classics table."
define Hazara:  The Hazara ethnic group resides mainly in the central Afghanistan mountain region called 'Hazarajat.'  They make approximately 20% of Afghanistan's population.  There are also significant populations of Hazaras in Pakistan and Iran.

Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley   -   July 2005

Once more into the turbulent Middle East thundered the proud remnants of our dirty dozen delinquent dromedaries.  Uncle Sam had provided the encrypted code to enter the security confines of Mutter's Ventana Del Sol - Ursebia East.  Praise be to Allah!  Joel was left standing on his front lawn, Don was deserted in SE Wasabia - yet many eventually followed the spice trails to the mountain hideaway of Emir Rob.  We learned that C. Buckley comes from good stock, Yale, but not Skull and Bones.  What countries were the models for Chris Buckley?  Tom reminded us that Qatar is pronounced "Cutter," thus raising the veil on the many malaprops by characters trying to say "Matar" (or even "matter") and coming out with "mutter."  Ron looked up many of the references in the book, and found a near exact parallel for the Waldorf Group in the real-life Carlyle Group with Bush 41, Carlucci, UK's John Major, etc.  And apparently Shem was not one of the original three stooges - that was Shemp. However "in the end" Shem demonstrated more pep than Manny, Moe, and Maliq.
The humorous book title may have been purloined from Noel Coward's quip to
Peter O'Toole upon seeing David Lean's 1962 movie:  "If you'd been any prettier, it would have been Florence of Arabia."  Our brave dromedaries circled and huddled together against the wind, and spoke of 1001 tails - providing considerable natural gas.
Ken:  Trying to be witty paragraph after paragraph for 250 pages gets a bit tiresome similar to watching an overly long Johnny Carson monologue. Coupling wit with some pretty serious truths (stoning women to death for minor or non-existent crimes) was somewhat troubling to me. That said I found some of the passages hilarious.  Especially memorable were the annual requirement involving sucking on dromedary turds (thanks to our host Rob for offering up an Americanized version) and the destruction of Shem, the Camel Royal by ingested explosives. Although very funny in spots, the book does not make me want to read other books by Buckley.  B-     (see side story)
Mike:  This appeared to be a cautionary tale aimed at our colleague Tom  - the book defined the dangerously thin line between NASCAR fanaticism and Islamic fundamentalism.  Praise be to Allah and Earnhardt!  I echo Ken's comments re: maintaining cleverness - Dave Barry columns are best read in short doses, not in book form. This book was actually constructed better than The Kite Runner -
less plot contrivances !   I would have been interested to hear Ben's review; I did not consider this book to be a page turner.  Why are so many books so strong in the beginning, and then drag in the middle - is it the reader that is no longer excited, or the writer?  This was a smart comedy, the author was almost never condescending to his readers - you either caught his humor or you didn't, but only once did he explain it.  (I never caught the "mutter.")  Example that impressed me:  when Florence left the first meeting with Uncle Sam, I was convinced she had successfully called his bluff - the genie could not possibly provide tomorrow's (classfied) Presidential Daily Briefing.  Thus Buckley caught me by surprise when the PDB was slipped under her door the next morning.  Smart, clever, B-
Don:  Perhaps my recent health problems did not put me in the mood for humor, as I couldn't hack it.  I made no connection with the author's humor.  C
Ron:  I also did not find it to be a page turner - the humor was cute, it wove historical incidents in - but 20, 30 years from now, I wouldn't know if readers would relate to it.  The whole book was contrivances - it would be nothing without it - I found myself trying to pick out news stories.  The character development was almost non-existent - even Florence was not well described.  All the characters were two-dimensional cardboard cutouts.  For me the book hovered somewhere between a C+ and a B-;  I would award it a B-
Charlie:  I thought it was a page turner - I read it in two days.  The trouble with satire is that it is always topical - Gulliver's Travels has references that today make you go: huh?  - but a lot has stayed constant over the years:  the State Department, the CIA - nothing untimely with the fun poked at these agencies.  I found very little to criticize in the book.  I grade it an A- with the minus because of the Grapes of Wrath paradym.
Gary:  This should be an important book - the Middle East I've found (J. Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel) is responsible for all our livestock as well as the world's three major religions.  The group brought up lots of humor from the book during our discussion.  Dave Barry is a good humorist, but can be too much at times.  Mark Twain is always there.  In this book, I found myself waiting for the canned laughter.  This humor is hard to pull off in a book.   Ben would have enjoyed it.  Based on my ignorance of world events, grade:  C
Jack:  I knew I was in for something special when I read the Copyright disclaimer ("...any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.  Got that? Any questions?  It's all made up.  Okay?  Whatever.")  The book much reminded me of a Mel Brooks movie.  B
Tom:   Camel fart humor always works for me.  I think this book was mentioned by Jonathan Yardley as a "by the way" and his list got me to read his other recommended books.  I would have liked the book less if he had tried to develop his characters more - he needed cardboard characters for such a farce.  I didn't think the adventure stuff was interesting or funny - but he brought it back together again at the end.  The book was A- to B+;  B+
Joel:  This book was done in reverse of the normal:  it starts as a farce and becomes a tragedy.  I went through it fast and it gave me a hopeless feeling at the end.  This is the way the world has always been.  I always hope it will be like Iowa or Nebraska:  if we get the bad people out then good will prevail.  Saudis have been run by a monarch and hundreds of sub-monarchs.  I wonder if that was Buckley's intent, to disguise critical comments on the world with humor.  The Middle East is not going to change.  I found the concept of the Waldorf Group
, all freemasons controlling the world behind the scenes, to be spooky.  The book was ominous but worthwhile.  B+
Rob:  A couple of reviews I've read were positive.  The NY Times reviewer dismissed Buckley's idea of women's lib to be a combination of shopping and withholding sex from their partners.  The stoning of Fatima was a jolt and took Buckley (and the reader) a while to recover.  I once wondered if countries like Poland and East Germany had been subjugated for so long that the spark of democracy could never flame up again.   I give Buckley credit for more than slapstick - he highlighted issues.  The middle did drag, but he struck a quality of humor.  B+
dromedaries on patrol:
Keith:   C+, superb satire but flummoxes females.
Side story:  The discussion referenced lines from Florence that either rang true or triggered memories.  E.g., page 224 states "The French technicians swiftly concluded their business so that they could proceed to the more important matter of lunch."  Side story:  Approximately 25 years ago near the beginning of his scientific career, Ken was giving a talk in Brussels as part of an International Conference on Aging of Nuclear Power Plants. Five other Americans were attending the Conference, none of whom had any credentials of note (e.g., all six Americans were hacks who had convinced their management that attending the Conference would be important to their careers). When some French attendees learned about the six American attendees, they wrote and invited the Americans to come to a nuclear power plant in Lyon, France "for a tour of the plant and high level scientific discussions," an invitation gladly accepted by the six.  Upon arriving around 11:00 AM., they were met by a chauffeur holding up a sign:  "American Delegation."  After an hour ride in a Mercedes limousine, the group arrived around noon at the power plant which was flying the American and French flags and had a 20 foot banner declaring "Welcome to the American Delegation."  What followed was a hasty 10 minute tour of the plant followed by a brief 5 minute "scientific" discussion with 3 French hosts. Then they announced it was time for lunch. Back into the limousine and off to a 3 hour, 6 course "lunch" at a Michelin 3 star restaurant that was attended by the 6 Americans, the 3 French hosts and ~35 other French workers from the plant the "delegation" had never met, seen, or talked with. Once lunch was over, Ken and friends had to rush back to the train station to catch the late afternoon train.  The entire invitation was little more than a French ruse to obtain lunch for all.

LTBC Financial Planning:  Ken has undertaken a Senility Savings Plan toward our October selection:  "Since I forgot to buy a newspaper today, I've already saved 50 cents towards my 3 dollar debt - I should have the rest covered by next meeting."

Beloved by Toni Morrison   -   August 2005

Six.0 mostly mature mossy-toothed males exited beyond 242 to mourn the loss of gentle-D.0n and discuss the spite, the loudness, and the quiet of 124.   schoolteacher jack taught us that Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in February 1931 in Ohio, educated as an English major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., was married to Mr. Morrison only from 1957 to 1964, and received the 1988 Pulitzer for Beloved after 48 black authors complained that the book  should not have missed out on two earlier awards. "Part ghost story, part history lesson, part folk tale, Beloved finds beauty in the unbearable."  Toni dedicated Beloved "to the sixty million" - the losses of Africans due to the slave trade.  Should we play the number game here?  The loudness continued:
Ed:  I learned a lot, but didn't get through the book due to travel schedule.  I'm currently about half through the audio version which is read by Toni Morrison.  She reads in a monotone, fast, in a southern dialect.  A lot of the language in the book was beautiful, highly descriptive.  I found it difficult to hold my attention on airplane travel - no pauses.  [Keith:  then it was more like poetry than prose to you?  wherein one needs to stop and consider the words.]
Joel:  This book was kinda hard for me to rate - I had a hard time getting into it, but then once I did it became a page turner.  It's almost heretical to read it through continuously.  At least two of the chapters - "I am Beloved and she is mine" - almost need to be read aloud.  The author's literary devices didn't work well for me.  As an aside, at a visit to a museum in Greenville, SC, I was interested to see the slave trade described as "Labor practices in the South" - rather drastic labor practices.  The desciption of life under the Fugitive Act, of tracking escaped slaves down and bringing them back was not a surprising practice, but astonishing.  Parts of the book were annoying to me - such as the speech patterns of the stream of consciousness chapters.  I found reading the first 50 pages through again explained a lot
for me, and moved the book from a B to a B+.
Mike:  I certainly don't presume to know Southern writers well, but the first 10 or so pages of Beloved screamed "Wow!  Unusual, special writing!" and "Faulkner!" at me - I loved the writing.   I continue to be trapped with the feeling that the books we've been reading the past year or two start so beautifully for the first third, then produce "filler" in the middle, then
bring it all together with the last third. The three stream-of-consciousness chapters struck me as inserted filler.  The book provided some beautiful phrasing, and I felt the non-linear chronological approach was very well done and almost required for such a violent act to be explained - we needed to discover Sethe's shocking background much later as did Paul D. and others in the story. I'm not sure I wanted to hear the narration by Beloved - she was a mystical character, and I didn't want to hear her internal musings, only her external discontinuous comments - leave her as mystical!  The book began for me as a solid A, but completed as a B+.
Keith:   My metaphor for reading this book was traveling on a pogo stick across a field of open man-holes - every so often you drop into a black hole, and you have to dig around and get out to proceed on across the field - until you drop into the next black hole.  The streams of consciousness used in this book were a little muddy, turgid - you ain't gonna catch no fish in these streams!  The book "portrays the bitter conflict between the powerful and the weak."  I noticed a lot of similarity with Grapes of Wrath - the dead baby, the downtrodden - but Morrison convoluted the story for the average reader whereas Steinbeck was straightforward.  Okies were treated as sub-humans in Grapes.  It also reminded me of Faulkner's portrayal of poor whites in Mississippi.  Solid C
Tom:  Two things occur to me:  my opinion of Toni Morrison dropped, then rose again.  It dropped with Charles Johnson's criticism, however his putting her down was perhaps overdone.  I agree with the comments that have been made:  the three "stream of consciousness" chapters could have been stripped.  I loved that she took me along, made me look for how all the pieces were coming together.  The book didn't need the stream-of- consciousness chapters.  For me, Beloved could have been a real person - the supernatureal aspects were not required.  It bothered me that Beloved was Sethe's daughter and Sethe didn't recognize her.  But I'm not trashing this Nobel laureate:  A-
Ken:  I stared off hopeful this was a top A book, then it went downhill.  I have never liked the non-linear progression of a novel ... until this book!  So I appreciate that I have to go deeper into the book.  Baby Suggs was beloved of the community, then she invited 90 people for dinner and they rejected her - why?  But there was so much beautiful writing, so creative - "sending some foreskin to Jesus" - and "the pieces I am, she gathered them and give them back to me in order."  Beloved is between an A and an A-
Jack:  Any author who describes blackberries as “so good and happy that to eat them is like being in church” gets my vote.  Morrison’s Beloved is an emotional and vicious portrayal of man’s inhumanity to man as seen by those who were the objects of slavery; it illustrates how slavery (or the dehumanization of anyone) degrades us all. Beloved is not an easy read.  I found Morrison’s prose colloquial and rough, but often lyrical.  It is not strict narrative.  She uses narrative, verse and stream of consciousness.  It is not a linear tale.  The story is divided between past and present, natural and supernatural; the setting is divided between Ohio and Kentucky.  The structure of the work is compounded with an ever-switching point of view.  The perspective is divided among all the major characters (living and dead).  It is written in fragments, pieces shattered and mixed up (like the lives portrayed in the novel) and left for the reader to piece together.  In forcing us to read slowly and put the pieces back together, Morrison forces us to think about them.  Additionally, I believe her use of symbolism and Biblical allusions creates additional force and drama.  All of which results in the creation of more than just a story.  I was hooked from the beginning, starting with the epigraph taken from the Bible to the last conversation between Sethe and Paul D., which reinforced my optimism by giving us closure, reconciliation and hope for the future.  Taking all of this into account, I would rank her among the best American novelists living today. I picked the book, it's an A.
Reports from the fugitives safely beyond Ohio:

  The Actual by Saul Bellow   -   September 2005

Seven old Jews met on the back porch of the PL on PC.  We verbally thrashed through attempts at administrative announcements, the passing of political posters to and fro, alert and fetching dogs, "The Last Waltz" (Martin Scorsese's 1978 capsule history of the Band), the heated side talk - when finally a book club meeting broke out.  What do you remember about your First Love?  Is she frozen in time without flaws since the relationship was never consummated? Does a book have to "be about something"?  Is retirement a man-trap? Does old Sigmund Adletsky form the basis for Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons

We learned that Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize for literature and died very recently:  April 2005, age ~ 90 years.  We learned that of the members present, only Ron B had previously read any Saul Bellow - about 30 years ago, perhaps Hertzog. We learned that the parents of Saul Bellow moved to Canada from St. Petersburg, Russia in 1913, and Saul was born in 1915.  When the US went dry in 1918, Canada became a supplier and Joel reports Saul's father became involved in bootlegging, perhaps smuggling booze across the frozen Great Lakes into Chicago.  The father crossed some bootleggers in Canada which caused him to flee south with
the family to Chicago in 1924, when Saul was nine years old.  Saul attended the University of Chicago, obtained his BA from Northwestern in anthropology, and quit graduate school, determined to  become a writer.   He done good in this field, as the following testimonials bear witness:
Tom:  My comments are brief, the book was brief - when I got to the end, I was sorry it ended.  It ended with hope.  When I was done, I definitely had the impression, "this guy knows how to write."  Central theme resonated with me:  an older guy looking back on life.  I loved his style, loved his writing.  Gave it an A.
Charlie:  (well, I first read 200 pages of the the October book, until I mentioned to Joel how long it was, and he said, What? - but I am ahead 200 pages anyway! )  I gave this book an A-;  it was charming, entertaining, wonderful book.  I will read more Saul Bellow.
Ken:  Not much of a plot, but colorful characters - Harry made mistakes, was abandoned by his parents, realized what was going on and reversed course.  I liked the ending, and hope Amy's answer was yes.  Give it an A-
Ron B:  I enjoyed reading it - didn't strike me as all that interesting - but well written:  B  He never told us how be got from a 16 year-old, infatuated with Amy to an older guy, other than he went to Guatemala and made money.
Mike:  Fascinating.  The book kept surprising me ... what, the wife went to prison for a contract on her husband? And then the husband re-married her?  Subtle humor:  Harry the narrator always thought he had a Chinese face; but his new mentor Adletsky says Japanese, for sure!  Good writing:  Harry on Amy Wustrin:  " 12 I saw her on roller skates - riding toward puberty."  The first book we've read in a long while that has no seemingly inflated middle as filler - perhaps all novels should be novellas.  I was thinking A- but Tom is right - this is an A book. 
Jack:  (I liked the description:  "if sex was a drug like alcohol, then Jay Wustrin was a drunken driver.)  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I can relate to the middle-aged man looking back at his First Love.  Loved the writing:  "Like infantile paralysis, First Loves can be crippling."  Peaked my interest in other Saul Bellow work:  A
Joel:  This seemed like a Seinfeld book - about nothing:  "Harry and Amy go to the cemetery."  But once I started it, I couldn't put it down.  One thing that struck me was Harry analyzing people as he talks to them - I used to do that.  Made me want to go into the book more.  I give it an A.
Keith:  Entertaining, enjoyable writing style:  pithy.  I was fully engaged.  Many books we read I don't remember anything from, but I will remember many things from this book.  Not a heavy banquet, but a delightful hors d'oeuvre.  A-

  No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin   -   October 2005

Eight well-seasoned Cabinet members rode the private train to the Big House to drink martinis and provide advice and consent and memories of life in the 40s and early 50s; stories remembered from our Dads, and the wonderment of a time inEleanor - 1934 which reporters would not dish the dirt on the presidency. If this book had been a movie, the OM and the LL would have achieved Best Actor and Actress, respectively - Best Supporting Actor would go to Harry Hopkins, with Missy taking Best Supporting Actress.  Mrs. Nesbitt earned Comedy Relief role (or roll).  Russ McIntire wins all-time Most Incompetent White House physician.  FDR's vice-presidents don't even get mentioned in the credits.
Goodwin provided as her premise:  “This book is the story of the American home front, told through the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the circ
le of friends and associates who lived with them in the family quarters of the White House during WW II.  Marrakech - 1943Although his role as commander-in-chief has been studied at length, less attention has been paid to the way he led his people at home.”   We learned that Doris Kearns Goodwin was a Woodrow Wilson fellow and faculty member at Harvard, as well as a regular on the Jim Lehrer NewsHour on PBS.  Her so-called "plagiarism" on her first history, The Fitzgeralds and The Kennedys, is not consequential and should not be distracting.  Some of us recalled Italian Prisoners of War rolling cigarettes as a war-time duty.  Ron B. recommended the movie "A Very Long Engagement" (French w/ subtitles) by the director of "Emily;" and Joel suggested "The Best Years of our Lives" (1946) about returning WW II vets.  As host, Missy provided a laptop of historic photos and Time covers from the 30s and 40s of Harry Hopkins, the Roosevelts, and Churchill.  Like the book, the discussions were detailed, energetic and informative.
Ron:  I read 400 pages and I want to finish the book.  I found it very readable, almost chatty. It provided great insights - an A.   I enjoyed it very much.
Joel:  I got farther than Ron:  406 pages.  I was side tracked into reading a couple of novels.  I will award the book an A- in case there are defects later on.  I'm glad we read it, and I plan to read the rest, but not the footnotes at the end. 
Tom:  I'm strongly opposed to reading history - and when I picked up this book, immediately it appeared to be a lot of words - like Undaunted Courage in length.  But I found it very smooth reading - the insights were mainly about Eleanor.  She made an impression on me; she had no role models on which to pattern her life.  To some extent, so did FDR, but there was no one like Eleanor prior to Eleanor who had done what she did.  She stands out as a singular personality.  I like the book a lot and give it an A.
Charlie:  I read 380 pages - but not all consecutively.  The research was great, but there were perhaps 300 pages worth of book in this 600 pages.  I compared it to David McCullough's biography of Harry Truman - the two books are quite similar in that both are very well researched and (as is the case with too many history books!) very long.  The Truman book demonstrates that long does not necessarily mean tedious, as it is much more engaging, much easier to read and in my opinion much better written.  Ms. Goodwin should look to Mr. McCullough as a model for writing "popular" history.  No Ordinary Time
An A as a research project, an A as a history, but a B- as a book.
Jack:  I enjoyed the book, very informative, filled in the gaps of what my Dad told me.  Its fault?  - too long; and I'd like to have her plug in more dates, so I downgrade it to a B+  (Ron:  she did a lot of flashbacks so the book was not linear, but she needed that background to round out the characters.)
Mike:  This was a chick-book ... the chick was Eleanor.  The author lionized Eleanor, perhaps deservingly so - however she went too far when she created Eleanor's "feelings"  -  "Eleanor was devastated by this" - how do you know?  What I liked about her writing: using quotations for the titles of each Chapter – as well as for the book title; providing the schematic of the 2nd floor White House quarters; starting the book with the May 9-10, 1940 crisis and describing the players in reaction to that crisis; providing insight into the role that Eleanor played in the Administration and in the country’s psyche during the pre-war and war years.  Having said that … What I didn't like (besides over-lionizing Eleanor):  Goodwin lingered too long on Missy – kept coming back to her even though Missy was pretty much out of the picture after her stroke.  Goodwin gave too much time to the social structure and the political structure as established by the Roosevelt administration – I didn’t need to know that much about the War Production Board.  I grade this book as a B.  Not particularly great writing but great history.   “Her heart was broken” is not history and is questionable biography.
Don T:  When I starting reading the book, I thought the subject was A-; I gave the book an A at the front, but it starting slipping for me to a B-.  It could have used a good editor - either she had power to prevent editing or the publisher didn't want to work to protect her.  Too many sidebars (many psychologically - I didn't need 100 of those psychological sidebars - I would plod through it, then she would go other there, then over here - that irritated me.  "Which information to keep?"  She also played to the prurient interest - like Hick - was there sex or not? (page 222) - well, what is the interest?  No one cares!  From the B- the book seemed headed downhill.  But then the last 250 pages, it started roaring.  If I had been her publisher, I would have sent her away:  "go think about this for a month and give me some prose that soars."  She did so on the four pages she provided at the end as to what Franklin meant to the country, and the three pages as to what Eleanor meant.  I was thankful I had to read this.  Grade:  B+   The editor is the firewall to protect the author from the public.  A very important role - ever author has pride, and submits their book when they think it is perfect.  This book could lose 100 pages and have more punch, more "shiver factor."  The theme I derived from the book:  "Flawed people can do wonderful things." (not just FDR and ER - other flawed people in this book accomplished great things as well.)
Ed:  I give it an A.  I like history; I like Michener books.    I thought she writes very well.  The important of that period of history can't be overstated.  We all lived through these years or the years that were set up by these years.  To get the character of the Brits and the Americans was good.  Churchill gets a little carried away in his writing on, e.g., The Battle of Britain - but this was a fascinating period, topics, insights, great discussion.  Goodwin's latest book:  Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.  

Here is the NPR "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin.  The focus is on Team of Rivals, but she responds to the old charges of plagiarism; also responds to allegations that Lincoln was gay. Booth's triple assasination attempt and what happened to William Seward, one of the "rivals" after his cheek was slashed off.   20 minute interview, click on Listen.  Also, here is another interview by with Goodwin on the same subject, quite different, and only 10 minutes: again, click on Listen.  Hear about Solomon Chase, and how Lincoln decided to place Chase on the Supreme Court:  "I'd rather swallow a chair." 
From outlying precincts:
 Having been conceived on approximately "Pearl Harbor Day" (maybe I have the
 Japanese to thank for my existence), I have no memory of the war years so this
 was a great way of understanding the strengths and flaws of America during
 this period. The book also painted a great picture of both Eleanor and
 Franklin, two complex and memorable people who were decidedly ahead of their
 time. I found much of the book interesting and informative. Unfortunately I
 felt that there were too many unnecessary details and speculation that made
 the book much longer than it should have been. For this reason, I downgraded
 my final grade to a B+
               -  Ken

    Things Fall Apart   by Chinua Achebe  - November 2005  

"When the moon is shining, the cripple becomes hungry for a walk."

It was the Week of Peace prior to the Festival of the New Yam.  Having harvested their yams and traversed the Evil Forest, the nine ndichie gathered at the obi of Mr. Ken.  (Photos of the Yam Festival and a simple recipe for yam muffins is here.) 
So many members gathered that if one threw up a grain of sand it would not find its way to the earth again.  The kola nuts were opened and after speaking the LTBC klan fell apart upon the foo-foo pie.  Motown is Supreme.  We shall all live.
We learned of the population density of Nigeria and that one African in five lives in Nigeria.  We learned that the author was born Alfred Achebe in Nigeria, and when he began writing changed his given name to Chinua:  "May a chi fight for me."  His family spoke English.  Achebe has written about half-a-dozen novels; two of his collections of essays can be useful background reading for his novels:  Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975) and Hopes and Impediments, Selected Essays 1965-1987 (1988).
ndichie had no difficulty finding their mouth to speak:
Rob:   First, let me say it is good to be back with the klan.  Regarding the book, I got more from tonight's discussion than from my reading - it may be a combination of your profoundness and my shallowness.  To me the book was like reading Native American myths, with no social implications. On the good side, the book presented a fair and balanced (to coin a phrase) view (not like the movie Dancing with Wolves where all white men are presented as evil, all Indians are clever and noble).   It presented a conflict of cultures:  similar to the Protestants coming into Northern New Mexico after the Civil War and not being welcomed by Bishop Lamy and the entrenched Catholics (businessmen did not advertise that they were Protestants - and some were Jews).  Also, the book's "Aging Lion" aspect is a recurrent theme in literature.  The author told a decent story, not great literature - I give it a B.
Joel:  A great deal of the impression that a primary culture is indeed primary is the language difficulty - the incoming culture can't understand the native language.  The native culture appears to have strange customs - yet actually doing the same as everyone else, the same fears - for example, the clan was trading a punishment for a crime and the people felt it was deserved, they were not bitter.  Then when the British came, technology and numbers were overwhelming.  As a book club selection, I give it a B+
Charlie:  I give it a B reading it today.  It might have been read differently 40 years ago - an interesting portrait of African culture, the clash of cultures.  The descriptions didn't move me like great culture, but it was well done.
Keith:  The klan found itself in a logical cul-de-sac - they had their reasons to do things but clashed irrevocably with the new culture.  The priests could not explain what we cannot explain today:  the Trinity being one god.
Great literature?  No.  Will I remember this five years from now?  No.  The simple becomes more complex; in the end, nothing is resolved.  I give it a C.  [Yea, the old Keith is back!]  OK, a C+
Mike:  Things Fall Apart may well be the most beloved book of Africa, but apparently it is not the best loved book in Bernalillo County.  The book was in three parts:  Part 1 was 13 chapters, 111 pages, covered perhaps two years and provided the culture and background of the klan.  Part 2 was six chapters, 35 pages, the seven years of exile.  And Part 3 was also six chapters, 33 pages, the full clash of cultures.  I could not get interested in the characters, the book didn't get interesting until Part 3 when the missionaries came and the conflict occurred.  To me, most of the book was a mild National Geographic special without the benefit of the soft porn.  I give it a B.
Don:  I really enjoyed the book.  One thing I enjoyed was the language, and the metaphors:  "A frog that moves during the day must have some purpose."  "The silence descended from the sky and swallowed the noise."  "They drew apart to whisper together."  "They had not found the mouth to speak."  The phrases were almost poetry. I was shocked that I would revert back to being an Editor:  I don't know if I would publish this book - yet as an editor I don't know how to change it.  So I give it an A-
Jack:  my comments are similar to the others - as Keith said, it was a simple yet complex story.  I am interested in learning about other cultures.  It was a tragic story - inevitable from the beginning.  Culture clash, another tragic example of religion's arrogance or perhaps intolerance.  B+
Tom:  This book missed me completely.  I don't get it.  In the Introduction, Kwame Anthony Appiah says "Chinua Achebe's first book has achieved its status as the archetypal modern African novel in English."  - I don't see how you can compare it to great literature.  The many aphorisms annoyed me - like reading Ben Franklin.  I give it a C-
Ken:  Although very simple language, I thought the book was beautifully written and seemed almost poetic (move over Beowulf).  I really
enjoyed the many proverbs, sayings, and fables.  Plot was reminiscent of a Greek tragedy where Okonkwo's inherent flaws eventually led to his downfall.  Painted an interesting picture of Ibo culture that was brutal, discriminatory, and murderous on the one hand but also valued family, civility, compromise, and tolerance. Grade:  A on the host grading scale.    

  The Nigger of the Narcissus   by Joseph Conrad  -   December 2005  

Nine old shipmates sailed into Stalgren Harbor together and upon the immortal sea to wring out a meaning from their sinful lives.  Little was wrung but much was answered. We discussed the 1995 essay by last month's author, Chinua Achebe:  Was Conrad racist? (see the notes).  An orphan by the age of 12, Conrad served for 20 years in the merchant marine and in 1884 served on a ship Narcissus as second mate on a voyage from Bombay to Dunkirk; see this site.  So if he's so good why wasn't Joseph Conrad awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature?  and is it true that the narrator suddenly became a part of the crew in the last chapter? Joel pointed out that Singleton, the only crew member reading a book, had to sign for his paycheck with a mark.  Ken suggested perhaps the reading was a ruse by Singleton so he didn't have to join in the discussion/interactions with all the young crew members, could easily remain aloof.  Ken also pointed out that everyone had to wait for Wait - from when he first mustered in until they tried to slide him down the plank overboard.  "He won't go!"  "Jimmy, be a man!"  We nine tried:
Jack:  I am always impressed that someone can write in a language different from their mother tongue - I was impressed with Conrad's mastery of the English language.  His 20 years sea time showed through - looking up his use of nautical words took time.  Conrad's similes:  some were beautiful, some were too far out.  His three-page paragraphs were too much for me.  As in his Heart of Darkness, I was fascinated with his adjectival triplets following a noun:  Charlie had "a face precocious, sagacious, and ironic"   Boatswain and carpenter:  "two men friendly, powerful, and deep-chested."  I enjoyed the way the book unsettled me, the mystery of it - I had to work through Wait's role vs. Donkin.  The closing lines were beautiful:  "The Narcissus came gently into her berth; the shadows of souless walls fell upon her, the dust of all the continents leaped upon her deck, and a swarm of strange men, clambering up her sides, took possession of her in the name of the sordid earth.  She had ceased to live."  B+
Tom:  May I read a sentence?  (from last para of Preface re: the goal of the artist):  "To arrest for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and colour, of sunshine and shadows, to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile - such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved for only a few to achieve" - so I don't think we should criticize Conrad for being too artistic.  His goal is not to make things easy - and he did achieve it.  I give him an A.  He is more accessible to the reader than Joyce.  Harold Bloom tells us, "Reading should be a difficult pleasure."  We should have to put a little work into it.  Conrad requires work.  A
Ken:  I read the book on a long plane trip to Hawaii, carefully concealing what I was reading from fellow passengers.  As noted in the beautifully stated Preface, Conrad strived for artistry in his writing, but I felt he pushed this ideal too much at times.  Because of this, the story is not always user-friendly.  I would award an A for some nicely worded passages and for the detailed descriptions of life aboard a sailing ship, a C for overly wordy and sometimes confusing sentences, and an F for the title; overall grade B.
Charlie:  This book is a shrine of Western culture.  If one criticizes it, any problems you surface are yours.  I found it obtuse, excessively obscure and arty.  I can say this in our Book Club, could not in a literature class without getting in trouble.  Lot of difficulty in reading.  I give it a B.  I recognize that it is a Mounument of Western Culture.
Joel:  I don't think I've read any Conrad before - although I have seen Apocalyse Now many times.  He really was painting pictures - the nails that the ship's carpenter had collected over years - reminds me of many garages like that.  We should accept the title as being acceptable in the time he wrote it.  It was hard to get through it - which Tom says is a good sign - but would I read it again?  No.  But a cultural icon.  B
Rob: I liked the Preface (scientist vs artist).  I liked the descriptions of the crew, e.g. Donkin:  "The man who can't do most things and won't do the rest."   Liked the dialogue - like Mark Twain - even when everyone talking at once, it provided an atmosphere.  Jimmy's epitaph should be, "See, I told you I was sick!"  The Storm for me went on and on - one paragraph went for five pages.  That last confrontation between Donkin and Wait I liked - and I liked the opening paragraph of Chapter 4:  I liked the Jim and Donkin dialogue - but why was the crew so fascinated with Jimmy?  Gathering around his room all the time - however, race/blackness was not a part of that - obviously, Donkin was a much more maligned character.  Was this story believable or not?  B-
Ed:  I've probably read hundreds of stories about the sea, and all ten of the O'Brien Master and Commander series.  The description of the storm in this book is adequate but not great.  I read Heart of Darkness 40 years ago - I didn't like that then, I don't like this now.  C
Keith:  The plot development was an A.  The character development was a B.  The writing style was old-fashioned:  "quietude" - Chapter 4 starts well, then descends into a vomitorium of nebulousity.  Many run-on sentences that only Faulkner could appreciate.  The flip-flop from 3rd to 1st person was disturbing.  I thought the best part was the Preface - brilliant!  I'm giving the book a C.  It is not a classic, never will be a classic - too god-damned Conradian!  What the hell was he saying?
Don T:  I tend to react personally:  how does it fit me?  I really enjoyed the description of the crew:  like a high school or prep school mix of characters everywhere.  I really liked that - the camaraderie - some tasks you cannot complete without teamwork.  I've been in situations where you had to work with a team:  A hurrah attitude may help, OK, but you wouldn't talk about it, you would pull for the other guy if he wasn't a slackard.  On the positive side:  I remembered all of the phrases that club members brought up tonight, so I must have gotten something out of my reading.  On the negative side, when my daughter asked me, "What did you think of it?"  I had to say that at one time in my life existential mysteries sent me to movies like Girl With the Green Eyes and Days of Wine and Roses - but I don't like that anymore.  I'm not there anymore in my life.  Conrad could have been a lot clearer with his discussions of: What is the meaning of Life and Death?  He can't just throw out conundrums to me.  I wanted something else.  However I really enjoyed reading it.  I found one cannot skim Conrad.  B
Mike:  Well, perhaps this is a shrine of Western Culture.  Sometimes I feel like I am tossing out cultured pearls ... in Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt describes the first time he reads some Shakespeare:  "the words rolled around in my mouth like pearls."  I really felt like that reading some of this prose by Conrad - something very special.  We didn't talk about the nice structuring of the chapters - there were only five:  1 was introduction of the crew; 2 the Narcissus is underway, everyone doing their jobs, we learn more of the relationships.  3, middle chapter, is the heart of the action:  the storm hits, ship heels over and is almost lost:  "Cut the sticks!"  Crew decides to rescue Jimmy at some peril to themselves (there is your Christmas story!).  4:  the near-mutiny takes place, stirred up primarily by Donkin who takes some action to match his mouth: throws a belaying pin at the Captain.  The master handles it well, confronts crew the next morning, cows Donkin and all is well.  5:  Jimmy bobs back up like a black buoy, ship hits a calm,  Donkin and Jimmy interact, Jimmy does die, is sent overboard - "Jimmy, be a man!" -  the wind comes up, and we're homeward bound.  Nicely structured, but the beauty is in the phrasing, those pearls strung together for our benefit.  This book is something special:  A

From the out-of-town cruiser:

My fellow book lubbers,
I regret to say I will miss the meeting this week. I will be out of town.
I did read the book and enjoyed it.
The descriptions of the sea, the ship and the crew were very well done.
The writing was good, the story well told.
Over all my grade is A.
I would have enjoyed discussing two points:
1. The significance of James Wait and his role in the story.
2. The fact that the first person narrative did not appear until well into the story and came on rather abruptly, I thought.
 -  Ron
References:  (in RGVLS): "nigger:  The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word" by Randall Kennedy
Additional reference MS Word files on Conradchronology  bio  notes.

Actorial Narrator:  There is a clue up front (in first few pages of Chapter 1) of "The Nigger of the Narcissus" that the author is a member of the crew.  See the original description of old Singleton:
"Singleton, who had sailed to the southward since the age of twelve, who in the last forty-five years had lived (as we had calculated from his papers) no more than forty months ashore..." 
 Historical context: (see as to where the characters from the book originated.)  The Narcissus left Bombay on 28 April, 1884, and paid off at Dunkirk on 17 October. We are subsequently given glimpses of the transmutation of actual events into fiction. This voyage, writes the biographer Baines, formed the basis of Conrad’s novel, The Nigger of the Narcissus. Conrad in a letter said that most of the persons portrayed in the fiction belonged to the crew of the real Narcissus, including the admirable Singleton (whose real name was Sullivan)….There was an Irishman named Daniel Sullivan, who signed his name with a cross, aboard the Tilkhurst when Conrad sailed in her….James Wait was not the name of the ‘nigger’ aboard the Narcissus but of another negro sailor, on the Duke of Sutherland. Researchers have noted in Melville’s Redburn a malingerer named Jackson who tyrannises the crew and, like the ‘nigger’ of the Narcissus, finally dies at sea from tuberculosis.
Nobel ain't perfect:  Not all great writers have won the Nobel Prize for Literature - and arguably, not all writers who have been honored with the Nobel are great.  The award has only existed since 1901 and recognizes only one (1) living author per year world-wide.  Secondly, it is awarded to honor anyone of letters; for example, the first recipient was a French poet.  Joyce never won the Award; Seamus Heaney won in 1995.  See the site.

The N-word: Today one tends to feel offended toward Conrad for using "nigger" in his books yet we 
sometimes forget that 19th century books, in
particular Conrad's detailed dialogue aboard ship,
never print any swear words
... Donkin never even says "blimey" or "bloody" - and sex is circumvented as
well - the only thoughts of women expressed as: "Cooks oysters just as I like ..."
Cooking and Swearing? Reminds me of what Podmore the cook told me about you and your wet socks:
 'You don't deserve a kindness. I've been drying them for you, and now you complain about the holes
 -- and you swear, too! Right in front of me! If I hadn't been
a Christian -- which you ain't, you young ruffian --
I would give you a clout on the head ... "

   The March To Folly    by Barbara Tuchman  -   January 2006  

LaocoonOn the Last Thursday of January, the seven Renaissance Poops were given safe-conduct to march to the province of Nash, where they convened the Council of Dellwood to raze their spirits by confessing their sins.  Their sins were many and varied:  some were raised as Catholics, some attended West Point, some were trained in the sacraments of Martin Luther, some wore the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.  They gathered in group therapy, confessed to one another, became The Transparent Self,  and "received the usual torture followed by beheading."  With the Council's wooden-headedness, a bonfire would suffice.  The group devoured prime numbers of Indulgences transmigrated from Italy as orange peels coated in chocolate.  Our host let the cat out of the sack of Rome shortly after 7 pm, consulted the world's smallest fact book, and we abandoned the road to concealment for openness:

CharlieB.  The premise of the book reminded me of the response I received at a conference:  "You've got a firm grasp of the obvious!"  Governments do stupid things, "everybody knows that."  I learned a lot of history; I give Tuchman points for putting together disparate eras and topics.  However, at times she was stretching the facts to fit her theory.  I give her an A for the history, but a B overall. 
Ron:  I agree - but she stated why the path led to Folly - you can see things as described for Vietnam are the same things in Iraq today.  "If you don't agree to that then you are not patriotic."  The section on the Renaissance Popes was very interesting - and I finally got to read the story of the Trojan horse!  I confess:  I didn't read The British Lose America section.  I give it an A because she raised interesting points.  I thought the parts I read were very good.
Don:  I give it a B.  I read the Vietnam portion from 2 to 6 pm today - I found it hard to read emotionally - very troubling.  I was glad I read it in one afternoon so I didn't have to spend an entire week with that mood.  The book overall was uneven.  Two cases:  the examples Tuchman chose were uneven.  The other unevenness occurred when she stepped beyond the role of the historian to philospher by creating this theory of "Folly."
 In the end she wimped out.  I'm looking for answers - you take me through 400 pages, then you should not have just a paragraph of what it all means.  Only seven pages at the end - she never really said:  "What does it mean?  Is there anything we should look for in the future to prevent Folly?"  If you want to take on the role of philosopher, Barbara, stick to it!
Mike:  I had
not read The Guns of August and was looking forward to this experience.  But Tuchman upset me right at the start:  she lists three criteria for folly, then proceeds to violate them many times.  Only her example of Vietnam fits her premise.  Her criteria #3 is most defining:  3. Policy must be that of a group, not an independent ruler, and should persist beyond any particular lifetime.  Criterion #3 says dictatorial gov’ts (like Chiang Kai-shek or the Popes) are out of scope.  She neglects to define Policy!  Policy has a temporal aspect, thus the Trojan Horse episode does not apply.  She comes across as arrogant and non-professional when she states “as everybody knows” – terrible for an historian!  Can you imagine Ambrose saying that?  “The abuse that precipitated the ultimate break was the commercialization of indulgences, and the place where the break came, as everyone knows, was at Wittenburg in northeastern Germany."  Oh, yeah?  What about, "The Holocaust never happened, as everyone knows."  An historian should lay out the facts - for what audience are you writing when you refer to "everyone"? She does not define (all) her terms and she expects background from her reader to compensate for these shortcomings (see notes for numerous examples).   In many (perhaps most) military or government crisis, one side or the other can be considered at folly – and usually would be by the other side.  Tuchman could have said, “Here’s a book with historical examples of the Folly of Man; note how greed and ego prevail” and let it go at that.  Even that would not have saved us from her excessive detail "in the name of history."  The name of the peasant who dug up the statue of Laocoon?  Barbara, thanks for the Popes however, as everyone knows, you have produced a D+ book.  D-tailed notes
Jack:  I agree with the NY Times Book Review:  "a narrative of three historical events" - the Trojan horse thus not included.  I disagree with the review that it was "witty, intelligent..." - didn't come across as witty.  
I found it informative, but too long, too many characters and too many assumptions.  Numerous examples, e.g., "like everybody else."    C+ 
Ed:  I both enjoyed and was troubled by this book.  In some ways I struggled to fit the examples into the definition of folly.  But it forced you to think about these periods of history - I enjoyed that, learning about these eras.  As someone said, "If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it."  If she were alive today, she would be writing about Iraq.  B+
Tom:   All the nits have been picked.  I ignored her thesis and enjoyed the book.  I wanted more on the Popes, more on orgies and murder in the cathedrals.   I really enjoyed the Vietnam perspective - she took us back many decades, even to 1919 with Ho - and reminded us that it extended over many generations.  I give it a B.
Joel:  It took me a long time to go through the section on The British Lose America.  I felt like I was studying for a history exam with all the dates and characters.  But Phillip II description (p. 268) was worth it:  "no experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence."  Also, Phillip I when he couldn't escape the red-hot brazier because the servant whose job it was to move it wasn't around.
The book was rather episodic.  Chapter I had some mini-episodes that were interesting: Cortez and Montezuma; Japanese and the land war in Asia; "taking on the British and the Americans at once - I give us two years."  I felt bogged down in Vietnam - but I guess we all were.  What struck me is that people so concerned with their own image that (as Grace Slick sang) "I'd rather have my country die for me."  Kings and those in the position of power:  "Disgrace of government is more damaging than disgrace of the ruler."  I give the book a shaky A-   

... and from outside the Vatican:

Keith:   Folly Fellacios

Rob:  Sorry I can't be at the meeting.  Susie is having an angiogram early Friday and 
her daughter is coming in Thursday evening, so I'll be with them.

Here are my comments on "Folly."

Comments on "March of Folly," by Barbara Tuchman

I think Tuchman's "Guns of August" was the first non-assigned history book I
ever read. I remember being very impressed by her ability to dig out, write up,
and connect all the minor and major events that led to WWI.

In this book, though, she disappointed me at the start. She makes all sorts of
statistical claims in the opening section, claims that call for supporting data,
but she just offers anecdotes. The claims (p. 6): "Folly's appearance is
independent of era or locality. It is timeless and universal ... (M)onarchy,
oligarchy, and democracy produce it equally." (my emphasis: "equally" is a
mathematical term she doesn't come close to substantiating). Chapter I gives a
large collection of entertaining examples, sprinkled across eras, localities,
and government types, but these certainly don't substantiate her independence
and equality claims.

I realize this is history, not science, so I should cut her some slack, but she
gives it the trappings of science: four categories of misgovernance, one of
which is folly; three criteria in her operational definition of folly; and the
scientific-like claims about rate of occurrence - folly happens sort of like
radioactive decay, "timeless and universal."

I don't think she gives enough attention to other aspects of what turns out to
be folly. Any time there are difficult decisions to be made, there are
generally competing views, from more than one perspective. So, after things go
folly-up, you can generally find someone who should have been listened to.

Which brings me to the flip side of folly. Sometimes the dissenting experts
turn out to be wrong. How frequently does that happen in history? (Two
anecdotes: Churchill's warnings about Hitler were dismissed by the era's wise
men as hysteria. In the 80s Russian domination of eastern Europe was thought to
be a done deal - nothing could change it, so don't even try to stir up feelings
of freedom and human dignity. Reagan, Thatcher, and the Pope didn't see it that
way, though.) Seems to me that a scholarly evaluation of folly ought to
consider when what is called folly isn't.

And, of course, you can't rerun history. There's no way of knowing if a
government had changed its course to do what the clear-seeing critics
recommended, the result would have been better, or just a different unfortunate
outcome, maybe even worse than what occurred.

[Oh, speaking of science, we do have one almost paired experiment under way. The
Europeans, who say Bush got it all wrong in Iraq, now have the lead in dealing
with Iran - their way. We'll see how that works out.]

I guess my point is: this book isn't the systematic analysis of governance folly
you might expect from the intro. What it is is the retelling of three
historical episodes (I don't really count the Trojan horse story), with an
attempt to connect them by folly-theory. King George morphs into Lyndon Johnson
is how I would characterize it. That gives her a different twist on the Vietnam
story and I think that is Tuchman's real objective: not just another Vietnam
book, but Vietnam set in a historical context of random governance-follies.

I think there's another statistical issue that comes up in trying to connect
historical follies to current events (at the time of Tuchman's book, or now).
(In the Epilogue she warns about Iran or El Salvador situations in the early 80s
having Vietnam-like tendencies toward folly.) Episodes, such as Vietnam or
Iraq, are highly multivariate. It takes a lot of dimensions to describe them.
This makes it relatively easy to find dimensions that coincide. But, there is
no predictive power in such coincidences, even for physical systems, much less
human government; you can't claim: Because Iraq and Vietnam match on these
selected dimensions it follows that Iraq will (or even is likely) to end the way
Vietnam did. On the other hand, it is easy to find many dimensions on which
Iraq and Vietnam do not coincide. But, it's just as fallacious to argue: These
differences mean that Iraq can't turn out like Vietnam. Such arguments are
popular, as you find upon googling March of Folly, but not really convincing.
It's good sport to pin the tag of Folly on policies with which you disagree, but
not all that profound.

Tuchman has some harsh things to say about McNamara's statistical analysts
(which is not why I'm coming down on her statistical arguments - I didn't come
across her comments on McN's analysts until after I'd had the above reactions to
the book). From "The Best and Brightest" I got the understanding that
McNamara's analysts went beyond statistics into decision theory. This requires
quantifying everything - hearts and minds as well as body counts - well beyond
what real data can support. So, I read B&B as a condemnation of decision theory
run amok and have used that example when asked about decision theory.

I've used enough space so I won't comment on details in Tuchman's recounting her
selected episodes of folly. I'm sure the LTBC discussion will address all that.
My general impression is that she went into too much detail. Too many
characters to keep up with. That wasn't a problem in the Vietnam chapter, since
most of the characters are familiar, but that wasn't the case for the other
I have the feeling that she had three unfinished books late in her career and
decided to paste them together here.
Grade: C+

- Rob Easterling

   The Plot Against America   by  Phillip Roth  -   February 2006 

The Grapes of Roth: 
The once proud warriors of the Last Thursday 
Book Club gathered around the harpsicord once more to dream of the future,
examine the past, experience the present - and enjoy fine company - at the home
of our gracious host Charlie Palmer.

This bio reminds us that Roth's life was framed within the pages of "The Plot
Against America" - as it was in several other of his books, sometimes crossing
the lines between fiction and memoir - a "false memoir" in a clearly intentional non-Frey way:

Philip Roth bio:

So: did Philip really have an older brother? was his father an insurance
salesman? We obtained the answer to these questions and others.

Ron:  Grade  B.   The book was a good narrative, with nostalgia about life in the 1930s.  Roth didn’t integrate the political and autobiographical aspects well.  The book could have been better.  Nevertheless, Roth is a good writer.


Joel:  Grade  B+.  Roth’s writing is evocating in getting a sense of place and people.  Particularly well crafted was the manner in which the fascist government engineered the takeover of the US government.  The ending was too abrupt – “Gotta stop now, goodbye.”  It was an enjoyable read.   I recommend Sinclair Lewis’ “It can’t happen here,” a novel written in 1935 on the same theme.


Ken:  Grade  A-.  This was a good coming of age story, in a family torn apart by events beyond their control.  It could have been a family in Germany in the 1930s.  The humor was excellent.  The contrived conclusion was disappointing; but, there may not have been a better was to conclude the book.


Jack:  Grade:  A-.  The book was provocative and believable.  I was looking for pleasure and instruction in this book, and both were there.


Tom:  Grade:  A-.  I echo Ron’s comments.  The book was best in the moments when Roth was describing his family and its relationships.  The political aspects of the group got to be lengthy and uninteresting. 


Ed:  Grade:  B.  The book well portrayed life in an ethnic immigrant enclave.  I knew Newark from my childhood (grew up in Philadelphia).


Charlie:  Grade A-.  This was a good read.  It had an excellent portrayal of family life.  The political aspects of the book were perhaps a bit labored but were nevertheless well done.

From outside of Newark:

Hola M..must defer tonite..out of 'bout 50% roth..don't like 
rewritten history..akin to rearranging deck chairs on Titanic..! he pens ok, but
rambles discursively story best dimension...I give it a c+..what
would Lindbergh grade be..?!..keith

I regret I had to miss the meeting - I had too many comments on this book, as usual - here is the Reader's Digest version - sorry you may miss out on some of the narrative I would have filled in at the meeting:
I enjoyed this month's book:  "The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth.  Very well done as Roth blurs memoirs with fiction - he tells the story as himself, a 7 to 9 year old kid (both in the book and in real life, he was born in 1933 in Newark - all of this tracks in the story.  The supporting cast consists of his "real" mother and father and brother and ...  other “real” characters like Longy Zwillman, the Jewish gangster – and Meyer Lansky?). 
A nice summary on Lindbergh, to include the references made above, is found at:

I read Philip Roth's “Portnoy’s Complaint” (and had Helen read the sexy parts) books several decades ago and I liked them.

What I liked about this book: 
1. Narrator:  I could really relate to the kid Philip telling the story – 8 to 9 years old. I have a brother six years younger, not five years older, but … Roth captured the world of the 8-9 year old very nostalgically for me.  At that time in my life we had moved to Indianapolis. 
2. Bus riding:  I never stalked any goyims, but I did ride the bus quite regularly.  One time:  story re IAC return and sister Patti and guy with “brain tumor.”
3. Mounted police:  some of the most well-sculptured writing for me is the word picture of the police on horseback – to include Philip’s memory of the mounted policeman galloping across the park area to capture a purse-snatcher.  The one sentence description of the policeman bending over to issue the parking ticket to the car – great stuff!
4. Stamp collecting – I had already gotten started I think in Indianapolis, but really got more intense when we moved to Houston just before I turned 10 years old (1951).  My Aunt Kathy…  buying stamps up on the 10th floor of the Rusk building in downtown Houston – rode the bus down there – (Whites/Colored slide sign) – stamp dealer ran a place of business much like Adm. Rickover’s office – narrow, high shelves, stuffed with papers.
5. Jewish differences:  I liked that Roth did not cut his Jewish characters out of the same cookie cutter – some were hot-headed, some were pacifists, some were actually collaborators with Lindbergh and the administration. 
6. Plot twists:  I liked Aunt Evelyn hiding in the basement with the truth that she knew would have her killed.

Roth did so many things so well – yes, he was a little wordy – but I give him an A- for this nostalgic and clever “false memoir.”
   -  Mike

  Hard Line: Life and Death on the U.S./Mexico Border   by  Ken Ellingwood  -   March 2006 

New Mexico Book Club Debates;
U.S. Senate Takes up the Challenge
Dateline:  Placitas, NM:  Pope Don called together the eleven apostles to advise and consent regarding a timely, dynamic, local issue:  What is a border?  Is not a border defined biologically as well as politically as that area where growth and energy occur?   Are we not overloading the resources of the border counties, since State and Federal government do not send $ to handle non-citizen  costs?  As to why Mexico does not help eliminate the problem:  the third highest source of revenue for Mexico (after oil and tourism) is funds sent back into the country by workers living in the U.S.   The apostles spaketh freely and with emotion:
Jack:  I need to preface my grade with some comments:  This is a pocketbook issue:  as a government, we tend to punish the supplier rather than the consumer.  Canada puts the onus on the employer to check the paperwork of the employees.  We tend to punish the 70-year old prostitutes.
As to the book:  I enjoyed the anectodal approach, and give the book a B+ 
Ken:  I lived in California in the 60s; and have been in New Mexico now for 30 years.  These ideas I've heard for 40 years - but still found the subject interesting that the Border Patrol was tracking drug smuglers.  The book ended in 2002, and covered Imperial County, Arizona, but not New Mexico problems, which is the new concern.  (see this web story in PDF).  The problem has moved to New Mexico, in huge numbers.  Should we expect the same "success" in NM?  I'm hopeful for control of the border.  I found the book interesting, give it a B+
Rob:  My feeling on the book is that it was redundant and repetitive.  The tight border in San Diego:  I hoped for more analysis to help me.  Newspapermen tend to write value judgements - tough - racial stereotypes.  As a book, it was a B- 
Tom:  I liked this book - good writer, compelling stories, rescue in the desert:  he succeeded in putting a human face on the issue.  Some type of Guest Worker program should be able to work.  I hate the "human rights" demonstration - "rights" is the most misused word in our language.  Book itself:  I give it a B
Joel:  I thought it was written like a newspaper series - not literature as such.  Pretty unbiased look at what is going on.  I think the problem needs to be addressed by Mexico.  Costa Rica had coffee & bananas as its major exports, today it is computer chips.  Well run Latin country, run as a democracy - how to encourage this attitude in Mexico?  No one is anxious to face the problem.  New Mexico is not viewed as big a problem - more of a feeling of relationship here - with families back in Mexico.  We operated a Free Clinic with Northern Chihuahua.  The dproblem comes from Mexico, with 2nd through 4th grade education.  The book:  B+
Ron:  I thought it was a good book; easy to read, doesn't give political analysis, but reports on the situation as it is.  A-  as what it tried to be is what it is.  Anyone to solve the problem should start with reading this book for background on how the issue developed.  We need a regulated guest worker program - people want to live "back home" but can't get a job there.  This is a difference from my ancestors, who moved here without thought of going "back home."
Charlie:  Good Book Club choice; timely - we're more than a literary group, we're a discussion group of older men.  Could eliminate half of the book without losing the discussion.  My paradigm is Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat" which lays out the situation, the options available, and gives some rationale.  I have some sympathy but the book offered no discussion of the options, what is congress doing, the economy and politics.  I give the book a C for that reason.
Ed:  I agree with many of my comments that have been said.  I was left with:  what are the options we should do?  Can do?  There are challenges, policy issues we should be debating.  It is timely for us to be discussing this issue.  B-
Mike:  I found it doubly redundant and repetitive.  Same story many times.  And what is it with the "death" in the title, in the content?  Old school journalism:  "If it bleeds, it leads."  The migrants dying is not the story here - there are many more people dying from other causes.  The story here is the huge number trying to make it into the US at this time, and the US response is a "catch and release" program.  All parties would be better served with transforming the Border Patrol jobs into an interview and worker registration program.  B-
Keith:  The book was a vomitarium of knowlege with very little on understanding woven into the tapestry.  The world is formed of pushers and pullers - the market forces are greed, we're not going to legislate a solution.  Very shallow book.  C
Don T:  I have several thoughts about the Book Club.  People ask me, "what do you talk about?"  I don't know yet.  I picked this book because I wanted to hear your minds, what you guys would say on the subject.  You all have such great ideas.  I don't have many people to talk to about these issues - I might not have picked this book unless I felt it was A (or A- as Editor).  I would not have picked this book unless I felt it was an A.  As Editor of a publishing company, I could not have changed anything in the book - but I've given it an A- because people who know more about the issue than we should try to help us -- the author should come out from behind his cover - now I think he should have wrapped it up for me.  [Ron B:  "That would be another entire book."]
I really appreciate the interplay:  for the government, it is really helpful to have a forum. 

Migrant Numbers Up in Deming, NM - story provided by Ron B. from, March 2006.

  The Year of Magical Thinking   by  Joan Didion  -   April 2006

Nine apprentice sorcerers showed up at the Loma Linda Medical Center for a magical evening of sharing and  sobbing, cussing and discussing an area not covered in our marriage manuals:  loss of a spouse coupled with serious hospitialization of the only child.  Joan Didion, we learned from the host, was born Dec 5, 1935. (John G. Dunne was about the same age).  She was raised in Sacramento and attended U.C. Berkeley, graduating in 1956 with a BA in English.  She is known for her Conspiracy Theory writings, such as on Charles Manson.
Side story on Synchonicity:  when looking this up on Wikipedia, linked was an article on Magical Thinking.  The group did its own thinking, thank you:
Rob:  This book gave me a sleepless night, as I replayed my non-magical year after the loss of my wife - plus Suzy's Aunt Adelaide died about this same time.  This helped me to reflect back on the that time for me.  I was "cool" toward Suzy's Aunt's death.  Probably I didn't read the book for content, but for introspection.  At first pass I was put off by her literary references; the book didn't take off for me until her daughter came into play.  The time of year was similar to mine, perhaps through synchronicity or chance; I read C.S. Lewis's book on the loss of his wife (now a major motion picture).  Good book for its niche:  A-
Jack:  I liked it for the reasons Rob didn't, and assigned the same grade!  I bought it for a friend whose wife died after a 7 month illness (cancer), and read it myself to see it was appropriate to give to him.  I ended up suggesting he wait one year before reading.  I found the Literary aspect appealing; and the jumbled emotions worked for me - made it read well - that's her style!  A-
Charlie:  I give it a B+ (get that out of the way).  I was put off by the literary references - although I recognize that is what she does.  I expected more analysis, not just a journal - I didn't put it together like that - Life is not like that.
Joel:  I enjoyed it but found it a frustrating book.  For her daughter:  when she got into the doctor's area, and got into scrubs - that was too much.  She is obviously intelligent, and devoted full time to her only patient:  her daughter.  Magical:  you do think if I had done such-and-such, how would
things have changed.  A friend expressed his philosophy of life to me as:  "Everyday above ground is a good day."  We do the best we can - everyone is afraid they will make mistakes.  I like the phrase:  "Nothing you do for a child is wasted or forgotten."  My wife thinks Joan Didion is too much of a downer.  Grade:  B+
Ed:  This discussion has been very helpful to me.  As to synchonicity:  the book didn't come into focus for me until it came to the daughter - the other part (losing a spouse) is uncomfortable for me to think about.  My wife had read the book when her mother was trying to cope with her first year of grieving.  The book put together a number of views - yet uncomfortable for me to think about - told as a
first hand observer.  Aspects were uncomfortable, but very useful discussion.  Grade: B because of its disjointed nature, but perhaps elicits understanding.
Ken:  When I first mentioned the choice,
my wife thought it was a book for a women's book club.  I found the book both interesting and boring - "mudgy" as the author (daughter) said.  The repetitious nature conveyed perfectly the grief treadmill likely experienced by most surviving spouses in long and successful marriages.  The repetition of certain phrases, such as "Life changes fast, life changes in an instant" kept building up and I found that very effective.  Didion thoroughly researched the literature on grief although she neglected to search the cartoon literature (e.g., "Good Grief, Charlie Brown!").  Chilling, depressing and educational, but I'm glad I read it:  B+
Don:  I am of two minds (thus two grades, and the average does not capture a truth).  I think the husband died of grief - regardless of his medical condition, why did he choose this time to die?  Why now?  She never stepped back from her journaling to ask that question.  As a publisher, I woud have said, "Joan, now you've got the guts of a book - take another year and develop it."  I think she was published because she was a writer.  Publishers get hundreds of these stories:  "Me and My Grief,"  "Me and My Heart Transplant" - people, ordinary people do some great writing when they are in the heat of the crucible - but can a publisher invest $100K or $150K in it?  This book, Joan's book, made for an A+ discussion - so the book had a great effect.  Yet the effort, the writing was C+  The average would be B-, but that grade doesn't mean s***.  She never wondered why her husband "quit" exactly then?  I'm very curious - and why her daughter got sick again.
Magical Thinking x 5
Mike:  Synchronicity:  after French Mortuary took my wife's body away via the front door, I turned to see a stack of these Joan Didion books awaiting me.  I took mine to Denver, and read looking for some insight.  I found what I had already learned, that a "pronouncer" must declare death, for example. As Keith was disappointed with "Tuesdays with Morrie," I found very little profundity in these pages.  I gained much more insight from one line from the French novelist Andre Gidé:  "I have lost the witness to my life."   I think the book suffered from not having John Gregory Dunne around to serve as his wife's editor.  Grade:  B+
Ron:   Not quite an A book for literature.  I recognize the attempt to grapple with that first year of grief - if she had waited a year, this would have been a very different book.  It was interesting to people because it validated their feelings.  That was the appeal.  A very good B book:  B+
From the outpatient ward:
Tom:  Sorry to miss your meeting.  I liked the book.  It struck me as honest, smart, and witty (an occasional smile).  I give it an A-
Send my large portion of dessert to the Harbor Court Hotel, San Francisco.
Keith:  I have ambivalent views ...
  • A rich, gifted woman loses husband of 40 years - not unexpectedly - she has an ample safety net of friends and material accoutrements -- JOAN ..  GET OVER IT !!
             (e.g., compare with grief of family whose young son/daughter is killed by a drunk driver ...)
  • This isn't a self-help book - it's about self ... Joan D. ... No help or guidance for coping is rendered.
  • Instead, she eloquently writes of her descent into denial and "sub-sanity" as she hobbles through her "Valley of Tears"
So, why the book's appeal??  (I was 85th on the Library wait list !!)
I believe:
  1. We all grieve
  2. It is both the strongest of emotions ... and the one humans cope with poorly
  3. Many readers delight in the "Rich and Famous"  "mucking through misery."
  • The human soul in fact loves misery ... especially when it happens to a more gifted stranger!
Summary:   J.D. grappled with grief by rendering her life an open book ...
                      But found solace in the fact so many wanted to read of her miasmal misery.
>  Put this book on your Sadness Shelf ...    Grade:  C+

   As I Lay Dying   by  William Faulkner  -   May 2006
It takes two people to make you, and one people to die.  That's how the world is going to end.  Where goeth Addie Bundren's extended family?  None of them is on the balance.  Rob is sailing his RV across Illinois, Ed is TDY to CA, and Jack is doing his own pilgrimage to Santiago CompostelaKeith had promised to arrive fashionably late, behail the victors, bayonet the wounded, and bury the dead.  Cooked and et.  Cooked and et. The survivors: et of us po' white trash assembled up in the four hills as Vardaman hacked the big fish to pieces on Tom's floor, perhaps in synchronicity with July's torment by the Old Man. Sad lines drip from each. Insights flowed like currents:  Don suggested that Addie had a difficult time "dying," and that crossing the river was symbolic of the River Styx - "descending into Hades" - look how much trouble they had getting her over that river.  At the end of the meeting, Don had us consider that perhaps Addie never said anything to Anse about going to Jefferson - that Anse just needed to get there with some money to buy his teeth and bury and marry. 
Closer to home: How could West Point qualify for visits from JFK, McArthur, and Faulkner all during the Spring of '62, when the Naval Academy only got Capt Kangaroo?  Was Tom really a personal friend of William Faulkner, or were they just photographed together a lot? And is it just coincidence that Faulkner died within months of realizing those plebes in Lant's class had no idea who he was?  Pearls before swine - close my eyes for me, woman with the dog's eyes, and let me descend into the wisdom of these country folk:   
Mike:  40 years ago I read The Sound and The Fury, which was bound with As I Lay Dying.  I know I read some of AILD, as I remember the chunk! chunk! of the adze working on the coffin through the window - however, not sure I completed it, and certainly did not get as much out of it then as now.  We've since seen this theme of the difficulties in carrying out a promise to the dead:  In McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, when one of the old Texas Rangers dies in Montana, he extracts a promise from his long-time partner to be buried back in Texas - and the 1500 mile trip back is tortuous. Even longer than Addie's. (also Ron reminds us of recent movie starring Tommie Lee Jones, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," with a similar theme.)  I was going to downgrade Faulker for characters having superior vocabularies to their background, plus those chapters like the Darl one wherein Darl cannot be the narrator as he is not even there - however, the compilation of analysis in Jurus' Krakow Thesis and your discussion this evening enlightened me that this was not error on Faulkner's part, but ignorance on mine:  both Darl's visionary abilities and the "Faulkner voice" show up in his pseudo-narration in several of his works.  Here his characters are well drawn through the eyes of others - e.g., Cash was the engineer of the group:  "calm, concerned, calculant."  Well done, Mr. Faulkner!  Next life visit Annapolis.   A
Joel:  I only read it once - and it shattered by dreams of becoming a subsistence farmer in Mississippi.  I got more out of the meeting tonight than from my initial reading.  The book encourages one to stay in school.  Very interestingly done.  My first Faulkner - other than the screen play for "The Big Sleep." Has been a hole in my cultural upbringing - I give it a B+ and will definitely re-read.
Ron:  I liked this book, it was a good book.  I picked out some of the humor, then I realized it was absolutely comic throughout.  Reminded me of the characters in the Coen Brothers movie "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" - (simple rustic guys wandering through the countryside, one step away from prison).  However:  Faulkner could have easily made it clearer, and he did not.  Prime example was where Vardaman drills the holes in the coffin - Faulkner never says who did it, only "he did it" or "...found him this way" - I felt used as a reader and I don't like that.  The story made up for it somewhat, certainly was presented differently.  A great story, I give it an A-
Don:  I give it a C+   I enjoyed the discussion, and I can see where reading the book can give different views - still a C+    I suppose I've always been an oppositional child.  When I read in the Reading Group Guide that the book "
illuminates the nature of love within the family and the responsibility that family members have to one another and to themselves" I get pissed off.  I am passing around two photos from my grandfather's time, in the Ozarks, in around 1920 (same time period as Faulkner's book).  It pissed me off that there was so little communication within the family.  Faulkner made them all caricatures.  The family didn't have to be that (mentally) sick to get it across - there are lots of poor people with strange tics.  Also, I thought Anse got a screw job in the telling, with the exaggeration of his negativity.  After all, he raised five children, four boys, who didn't come out that badly, and that is not an easy job in itself.  Overall, I thought the book was "unfair to poor people."
Ken:  There are good families in the South that are poor, and dysfunctional families that are poor.  When I first came in I was against this book, from comments made by my wife's book club.  Yet I really did enjoy it.  I didn't understand all of it - but the narrative style allowed me to bo back and see how it all came together.  The characterization of the people came clear.  I can now say I read a Faulkner!  A-
Keith:  Three  views on the book:  1.  The perversity of family.  2. This was easily the world's longest funeral procession - complete with odors and buzzards.  3.  Reminded me of Grapes of Wrath:  endless trip with a dead grandmother in the back - see Exquisite Corpse.  This book was not a classic:  C+
CharlieC.  When one is in the presence of gods, they say your comments say more about you than about them.  Art should have some transparency.  I resent it being that difficult.  I grew up in the South - some of the family was poor sharecroppers - in the 50s we would go visit some of them, and they were similar to us, just poor.  Not an alien species like Faulkner portrays them. 
TomA-   Even after a third reading, there were still passages that were incomprehensible to me.  Interesting to me that two people in our group reacted to the portrayal of Southeren families - that had not occurred to me.

From the pilgrims not yet across the river:

Dear Mike:

My retired writing professor friend recommended "As I Lay Dying." So I read
it and found it to be a tremendous book. The humor and character portrayals
were superb.

Recently while I was in Florida, I got a copy of "The Sound and the Fury"
and was terribly disappointed. It is hard for even a great author like
Faulkner to please everyone. Wish that I could join you all on Thursday.

I am still getting feedback on our favorite fiction books of the last 25


It has been 40 years since I last read anything by Faulkner and I enjoyed rediscovering the power of his writing style.  One cannot deny his skill in using language to craft characters and develop a story line.  All authors struggle to find the words which best describe the emotions and the actions they are trying to portray and thus elicit reader reactions they are looking for, but to do it from the vantage point of 15 very different characters and keep the plot moving forward has to be extremely difficult.  The only other novel I have read which I believe successfully used the narrative technique Faulkner experimented with here was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

As grotesque as the story seemed, I found it believable, perhaps because of his style and/or perhaps because I grew up in a small farming community and knew people (some of whom I was related to) like we met in As I Lay Dying.


   -  Jack

Thoughts after re-reading "As I Lay Dying" :
As per my previous plan, I did reread "As I Lay Dying", and do have somewhat a 
different impression of it (besides being able to identify all the characters).
I do feel that those book club members who felt insulted by the book are failing
to account for the changes of the last 80 or so years.

A couple of weeks ago, in a magazine section of the Abq. Journal, there was an
article on the Civilian Conservation Corps, set up in the 1930's to provide jobs
for unemployed young men, as well as to improve their nutrition and education.
At that time, rural schools were not universal, and rarely was more than 8th
grade available unless they moved to town and boarded with a family. The article
pointed out that many of the boys had NEVER been to school, and, in fact, those
who had finished 8th grade could be made teachers. For most of these kids, the
diet may have been their first good one, and their minuscule stipend may have
been their first cash wages ($5 /month given to them, the remainder sent home to
their families). A foncon with my stepfather, who was a CCC physician in the
'30's as an Army Reserve assignment, confirms this.

This year is, I believe, the 80th anniversary of Route 66, one of the first
times many towns were linked by paved roads, which had mainly been confined to
the more affluent towns.

At the time of the book, there was no REA, hence no electricity, no RFD, hence
no mail service unless you went to town. Rural areas had minimal medical
services and no dental services (hence the savings by the father for
"store-bought" teeth). Farmers in the south depended on cotton, corn, and
sorghum as their cash crops, and the latter two, with the exception of greens
and occasional meat as their diet, led to anemia (some also from hookworm) and
deficiency diseases such as pellagra, which also gave a component of dementia.

The problems faced by the family were not due to being stupid; they were largely
due to ignorance, not unexpected in view of the minimal opportunities to access
information. (Setting the broken leg with a cement cast was conceptually
sensible, but incomplete knowledge of the details caused the problem.)

We tend to view the family problems through a lens of our information overload
and the benefits of affluence and technology. I don't think the family can be
faulted for their motivation and hard work, but we must remember that until well
after WWII, and really after the mid 1960's, the rural south was really the
Third World, and rural areas of much of the rest of the country may not have
been much better. Our ancestors and their contemporaries did the best with what
they had, and pointing out their shortcomings (largely not of their own making)
should not be regarded as insulting. On rereading the book with this in mind, my
impression changed markedly, and my admiration for the family increased.

NB. One of the best books about the South and its historical
problems remains "The Mind of the South", by W.J.Cash, written in 1941.

Also, it is interesting to Google "Vardaman"; a polititian in the early 20th
century, who was governor and later senator from Mississippi; about him it has
been said that he would have been regarded as a populist, had it not been for
his attempts to deny any but the most minimal benefits to black people.
He was one of the architects of Jim Crow, and is generally considered to be one
of the top 10 racists in U.S. history.
- Joel Nash, 16 June 2006

   Gilead  by  Marilynne Robinson  -   June 2006

Ventana del Luna, NM:   Nine prodigal sons shaved, put on their white shirts, buffed their sneakers, and congregated with a codger in receding rain and a sliver of moonlight to discuss the prairie, Feuerbach, the sacraments, predestination, and the mindset of Marilynne Robinson.  We enjoyed Robinson's word pictures of the gun-toting grandfather preacher who later evolved to stealing sheets off the clotheslines to give away; of Ames' mother washing, ironing the grandfather's bloody shirts before re-burying them; of the rain-soaked demolition of the church and the breaking of the ashy (communion) biscuit; of the town tunnel which captured the horse; of the miserable trip by father and son back to Kansas to find the grandfather's grave, and stealing the nearly inedible carrots resulting in a shotgut blast and the subsequent realization of the passing of the mantle of responsibility; of baptizing cats; of two-dimensional baseball on TV; of the black reverend's assertion that all white men are atheists; of the surprise of seeing a line of oaks across the prairie.  We were perplexed by the stop/new start at page 215 where suddenly a novel broke out for 17 pages within the diary. 
We learned of many things - 
that Marilynne rejected most of $250,000 prize that would have allowed her to "do nothing" in order to return to teaching; that there are ~180 (daily?) entries in the diary of Rev. Ames (thus implying a six-month period of time passing); that the horizontal line segments ( ________ ) centered at the top of some pages emphasize that a new entry is starting; that Congregationalists like Rev John  Ames distinguish themselves from the Calvinist Presbyterians like old Rev Boughton and are allowed to make up the rules as they go along; and that Rev. Easterling returned from his wanderings through the prairie with only one Tractor Museum T-shirt for the congregation.  Regardless, the assembly offered insights and witticisms seldom encountered this far from the plains:   
Jack:  There was a lot in this book; I had to go back and re-read pages many times, very unusual book.  I would describe the book as a love story by Rev Ames:  for his son, his wife, his father, his life, his God, his prodigal son (namesake Boughton) - and as a struggle with these characters.  A
Tom:  I liked it, Robinson is a great writer - the book is not as beautiful as Housekeeping.  I didn't like specifically the rambling philosphies on existence, on the nature of heaven, on whether the fifth commandment belongs on the first stone.  Those arguments are tiring to me.  However I loved the stories of the grandfather - and on Ames' mother washing the grandfather's bloody shirts, cleaning them, ironing them, folding them - and then re-burying them.  That type of sequence tells you so much about people, even more than dialogue.  A-
Joel:  I don't think the book was so much about the meaning of Life, as about getting one.  Garrison Keillor had stories on his Prairie Home Companion radio show about being a PK - a Preacher's Kid - which ensures a difficult life.  And here we have three generations of preachers, thus two generations of PKs.  I felt the author did too much musing about religion.  It doesn't take long for me to reach the saturation point on discussions of these questions that are not answerable.  I give the book a B (from perhaps a heretical standpoint).
Keith:  A question of credibility:  how many of you would write an endless letter to your kid?  How many of our kids would ever read it?  Ames didn't love himself - one must love oneself first to have self-esteem.  I found the book rambling but with definite gems along the way.  B-
Ron:  I did get into the book eventually - took a long time, this was no Flashman adventure.  It took me about 60 pages, but once I got into the spirit, I saw gems and I enjoyed the looks at scripture.  It was interesting that after 70+ years the Reverend was still reading the Bible to figure out what it meant.  I felt at home with his ideas of scripture.  I was impressed with the way he slowly revealed the story behind his namesake Jack Boughton.  B+
Rob:  I liked the style of the book.  Don T. has been after us to write a book, this could be the type of book we could write - if we demonstrated some discipline, like when we wake up in the middle of the night, write a few entries instead of (like me) playing Spider Solitaire.  I like the characters;  Ames' wife, old Boughton, the comments on the prairie:  "nothing to distract" - and the questions Ames is left with:  should I have left like Edward?  He didn't regret his decision - despite the loneliness.  I loved the line,
“I have lived my life on the prairie and a line of oak trees can still astonish me.”   A
Ken:  Since I'm extremely well read, I've read all the novels by Marilynne Robinson. I think this is the 2nd best.  The first 150 pages were tedious, way too theological.  Definitely was not a page turner.  If I were more into religion, I might be more capable of understanding some of the scripture references.  B-
Charlie:  I was taken by the book - it wasn't a page turner, but I wanted to read it slowly, feast my eyes on every sentence.  Very positive on religion, and how I could I live my life - it made a positive case for religion.  There was a lack of plot until Jack Boughton came along.  I enjoyed it:  A
Ed:  This is not my kind of book - yes, she writes well, but not my cup of tea due to the subject.  An interesting aspect, since my wife (Andrea) read it to me:  Her father was a Congregationalist minister whose wife was 20 years younger; he died when Andrea was 6 yrs old; and he left nothing in worldly goods or written work (no 40 years of sermons up in the attic).  The main value of the book to me was learning more about Andrea's life and her relationship to her father.  B
Mike:  I'm not as well-read as Ken, but I too have read most of Robinson's novels, and this one is nowhere as clever or as captivating to me as was Housekeeping
Robinson needed Jack Boughton for the counterpoint, the antagonist. There were indeed embedded gems - We could have discussed the wonderful story of the community in the rain (pgs 94-96), with the men going through the debris of the lightning-struck church, sifting for hymnals while the women cook meals - and the father bringing over the ashy biscuit and breaking it for his son John Ames. (Ed:  one of many communion images in the book.)  Some lovely comments on everyday life:
[p. 165, top]  I was trying to remember what birds did before there were telephone wires.  It would have been much harder for them to roost in the sunlight, which is a thing they clearly enjoy doing.
Benediction:  maybe our kids wouldn't read our diaries, but I read Ames' and the Reverend didn't convert me.  B+

Historical Grade Comparison of members grading every extant novel by Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping (Apr 05)
A A C A- B B- A A-
Gilead (Jun 06)
A A- B- B+ B- A B+ A-

From the prairies of Wisconsin comes this outlying opinion:
Actually, my first meeting with the book club was the night we discussed Housekeeping at Tom's house.  I had already read Gilead earlier, and enjoyed it immensely. 
I do remember the kind and sensitive way she treated the small town small church Pastor's family -- which is more often treated with sarcasm.  And I do remember the wonderment about the complexity of the microcosm community -- just as varied and tangled as any bigger community! -- with everyone having his/her own unknown deep story.  I try to remember that insight when I meet people.  Everyone has their story, and I try to listen for it.
The concept of writing a letter to your son, has captured me.  I have two sons and have lately been thinking of what I would write to them and why.  A daunting, but probably important task.
This lady surely specializes in capturing the feeling of deep loneliness.  Since when one writes a book one spends at least a year occupying one's mind with the topic, I am not sure that I would want to write what she does -- too much time spend with subtle and not so subtle alone issues. 
So, Mrs. Gilead Housekeeping is of a different cut than I am, and we can thank her for that -- we can just read the book and move on.
I was moved by the book -- A-  
-  Don Tubesing, 27 June 2006

  The Old Man and the Sea  by  Ernest Hemingway  -   July 2006

Man is not made for defeat.  A man can be destroyed but not defeated.   Pull the boat, fish. 
Fish, you are going to die anyway...  take the hook deep and far, into the wilds of Placitas, where the lions
play on the beach.  The boy Jacolin will meet you there.  "Can I offer you a beer on the Terrace?"  "Why not?" the old man said.  "Between fisherman."
Papa was born 12 July 1899 in Oak Park, IL, the 2nd of six children.  He was a favorite of his father's, who took him hunting and fishing.  He clashed with his mother and left home at age 18.   Two years later he returned to address his old High School assembly on his war wounds from The Great War.  Some critics have suggested that the greatest character that Ernest Hemingway ever developed was Ernest Hemingway.
Was the story an allegory, heavy with symbolism?  Papa says Hell No!  However, it is hard not to ignore Ken's list:  the fisherman hurting his hands like the stigmata of Christ; the sharks hitting the side "like nails being driven through flesh," and Santiago [St. James] dragging the mast over his shoulder up the hill not unlike Christ carrying the cross up Calvary.  We found both Papacides and Papaphiles within our party, both Mako and shovel-nosed, all fishing for understanding:

Tom:  I did not like A Farewell to Arms; I liked The Sun Also Rises a little bit.  [A defense of Hemingway states that] his writing "marches ahead on a straight line."  It is too straight a line for me - I prefer challenging prose.  The other Hemingway we read was flat; this was better, more suited to his style.  Harold Bloom does not mention The Old Man and the Sea in his analysis, but does praise his short stories.  With Hemingway, shorter is better.  B+
Mike:  How often have we complained
while reading one of our book selections that the middle dragged; or that the author must have finally decided to end the book, and struggled to close off all his story lines.  Here is a book for which I would not advocate cutting a sentence out - or adding more description.  It reads as if it were told in Spanish and translated for our benefit; it is poetic in its simplicity.  Keith sometimes considers what he will take away from a book - for forty years I have remembered (without trying) two lines from this book:  "I fear the Tigers of Detroit" -  and perhaps one of the most shocking and sad lines in literature for me, "It was an hour before the first shark hit."   [Others:  this is not an uncommon literary device.]  Perhaps more novels should actually be novellas.  A
Charlie:  I have to give it a B.  Hemingway is overwrought with testosterone, manly things, overstated, too much struggle, not satisfying to me.  I don't like his style, I like the book to be more subtly written - I recognize
Life Magazine 1951this to be a statement of personal taste.
Joel:  I don't think I've read this since Life magazine.  I did not see the Spencer Tracy movie
.  The story seemed long, drawn out - but fishing is like that, you never know what you'll get - and you keep what you end up with.  [story of Tarpon catch off the bridge].  It was contemplative.  You have to tell your prey why it is important/ necessary to kill him (similar to what the Native Americans would to).  A really entertaining book.  A
Ken:  Well, I read this 45 years ago when I was forced to read books.  (I thought that period of my life was over).  At that time, I loved the book.  This time I also loved it, but found I identified more with the old man.  A
Rob:  When I read this book years ago - either voluntarily or forced - I found it crackling with tension:  what is going to happen next?  It didn't have that tension for me this time.  [Joel:  because you knew what was going to happen!  Llike the Seinfeld episode when they come out of the Titanic movie talking about the ship sinking at the end, and the people waiting in line saying, "Oh! It sinks? You ruined it for me!"]  Hemingway took a simple story and explicated it.  He showed skill, he answered his critics.  However it did not have the build-up for me of 40 years ago. Nevertheless, I can see why it won the Pulizer Prize.  B+
Jack:  I like Hemingway's direct, sometimes monotonous style as representative of life.  It suits his style to tell stories of primitive people wrestling with basic forces of society and life.  Life is painful, face it with courage - here he shows dignity and grace - "face it like a man."  (Hemingway would probably agree with that).  A

From out beyond the reef:
.my grade:  A..crisp,concise classic that " Nobely" hooks you, then finishes with a  nap!..I recall givin' it a B in high school this grade creep or age creep..?..The Grim Creeper...have fun!
   -  Keith

This is a very tall tale indeed. A version of the big one that got away. Papa was having us on. He gave it away with the hand wrestling match that lasted  2 days. Also the old man's ability to hold onto the marlin with the rope behind his back and to simultaneously cut up and eat fish with his other hand was awesome!
Papa laughs last!
Grade:   B , for literary chutzpah and a good tale.

   The Devil in the White City  by  Erik Larson   -   August 2006

"Gentlemen, I am prepared to say that any person from St. Louis would rob a church.  Or poison his wife's dog." Ten former exhibits gathered on Whiteoaks to munch CrackerJax and ask some age-old questions ...  So what ever happened to "poor Charlie Johnson," the only child abandoned at the Columbian Exposition's Child Care center?  Do we feel safer now that psychopaths are just abnormal personality disorders?  We agreed that 400 people killed each year in Chicago from trolley cars and train accidents was part of daily life then and sounds shocking to us today - however  today we accept 40,000 people killed each year on our highways yet jump through hoops, investigations, and media events if a plane with 279 people crashes.  Host Ken showed video footage of the Chicago hog-butchering operation as a tourist attraction at the turn of the century, and Pulman's ideal town of Pulman ... looked good but was in fact a strict company town where residents did not own property and had to toe the line or be evicted.  And that the Columbian Exposition with Pulman and the other exhibits really was the first EPCOT center (Experimental People Communities Of Tomorrow).  We learned that Erik Larson was born in 1954 and was a journalist and contributor for the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Monthly, among others.  Should he have integrated the two stories?  The book sold.  The exhibits spoke:  
Joel:  I thought it was a fun book - a fast read - by someone used to writing for newspaper, not literary writer.  Some good rock band names I found in the text included:  "A Mouse-Colored Ass."  I enjoyed the florid writing style of the 1890s, e.g., "Scandinavians in Minnesota were as warm as cornstalks." (The HBO show Deadwood uses this florid language.)  The shift between the two topics was done well - but too much foreshadowing - it took 3 chapters to find out what happened. Despite the writing style, I was impressed with the book:  A-
Ed:  I enjoyed the book - the tremendous accomplishment of engineering and leadership in a short period of time, when today the Air Force takes 20 years to build an aircraft.  The juxtaposition of the two worlds was interesting. B+
Rob:  It was interesting to read - the Holmes story was ghastly - hard to imagine such "personality disorders" are out there.  I thought the author crammed too much trivia in there - I didn't get too much linkage between the two stories.  It made me think:  when was our last world's fair?  Knoxville, Seattle?  probably 30 years ago now.  We don't think much about the World's Fair in the last 30 years - EPCOT is what they are like.   Good history, negative on combining the two stories:  B-
Ron:  I ordered the book through the library and it just showed up so I have not completed the reading but give it a B+   I liked the construction details.  However it drove me crazy with the annoying foreshadowing.  Good read.
Keith:  Larson wrote a disjointed juxtapostion with erudite information for 5%, and the other 95% was for sleazy cheesy appeal.  Every big city has dirty stories.  I felt that the Exposition builders were like the builders of the pyramids - you know the Pharoah is going to die and you only have six months to build the pyramid.  The book is somewhere in the B-, C+ range.  However, his first book Isaac's Storm is a good book.
Mike:  Erik Larson is proud that he does his own research, he has no assistants or researchers.  I suggest he needs some researchers - he introduced many tidbits, many pieces of trivia, and just left them hanging - so what did happen to "poor Charlie Johnson," the only child abandoned at the Exposition?  A researcher could have presented a summary of how the finances were handled in building the Fair.  He laid on foreshadowing with a shovel, trying to titillate us as readers - his very first chapter, set aboard ship in the Atlantic in 1912, and this unnamed sister ship is going to make sea catastrophe history - why whatever could that ship be?  If we're not so clever, we'll find out in the very last chapter of the book.  Oh, what fun!   Page 301 of 430 pages and he's still into foreshadowing!  Mr. Larson, have you no shame after all?  And much hyperbole even in the foreshadowing:  "That Prendergast might one day shape the destiny of the World's Colombian Exposition would have seemed ridiculous to these (news)boys."  Shaped the destiny of the Exposition?  Come on!  He shot the dang mayor on the last day! 
Larson's writing style:  was he striving for horror or humor?  does he want to be recognized as an historian or a titillator?  He managed to  irritate me more as the book progressed.  I would categorize the author as demonstrating the "Omigawd Martha" School of Writing.  And the architect that Sullivan fired turned out to be ...
"Omigawd, Martha, do you know who he ended up firing?  That was Frank Lloyd Wright!"  The man who invented the typewriter was hugged at the fair by a blind girl, and it turns out ... "Omigawd, Martha, do you know who that Blind Girl was?  That was Helen Keller!  Dang!"  (p. 303):  When Capt Fitzgerald during the fire swung by rope to the main roof below and fractured his leg and received internal injuries .. and "half his huge mustache was burned away."  "Omigawd, Martha, it got half his mustache!  Gol dang!"   He even pissed me off with his dedication - adding the cutesy-crap about "and to Molly who lusted after our socks and left us on our toes."  "Omigawd, Martha, Molly must be ... a little ol' puppy dog!"    I give it a B-  [Loud, angry mob voices:  "What?  Come on,  your review didn't sound that high!]  Oh, OK ... C+
Tom:  I liked the book.  In my Doo-Wop collection, I have a single by "Faris and the Wheels."  I agree that the other story was inconsequential - I found reading about the fair intriguing, and if the Holmes story had been extracted, I would have been happier.  However, the Holmes story got better with Det. Geyer.  B+
Don:  My first inclination is to relinquish the floor to Mike - but I never relinquish the floor.  I picked the book up in Chicago, I enjoyed the book as I know the areas but not the history.  I was fascinated that people "knew" they could do this impossible project, and did it - the human drama.  I wasn't turned off by the other piece, but it was lazy.  He could have shown what people did after 12 hours of slitting a pig day after day on the disassembly line, what was their life like at this time?  (side note:  my wife would not read this book.)  I give it a B ; to be an A, the other piece would have to be better completed.
Charlie:  Not much to add.  I give it a B.  He wrote it at the Parade Magazine level, didn't do his homework, A for the subject choice, but executed as a B. 
Ken:  I recommended/selected the book after the first 150 pages; then I found the second 150 pages rather tedious.  I consider the detective story a third story in the book.  To me this was a page turner:  A-
Follow-up from outside the Black City:
"You all might be interested in the following.  The Publisher's Weekly, August 28th issue lists The Devil in the White City as #11 paperback bestseller.  Last week it was #12, and it has been on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for 63 weeks.  In this issue they give the following notice as a highlighted call out,

"Larson discovered serial killer Dr. H.H.Holmes while researching his 1999 book Isaac's Storm.  Larson says, " I found his story immediately compelling, but only when I began reading about the glories of the World's Columbian Exposition did the story take on the larger resonance that I look for in a book."  The paperback of Devil In the White City has 1.5 million copies in print."

So, the hunch that several of you literary detectives expressed last evening is indeed correct.  He found this juicy horror story and knew it would sell, but didn't know how to make a book out of it until he laminated the Exposition story over it to give it a context.  Any thoughts of our group offering to take over writing the NY Times book reviews for them?"   -  Don

End note from Joel (recall we saw Ken's video of the Pulman community plus the disassembly plant):  
"Of interest, Henry Ford at one time had a lot of factory housing for workers in 
the Detroit area. He had detectives and others keep an eye on the tenants, lest
they might be using alcohol or indulging in similar unsavory habits (such as
studying history?)."

  Blood Meridian  by  Cormac McCarthy  -   September 2006

Solamente cuatro de nosotros sobrevivieron esta nocheGathered around the campfire were the kid, Tobin the expriest, of course the judge - hosted by the imbecile.  ("Shoot him!  Shoot the fool!" hissed the expriest.)  Toadvine had been called away on a trip at the last minute.  We four were anxious recruits, ready to expunge knowledge from the memory of man.  Tom had learned that Harold Bloom, in his class at Yale and textbook on How to Read and Why, considered Blood Meridian perhaps the finest novel by an American author in the 20th century.  Yet Bloom himself admits he had not been able to read it through the first time, nor the second because of the disturbing violence.  Ken had found that the historical basis of Blood Meridian was the memoirs of Samuel Chamberlain, Recollections of a Rogue - Chamberlain narrates the demise of John Glanton's gang of scalp hunters operating in northern Sonora and in New Mexico and Arizona.  Yes, Judge Holden is an historical figure.  Jack noted that the book was written as a picaresque (from pícaro = rogue), a genre originating with La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes in Spain in the 16th century involving low-life characters who live by their wits:  episodic, sub-titles for each chapter, stories and adventures without a true plot (think Don Quixote).  Mike noted that the respected American historian Frederick Jackson Turner gave a paper on Frontier Thesis at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 which included recognition of the 98th meridian as the boundary between Frontier and Wilderness - the 98th is not that far West of Nacogdoches. The fool's display map marked the range of the novel.  Hey, was the judge real or an apparition?  He appeared often in the kid's dreams. The recruits were able to name a few socially redeeming qualities of the judge -  e.g., he was a heck of a dancer - today he would be welcome as a popular talk show guest and interviewed by Charlie Rich. 
Then the four looked up.  Coming toward them over the plain in the middle distance they could see the figure of the judge, the figure of the fool. 
Ken spat and reckoned that the idiot perhaps might replevine his dessert.
The four each drew one of the marked arrows from the quiver and thus each was compelled to speak:
Tom:  I liked it a lot - after 40 to 50 pages, I knew it was definitely a book to read again.  I wanted to see how my feelings came out.  I did not get a message out of it - nor did I get any understanding from the ramblings of the judge.  I can understand that others would be shocked by this book on its episodic violence.  I was somewhat surprised that I was not that shocked.  (McCarthy must have thought:  what else can I do to shock?  Hey, what if  the judge gets one, no, let's make it two little puppies and ...)  The picture of the West as painted in the book is probably much more realistic what what we learned.  This fascination of the West and violence is still with us - I see that with pick-up trucks coming out of the East Mountains - we are still cowboys in the Wild West - years ago people owned little pickups, Toyotas, then progressed to big trucks and SUVs.
  I did not like the end of the book - I didn't understand what McCarthy was getting at, other than the kid dying.  I give it an A-.  I see validity in all the comments made tonight.
Jack:  If McCarthy's purpose was to dispel the romantic idea of the Old West, he certainly did that.  He is an excellent wordsmith, but I felt the book pushed down to an A-.  I am still struggling with the judge and the message.  I'm not sure, although I did follow the theme of
opposites throughout the entire book.
Ken:  Overall opinion- I have very mixed emotions.  McCarthy’s writing is often superb and extremely descriptive.  At other times, his choice of words and his sentence structures seem weird and are therefore frustrating.  I was also turned off by the repetitious nature of the violence that occurs in the first 300 pages.  How many senseless murders, beheadings and scalpings are necessary?  I believe the same story could have been adequately written in half the number of pages.  Given the percentage of the story focused on violence and the repetitive nature of the violent episodes, I kept losing interest and eventually skimmed large sections of pages 200-300 (therefore loosely defined as a “page-turner”). Final grade
Mike:  I can certainly see why people would give this book a B.  I read it several years ago and was shocked by the violent images.  I warned Tom not to allow Sheila's book club to read it, and I told him of the image of the dead babies hanging from the tree.  When I read it this time, I saw that image was just one paragraph (and it was really just a little bush of dead babies), and was much easier for me to move past. 
Like young 14-yr old Posey who killed three people on Sam Donaldson's ranch in New Mexico, perhaps one tends to become desensitized to violence.  From playing Grand Theft Auto too much.  Another example:  From my first read, I recall my shock at the kid's unprovoked attack on the barkeeper.  On the re-read, I saw the attack was not unprovoked at all, however it was indeed still quite shocking when the kid drove the broken bottle into the barkeep's eye.  The first time I read Blood Meridian, I would have given it no better than a B.  Now:  A

From beyond the campfire:

Ron B:  Some excellent writing but too bloody for me.  B

Sorry I won't be there to circle up and make gunpowder out of lava and pizz, as the Judge instructs.  Herewith my comments.  Should be an interesting book to discuss.
  <>Comments on: Blood Meridian

I had a hard time getting into this book.  In general, I don’t like odyssey books – Lord of the Rings, Beowolf, Pilgrim’s Progress – wherein an intrepid band encounters fantastic obstacles in their quest for something important.  I thought that was happening here even though I didn’t know for sure what they, Glanton and company, were after.  Also, I was reading this away from home without means of definition or translation, so I wasn’t sure about the words, both Spanish and English that McCarthy uses or makes up (though enough high school Spanish has stuck with me that I got the gist of most Spanish passages).  In fact, I resent it when an author uses obscure or foreign words seemingly as a way of showing off.   The author is writing for himself, not the reader.


And there were events that didn’t make sense.  Like, why did Glanton kill the old Indian woman, p. 98?  Just for a scalp, I guess, on re-reading the passage.


Another thing that bugged me: how the characters repeatedly “spat” and then said something.

And the mix of real and unreal bothered me.  E.g., there was one passage I noted where the party bedded down hearing rocks falling in the center of the earth.  There are many more such slightly weird interjections – sort of like Max Evans in Bluefeather Fellini, for those of you who remember that classic.


I was about to give up since I wouldn’t be at the meeting anyway, but then I decided to read Harold Bloom’s introduction.  I had accidentally read part of it before I started the book, read far enough for Bloom to tell us how the book ends and quit there in disgust vowing, once again, not to read introductions or cover blurbs that might give away the story.  I think I even spat in disgust.


Bloom kindled my interest calling the judge “the most frightening figure in all of American literature.” – Up to where I had read, the judge had seemed peripheral.  And I admit:  I was just slogging, not reading.  Bloom highlights chap. 13 which I was approaching.  There I was really swept up in the mounting horror (the horror, the horror) as these guys killed and killed their way through Mexico.  And it became important to me to find out how it would end.  I finished the book with more interest and appreciation for McCarthy'’s artistry.  I’m still not convinced that it’s great literature in the Melville, Faulkner, Shakespeare mold, or just McCarthy’s internal demons working themselves out, but it was certainly provocative, creative, extraordinary, and something I will continue to think about.  It's a book I think I should read again.  I’'ll give it an A minus.

Earlier query:
Rob:  What is the message of this book?
Imbecile (drooling) Select  from the following:
  • The Mennonite (p. 41):  There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto.
  • The judge (p. 140) A Tennessean named Webster … asked the judge what he aimed to do with those notes and sketches and the judge smiled and said that it was his intention to expunge them from the memory of man.
  • The judge (p. 143):  Whether in my book or not, every man is tabernacled in every other and he in exchange and so on in an endless complexity of being and witness to the uttermost edge of the world. 
  • XVII:  The judge on war (p. 248-249): War endures. … Before man was, war waited for him. ...  Men are born for games.  Nothing else. ... (every child) knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard.
ogdoad: In Egyptian mythology, the Ogdoad are the eight deities worshipped in Hermopolis. They were arranged in four male-female pairs, with the males associated with frogs, and the females with snakes: Nu/Naunet, Amun/Amaunet, Kuk/Kauket, Huh/Hauhet. and the goddesses were associated with snakes.
escopeta: Es el arma de hombro de uno o dos cañones de ánima lisa, que se carga normalmente con cartuchos conteniendo perdigones.
It is the shoulder weapon of one or two smoothbore guns, that normally charge with cartridges containing pellets.
Harold Bloom:  "there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise." Claiming "they write the Style of our Age, each has composed canonical works," he identified them as
Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo."

  White Noise  by  Don DeLillo   October 2006

See the Photo Essay picturing eight curmudgeons in gowns with cut-off sleeves and a LTBC patch sewed on, trudging up Reservoir Hill in search of White Noise.  Our Poet Laureate captured the quest.  Less formulated thoughts appear below. 
Rob:  I liked the absurdity of the book.  Two things we haven't talked about:  Disasters of the world (as shown on TV).  Example:  In the 3rd World, if a ferry capsizes in Bangladesh with 500 deaths it receives scant notice vs. the Journal's front page story of Diane Denish doing 35 in a 25 mph zone.  The other story of the book was the aircraft that almost crashed - and the first class passengers trying to claw their way into economy class so they wouldn't die first.  I liked the faculty conversations and the family's weekly trips to get Fast Food (chicken parts and brownies).  I knew the book would turn dark - and it sobered me with Babette.  I don't think everyone is obsessed with Death.  With the ending of the book, I give it a B+
Mike:  This Club has said in the past that Confederacy of Dunces was the funniest book we have read.  I found this considerably funnier, very clever throughout.  The dialog was spot-on, the exchanges with Heinrich as the know-it-all teenager who shuts down his father were classic.  The repressed memory report of little 5-year old Patti Weaver of Popular Mechanics, Iowa, who gave testimony to her previous life as the KGB agent responsible for the deaths of celebrities such as Elvis, JFK, and Marilyn Monroe, was priceless.  And I really believe there are more dead people now than there have ever been.  Only the ending lost me some, although I did enjoy Jack reviewing his plan for us, and modifying it ever so slightly as he carried out his plan and things went wrong.  Wilder driving his Big Wheel across the freeway I did not understand in the context of the absurdity of life,  although I understand his innocence was important to both Jack and Babette and thus I was greatly relieved that he made it OK.  A-
Jack:  I liked it as well - reminded me of a whole series of Laugh-In episodes.  It just struck a chord in me - hit an age in my life when these events impacted me.  I give it a A-
Ed:  I hated it.  I tend to be an optomist, and this was a black comedy.  I give it a C-
Charlie:  I give it a C+    The book didn't go anywhere, never came close to that.  An extraordinary dark view of life.  I didn't like the book.
Tom:  I think it is hard to be funny - I kept waiting for a dead spot in the delivery and I never hit one - it wqs consistent.  A lot of things did strike a chord with me - the absurdity of life.  Florence of Arabia was very funny in parts, but this was throughout.  A
Keith:  <see White Noise poem >  Aside from the book, it was too cynical for me, doesn't have a focus.  B- 
Liked the humor, but more depressing than I want to wallow in.
Memo received earlier from the Dept of Pop Culture:
JoelInteresting and quite humorous, particularly with regard to academic
specialization and mores. The question of toxicology research on the
unsuspecting public is a valid and scary one (NB: one of my med school
classmates and his wife, while stationed at  Pensacola Naval Air Station,
were killed by a chlorine cloud  resulting from a derailment of a L&N
freight train; also within the year a good analysis of a similar event in
South Carolina, written up in Popular Mechanics.)
I am not sure if the book is whimsical or whamsical; it was fun to read, but
not great literature. I would give it a "B".

    The World is Flat  by  Thomas L. Friedman   November 2006

Rob was out-sourcing in China while the ten remaining flatliners met within Ed's gated community, safe from untouchables, competition, and the drive-by media. The author is the well-known Foreign Affairs journalist for the NY Times and his columns are a regular part of their Op-Ed page.  Triple Convergence?  Keith wanted to know if that's what Navy ran on Army.  If this was such an important concept, why did we have to keep going back to see what it was?  Why wasn't it presented more clearly?  Meanwhile, our internal sources provided many truths from the dark side of Free Trade that Friedman never mentioned - e.g., that Canada, sneaky Canada with their national meal of Molson's and jelly donuts, eh, is the largest supplier of foreign oil to the US.  Hearing this clever [PDF] review, the Club felt strongly both ways.  Our fellow flatulents provided thoughts of their own following one of our most interesting, entertaining, and informative discussions. 

Ron:  I thought it was a good book.  I made a list of nit-picks because that's me.  I didn't have trouble with the anecdotal style of the presentation - the book gave me a lot to think about.  I give it an A.  It was not scholarly, more of a series of columns, however highly thought provoking (I found myself agreeing and not agreeing).  Friedman was very positive, I wish he had pointed out the negatives.  I did a little homework, tried to compare his findings against the predictions of Future Shock and Megatrends but found little common ground.  Some of his predictions:  I would never claim the world can become frictionless as long as you have free trade - companies say competition is good for them, however they want to smash their competition - this will always be a source of friction.
Ken:  Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed tonight’s very lively discussion.  Over the years, I'’ve read many of Thomas Friedman'’s columns in the New York Times and have always been impressed with his well-reasoned arguments and conclusions.  I therefore anxiously anticipated reading The World is Flat.  Although some of the stories, arguments and quotes were interesting, overall I was somewhat disappointed in much of the book.  I had three major areas of objection which, for convenience, I will label Anger 1.0, Anger 2.0 and Anger 3.0. 
Anger 1.0 had to do with the fact that Friedman'’s “discovery” that the world is becoming flat had been well-known and well-discussed for many years previous to Friedman'’s revelation.  Anyone who is reasonably computer and Internet literate and reasonably in touch with world and business news (I read Business Week every week) probably knew most of what Friedman describes in the book.  Anger 2.0 had to do with Friedman'’s glossing over of many of the negative consequences of hyper-development of a billion or more formerly poor, third-world inhabitants.  Issues that come to mind immediately include the availability of the requisite energy supplies, the increases in pollution, the limitations in natural resources (e.g., water in China) and the expectations of significantly increased global warming problems.  Finally Anger 3.0 dealt with the many irritants I found in the book.  First and foremost was the word-smithing (for example “glocalize”, “reform wholesale”, “company chest x-rays”, “the world that was our oyster seemed to close up like a shell”) and my favorite “he began as a chocolate sauce, was turned into a vanilla commodity, upgraded his skills to become a chocolate sauce again, then learned to become a cherry-on-top”.  In addition, I was put-off by the excessive name-dropping most of whom were captains of industry or government leaders.  I was sorry I didn'’t keep track to see whether he always had dinner with good friends, lunch with friends and coffee with acquaintances. Finally I thought he was terribly long-winded and, given that I read the First Edition (488 pages), I sincerely sympathize with those who had to slog through the Second Edition (608 pages).  B-
Charlie:  I am a big fan of Thomas Friedman - I give the book an A.  He has done two important things:  He has created a large theory to relate to education, and he has presented these thoughts in a best-selling, popular version.  My criticisms:  too long, repetitive.  However, he has done us all a service.  A
Jack:  I find myself somewhere between Charlie and Ken.  I found the book educational - the stuff I read was interesting, but I was fascinated with tonight's discussion., which was a lot like the book.  I found it redundant and self-serving (the book, not our discussion).  It seemed to violate the basic criteria for writing instruction, as he wrote by  weight.  (If the section is long, is it more important?)  Too much of it reminded me of "if you don't have facts, dazzle 'em with B.S."  B- or perhaps a B-.2
Don:  I give it a B+  The following pushed it up (in grade):  Fairly easy reading, engaged the reader, he put things together, he gave me a vocabulary to discuss these changes in the world - oh, yeah!  What pushed it down:  He didn't ask, "what is this doing to people on the bottom half?"  Globalization further divides the rich and the poor.  2nd criticism:  I didn't like the title - it is a denotation that works, the connotation did not work.  If he had brought it to me, I would have asked, "What other metaphor would work better?"  Overall:   B+
Joel:  I admit to bias - I have seen Friedman on the Fareed Zacharias program and was impressed by his analysis.  I have heard that for every 10 miles you drive away from Bangledore, you go back one century in time, development. 
CO2 - I have read about the CO2 produced by China during the next two years from their coal-based industry will be the equivalent of exhaust burned by 3 billion SUVs!  Most of us had a good idea of these changes in the world, but I think our decision makers have no  idea of this.  This book should be made required reading for Congress and the Administration.  A
Mike:  They say when your only tool is a hammer, all the world looks like a nail.  Friedman had one cutesy phrase for a theme and he felt obligated to drive that theme right into the Marianas Trench.  You can provide undocumented opinions for a two-column Op-Ed piece, however when you write a 600 page "non-fiction" Mr. Friedman you are obligated to provide footnotes and references.  I cannot recommend this book beyond the first 190 pages.  I consider it a C effort which recovered to a C+ within the last 100 pages when he discussed some of the Dark Side - e.g., the school for untouchables and the inflexibility of the Muslim world due to discouragement of interpretations of the Qu'ran.  My referenced  review.
Keith:  Overly roseate view of the world, propagated at the speed of light.  Evil and gloom will continue to struggle - gazelles and lions will always be there.  In summary the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer.   B-
Tom:  I'm in the B+ Camp.  I was not aware of what globalization really meant, so to me it was enlightening.  I thought globalization was a few companies out-sourcing.  The book was highly anecdotal - he could have saved 2/3 of the book by cutting down his padding, "I went out to eat with Pam and Ken..." and three pages later, the meal was concluded.  I hope maype this will put more value on things Western - there has been a strong movement to devalue western science - Eastern people have superior culture, superior spirituality.  When you look at what Eastern people are doing in this book, they are using western science and engineering.  I am hoping this Post-Modernism view will be but a bad memory in 20 years.  I learned a lot from this book, I felt ignorant that I didn't know it.  B+
Ed:  I picked this book as I was impressed with Friedman's insight.  I was very glad to see the discussion we've had tonight.  Most of us have lived through these events but we don't necessaryily reflect on it as we go through it.  Good way to put it all together, and see how things mgith change.  A warning if we don't put an emphasis on Education.  I give it an A based on that - and on tonight's discussion!
From the Flatlands:
Ed -- Sorry I won't be at meeting.  The reason, though, fits with the book's theme:
My son and his wife have outsourced the production of a granddaughter for us to China.  We leave Thursday, with them, to go get her.
Wish we could get Dell to ship an occasional load of orphans to Nashville, though, along with the thousands of computers.  Looking forward to being in China, but the 15 hour flight from LAX to Hong Kong is a little daunting.
I've sent a review to Mike.  Have a good discussion.
    -  Rob

    The Brave Cowboy  by  Edward Abbey   December 2006

Seven lonely cowboys, only one wearing boots, showed up to pay homage to Edward Abbey and his final words upon hearing that he was dying:  "Well, at least I won't have to floss anymore."  Another great quote from this wonderful Western writer - upon hearing that the Hollywood version of The Brave Cowboy would be called Lonely Are The Brave, he responded, "Pompous is the title."  Our host provided a great review of Abbey the man (here) and this particular book (here.)   We learned that Abbey's friends buried him out behind his home on the mesa and on his birthday would hoist many a beer out there near his unmarked gravesite.  Our host commented, "Today's snow should pinpoint any efforts to bury authors in our yard; Ed Abbey is not there, but our dog Ginger is buried in the side yard (in a classic archaeological position) and a myriad of gerbils, hamsters, turtles, and fish are in the back.  For some reason, I never seem moved to drink beer on the sites, though."
In keeping with the Abbey spirit, our host signed off as Deputy Joel (actually a number of years ago he received seven write-in votes for sheriff from an irresponsible element among his friends; it wasn't enough.)  The assemblage provided comments on this book written by Edward Abbey at the tender age of 24: 
Joel:  This story was a 1950s type situation and a 1950s society discussion.  I had doubts on re-reading - the story is kinda hokey, tilting at windmills, the fading of the West.  An expression of Loyalty to different systems.  I think the book is flawed - I give it a B+   I enjoyed the movie more.  The book is not great literature however it brings up relationships between organizations and individuals.
Keith:  I enjoyed the book - a reference on the 24 year old that wrote it.  I think Jack Burns was Edward Abbey - not an anarchist but anachronist.  The plot is not novel - there are those in this room that go back to these simpler times.  But I thought he was a poet, describing the times, a genius.  I give it an A.
Don:  My New  Year's resolution is to give higher grades, but it is not yet the first of the year.  I really enjoyed reading this book - I sat down and read it in one night.  B- is where I'm going with my comments - but his descriptions early on captivated me:  "an underpriviledged juniper tree living on hope" - He also had sounds described that fit with the visuals.  I appreciate his ability to write - the only other book of Abbey's I've read is The Monkey Wrench Gang, which is a bunch of weird heads running around.  A guy who can write like this is special, but the promise from the early descriptions was not carried out.  How did this guy get so popular?  He must have tapped into the culture of the time, as he became an icon to those who are angry.  B- as he didn't develop enough of his promise.
Mike:  I think this book should have been named "The Naiv
é Cowboy."  The plot seemed contrived - wouldn't Bondi's wife know that he would not allow himself to be spirited out of jail?   The main characters didn't capture me as much in the book as I recall they did in the movie from 40 years ago. One exception:  In the book I liked Sheriff Morey Johnson, an excellent character, always scratching in a different spot.  Loved his checking his stopped pocket watch to time the 5 minutes he gives the deputies to clear out.  I didn't understand Bondi's Pledge of Friendship (other than as a ploy for Jack to show Paul that he was betraying his wife and child.)  Many inconsistencies such as Sheriff telling the deputy with the submachinegun, "don't use it unless you have a good target" - but then two pages later telling another deputy, "just hold your fire - this is no coon hunt."  B+
Charlie:  I agree with Don - I enjoyed reading it, a real page turner - but adolescent view. Reminds me of writing in a school paper:   "Injustice of High School Teachers" level of editorializing.  The issues with the government of the 50s and 40s were not real issues until the 60s.  This book struck me as written by a young person - implausible and adolescent.  B-
Tom:  I re-discovered that I am not a compulsive nit-picker; I gloss over the inaccuracies in a book.  As I got into it, these are all very clichéd, adolescent views as Charile said - he's going on too long in this particular area.  I give it a B+
Jack:  I guess I agree with Tom:  in spite of inaccuracies (such as blue jays when all we have are scrub jays and pinon jays), his ability to write and tell a story worked for me. 
After I got into it, I kept thinking this guy was going to make it, pull this off.  The ballad at the beginning told me that it would end tragically, but his ability to make things happen gave me hope. I gave it an A-.

From our lonely semi-anarchist outcasts:

Mike -- To sort of recap our phone conversation of last week:
I liked most of the book -- Abbey's story and story-telling.  The set-up bar fight scene, the sheriff and his deputies, the attempted escape through the Sandia Mountains (can I call them that?  Incidentally, what was the point of thinly disguising Albuquerque, Bernal County, etc.?  Did anybody bring this up?) all worked for me.
The conversation/confrontation between Burns and Bondi in jail was the least effective part of the book for me -- seemed stilted, windy.  Maybe that was Bondi's personality, but not Burns's.  Abbey didn't stir emotions much in what might have been the emotional center of the book.  But, as we discussed on the phone, when you really think about it, it seems far-fetched that Burns would really think that Bondi would break out.  But, I was in it for the story-telling, not to really think about it.
I was ticked off because the UNM Press edition I have (I bought and read this book several years ago, maybe the last time we did an Abbey book) has an introduction that tells you right off that Burns dies!.  Oops, I just checked; he just says Burns ends up coughing up blood, struck down by a load of toilets. -- strong implication of death, but not definitely.  Sure, Abbey presages all this fairly soon with his passages about the truck, but I still resented the Intro writer, Neal Lambert, BYU, pre-empting Abbey.  Generally, I don't read intros, and shy away from cover blurbs, but since I knew how the book ended this reading, I decided it was safe to read the Intro.  Also thought Lambert tried to read too much "meaning" into this book.  I was attracted by writing style, humor, excitement, not message.  Maybe I ducked the message because I'm part of everything Abbey and Burns thought bad about Albuquerque -- worked at the bomb factory, helped spread suburbia, added to traffic, ...
In fact, though, I didn't take it personally, enjoyed the "Brave Cowboy" quite a lot, and am impressed enough by Abbey's writing ability to give it an A-.
I also watched the Lonely/Brave movie Wed. night.  I liked the book better.  Kirk Douglas, who I didn't know played Burns, didn't seem right for the part, didn't fit the image that Abbey generated in my mind.  Too much sappy grinning.  Walter Matthau was great as the sheriff, but different from Abbey's version -- didn't scratch that much.  Archie Bunker was the truck driver.  Horse was too pretty, but made me believe she could climb the west face of the Sandias.
My resolution is to grade tougher in 07.  Should be in attendance for the Jan. gathering.
ps  Snow Falling on Cedar (Crest):  We got home from China trip around 1:00 am Wed.  By the time it quit snowing Sat., we had about 22 in. accumulation in driveway (previous remnants plus new).  I bought a used snow blower three years ago; this was the first time to need it when we've been here since then; wouldn't start.  So, I scooped snow and chipped ice off and on Sat. and Sun.  We had food and whatever, no reason to get out -- though we thought about calling National Guard and seeing if they would drop a bale of toilet paper -- so we sat tight (if you know what I mean) and watched ball games.  Got the Explorer out of the garage and up the driveway Mon., not easy because it, the car, wouldn't shift into 4wd.  Then, trying to back down driveway to garage, I screwed up and got really stuck -- back wheels straddling a RR tie border to driveway.  Got towed out today and all is well. 
I see the Placitas brave cowboys weren't deterred by a little snow, so I'm a little embarrassed. 
Hasta Luego,
Cautious Cowboy


Sorry for not getting to the comments till now - had to recover from cold and deal with 24 inches of snow (finally got out of the driveway today for the first time in 6 days).


As promised by Joel, The Brave Cowboy was an easy and enjoyable read.  Picked up several interesting words that I'll probably remember for less than a month - examples are tovarish and passacaglia.  Some of the plot was a bit contrived and far-fetched.  Why did Burns have to get brutally beaten up to get in jail when being a simple drunk would do the job?  How did he get two files hidden in his boots by the booking officer when weapon searches would typically be carried out at booking?  Why was it necessary to anger the jail guard Guitierrez when he was being booked, leading to a second unnecessary beating?


I admired many of the descriptive passages, some with irreverent endings such as 


"...the view opened wide and the whole western world lay before him: the canyon dropping down step by step like an imperial stairway for the gods, the gaunt purple foothills, the mesa rolling out for miles, the faint gleam of the river, the vast undulant spread of the city ten miles away, transformed by the evening dusk into something fantastic and grand and lovely, a rich constellation of jewels glimmering like the embers of a fire - and beyond the city and west mesa and the five volcanoes another spectacle, a garish and far more intense display of clouds and color and dust and light against a bottomless, velvet sky.  Burns stopped a moment to stare and admire, belched gently and continued his descent.”               (p. 214 in my edition)


When Guitierrez joined in the chase for the escaping Burns, I fully expected an obligatory meeting of Burns and Guitierrez on the mountain where the bad guy (Guitierrez) would get the shit kicked out of him and was surprised (and pleased) when this didn'’t happen.  It seemed strange to me that Abbey substituted Duke City for Albuquerque, Bernal Count for Bernalillo County, Sangre Mountains for Sandia Mountains and Rio Bravo for Rio Grande but didn'’t change the names of the Manzano Mountains, Santa Fe, Tucumcari, Santa Rosa and Moriarity.  The truck driver Hinton who questions the direction his life is taking, represents conformity and the drive to modernize America.  Burns, the non-conformist, wants to continue leading a simpler life.  Sheriff Johnson, a likeable character, seems to be in tune with both sides.  Abbey’s ending tells us his feeling on the inevitability of industrialization.  By the way  - did Burns die at the end?  The book never says that Burns died and the Ballad in the beginning of the book has Burns dying in a different manner (and Ballads can be fiction or non-fiction).   It is perhaps interesting that when the book was written (mid-50s), camping, backpacking and hiking were minor as recreational activities (remember the disgust of the deputies over having to chase Burns up into the mountains).  Today such activities have enjoyed a huge resurgence. Score one point for Burns.  Grade:   A-



Hello cowboys and buckaroos...
I am sorry I missed the meeting and Joel's (interesting, I'm sure) discussion. I did read the book but was feeling down with a bad cold which still lingers.

I enjoyed the book despite its many inconsistencies.
I am familiar with the terrain  described in the Sangre trek.  Remains of the cabin are still there along the Domingo Baca trail, and Grace and I stop at the nearby spring for a rest and some trail snacks when we go hiking there. As I recall the book mentioned cottonwoods there, but it is in the pinion-juniper region and there are some nice specimens there.
I give it a B.  Good regional literature (from a 24 year old!).
The Last Cowpoke...Ron

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