Thursday, January 25, 2018

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

Ove looked at his calendar. It was the last Thursday. Any fool could see that. The meetings always occurred on the last Thursday of the month at 7 pm. Mountain Time. That's the way it had always been for 25 bloody years and that's the way it should be. Even a January had a last Thursday. Even the suits knew that, damn it. Ove looked over his crowded bookshelves. He chose a book to take to the meeting for the yearly book exchange. Some of those suits will probably try to pass off a book about benders. The exchange was supposed to be in December, damn it, and here it was January. What is wrong with these people? Rune and Genoni will not be at the meeting. Neither will Sonja but she was never allowed to attend the meeting. And no Cat Annoyance. And now they want pictures. Of when Ove was a cute little boy. He was never a cute little boy; they'll be lucky to get any pictures. Certainly not in color.  And no one drove a SAAB so why listen to their comments?

Ron B:  I give the book a solid A; the author's/narrator's similes were inventive.  The book had a good storyline.  I would recommend the book to anyone, and I think almost anyone would enjoy it at some level.

Keith G:  The book was written in medias res - from the inside out.  However, after reading it a bit I decided I shouldn't worry about timelines.  I thought 5 to 6 suicide attempts were too much.  Ove was an excellent curmudgeon and should be an honorary member of the Book Club.  He personifies a piece of each of us, and he died a compassionate man.  I feel I knew him.  Solid A

Charlie:  I thought the characters were one-dimensional, cardboard figures.  Also, Ove's neighbors kept coming over, and I would think that they hated him.  I give it a B+

Mike:  The story of a curmudgeon being won over by a child's love is not a new concept - recall the NBC broadcast of Heidi and her isolated grandfather.  But Backman has accomplished several unique approaches in his story.  One is the narrator - is it Sonja?  is it Ove's alter ego?  Is it Parnaveh?  the narration is clever, incorporating much of the humor of the book through the outlandish metaphors and the 'thinking of the Cat Annoyance.'  Ove may be overdrawn, almost autistic, and his friends and neighbors are certainly over Pollyanna-ish - but it works.  A-

Ken:  I recall taking my eldest daughter out for driving lessons, much like Parnaveh.  She had taken the McGinnis Training but they had neglected left turns - probably because they are more accident prone.
Overall, I felt the book was worthwhile but a bit depressing - how many times can a suicide attempt be thwarted?  A

Bob W:  Pretend I'm not here, as I read the wrong book:  All Quiet on the Western Front.

Jack:  I loved this book.  Provided insight to me on me.  I found this guy reflected universal views.  Excellent job with the narrator.  I thought the book invoked leitmotiv with the hands in the pockets.  I liked the language, easy to follow.  The development of Ove brought me to tears by the end of the book.  A

Dick Arms:  I found the book delightful - one of the best we've read.  I liked the fact that each chapter revealed more and more.  Each chapter ended with something about the guy.  Good literature is about change - how the characters change during the telling of the story.  Throughout the whole book, I found myself saying, "Gosh.  I wish I had the ability to write like this."  Solid A

Rob E:  I liked it a lot -but some of it made me uncomfortable, such as the wife dies and the suicide attempts.  Parts were excellent.  A-

Bob S:  Grade:  A      Three or four things impressed me:  the sequential disclosure of facts about Ove and Sonja; the 300 people who showed up at her funeral.  The curmudgeon part was just a foil for three other plots:  his relationship with Sonja; his growth as a character.  Like a Thomas Hardy plot where everything jells at the end.  Plus the narrator was excellent.  This book ranks up there with the other great books that Prof Jensen has chosen:  Cry the Beloved Country and How Green Was My Valley.

Dick J:  I liked Jack's comment about emotion.  The movie I got me all choked up when he died at the end and hundreds showed up.  Most towns have a curmudgeon where everyone says, "Hey, that's the way he is.  Leave him alone."  A

Monday, January 15, 2018

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Year

2018 turns over a huge boulder, a severe milestone in the Last Thursday Book Club:  25 years of reading, carping, chortling, grading, peregrinating, and gourmandizement.  Not necessarily in that ... well, yes, that was pretty much it.  

Before LTBC, we were but a bunch of illiterate, half-baked, mush-for-brains, mealy-mouthed adolescents, as will be shown in numerous authentic and historic photos.  

No fake news here, these are all legitimate photos, and worthy of blackmail, or at least thinly veiled threats.  During this time we have presented worthy awards to questionably-worthy readers:

We have read some of the finest books ever captured on paper or monitor.

... yet we have emerged unscathed.  Maybe just a bit scathed.  Well, a few of us have vowed never to read again, but ... enough about the past, what about the present?  What about the future?  They say the World may end not with a bang, but with the push of one (very small) nuclear button on a desk.  Do we look scared?

We have miles to go before we sleep.  

Friday, December 29, 2017

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Nine erstwhile articles of confederation showed up for lunch at the Canyon Club and gathered in an engraved portrait of Alexander Hamilton.  They expressed their views:

Jack F:  I enjoyed it.  Found it fascinating to read.  I did get bogged down in the detail.  H's early life was a great read - the first 50 pages.  I was not turned off by his word choice; it did not distract from the book.  A-

Charlie:  That's a good grade.  The author did a great job, but there was too much detail.  If it was really interesting, I could read a book this long, but it takes a full-time commitment.  A-

Dick Arms:  I didn't finish reading it; I bogged down after about 350 pages.  He told me his view point, and wrote it well.  B+

Ron Bousek:  I don't usually take much time to read in December, and this month I did not start the book - but did read some substantiating article in Wikipedia, e.g., Valley Forge and Hamilton.  I will pass on the grade.

Dick Jensen:  I used Mike's name in vain several times while reading this book, and found myself reading on Christmas Day to finish it.  I am in awe of people who can pull something like this together.  I learned a hell of a lot and plan to pass the book along to my only offspring, who has gone to Hamilton (the musical) 4 times.  A-

Ken Gillen:  An extra interesting history.  Because of my 7th Grade History teacher, I read only 1/3 of the book but saw the Play.  I learned a great deal about our country.  I remember from 7th Grade that George Washington didn't want to be King.  B+

Bob Simon:  H is a true genius.  My government class, Law School - none of that exposes what went into that work.  No one goes into how checks and balances (and government and country) were created.  As a lawyer, I would say there are never too many quotes.  The level of detail is amazing.  The book was almost a legal document as to how this country was put together.  This may was proof of the American Dream:  come from any background and make an impact.  The author had tremendous ground to cover.  Love to give it an A, but it didn't strike me as world class.  As history, great.   A-

Keith:  A comprehensive appeal was nicely summarized by John Adams:  "good, human, made him too supernatural.  History is a random walk, with the outcome unpredictable.  We don't learn anything from history.  B

Mike:  What constitutes a good biography?  It is a combination of thorough research and clever, even entertaining splicing of the facts into a readable document.  Chernow has achieved that at a high level, adding insights that may be his most important contribution.  Two examples:  comparing Hamilton to Jefferson: "In fact, no immigrant in history has made a larger contribution than Hamilton."  Also: “We have left behind the rosy agrarian rhetoric and slaveholding reality of Jeffersonian democracy and reside in the bustling world of trade, industry, stock markets, and banks that Hamilton envisioned. (Hamilton’s staunch abolitionism formed an integral feature of this economic vision.) He has also emerged as the uncontested visionary in anticipating the shape and powers of the federal government. At a time when Jefferson and Madison celebrated legislative power as the purest expression of the popular will, Hamilton argued for a dynamic executive branch and an independent judiciary, along with a professional military, a central bank, and an advanced financial system. Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” A  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Summaries and Guides: Alexander Hamilton

After the first 30+ chapters, I could not recall what was the main theme of each chapter - the 'perhaps too clever' chapter titles do not provide instant recall for me.  I prefer the old 18th-century chapters with a multi-word subtitle such as "in which our hero spurns the flirtations of his sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, only to flounder under the advances of a scandalous Maria Reynolds."
Instead we have Thirty-two:  Reign of Witches  [perhaps the most relevant chapter to today's world]

As expected with a book this size, there exist numerous summaries and Readers Guides.  I have purchased two of them, but not yet ready to claim help or discredit.  I offer these titles, and request the readers to proffer their own.

  • Summary by Readtrepeneur [64 pages]; provides by Chapter headings.  Paperback - has been ordered.

  • Summary by Instaread [30 pages]; no "read inside' view; perhaps NOT by chapters.

  • Summary by Fast2Read [30 pages].  Not chapter by chapter.

  • Summary by Worth Books [76 pages].  Not chapter by chapter.

  • Summary by SummaryReads [76 pages].

  • Summary by Stuart Publishing Notes [30 pages];  Kindle:  $2.99;  Paperback:  $6.99.  Not chapter by chapter.

What have you found useful?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

It does not matter where you are if you are in the nothingness of Buddha land.  Nine erstwhile Dharma Bums gathered at a railway yard down on 15th Street to sip saki and huddle around the once-bright flames of their misspent youth.  They spoke quietly, often in haiku verse:

Dick Arms:   Ommmmmmmmm.....  Ommmmmmmmm....  [Editor's note:  Last night, Prof. Arms had hopped the Midnight Ghost from Mazatlan and was apparently still under the influence of unspecified psychoactive alkaloids.] 

Charlie:  He can write.  Much of his writing strikes me as writing by narcissistic, arrogant youth.  It is all contradictions, e.g., asceticism vs sex and drugs.  The theme:  we are so smart, and we are the first to figure this out, and only we can tell you about it.  C.

Mike:  I cannot recommend this book to others.  The hitchhiking and hopping freights and the strong body climbing "the Materhorn was an interesting look at our lost youth, but as an introduction to Buddhism, it is superficial.  I can recall the comment from when we read On The Road [Aug 1998; #204 on The List] that "Typing ain't writing" but I did not realize we had Truman Capote to thank for that.  What can I say?  It is a C book but I partook of enough wild Pacific cedar-board cooked salmon to raise my grade to B-

Ken:  I tend to agree with the two previous comments.  I enjoyed his descriptions of backpacking [rucksacking] and hiking.  I have no interest in his religious experiences.  I found much of his dialog confusing.  C+

Bob WC  - I thought it was sophomoric.  Trying to be pretentious, but failing.  Technically, he is good, can write well at times.

Dick J:  I agree.  Parts were wonderful, and other parts I wanted to kill him.  I will not pass this book on to my nephew in Utah.  B-

Ron Bousek:  The question occurred to me:  How did this book get published?  It would not be published today.  This was a period piece, an introduction to Buddhist terminology, but it was different for its time.  The literary style is interesting, sophomoric.  Some parts were good, some parts were poetic, some parts were not good.  Typing rather than writing!  Read it to understand what literature was like in the 50s, and it is of interest for the mid-1950s.  I give it a B-

Tom G:  From time to time, we read literature about the Big Questions of Life:  Why are we here?  Where did we come from?  After some attempts to answer such questions, most intelligent beings move on to those parts of Life which are answerable, pragmatic.  I give it a C.  He had the ability to write.

Keith:  I've seen the original manuscript of On the Road - it is so scurrilous, so full of profanities, that there is no comparison to the published work.  [offers Raspberry]  I agree, he is a good writer.  The last few chapters put me in mind of Edward Abbey.  Grade: C.  I offer this haiku revu of the 5-7-5 variety for yu:

         Buddha say, "Pray, Ray!"
      Dharma Bum... "Zen, Zen" - and then
         Buddha Booms... AMEN !!

[Editor's note:  Poet Laureate offers:  Ode to Japhy on his web page here]

 Bob S:  Why I chose this book:  I am a student of history and literary style.  This was a moment in Time when cultural shifts in America were captured by an eye-witness to it.  I tried to look at:  What is Literature?  Or is this just typing?  I take away:  in this, there are elements of both.  I liked "My Old Man and the Sea" which was a daily journal, and I liked The Song of the Sirens that connected to the author's love of sailing and the sea.  I'm connected to Buddhism.  I went through the 60s, I see how it has evolved over time, and still evolving today.  We are attracted to the literature of those cultures we have an affinity for.  I found this book interesting from a historical viewpoint.  It was fun to see that it was no big deal, just "out there" writing.  It made a connection to the culture.  For better or for worse, it was well done and had its moments of illumination.  I grade everything as A or A-, and this is A-.

and from well outside the Nirvana of the night:

Unlike last year at this time when I was holed up near Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island without shoes, this year I am still without shoes, but staring out over the sound watching the countless Buddhas hiding in the trees along Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. Days have tumbled on days, I have been in my shorts, haven't combed my hair, haven't shaved much, have consorted only with dogs and cats and an occasional seagull, I have been living the happy life of childhood again. Taking time to read The Dharma Bums this past week seemed to interfere with my quest for nirvana and my search for a Yab-Yum partner.

Kerouac appeared to me to use two different narrative styles as Ray Smith recounted the year he spent on his "quest for Truth." I enjoyed the more pastoral segments related to his time in North Carolina and Washington than I did reading about his time doping and boozing in California. At times I got the impression that he was taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to his descriptions of his spiritual quest as he wrestled with Buddhism. For me, Kerouac's descriptions of nature are the most powerful and in my opinion, they reflect his talent as a writer much more than the philosophical aspects of the novel. I tend to believe the "philosophical final statement" he included in an autobiographical sketch in 1958 was already in play in The Dharma Bums: I DON'T KNOW. I DON'T CARE. AND IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE."  B+
     Regards, Jack

Monday, November 13, 2017

Dharma Bums - Study Guide

Generally Chapter 21 is a description by Kerouac's enlightenment.

On page 107 of Dharma Bums I found one term I was not familiar with, the word is Dhyana.
So I looked it up and here is a description of the Buddhist concept that is represented by the word Dhyana.

Summarized as simply as I can, Dhyana describes a set of practices aimed at linking insight to awareness through meditation with the goal of liberating oneself from the cycle/wheel of birth and death (karma) by liberating one's thinking from desire oriented thinking.

Unfortunately, this concept lies at the core of Buddhism and we could spend a lot of time talking about it.  My review of the Wikipedia summary informs me that this topic has been addressed for the last 2400 years with differing opinions that have led to different schools of thought. 

On page 108 is the term Triple Vehicle which refers to the three main schools of Buddhism, the Theravada or Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Tantric Schools.  Geographically speaking Tantric is Tibetan Plateau (lots of chanting meditation), Hiniyana is southeast Asian and Sri Lanka (lots of chanting on a mantra), and Mahayana is China and Japan (lots of silent meditation to gain insight).  Zen is a sub-set of Mahayana. Kerouac was practicing Zen.     For a more detailed explanation, check the term  at
Then on page 110 is Tathagata Seat of Purity.  This is a reference to the Buddha.  I suggest looking this one up on Wikipedia.  it expresses what Keroauc was saying.  The state of mind in which all form is emptiness and emptiness contains all form.  According to most people no one in physical form except the Buddha has ever achieved this perfect state of mind. the Wikipedia link is

Then on page 111 Kerouac refers to himself as "Bhikku Blank Rat".  This is a very personal reference, but a Bhikku is an ordained Buddhist Monk.  So it appears that Kerouac is giving himself a Buddhist name at the same time he is professing his ordination into Buddhism. Unfortunately, ordination can not be accomplished voluntarily; one must join a sangha or Buddhist monastery or school, like Gary Snyder did when he went to Japan. As far as I know Keerouac never took this step.

Chapter 21 is Kerouac's verbalization of his enlightenment experience as he sat in the North Carolina woods.  

The question is, Was Kerouac's associative style of writing related to his enlightenment?

Was it a result of the insight and clarity of description that is associated with an uncluttered mind or is it a part of his natural gift as an observer or his ability to write?  I think all three elements combined to help him create his style of writing, but you decide.

Another question is, If Kerouac was enlightened, why did he continue to drink?  He died of alcoholism in 1969 at the age of 47.  

For insight into that one probably needs to do more research into his life and psychic makeup.  A biography would help.  I have read 
Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation, And America

Dennis Mcnally 
and I am still not clear on that.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Song of the Sirens by Ernest K. Gann

The SS Albatross docked at the Four Hills port last Thursday evening at Capt Arms' hootch.  First Mate Gillen was on shore leave in Tucson, Boilerman Blackledge was working on the Junkers up in Rociada, and Lt. Easterling was at sea for a while.  Bosun's mate 3/c Simon kept the ship's journal for Thursday.  All hands are expected to grab a holystone and turn to until we get through the doldrums and back into the freshening Trade Winds of Life.  Seven stalwart sailors gathered and the mates sang their solos:

Keith - excellent description of sailing ships and life at sea, not a biography, this was an autobiography , but a one dimensional one about a man’s love of sailing ships. Liked the jokes about women and boats. Lots of sea jargon. I learned quite a bit about sailing ships. I wished for more character development. The only character developed was Gann. What about the two women, Henderson and Post. I would have enjoyed knowing more about them. His style could have benn more concise. Grade - B

Jack F. - I enjoyed certain elements of the book, such as the analogies and metaphors. Gann used language well. The most dramatic passage for me was the description of the storm at night. All the boat terms were distracting. I got very tired of all the different kinds of rails. Grade – B+

Charlie – Grade – B this is a niche market book that is redeemed by good writing. The boat jargon put me off. I skipped it, but it would be cool for a sailing guy, especially because there is so much of the book devoted to being on the sea in a sail boat.

Tom – Liked it a lot. A solid craftsman of language. I thought he went overboard with descriptions when he did not need to. Otherwise, I was glued to his adventures at sea. Grade - A-

Dick A. – Having sailed, I understood the jargon, although I did look up certain terms to get the precise definition such as brigantine. This is my second time reading the book. I loved the construction of the book, especially unifying the different sailings and boats with the sitting “In Harbor” in Rønne, Denmark waiting for the foul weather to break. Gann has authored 18 novels and several screenplays. He is a good writer. He is one of my favorites. Some of the boat descriptions were very funny. Grade –  A

Bob S. – I liked the book. It took a bit of time to get appreciate the nautical terminology. Finally, I disregarded the terminology and went with the sea yarns. It is essentially a chronology of his boats and his sailings. The writing was good. Grade-  A-

and from far outside the fishing lanes:

 The next time someone asks me, “If you graduated from the Naval Academy, why did you go into the Air Force?” I will have a ready answer: “Read Song of the Sirens by Ernest K. Gann.”  If they insist on more specifics, the answer is captured in Gann’s story of battling the Fred Holmes for over two days through 60 to 100 knot winds, and advancing but 10 miles toward their destination. The sheer terror, the utter frustration, the feeling of helplessness against the elements – this captures life on the high seas. It produces some great sea stories – and a great deal of excess stomach acid.

 Gann has a great sense of humor merged with his talent for description, as exemplified in this excerpt about taking on water in the doldrums: “We were not in any danger except the remote possibility of cannibalism if the calm continued. We persevered at the pumps mainly because it was something to do. Still, our doctor, who had been a stalwart at the pumps, now came down with the affliction known as the GIs. We nursed him with tender sarcasms about physicians healing themselves …”

Well above average writing on a somewhat personal subject of average interest. B+
    -   Mike of the Desert

I enjoyed reading Song of the Sirens.  Gann is a good story teller and a good writer.  There were two things that bothered me:  the use of nautical terms that I did not know and the strange organization where he jumped from the story of one boat to another -- he interrupted the story on one boat and suddenly jumped to the story of another and then back to the original story.  I found that somewhat distracting.

It also dawned on me that I am really not very interested in stories of boats or sailing.

As I said, I did enjoy the book and I will pass it on to my nephew in Utah.  I hope you have a good discussion.  Sorry I won't be there.  I would give the book a B+

   -  Dick Jensen