Thursday, March 29, 2018

"In Memoriam R.W.A."

Sleep Well,  Sir Richard 
               by Keith Gilbert, LTBC Poet Laureate

A man of Letters, Sir Richard Arms
    Also Market Technician with Wizardly Charms

Dick penned five books, and loved to fish
   His opus "Tackle Box" fulfilled that wish.

Like "Old Ike," a monster trout
   With whom Dick's bud Jim, had a lifetime bout

Yea, many times Jim had hooked his prey,
   Only to have "Old Ike" get away.

Then one bright morn Dick snags this beast,
   And his first thought:  "Man, what a feast!"

But as Dick reels "Ike" to the shore
   He casts a reflexion on his good friend's lore -

And then Dick, acting on wisdom and whim
   Does a "catch and release" in honor of Jim.

To our Book Club Dick sprinkled wisdom and insight
   And his droll sense of humor added radiant light.

In summary, Dick's impact no one can replace,
   He blended charm and wit with a golden grace!

So goodbye, Brother Dick, you've brought us much pleasure
   And sleep well, Richard, our consummate treasure.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

Ten American aggressors met at high noon on the last Thursday in March at the Placitas Café to enjoy some bison burgers, as Commander John was out of yak. Additionally, neither millet soup nor kimchi were on the menu, even though it is well known that a desire for meat was the prime motivation behind Shin Dong Hyuk's escape from Camp 14. The Pubyok thus needed little incentive to obtain the following confessions:

Dick J:  I was all the way into the trip to Texas before I realized I had read this book before.  I felt there was a great deal of it that was unrealistic.  I was concerned about the ending and the dialogue throughout, but it did provide a great deal of information about the North Korean society.  I felt it was not deserving of a Pulitzer Prize, unlike All The Light We Cannot See.  B

Ron B:  I have read 3/4 of the book; I liked the first Part.  The 2nd half became surreal, very dark.  I will not submit a grade.

Mike B:  Literature, as an art, should invoke some feeling in the reader.  I appreciate literature that is both informative and educational, and this book captured that intersection well.  Harold Bloom tells us that it took him three attempts to get through Blood Meridian, because it is so dark, so tortuous for the reader - but he considers that book one of the masterpieces of English literature.  Reading the interview of Johnson with his editor (at the end of the paperback edition) exemplified and validated for me that interaction.   I was amazed to see so many incidents in the book were actually captured from experience, right down to the removal of the tattoo, which for me was most horrific.  A

Kenny G:  I read the book quickly over the past three days, mostly late at night.  I found it a bit too long, tedious, hard to follow, time-challenged plot.  I looked it up, found much of it true, but I was hoping for more from a Pulitzer Prize winner.  B

Charlie P:  What was good for me was learning about North Korea.  I did not like that it was so long - it could have been half the length.  The plot was too complex, too convoluted.  B

Bob S:  Many thoughts come to mind - the book was not cheery.  I almost put the book down, especially at the point where they performed the lobotomies by going through the eye socket with a poker.  I enjoy literature of the human condition, but this was grotesque and horrific.  Living in fear does not convey the culture.  I have lived in Sweden and Denmark;  Denmark is among the highest culture, because of  the homogeneous population in which the government takes care of education, everything, and everyone is left alone.  Young people don't agree with this culture, yet they are pushed in as part of the homogeneous culture.  I can dig that.  What is the objective of the North Korean life that inflicts upon the people pain and suffering, with no choices.  My grade is a C; I would not recommend this book and I won't have us read Lincoln in the Bardo which is about dead people talking.

Rob E:  In parallel with TOMS, I was re-reading Bluefeather Fellini in the Sacred Realm.  Both these books are unpleasant.  In this ending, Ga grabs the leading edge of the wing of the departing airplane, then drops off over the American aircraft carrier, very Freudian.  Dennis Rodman was not recognized by the author:  B

Bob W:  I got the impression that something profound went under me.  I was not impressed.  The vernacular sounded too American.  The afterword was genuinely surreal.  The true beauty escapes me.  C

Keith G:  I attack the book as a real lack of critical thinking.  The author took a 5-day trip to North Korea.  I took a three week trip to Communist China in the 70s.  We saw gifted children playing the violin; it was all totally contrived.  Also the author interviewed defectors.  What would any statistician tell you?  The data would be complete skewed in a negative direction, as defectors are people who hate the country.  The book is not about North Korea; it is popular because Americans are dumb - but the book is well written.  Writing: B, Book: D; overall: C-

Jack F:  I agree with Mike:  A matter of taste.  I like to read things that are not necessarily beautiful - maybe it is the Kafka in me.  I believe Adam Johnson provides insight into a culture where the people need to provide protective language, even with their parents.  The book provides insight into the strength of the human condition to survive which should speak to us all.  It is Denmark on its head.  It's not a beautiful depiction of life. Brutality exists in this world and Johnson puts it in front of us so it is difficult to ignore; however, even under the worst of circumstances, one can still see acts of compassion.  A

Friday, February 23, 2018

Deadly Cure by Lawrence Goldstone

Eleven denizens of Old Brooklyn gathered down at the Precinct to interrogate Sgt McCloskey and pop a few aspirins - who knew?

Dick Jensen:  I actually enjoyed reading it although it was not great literature.  I learned quite a bit about the history of medicine in this country.  I thought the ending was totally unbelievable.  B-

Tom G:  I liked the dialogue; I've read most of the Jane Austen books, and she uses the formal dialogue of the time.  Despite all the negative things that have been said about the book, i enjoyed reading ti.  B

Jack F:  Like the others, I appreciated the enlightened look at the Pharmacological industry.  But there were too many typos; too many characters (46); too predictable and too contrived.  C+

Keith:  Too many terrible toos:  too many characters, too many innocent children, and no one brought to justice.  C-

Kenny G:  I enjoyed this history more than my history class in the 8th grade.  This was a page-turner.  There were too many characters, and I didn't enjoy the ending.  A worthwhile read for the history of the pharmaceutical companies.  B

Bob Woods:  I was underwhelmed.  No driving plot mechanism; the dialogue was awkward.  B

Ron B:  At first, the dialogue bothered me, then I thought:  "Ah!  An historical piece!"  I didn't know the history of Aspirin, Heroin, and the context of the times.  Recommended not as great history.  Overall, an interesting read.  B+

Charlie:  How to judge 'fun' fiction with fiction by Phillip Roth, Ian McEwan?  So what is the criteria for 'fun' fiction - that you would give it to your wife?  Yes, this passed that test, and it provides an escape for a couple of hours, so:  B+

Rob E:  "His hands were muscular; his fingernails were like Theodore Roosevelt's."  - Say, what?   And the ending:  a real bodice ripper - but a grown man's novel.  I struggled through it:  B-

Bob Simon:  I would go with Charlie and Tom: I found the book to be a page-turner and enjoyable:  we had a cast of muckrakers, communists, anarchists.  Plus interesting history, enjoyable dialogue, in fact, lots of wonderful dialogue.  B+
  For Classic novels of the time, we had two great writers:  Charles Dickens and Mark Twain who were both social novelists.  Then there were real muckrakers:   Sinclair Lewis, exposing the ills of society.  Interesting and well written.  I read it quickly, in 3 to 4 days, not my usual 2 weeks.

Mike B: I imagined the author trying to work this 1899 time period in Brooklyn, his hometown:  "Martha, look at these great ads from 1899, I can create a good page-turner around that.  Let's see, all this patent medicine was still available when aspirin and heroin were being touted together.  Oh, Dewey was in town?  Oh, yes, a boat race to intercept Dewey's celebratory flotilla!  Perfect!  I can add an anarchist to blow up the sexy girlfriend just as our hero reaches her office!  Yes!  Yes!"   No.  C

for further study:
Adm. George Dewey, USNA '58, the one and only Admiral of the US Navy
The Mock Battle of Manilla
And then, just two days after Spain conceded the Philippines to the US, you'd never guess what started:  The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902
which included The Balangiga Massacre
With US support, the Philipines became a Commonwealth in 1935 and achieved full independence following WWII:  July 4, 1946.
(historical contributions by Prof Bousek and Solicitor Simon)

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?