Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Upon the first last Thursday of the New Year, ten aging Whites briefly escaped their self-imposed exile in single dwellings throughout this ancient city and descended upon the Boyarsky of the Sandias, aka the Greenside Cafe of Cedar Crest. They luxuriated among the sounds therein characterized by fits of laughter, a melange of languages, toxic masculinity and the clinking of glasses. Once again they feasted upon bouillabaisse with just a touch of saffron and some green chile stew. Following this treat, Prof. Ferrell juggled oranges, and all hoisted a jigger of absinthe to those departed souls prior to heading East by Northeast in a small convoy toward Canyon Ridge Drive.  Within the convoy, several opinions could be overheard: 

Mike:  So much to talk about and consider with this book.  I was put off that he started with the Eric Hoffer story ("The True Believer", 1951) of choosing the thickest book in the library for winter reading and coming up with Michel Montaigne's philosophy. From Wikipedia, see if you spot a parallel:
  In 1931, [Hoffer] considered suicide by drinking a solution of oxalic acid, but he could not bring himself to do it.  He left Skid Row and became a migrant worker, following the harvests in California. He acquired a library card where he worked, dividing his time "between the books and the brothels." He also prospected for gold in the mountains. Snowed in for the winter, he read the Essays by Michel de Montaigne. Montaigne impressed Hoffer deeply, and Hoffer often made reference to him. He also developed a respect for America's underclass, which he said was "lumpy with talent."
 A coincidence? no, this reeked of plagiarism.  However, there was much to commend the book for, including the sequences of the Count with a young girl.  So good with Nina, it was delightful to get a different view with Sofia.  Overall, can't be A+ but can be in the A category.

Charlie:  What's not to like?  Many of us have become sloppy sentimental fools.  Most of the characters were admirable.  I enjoyed the quality of the writing.  A

Tom G:  I can only hope to be as memorable a character to my daughter.  I loved the Casablanca references.  Solid A.  Very 'sweet' book.

Bob W:  Yes, a good solid A.  One thing I would say that is meant as a compliment:  It really is a 'nice' book:  no overdone sex or violence.  Sympathetic characters.

Jack F:  I will start with the negatives.  One end of the pendulum's swing.  There were too many excesses, too many pages, words, characters, digressions.  Sometimes the footnotes were too cute.  I had the feeling the author was showing off, too flowery.  On the flip side:  I enjoyed the author's use of humor to include the Count's frequent verbal excesses.  Towles' knowledge of music may account for his use of leitmotif to identify many of the colorful characters which populate the novel, which I found delightful.  Bothered sometimes by what on the surface appeared to be Towles showing off, after finishing the novel I believe he may have been using form to reinforce content.  A-

Dick J:  There were at least 30 major characters.  I read this book when it first came out.  I enjoyed it then, and I enjoyed it now.  The Ending was well done?  A-

Ken G:  I wish I had kept a list of the characters.  I started reading it 3 or 4 weeks ago, had to stop, and when I came back 3 days ago, I found myself asking, "Who are these guys?"  One thing that bothered me is that he used lbs and inches, when he should be using metric for Russia.  It was kinda lonely at times.  A-

Rob E:  The book captured me - I especially enjoyed the committee wordsmithing the constitution:  should we use one verb or two here?  I've been in many meetings like that.  Some of his writing was tremendous:  "With respect to concision, the male of the species is endowed with a pair when a single would suffice."  As I was reading in a doctor's office, a woman came by and said, "How far have you read?  It will get better!"  And sure enough, the Count challenged the Bishop.  Another phrase I loved:  "My goat is not gotten!"  My idea of an A+ book is Grapes of Wrath, but as an Okie, this came close:  A

Karl:  The first time I read this book, I found myself savoring it. On my second reading, I'd intended to be more analytical, but gave up pretty early on and just enjoyed it. I did, however, take a lot of notes -- mostly writing down phrases or descriptions that I thought clever. There were a plethora of them. Absolutely outstanding writing, good story, engaging characters, wonderful humor. I spent the past three weeks trying to assess this book relative to all that I remember reading over the years and relative to the LTBC's ranking of books. I've read none better.  A+

... and from well outside of the Garden Ring:
Dear all,
  I will not be joining you next Thursday due to a prior engagement that I committed to years ago, namely the Taos Winter Wine Festival’s Thursday night Reserve Tasting. I shall miss our discussion greatly, because I really enjoyed this book. I am attracted to an urbane, civil gentleman inhabiting a splendid hotel more than soldiers fighting for their lives in an nihilistic saga of war or even a fellow New Mexican living the rough and tumble life of a cowboy in Northeastern New Mexico.
  I found the plot impressive rather than gimmicky: an aristocrat who survived the Revolution by being condemned to internal exile in a grand hotel in Moscow. Instead of withering under this constriction, the Count adapts and adjusts to his captivity and everything he needs to survive elegantly in the style of life to which he is accustomed magically comes to him. As his old friend Mishka said, “You are the luckiest man in Russia”; a beautiful starlet as a lover, a loving and talented raised daughter, support from the ruling commissars, a decent living provided by performing a task for which he was bred, serving fabulous meals and wines in an elegant restaurant in a grand hotel. While outside the sanctuary of the hotel some of the worse deprivations of the 20th century are being inflicted upon millions of his countrymen, dying or their lives shattered from government oppression under Stalin’s rule, such as being sent to Siberia or being summarily executed.
I found the book to be very readable and well written. I chose to read it and enjoy it, rather than trying to decipher by what means a specific group of chronological vignettes was identified as a Book, which I never figured out. Based upon my reading of the first 352 pages, I give the book a solid A. The Rules of Civility by Towles has definitely been added to my book list.

  With Mike’s encouragement I also would like to explain why I missed the December meeting. I have written down my experiences beginning on Thursday, December 19, 2018 and lasting through December 24, 2018. To make a long story short, it was a Christmas miracle that I made it home by Christmas Eve and that I am able to write this letter to you today. Bob

Thursday, December 20, 2018

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Ten seasoned veterans were furloughed from the Base Hospital for rifle practice at Lance Corporal Jensen's quarters.  They told numerous war stories, and make the following comments:

Charlie:  Easy grade - the perfect novel:  A

Karl:  It's pretty clear why All Quiet on the Western Front has been on high school reading lists for over 50 years and why Bob Dylan, in his acceptance letter to the Nobel Prize committee listed it as one of his three most influential books. Grade:  A

Ron B:  I thought it was a good book, posed many questions which are still relevant today:  A

Jack F:  I read it first when I returned from Vietnam.  I appreciated it more at age 32 than I would have at age 18.  The second time around, it made a big impact on me.  I consider it an important piece of literature - it provides insight into how wars affect those who fight them and the marks they can leave on an entire generation. The writing style is straightforward and uncomplicated. Remarque's word choice and sentence structure never leave any doubt about what he means. A

Mike:  I kept looking for things that would bring the grade down - for example, the language of the German troops was cultured, and certainly missing a saltiness found among troops in combat.  But as I read on, I admired the way Remarque covered each chapter as a different vignette, with pathos and interest.  Well done!  A

Keith:  I have three comments which have little to do with the book:  1) Van Clausewitz has provided the phrase, "The Fog of War" re dealing with the uncertainly of battle.  In "The Things They Carried" we saw that quite a bit.  2) We as a nation always have to be fighting a war.  We seem to be only 'happy' if we are engaged in a war.  3) Why are we so interested in war?  One out of every three books we read is about war.  4) There are no winners or losers in war, only survivors.  I found the book and its subject frustrating.  B

Tom G:  Pretty much everything has been said.  Remarque goes up a notch in my estimation knowing that he had an affair with Hedy Lamar - an actress of little talent but great beauty.  Now:  what does 'the greatest war novel" mean?  The writing didn't blow me away, but he handles the subject matter well, in terms of importance.  A

Ken G:  I read my wife's copy 10 years ago - it had so many notes in the margin that for the Book Club, I ordered a new clean copy.  Ten years ago I found this an eye opener.  Reading it for the second time, still an A

Rob E:  Very moving, captured my attention.  It made me think:  how do people survive?  I appreciated the humor and the animosity toward the brass above them.  I was moved by this book:  lots of clever, thought-provoking lines.  A

Dick J:  I thought it was a great book, extremely well written.  I have a copy with numerous comments in the book.  Warm peach cobbler for all!  A

And hanging on the edge of a shell crater:
I was impressed by the book, although it left me a bit depressed, especially the death of the narrator one month before the Armistice. The book is clearly a classic war chronicle. Harari describes this book as the first great humanist war novel because it accurately portrays war from the soldier’s point of view in opposition to monarchical or religious fealty.
I apologize for missing the meeting. I have come down with an infection that needs to be diagnosed. I will miss the comments of war seasoned members about their war experiences in battle.
My grade is A-
   - Bob Simon

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Last Thursday, or about 100,000 years ago, ten ancient Sapiens gathered around the corner of the canyon with their clubs to consider hunting/gathering, and opted instead for the breakfast menu, with a few eggs and some pig's meat.  It led to an interesting conversation.

Karl:  This book needed to be studied, not read.  A good 200 page book, not 415 pages!  When the reader was brought into the current era, the author introduced lots of soap box issues - it should have been two books!  I liked the history, not the speculation.  Grade B

Keith:  Sensationalism of war was the dominating theme, as opposed to past history.  See poem below (captured on Country Club napkin).  Grade:  B-

      Briefer Future of Humankind

   Our Earth is fueled by fear and greed,
   And warning signs we seldom heed.
   Most rape and pillage Mother Earth,
   Exhuming all resources of any worth.

   Four sins stand out at this time,
   And for each I'll make a rhyme:

   We're poor stewards of our spinning sphere,
   Spreading our scat both far and near

   And our pols say Climate Change ... a big Ho-Ho,
   While most science and research says its so.

   We treat underlings as a sub-standard class,
   Failed humans ... worthless.  Alas, alas -

   And our #1 human Law: ... Conservation of War.
   Finished one?  Let's have one more!

   Finally, governments tell us what to do -
   That ain't Democracy - oh, well, boo-hoo.

   In summary, our Planet is rolling pell-mell
   Towards the fiery, demonic Gates of Hell.

Tom:  I echo Karl's remarks:  I liked the history, disliked the speculation.  150 - 200 pages would have worked.  I had trouble with Harari calling everything a "myth."  There are three forms of humanism defined, but the author does not mention secular humanism, which seems to be omitted.  Grade:  B+

Ron B:  Lots of interesting ideas, worthy of discussion, lots of speculation and wordy:  B+

Charlie:  I like the book, it raised lots of ideas.  Too much speculation even though I agree with it mostly.  Still not sorted out the difference between historic facts and speculation.  A for ideas, B+ overall.

Bob W:  A stream of consciousness, unifying principle as chronology over time.  Not original except the way ideas were put together, creatively.  I did not learn much new but gained new perspectives.  B+

Ken:  I would tend to agree - it was interesting, thought provoking; however other sections tended to put me to sleep with the read.  B+ is reasonable grade.

Rob E:  I vote "Present."  I didn't get the book but did get the Executive Summary on Kindle.  That was the right length.  There is an old canard:  Evil Crusaders - that irks me!  Christian crusaders kill people.  Iris DeMent sang a good summary thought, "Let the Mystery Be":

        Let the Mystery Be

    Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from
      Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
    When the whole thing's done.
    But no one knows for certain
    And, so it's all the same to me
    I think I'll just let the mystery be

Bob S:  I enjoyed it; brings back the story of a hotel in Oslo.  A-

Mike:  Professor Harari wrote a book based on his desire to tell the history of the world, and then, like many of us writing our own books, decided to add in 'other stuff' he was interested in or passionate about.  Should have left those passions out if he wanted a good grade from this bunch of Sapiens.  The book could be a B+ or an A-.  Since I chose it, and I really love the clever early history:  A-

and from well beyond the African homeland:

From:  Richard Jensen 
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is a very impressive book. The author has an impressive knowledge of the history of humankind. The book is well written and I was particularly impressed with his use of examples to explain his points. I am not a scientist but he was able to explain science in a way that I could understand. This is the kind of book that a person could read several times and learn something new every time. Grade A

 Alas I'm allowing my daydreaming sparked by this book to delay me from sending you my remarks regarding this month's LTBC selection.

  I found the first two parts of Sapiens fascinating, not knowing, for example, that several distinctive human species existed at the same time on our planet and that they did not evolve one from another.  Why aren't there more featherless bipeds around? 

 Granted that was several hundred thousand years ago, but nevertheless mind boggling to me.  

  Harari obviously did an extensive amount of research and did a good job in organizing a tremendous amount of information and putting it all together in a very readable form.  I found his writing style crisp and easy to follow.  I appreciated his touch of humor. I was not taken in as much in the last half of the book by his interpretation of history and cultural development.  This parting of ways probably reflects my own prejudices and beliefs rather than the strength of Harari's researched arguments about the direction of human development.  I am glad I read it.  B+

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor

Nine Nashville gentlemen transpired to the Greenside CafĂ© for lunch outside of Memphis.  A review of the meal and restaurant is available at eatingwithbobandsuzette. The erudite conversations of the afternoon included the following observations.

Ken: – It took him more than 100 pages to leave for Memphis. At the age of 12 I had to move from Cleveland to California. I remember the bad memories I had until I met new friends, so I sympathize with the family’s move.
  I also have had siblings who have tried to take my inheritance, so I connected with that aspect of the book. I learned new words such as “nonce” that means for the time being or temporarily. I agree with Keith that the book was a little long and I was disappointed with the ending, but was interested in how the book illuminated the problem of older parents and grown children trying to communicate.  B+ 

Charlie:  Just another Southern patriarch meddling with his children’s lives. I agree with others that the book was too long. It could have been a good 100 page novella. B

Karl:  While reading the book, I found myself frequently stopping to think about what I'd just read. I couldn't decide if it was a work of pure fiction -- in which case I would have rated the work higher -- or autobiographical. I did some checking and found that like the narrator's father, the author's dad was a big man, played football at Vanderbilt, and was an attorney. He and his wife (who's family had the money) were part of Nashville Society and, in fact, his dad had been Speaker of the Tennessee House. His dad did, indeed, move his family from Nashville to Memphis (though to St Louis in between) when the author was in his early teens. The town of Thornton, TN doesn't exist, but there is a Trenton, TN where the author's dad was born and is about 60 miles from Memphis. So, I view the book more as a fictionalized autobiographical work than as pure fiction. In that vein, I didn't see much to recommend it or the characters in it. i also wasn't a fan of the writing style with page-and-a-half long paragraphs. Even so, I thought that it was well written. Grade:  B-

Tom:  This is an examination of family relationships. He was damaged to some extent when he was taken away from friends in Nashville, especially his girlfriend. The book did not make it clear when the narrator understood the involvement of his father and sisters in the destruction of his relationship with Clara. The ending left me with the theme that his conclusion as it related to family is that you can’t forget or forgive but you can accept. I liked the flow of the prose. I liked the book but was let down by the ending of the story.  A

Keith: comments: His father was a Nationalist. The author had no balls, did not take on his father. Instead, he lived a life of suppressed regrets. The book was loquacious, gassy, and windy. The word I learned was windrows – piles of hay before it is bailed.

  A Summons to Memphis

   The Carver Dysfunctionals … full of regret:
   And Patriarch, George, their Chief Martinet.

   Three Sibs … Philip, Betsy, and Jo
   When each falls in love, Dad says, “Marry? No No!
   Each blames Pop, but never marries again.
   Cowards this trio … Misfits to the end!

   Then when Widower George seeks a Southern Belle’s Hand
   His girls sabotage Dad … “Revenge on you, Old Man”!
   And Taylor our author, writings so trite,
   Windy gloomy, dark … with no light

   Me thinks with all his sunless, sorrow and strife
   It should be re-titled: My Unrequited Life!!
   Yet this “opus” garnered a Pulitzer? … Please!
   Well, I award it a jaded “D”, with ease.

Bob Woods:  Pass. I did not read the book.  To add to your culinary review, be advised that the French (?) Onion Soup was adequate but uninspired. I don't think that the chef is French at all.

Bob Simon:  The book held my attention from start to finish. Since the book was partially autobiographical, I shall be autobiographical to explain my understanding of the plot of the book because the plot connected to my life, which I think explains a bit of the book’s plot, such as why none of the siblings ever married.

  I used to be married to a member of the social registry, which affiliated me with that social community in Fort Worth from 1976 to 1981. In 1981 I moved to Albuquerque. So I share with Philip an understanding of some of the social rules and pressures of that Junior League/Debutante social set. I also had a very narcissistic father, like Philip.  I, like Philip, escaped those two aspects of my life by moving to Albuquerque. If I had stayed, I could see my life circumscribed by pre-ordained social relationships and rules, such as going to parties at the same country clubs with the same 700 persons for my entire life. But I was different. I was born and raised Jewish. I was not born into that social group. In fact, I was particularly sensitive to the prejudices and barriers ingrained into social registry society based upon my father’s experience as a young man.

  My father was an NCAA letterman on the TCU golf team in 1929. As a member of the TCU golf team, he played at all the country clubs in Fort Worth and many around the State of Texas. But when he graduated from TCU he was refused admission to the same country clubs he had previously played at as a student athlete because he was Jewish. The year the first Jewish family was admitted to membership in a country club in Fort Worth was 1960. I tell you this to make you aware that there are rules, barriers, and social pressures one faces from simply being born into social registry society. For example, my children are in the Social Register, but I am not. So, I understand why Taylor moved to New York and lived with a Jewish woman. He was escaping the life he was born into, just as I, and many others who chose not to accept that social group’s limitations and benefits, did.

  I also understand why Philip did not stand up to his father. Where Keith suggests Philip had no balls, I see that Philip’s decision to acquiesce to their summons was because he wanted to continue his relationship with his family, therefore he could not attack their fixed social rules, perhaps because opposing his family’s rules of their society would have been fruitless and counterproductive.  Opposing his family’s social rules would be unlikely to change them, especially as fixed in his Father’s mind, and opposing his family’s social rules would probably have ostracized him from his father and family. Therefore, Philip adopted the historically proven admonition, “Go along to get along.” Like Jim Hightower said when explaining his decision to move back to Texas, “You don’t move back to Texas because you like the people, but because it is comfortable to live where you were raised and because you understand the sons-abitches.”

   In law a summons is a court order to appear or respond to a court action. The title Summons to Memphis perfectly explains that Philip was ordered to appear in Memphis, by the rules of the family and society he was born into, not by choice.

  A word about Alex. Alex was a person not born into Philip’s social society but who yearned to be associated with it. He sucked up to George and the sisters, to feel a sense of entitlement and association that was really not there. That entitlement can only be gained by birth or marriage (that may be the unspoken real reason why each of the marriages was opposed; because each of the proposed spouses was deemed to not be a good fit in that society or was not a member of that society).

  I am reminded of the scene in Downton Abbey that explains this point so well. The daughter, Lady Mary Crawley, is invited to dinner in a posh restaurant in London by a friend after the death of her husband. When a couple arrives at the large table of young persons, a young woman is introduced to Mary by saying, “You know Amelia (or some such name)?”  Mary responds, “Oh, yes, we came out together.” Those four words “We came out together” tells you everything you need to know. Mary knew Amelia’s family history and accepted Amelia as being of her social class and as a social equal.

  If this sounds like I am asserting the rules of the social registry society, I am. I just want to explain my understanding of how Alex fit into the book’s plot and perhaps a possible reason why all the proposed marriages faltered. Alex’s character’s function in the book was to be the Greek Chorus, to report on what was happening in Philip’s family while not in Philip’s presence. So, in summary it was a well written book that held my attention.  A

Jack:  At the end Philip came to terms with his feelings and with the help of his NYC girlfriend, Holly, gained peace of mind. Taylor’s objectivity – all fiction is autobiographical followed in his father’s footsteps from revenge against those who wronged you to getting past it. I saw Philip’s leaving Nashville as a loss of place, friendships and family. Taylor did a good job in making me think about one’s relationships with family, siblings and one’s father. Philip was uprooted from his school and friends when young. The book reinforced the role place plays in our lives, especially between Nashville and Memphis. Eudora Welty wrote similarly about coming to terms with family. Laurel’s emotional journey in The Optimist's Daughter comes to mind. Solid A

Rob:  I liked the last four chapters. The reconciliation of George with Shackleford was a nice touch. It was different from my life. No one in my family opposed my second marriage. This book made me think about a lot of things. This was Taylor’s first novel. He tells a good story intelligently. Solid A

and from far outside of Memphis:
I was summoned to San Diego for a collegiate classmate celebration and a clash with Notre Dame.  My comments:

Prof. Bousek relived "Darktown Strutters Ball" in his memoir, and I found myself with another old classic for Peter Taylor: "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)." Only my Book Club discipline kept me reading past 50 pages, but then it all started to come together. This book was a well crafted memoir, very easy to accept and believe. The opening line is a classic, and the next four chapters open as pure memoirs.  I love the way the full name Lewis Shackleford was used throughout to maintain a strong theme. The father was a strong character, and all the main characters were well presented, fully developed, and captivating in their own way.  However ... however ... this love affair could not last.  Enough of these conniving sisters already.  B-
   -  Mike

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Fair Condition, Some Pages Missing by Last Thursday Book Club

Nine memoirists gathered al fresco on Parkside Circle to determine if Joseph Badal knew what he was talking about.  The host and Poet Laureate provided these insights:

... and from far off the bookshelf:

We're experiencing a Rocky Mountain high in Colorado without the assistance of weed, enjoying the hikes and scenery around Frisco (no, not CA), so I won't be able to join in the discussion Thursday. It was a delight to read my fellow club members' memoirs in Fair Condition, Some Pages Missing. Thank you, Keith, for suggesting we do this in celebration of our club's silver anniversary.

   Dick Arm's story touched me deeply. It was fun learning more about the backgrounds of each of the club members and how those early days shaped their lives.

   For example, I didn't know Gary played tennis and the organ, Keith played bridge against Omar Sharif, and Ron played cornet in a band. Nor did I know how Mike made money to pay for his stamp collecting or how Bob Woods was admitted as a junior to Princeton.  All of you led fascinating lives and made extraordinary contribution. It was fun to read about them and I learned a lot. I would give the collection an "A." I'll miss connuing the discussion of your lives on Thursday night.
   Warm regards, Jack

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

The entire tribe of Travelers in the Mist strode forth in the late evening of the last Thursday of the August moon past the live oaks and the white oaks and into the humble hogan of Prof. Gillen. We welcomed Prof. Irons, a fellow traveler, for his initial venture into the murkiness. We received our published memoirs for our September meeting and rendered payments for our headrights thereunto. We considered the entries in the Virtual Cemetery for the Killers of the Flower Moon and whether their lives as documented by Prof. Grann can bring meaning to ours.  As we passed visual memories of the Tonkawa tribe around the campfire, each traveler spoke in their native tongue.

Ken:  This book came highly recommended by my wife and her book club.  It was resurrected history that needed to be told.  I found the book hard to put down.  If it were not my selection, I would grade it A-, but I vote to give it a solid A.

Charlie:  A-  The story line moves from bad, to very bad, to very, very bad.  I consider this very good journalism, not artistic like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.  But high quality journalism:  A-

Ron B:  I found the book to provide good intensity for the 36% I have read on my Kindle.  That part was well written; the story needed to be told.  I found the narration to be a bit tedious as the author told where each character went, what they did in great detail.  The part I read was fairly good.

Tom G:  I agree with Dick J's comments:  a fascinating story and history, but the writing did not pull me in - not like Lansing's Endurance and other non-fiction books which have pulled me in.  B

Bob S:  Again I find myself overwhelmed with sadness by man's inhumanity and abuse of their fellow men, and women in this case, of members of the Osage Tribe.  I tired quickly of who killed who and how they were killed.  I was also moved by the injustice to those who had done no harm to anyone, and were only trying to enjoy the benefits of their good fortune to having been shunted to the least favorable land they could be given after being driven from their ancestral homelands by the aggression of white culture's westward expansion.
  To me, the book stands as further proof of the horrors inflicted on people by America's disregard for many peoples rights in the name of Manifest Destiny to be a "unified" nation from sea to shining sea.    I thought the book was well written. I found it a page turner and read it in four days, a record for me.  But at the end it left me depressed and saddened that I had been exposed to yet another example of how our great nation treated many of its citizens, with the only consolation being the creation of another institution of government to prevent criminal predation of one against another.  A-

Rob E:  I learned a lot from the book.  Things I wish could have (would have) been taught in school in the 50s in my home state of Oklahoma.  We learned about Indian tribes being relocated to OK; we learned about land rushes.  But that’s about it.I hope current and future students learn the ‘rest of the story,’ as illuminated by David Grann.
  My feeling about many non-fiction books that we’ve read is that the author does research and puts findings on 3x5 cards, then tries to tape them together to create a book.  I did not have that feeling here, perhaps because the author is a journalist, not a historian, or wanna-be historian.  It was good reading, as well as eye-opening.
  I was interested in the J. Edgar Hoover role.  He got his successful showcase trial, then left the scene, which was still littered with unrecognized and unprosecuted murders. It was interesting that Hoover regarded himself as a Progressive.  I’ve long thought that if you have to identify as a Progressive, you probably aren’t. Grann says (p. 178) that for J. Edgar, “Progressivism … reflected his own obsession with organization and social control.”  He goes on to note that Progressives, like Hoover, "… were so convinced of their own virtuous authority that they disdained democratic procedures.” Sound familiar? Thus, e.g., the Osage interests would be protected by ‘guardians.'
  Mentioning disdained democratic procedures makes me think of NYT columnist Tom Friedman who periodically writes on the theme, Why can’t our government be more like the Chinese? To me the Progressive trend has been exemplified in big cities, USA, over the last 50 years, where minorities have been consigned to ‘reservations’ that have poor living conditions, crime, drug trafficking, ineffective schools, joblessness, dysfunctional families, … all analogous to how the Osage were treated. These modern 'tribes' don’t have oil. Their ‘guardians’ only want their votes.

Pardon the side-trip.  As an Oklahoman, I really appreciate this book.  I give the book an A.

Bob W:  I give the book an unequivocal A, and I do not often grade thus.  This was a very valuable contribution to the history of the country.  Pretty well written, immense amount of research.  The last two chapters were more than we needed to know.  A

Karl Irons:  The story was worth telling -- and should have been told a long time ago -- but it wasn't told very well. There were too many holes and unanswered questions for my liking. I think the last chapter gave a clue as to why in that the author appeared to have been very careful to only report on what he could document through his extensive research. Grade B (A for the story; C for the execution.)

Dick J:  Tom and I agree:  not well written.  I read the book when it first came out, and again with the Club, and both times came away wanting more.  I immediately got it our of the library when it was first published and read it.  The book could be so much more.  I had the same reaction with the second reading.  The book came up short.  A great story not told in a great manner.  B+

Mike:  A great book for the first 36%.  What a story - how could none of us know anything about this?  My personal ignorance continues to amaze me.  The author did a beautiful job of drawing you in early by telling the story through the simple plea of  Mollie Burkhart:  where is my sister Anna?  She left my home 3 days ago - where is she?  From there, the mystery deepened.  Later he got a bit taken up in lionizing Tom White, who deserved to be lionized - but with what amount of detail?  And in Part 3, the Trial, the telling was muddled and non-gripping.  Finally, I would have loved to have an index in this book.  Tonight's discussion by my club members have convinced me: not an A- but a B+

Jack:  I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  I feel the same as Ken and Ron:  a story that needed to be told.  I learned so much about transgressions against the Indians, about the FBI, and about Oklahoma.  A-

Keith:  The author attempted a scholarly work and failed.  For this group of retired scientists he should have had a 100 page summary at the end.  In the third chapter, he became dramatic and it went downhill but he kept writing.  The government found a couple of scapegoats and quit investigating.  The book provided more questions than answers.

  Virtual Cemetery  

Osage Indian Murders

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Hi Lo Country by Max Evans

The old cowboys gathered around the campfire at Park Avenue and recollected when they broke broncs with the late great Big Boy Matson in the Hi Lo Country.  Some of them spoke up as a herd of hydrophobic bison sauntered through the evening and the embers glowed with remembrance -

Tom G:  I did not engage the book, I could not get involved, like Evans’ character could not get involved with any woman. The one time I was engaged was the winter storm part when they were trying to save the cows and got caught in the storm.  My favorite Evans books are the middle part of Bluefeather Fellini and The Rounders. This was of a much lesser grade.  Grade = C+

Charlie P. – I agree with Tom G. Evans discussion of animals is interesting but not his descriptions of people. Everyone drank to excess and engaged in violence, always fighting. Not very good. I liked The Last Picture Show and it was regionalism but it had relationships and a plot. Bogdanovich directed.   Grade =

Ken G.:  Mixed emotions. Some good description of cowboying, lots of weird characters, mostly unfortunates. Josefa was the only likeable person. The plot was predictable. I knew Big Boy would die and the ending was terrible.  Grade = C+

Jack F.  Entertaining, good descriptive language.  Makes a good movie.  42-43 characters, mostly one dimensional, but none were well developed. My main take away was, “Don’t never get me one of them red-assed monkeys.”  Grade = C+

Bob W:  Pass; did not read because traveling in Norway.

Keith: – I enjoyed the book because it described real cowboys. I worked ranches when young, and spent time in Raton, Cimarron, and Des Moines. It accurately described cowboys, who are basically blue collar workers who worked hard and drank and fought on weekends The menage a trois with a married woman was an unique plot development.  Evans is a living legend. I enjoyed the book and story. Grade = B+

Ron B. – did not attend. Stabilizing blood pressure.   Grade = B+

Bob S:  – I picked this book for three reasons. First, I saw the documentary and realized that Max Evans was an important New Mexico author and I wanted to show the documentary in conjunction with a book. I chose Hi Lo Country.

  Second, it describes a part of the world I have been fascinated with most of my life:  the Hi Lo country. In Texas where I grew up the Cap Rock is famous. The Staked Plains sits over the Oglala aquifer. It is a huge elevated plateau or mesa, over 250 miles north to south and 150 miles from east to west. In Spanish, it was called the Llano Estacado, translated as staked plains. It is surrounded on three sides by valleys and deep arroyos; on the north by the Canadian River valley and on the West by the Pecos River Valley in New Mexico,  Palo Duro Canyon, southeast of Amarillo, is perhaps its most famous valley.  When I was an 8 year old kid, starting around 1954 my family would drive out to Ruidoso in one day every year to spend a month in the cool mountains in the middle of the summer.  Every year we would cross the Staked Plains. I remember driving past the western edge of the staked plains in the late afternoon and would begin playing a game to see who could first see the Sacramento Mountains. Later, when I would go to Philmont Scout Ranch, we would drive across the northern part of it to Cimarron.

  Third, the book describes New Mexico; its land, weather, and people. In my opinion, that puts it in the category of American regionalism literature. The closest book that we have read that I can think of is Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I thought the book had strong plots, Evans’ willingness to investigate and expose his emotional feelings for Mona, Big Boy, and his failure as a rancher. The other thing that was evident to me that was exposed by the documentary and just briefly touched upon in the book was Evans’ interest in the spiritual realm.
Grade = B

And from elsewhere in and out of the Hi Lo Country:

  I enjoyed the first 25% of the book - in fact, I thought it was a cowboy's version of Querencia (a New Mexico refuge - my favorite NM book). E.g., the coyote hunts in the two books. But the book soon turned to brawling and carousing and that turned me off. Could this have been written by the esteemed author of the Bluefeather Fellini tales? Well, yes, sad to say.

When our hero drew the toughest bronc in the rodeo, I got cynical: thought, Well, of course! Artificial plot thickener. Best line: "When he hit the ground he was a steer." One of the worst: "He sounded like a herd of hydrophobic buffalo tearing through the brush.... there was a splash that sounded as if the moon had rocketed into the Pacific." There were too many such strained allegories.

I wanted to see the movie, for the sake of comparison, but didn't want to buy it at the Ebay price. Sorry I won't be at meeting and hear reports from those who have seen the movie and how the movie compares to the book. I look forward to reading the reviews. Grade: C+


I will not be able to attend the Book Club meeting tomorrow evening--I simply cannot sit for two hours with my current back problems. I have enclosed my review of The Hi-Lo Country by Max Evans.

 I was quite disappointed by The Hi-Lo Country. My disappointment with the book began in the introduction that was written by Max Evans. In that introduction he spent a great deal of time talking about the drinking and fighting that he undertook during the writing the book--one of the incidents led to his being forced to type with his left hand and another led him to being thrown in jail. I found those references strange but once I read the book I could see that he really relished drinking and fighting--the major activities in which the characters of the book engaged.

When I was in graduate school one of my colleagues and I used to look for what we called "Strange Types" on the Indiana University campus. Max Evans also was a great collector of "types" in his book. I found few either interesting or positive characters in the book. I got tired of the narrator and the only person who seemed to be talented enough to rise above his current life was Big Boy who was a talented individual who spent his time trying to be with a married woman who apparently had been a prostitute in her earlier life.

In the end Big Boy is killed by Little Boy, a not particularly impressive individual--by the time he was killed, I really didn't care. The narrator is also hung up on the ex-prostitute and rejects the possibility of marrying one of the few positive characters in the book. She apparently wised up in the end marrying a local boy and moving to California.

I have to admit that I found some of the characters funny but in the end I wanted to get a gunny sack and take them down to the crick (as they say in Utah) and drown them. Evans says he is going to present an image of The Hi-Lo Country. What he really presents is an image of many of the lost souls in The Hi-Lo Country and we really learn little about the residents.

Earlier in the year we read a book which covers a similar area, Plainsong. In that book you really learn about the residents of the area. In the end Plainsong told us about those residents and there were uplifting moments. I had looking forward to reading The Hi-Lo Country and have no desire to read other books by Evans. Plainsong was a solid A. This book was a B- at best.


  Max Evans’ prose is like cowboy poetry:   lightly entertaining, but you don’t want to read an entire book of it. The Hi Lo Country hit me like a bad Baxter Black rendition from page 1.  Is there a plot here, or are we going to lurch from ‘cutesey’ drunken adventure to overstated drunken mis-adventure? Beyond two friends seeking the affection of the same married woman, it didn’t come together and certainly didn’t capture my affections.

  There is a great deal that distinguishes P.G. Wodehouse and “Right Ho, Jeeves” from Max Evans and his work. I love to get to the next chapter of Wodehouse, and I dread picking up Evans again. The similes throughout are certainly unique but way overwrought. I’ve eaten at Vick’s Vittles, spent some time on a ranch, lusted after married women, watched my mother-in-law castrate calves, ridden a bit and got kicked by a horse … but it didn’t make me a Max Evans fan. The last third of the book brought a plot into the collection, but the awkward date-rape scene (“she didn’t give me the satisfaction of resisting”) and having Little Boy shoot the superhero pushed the book well down into my “can’t recommend” category.  C
  -  Mike