Thursday, July 27, 2017

Querencia by Stephen Bodio

The Book Club didn't make it all the way south to Magdalena, but were treated at Prof. Easterling's home to photos taken on a recent investigative field trip.  This followed locating our own Querencia at the Greenside Cafe in Cedar Crest, where we were introduced to the Webster's definition:

Querencia (noun, Spanish origin, c. 1640): Fettuccine noodles tossed with creamy, garlicky, Parmesan cheese-tastic Alfredo sauce and tender rattlesnake breast.

I caught this morning morning's minion,
kingdom of daylight's dauphin,
dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air,
and striding High there,
how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy!
then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend:
the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind.
My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird,
– the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Following which, the gathered locals provided their thoughts:

Dick J:  I thought it was well written.  A good job of describing the locals.  I will pass this book along to my nephew with a note:  "This will introduce you to New Mexico."  A- however I do not have a desire to read more of Bodio's work.

Bob S:  I enjoyed the book.  Well situated to convince us that maybe we could write our own history.  This was an anecdotal memoir.  Bodio has skill as a writer, and demonstrates it in terms of intimacy and anecdotal accuracy.  This seemed much more accessible, and the author followed the first rule of writing:  Write of what you know.  B

Rob E:  I agree with Jack's comments. This is a story about two remarkable people who found their querencia (Spanish for a special refuge -- "that little, unspecified area in life's arena where one feels safe, serene," from a quote by William Buckley) in Magdalena, New Mexico. This week marks my 50th year as a resident of NM and I can feel the love for NM - the land and the people - all through this book. First, Bodio's description of the drive from Socorro to Magdalena on their first trip. I've driven that route several times and it is a dramatic climb from the Rio Grande to high country plains. Then, later, as they return from a trip east and then, near the Texas state line, the flat agricultural, windmill country gives way to a vast expanse of mesas, arroyos, and distant mountains. Bodio writes, "though we were still seven hours from Magdalena, we drove to Tucumcari through beery tears of joy." I always get a little thrill - no beer - making that transit, and now it will be even more special.

Bodio's writing style is very inviting and natural. It's conversational. You can envision him in his favorite Magdalena bar, telling stories about Betsy's and his latest adventures. You don't have to be a naturalist, a hunter, a dog lover, a falconer, ... , or whatever to enjoy this book. You will enjoy learning about these endeavors.

I usually try to avoid book cover blurbs, but this one really summarizes my impression: Learn to live. Learn to love. Read this book. (Rick Bass - author, "Why I Hunt")   A

Mike B:  This was a blend of two Love Stories:  Love of New Mexico and Love of Betsy.  I found myself with renewed pride in my adopted state - only by grace of the US Air Force did I come to this beautiful environs in May of 1965, returning to stay in July 1979.  I gloried in Betsy reciting Gerard Hopkins "The Windhover" with a grin for its sheer appropriateness and I cried when Betsy died.  Some of the best writing we have experienced in a long time.  A

and from well outside the Plains of San Augustin:

Dear Rob, I am so sorry I will miss the discussion at your house on Thursday. We will be on the Oregon coast with two of our granddaughters, enjoying some time alone with them before they both go back to school.

I thoroughly enjoyed Querencia. I fell in love with New Mexico all over again while reading Bodio's vivid descriptions of the land and people of west central New Mexico. Although I have visited that part of our state a number of times, the details of the landscape and life style Bodio shared aroused my interest in the area again and a desire to check out some of the local haunts in Magdalena and Quemado at the very least. As a former hunter and gun owner, I found his accounts of hunting particularly entertaining. I can certainly relate to his experience dove hunting--I frequently returned home empty-handed, even though I had used up a whole box of shells. Thinking back on our first year in New Mexico (having moved here from Massachusetts), I could also relate to his early experiences with the locals, especially Chubby and his story about his dad "cheering cheap."

I found Bodio's writing style as engaging as the story, although I had to keep a dictionary handy for all the biological terms and dog breed names. I saw no foreshadowing of the tragedy related in the last ten pages. It came quickly, but I thought he handled it beautifully. By devoting 95% of his memoir to his life together with Betsy he was able to reinforce his love for her and the value of the time they spent together.

Thank you for introducing me to Stephen Bodio. I do not read many memoirs, but I will recommend this one to all my friends. A

    -  Jack

I liked the descriptions and the writing; I did not care for the people.  B+

    -  Tom G.

Hola Mike..On road Re Bodio soiree..Stephen Bodio is a true renaissance Man..Would be boffo member Edward Abbey coterie..Dazzling description of New Mexico flora/fauna...He'd put feet on my coffee table and dialogue 'til dawn..Could be [honorary] LTBC member..   A-..

    -  Keith G.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Chi! Chi! Chi!  Le! Le! Le!  mineros de Chile!  
What a miraculous gathering! After years of neglected responsibilities and lost souls, all twelve of us came together and re-appeared Last Thursday above ground in the far Sandia Heights, and related our own private and personal stories of redemption and deliverance: one of us worked for 8 hours straight as an 18-year-old skinny kid in a horizontal Mormon coal mine; one of us hiked the dreaded Atacama Desert following a 40- year rain and emerged into a star-filled night with only a backpack, one son, and a love of Kafka; one of us was dropped off in the Canadian Northwest with a hungry companion, disappearing rations, and a missing seaplane; and several of us drank bad Chilean wine and never complained, not even once.... 
Their lawyer spoke first:

Bob Simon:  A work of puffery, much to do about nothing.  There was no moral.  All ended up almost where they began.  I wasn't attracted to the plot.  I give it a B-

Rob Easterling:  Compared to other heroic books, the quality was less than others.  The tedious girlfriend stories were less than captivating.  I liked the pastor who offered hope.  I give it a B.  

Rob Bousek:  It held my attention.  I liked learning the mining information which was interesting.  It dragged some.  A-

Bob Woods:  B+  the story was filtered through the author; a remarkable work.

Mike B:  I appreciated the background the author provided on this miserable desert area, to include Darwin "hopping off the Beagle."  The author did an admirable job of introducing the miners, making several of them  (e.g., Mario Sepulveda) memorable and helping th reader to recall as the calendar moved onward:  Now which one was that?  I don't think it is fair to compare this story to Shackleton's or Citizen Soldiers as these guys were going to work and found themselves unexpectedly thrown into survival mode; in the other stories the men were geared for survival going in.  I was fascinated by what would happen next and appreciated what the author did with the story, especially the first half the book which was 19 days of pure survival.  The author did not lionize his miners.  A-

Keith Gilbert:  33 men thrown into high drama.  Cheap psychological drama:  In any such crisis situation. expect 1/3 to do nothing, 1/3 to demonstrate flight or fight, 1/3 to get into a corner and figure out the best we can do.  Two forces come into play:  fear and greed.  Fear:  the first 20 days;  then greed slowly crept in after 20 days.  These are the two great forces in the world.  C+

Dick J:  Hillbilly Elegy was great in that he liked this; this was just OK; a good book but not great.  B+

Jack Ferrell:  I liked the Rilke poem he started the book with.  My comments are between Rob and Ron:  I learned a lot from reading of the miners, a great deal about mining.  I found it difficult to digest.  B-

Dick Arms:  I appreciated the craftsmanship.  He did a good job with what he had to work with:  33 people, all had to get into the book, as well as lots of stories.  A-

Charlie:  He did OK with the material.  A story of ordinary people who faced adversity and did about as well as one would think.  B-

Tom G:  Good book but not as good as Ghost Soliders. The drilling and the mining stuff was interesting as well as the extraction/rescue efforts.  B

Ken G:  I learned a lot about mining.  Too many characters.  Knowing the ending made reading it somewhat less appealing.  Tedious.  B+

No somos los mejores hombres.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

  It was 1900 hours on the Last Thursday of May, leading into Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer for all of us. At the meeting on Park Ave SW, a literary hillbilly walked in a few minutes late, smelling like a garbage can. His matted hair and dirty clothes evidenced a life on the streets, a truth he confirmed as soon as he opened his mouth. "My kids won't speak to me; no one will," he told us. "I scrounge together what money I can and spend it on novels. Tonight I couldn't find any money or any novels, so I came in here because it looked warm."
  Our mentor, Dr. Palmer, asked if he'd be willing to try giving up reading for more than one night, and the man answered with admirable candor: "I could say yes, but honestly, probably not. I'll probably be back at it tomorrow night." I never saw that man again. He didn't stay for dessert. But before he'd left, someone asked him where he was from. "Well, I've been in a book club in Hamilton for most of my life. But I was born down in eastern Kentucky, Owsley County."
   I could have told the man that he had been born no more than twenty miles from a public library. He could have read it for free.  Plus we learned that Ron Howard has acquired movie rights to the book.
  Seven one-time rednecks expressed variegated and amusing opinions:

Charlie:  I enjoyed this book.  I thought it was interesting, mainly as a personal memoir.  I was expecting some sociological/political boot, but this was not.  It was a survivor's story.  The time frame in which it was published made it a success.  If it had been published two years earlier, we never would have heard of J.D. Vance.  Not a great book, but a good memoir.  A-

Rob E:  I have a couple of comments relating.  Susie was brought up in Las Vegas, NM when the football coach recruited players form Appalachia.  Susie married one of them, and after Highlands, they worked for the war on poverty.  Went to Houston, but vetoed going to Newark in the 60's, so they came to Albuquerque instead.  They both landed jobs teaching in APS, but one of their friend football players went on to UC Davis and eventually got his PhD, became a world wide consultant on smart farming.  Talking to him, he said there was much animosity toward the book in Appalachia, as many felt it exaggerated their culture.  My father served in the Navy, and influenced my brother to attend USNA.  Later became a consultant to the Australian Navy.  Now my brother has become an East Coast elite, somewhat of a snob, considering the family as rubes from Oklahoma.  
   I read this book several months ago; I found it interesting and impressive, with excellent stories.  The circles that J.D. Vance moves in now - perhaps he wrote this book to explain his Life to them.  The real root of our societal problems is the destruction of the nuclear family.  I give the book a B.  The second time I read it, I didn't get as much out of it.  Works for a large audience (Rust Belt, Bible Belt).  

Ken:  A 20 hr ride from Middleton to Jackson?  In the 50s they still had decent roads, if not interstates.  The distance is 190 miles - no way it took 10 mph for that trip in the 50s; takes 3 hrs today.  I enjoyed this book, but I thought it was a bit repetitious.  Showed good humor at times (e.g., forcing the sister's colleague to eat her panties.)  I was somewhat disappointed overall:  B   Worth reading.

Dick J:  When this book came out, I read a book review in the NY Times and decided not to read it.  However, I heard more about it and read it.  I found that the book described my life.  I asked my wife to read it, and she devoured it.  She said as I left the house tonight that she is really anxious to hear what this Club thinks.  I found that I liked the first half more than the second half, but I don't know why.  A

Ron B:  I thought it was well written and easy to read.  Provided a slice of Americana, including the socio-poltical comments.  The plot process was very local and subtle.  It was in the A- to B+ range.  I'm going with an A- as it provided a good impression.

Mike B:  I am forming a Special Interest Group for my Genealogical Society on Writing and Publishing, and I think each of you six individuals should be writing your own story - each of them are interesting, and should prove of interest to your descendants and future researchers.  
I was under the disadvantage of wife Bonnie describing all the 'good' hillbilly parts for me before I read it.  I expected there to be more of that, but his tone was subdued and those parts were nuggets found throughout the first half.  In the second half, the tone changed strongly, and as Ken said, J.D. Vance became one of 'us.'  Interesting, loved the Marine Corps makeover and the look behind the scene of acceptance into Yale Law School.  A-

Bob S:  I liked the book, both halves.  I was actually more impacted by the second half - interesting to review his trying to come to terms with the culture in which he was raised, and the traumatic events of one's youth.  This is the kind of book in which everyone will see something of themselves.  It was presented like a lawyer presenting his case. It doesn't have the literary span of some of the books we have read.  A-

The book was exceedingly interesting and well-written, and is insightful - especially how his life was different from those around him.

... and from well outside the Appalachian culture:
  The surgery went better than expected.  I have been walking longer and longer distances every day with some pain but no numbness, which is what he said he could cure. The first week was terribly painful and I could not have done it without Allison and Mercy, but now I am better, by far, than before the operation. 
  However, not for health reasons but, surprise!, my son Rick is coming in from Austria on Wednesday night, and then we are going to the cabin on Saturday, so I will not be at the meeting. I guess he wants to see the old Man once more before he kicks off. 

As to the book…I hated it at first and did not want to bother finishing it. I had heard enough of Mamaw and Papaw by page thirty. But I forged onward and got more into it, and did finish it. I still am not sure I care that much about his trials and his problems and his family, but it was well written and somewhat introspective, if overly repetitive. I guess I tend more toward amusing fiction than I do toward social commentary.  Nevertheless, I give the book an A‐ on style, pure writing ability and thoughtfulness. 
    - Dick 
Sorry I won't be able to participate in what I'm sure will be a very interesting discussion on Thursday. I am near the mouth of the Elwha River along the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the Olympic Peninsula among a different set of hill people.

 I found Vance's Hillbilly Elegy fascinating. I learned a lot. Growing up in northeastern Ohio, where there was a large population of transplants from West Virginia and Kentucky (my uncle was one), I admit I viewed them as foreigners who did not fit in and probably should have stayed in the hills. Vance's story of his family gave me a better appreciation of how and why they migrated and what motivated them to "act" the way they did.

 Vance is a good writer and I enjoyed his straightforward style. I did lose his timeline occasionally; however, it did not distract from the way he developed his cast of characters and the roles they played in his life. A 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

Amici miei: 
  You may be wondering why I have not yet closed the Luparello case. Questo giovedì prossimo, abrile 27 at 2 pm, we will gather at Luigi Pasture's, 701 Loma Linguine, at the tip of Capo Massaria. Counselor Rizzo will have a check for you, in the amount of ten million lire. Either that, or some M&Ms, itsa your choice. Baby octopus will be served, along with anyone else you bring. Signor Simoni will provide a 2015 Nero d'Avola produced by Caleo in Sicily (Terre Siciliane or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, which is a EU designated area of production), to accompany a bowl of shaped pasta, like gemalli, tossed with a great beef and mushroom sauce made with ground beef, fresh mushrooms, fresh oregano, and tomatoes. Please, don't drive down the Canneto again, that didn't end well for Luparello. My sergeants have something to tell you. At some point, you will all burst into warm, deeply touched applause. Now, listen to what they say:

Jack: I really enjoyed it. Entertaining, suspenseful – although I did get a bit confused with the forty (40) character names. Fun! A-

Charlie:  A-  Fun fiction!

Mike: Hey, when we dress a corpse, how many of us have ever gotten the underwear on inside out and backwards? Never a problem, right? I don’t think I will be recommending this book to anyone – a little crude for some readers, very confusing for most – especially me! Why was the neck brace thrown over the wall at The Pasture? A piece of evidence which should have made Giorgio a person of interest right from the start. I was going to give the book a C+, but the pasta presentation elevated it to a B-.

Dick J: Thoroughly enjoy these books. I laughed out loud. Then I made the mistake of recommending it to my wife – that didn’t come out well. I love the series, have read them all. This was not the best. The series is well written, interesting, much like Donna Leon. Fun: A-

Rob: I found it confusing. I really liked Ingrid, who was every guy’s dream. However the ‘double’ ending on successive pages providing two different endings? Also, the Commissioner apparently just pretended to go along with Inspector Montalban. The book was clever, often mysteries end with justice being done. I still enjoyed the book. B

Keith: B- Three points:
 a. the author spent twice as much time on decimal places as he did on the integers (the plot).
 b. An octopus goes into the bar, and his owner bets all comers that the octopus can play any musical instrument. They try a piano, a trumpet, a harmonica, he does it all. Then a Scotsman walks in with a bagpipe. “You can play it!” says the owner. “Play it?” says the octopus. “I want to get its clothes off so I can screw it!”
 c. As we all know, Sicily is the home of the sonnet. In its honor: 

       The Shape of Water 
   He offers an opening “full monte” 
   With a denuded “delicta flagrante.” 
       Though the plot’s a bit weak
       If it’s lewd ‘n lusty you seek 
   Then Salvo’s your witty commandante!

Ron B: I picked this book for insight into mystery novel. The first time I read it, I considered it a B+. The second time I went through to gather the characters, an A-. I probably would read more of the series but I was put off by the sexism and racism. A-

Tom G: Fun read. I was put off by a little overly crude. Am I a prude? It was pretty short – I read it in one day on a Sunday. B

Bob S: A- I enjoyed it. As it progressed, I sorta could see the formula of how he put the clues together. Interesting and intriguing. I wasn’t as put off by some details like the neck brace, which was needed to prop the corpse up to look real. Some of the policemen talk was pretty low but insightful: “You have clarity in your thinking. You must have had a good shit this morning.” I would recommend it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Old Man and The Sea by David Hays & Daniel Hays

DAY 82:   0300.    I check the horizon and am impressed with how clear it is.

0430.  Our motion changes - I'm halfway on deck before I've even opened my eyes, and when I stagger through the hatch I wish they were still closed.  My eyes, not the hatch.

I realize suddenly that we are but one week out of bringing our small craft into dock at Caribou Bay.  We are expected at 1900 hours, and by that time we need to have everything stowed below decks, all manuals read and digested, and get Tiger into a small set of white works for the ceremonial piping aboard of Adm Woods.  

I have used the sextant three times in the last hour, and still find that my GP appears to be somewhere in NE Albuquerque, which I have always thought of as land-locked.  But we have 7 days to straighten this out.  Unfortunately, we're undermanned.  Lt. Ferrell jumped ship somewhere near Baja on the Mexican coast, Boatswain's mate Genoni is still hanging from the highest yardarm, and Seaman 3/c Gillen is pulling ARPA duty on the Manzano Mesa.  The rest of us need to take a deck bath or two, and turn to.  30 March 2017 sounded so far away when we started this voyage, but it is upon us and I feel woefully unprepared.  All I can do is scramble and claw through the chaos.  

We will be running the dingy out of Four Hills Bay, pushing off at 1830 hours.  

Carry on.   Sparrow is landing.  Last Thursday expects every man to do his duty.

Charlie P:  B+   This was a travelogue-plus; not a great book but very entertaining.  B+
Keith:  I thought it was a singularly unique dual biography of Father and Son.  I would like to see the story with two siblings; with a husband and wife; with a husband and mistress.  No message here - they loved each other and got along great.  B+
Dick Arms:  I enjoyed it, a good read.  Somehow it was disappointing, as nothing exciting happened.  I expected some Epiphany.  It would have been better if they were on the outs, then bonded during the Cape passage.  The writing was OK,  not great:  B
Mike:  I liked the honesty and the private personal stories of father and son.  Having the story told by two narrators, one with the day-by-day journal, and the father more reflective, was special.  I was moved to tears when Tiger was lost overboard; and as the book moved on, I was moved by the special relationship between father and son.  A-
Rob:  I missed the boat, to coin a phrase.  Two weeks ago, I realized I needed to get the book, but from the web site, I ended up with The Shape of Water.  To try to catch up, last night I watched the movie, The Old Man and The Sea, which was excellent.   No score.
Dick J:  I kinda enjoyed it but there were real gaps.  Such as at the end of the book, when he was returning and all the press was waiting for him.  It bothered me that the Cape passage seemed anti-climatic.  "There's the Cape - now go get a prostitute."  The father and son relationship was imporant to me, as I wanted that in my life.  Not great book, but OK, B.
Tom G:  I was very impressed.  I liked it, a page turner - I wanted to know what happens.  Both of the authors were excellent writers.  You expect that from the Harvard educated father, but Dan was only partly educated.  He was too much of a loose cannon to want in your Life, but very impressive with what he accomplished.  Mike was right:  A-
Kenny G:  I had mixed emotions - to begin with there were too many naval terms to learn.  It was better as it went on.  I found the humor to be fantastic.  I expected something big to happen in the Cape.  B+
Bob W:  I enjoyed it very much.  It became obvious to me that I was involved in the story when the cat disappeared and I was almost in tears.  I give it an A.  I first read it several years ago.  Both father and son had an excellent control of the English language.

... and from way North of the Cape:

Sorry I won't be able to attend the LTBC meeting at your house next week.  We're enjoying the jacarandas, bouganvillas, and beautiful weather (and two-dollar beer) in the highlands of Mexico.

I enjoyed My Old Man and the Sea.  Perhaps most interesting to me was the two very different perspectives of the events and the two different outlooks on the adventure as a whole.  I certainly appreciated the diagrams in the appendix.  They gave me a more complete picture of how the boat was rigged, outfitted, and organized.  A 317-day journey covering 17,000 miles in a 25-foot boat through some of the most dangerous water in the world boggles my mind.  (I am challenged whenever I take my 25-foot motorhome on a 60-day journey on North American highways.)  By the way, my basic high-school geometry did not help me understand David's explanation of celestial navigation.  Nonetheless, overall I thought it was a fun read and I would give it an A-.

Warm regards,


Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Gió thường xuyên đến hôm thứ Năm tại 14:00

"The American enterprise in Indochina was, I think, foredoomed by one thing, namely its direct inheritance from French colonialism in that region. The French empire should never have been restored after 1945. I think if President Roosevelt had not died, it wouldn’t have been. The United States should not have tried to come to its rescue, and shouldn’t have tried to succeed it. It’s not America’s role to succeed Western colonialism. It’s its role to help those colonies to become emancipated. And we missed that chance, and having missed it, engaged in a war where terrifying and illegal methods of warfare, like carpet bombing, the use of chemical defoliant, like Agent Orange, and other terrible war crimes were committed. And part of the reason why Cambodia went to year zero was that it had been half bombed back into the Stone Age already. And I’m sorry that should be on the conscience of anyone who supported the war, which I did not. But though I don’t try and evade the responsibility for what the other side eventually did, not just in Cambodia, but also in Vietnam, there was never any chance of keeping Vietnam partitioned, and it shouldn’t have been tried. Now furthermore, no American interest was really involved there. We were told we were fighting against the Chinese takeover, whereas the best insurance against Maoism in Indochina is always Vietnam. That’s been proved many times since then. So none of this applies in the case of Iraq, where we went to overthrow a hideous dictatorship that was a local aggressor, a sponsor of international terrorism, had used weapons of mass destruction inside and outside its own borders, was hated by its people, and was in thoroughgoing breach of all important United Nations resolutions. None of this, by the way, was the case with the government of Vietnam."  -  C. Hitchens

The crapulent majors of the Duc City met to interrogate one another re the acrid Apocalypse, Hitchen's Monday-morning summary, Nguyen's timeless prose, and Ferrell's forgotten involvement. They began by rattling their rice bowls at high noon at the Range Cafe in Bernalillo.  They found that Maj Jensen had been deployed to the Orient, i.e., Maui, and Maj. Gillen was to proceed by occidental directly from Manzano Mesa Tax Preparation Center. For the rest of us, the baht buses will form up for the crowded carpool convoy in the parking lot of the Range Cafe following lunch, at 1:45 pm on Thursday for the short but meaningful transformation to Sunset Blvd. All former communists were welcome.  Liquor to be provided by The General.

Meanwhile, we sent Violet over to proofread Jack's confession for Le Commandant.
"có thể gió thường xuyên vuốt ve trán nhăn của bạn, " she said.  And observed:­

Kenny G:  I think the author really knows how to write - eloquent writing, at times too eloquent for me.  Example in Chapter 22, with his "mattress' experience:  "experience yolk shimmering in ..." - a little two much at times.  The writing was very tedious at the end; and at times, confusing.  A-/B+

Ron B:  I read the first half of the book.  I liked the writing style - excellent!  I won't say I'm in love with it; and now I know I will not finish the (ending) 60 pages of torture.  He could have left out the squid episode.  I give it an A for the writing.  Throughout the book, I felt strung along with the commandant.  This is the last war story I want to read.

Dick A:  I think this guy has tremendous talent for writing.  He developed an excellent point of view throughout, then in Chapter 21 he uses the third person, as he was viewing himself.  I was bothered that he was a spy, yet everything he did played his part as a mole.  From a writing standpoint, how few have "names" - just the Madame, the General, the Captain (narrator).  Solid A.

Rob E:   This was a very impressive book with creative, imaginative writing. On the down side, I thought the movie part was overdone. I liked the author's phrases like the "kudzu of strip malls" and "pneumatic Miss June." Then, there were the "cross-­eyed catfish" that inhabited a fish pond situated under an outhouse (the fish watched the overhead butts, waiting to be served). However, he went too far for me as a Hank Williams fan, when he chose Hank's music as a way to torture prisoners. (He should have played "Your Cheatin' Heart, rather than"Hey, Good Lookin' " ­ Hank didn't use g's ­ as a way to work on a prisoner's conscience). Then, he went on to characterize country music as music to lynch by. That's unfair.

The Mao-­like "re-­education" that Uncle Ho imposed on what was South Vietnam was really grim. However, the author's essay on cleavage was quite entertaining. This was cast as a spy novel; the Russian spy novels by John Le Carre have grown more introspective over the years and I thought Nguyen fell into that format: ­­ too much introspection and navel­-gazing, at the expense of action and intrigue. Bottom line: this was very impressive as a first novel ­ I give it an A for creativity, imagination, telling his country's story in a compelling, way.

With respect to your comments on editors, I've been wanting to tell this story. Back in the 80s I was Editor of a technical (statistical) journal. I reviewed a submittal by a fairly well­ known statistician and found it not suitable for publication in my esteemed journal. I conveyed that message as diplomatically as I could. It happened that this author also edited a journal ­ sort of a vanity press for statisticians, one with low standards. This is where authors sent their papers if they got rejected by other journals.
He wrote me (approximately): I know what it's like to be an editor; perhaps you accidentally sent me the wrong form letter. I wrote back: Perhaps you accidentally sent your paper to the wrong journal!. After that, I always tried to stay out of his line of vision at conferences we both attended.

Tom G:  I agree about Hank Williams - that is part of our culture and tells me the author is not yet fully assimilated.  The book was often a little overdone.  The ending left me cold.   Could this be my lack of Zen?  was it really 'nothing' he did for the communist agent?  But as for the two sentences of nothing, I saw 'nothing' to distinguish them.  Then there was where he had the narrator "crack open a carton of cigarettes and offered her a cigarette" - makes no sense.  A-

Charlie:  Not much to add.  A-   Incredibly well written.  Extraordinary good writer.  As fiction, it made me look back on my life - brought back to me many thoughts.  Also, he explained for me the difference between refugee vs immigrant.  Give it an A as excellent fiction, and a comment of the current environment re refugees.

Keith:  The author:  1/2 French, 1/2 Vietnamese, 100% American.  Not a false narrator but not believable.  My second point:  the novel had a great start to it, but I felt the viscosity grow as I read on, finding myself in a jar of Vaseline.  I thought the middle bogged down.  This was an epiphany in eternal nothingness - as he said, a revolutionary in search of a revolution.  The will to live is the great truth.  I give it a B as I found it overwrought.

Bob S:  I think I have many of the thoughts that Keith did. I give it an A because he has captured the basic workings of human nature in a very literate manner. This was one of four takeaways. The other three included the loss of cultural identity, the loss of any commitment to a cause he could believe in that led to a spiritual awakening and finally the revulsion he felt from the horrors of war including his complicity in killing innocents. It bothered me when (in the middle?) that there was so much money, blood, sweat, tears spent to create a blood bath of killing. I got incensed. Also, the narrator was living with the ghosts of those he had killed. The third theme/plot was most interesting: that so many refugees ended up with no connection to any culture. The Captain like many of his fellow refugees was disconnected from the Vietnamese culture and thrust into the American culture, perhaps creating his bifurcated mind.
Finally, I loved the Zen ending: in his isolation of captivity he gained objectivity as he gained distance to view his existence, looking from far away (in the third person). As an objectivized observer, the Captain experienced an awakening, or nirvana. At the end, he gained a Zen like enlightenment that accepts all the craziness of his existence - and then he says, "Well, just live!" [see the essay at the end of the book about the birth of his son, the process of Life going on: "We will live!"] I thought the insights were great, and the unfortunate aspect of war was insightful. The self-awareness was all good

Mike B:  As I read the first 50 pages, I thought, "Wow!  This is the best thing I've read in twelve years!"  Then the next 50 pages dropped down, and only revived as the General's spirits revived, as he ordered the death of the crapulent major.  Relentlessly creative!  At times wore me down, but mostly I was impressed with the creativeness, such as saying the commandant laid page 307 down on top of 306 to complete the confession.  Solid A

Jack:  I found the novel fascinating - the first book I've read that tells the story from the Vietnamese point of view.  I found his use of irony very powerful in underscoring the absurdity of the war and its consequences. It was not an easy read and in places very uncomfortable, but it was important to get the Vietnamese perspective of a time and place I had thought I would just as soon forget.  I would recommend this book highly:  A

... and from well outside the Mekong Delta:

I'm in Maui so I will not attend the book club on Thursday. I read The Sympathizer and loved it. It's a powerful story that is extremely well written. It's a tough book to read but I learned a great deal about the war in Vietnam and the lives of Vietnamese immigrants to the United States. I hope the author writes a sequel. He apparently has recently published a book of short stories that focuses on ghosts. Sorry I will miss the discussion. Grade: A. The book deserved to win the Pulitzer Prize.
   -  Dick Jensen.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Um, um, um!  Lawsy, lawsy, miz Scout, but weren't that meetin' somethin'? Shore, we'se learned that Methodists is Baptists what reads, but we'se learned much more than that.   We'uns learned that somethin is rotten in Monroeville and them lawyers waz behind it!  Why, that youngun Emmett Till done got hisself lynched in August of 1955!  And he was but borned in 19 and 41!  And Miz Scout, you done published in 1957, did you not?  Now, then, Uncle Jack hisself done invited all the Citizens Council to Maycomb County NE and they'se not kept themselves quiet, much.  Here's what I heard 'em asayin':