Sunday, September 1, 2019

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Book Club Meeting on August 29, 2019

Charlie introduced the meeting to Geraldine Brooks.  She was a war correspondent who met her husband, an American, overseas and married and decided to settle down and raise a family at the age of 38.

She was Australian and went to journalism school at Columbia, graduating in 1983.

Dick – It is a depressing subject.  There were lots of archaic words I did not understand.  I learned a lot of words.
I did not think about the book after I read it both times I read it. I enjoyed it but it did not leave much of an impression.

I looked at an interview with the author and she commented on the heroic efforts made by so many people in the situation.

Jack – the situation gets worse and worse still, but that held my attention. 

Tom – the last paragraph was a slight bone The book should have ended when she and the Vicar waved goodbye.

Charlie – no plot, just a lot of anecdotal events.

Keith – Depressing.  I don’t which was more depressing. Caleb’s Crossing or this book.  In Caleb’s Crossing the dying woman describes her life.

Bob – each of her books has a connection to an historic document.  In this case it was the Dryden poem.

Tom – is this creative non-fiction?  The incidents described are true with the insertion of a plot into those events.

Bob - she tries to relate experiences from the viewpoint of the narrators in her stories.  This is like the style of writing as Wilkie Collins in the Moonstone who shifts the awareness and dialect of narrators as the plot line shifts from place to place.

Dick – It is really a love story. Her love interests shift through the story from medicine (and a model of an independent woman, my thought) to the preacher and the preacher’s wife, and finally to the love of a new culture and new profession.

Tom – But, it also shows lots of evil in persons, such as her father and Colonel Bradford.

Bob – I would probably be permanently maddened if I was keel hauled.

Dick – The book shows how a desperate situation brings out the best and the worst in persons by contrasting their responses to the situation.  Also, these were lead miners, not many lived to old age and lead may have had an effect on their brains and bodies.

Jack – I had a German friend in Stuttgart.  After WWII, he made money by salvaging lead from destroyed buildings, mainly the lead supports in leaded glass windows.

I liked the length of chapters and how the book was divided into three chapters.  The first part was Leaf Fall, the second part was Spring, although Spring seemed to last for over one year through most of 1665 and 16 chapters and finally another Leaf Fall. Apple picking time is the sole chapter in the latter Leaf Fall part. Each chapter’s title appears somewhere in the text of the chapter.


Dick – tough to grade.  Parts I liked and parts depressed me.  I enjoyed her other two books.   B

Keith – She was telling a story, it had no plot   C

Tom – The title implies to me God’s biblical words to Moses, “Thou shall do my wonders” when God was referring to the among other terrible thing the plague on the first born of each Egyptian family.  B+

Rob – creative, she created a plot around old times.  I made me wonder why bad things happen to good people.  The book turned out to be theological for me
It described real people in a bad situation.  B

Bob S. – It is a good book, I enjoyed the period writing and the insight into the thinking of the people as they were confronted by the events happening to them.  I particularly enjoyed her education in medicinal herbs, which seems to me interesting when compare to the butchery by barbers, as a prelude to modern medicine.  A-

Karl – This was a nice read about an interesting topic. I particularly enjoyed the language, style, and period vocabulary. I can think of only one other book (that being a medical text) for which I had to look up more words than I did for this one. On the downside, Anna was a bit too much of a superwoman for believability. Saving the girl's mine in one day was the event that stretched my ability to believe beyond my capacity. And the fairy-tale ending, though nice, was a bit far-fetched. Still, a worthwhile read.  B

Jack – A bit of a soap opera.  She is a good storyteller.  I like her style of writing.
She created an interesting story.  B+

Charlie – I enjoy historic fiction.  I have read lots of plague related material, but this was the first book that really described what plague was like.  The ending did not make sense.  A-


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Nine erstwhile physicists gathered for the last time at Ventana del Sol and had the following comments:

Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman
“Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.” 
― Richard P. Feynman
One doesn’t hear the term Renaissance Man thrown around in this modern day of specialists – it is usually used to describe those in the past such as Leonardo da Vinci or even Michelangelo. Prof. Genoni would probably nominate Dr. Benjamin Franklin; Ben Smith may even have suggested Sherlock Holmes.  The relevant description is “unquenchable curiosity.” 
Reading Richard Feynman’s charming autobiography, one sees all the attributes:  A strong curiosity for all of Life and the willingness to spend time and effort to investigate all sciences – from physics to bongos to medicine.   Who better than Feynman to entertain his dying wife by encapsulating her in his anti-censor code schemes. 
I truly believe such individuals are born, not made – their inherent desire and drive cannot be controlled, it can only be enjoyed at a distance. 
I would love to hear the story of how he came to writing this book – was it another inward driving force, or the curiosity of what it would take to capture science in a reputedly non-scientific book.  Regardless, he succeeded.
We have all written our own memoirs, our own short autobiographical pieces, and thus we can appreciate what Feynman has captured here.  And you know he is having fun telling the stories, as personified by his liberal use of exclamation marks – I think perhaps half of which were deleted by his editor.  The cover photo is a great one, and is captured in words by his student’s foreword.
 The Sapiens species is propelled forward by such energy, such curiosity, such willingness to go the extra effort – for a laugh or a discovery.  More cowbell, please!  B+
  If I had my way, every child would be sent two quotes:  the “Hello, babies! Welcome to Earth!” quote from Kurt Vonnegut at birth, and this one from Feynman at puberty, or whenever the kid is first asked, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”:
“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all.” 
― Richard P. Feynman

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Ten bloated bodies washed ashore at White Oaks and became part of a Last Thursday coroner's inquiry.  The following questions were posed and answered:

Bob S:  I had a slight problem with the book - like the Chilean mine disaster [Deep Down Dark], the details were a bit much.  Too much minutia.  Well written, well researched, not literately creative.  Masterly presentation of historical events, but I did not enjoy the book.  B

Dick J:  I read the book with no preconception of the Lusitania situation.  I really enjoyed it and learned quite a bit of historical events.  I'm glad you chose this book.  A-

Keith:  Well crafted, bringing together the Four Forces (Lusitania, U-20, Wilson, Admiralty/Room 40).  Well done, should be in our Top 25.  A

Mike:  I have a "Like/Annoy" relationship with Erik Larson.  He comes across as a 'Populist Historian' like Brian Killmeade rather than a 'true historian' like Hampton Sides or Steven Ambrose.  Every author [with the 'help' of their editor] has to choose what to include and exclude, however ... Couldn't he have told us when depth charges did come into the war? (apparently less than a year later).  In both books the LTBC has read, Larson lays on the foreshadowing with a putty knife.  B+

Karl:  This was a good read, presented well.  The juxtaposition of the U-boat story with the Ocean Liner story and the British MI-6 story made for an interesting tale.  It was perhaps a bit too detailed in places - his penchant for detail got in the way.  The unanswered question about why the British didn't do more to protect the Lusitania - and Churchill's role in the decision making - is thought provoking.  Bringing in Woodrow Wilson's personal life added something to the story and seems like a pretty unique idea.  However, I didn't think the Wilson part worked at all.
 I don't think that the various characters were painted in enough detail for me to feel any empathy or enmity toward them.  Certainly, though, the U-boat captain, Schwieger, seems to have been pretty ruthless.  But apparently no less ruthless than the British government in placing the blame for the liner's sinking on Captain Turner.  The author presented a good picture of Churchill, who was just as ruthless as Schwieger.
  I was one of the folks who hadn't realized that it was two years after the sinking of Lusitania that the US joined the Allies.  So, in that respect, this book was eye-opening.
  I can't say that this is a great book.  If however someone is interested in the story of the sinking of the Lusitania, I would recommend the book as a source of information, presented in an interesting, readable way.  B+

Jack F:  I enjoyed the book - unlike Devil in the White City, I found it captivating:  the hunter and the hunted.  Perhaps more than anything else we've read, it illustrates the end of one era, the beginning of another.  I would recommend it.  A

Bob W:  I found it very entertaining.  I learned a great deal about Wilson; the book covered a wide spectrum of historical events.  A-

Charlie:  The author spent too much time trying to entertain; I got the feeling he was trying to sell books.  This was not top level non-fiction.  B+

Tom G:  I agree with Charlie - the Devil in the White City was two stories shoved together with disparate story lines.  The author spent too much time on the paranormal - what, is he a wack job?  The writing itself was pedestrian.  B

Kenny G:  I really enjoyed the book.  The way it jumped between the pursuit and the pursued.  lI leaned a lot of history.  I was blown away by the research he does.  I gave it an A.

[side note from Charlie:  see "Berlin Diaries" by William Shirer]

... and from well outside the War Zone:

I'm sorry but I won't be able to attend tomorrow's meeting.  My two sons are coming into town for the weekend - to help us sort through pictures and stuff (because we're making plans to move to a retirement center).  (I thought my sons were coming Friday.)   I'm also trying to get Susie into a Rehab facility soon - to help her build up strength prior to our moving.
I will host July LTBC as scheduled.  I'm planning on an evening meeting, not a Greenside lunch this time.
A footnote pertinent to Dead Wake
My dad joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor.  During WWII he was on convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic.  After the war he enrolled at the University of Colorado.  He ended up getting a PhD (in 1951: history) with a thesis that is a study of convoys vs. U-boats in WWI.  I'll have his thesis and maybe some articles he wrote available for perusing in July.
I'll give Dead Wake B+ grade.  It's very thorough and certainly well researched, but at times I thought the details were overdone.  (I've had this same complaint about some of our other well-researched history books, so maybe it's just me.)
-  Rob

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Six Hindoos were seen outside Park Avenue last Thursday - it was clear they were up to no good.  The following mutterings were overheard:

Bob Simon: - I had difficulty getting into the book. I had trouble with Bettenger's Yorkshire dialect. But I became fascinated by the many plots and the different perspectives of the different characters.
The book also exposed many different cultural and social tensions within English society in the 19th century. The most obvious example was the suicide by Ms. Steadman because she loved Mr. Franklin and could not tell him of her love because she was not of his class and held an inferior position of servility as a housemaid. I thought Collins' delving into the dynamics of English society was interesting and quite
The plot was well developed but I had difficulty understanding some of the colloquial use of words and syntax unique to the period. Grade A
Karl - See review attached
Grade - B?
Bob Woods - I did not read the book in depth, I scanned it. I found that it had a number of interesting innovations, now found in many books.
I though the quicksand was unnecessary but added a mysterious element to the plot.
The English was excellent for the times.
Grade - B+
Ron - It is a period piece. I liked the narrative. The length was too drawn out for a modern reader. It is a second tier novel Grade - B
Charlie - It is an important book but I can't stand Victorian novels, including his friend Dickens. I could only recommend this book to Dickens and Victorian aficionados.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Notes on The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Nine runaways gathered out on the South Forty of the welcoming Loma Linda Farm and devoured hotdogs, imbibed Pilsner imported from the former Czechoslovakia, and swapped stories.  It is noted that there was general discomfort with the notion that the railroad was actually underground. Many of the readers found this to be quite perplexing and highly unlikely.  Reviewers were asked to provide a 3 word review of the subject book. The results are presented below. Longer reviews submitted in writing were redacted in keeping with the current custom in certain high places. The unredacted reviews will be posted below as well. Reviewers should feel free, and indeed are encouraged, to expand their reviews to 6 words in Hemingwayian fashion.

Mike- I felt hoodwinked... (redacted) C for crazy.

Ken- Interesting. Worth the read. Not great writing. B

Dick- I was disappointed. B
[Update {30 Apr 2019} Finally completed Blight's book on Frederick Douglass.  910 pages.  "It's a great book but I spent many, many hours reading it.  It's one of those books that you could read several times and learn something new each time. I don't think the guys in the book club would be too happy if they had to read it."]

Tom- Not great writing. B

Karl- Man’s inhumanity to man. B -

Charlie- An important educational piece. B

Keith- Yuk, yuk, yuk. C-minus

Rob- Uncle Tom’s Cabin is better. B

Ron- It kept my interest. A-minus

... and from well beyond the underground station:

As I finished reading The Underground Railroad I recalled the words of the uplifting song, from “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff, the first Reggae song I ever heard. It was at Joe Schepps’ Fourth of July party in 1976 (Our Nation’s Bicentennial). I was at his new house high on the ski basin road standing at his big window gazing across the expanse of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado when I heard “You can get it if you really want, but you must try, try, try, try, you succeed at last.”

Jimmy Clift’s words range in my ears as I finished reading this book about Cora’s struggle to shed to yoke of slavery that required her to learn to read, to leave her family and friends, to travel into the uncertain and unknown, and use force to defend her life. Cora’s struggle reminded me of how our country struggled and continues to struggle to lift the yolk of slavery from its shoulders. A struggle by millions of people that cost Millions of lives and still persists. So much, blood, sweat, and suffering. Will we ever be able to shed that dark mantle history has laid on our shoulders.

The book reminds me that America still is dealing with its history that seems so similar to the struggle Germany continues to go through to remove the nightmare of two world wars and the horrors of the world’s worst genocide it perpetrated from its collective conscience.

The book is well written and a wonderful introduction to the peculiar institution of slavery narrated by and about the one living it. I loved that there was no attempt to exercise political correctness and clean up the language. The syntax and vernacular rendered Cora’s experiences more real. Transmitting a real experience takes great writing skill and confidence and empathy and knowledge of the facts, especially when the facts are not within one’s own kin. I now know how it felt to be a slave and the extreme efforts and sacrifices taken by so many people to end it. I am confident that we are a better nation, now that slavery no longer infects our collective consciousness and that we are moving toward a more perfect Union. I enjoyed the book and thank Ron for selecting it. It had a profound effect on me, which is the highest compliment I can give any work of art. This story about Cora’s road trip to liberation should be required reading for every American.

I apologize that I shall miss hot dogs and beer and a stimulating conversation. I am going to New York to see family and shall attend “What the Constitution Means to Me.” I look forward to re-joining our small but perfect union next month. Grade - A
   -  Bob Simon

I felt hoodwinked as soon as we came across the first Conductor and underground station.  Say what?  This is not Alternate History as was The Plot Against America by Philip Roth – there we could see an alternate path that America may have taken, and how it may have played out.  Here the first ‘real’ Alternate History was when Cora entered North Carolina, and we hear the alternate path: import Irish immigrants to pick the cotton at near-slave wages, and dispose of the black slaves.  Did they get rid of slaves on the plantations?  Whitehead doesn't follow through with details; I don’t think so, or else the Night Riders would have no job. 

An actual railroad?  That is not alternate history, that is silly fantasy, for so many reasons, the biggest being obvious discovery.  The first 2/3 is so poorly written – like a 4th grader's essay on “What Slavery and The Underground Railroad Means To Me”.  Whitehead's slaves speak a bit of dialect but Cora still says e.g., 'mother' vice 'mama.' So far from anything the Pulitzer committee should consider.  So much better to do a real history like Bruce Catton’s monument to the Civil War starting with The Coming Fury and his description of the United States in 1860 – describes how slaves were becoming just too expensive in the North and South, not worthwhile until England's insatiable hunger developed for cotton goods following Eli Whitney's invention. 

 I find my feelings of being hoodwinked captured in this 1-star review on Amazon:
This story is badly framed between truth and fantasy, and fails at both. The writing is uneven, the story choppy and badly structured, amateurish. Sentences without verbs may work for Hemingway, but not in this frenetic, poorly written abomination.

I found it interesting to read the music acknowledgements that Whitehead added at the end of his book, e.g., how he puts on "Purple Rain" when he writes his final chapters.  I wanted to hear Genoni’s take on “Early Misfits.”   I thought it might be appropriate to consider Brewer and Shipley's One Toke Over The Line, Sweet Jesus, 
Awaitin' for the train that goes home, sweet Mary 
Hopin' that the train is on time 
Sittin' downtown in a railway station ...

I did not enjoy much of this book at all; most of what wasn’t clichés was silly fantasy.  The dialogue and the writing were disappointing. The North Carolina experiment was interesting but overly harsh – yes, import Irish workers, but why lynch all blacks?  I would not ask anyone else to read this.   Grade C for Crazy.   
-           Mike

I found Colson Whitehead's novel, The Underground Railroad, intriguing, disturbing, and at times mesmerizing. I admit I had mixed feelings after I encountered Cora's first experience with the literal railroad at the end of the second section entitled "Georgia," but came to terms with that by the time I got to the end of the fourth section, "South Carolina," by reminding myself that it was a work of fiction, not history. As a fan of the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I viewed Whitehead's use of the railroad as a literary device to propel the story forward. This style known as magical realism has the power to get at truths such as man's brutality and the existence of injustice and racism throughout our history. The Underground Railroad also reminded me of Joseph Conrad's boat in Heart of Darkness. I believe the train can be seen as a vehicle which allows us to penetrate into the dark heart of America--slavery and the different facets of racism in American history as stops along the railroad. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that Whitehead did a powerful job in depicting the horrors of slave life. A-

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Nine would-be detectives reported to the party at Uzi's near Academy and Tramway to discuss the clues and the crime.  They all had varying opinions:

Bob W – The earthy talk is somewhat excessive. There are BBC specials on J.K. Rowling that are quite interesting and worth viewing. One interesting note is that Rowling heard voices that command her to write. I was less than excited about the amount of pages toward the end of the book explaining how he solved the mystery, but I thought the language was beautiful. I knew too much about the author. I found it interesting how she put it together. Grade – B+

Dick J. – I have read all four Robert Galbraith mysteries. The series lacks some of the usual tension between police and private detectives. The book also features more personality development and local color than many detective stories. The book goes into great detail describing furnishings of apartments. My favorite sentence – At his nephew’s birthday party Strike narrated that “his feelings on the cooler side of tepid for his brother-in-law.” At no time was I bored. Rowling wrote the first three books one year apart; quite a literary feat. This was my second read of this book, but I could not remember who the killer was from my first read. It is not great literature. I read lots of mysteries. This book was interesting and enjoyable Grade – B+

Tom – I was put off by the epilogue fabricating a fake identity for the author. The Strike character reminds me of the Rockford Files, in which Rockford is poor, has lots of police and woman troubles and lives in a trailer in a parking lot by the beach,  John started Strike’s inquiry to try to pin the murder on Lula’s brother, Jonah.
Looks like John got murderously mad when Lula told John, “It’s done, I gave it to my brother." What seemed most unreal to me was that Strike drank 11 pints of beer. The book was well written and held my interest. My favorite detective series are the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout. I enjoyed the read but she could have cut our 30 to 40% of the bulk. I was able to keep the characters straight. I found her writing interesting. Grade – B+

Bob Simon – I didn’t discover until the end that the book’s author was J.K. Rowling, which was a pleasant surprise. Then I found out I was the last person in my family to have read it. I liked that there were several possible candidates as the killer from the downstairs neighbor to the Uncle. It struck me as being like a Thomas Hardy novel that wrapped up all the plot twists and connected all the clues in the last thirty pages. I found the first part of the book tedious, but after a couple of hundred pages, I got into the book. I was glad to have read it. Grade – B+

Keith – I seemed to me that Lulu was a metaphor for the real cuckoo, a bird that moves in and dominates any nest until the other birds leave. Lula was like that. She consumed the entire cultural landscape. See attached poem. Grade - C
Charlie – The elements of the plot were a lot more coincidental than normal. When I worked in the medical examiner’s office, the highest blood alcohol level was 3.5% and that was in a dead person. The level will increase by .2% per drink. The book demonstrates that Rowling has mastered the craft of writing but her writing still lacks the highest level of artful writing.  I read a lot of junk fiction 30 years ago. This book was well crafted but still was junk fiction.  Grade - B

Karl -- I enjoyed the book. It was a good read, but it'll never be confused with great literature. I found it interesting that Strike (with one exception late in the book) always answered every question posed to him truthfully and completely. This is atypical of private investigator fiction where the PI's generally hold things back. For me, the descriptions were often too detailed and tedious; they didn't help push the story forward. I had fun following Strike's wanderings through London on Google Maps; I was able to find most places, but not all. Finding out who the author actually is -- after finishing the book -- was the biggest surprise for me. I'm still trying to decide whether or not I'm going to invest the energy to continue reading the "Strike series." Grade: B.

Ron – this book reminds me of many other contemporary British detective novels. It follows the British template of presenting the murderer in the first chapter. I liked Strike. He reminded me of Luther played by Idris Elba, with all the emotional complexity of a man with difficult life experiences. The interaction with the detectives in this book was less formulaic than in other books I have read. The writing was pretty good. It held my attention from the very first, but after a while it got too long. I found it tedious and thought it would have been better at half the length. Grade – B

Next meeting at Ron’s on April 25. Come at 12:00 noon for hot dogs or at 1:00 for Book Club meeting.

... and from well outside Mayfair's Kentigern Gardens:

Dear Bob:  Sorry I won't be able to attend the LTBC meeting you are hosting next week. I am at 6,200 feet, sitting on my rooftop terrace enjoying the sun and a bottle of ice-cold Bohemia Oscura. No, not in Placitas; I am in San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, site of the Chichimec War (1540-1590--140 years before the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico) where the Chichimec Confederation defeated the Spanish Empire. It is also the birthplace of Juan Aldama and Ignacio Allende, two significant figures in the Mexican War of Independence (1810-21). San Miguel was the first Mexican town to gain its independence from Spain.
   Enough history! Let's get to the mystery. I enjoyed The Cuckoo's Calling. It was very entertaining and a perfect pick to read in a lounge chair with a beer in my hand overlooking San Miguel's skyline. I enjoy mystery novels and there were enough twists in this one to hold my attention. Occasionally I got bogged down in some of the dialog and scene descriptions, but on the whole I found Galbraith's/Rowling's writing style easy to read. Not sure it is great literature, but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys crime fiction. B+
P.S. Bob, thank you for choosing this book over Anthony Burgess' novel, A Dead Man in Deptford. I could only get one-third of the way through Part One of that book.
    Regards, Jack

Notes sketched on the Last Thursday
Bob:   Sorry to miss this evening’s meeting.
  Well into the Spring of this year and the Autumn of my years, and not unlike a Literary Johnny Appleseed, I am on a mission to distribute copies of Fair Condition across the Great State of Texas, in the hopes that the Land of Beto and Ted will find purchase for our seed.

As I travel, I have traversed some 2/3 of the March selection and offer notes and observations:
  1. I continually reflect back to the thought:  if no one had told me that this book was actually the work of J.K. Rowling, would I have approached it differently?  Did that fact prejudice my view, my interpretation, my observations?  I have found numerous descriptive passages, e.g., of the way the women dress, look, even act, where my mind says, “Ah!  It sounds and feels like this passage was written by a woman!  Way too much detail for a male author!” 
  2. I now understand why the Mystery genre has not been a favorite on mine:  too much work!  When Strike obtained the entire police file on the Lula case, my thought was, “Oh, no!  Now I, like Cormoran, have to go through all that file, piece by piece – and 99% of it will be routine, but there will be some clue in there, some incongruity that is not obvious now, but will break this case wide open in another 300 pages or so … and I must keep all this in mind as I go through those pages, limping along painfully like our valiant PI.”  Egad, too much to ask of me!
  3. Current grade:  B
  4. Appreciation:  learning more Brit slang, e.g., “paps”.  Love the interaction between Strike and Robin, especially early on as he called her “Sandra” in front of his new client, and Robin played along.  Great fun!
  5. Epiphany:  Like Texans, Sapiens are not all similar in their likes and dislikes.  I have had two qualified readers, including our own Dick Jensen, tell me, “That’s a really good book!”  To me, The Maltese Falcon was a really good book – the difference?  I struggle with that; perhaps the LTBC’s discussion clarified the distinction between clever writing and hidden mysteries.
Closing Notes on The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith on the First Sunday
  I did feel somewhat compelled, even wanted to read the entire book - I will give her that.  However: upon return to the cold hard light of the New Mexico early spring, I find my views have hardened.  I could not believe we all had to sit there as Strike, a man previously of very few words, laboriously went through for the audience of one-each murderer every nuance of his theories of how the murder occurred - right down to how many wet dripping flowers John had held up to the peep hole to fool Lula into opening the door.  Oh, yes, he had recorded it all, so wasn't that clever. This is not a good book.  This is a C book.    

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Goodbye To A River by John Graves

Eight erstwhile ascetics paddled down the Rio Grande and camped at the Range Cafe in Bernalillo. There they set up camp, gathered some driftwood, and skinned a small squirrel to share among themselves.  By nightfall the pup had quieted down and they waxed philosophically:

Bob S.:  Obviously I loved it.  Déjà vu all over again.  All those connections to John Graves, a great writer.  Not only a good writer but an instructor in history and the environment.  I was a Boy Scout in the old days, and when I contacted one of my old Boy Scout companions from those Fort Worth days, he said, "Hey, that book is required reading today!"   Just as interesting as our January selection.  Much like Hillbilly Elegy - there were mean, evil people could persevere out there in the frontier.  The author nailed it at various levels.  I give it an A.

Ron B:  I thought it was very good.  I think it belongs on our Required History Reading shelf.  Lively, colorful characters  A.

Mike B:  Last month I felt so sorry for poor ol' Jack.  Had to follow A Gentleman in Moscow, and he had picked some book about some guy paddling down some Texas river.  The members are gonna kill him. OK, I'll read a little and ... but wait!  This is good! Dang good!  Did you see what those Comanches did to Jesse Veale?  Can you believe those guys would work up a dummy?  And the Old Man and those local characters ...  The sense of humor and the philosophy left me feeling all warm and cozy like a pup under a tarp in a rainstorm on a cold night:  solid A.

Kenny G:  I have mixed emotions - he is an excellent writer but at times I was confused by his writing.  His experiences and the settler/Comanche conflicts eventually were a little repetitious.  Would have been nice to have an Index.  But I would still recommend it:  B+

Charlie:  Very good writing, excellent wordsmithing.  However, floating down a river didn't catch my fancy:  B

Karl:  If I had understood before I started that this was a travelogue with stories and philosophy thrown in, it might have helped.  Nevertheless, it was great fun to follow his progress on Google Earth.  I'm glad I read it: B+ 

Bob W:  I give it a B+  I think you get out of a book what you put into it.

Jack F:  I enjoyed it.  I grew up on Killbuck Creek in Northeastern Ohio (which runs between Wooster and  Coshocton, as you may know).  I could (and did) shoot squirrels and ducks at leisure.  After school, I would head out to the woods, tromping around for hours and sometimes shooting innocent sparrows with my .22 (non-automatic).  In the book I found spellbinding stories of people; the book reads like he was here, sitting on the couch, telling his stories in person.  A

And from downstream well past Glen Rose:

Gentlemen: I have been in bed for the past two days with an awful cold. So, I will not attend the meeting tomorrow. I am upset because I think the book could lead to some good discussion.

Goodbye to a River is a very interesting story of a older man who takes a nostalgic canoe trip on a section of the Brazos River in Texas. The book is full of interesting descriptions of the events on the river, events in Texas history, and discussions the narrator has with interesting local individuals. It's obvious that the author was well read in Texas history. He also had a great vocabulary--I learned many new words from the book.
The book has a major flaw: the author's writing style. The book is full of long sentences that contain clause after clause connected by commas. On many occasions I had to read a sentence or a paragraph 3 or 4 times and sometimes I still did not understand the author's point. In the hands of a better writer this would have been an A book but the writing reduced it to a B+. I would still recommend this book to others.
   - Dick