Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

  Naturally, like many of us, I have a reluctance to change too many of the old ways.  Thus it was that the last Thursday of the month, and indeed the last day of May, caused several of us in the service to gather around the fire in the servants hall at the residence of Sir Robert Woods in Oxfordshire.  As it should be, it occurred at the traditional time, 7 o'clock in the evening.  

  Now for a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to your advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?  What, indeed, is our Legacy?  The best we can hope for is to capture and publish a series of memorials and memoirs.   

  As you may surmise, Miss Kenton and I will not be in attendance at this Thursday's meeting, as we have run away for a fourth time from her marriage and are nesting in the Sangre de Cristos. I have taken the Ford of my former employer, and it is currently abandoned on a side road.  Furthermore, Lord Ferrell is traversing the depths of what is now called the Irish Republic, or perhaps the Wilds of Scotland, and Surgeon Palmer is hosting revolutionaries from Boston and the Colonies.  We requested Councilor Simon to collect the summary comments at the gathering of sympathizers and near-converts and provide them posthaste to myself or Miss Kenton.  Those aforementioned comments appear below.

Ken – a bit slow but memorable, unusually well written, eye opening,
 I enjoyed it  Grade:  A-

Tom – sympathize with Keith.  I have a similar dislike for long paragraphs.
 I liked the care Stevens took with language.  For me it was a page-turner, I could not put it down.  I felt for Stevens.   Grade: firm A

Rob - I was disappointed.  I remember the movie and I liked it better, I was put off by the long sections devoted to bantering
 I liked Upstairs/Downstairs better.  I did not like the excessive use of double negatives, like “he was not unperturbed.”   Grade:  B -

Ron – I like the book better than I thought I would when I got into his mind set.
  I liked the descriptions of England, perhaps because I have traveled in England.
  I enjoyed the documentation of a past era.  The excesses in language were part of the atmosphere of the book,   Grade:  A

Bob – painted a believable picture of an individual, but I had a feeling that there was lots missing.  Much was hinted at that should be in there but is not.  Within the walls of the novel he established, he did a good job.  Grade:  A –

Keith – lack of concision.  I can reduce the entire book to two words, “garrulously gassy”   with lots of loquaciousness stilted language.  I did not enjoy the butler talk.  Specialized.  If you can speak until you die, this is an example.
 Lots of words, not much content. Overly wordy, unlike poetry  Grade: B –

Robert S – I found it hard to engage with because it was so slow moving.
 Also, Steven’s personality was a bit off putting.
 I found it an excellent explication of the times and station of a between the Wars butler.  Set in the 50’s but described the 20’s and 30’s as the big house culture was ending.   Grade: B+

And from well outside of Moscombe:

Dear Bob,

  Sorry I won't be able to attend the LTBC meeting you're hosting on Thursday.  We're not experiencing any social or cultural revolution, but we have been enjoying the music of the late 18th and early 19th century in Vienna and Salzburg as we roam around Mozart’s, Strauss’ and Beethoven’s old stomping grounds.

  I can't say I enjoyed THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, but I am glad I read it.  It gave me insight into a different era and culture for which I had little appreciation.  I found the story sad if not downright tragic, which as a student of German literature I can relate to.  I could also empathize with the situation the servant class found itself in at this turning point in British history; however, I had little compassion for Mr. Stevens particularly when it came to his relationship with his father at the end of the latter’s career and life.  Additionally, his relationship with Miss Kenton often seemed unreal and his actions uncaring if not cruel.  I did enjoy Ishiguro’s writing style and would like to read another of his novels in the hope of finding a more compassionate character.   B


The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Comments by M.A. Blackledge, 30 May 2018
  This was a fascinating book to me for several reasons.
  Having seen the movie by the same name, my reading vision was full of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. I will watch the movie again after reading the book, but the memory I came away with from the movie was all about unrequited love; my vision was of love offered and never accepted.  Most depressing. 
  The book was so much more, so very much more.  To begin with, the writing, the prose was captivating, beautifully drawing the reader into the well orchestrated view of the butler.  It reminded me once again of how some of our most excellent English writing is by English-as-a-second-language authors:  Nabokov, Conrad, and here Ishiguro.  (Here I can envision Genoni reminding us that Nabokov claims his nanny taught him English prior to his learning Russian, but we all know Russian was his ‘true’ language.)
  Then I loved how I was carried along, and it took me awhile before I realized we were in the presence of an unreliable narrator – something introduced to me by Nabokov, and done so cleverly here.  We actually get ‘alternative memories’ as our protagonist Stevens admits, “now that I think about it, that’s not the way it happened – here is what happened.”  This is first hinted when we see Stevens lies, he denies that he worked for Lord Darlington in the early days.  It was a bit of a shock, but he explains it away.  Twice he denies Lord Darlington in discussions with strangers, and thrice, like Peter disowning Jesus, before the tale is told.  On the car trip as he allows the simple people of Moscombe to go on being awed by this great man with the fancy Ford who has had Winston Churchill to his house.  
  The Nazi sympathizers of the mid 1930s; the English countryside; the heroic image of his father, head down, kneeling before his serving cart (hopefully this is the image I will keep from the book); the people and the servants and the Lords – all beautifully woven together in such well crafted prose.  And when at the very end, when Stevens actually admits his heart was breaking, my heart broke just a bit as we finally get a glimpse inside, that there are after all feelings within the costume, indeed within the English armor of a career pretender.  Solid A.
   -  Lord Halifax
      Edward Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax


  This was a beautiful book. While it initially seems to be slow moving and a bit too restrained, it develops into a novel with an extraordinary emotional content, with its story of of wasted lives, emotional dis-connectedness, lost love, and misplaced loyalty.  The writing is consistently wonderful.  Nothing to criticize here – a solid A.


  I had intended to attend last night but just did not feel well so I called Bob and told him I was not coming.  I was disappointed because I really wanted to hear the discussion.  Here is my review:

  I really enjoyed The Remains of the Day both times I read it.  I liked it even more the second time.
  This is a great book for people in our age group--many of us are looking back at our past and trying to enjoy the days remaining in our lives.

  I found the characters in the book to be interesting, the book had a great plot, and it was extremely well written.
  I watched the movie but liked the book much more than the movie.
  I would give the book an A.



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Here was this man Tom Genoni in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just setting. The book club was gathered as it was the last Thursday of the month, at the sundown hour.
This ain't going to be no goddamn Sunday school picnic, he said, to no one in particular. They think writing their memoirs is hard? This is gonna be harder.  Most of these fellers never even raised a daughter. They have no idea. A girl is different. They want things. They need things on a regular schedule. Why, a girl's got purposes you and me can't even imagine. They got ideas in their heads you and me can't even suppose.
  Ain't going to be no goddamn Sunday school picnic, he repeated. He looked out over the back lot and watched the wind whip the leaves around. The air was turning sharp, with a fall feeling of loneliness coming. Something unaccountable pending in the air. What would they say?

Dick J:  I won't take long.  I loved this book.  I read it twice and I read the trilogy.  It's an A.

Keith G:  I enjoyed the small town connection - in Pagosa Springs, in Jemez, everyone knows everyone.  They don't care how you are dressed, I can leave my key with a neighbor and they will walk my dog while I'm gone.  A

Mike B:  The loving, captivating, unisonous voice of Kent Haruf immerses the reader into a year in the Life of the small drama of small town America. Would Ike and Bobby grow up to be like the McPherons?  That would not be all bad.  The first fourth of the book was dark, despair, depression.  Haruf pulled the characters and the reader slowly along, until he brought us all together at the end.  A

Kenny G:  There wasn't a lot of plot.  It was a pleasant and heartwarming tale of how people live their lives.  I will remember this book and I strongly recommend it.  A

Charlie:  This may well be one of the top 20 books we have read.  I couldn't find anything wrong with this book.  A

Bob S:  A wonderful book.  If it lacked anything, it was the arc of a classic.  People were having trouble in their lives but he brought them together nicely.  A-

Rob E:  I felt it was a superficial look at rural America.  I got side-tracked by the bachelor brothers and couldn't get Garrison Keillor out of my mind.  I remember in my senior year of high school, one of the popular girls got pregnant by a guy who was a thug, our version of Russell Beckman.  I didn't get into it or find it as moving as I heard tonight.  A-

Tom G:  Solid A.  Best - what do we mean by that?  Enjoyable and had an impact on me, the best we've read since Shane.  I had a hard time putting it down, and then a hard time picking it up again as I worried that something bad was going to happen.  Just inside the front cover, six of the blurbs on the two pages of Aclaim for Kent Haruf's Plainsong use the word "spare."

... and from well outside of Holt:

Dear Tom,
I am sorry I won't be at the LTBC meeting you are hosting. I'll be in the sky somewhere between ABQ and BWI on my way to Cork, Ireland.  It should be a great discussion. Thank you for choosing the book. I loved it. My comments follow:

Kent Haruf's Plainsong is one of the best books I have read. I could not put it down. Coming from a small town I could easily relate to Holt and to the characters who populate it. Haruf's prose is simple and straightforward. The plain language he uses and the barren landscapes he paints create an atmosphere that helps drive the plot, which is an excellent example of how form affects content. In spite of the difficult circumstances some of the characters find themselves in, I believe the story resonates with hope. The generosity and love of the McPheron brothers, for example, far outweigh the cruelty bestowed upon Victoria Roubideaux. I highly recommend the book. A


Brothers of the Book-- Sorry to say due to unforeseen scheduling conflict I'll miss the meeting. I enjoyed the book. Liked the style and story line. Good pick, Tom. A -- Ron

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"In Memoriam R.W.A."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Deadly Cure by Lawrence Goldstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Year

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

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

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

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

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

We have miles to go before we sleep.