Sunday, November 3, 2019

Field Trip: Las Vegas (NM)

Thursday 24 October 2019 - Saturday 26 October 2019

Harvey Girls gather in the Castaneda Bar with
Kathy Hendrickson, Indian Courier for Southwest Detours
What an adventure! To think that our book club members (and wives and lovers - together for the first time ever) were treated to the most delightful evening at the Hotel Castaneda before others had the privilege --- even the Harvey Family(!) — speaks to LTBC persuasive powers, plus our sense of history and legacy.

The delightful Katey Sinclair, our host for our Private Dinner 
Some delightful feedback from one of the aforementioned wives:  "We thoroughly enjoyed everything — a marvelous dinner, the talented Chef Sean, the charming Katey, the beautiful venue, the behind-the scenes kitchen tour, and the camaraderie with new-found friends!

"An outstanding job of organizing the whole event. You were the most gracious host and knowledgeable tour guide. We thank you for dreaming up such an event (and including the wives)! It truly was unforgettable! Bonnie, as usual, you were your charming self and so damn funny. (You’re our own Marvelous Mrs. Maisel!) Everyone felt so welcomed and comfortable thanks to your endearing personality.

"We will certainly write a note to Allan Affeldt. (impressive that he took our group on the hotel tour; I am sorry I missed it, but I desperately needed that extra hour of sleep!)  Encouraging others to visit Las Vegas is high on my agenda — certainly because of the two of you — but also because of the work that Mr. Affeldt has done to capture the history of such an interesting city. What a legacy!"

Don Quixote, who also was in big trouble
 for excessive reading, oversaw the LTBC meeting.
The charming Sheila was all-too-kind to mention our tour to Montezuma's Castle, which gained no entry to the once proud destination hotel and resulted in being evicted from the "open to the public" Dwan Light Sanctuary by a scrawny yoga girl in ill-fitting tights.  Thanks, don't mention it.

Furthermore, we gained entry into the Carnegie Library, since 1906 the only such operating in the state (Raton's having been burned down, and Roswell's having been shuttered up).  We traversed down into the kid's room of the basement in keeping with our proud [as once stated by charter member Gary Ganong] Tradition of "A traveling group of pedophiles" and no one came forward to evict us here.  A victory of sorts.

Discussion comments on the book Appetite for America are available here.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Appetite for America by Stephen Fried (2010)

The Southwest Chief Train #4 was heading from Albuquerque to Las Vegas with the Last Thursday Book Club aboard, on their way to a meeting at the Hotel Castaneda, the first in 78 years.  As the train chugged into the station, the following comments were overheard:

Jack:  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and learned a hell of a lot.  Fried is a true storyteller.  I will recommend this book to friends.  A

Tom:  I agree - his style made it easy to read.  I knew nothing about Fred Harvey.  I am still bummed out about the demolition of the Alvarado.  A

Karl:  This is a good book. It’s interesting and informative. It’s apparently very well-researched. The writing style is crisp and clear. The book is organized logically and the narrative flows smoothly. The amount of information provided is huge, yet not overwhelming. It is well-written. While endeavoring to tell a story about a real family and its family businesses, it also sheds quite a bit of light on the growth of the American west from the mid-to-late 19 th century through the mid-20th century.

There are a couple of omissions that I wish had been included in the book. The first has to do with some of the Harvey business locations being shuttered under Ford and Freddy’s leadership. Who made those decisions? Why? And How? This is typically something not seen of a company during the “empire building” phase of its existence. The second has to do with the lack of detail of the end of the Harvey businesses and why the Harvey name fell out of our collective consciousness. Given the Fred-Ford-Freddy contributions to American business and the other famous folks with whom they came in contact, that they’re not much better known is a surprise to me. Some understanding of why that’s the case would have been a good way to conclude the book.

Those two issues aside, the book is one I’d recommend to anyone who might have a passing interesting in the era, the location, trains, or business development. This would be a good book for an enterprising business school to recommend to its students.  A

Charlie:  Agree.  A-

Rob E:  Really good.  I thought Jack would mention the Chapter Titles.  Starting with the Las Vegas chapter titles, it was in the 1970s when the Alvarado was demolished.  Among the several history books we've read, this was perhaps the best done, by stringing together bits yet they all read smoothly.  Some of his wording was beautiful:  "God's early sketches for the Grand Canyon."  He captured me there.
Great appreciation of New Mexico.  Fred Harvey's management style was not Sandia's management style - enjoyed reading of his methods of keeping tack of data, food, details.  Nice to see a history book that was reader friendly.  A

Bob WoodsA.  I read the whole thing, which is indicative of its quality of writing for me.

Bob SimonA-   Great book.  I liked the factoids, such as the Rough Riders were gathered here.

Mike B:  I didn't choose this book, it chose me.  Easterlings had tickets to the Aug 2016 "An Evening With Fred Harvey" which they gave to Bonnie and me, and the guest lecturer taught from Fried's book.  Bonnie bought it and read it and recommended it.  When the Castaneda was going to open ... well, the rest is history.
Great job by the author - now I know to blur the distinction between historians and investigative journalists.  Very interesting writing, did not stay on any one 'side subject' too long, the story moved well through the three generations.  A

[Tom G redux]:  Kenny G would hopefully have found this nit-pick:   "nearby Roswell..." - say what?
"Teddy Roosevelt Alcove" - approaching balcony overlooking courtyard at Hotel Castaneda, 
Las Vegas, NM.  Site from which Gov. Teddy Roosevelt addressed the Reunion of the San Juan Rough Riders, 1899. 
[Source:  Appetite for America, ISBN 978-0-553-38348-5, pages 154-157]
Field Trip comments are available here.

and from well beyond the Rough Riders Reunion alcove:
Here is my review of Appetite for America. After reading it I am sorry that I will miss the meeting to discuss it.
Thank you for choosing Appetite for America. I really enjoyed the book. It is well researched and quite well written. The book makes a strong case that Fred Harvey made a significant impact on the development of the American West. I learned a great deal of new information about the West. I must admit that I knew little about Fred Harvey before reading the book.
The book is also an excellent study in the history and development of an organization. The company was founded by a creative individual, was sustained by an excellent administrator after the death of the founder, and the organization floundered because there was no one in the family capable of leading the organization after the death of Ford Harvey. The logical leader was a woman and her leadership was not acceptable at the time--her gender certainly would make no difference today.

The book is full of interesting information. That is both a strength and also a weakness. At times in the second half of the book the author included interesting facts but they were often not necessary. At times I found myself plowing through information that could have been left out.
  I will pass the book on to my nephew in Utah to read and share with others.  Grade A-
Well-known Editor (Fair Condition,
Some Pages Missing
) and Author
(Appetite for America) meet for the first time
 in Castaneda Bar, Las Vegas, NM, October 2019.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

Nine native American wannabees gathered in the twilight outside the parkside hogan to drink a bottle of 2016 De Ponte Pinot Noir in order to connect to Abel and his buddies, although this bottle was more than $3.00.  They sang the old songs and spoke of poetry, fiction, and the intersection of the two found in the Kiowa chants and stories. 

Dick JB

Mike: Cheap joke: Abel was unable - however, Abel was not disabled. As Benally relates, he was unlucky. Later Benally admits the truth - it was too late for Abel. And there was no ketoh. Bob Woods said the writing reminded him of Hemingway and I see that with Book 3, especially with that narration embedded in italics: told by Abel about Life with Grandfather. Beautiful memoir, realizing he knew Abel wanted to go to the trading post.
There was a girl at Cornfields one summer. This third section was beautifully done. B.

Tom:  The book picked up for me in Part 3.  I thought the plan of  going to the mesa "for the last time:" was a plan for suicide.  B-

Karl:  When I saw the September selection on the LTBC list, I was very much looking forward to reading the book. I was quickly disappointed, though that may, in part, be due to such high expectations.
The first section is what happens when a poet tries to write prose. It’s awful. The descriptive phrases, similes, and metaphors trample the narrative rather than enhance it or give it color or depth or emotion. It does lend some credence to my theory that any book that attempts to maximize the average sum of the number of adjectives, adverbs, similes, and metaphors per page – regardless of how inane or absurd – can become a candidate for the Pulitzer. I wanted to quit reading the book several different times during its first 76 pages.
 The second, two-date section was better, though I’m puzzled by its first chapter. The second one seemed almost autobiographical of the author. I wondered about that.
 The third and fourth sections, I thought, were much better written than the first. I was quite engaged most of the time reading them. I found the jumping around of narrator and time period somewhat confusing in places, though the Italics helped a bit. I don’t understand the ending at all.
  For such a dark book, where it’s quite likely that the most frequently-used adjective is “black,” the title seems somewhat incongruous. I accept that it’s quite possible that I missed the entire point of the book.   C+

Bob S:  Momaday’s beautiful description of the land around Jemez Pueblo resonated with my experiences of driving through the Pueblo and the Jemez River Valley and eating tamales within the embracing walls of red rock canyon.  This was real to me just as is my memory of standing at the edge of the Middle watching the lines of clans slowly dance across the Middle in front of the large kiva on a feast day in their traditional regalia. That immediate physical connection to the land and culture that exists at Abel’s psychic core was real to me as Momaday described it.
  Momaday’s description of the Indian peyote ceremony resonated with my experiences of taking psychedelics in the late 60’s; the visions and loving connections with those you are tripping with were real to me. I wonder if he was tripping in the late 60’s when I was; yet another connection.
   Reverend Tomasah’s poetic cadence about the teachings of John and the “Word” connected me to my memories and feelings I hold for Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac’s poetics, those beat hipsters of the early 50’s in “Howl” and On the Road. I dug the whole thing, except for the ancient religious chronicles.
   I will thank Keith eternally for choosing this book.  A

CharlieC

Bob WB.  At times read like Hemingway.

Rob E:  I was very drawn in right from the Prologue.  Growing up in Oklahoma, I had friends who took me into the reservation - I enjoyed the chants, the drums.  Much of this is in the Jemez.  C

Keith:  Most of my comments have been laid out.  An apt description is the inability to integrate into the white man's civilization; to leave the reservation, get stabilized, and then go back. A-

... and from far off the reservation:

Kaixo from Navarre, Spain. We are walking in the Basque Pyrenees, enjoying the landscape and the people, whose traditions are tied to their bloodline and the land in much the same way as the native people Momaday depicts in his writing. Sorry I won't be able to join in the discussion on Thursday. I would love to have shared my experience here and talk about how it compares with what I have experienced with the Jemez people.

 I found House Made of Dawn very powerful. I had the feeling that Abel's story was going to be a tragic one from the very beginning and in a sense it was, but his return to New Mexico and his rebirth at the end was a breath-catching relief for me. He was alone and running at the beginning and although he remained alone throughout the telling of his story, it was only at the end that he could run and "see" again.

Momaday's ability to use words to paint a landscape and create a mood is remarkable. I am convinced that even if I were not familiar with the area in and around the Jemez Mountains, I could still clearly visualize the landscape Momaday describes. I have never read any of his poetry, but I can imagine how he could elicit strong emotions in his poems. He is a master of the language. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, who enjoys experiencing the power of words and to anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of native people.  A

Regards, Jack

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.

GRADES –

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
radical.
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.