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,

Jack

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':

Thursday, December 22, 2016

God Bless You, Mr Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

The following constitutes the minutes of the annual meeting of the Rosewater Foundation held Thursday 15 December 2016 on the estate of Eliot Rosewater, Rosewater, IN. Those present were requested to discuss the concept of pearls before swine, with relevance to the following points:
  • When did you first read a Kurt Vonnegut novel?
  • What worked in this 1965 story that would not work today? 
  • Why is it that every year some rich young man comes in to our Law Firm and wants to give all his money away? "Your travels are over, Space Wanderer!" ­ 
  • The works of Kilgore Trout.  
  • Re Norman Mushari of Cornell Law School: how does one certify that his tremendous ass was indeed luminous when bare? 
  • Poo-­tee-weet? 
  • How does God Bless You, Mr Rosewater lead into Slaughterhouse Five? 
An accurate transcription of the investors' comments follows.
       Respectively submitted,
                             The Law Firm of McAllister, Robjent, Reed, and McGee

Jack Farrell:  I had read Slaughterhouse Five previously.  Like SHF, this book was thought- provoking, involving issues associated with distribution of wealth;  The Father-Senator figure is an image since Roman times. It was tragic that the rewards for compassion and sharing was life in an insane asylum.  I highly recommend it:  A

Charlie:  these were cartoonish characters, in a satiric and dark view of all things, not a compassionate view.  B+

Bob Woods:  I was 14 when I first read Vonnegut.  I read lots of them and considered it almost science fiction, not a lot from the story.  This did not meet my expectations for a Vonnegut story.  I missed the point until the last chapter.  Not impressed.  B+

Kenny G:  This was my first Vonnegut book.  Since I thought the meeting was not until next week, I blasted through, Genoni-style.  I found it repetitious, I expected more humor.  I did not find it to be very humorous.  "... luminous ass" and the "banana thrust through a pineapple ring"  B+

Bob Simon:  I found it a fast read, I loved the dialogue.  Good at, raised some interesting points such as how rich people make a life for themselves when endowed with great riches.  I found the ending very unsatisfying and similar to Farewell to Arms by Hemingway.  B

Dick Jensen:  I have been reading Kristin Lavsransdatter, a Norwegian historical trilogy.  I read this Vonnegut after one-third of Kristin, and enjoyed it because everyone was crazy, and very tongue-in-cheek.  Giving to 53 kids, we create a multitude of lawsuits, Fred probably did not get anything.  A-

Keith:  Kurt Vonnegut would reply to our criticism by saying:  "I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous.  He or she is like a person who has put on full body armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split."  He loathed science, and his brother was a scientist.  The writing was rambling with islands of wisdom.  Does not know what he does not know.  B-

Dick Arms:  I had no problem with his character development, he had great characters.  Fred was a great character.  The high school girl selling porn.  But what is he trying to tell me?  I never resolved why did he write the book?  The ending was an enging that kept the money from going to Rhode Island part of the family.  A-

Tom Genoni:  It was a disappointing ending.  Preachy stuff - adolescent. Vonnegut:  "I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out - I am a fool."  There is a surreal fel throughout the book.  Would not recommend it.  B

Mike B:  This is the first time I have read this book since 1965.  I read a lot of sci-fi then; now, as a more discerning reader, I find that I enjoyed this more than Slaughterhouse Five, except for the catch phrase, "So it goes."  SH5 was an anti-war book written at the height of the Vietnam War.  I really liked the Fred character, trying to sell life insurance.  There was a great deal more plots and things going on, and it was fun and cartoonish.  I would recommend it.  B+

no comments submitted from outside of Rosewater, IN.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Kit Carson's Autobiography

   Once again we were on the trail.  We had remained in our camp on Powder Creek till the first of April, 1837.  It was time to head to Park Avenue in the great Southwest and attend the seasonal rendezvous.  This has been one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced, but Capt Simon assured us of warm victuals and vino to assuage our needs.
  This year's rendezvous commenced on the 17th of November 1837 with six wagons arriving after sundown, once the Blackfeet permitted passage.  With the mules we proceeded south, looking for any extranieous mountain men. Capt Jensen and Private Blackledge did not make this trip.  In periods of delirium they perceive they are somehow related to the Blackfeet and seek a replacement scalp.
    Rendezvous attendees are often encouraged to send dispatches of their understanding of the manuscript and this gathering will be no different.  The remainder of the crew will be served well if they can but remember to guard the horses, keep the buffalo from our camp by building large fires in the bottoms, and cover their shorts.

 The following I hereby transfer to Capt. Robert O. Simon to be used as he may deem proper for our joint benefit.
      Yours
              -  C. Carson

Tom G – Unique; nothing like it. An interesting read after I stopped reading the footnotes. I got a real feel for his life and history of the time and places. It seemed to be an introduction to lots of other history. Grade - B

Ron B. – I found Carson’s Autobiography interesting because it dealt with so much familiar territory, especially Taos. I am thinking of reading other accounts of this history. One of the things I found interesting is how old historical accounts such as this book express a different point of view of their world than a contemporarily written history describing that same time and events. This Autobiography provided insight into the minds of the people who populated that time, an especially interesting period of American history.
  He lived in almost constant danger among Indians. What an amazing series of adventures! I was impressed by the several trips he made as courier of dispatches several times from California to Washington, D.C. and back in the late 1840’s because that was the fastest form of communication. There is no way to judge the writing. Fascinated by the events in the book and its good information about our area. Grade – B

Charles P. – An Important historical account and document. I am amazed how Carson could sustain such a life of action as a hero for 40 years. His actions exceed by far the lives of most persons. As a book it was nothing, simply a repetition of events without any real insight into him or the events of his life. I experienced no enjoyment in reading it. It is not a literary work and I would not recommend it, except to someone interested in the history of the period. Grade – C

Keith G. – For me the Autobiography paints a picture of an American: small in stature, big in ego, following orders, a womanizer, with a Napoleonic complex. An enormous Ego.

Carson is a unique character in American history. Bigger in life than in death. “Uniliberatable?” (Possibly, “an illiterate”). Each person must judge Carson by their own standard. Grade – a good B

Dick A. – had difficulty getting the book on Kindle, so ordered by post. Then got it on Kindle. So I read both the Kindle and the hard copy. Since the Kindle aggregates all the footnotes at the end of the text, I found reading the hard copy with the accompanying footnotes gave a much better flavor to the whole thing but made it a more dry read. Interesting history and geography, but I would not recommend it to someone unless they love history. I am glad I read it. I learned a lot. The book was written and Carson lived in a period before attitudes toward Indians changed to our current politically correct views. I give it a B, especially interesting for exposing that historical period’s attitudes toward Indians, Mexicans, and Washington.

Bob W. – I read it on Kindle, so did not read the footnotes. I found it an interesting account of what it was really like being there. Now we think of Indians differently; then it was war over horses. I also found it an interesting juxtaposition to the Zorro stories about life in California at the same time from the Mexican perspective. It is not a work of literature, but I learned a lot about history. Carson’s Autobiography brought the history of the Southwest to life. Grade - B

Ken G. – I tend to agree with Charlie. A little about history that was shocking. I found the book to be repetitious, boring, and did not cover all of Carson’s life. My research into Carson’s life on Wikipedia provided more complete information on his life. I noticed that there were many conflicts with Indians, but not all Indians were the same. Some were peaceful. I was shocked that the Americans massacred the Klamath Indians for no reason. The slaughter that occurred in much of the book seemed like Isis, murder without rhyme or reason. I learned a lot but the book was not well written. Grade – C

Bob S. – my opinion of the book as literature is the same. It is not a literary work, perhaps because it was a recitation by an illiterate. But I chose the book because it is an amazing 1st person account of an important era of American and Southwestern history. I became interested in primary source material when I took William H. Goetzmann’s American Studies course at UT in 1966. Charlie and I attended UT in Austin at the same time and were both exposed to some of America’s great academics because of our special curriculum. Goetzmann’s idea was that a better understanding of history can be gained from the study of primary sources. He created the discipline he called American Studies from this concept, first at Yale and then at UT. There are several themes I am exploring in this choice. One is whether there is a continuum of literature that has on one end the Great Books, as Mike noted and on the other end simple historical narratives like the Autobiography that merit reading only because they are of historic importance. This book is clearly the latter. I put down Blood and Thunder several times but could not put down the Autobiography. Grade – B

Scrivener’s Footnote – I am amazed that so many comments appeared to validate Goetzmann’s unique American Studies approach to American history. I think Goetzmann would have been pleased by comments, such as, “Whites and Indians were at war over horses.” “There were lots of conflicts but some Indians were peaceful.” “The book gave an insight into how attitudes towards Indians have changed in America from Kit Carson’s time to our time.” And finally, the thought expressed by several that the book exposes a very different perspective about the historic times than we can get from a historian writing about the same events from a contemporary point of view.

Your thoughts seem to validate Goetzmann’s idea that studying history from the perspective of 1st person accounts and historic literature written in the era being studied gives a different understanding of those historical events than reading a historian’s account of the same events written in our era. I am happy I chose both Kit Carson’s 1st person narrative and Hampton Sides’ contemporary Blood and Thunder, because comparing the two provided a great opportunity to examine Goetzmann’s theory. For me, Carson’s original 1st person narrative of his life, even filtered through the mind of a scrivener, engages me in Carson’s life and time more than a contemporary work written by even such a skilled writer/historian as Hampton Sides. It is a shame that we do not have a better account in Carson’s own words. As Dick J. commented; “He (Sides) also makes the point that Carson was good at telling stories in gatherings at peoples’ homes—why did he not tell stories when he was writing an autobiography?” I am reminded of a couple of Hatchet Jack’s comments to Jeramiah Johnson in the movie by that name, which seems to loosely follow the life of Carson: “Watch your topknot” and the great one that applies to each of you who participated in this intro to American Studies, “You’ve come far, pilgrim.”




and from well outside the Sangre de Cristos:

Hi, Bob - I wish I could be at the meeting.  I have read both books on Kit Carson and below are my comments on both.
   -  Dick J.
             Kit Carson's Autobiography edited with an Introduction by Milo Milton Quaife

   The brief autobiography of Kit Carson was an interesting read but it provided little information about Carson as a person.  I did learn that he traveled a lot, killed a lot of Indians, and that he really did not respect the courage of Mexicans.  He did seem modest in spite of his many accomplishments.  I wish the unkonwn author would have kept some of Carson's language - I think that may have made the book fore interesting.   I would have liked to learn more about him  maybe I will learn more when I read the etyra credit book by Hampton Sides.  Sides has a perfect description of Carson's autobiography (p. 10).  He said it was "a bone-dry recitation of his life and leaves us few clues.  It was said that Carson told a pretty good story around the campfire, but his book carefully eschews anything approaching an insight."   He also makes the point that Carson was good at telling stories in gatherings at peoples' homes - why did he not tell stories when he was writing an autobiography?"  Maybe it was because he did not like his fame nor was he willing to promote himself.

   The footnotes that Quaife put in the text added a great deal of information and made the events in the book clearer.

  The introduction by Quaife was quite pompous (as we professors tend to be) and in the end did not prove to be useful. He set out to explain how the manucript was produced and who the real author was (apparently someone listened to Carson and wrote down the stories).  In the end, Quaife concluded that he really did not know who produced the manuscript - though he does take a feeble guess.

    Grade:  C+

                                          Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder

  Blood and Thunder is a very thoroughly researched and quite well written book.  The title is taken from a series of twenty-five cent novels of the "blood and thunder" genre.  Many of these books told stories about Kit Carson that never happened.  The books made Carson into a national celebrity and hero.

  Sides attempts to outline the events in the American West from the 1820s into the 1860s.  The book focuses on Kit Carson's role and actions over that period.  The author also discusses the role of a Navajo leader and leaders of the U.S. Army.  I think the book suffers because the author attempts to tell too many stories.  He jumps from period to period and from person to person, often interrupting the flow of the story.  I found these interruptions unnecesary and frustrating.  I also wonder why he left out significant periods of Carson's life such as the years he spent as an Indian agent.

  I learned a great deal about Carson.  This book is 500+ pages long.  At times I had to force myself to keep reading.  I'm glad I finished the book but I was tempted to quit on several occasions.

  Grade:  B+



Dear Bob, I'm holed up near Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island without shoes and doubt I'll be able to complete the Long Walk before the rendezvous near the Rio Grande on the third Thursday, so I hereby transfer the following to you to use as you may deem proper:

 Driven by curiosity and by what I thought was a need to know, I plowed through Kit Caron's Autobiography, including the "Historical Introduction" and the 131 footnotes. I was curious to see how an illiterate mountain man would write his biography and I thought I should learn more about what makes an American "hero" tick. Not sure my curiosity or my thirst to learn was satisfied.

Although not as graphic, I could not help thinking about Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, where scalp count/body count was the measure of success and fortune. If Kit Carson wasn't anything else, he was a killer. I am glad I read Hampton Side's Blood and Thunder, because it gave a more complete and perhaps a more sympathetic picture of this man of contradictions.

Not sure I would recommend the Autobiography. C

Regards, Jack


Kit Carson’s Autobiography: Mule Meat Matters
                             Review comments by M.A. Blackledge

We attacked them, and although I do not know how many were killed, it was a perfect butchery. 

Last night I went to a Women’s Basketball Game at The Pit. The National Anthem was sung by a Navajo woman, in the Navajo language. It was a strangely moving experience, hearing that most familiar of American anthems with words that I could not comprehend. It made me think of Kit Carson, who I too quickly label as illiterate, with his great linguistic skills, his ability to communicate with essentially any tribe or group in the American West in the 1840s.

Prof. Simon has informed us that his professor at UT encouraged his students to read original source material. This is not an uncommon methodology for a college education – I suggest our members skim the Wikipedia article on Great Books. Most of us have heard of The Harvard Classics (now in the public domain), and the program of St. John’s College (with two campuses – Annapolis and Santa Fe) is famous for this approach, having its students read the original texts and then enter into discussions with their mentor rather than the more traditional classroom approach. I am embarrassed to confess that I have experienced so few of those Great Books – probably about 3% of those listed in the Wiki article. But as Prof. Gilbert will tell you, I am a graduate of the US Naval Academy and thus never had a college education. And since my reading discipline is perhaps about 3% of Prof. Jensen’s, it is unlikely that I will cover many more of them during my remaining reading regimen. Recall Stephen Ambrose thought that all of us should read the diaries of Lewis and Clark. I haven’t done that either.

However, in the realm of history, we are fortunate to have historians who read those original sources for us, and produce great distillations such as Band of Brothers, Alexander Hamilton, and Blood and Thunder. These are obviously not primary sources, but for me, for many reasons, these are better. They provide the alternate views and the context of the times. Now consider Kit Carson’s Autobiography. We accept that Carson did not write these words. What did Carson actually say to Turley, and how did the ghost writing project proceed? What was left out, what was smoothed over, what was punched up? I am hoping that the Book Club discussion included the concept of patois – that it is fairly accepted that #TheRealKitCarson spoke in a backwoods patois, the dialect of the mountain man. We have snippets of his actual quotes in life which reinforce this. This is not the language of Turley’s transcription. Thus is not Carson’s ‘Autobiography’ by definition several degrees of separation from the true story of Kit Carson? If not what he actually lived, certainly not what he actually said.

Regardless: I found portions of the Autobiography to be moving and informative for my concept of Carson. One of the best examples of this is the unfortunate story of Mrs. White, whose rescue was imminent, and one of the few places where the usually terse Carson repeats himself due to his conscience, with his second guessing that an immediate attack on her Indian captors, which he espoused, would almost certainly have saved her life. And one of the most endearing stories for me occurred soon after, when at the end of an Indian and Californian fight, Carson came across one of the many books already written that publicized and exaggerated his life – how surreal an experience.

But I love Hampton Sides characterization of Carson: “He was also a natural born killer.” I was privileged to experience the anguish of Prof. Simon as he struggled with the choice: should I have the Club read Hampton Side’s Blood and Thunder, with the Autobiography as extra credit? Or the other way round? I am glad I read both. An example context that Sides provides and Carson could not: The happenstance of the mountain man riding 26 days across the desert and into Socorro at the very moment that Gen Kearney had also arrived south from Santa Fe changed both of their fates and gives credence to the vicissitudes of fortune for all of us. Kit Carson’s Autobiography is not one of the Great Books. I honor Prof. Simon’s courage and vision in the trail he chose for us semi-literates traversing the desert of pulp non-fiction, the trail less traveled. He gave up a sure “A” selection to have us encounter this “C“ exploit.

The past is a source of knowledge, and the future is a source of hope. Love of the past implies faith in the future. - Stephen Ambrose