Friday, December 18, 2015

Mayflower: Courage, Community, and War

  Ten little Indians came together in early 21st Century America to discuss Nathaniel Philbrick’s portrait of our country's birthing in the 17th Century:   “There are two possible responses to a world suddenly gripped by terror and contention. There is the Moseley way: get mad and get even. But as the course of King Philip's War proved, unbridled arrogance and fear only feed the flames of violence. Then there is the (Benjamin) Church way. Instead of killing him, try to bring him around to your way of thinking. First and foremost, treat him like a human being. For Church, success in war was about coercion rather than slaughter, and in this he anticipated the welcoming, transformative beast that eventually became, once the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were in place, the United States.”

Kenny G:  This book had pluses and minuses.  On the plus side, this was an extremely interesting book from an historical view.  This was history I either forgot, or never learned.  The maps were good, not great.  Minuses:  too many tribes, skirmishes, war.  B or B+

Ron B:  I read the first part, as our host instructed.  An interesting book, well written, covered some very interesting history.  A-

Dick Arms:  I found it extremely interesting.  For two years, I lived in this area, looking down on Fall River, all the places in the book.  Great research, the author wrote it well, nicely done.  He could have written two books:  one on Plymouth, and one on King Phillips War.  Good read, went on too long.  A-

Tommy G:  Good history, great deal of research, adequate writing.  I enjoyed the first part and the last part.  55 years before the war was not very interesting.  B+

Dick Jensen:  I enjoyed it a lot, learned a lot.  A-

Keith:  I saw it as revisionist history.  The title is mis-leading as most of the book occurred on land, not on the Mayflower.  One has to read between the lines for the lives of the Pilgrims, and between non-existent lines for the Indians.  I read it as a form like this:  What is the value of history?  Here there were too many facts presented.  The Pilgrims showed up on a wooden ship, prostelize the Indians if they could, killed them if they couldn’t.  The Praying Indians were spies.  Today, through oil companies such as Exxon, Dow Chemical, we are the same way:  Religion is no longer in the mainstream, but money is.  This is a cynical view, but I don’t care.  When the author ran out of facts, he kept on talking.  This would have been a good 200 page book.   B- 

Bob Simon:  I thought that there is so much history, consolidated into grandular portions.  Fascinating for the most part:  people seeking to escape religious freedom, when confronted with survival, became animalistic.  Not unlike [William Golding’s] Lord of the Flies.  The Thanksgiving myth we grew up with was really a story of survival.  If you can’t beat them, subvert them.  A cruel strategy.  I enjoyed the documents presented, e.g., you can read the Mayflower Compact.  Fascinating how they erected this confederacy.  They exploited the Indians.  A-

Rob E:  I thought it should be two books, Mayflower and King Phillips War.  The book was good for me because of the gap between the Mayflower and the first settlers, and 1776.  But too much for this one book.  Philbrick handled Bradford differently from the National Geographic version (Saints & Stringers).  Two civilizations clash, people die.  I was unprepared for the sachem’s head on a pole.  The first part I read, the second part I skimmed, as it was not compelling, to figure out:  B

Jack Ferrell:  There was a line from a song on the radio I heard on the way over tonight that best describes the book:  too little chocolate, too many chores.”  The chocolate was when it talked about “my town” – the chores was the timeline of history.  I found it difficult keeping up with the chores.  B+

Mike: I feel that I learned a great deal from this book.   Were there too many facts, too many Indian names and place names?  Perhaps, but unlike a fiction book, I think I will remember some of these real characters from our nation’s earliest days:   Massasoit, the wise sachem of the Pokanokets; Benjamin Church, the 33-year old carpenter who found he loved the military skirmishes, relished recruiting his own men to include Indian warriors.  And John Howland, the servant who came up to get some fresh air and almost lost his life because of it, yet went on to represent the true American dream:  Servant rises beyond his status to success in the New World.  A-

Friday, November 20, 2015

Up Front by Bill Mauldin

Up Front by Bill Mauldin

Nine dogfaces gathered in the enlisted men’s latrine to discuss WW II, POWs and aircraft crashes on American soil, and what Ernie Pyle called “the finest cartoonist the war had produced.”  Bill Mauldin’s work provided insight into “the tiny percentage of our vast Army who are actually doing the dying.”  The doggies grunted as follows:

Charlie:  It was a wonderful book.  It got me to thinking, how good was it without the cartoons – and I think it was still good.  The book gave me insight into what the poor guy in the infantry was thinking.   Very sympathetic, well written.  A

Mike:  This book gave me the feeling that a publisher came to Bill Mauldin and said, “Hey, you have some great cartoons, and we’d like to publish a collection of them.  Why don’t you write a paragraph or two about each one?”  Not a book for a book club, nor would I recommend it other than as a collection of Mauldin’s cartoons.  However, he did capture some of his defense of the dogface.  C+

Ron B:  I agree but for a higher grade. Stephen Ambrose was a better writer of the war experience, true.  But I found something compelling in Mauldin’s text.  I appreciated his insights, e.g., French vs Italiano.  He was not cynical in his views like Tony Hillerman (in his autobiography).  I was touched by the ending story:  the medics wounded, one dying.  He put a human face on the war.  I found it engaging.  A

Kenny G:  I agree with Mike and Rob.  It wasn’t great literature.  This is the first book we’ve read with cartoons.  This put me in the trenches with the foot soldier.  It made me pull out my WW II books, and made them more interesting.  B+

Bob Woods:  I give it an A.  Historically interesting.  I wish one of Caesar’s legionaries had written something like this – wouldn’t that have provided a great perspective.  The cartoons were fascinating, but I found it very interesting why he chose to draw that subject.  

Keith:  The US has issued a Bill Mauldin stamp featuring Willie and Joe.  For a prize, when was it issued, where was the First Day of issue, and what was the rate on the stamp?  (answer after the poem).
The Dog Face Soldier Song

I wouldn’t give a bean
To be a fancy pants Marine
I’d rather be a
Dog face soldier like I am

I wouldn’t trade my old ODs
For all the Navy’s dungarees
For I’m the walking pride
Of Uncle Sam.

On Army posters that I read
It says “Be All That You Can”
So they’re tearing me down
To build me over again

I’m just a dog face soldier
With a rifle on my shoulder
And I eat raw meat
For breakfast e’v’ry day

So feed me ammunition
Keep me in the Third Division

Your Dog Face Soldier’s A-Okay!

[This song is still sung every morning by the Third Division.  See here and especially here and elsewhere on YouTube and Wikipedia.]  [answer to quiz:  31 March 2010, Santa Fe NM, 44 cents]

Tom G:  I liked the writing and the point of view better than the cartoons.  The insight on the GIs was powerful, the cartoons to me were not humorous.  Ron’s word excellent:  I was engaged from the first several pages.  I came away with a strong sense of mud.  A lot of the war was just sitting around in very uncomfortable venues.  A-

Dick J:  As I said during our earlier discussion, I read this book as a child many times, and thus I wondered what my feelings would be reading it this time, as an adult.  The cartoons were still wonderful.  A-

Bob Simon:  I liked it also.  A-  An interesting expression of his experiences.  Next year we will be reading Kit Carson’s autobiography, as my Univ of Texas professor impressed on us the importance of primary source history.  This book provided a direct experience of what it was like to be in the war.  As a direct expression of his experience is why I chose it.  We will be dealing with direct experience for the next two years, with Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums (in 2017).
… and from well outside the combat zone …
It's very impressive what Mauldin did, via his cartooning, in WWII.  Give him A+ for that.  To me, though, the book got a bit tedious, repetitive as it went along.  I didn't finish it, even though I took it on my recent  road trip.  My grade:  B

Cartoons that particularly got my attention:

p. 59 - one of many cartoons demonstrating soldier-comradeship.  Every time I see WWII vet reunions on TV, it's so obvious and heart-warming how much the remaining few love each other.  In a different era, my cousin, Ross, is an example.  He was a Navy pilot in Vietnam, got shot down, was quickly helicopter-rescued.  He and his band of brothers get together annually.  When I see Ross, he loves to talk about these reunions, show me photos, videos, ...  He tears up, I tear up.

p. 13 - This one brings to mind the helmet-penetrability project I was on a couple of years ago. That soldier must have had a heck of a helmet liner - or skull.   It also illustrates a recurring theme for Mauldin about the disconnect between the foot soldiers and the brass above them.  Hillerman's autobiography had a lot on that theme.  His main beef, as I recall, was that Intelligence was nearly always wrong.

Sorry to miss the meeting, but I've long been a Suzy Bogguss fan.  I first saw her about 30 years ago when she opened here for The Statler Brothers.  She never made it up to the Rheba, Loretta, Patsy level, nationally, but she's persevered and I'm still a fan, have been to several of her appearances over the years, including one in Placitas (not Placates, damn you SpellChecker!) 3-4 years back. 

Until December!

Sorry to be missing the meeting but with the temperature about eighty and the surf breaking outside my doors I am surviving.

Bill Mauldin says at the start he is a cartoonist not a writer, and I agree.  The cartoons are great but most of the text was probably not necessary and not particularly amusing.  Therefore a B for the book, since I think we are judging the literature not the illustrations.
Dick Arms

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Old Man and the Bee

A collection of pre-93 curmudgeons gathered Last Thursday in the Strangers Room at the Cedar Crest Chapter of the Diogenes Club.   A plethora of hors d’oeuvres, including biscuits, royal jelly, and tea was consumed, and had its expected effect.  A discussion broke out on A Slight Trick of the Mind - the book by Mitch Cullin and the movie by Ian McKellen. The movie won.  Mycroft was not present, but others spoke up re the book:

Bob Simon:  I liked it – maybe a B in lieu of my usual A-.  I didn’t like it quite as well as others we have read.  A problem for me was the multi-content approach:  first on this plot, then that plot.  The author is a good writer, and in some parts I was engaged, other parts not engaged. B

Dick Arms:  I enjoyed this book – looking back, I was bothered with the three stories going back and forth.  From the standpoint of writing, his descriptive words are good, not so much the plot, which did not appear to be going somewhere.  B

Bob Woods:  I give it a B.  I was underwhelmed.  I grew up as a Sherlock Holmes fan, and this put me off.  I didn’t like it.  Laurie King has done very well with a Sherlock Holmes series, and comes off like Conan Doyle.  This book suffered by comparison.

Keith:  I found it discursive.  That’s an Ivy League term for rambling.  The three stories in a tapestry were not woven well.  Great gaps.  I submit anyone here could provide a better description of senility and make it more compelling.  B-

CharlieB.  I don’t have much to add.  It didn’t catch my fancy.  Too long – but the movie was wonderful!  Ian McKellen does a great job.  Interestingly, I also have read The Martian and have seen the movie, and there also the movie is better.

Tom G[in recommending movies, I suggest Sicario – on the Mexican drug trade.]  The book is about a senile old man – what is not to love?  I read it yesterday, so the interweaving of the plots didn’t bother me.  I didn’t care for the Japanese story – but he interwove them at the end.  Good writer, good description.  B-

Ron Bousek:  The interweaving of the plot lines is easier to do in a movie, harder in a book.  B for just some of the reasons as stated.  Not engaging, but some good parts.  B

Mike:  When an author chooses his characters from another work of fiction, he is twice judged.  Cullin should be exposed for pushing what appears to be his personal agenda:  Japan, the bad Americans dropping the bomb on same, and gay boys.  From the myriad letters Holmes receives every week, why would he accept an invitation from an unknown Japanese man and travel halfway around the world in 1947 at age 93, with no business class flights?   Just to visit a prickly ash?  Give me a break!  And then Umezaki’s brother is not really his brother but … oh, my!  But the saddest part for me was Keller’s claiming his wife was playing the armonica because he could hear the music – reminded me of the Tony Hillerman “mystery” where we were told the man must have drowned since they found his hat floating in the river – oh, brother!  I almost choked on my Jamaican!  C

Kenny G:  I actually thought some of the writing was excellent, but it got tedious.  Of the three stories, I liked the story of the kid, where Holmes used some of his detective skills to deduce how he died.  I didn’t like the story of the woman, Mrs. Keller.  Overall:  B

Jack Ferrell:  I would agree with Tom.  I did enjoy it, but disliked the Japanese story the most.  The only Sherlock Holmes story I have read before was Hound of the Baskervilles, which Ben Smith hosted, so my feelings were not pre-conceived.  I felt it had a tone of optimism.  B+

Rob Easterling:  I had a halo effect:  I read one-half, then saw the movie, then read the other half.  I liked his insights, thoughts, and behavior.  I liked the way the three stories interwove.  I haven’t read a lot of Sherlock Holmes, but I felt this character captured the essence.  I liked the way he wrapped up Watson and Mrs. Hudson.  Good read with insight.  A

And from well outside of Sussex:

I will not be in attendance at the next meeting of the book club--my wife and I will be in Hawaii.
I have read Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind.  This is the second book not written Arthur Conan Doyle that I have read where Holmes is a character in the novel.  There is an excellent series of 12 novels by Laurie R. King where a middle aged Holmes meets and marries a young American woman--he then trains her to be a detective--I have read 2 or 3 of them and enjoyed them very much. 
I thought the story in Cullin's book was extremely interesting--Holmes as a 93-year-old man who is losing many of his mental facilities (as are many of us)--he goes on an interesting trip to Japan and talks about his relationship with a young boy named Roger who shares his love for bees.  There is also an interesting story written by Holmes about his infatuation for a woman many years before.  The book is well written--I especially enjoyed the descriptions of nature.  
I wish I were going to be at the discussion--it should be a good one.
Grade: A-
     -  Dick "The Big Kahuna" Jensen

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

We learned Tolstoy’s mother was a princess, and Leo was a count.  He joined the Army as a “junker” – junior officer that is somewhat of a gopher.  Jack pointed out that the 12 chapters are subdivided into three groups of four:  the first four are his journey through Life; the next four are his diagnosis and struggle with the concept of Death; the last four is his dying and finally, accepting death.  “Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.”   Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t come to yours.”  With that in mind, several readers came to pay their first respects:

Bob Simon:  I give this book an A-, my usual grade for a well-written book.  This is the first Russian novel I have read, and I enjoyed it.  The first 40 years provided insight into the Russian legal profession.

Dick Arms:  When I started this book was a B – short, depressing – but very well written.  It moved up to an A.  It was interesting to me that this short book engendered so much discussion.  We are all concerned with our own death.  I have not ever read any Tolstoy before.  A

Kenny G:  Although I thought it was well-written, at my age it was depressing.  B+

Charlie:  I give it an A; I think of it more and more.  This is an emotional issue; it eats away at you like a pain in your side.  This business about Death is depressing and the book is A.

Bob Woods:  A-  Profound, philosophical; could have been a lot shorter.

Jack F:  I agree with everyone else.  The theme interest is a function of our age.  Challenging, worthwhile, A

Mike:  I appreciate the insight of the discussion.  I found some repetition in the last few chapters, when Ivan was dying, which was highly distracting.  I found it amazing that Tolstoy (even translated) could describe and discuss the banality of life, e.g., choosing the decorations for the apartment, and make it interesting, even compelling.   A-

Tom GA-  as a novella, I agree with the comments that the book was insightful with respect to the people surrounding Ivan.  I didn’t think about the translator, it didn’t bother me.  Some beautiful language, e.g., re Ivan’s sad marriage:  “There remained only those rare periods of amorousness which still came to them at times but did not last long.  These were islets at which they anchored for awhile and then set out upon that ocean of veiled hostility which showed itself in their aloofness from one another.”

Dick J:  I did not look forward to reading this after War & Peace.  One night after dinner I started into it, and I found I really got into it.  I didn’t understand the image of the black sack and the light until our discussion.  A-

Ron Bousek:  I have a joke and a poem.  The joke:  a priest, a lawyer, and an engineer are sentenced to death by guillotine.  The priest says “I want to die looking up to heaven.”  … The engineer looks up, and says, “Hey, I think I see your problem!”  The book we read has the tone of this poem:  “Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden.

I liked this book.  It reads relevantly even though it was written so many years ago – dealing with bureaucrats happened to me.  Good read:  A

Keith:  I enjoyed it also.  Not only its brevity but also a subject we don’t often discuss.  Like a girl in a mini-skirt, there may not be much material there, but there is plenty to talk about, viz.:  the foibles of death – its inevitability. 

Nabokov:  The Tolstoyan formula is: Ivan lived a bad life and since the bad life is nothing but the death of the soul, then Ivan lived a living death; and since beyond death is God's living light, then Ivan died into a new life – Life with a capital L."  A-

Saturday, August 29, 2015

King Lear - Book Club Comments

Dick Arms:  How to give a grade to Shakespeare?  I suggest limited reading.  From the standpoint of ideas, he is fascinating.  The Old King in his story is now changing his will.  Great literature:   Some of it is awfully contrived, coincidence heavy.  I give it an A because it is Shakespeare.
Bob Simon:  I give it an A also.  I was in Paris in May at a private home art collection:  from Gelato to Caravaggio (a leading exponent of Baroque art).  His painting of a snake in the grapes reminds me of Shakespeare, who captivated the true human condition and projected it to theater. Worthy of whatever grade – so compelling.
Rob Easterling:  Occasionally as an adult I have done some light reading of Shakespeare.  I appreciate your picking this, aging parents in here, our offspring facing taking care of us.  This is good for an aging men’s book club.  Lear needed a Turnover Plan.  The first two or three acts were tough for me, until I found the No Fear Shakespeare for King Lear.  I give it an A, and I appreciated the video. 
Ron Bousek:  Charlie gets an A; as for the play, several considerations:  1) Difficult to understand; 2) Need outside assistance; 3) Plot clever.  Some redeeming qualities.  As a secondary grade:  A; Primary: no grade.
Dick Jensen:  I have one daughter, and it bugged me how fast emotions happen/change in this play.  Edgar was taken out by Edmund’s oration. Can’t see someone disowning his own favorite daughter.  I don’t want to grade the damn thing.  Told my wife, “I feel like I’m going to English Class tonight.”  Punt:  A
Ken Gillen:  (sigh).  As opposed to those who read Shakespeare in High School or college, this is my first Shakespeare play since high school.  For the fun of it, I started reading the center column, Act 1, Scene 1.  If I continued, the grade would be D.  I switched to the translated (novel), and it was much more understandable, but still far-fetched.  Still not my cup of tea, but grade went from D to B.  Not thinking, “Gee, what is the next Shakespeare I want to read?”  Grade:  B
Tom Genoni:  I’m with Tolstoy and Ira Glass – the Emperor wears no clothes.  The translation was mildly interesting.  The value is in the language.  The DVD acting was way over the top.  C
Mike B:  When I think of Shakespeare, I think of Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes discovering it for the first time: I don't know what it means and I don't care because it's Shakespeare and it's like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words.”   Forget the plot, this is 16th century entertainment, but the beauty is in the King’s English. Very great kudos to Charlie for getting us the tools to enjoy this ancient work.  It was tough in high school, but the phrases hang around today for me:  “Nothing will come of nothing.”  “Now, gods, stand up for bastards!”  (words I live by).  Hamlet may be better, Henry V ( St. Crispin’s Day speech) are A, this is A- 
Bob Woods:  I had always heard of this as great literature, but I was not impressed.  The plot was a skeleton to hold vignettes on.  The plot, play was contrived.  About a B.
Keith:  Concise summary:  Tragedy is 5 acts:  Defeat, Desperation, despair.  [see the previous blog entry for the Poetaster’s Leary Review]  B

King Lear - by Poet Laureate of the Last Thursday Book Club

A "Leary" Review

by the LTBC Eminent Poetaster

Oh my, the Tragedy of King Lear,
Crown of England ... but alas, not all here
Plans to carve up his Royal Throne
Among three daughters ... his very own.

But wait!  two are very, very bad
Only Cordelia truly loves her Dad
Again, my friends, dementia prevails
And 'tis the evil duo Lear hails.

Poor Cordy's not asked to his dance
So she elopes with the lascivious King of France.
Now the evil daughters plot Daddy's pain
While King Lear goes slowly insane.

He first tries streaking a stormy heath
Clad in naught but his chattering teeth.
Lear's friend, Gloucester, suddenly joins in
When he sees where Loopy Lear's been.

So the serpenty sisters, out of spite
Gouge out Gloucester's "insightful" eye sight.
But wait!  Cordelia's French army returns
And for her dear father she greatly yearns.

They meet, hug and kiss
As if nothing's amiss -
For a brief moment it seems, my friend
Like we enjoy sugar & cream again.

But alas, as we near our final scene
Things really get nasty & downright mean.
That's to say, our body count
Starts to exponentially mount.

Edmund has Lear and Cordy jailed
So again, dark evil has prevailed.
He then has sweet Cordy hanged
Let the one good daughter be "dangling danged."

In the end, beaucoup blood is bled:
Lear, Gloucester & Edmond, door-nail dead.
Indeed, only Albany, Edgar & Kent
Survive the carnage ... their lives not spent.

Methinks Lear's ex-kingdom's on a slippery slope
And alas, dear friend, there is no hope!

P.S.:  "A tragedy is about defeat, damnation, death & despair
          These are shades of Life we all must bear."