Friday, December 29, 2017

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Nine erstwhile articles of confederation showed up for lunch at the Canyon Club and gathered in an engraved portrait of Alexander Hamilton.  They expressed their views:

Jack F:  I enjoyed it.  Found it fascinating to read.  I did get bogged down in the detail.  H's early life was a great read - the first 50 pages.  I was not turned off by his word choice; it did not distract from the book.  A-

Charlie:  That's a good grade.  The author did a great job, but there was too much detail.  If it was really interesting, I could read a book this long, but it takes a full-time commitment.  A-

Dick Arms:  I didn't finish reading it; I bogged down after about 350 pages.  He told me his view point, and wrote it well.  B+

Ron Bousek:  I don't usually take much time to read in December, and this month I did not start the book - but did read some substantiating article in Wikipedia, e.g., Valley Forge and Hamilton.  I will pass on the grade.

Dick Jensen:  I used Mike's name in vain several times while reading this book, and found myself reading on Christmas Day to finish it.  I am in awe of people who can pull something like this together.  I learned a hell of a lot and plan to pass the book along to my only offspring, who has gone to Hamilton (the musical) 4 times.  A-

Ken Gillen:  An extra interesting history.  Because of my 7th Grade History teacher, I read only 1/3 of the book but saw the Play.  I learned a great deal about our country.  I remember from 7th Grade that George Washington didn't want to be King.  B+

Bob Simon:  H is a true genius.  My government class, Law School - none of that exposes what went into that work.  No one goes into how checks and balances (and government and country) were created.  As a lawyer, I would say there are never too many quotes.  The level of detail is amazing.  The book was almost a legal document as to how this country was put together.  This may was proof of the American Dream:  come from any background and make an impact.  The author had tremendous ground to cover.  Love to give it an A, but it didn't strike me as world class.  As history, great.   A-

Keith:  A comprehensive appeal was nicely summarized by John Adams:  "good, human, made him too supernatural.  History is a random walk, with the outcome unpredictable.  We don't learn anything from history.  B

Mike:  What constitutes a good biography?  It is a combination of thorough research and clever, even entertaining splicing of the facts into a readable document.  Chernow has achieved that at a high level, adding insights that may be his most important contribution.  Two examples:  comparing Hamilton to Jefferson: "In fact, no immigrant in history has made a larger contribution than Hamilton."  Also: “We have left behind the rosy agrarian rhetoric and slaveholding reality of Jeffersonian democracy and reside in the bustling world of trade, industry, stock markets, and banks that Hamilton envisioned. (Hamilton’s staunch abolitionism formed an integral feature of this economic vision.) He has also emerged as the uncontested visionary in anticipating the shape and powers of the federal government. At a time when Jefferson and Madison celebrated legislative power as the purest expression of the popular will, Hamilton argued for a dynamic executive branch and an independent judiciary, along with a professional military, a central bank, and an advanced financial system. Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” A  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Summaries and Guides: Alexander Hamilton

After the first 30+ chapters, I could not recall what was the main theme of each chapter - the 'perhaps too clever' chapter titles do not provide instant recall for me.  I prefer the old 18th-century chapters with a multi-word subtitle such as "in which our hero spurns the flirtations of his sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, only to flounder under the advances of a scandalous Maria Reynolds."
Instead we have Thirty-two:  Reign of Witches  [perhaps the most relevant chapter to today's world]

As expected with a book this size, there exist numerous summaries and Readers Guides.  I have purchased two of them, but not yet ready to claim help or discredit.  I offer these titles, and request the readers to proffer their own.

  • Summary by Readtrepeneur [64 pages]; provides by Chapter headings.  Paperback - has been ordered.

  • Summary by Instaread [30 pages]; no "read inside' view; perhaps NOT by chapters.

  • Summary by Fast2Read [30 pages].  Not chapter by chapter.

  • Summary by Worth Books [76 pages].  Not chapter by chapter.

  • Summary by SummaryReads [76 pages].

  • Summary by Stuart Publishing Notes [30 pages];  Kindle:  $2.99;  Paperback:  $6.99.  Not chapter by chapter.

What have you found useful?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

It does not matter where you are if you are in the nothingness of Buddha land.  Nine erstwhile Dharma Bums gathered at a railway yard down on 15th Street to sip saki and huddle around the once-bright flames of their misspent youth.  They spoke quietly, often in haiku verse:

Dick Arms:   Ommmmmmmmm.....  Ommmmmmmmm....  [Editor's note:  Last night, Prof. Arms had hopped the Midnight Ghost from Mazatlan and was apparently still under the influence of unspecified psychoactive alkaloids.] 

Charlie:  He can write.  Much of his writing strikes me as writing by narcissistic, arrogant youth.  It is all contradictions, e.g., asceticism vs sex and drugs.  The theme:  we are so smart, and we are the first to figure this out, and only we can tell you about it.  C.

Mike:  I cannot recommend this book to others.  The hitchhiking and hopping freights and the strong body climbing "the Materhorn was an interesting look at our lost youth, but as an introduction to Buddhism, it is superficial.  I can recall the comment from when we read On The Road [Aug 1998; #204 on The List] that "Typing ain't writing" but I did not realize we had Truman Capote to thank for that.  What can I say?  It is a C book but I partook of enough wild Pacific cedar-board cooked salmon to raise my grade to B-

Ken:  I tend to agree with the two previous comments.  I enjoyed his descriptions of backpacking [rucksacking] and hiking.  I have no interest in his religious experiences.  I found much of his dialog confusing.  C+

Bob WC  - I thought it was sophomoric.  Trying to be pretentious, but failing.  Technically, he is good, can write well at times.

Dick J:  I agree.  Parts were wonderful, and other parts I wanted to kill him.  I will not pass this book on to my nephew in Utah.  B-

Ron Bousek:  The question occurred to me:  How did this book get published?  It would not be published today.  This was a period piece, an introduction to Buddhist terminology, but it was different for its time.  The literary style is interesting, sophomoric.  Some parts were good, some parts were poetic, some parts were not good.  Typing rather than writing!  Read it to understand what literature was like in the 50s, and it is of interest for the mid-1950s.  I give it a B-

Tom G:  From time to time, we read literature about the Big Questions of Life:  Why are we here?  Where did we come from?  After some attempts to answer such questions, most intelligent beings move on to those parts of Life which are answerable, pragmatic.  I give it a C.  He had the ability to write.

Keith:  I've seen the original manuscript of On the Road - it is so scurrilous, so full of profanities, that there is no comparison to the published work.  [offers Raspberry]  I agree, he is a good writer.  The last few chapters put me in mind of Edward Abbey.  Grade: C.  I offer this haiku revu of the 5-7-5 variety for yu:

         Buddha say, "Pray, Ray!"
      Dharma Bum... "Zen, Zen" - and then
         Buddha Booms... AMEN !!

[Editor's note:  Poet Laureate offers:  Ode to Japhy on his web page here]

 Bob S:  Why I chose this book:  I am a student of history and literary style.  This was a moment in Time when cultural shifts in America were captured by an eye-witness to it.  I tried to look at:  What is Literature?  Or is this just typing?  I take away:  in this, there are elements of both.  I liked "My Old Man and the Sea" which was a daily journal, and I liked The Song of the Sirens that connected to the author's love of sailing and the sea.  I'm connected to Buddhism.  I went through the 60s, I see how it has evolved over time, and still evolving today.  We are attracted to the literature of those cultures we have an affinity for.  I found this book interesting from a historical viewpoint.  It was fun to see that it was no big deal, just "out there" writing.  It made a connection to the culture.  For better or for worse, it was well done and had its moments of illumination.  I grade everything as A or A-, and this is A-.

and from well outside the Nirvana of the night:

Unlike last year at this time when I was holed up near Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island without shoes, this year I am still without shoes, but staring out over the sound watching the countless Buddhas hiding in the trees along Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. Days have tumbled on days, I have been in my shorts, haven't combed my hair, haven't shaved much, have consorted only with dogs and cats and an occasional seagull, I have been living the happy life of childhood again. Taking time to read The Dharma Bums this past week seemed to interfere with my quest for nirvana and my search for a Yab-Yum partner.

Kerouac appeared to me to use two different narrative styles as Ray Smith recounted the year he spent on his "quest for Truth." I enjoyed the more pastoral segments related to his time in North Carolina and Washington than I did reading about his time doping and boozing in California. At times I got the impression that he was taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to his descriptions of his spiritual quest as he wrestled with Buddhism. For me, Kerouac's descriptions of nature are the most powerful and in my opinion, they reflect his talent as a writer much more than the philosophical aspects of the novel. I tend to believe the "philosophical final statement" he included in an autobiographical sketch in 1958 was already in play in The Dharma Bums: I DON'T KNOW. I DON'T CARE. AND IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE."  B+
     Regards, Jack

Monday, November 13, 2017

Dharma Bums - Study Guide

Generally Chapter 21 is a description by Kerouac's enlightenment.

On page 107 of Dharma Bums I found one term I was not familiar with, the word is Dhyana.
So I looked it up and here is a description of the Buddhist concept that is represented by the word Dhyana.

Summarized as simply as I can, Dhyana describes a set of practices aimed at linking insight to awareness through meditation with the goal of liberating oneself from the cycle/wheel of birth and death (karma) by liberating one's thinking from desire oriented thinking.

Unfortunately, this concept lies at the core of Buddhism and we could spend a lot of time talking about it.  My review of the Wikipedia summary informs me that this topic has been addressed for the last 2400 years with differing opinions that have led to different schools of thought. 

On page 108 is the term Triple Vehicle which refers to the three main schools of Buddhism, the Theravada or Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Tantric Schools.  Geographically speaking Tantric is Tibetan Plateau (lots of chanting meditation), Hiniyana is southeast Asian and Sri Lanka (lots of chanting on a mantra), and Mahayana is China and Japan (lots of silent meditation to gain insight).  Zen is a sub-set of Mahayana. Kerouac was practicing Zen.     For a more detailed explanation, check the term  at
Then on page 110 is Tathagata Seat of Purity.  This is a reference to the Buddha.  I suggest looking this one up on Wikipedia.  it expresses what Keroauc was saying.  The state of mind in which all form is emptiness and emptiness contains all form.  According to most people no one in physical form except the Buddha has ever achieved this perfect state of mind. the Wikipedia link is

Then on page 111 Kerouac refers to himself as "Bhikku Blank Rat".  This is a very personal reference, but a Bhikku is an ordained Buddhist Monk.  So it appears that Kerouac is giving himself a Buddhist name at the same time he is professing his ordination into Buddhism. Unfortunately, ordination can not be accomplished voluntarily; one must join a sangha or Buddhist monastery or school, like Gary Snyder did when he went to Japan. As far as I know Keerouac never took this step.

Chapter 21 is Kerouac's verbalization of his enlightenment experience as he sat in the North Carolina woods.  

The question is, Was Kerouac's associative style of writing related to his enlightenment?

Was it a result of the insight and clarity of description that is associated with an uncluttered mind or is it a part of his natural gift as an observer or his ability to write?  I think all three elements combined to help him create his style of writing, but you decide.

Another question is, If Kerouac was enlightened, why did he continue to drink?  He died of alcoholism in 1969 at the age of 47.  

For insight into that one probably needs to do more research into his life and psychic makeup.  A biography would help.  I have read 
Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation, And America

Dennis Mcnally 
and I am still not clear on that.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Song of the Sirens by Ernest K. Gann

The SS Albatross docked at the Four Hills port last Thursday evening at Capt Arms' hootch.  First Mate Gillen was on shore leave in Tucson, Boilerman Blackledge was working on the Junkers up in Rociada, and Lt. Easterling was at sea for a while.  Bosun's mate 3/c Simon kept the ship's journal for Thursday.  All hands are expected to grab a holystone and turn to until we get through the doldrums and back into the freshening Trade Winds of Life.  Seven stalwart sailors gathered and the mates sang their solos:

Keith - excellent description of sailing ships and life at sea, not a biography, this was an autobiography , but a one dimensional one about a man’s love of sailing ships. Liked the jokes about women and boats. Lots of sea jargon. I learned quite a bit about sailing ships. I wished for more character development. The only character developed was Gann. What about the two women, Henderson and Post. I would have enjoyed knowing more about them. His style could have benn more concise. Grade - B

Jack F. - I enjoyed certain elements of the book, such as the analogies and metaphors. Gann used language well. The most dramatic passage for me was the description of the storm at night. All the boat terms were distracting. I got very tired of all the different kinds of rails. Grade – B+

Charlie – Grade – B this is a niche market book that is redeemed by good writing. The boat jargon put me off. I skipped it, but it would be cool for a sailing guy, especially because there is so much of the book devoted to being on the sea in a sail boat.

Tom – Liked it a lot. A solid craftsman of language. I thought he went overboard with descriptions when he did not need to. Otherwise, I was glued to his adventures at sea. Grade - A-

Dick A. – Having sailed, I understood the jargon, although I did look up certain terms to get the precise definition such as brigantine. This is my second time reading the book. I loved the construction of the book, especially unifying the different sailings and boats with the sitting “In Harbor” in Rønne, Denmark waiting for the foul weather to break. Gann has authored 18 novels and several screenplays. He is a good writer. He is one of my favorites. Some of the boat descriptions were very funny. Grade –  A

Bob S. – I liked the book. It took a bit of time to get appreciate the nautical terminology. Finally, I disregarded the terminology and went with the sea yarns. It is essentially a chronology of his boats and his sailings. The writing was good. Grade-  A-

and from far outside the fishing lanes:

 The next time someone asks me, “If you graduated from the Naval Academy, why did you go into the Air Force?” I will have a ready answer: “Read Song of the Sirens by Ernest K. Gann.”  If they insist on more specifics, the answer is captured in Gann’s story of battling the Fred Holmes for over two days through 60 to 100 knot winds, and advancing but 10 miles toward their destination. The sheer terror, the utter frustration, the feeling of helplessness against the elements – this captures life on the high seas. It produces some great sea stories – and a great deal of excess stomach acid.

 Gann has a great sense of humor merged with his talent for description, as exemplified in this excerpt about taking on water in the doldrums: “We were not in any danger except the remote possibility of cannibalism if the calm continued. We persevered at the pumps mainly because it was something to do. Still, our doctor, who had been a stalwart at the pumps, now came down with the affliction known as the GIs. We nursed him with tender sarcasms about physicians healing themselves …”

Well above average writing on a somewhat personal subject of average interest. B+
    -   Mike of the Desert

I enjoyed reading Song of the Sirens.  Gann is a good story teller and a good writer.  There were two things that bothered me:  the use of nautical terms that I did not know and the strange organization where he jumped from the story of one boat to another -- he interrupted the story on one boat and suddenly jumped to the story of another and then back to the original story.  I found that somewhat distracting.

It also dawned on me that I am really not very interested in stories of boats or sailing.

As I said, I did enjoy the book and I will pass it on to my nephew in Utah.  I hope you have a good discussion.  Sorry I won't be there.  I would give the book a B+

   -  Dick Jensen 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Code Talker by Chester Nez with Judith Avila

Oh My Brothers, may each of us walk in Beauty, wherever we travel.  Be thou not like the eight semi-mature Chiefs who limped through Basic Training and reported for sacred duty Last Thursday at the Sing Ceremony within the hogan of Brother Gilbert.  Most of them had survived well beyond three score and ten yet still felt the need to read the sacred texts and compare notes.  Here follows a collection of their comments:

September 28, 2017       Book Club Meeting Reviews of Code Talker by Chester Nez

Ron — Enjoyed the book. Simple literary style, in keeping with autobiographic
nature of life. Unusual to learn about Pacific campaigns, a good bit of history.
Well done as a life of a Navajo code talker. Grade = A-

Bob Woods —  Historically important, very few accounts of those who participated in
the events described. Code talking was only a small part of the story. Lots of
information on his life and war in the Pacific. Grade = A

Tom Genoni — I thought it was interesting that he was referred to as Chief.  I liked
it from a historical View of WWII, which was one of the pivotal events of the 20th
Century.  It is important to keep memories alive. I liked Chester as an individual
and author. He made the book a conversational memoir. It was a comfortable
read. Grade = A-

Charles Palmer — not a great piece of literature, but a great piece of history about a
person and time. Grade = A

Dick Arms — well written, author’s literary style shows through. I liked the Navajo
history and customs. Grade = A-

Ken — worthwhile. Interesting aspects of Navajo history and culture, I especially
found interesting the 1864 Long March and the slaughter of sheep during FDR’s
administration. Grade = A-

Bob Simon — I liked it. Too chronological in construction (this and then this and then
this) but necessarily so because it was a chronology of his life. Thought his
personal life was very interesting. Found it ironic that U.S. made repeated
attempts to integrate the Navajos into American culture and then when their
services were really needed it was their distinct language that had been spurned in
boarding schools that made the difference in WWII in the Pacific. Grade A-

Keith - Sacred poem cast downward.  Book Grade — A-

             Code Talkers Kudos

  In school ... English was the Spoken One
  Then it's Navajo to fool the Rising Sun
       Their code ...  Heaven sent
        Neither broken nor bent
  Indeed was essential to this War being Won!

... and from well outside the rez:

Dear Keith, I will not be able to make your meeting on Thursday. I am at the base of St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall resting my tired legs after 7 days walking the Cornwall Coast Path. I could never have been a Marine. 

 Although not great literature, I enjoyed reading Code Talkers. I found it very informative on two fronts-- Navajo life in New Mexico and the GI experience in the South Pacific during WW II. Chester Nez helped round out the knowledge of Navajo culture I had gained from reading Tony Hillerman's novels years ago.

When Nez recalled his emotions and reactions during the landings and battles for Guadalcanal, Bougainville and Peleliu, I remembered the stories my brother-in-law told me that I could not imagine about his experiences as a soldier in the South Pacific in 1944. Most importantly, I learned about the value of the Navajo Code and the extent to which it was used. Having some experience with cryptography early in my Air Force career, I appreciate the genius in the idea and the use of such a code.

Regards, Jack

Keith, my brother, may you always walk in beauty.

Outside I hear the rain fall even now upon the metal roof of our hogan, with the gentle heat rising from the furnace floor vents, and I think of the Marines on Guadalcanal, on Bougainville, on Guam, on Peleliu, many times with the rain falling on them, sloshing through the mud.  I have a truly blessed life, and I owe thanks to so many who came before.

My brothers of the Clan That Reads, look not into my eyes; I will not be present in body at the sing on Thursday.  My thoughts will be with you, and Brother Simon will capture your words if not your inner thoughts.

My thoughts follow my eyes and are downward.  I realize the author was primarily Judith Avila, who took 75 hours of recorded tape and wove a story as told by Chester Nez.  Within the first two chapters, I was quite disappointed and my heart fell; was the story to be told at a 4th-grade level?

But as Navajos would, so I persisted, and eventually, I was caught up in the story.  I learned so very much:  of the Great Livestock Massacre - did Brother Ken or someone do some verification research on that sad event?  

I learned that Native Americans only became US Citizens in 1924, and even then could not vote in a Federal election.  I learned a bit of the sweat lodge and the corn pollen.  I learned that the WW II island battles lasted so much longer than I had thought.  Lloyd Nolan and William Bendix (in Guadalcanal Diary, 1943) led me astray and let me think that it was equivalent to a 3-day battle to take Sugar Ridge on Guadalcanal, but Chester Nez told me the true story.  Similarly, Bougainville lasted from 1 Nov 1943* until 1 May 1944.

I also appreciated a story "told" by a 'lowly enlisted puke' as opposed to a 'hero' or a high-ranking officer.  It was comforting seeing the support troops going in on Day Three of the invasions!  Nez' 'voice' remained calm even when the battle roared.  I felt I was sitting around a campfire with him and his comrades as he told his story.

A few details disturbed me:  where did the code listed in the book come from?  It has errors that would not have been allowed by any code talker!   Example:  Nez spends some time explaining that the code was a living language; that they had to add in bazooka in 1944, and they came up with the word "stove pipe' - most appropriate.  Yet the list of the code in the back lists the literal translation as 'bazooka'!  What?  Bad error!  And it makes one question some of the other literal translations which are identical to the English word, e.g., 'base.'

But overall, I'm very glad I read this book. My thanks to Keith for his selection which I would recommend to others.  B+

 May you all go in beauty.

    -   ZHIN-NI

Hi Keith:

I will not be at the book club meeting tonight.  I want to send you my evaluation of the book.

I really enjoyed reading Code Talker.  I learned a great deal of information about Navajo life and culture, about the history of the Code Talkers, and about the war in the South Pacific.  I was also moved by Nez's descriptions of his life after World War II.  The book is quite well written and well researched. If anyone is interested in learning more about the war in the South Pacific I would strongly recommend reading With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge--it is listed in the bibliography on page 294 of my book.

Sorry I won't be able to participate in the discussion.  I give the book an A-
Dick Jensen

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Half the Book Club had seen the movie of "Hidden Figures" starring Kevin Costner.  How to counter this clash of book vs movie?  One way is to present a racially cooling dessert:  Moon Pies with Vanilla Ice Cream.  It seemed to help - at least here were the comments:

Tom Genoni:   I echo Bob Simon's sentiment.  I was disappointed with the presentation, or lack thereof, of technology, but I understand that she is writing for a different audience.  For kids, this might enlighten them on History of race relations.  B

Rob E:  I would like to see plots, equations, better photos (look at the photo on the cover of the hard copy edition).  NASA should have better photos available - Sandia certainly does from that era.  Another theory on mixed names:  I picture non-fiction researchers as collecting their data on 3x5 index cards, and wanting to use all of them.  The first part of the book really dragged; the book began to energize on the NASA space program - it needed more of that energy when describing the wind tunnel program.  Based on the book:  B

Dick J:  I thought of the screenwriters turned this work into a movie.  The book was full of historical data.  Shetterly was an OK writer, not lively.  Characters not fully developed.  B

Mike B:  This appeared to be a high school historical writing project gone on far too long.  She began with the idea of a book with what could have been a great title:  Black Computers.  Then she realized there were white computers, and brought them in.  Then the project became a history of Langley Aeronautical Lab.  Then, what the heck, let's keep going through NASA.  Shetterly presented a not-so-hidden agenda of "Look at what we blacks went through, young readers = did you know there used to be Jim Crow laws in Virginia?"  I would not recommend this to anyone:  C

Ken:  I found it an interesting reminder of what blacks were going through.  The Movie was an A-.  The Book was a B-.  Boring.

Dick Arms:   Adequate writing, not great.  I learned some, but the book half as long would be better.  I felt beat over the head with the author's agenda:  a sermon, and I don't like being preached to.  B-

Bob Woods:  I didn't know how to read this book - was it a treatise on the Space Program or on Race Relations.  I am the oldest in the group; growing up in Virginia as a child, I recall blacks riding in the back of the bus.  In college, I saw women crunching numbers before Fortran.  100 years from now, this book may be of interest, but not now.  The author collected a great deal of research. B

Jack Ferrell:  The picture on the cover is a Langley researcher.  I saw the movie first, thoroughly enjoyed it.  A for the movie.  I enjoyed the book - I don't have a technical background, so the book provided background that the movie did not.  For the book:  B+

Charlie:  I agree with what's been said.  Too many words.  100 pages would suffice.  Peccadillo.  A grade of B- is generous.

Keith:  I thought that the author put women on a very high pedestal, and then it fell over.  Superlatives were not supported.  Too many axes to grind; this was an armory, not a book  C

         Numbing Numbers
These women were black and did math
Yet faced both numbers and wrath

So a few white men could race
To the edges of space
And return as heroes, not zeros!

and from far outside the West Computer Facility:

I enjoyed the book. Especially the chronicling of the slow progress toward equality by the women. I particularly liked the small acts of dissent like stealing the "Blacks Only" sign from the table in the lunch room every day.
It did not think the book was much more than a chronicle of disparate events related to the development of air power and then space exploration as seen from the lives of the women who worked at the Hampton center. I give the book a B.

    -  Bob from my iPad

I wish to supplement my review to include the thought that the women mentioned in the book and many of our members must have shared what the book covered very well. That for all the folks who ever gazed at the moon, there have only been a handful who thought of it as a realistic possibility and even fewer who were lucky enough to have the knowledge to be able to help to make it happen. The book is dedicated to those black women and their ability to not only deal with the mathematics and physics problems of making a trip to the moon and back possible, but to do so while fighting for racial equality.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Querencia by Stephen Bodio

The Book Club didn't make it all the way south to Magdalena, but were treated at Prof. Easterling's home to photos taken on a recent investigative field trip.  This followed locating our own Querencia at the Greenside Cafe in Cedar Crest, where we were introduced to the Webster's definition:

Querencia (noun, Spanish origin, c. 1640): Fettuccine noodles tossed with creamy, garlicky, Parmesan cheese-tastic Alfredo sauce and tender rattlesnake breast.

I caught this morning morning's minion,
kingdom of daylight's dauphin,
dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air,
and striding High there,
how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy!
then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend:
the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind.
My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird,
– the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Following which, the gathered locals provided their thoughts:

Dick J:  I thought it was well written.  A good job of describing the locals.  I will pass this book along to my nephew with a note:  "This will introduce you to New Mexico."  A- however I do not have a desire to read more of Bodio's work.

Bob S:  I enjoyed the book.  Well situated to convince us that maybe we could write our own history.  This was an anecdotal memoir.  Bodio has skill as a writer, and demonstrates it in terms of intimacy and anecdotal accuracy.  This seemed much more accessible, and the author followed the first rule of writing:  Write of what you know.  B

Rob E:  I agree with Jack's comments. This is a story about two remarkable people who found their querencia (Spanish for a special refuge -- "that little, unspecified area in life's arena where one feels safe, serene," from a quote by William Buckley) in Magdalena, New Mexico. This week marks my 50th year as a resident of NM and I can feel the love for NM - the land and the people - all through this book. First, Bodio's description of the drive from Socorro to Magdalena on their first trip. I've driven that route several times and it is a dramatic climb from the Rio Grande to high country plains. Then, later, as they return from a trip east and then, near the Texas state line, the flat agricultural, windmill country gives way to a vast expanse of mesas, arroyos, and distant mountains. Bodio writes, "though we were still seven hours from Magdalena, we drove to Tucumcari through beery tears of joy." I always get a little thrill - no beer - making that transit, and now it will be even more special.

Bodio's writing style is very inviting and natural. It's conversational. You can envision him in his favorite Magdalena bar, telling stories about Betsy's and his latest adventures. You don't have to be a naturalist, a hunter, a dog lover, a falconer, ... , or whatever to enjoy this book. You will enjoy learning about these endeavors.

I usually try to avoid book cover blurbs, but this one really summarizes my impression: Learn to live. Learn to love. Read this book. (Rick Bass - author, "Why I Hunt")   A

Mike B:  This was a blend of two Love Stories:  Love of New Mexico and Love of Betsy.  I found myself with renewed pride in my adopted state - only by grace of the US Air Force did I come to this beautiful environs in May of 1965, returning to stay in July 1979.  I gloried in Betsy reciting Gerard Hopkins "The Windhover" with a grin for its sheer appropriateness and I cried when Betsy died.  Some of the best writing we have experienced in a long time.  A

and from well outside the Plains of San Augustin:

Dear Rob, I am so sorry I will miss the discussion at your house on Thursday. We will be on the Oregon coast with two of our granddaughters, enjoying some time alone with them before they both go back to school.

I thoroughly enjoyed Querencia. I fell in love with New Mexico all over again while reading Bodio's vivid descriptions of the land and people of west central New Mexico. Although I have visited that part of our state a number of times, the details of the landscape and life style Bodio shared aroused my interest in the area again and a desire to check out some of the local haunts in Magdalena and Quemado at the very least. As a former hunter and gun owner, I found his accounts of hunting particularly entertaining. I can certainly relate to his experience dove hunting--I frequently returned home empty-handed, even though I had used up a whole box of shells. Thinking back on our first year in New Mexico (having moved here from Massachusetts), I could also relate to his early experiences with the locals, especially Chubby and his story about his dad "cheering cheap."

I found Bodio's writing style as engaging as the story, although I had to keep a dictionary handy for all the biological terms and dog breed names. I saw no foreshadowing of the tragedy related in the last ten pages. It came quickly, but I thought he handled it beautifully. By devoting 95% of his memoir to his life together with Betsy he was able to reinforce his love for her and the value of the time they spent together.

Thank you for introducing me to Stephen Bodio. I do not read many memoirs, but I will recommend this one to all my friends. A

    -  Jack

I liked the descriptions and the writing; I did not care for the people.  B+

    -  Tom G.

Hola Mike..On road Re Bodio soiree..Stephen Bodio is a true renaissance Man..Would be boffo member Edward Abbey coterie..Dazzling description of New Mexico flora/fauna...He'd put feet on my coffee table and dialogue 'til dawn..Could be [honorary] LTBC member..   A-..

    -  Keith G.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Chi! Chi! Chi!  Le! Le! Le!  mineros de Chile!  
What a miraculous gathering! After years of neglected responsibilities and lost souls, all twelve of us came together and re-appeared Last Thursday above ground in the far Sandia Heights, and related our own private and personal stories of redemption and deliverance: one of us worked for 8 hours straight as an 18-year-old skinny kid in a horizontal Mormon coal mine; one of us hiked the dreaded Atacama Desert following a 40- year rain and emerged into a star-filled night with only a backpack, one son, and a love of Kafka; one of us was dropped off in the Canadian Northwest with a hungry companion, disappearing rations, and a missing seaplane; and several of us drank bad Chilean wine and never complained, not even once.... 
Their lawyer spoke first:

Bob Simon:  A work of puffery, much to do about nothing.  There was no moral.  All ended up almost where they began.  I wasn't attracted to the plot.  I give it a B-

Rob Easterling:  Compared to other heroic books, the quality was less than others.  The tedious girlfriend stories were less than captivating.  I liked the pastor who offered hope.  I give it a B.  

Rob Bousek:  It held my attention.  I liked learning the mining information which was interesting.  It dragged some.  A-

Bob Woods:  B+  the story was filtered through the author; a remarkable work.

Mike B:  I appreciated the background the author provided on this miserable desert area, to include Darwin "hopping off the Beagle."  The author did an admirable job of introducing the miners, making several of them  (e.g., Mario Sepulveda) memorable and helping th reader to recall as the calendar moved onward:  Now which one was that?  I don't think it is fair to compare this story to Shackleton's or Citizen Soldiers as these guys were going to work and found themselves unexpectedly thrown into survival mode; in the other stories the men were geared for survival going in.  I was fascinated by what would happen next and appreciated what the author did with the story, especially the first half the book which was 19 days of pure survival.  The author did not lionize his miners.  A-

Keith Gilbert:  33 men thrown into high drama.  Cheap psychological drama:  In any such crisis situation. expect 1/3 to do nothing, 1/3 to demonstrate flight or fight, 1/3 to get into a corner and figure out the best we can do.  Two forces come into play:  fear and greed.  Fear:  the first 20 days;  then greed slowly crept in after 20 days.  These are the two great forces in the world.  C+

Dick J:  Hillbilly Elegy was great in that he liked this; this was just OK; a good book but not great.  B+

Jack Ferrell:  I liked the Rilke poem he started the book with.  My comments are between Rob and Ron:  I learned a lot from reading of the miners, a great deal about mining.  I found it difficult to digest.  B-

Dick Arms:  I appreciated the craftsmanship.  He did a good job with what he had to work with:  33 people, all had to get into the book, as well as lots of stories.  A-

Charlie:  He did OK with the material.  A story of ordinary people who faced adversity and did about as well as one would think.  B-

Tom G:  Good book but not as good as Ghost Soliders. The drilling and the mining stuff was interesting as well as the extraction/rescue efforts.  B

Ken G:  I learned a lot about mining.  Too many characters.  Knowing the ending made reading it somewhat less appealing.  Tedious.  B+

No somos los mejores hombres.

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 
   - Jack F.
belated comments by our erstwhile Poet Laureate:
Hillbilly Elegy: Each of us is born in a hole. A few mount a gilded balloon and soar regally into the sky. Some cobble a ladder of sticks and stones, and hard-scrabble out to a noble career. And many keep digging into the deepening darkle. But, alas, most sit in their hole...whining, sniveling, and carping...waiting each month for the Eagle to fart, and each year for the gravedigger's gravitas. 
  -  KG

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,