Jun 20, 2008

Jack proves there's nothing rotten in the state of Denmark


Acknowledgments
Jack threw open his suburban Orebyslot on Tuesday and helped us celebrate Stegner’s quasi-autobiographical journey to Denmark by offering plenty of Danish trimmings to go with his All-American grilled sausages and chicken. With warm weather and idyllic golf course views, the pickled herring, Danish blue cheese, and Carlsberg on ice evoked a summer night at the Tivoli Gardens. Indeed, the mood turned romantic on the patio when one of us reminisced about his Danish tryst years ago…but I shall stop before I violate our rules of disclosure.

Additional thanks to John and Roy, who each brought bottles of flavored aquavit (let’s use the Swedish spelling since no one wants to say “aqvavit”) to complement Jack’s bottle encased in a slab of ice. (Note to Jack: I would be tempted to sneer at any man who apes Martha Stewart, but your clever adaptation of her party trick certainly captured my fancy.)

And, finally, a big thanks to the multi-talented Armando, who cajoled us into a photo shoot by the pool and later managed to photoshop Peter in and John’s devil horns out. Scroll to the bottom of the blog to see the results.

The BookThe Spectator Bird drew a strong rating for the simple reason that a record number (5 of 15) failed to finish the book and therefore excused themselves from the voting. Had they read it, I suspect the average would have fallen below 7.3. I also think some gave the book the benefit of the doubt simply because it was Stegner, everyone’s favorite West Coast novelist-cum-environmentalist. (Witness both Garth and Stan, who loudly rounded up from 7.5 to 8.)

The book was divisive in other ways (beyond its inability to hold everyone’s attention for a scant 214 pages). Some liked the story’s movement between present and past using a 20-year old travel journal; others found it tedious and contrived. Some sympathized with the aging narrator’s perspective; others felt he was simply crabby (likening him to Steinbeck in Travels With Charley). Finally, some found inspiration (or at least closure) by the end, while others were left wanting. Most everyone, though, was impressed by the writing. Glenn and George found plenty of passages worth reflecting on, with Glenn going so far as to look up the English translation of the last line in Goethe’s Faust in order to make sense of the German version quoted by Stegner. Whether it was the quality of the writing or Stegner’s reputation, only Dan was sufficiently underwhelmed that he gave the book a 5; the rest of us gave it a 7 or 8.

Maybe The Spectator Bird didn’t match the breadth or insight of Angle of Repose (according to John), Crossing to Safety (me), or Big Rock Candy Mountain (Stan, I think), but its reflections on memory, aging, and the enduring power of relationships are vintage Stegner. That’s, of course, my humble opinion.

Next Up
Glenn proposed three eclectic titles for next month (Snow Crash, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and Flatland) and, worried that we had too little to choose from, he augmented his list with two more interesting possibilities: Atul Gawande’s Complications and Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. Sometimes too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. Paralyzed with indecision, we eventually culled through the original titles and came up solidly in favor of Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk/sci-fi classic, Snow Crash. I do hope our selection won’t require us to dine virtually next month.

Jun 16, 2008

Glenn's Book Suggestions

The three books that I'd like to recommend are, like me, from three completely different categories. The first choice, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, is one of the first cyber-punk novels that inspired movies like the Matrix, Terminator II and Minority Report. It's a bit long at 440 pages but it moves 'blindingly' fast. The second choice, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, breaks the 500 page rule completely at 639 pages. In defense of this choice, this Pulitzer prize winning book reads like a mystery that you can't put down. The writing is amazing and you get to learn about comic books during the 30's. The last choice, Flatland by Edwin Abbott, was first published in 1880. It's only 96 pages long and is probably the only geometry book you'll ever enjoy reading. It's the story of a two-dimensional world inhabited by geometric beings that believe their planar world is all there is. One being is able to escape Flatland and see their world from a new perspective. Aside from the math, it really makes you think about perspective and what happens when women are careless (I'm not kidding).

See you Tuesday.