Feb 26, 2009

Round 2: Andrew Lets the Dogs In

AcknowledgmentsNow that we're almost two years old--and we're starting our second rotation of hosts--we've significantly outlasted our skeptics. At dinner on Tuesday, I mentioned that I was initially advised (by a female book club member) that our group wouldn't survive the summer of 2007 because we wouldn't have anything to talk about. Her reasoning was simple: men don't gossip and men don't read novels. With only sports left, she figured we might as well drop the pretense and turn on ESPN during our dinners. (No, Dan, we're not going to take her advice, so don't get your hopes up.) In between servings of humble pie, she occasionally checks our blog and marvels at our staying power.

Our dinner on Tuesday was noteworthy on another account: your host actually served a full meal and resisted (heroically, I might add) the temptation to serve only sandwiches. With grilled bratwurst and roasted root vegetables, I mimicked the only complete meal mentioned in Edgar Sawtelle. The Pabst, Mickey's, and Leinenkugel's were all a nod to the book's Wisconsin setting. Ignoring geography in favor of the book’s canine theme, Glenn walked in with Lagunitas "New Dogtown" Pale Ale. All of these malt beverages had to compete with some nice bottles of red and the postprandial smoothness of Roy's best brandy. Peter, I'm sorry, but the Australian vintage simply didn't live up to our expectations. Are you saving the good stuff for your other book club?

Finally, kudos to our well-read guest, Tom A, whose excellent blondies, when combined with my brownies, created a dessert that reflected the dark and light coloring of the Sawtelle breed (and the mysterious Forte). Tom also gets high marks for his outside research, including his willingness to be abused by us for visiting Oprah’s website (egad!) to learn more about the author.

The BookFirst, a confession. The prior post was a disingenuous poke at our absent member, Stan. As he continues to idle his winter away in Squaw Valley (ostensibly home-schooling his ski phenom daughter, Rachel), he spends too little time reading and too much time congratulating himself that his book, Blindness, remains our top-rated title. Well, our conspiracy to “rate” Sawtelle above Blindness worked like a charm: Stan’s email reply contained equal parts suspicion and resentment. All in all, quite predictable behavior from the curmudgeon in the mountains.

Alas, the consensus on Tuesday was that Edgar Sawtelle was one of the most over-hyped books of 2008. While I tried to defend this lengthy if insubstantial story, others piled on with a common set of criticisms. Dan and Peter and Terry felt the book was far too long, an opinion we might have dismissed (since none of them finished the book) had not virtually everyone agreed with their assessment. Doug, thru his unusually eloquent spokesman Glenn, felt that none of the characters was given the depth needed to explain his or her behavior and, ultimately, lift this story into the realm of genuine tragedy. And, on that subject, few of us felt distracted by the novel’s heavy handed parallels to Hamlet. (Probably because no one could remember the names of the characters from high school English class!) Finally, several were disappointed by the forced ending, with George complaining that the character kill-off was more akin to Stephen King (Wroblewski's mentor) than Wm. Shakespeare.

The only praise given this book was for the frequent elegance of its writing, including some wonderfully descriptive passages about the dogs, Edgar’s flight, and a few other high moments. Oh, and George noted that we all received a nice primer on the training of dogs, a subject near and dear to his heart. With a 6.4 rating, Edgar Sawtelle resides below the median, at least for the time being.
(Ratings Postscript: Despite our criticisms, the book pulled in mostly 6's and 7's, with one notable exception. Garth, the outlier, gave it a spite rating of 2. Some questioned whether he actually read the book. But when he later claimed James Michener as his favorite novelist, all became clear. Garth doesn't mind page length or popularity; he just needs a touch of history and a few steamy scenes to get him through his fiction. How about we plan a Uris-Wouk-Stone-Clavell read-in at Garth's house?!)

Next Up
John proposed four worthy titles, from which we selected The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage. John assured us that history would not repeat itself and that neither the book (with its emphasis on dogs) nor the meal would make us regret his choice of fare on March 24. Just in case, I may pack my own sandwich.


  1. ManBookClub-

    Whether The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was rated well or not, it appears to have generated an evening's worth of discussion, and I think that's the measure of a good meeting. Over the years, our most memorable discussions have been over books we don't all like or are definitely divided on.

    Like you guys, we're not disappointed we read an Oprah pick but we definitely take all her hype with a grain of salt or more; I mean who'd have thought she'd have touted McCarthy and The Road so highly, and we all liked that book a lot.

    Read, read, read . . .some books you'll like and some you won't, but rarely do I feel cheated or want my time spent reading back.

    Maybe you've already checked but I've been working on redesigning the Great Apes blogspot and trying to keep it semi-current. Your site has been my inspiration.


  2. Jeff, I checked out your Blog and I think it's great! I hope you guys post your thoughts about the books you read each month. Who knows? Maybe we can rip off both your book choices AND your ideas about them. Then we won't have to do any reading of our own! As for Sawtelle, you're right. The book's shortcomings may well have produced a more enjoyable discussion. We'll see if next month's dog book produces more of the same. Since our host is threatening to serve Rocky Mountain Oysters, our palates may rebel before any book discussion takes place!

  3. Andrew and the MBC-

    Our main "scribe" joined our blogspot today, so now he'll be able to post his meeting reports. I am hoping his posts will generate some traffic amongst the Apes. I'll blog my thoughts on each read whether I make the meeting or not. Sometimes I go during my spring break but this year I'll wait until #150 in July.

    Sons and Lovers is slooooow going. OK story, but so much to wade through to get that story. One of our guys said "I definitely cannot read this at night, way too boring!" Sums it up nicely. I anticipate the discussion will center on DHL's style, the autobiographical aspect, and his portrayal of Victorian England and later. Rough go for the "colliers" down in the mines.

    By all means indulge in Rocky Mountain Oysters (or maybe some would prefer the lighter Turkey Oysters!?) at your Power of the Dog meeting. I used to enjoy them from time to time at Bruce's Bar (now closed)in Severence CO outside of Ft Collins. We would often take out of town guests there for a little bit of local color . . .errr . . .local flavor!?

    Thanks for commenting on our blogspot and keep on reading.

  4. BookHombres,

    I feel compelled to share this video with you after reading the introduction to our current book.
    I attended this conference in December and watched Mike Rowe deliver this talk. Pretty good & you'll see the connection in the first minutes.


  5. Jeff,
    I took a look at your blog to see your reading list. Let us know when it is updated. I noticed that I have not read most of the books on your list, however I have read many of the authors.
    Regarding Updike and the "Rabbit" series, I enjoyed them. The tone does get a little monotonous by book four but Updike redeems himself in the end.