Dec 2, 2012

Larry's Suggestions for February

Below are the proposed titles for February (with January reserved for snow sports):

(1) Strength in What Remains - Tracy Kidder -- 277 pages

Why An Option -- I offer this as a juxtaposition to the Thunderbolt Kid.  After reading about growing up in rural America in the 1950s, I thought I would offer the story of a young man growing up and then escaping war-torn Burundi (to New York City) in the late 1980s. The book meets MBC requirements as Tracy Kidder won the Pulitzer for “Soul of a New Machine”  (BTW -  a good read about the “art “required to build a new computer/technology). The NY Times review below is a bit of an oversell in my opinion, but Kidder does have a writing style that brings the reader into the very narrative of the story.

Mini-Review -- NY Times 2009 -- “That 63-year-old Tracy Kidder may have just written his finest work — indeed, one of the truly stunning books I’ve read this year — is proof that the secret to memorable nonfiction is so often the writer’s readiness to be ­surprised. . . . .  .Kidder has become a high priest of the narrative arts by diving deep into an improbable subject or character with little more than a hunch as to what he might eventually find.”

(2) The Signal and the Noise -- Nate Silver -- 534 pages (but we have 2 mos to finish)

Why An Option -- I’m curious to know what if anything is behind all the “noise” around media hype that surrounded Silver’s NY Times Blog site -- 538 -- before and right after the presidential election.  An example is this snippet from Reuters:
“After correctly predicting the results in 49 of the 50 states that have been called in the U.S. election (Florida remains too close to call), Nate Silver, the statistician behind the popular FiveThirtyEight blog, woke on Wednesday to find himself the poster child of what is sure to be a new data-driven approach to politics.  While Obama was declared the winner of the election, Silver won the polling race. Television anchors from Rachel Maddow on the left-leaning MSNBC, to Bret Baier on the right-leaning Fox News, praised his accuracy. A comedian on Twitter called him "The Emperor of Math." Silver's publicist said he had been so inundated with requests she had been unable to reach him.”

So no Pulitzer here (yet) but I thought it would be insightful to read his book (particularly after reading the final paragraph of the LA Times review that follows).

Mini-Review  -- LA Times 9-30-2012 --  . . . . . . . . The people who follow Silver for his political work — or for his insights on baseball — may be disappointed to see that there's not all that much of either in "The Signal and the Noise." But a book about politics is only about politics. Silver's aiming for something bigger here: He wants to change how we think about predictions in every aspect of our lives. (In one memorable section, he demonstrates how an algebraic equation used to determine probability can be employed to determine the likelihood that a woman's partner is cheating on her if she comes home to find another woman's underwear in his drawer.

(3) Middlesex -- Jeffrey Eugenides -- 529 pages  (Hey 2 months -- that is less than 10 pages a day).

Why An Option -- This continues on my theme of well regarded new authors -- e.g. Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Jonathan Franzen’s  Freedom.  Eugenides book has a little something for everyone as is described in the NY Times review below.  Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2003 for this book.  I would have suggested another young (now dead) author -- David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest -- but with a page count of about 1,000, felt is was a streeeeeech for all of us, even in 2 months.

Mini-Review -- NY Times 9-15-2002 '' . . . .  .Middlesex'' is also a coming-of-age story, albeit an exceptionally fraught one, as it gradually dawns on the adolescent Callie that there's something seriously odd about her body -- and that she's besotted with a female classmate. There's a bit of road novel as well, when, enlightened as to the actual state of his chromosomes, Cal hitchhikes to -- where else? -- San Francisco. And, finally, there's the sliver of a love story, as the now 41-year-old Cal, ensconced in a safely nomadic State Department career, gingerly courts a Japanese-American photographer, wondering if he can trust her with the surprise between his legs.”   

I’ll stop the review there as I don’t think I need to go further for this crowd.

(4) Zone One -- Colson Whitehead -- 259 pages

Why An Option -- Zombies!  Need I say more.  Well OK,  while not a Pulitzer Prize winner -- although his book “John Henry Days” was on the Pulitzer short list in 2002 -- Whitehead is a MacArthur fellow (and apparently as I have only started the book in audio format, writes like one).   Whitehead is one of those young authors I have been meaning to read -- John Henry Days and Sag Harbor -- but never quite did.  So finally he comes out with a book about zombies in New York City after a plague.  I couldn’t not (double negative) try that one.  

Mini-Review -- NY Times   October 28, 2011    “A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?  .. . . . . . Colson Whitehead is a literary novelist, but his latest book, “Zone One,” features zombies, which means horror fans and gore gourmands will soon have him on their radar. He has my sympathy. I can see the disgruntled reviews on Amazon already: “I don’t get it. This book’s supposed to be about zombies, but the author spends pages and pages talking about all this other stuff I’m not interested in.” Broad-spectrum marketing will attract readers for whom having to look up “cathected” or “brisant” isn’t just an irritant but a moral affront. These readers will huff and writhe and swear their way through (if they make it through) and feel betrayed and outraged and migrained. But unless they’re entirely beyond the beguilements of art they will also feel fruitfully disturbed, because “Zone One” will have forced them, whether they signed up for it or not, to see the strangeness of the familiar and the familiarity of the strange.”  

So, as my Chicago friends say, vote early and vote often.  See you Tuesday -- Larry.

Oct 21, 2012

Dean Picks a Fight

As we watched the second Presidential debate last Tuesday, Dean sweated the details and served up a fine all-American meal.  Any similarities to the banquet food in Fight Club were pure coincidence.  Yes, the pureed soup was suspect, but we were assured that Dean's pumpkin and summer squash were all natural and all from his very own garden.  We had no such concerns about our New York strip steaks, roasted endives, native rice, and apple crumble, as all were quite excellent.

The Book
We chose Fight Club from a list of titles that invoked the nihilists of the 19th century and the existentialists of the 20th century.  Some of us quibbled with the writing, but the content left no one wanting.  Pahlaniuk's short novel based on a short story (originally, only 7 pages) about disillusioned men who converge on late night bars to brawl in private is more than simply a mood piece about Yuppie angst.

We argued about the  writing and its inconsistent delivery (with Dean praising the narration and chapter inversions, and Doug and I picking at its consciously disjointed, anecdotal style) and some of us were put off by a world none of us could fully fathom (except Stan, who called Fight Club the "epitome" of fiction) .  However, all of us were struck by the atavism of Tyler Durden--schizoid or not--with Paul phoning his kudos in from Austin, TX.

The story's hard edge lost a few of us, though.  Tom, uncharacteristically, refused to read beyond 50 pages, and normally complaisant Jack excoriated the book's characters for their lack of empathy.   (I think that was sort of the point, Jack.)

Our votes were generally favorable, but the 4's from Jack and Doug limited Fight Club to no better than a 7 in our ratings book.

Next Up
We don't have either our host or a title selected for November/December, but that will be quickly remedied.  Stay tuned for more.

Oct 20, 2012

A Make-Up for 2012

As club secretary, I must fall on my sword for my repeated failure, over the last year or more, to regularly post summaries of our meetings. I blame Tom A. for initially stepping in to save me, only to later step out and expose my lack of constancy. With that mea culpa, herewith a very quick summary of our meetings since January's A Sport and a Pastime.

men's book club discussion review of Ghosts of Everest
In February, Paul fed us victuals from the Kashmir as we considered the story of the 1999 expedition that discovered the remains of legendary British mountaineer, George Mallory.  In Ghosts of Everest, Hemmleb et. al. chronicle their successful attempt to re-trace Mallory's fateful route in 1924 in order to figure out what exactly happened to Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine.  Less successful was the manner in which Hemmleb and his co-authors joined their account with Mallory's.  The story of each expedition was fascinating, but the book's split narrative was awkward and resulted in a modest 6.7 rating. Maybe it was the intimidating presence of our guest and published author/teacher, Andy, that made us extra critical.

men's book club discussion review of Reservation Blues Alexie
In March, we convened at Stan's (yes, another outstanding meal of grilled meat and roast potatoes!) to consider Sherman Alexie's modern-day account of life on the rez in Reservation Blues.  We split over the dream sequences and mystical moments, but were taken by the honesty with which Alexie paints his characters.  Alternatingly sympathetic and scathing, Alexie depicts life on and off the reservation (and his characters' infatuation with music) with a remarkable vividness, especially for those of us for whom the BIA is just another acronym.  The 7.0 rating understated the generally positive tenor of our discussion.

men's book club discussion review of Sweet Promised Land Laxalt
Armando hosted us in April with an ethnic feast that complimented Robert Laxalt's beautifully drawn memoir set in pre- and post-war Nevada.  As men of a certain age, perhaps we were predisposed to fall hard for Sweet Promised Land and its elegiac re-telling of a quintessentially father-son story.  The father, Dominique Laxalt, is a hard-working immigrant (herding sheep in the foothills near Carson City) whose sons achieve fully the American dream (one as a US senator, another as a university professor) but whose heart can't quite forget the family he left behind in a small town in the Pyrenees.  His return home with his younger son is both reunion and closure. Several guys commented that this story continued to resonate long after the pages were turned.  It certainly did for me.  For that reason, it earned an 8.3 rating and climbed into our current Top 5.

men's book club group discussion review of Unbroken Hillenbrand
We met next in June at my house and enjoyed plenty of sushi and sake as we considered Louis Zamperini's unforgettable odyssey from Torrance, CA to the Berlin Olympics to a POW camp in Japan.  Laura Hillenbrand is a shameless crowd-pleaser whose recreation of the Zamperini story engendered questions from us (and others) about its authenticity of detail. That aside, most of us felt uplifted and exhausted by Zamperini's extraordinary resilience and will to survive.  Our conclusion was to forgive the sometimes tedious and occasionally hyperbolic passages and celebrate--with a 7.4 rating--an amazing story of survival.

In July we declared a bye and instead appeared with spouses and no books at Doug's house for his second annual summer party.  After commiserating with him over his recent burglary, we tucked in and stuffed ourselves.  Thanks again, Doug.

men's book club group discussion review of Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!
Our last meeting was delayed to September, when Glenn hosted us at Roy's house.  With food from Sol, we were all ears as Ralph Leighton regaled us with stories about Richard Feynman, the Nobel physicist who was also his father's colleague at CalTech.  Glenn had proposed and we picked Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, unaware that Ralph Leighton was Roy's brother-in-law.  The book was filled with the infectious humor and antics of a renowned physicist who related his personal story to Leighton in a series of recorded conversations over the space of several years.  From those recordings, Leighton produced this delightful memoir.  Even those of us with little interest in applied physics found in  Feynman (via Leighton) a riveting storyteller indeed. 

Aug 8, 2012

San Marino Cellars & Movers Win Gold!!!

On Sat. Aug 11 at Arrivederci Restaurant, a couple of dear friends entered our 2009 Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon in a blind wine tasting contest. Out of 40 wines, San Marino Cellars & Movers not only won the best red but also best overall!!!

Jul 28, 2012

Glenn's Nominations for August

After a brief hiatus, we are back with an interesting set of selections for late August.  It may still feel like summer, but these titles will remind us that reading can be both pleasurable and provocative.  Herewith Glenn's suggestions (with commentary) for August.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman , by Feynman, Leighton, Hutchings (352 pages)

First Plagiarized Review: ‘Surely you must be joking…’ does not read like an ordinary book. It reads like Reader’s Digest – a bunch of anecdotes bundled together and presented to you, with Feynman as the common thread that runs throughout. While at a glance, the book might appear to be a light-hearted series of exchanges and incidents, the reader could not be more wrong. Venture a little deeper, and the book stands out as the testimony of a man who refused to stick to any kind of conformity. Amidst all the pranks, the lock-picking experiences, hypnotism or even topless bars, Feynman just reinforces the fact that varied and even ostensibly scandalous interests can be pursued at leisure away from work. After reading the book, there is little wonder about Feynman’s life. Instead, there is a genuine urge to follow one’s insanities and nurture them. This book is not an exhibition of a man’s engaging madness – which is the general perceived view. ‘Surely you must be joking…’ offers hope. It seems to indicate that rules that make no sense need not be accepted. To the vast millions who are trapped in mid-life crises and bewildered in the anonymous corporate world, this book is a testament – you can go crazy, follow your quirks and do what you think is right. It can be done. And that is definitely no joke.

Second Plagiarized Review:  A series of anecdotes shouldn't by rights add up to an autobiography, but that's just one of the many pieces of received wisdom that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) cheerfully ignores in his engagingly eccentric book, a bestseller ever since its initial publication in 1985. Fiercely independent (read the chapter entitled "Judging Books by Their Covers"), intolerant of stupidity even when it comes packaged as high intellectualism (check out "Is Electricity Fire?"), unafraid to offend (see "You Just Ask Them?"), Feynman informs by entertaining. It's possible to enjoy Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman simply as a bunch of hilarious yarns with the smart-alecky author as know-it-all hero. At some point, however, attentive readers realize that underneath all the merriment simmers a running commentary on what constitutes authentic knowledge: learning by understanding, not by rote; refusal to give up on seemingly insoluble problems; and total disrespect for fancy ideas that have no grounding in the real world. Feynman himself had all these qualities in spades, and they come through with vigor and verve in his no-bull prose. No wonder his students--and readers around the world--adored him. --Wendy Smith

The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes (870 pages)

I've blown the doors off the page maximum with this one (870 pages).  However, this book chronicles the personalities (including Feynman) and the technical hurdles involved in the most challenging technical quest in human history.  Rhodes won the Pulitzer prize for his effort.  In two months, we could definitely finish it.

This book is a major work of historical synthesis that brings to life the men and machines that gave us the nuclear era. Rich in drama and suspense, ''The Making of the Atomic Bomb'' also has remarkable breadth and depth, revealing new connections, insights and surprises. The book bristles with detail and irony. There are raccoon coats and incendiary raids, heavy water and theatrical satires, patent fights and suntan lotion (worn in 1945 by physicists in the predawn darkness of the New Mexican desert to protect them from the flash of the first bomb). There was even a third ''gadget'' being readied to be dropped on Japan, even as Hiroshima and Nagasaki smoldered. ''The Making of the Atomic Bomb'' offers not only the best overview of the century's pivotal event, but a probing analysis of what it means for the future.

A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller (334 pages)

First Plagiarized Review:  Written at a time when the Fear of the Bomb was at full steam, the Hugo-winning A Canticle for Leibowitz stands head and shoulders above virtually every other post-apocalypse SF novel of its day, and it may be the most important SF novel ever written. It beggars the imagination to think that this was Miller's only novel; though in 1997, the year after Miller's death, a sequel titled Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman was finished out by Terry Bisson and released. Contemplative, elegiac, and gut-wrenching in its best moments, the story allows Miller to view the human race through a glass darkly. Will our species ever learn from its mistakes and not repeat them? Miller hopes so, though he doesn't exactly appear to think so. This book is a lament for humanity. 

Plagiarized Review:  Walter M. Miller's acclaimed SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz opens with the accidental excavation of a holy artifact: a creased, brittle memo scrawled by the hand of the blessed Saint Leibowitz, that reads: "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma." To the Brothers of Saint Leibowitz, this sacred shopping list penned by an obscure, 20th-century engineer is a symbol of hope from the distant past, from before the Simplification, the fiery atomic holocaust that plunged the earth into darkness and ignorance. As 1984 cautioned against Stalinism, so 1959's A Canticle for Leibowitz warns of the threat and implications of nuclear annihilation. Following a cloister of monks in their Utah abbey over some six or seven hundred years, the funny but bleak Canticle tackles the sociological and religious implications of the cyclical rise and fall of civilization, questioning whether humanity can hope for more than repeating its own history. Divided into three sections--Fiat Homo (Let There Be Man), Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light), and Fiat Voluntas Tua (Thy Will Be Done)--Canticle is steeped in Catholicism and Latin, exploring the fascinating, seemingly capricious process of how and why a person is canonized. --Paul Hughes

Mar 20, 2012

Armando's Choices for April

Below are the titles Armando has suggested for our consideration.  His summaries are unattributed, but I'm guessing Amazon may deserve some credit.

Sweet Promised Land, Robert Laxalt, 207 pages
Dominique Laxalt was sixteen when he left the French Pyrenees for America. He became a sheepherder in the Nevada desert and nearby hills of the Sierra. Like all his fellow Basque immigrants, Dominique dreamed of someday returning to the land of his beginnings. Most Basques never made the journey back, but Dominique finally did return for a visit with family and friends. Sweet Promised Land is the story of that trip, told by his son Robert, who accompanied him to the pastoral mountain village in France. Dominique came home victorious, the adventurer who had conquered the unknown and found his fortune in the New World. He walked the paths of his youth and again experienced the traditions of his Basque heritage. He told of his life in America, the hardships and challenges, and began to realize that he had changed since his departure from the village of Tardets. By the end of the visit, he knew with certainty where he belonged. Sweet Promised Land was first published in 1957 by Harper & Row. During the past fifty years, the book has become a classic in Western American literature, still beloved by the Basque-American community and widely used in undergraduate classes. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the book's publication, western literature scholar Ann Ronald has written a new foreword, discussing the book in the context of American and Nevada literature.

The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin,  293 pages
That, ostensibly, is what Songlines is about. What it really is is Chatwin's rambling, discursive, ultimately brilliant exploration of territory, nomadism, and the the origin of violence in humans. Some have labeled his account presumptuous, but I find it wholly intriguing. While Chatwin repeatedly engages in pop-anthropology of dubious quality, what impressed me was the breadth of his imagination and his willingness to set it down in prose. He may give his views a little too much importance, but this does not detract from their scope.Bruce Chatwin's book is ostensibly an examination of the Australian Aboriginal notion of the Songline: a song that relates a series of geographical locations ranging from one coast to another, tied to the (mythical) creation of an animal, that in a variety of languages unified by tune sings out the geography of the route. He explores this abstract concept through the agency of Arkady and a cast of other Whites who live and work amongst the Aborigines in the harsh heart of Australia, defending their rights and interpreting their rites.As a book, this is a rather odd concoction. I expected it to be a spiritual ramble, but it is in fact a direct account of his travels in Australia. When he is trapped by rains, he plunders his accumulated notebooks, and sets down what is effectively his own Walkabout, the series of episodic meditations that are the real focus of the book.Chatwin's Rousseauvian worldview (pg. 133) and rough-and-ready anthropology are not to everyone's taste, his exchange with Konrad Lorenz (!) is odd, and the book has been controversial for his sometimes-fictitious accounts of the Aborigines. Despite that this is an ambitious book, and if you ignore that the Aboriginal veneer, it is at once more compelling than almost all the travel writing that populates bookshelves put together.

Assembling California, John McPhee,  294 pages
At various times in a span of fifteen years, John McPhee made geological field surveys in the company of Eldridge Moores, a tectonicist at the University of California at Davis. The result of these trips is Assembling California, a cross-section in human and geologic time, from Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada through the golden foothills of the Mother Lode and across the Great Central Valley to the wine country of the Coast Ranges, the rock of San Francisco, and the San Andreas family of faults. The two disparate time scales occasionally intersect—in the gold disruptions of the nineteenth century no less than in the earthquakes of the twentieth—and always with relevance to a newly understood geologic history in which half a dozen large and separate pieces of country are seen to have drifted in from far and near to coalesce as California. McPhee and Moores also journeyed to remote mountains of Arizona and to Cyprus and northern Greece, where rock of the deep-ocean floor has been transported into continental settings, as it has in California. Global in scope and a delight to read, Assembling California is a sweeping narrative of maps in motion, of evolving and dissolving lands.

Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez, 496 pages
This is one of the finest books ever written about the Far North, warmly appreciative and understanding of the natural forces that shape life in an austere landscape. The prize-winning author (Of Wolves and Men spent four years in Arctic regions: traveling between Davis Strait in the east and Bering Strait in the west, hunting with Eskimos and accompanying archeologists, biologists and geologists in the field. Lopez became enthralled by the power of the Arctic, a power he observes derives from "the tension between its beauty and its capacity to take life." This is a story of light, darkness and ice; of animal migrations and Eskimos; of the specter of development and the cultural perception of a region. Examining the literature of 19th century exploration, Lopez finds a disassociation from the actual landscape; explorers have tended to see the Arctic as an adversary. Peary and Stefansson left as a troubling legacy the attitude that the landscape could be labeled, then manipulated. Today, he contends, an imaginative, emotional approach to the Arctic is as important as a rational, scientific one. Lopez has written a wonderful, compelling defense of the Arctic wilderness. 

Unquenchable, Robert Glannon, 414 pages
America faces a water-supply crisis. Profligate consumption of water for agriculture, power generation, industry, and homes has led to reduction of groundwater, threats to rivers, and mortal danger to many of the nation’s lakes. Much of the blame for this state of affairs lies with uncontrolled growth in the nation’s South and Southwest. Desert cities such as Las Vegas use fountains as decorations. Phoenix households draw down the finite resources of ever-shrinking Lake Mead. In great detail, Glennon documents present and future water crises in Georgia, California, and even seemingly water-rich Michigan, noting that states generally end up competing with one another over water allocation and that international conflict follows in short order. Desalination offers little immediate hope because of economic and ecological barriers. Glennon submits a list of possible reforms to decrease water consumption. Some, such as waterless toilets, are technological innovations. Others, such as restructuring sewer systems, require governmental intervention.

Feb 23, 2012

Stan's Selections for March

Here are Stan's suggested titles for March.  (All summaries courtesy of the publisher or the Evil Book Empire.)

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese  (667 pp)
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles--and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.

The Republic of Wine, by Mo Yan  (384 pp)
When special investigator Ding Gou'er hears persistent rumors that there is cannibalism in the province called the Republic of Wine, he goes to learn the truth. Beginning at the Mount Luo Coal Mine, he meets Diamond Jin, legendary for his capacity to hold his liquor and fondness for young human flesh. A banquet is served during which the special investigator, by meal's end in an alcohol-induced stupor, loses all sense of reality. Interspersed are stories sent to Mo Yan himself by Li Yidou (aka Doctor of Liquor Studies), each one more mad than the next. Wild and politically explosive, The Republic of Wine proves that no regime can stifle creative imagination.

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones (432 pp)
One of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, The Known World is a daring and ambitious work by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones.
The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order, and chaos ensues.  Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexities.

Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie (320 pp)
Sherman Alexie has been hailed as “one of the best writers we have” (The Nation). Reservation Blues is his “irresistibly stunning debut novel” (San Francisco Chronicle). One day legendary bluesman Robert Johnson appears on the Spokane Indian reservation, in flight from the devil and presumed long dead. When he passes his enchanted instrument to Thomas-Builds-the-Fire—storyteller, misfit, and musician—a magical odyssey begins that will take them from reservation bars to small-town taverns, from the cement trails of Seattle to the concrete canyons of Manhattan. This is a fresh, luxuriantly comic tale of power, tragedy, and redemption among contemporary Native Americans.

Jan 22, 2012

Jack's Pastime Is a Fine Cassoulet

Jack's hospitality was tested last Tuesday: he had to come up with a meal that would reflect the French sensibility of Salter's magnum opus, he had to do it on short notice, and he had to keep his doors open late enough to accommodate a couple of stragglers (I had an excuse; I'm not sure about Peter).  By all accounts, he set an outstanding table.  With a delicious cassoulet, flavored by bottles of Bordeaux and followed by his own chocolate mousse and a cheese and fruit platter, Jack proved that Garth isn't the only one capable of Marin-style haute cuisine.  Most of the men were gone by the time I showed up, and it was just as well. From the individual ratings given to this book, I was dismayed to find myself yet again the outlier.  The remaining cognac and brie were little consolation. 

The Book
James Salter's third novel, A Sport and a Pastime, catapulted him to prominence in the 1960's and established him as possibly the best living American novelist that no one reads anymore.  What a shame, as this short novel about an American college dropout's (ahem, a Yale dropout, naturally) affair with a poor young French woman is beautifully evocative of a straitened post-war, post-colonial France.  It also delivers its story via a painfully conflicted narrator whose self-conscious re-telling forces the reader to think critically about the relationship he describes between Phllip Dean and Anne-Marie Costallat.

Too bad I showed up after everyone had shared their thoughts about this fine, if somewhat precious novella.  Jack gave me his notes and, from what I can deduce, no one else but John found the narrator as intriguing as I did.  Instead, I gather there were references to the Mitchell Brothers theater in San Francisco (thank you for that special memory, Larry), an appreciation for Salter's frank sensuality (Dan can't wait to read more Salter titles), and a real conflict between those who enjoyed Salter's writing (Terry and Dean) and those who didn't (Tom, who labored through the first 50 pages, and George, who gave it a miserly 3!).  In the faint praise department, Stan decried the book as brief but banal, and not nearly as erotic as Dear Abby.  (Stan, since your wife shares her first name with the late Abigail Van Buren, what are we to make of your comparison?)

The end result was an almost equal number of 6's, 7's, and 8's, which--when combined with George's 3--pushed Salter a little below midpack at 6.6.

Next Up
Paul proposed four survival-themed titles for next month's meeting (our ski trip has moved to guarded status given the pessimistic snow forecasts).  His theme is apropos, as the meeting marks our 50th dinner together--quite an accomplishment for a group as diverse as ours.  As for our book selection, Man Eaters of Kumaon and Unbroken fell off in the first round of voting, leaving a duel between Ghosts of Everest and Endurance.  In the final round, the group chose Hemmleb's acclaimed account of the 1999 expedition that discovered the corpse of legendary mountaineer, George Mallory, whose disappearance whle summiting Everest in 1924 became the stuff of legend.