Aug 9, 2014

September Book Selections

Having survived MBC's theological period -- A Canticle for Leibowitz, Cain, and Zealot -- my offerings for September's meeting are, for a change, agnostic although still philosophical.   They include: Two fiction and two non-fiction; Something new and something old:  Two sport themed  and two not; Two new authors, two not so new.     Here they are in no particular order:

  1. The Rise of Superman;
  2. The Art of Fielding;
  3. A Tibetan Peach Pie; or
  4. Moby-Dick.

The Details:

(1) The Rise of Superman -- Steven Kotler, 198 pages -- I always worry about reviews that use hyperbole like "ground breaking", but having read the book, my summary (note -- I 've summarized each of the four reviews below as these book reviewers must get paid by the column inch) of the Goodreads review is not far off the mark:

An exploration of how extreme athletes break the limits of ultimate human performance and what we can learn from their mastery of the state of consciousness known as “flow” In this groundbreaking book, New York Times–bestselling author Steven Kotler decodes the mystery of ultimate human performance. Building a bridge between the extreme and the mainstream, The Rise of Superman explains how these athletes are using flow to do the impossible and how we can use this information to radically accelerate our performance in our own lives. At its core, this is a book about profound possibility, what is actually possible for our species, and where—if anywhere—our limits lie.

(2) The Art of Fielding -- Chad Harbach, 512 pages -- This book was previously proposed by another MBC member.  At that time, I had not read it.  Last Christmas, my daughter gave it to me and I enjoyed it enough to offer it again to MBC.   My summary -- so we don't transition too quickly from our recent fascination with biblical references --  of the Chicago Tribune review of this book is

There should be a Biblical saying — For if a new novel, for which the publisher has paid an enormous amount of cash, lives up to its hype, all shall considered themselves blessed — and if that novel cometh from the Midwest, homeland to Floyd Dell and Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jim Harrison, then all shall be twice blessed. This should apply to "The Art of Fielding," which Little Brown had much bruited about and whose hefty hardcover we can now hold in our hands. It's a baseball novel, meaning it's a novel from which one can extrapolate about all life on earth. It's a college novel and thus a coming of age novel. It's a novel about families, by birth and by life-choices, and a novel about how to live, how to love and how to die. It's a novel about how to read and how to write, and it's all in all the most delightful and serious first book of fiction that I have read in a while.

(3) A Tibetan Peach Pie, Tom Robbins, 362 pages -- This is Tom Robbins recently published memoir.  I read Still Life with Woodpecker and may have read his more famous book, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (but that part of my college life is a little hazy).  For sure, I have not read this book (but will), so to give it its due, here is my summary of the New York Times review:

The story of how Tom Robbins became Tom Robbins is a pretty good one, and in relating it, he’s written his best book in many years. “Tibetan Peach Pie” should be sold in one of those marijuana vending machines now extant in Colorado. Like them, it provides an afternoon’s affordable buzz.

(3) Moby-Dick -- Herman Melville  640 pages --  Alright, so the length is probably a "bridge too far" for  MBC.  I've included it because I'll now read it after not so subtle references in The Art of Fielding (see above). I assume no review of this book is needed.

Do I have a suggested favorite?  Yes.  My suggested read is the first book -- The Rise of Superman.  While Stephen Kotler is probably not a Pulitzer candidate, The Rise of Superman should lead to a lively MBC debate around the book's premise -- that extreme athletes can attain a state of consciousness (he calls the "flow) that allow them to push beyond what was thought to be the limits of human performance. Further, how can we mortals (sorry Stan) tap into this state of consciousness or do we already do so without realizing it. Oh, BTW did you notice -- its 198 pages (not counting the bibliography).

Voting begins now.  As my Chicago brethren  might say -- vote early, vote often.  -- Larry

Feb 17, 2014

Dan Celebrates Black History Month With Onion and Joy Juice

Dan spared neither effort nor expense to ensure a satisfying evening last Tuesday. Hard spirits came first, with an assortment of whiskies that included a bottle of Joy Juice with Little Onion on the label. Once we tucked in to dinner, several John Brown-inspired varietals were poured, courtesy of the graphics arts division of San Marino Cellars.
Strong stuff, but a suspect likeness
John Brown: A Family of Vintners
Even with so much "giddy water" lubricating our evening, none of us missed the chance to fill up on Dan's tri tip and jambalaya. We did leave room, though, for a slice of pie that was 9 parts Jack Daniels to 1 part pecans. Eyes watering and throats burning, we turned our attention to the book that inspired such hospitality.

The Book
Most know James McBride for his deeply affecting memoir, The Color of Water, in which he examines race relations in the 50's and 60's through his own mixed-race upbringing. Our McBride selection, The Good Lord Bird, presents a different segment of black history, but also with a mixed-race child as narrator. Seen through the eyes of a slave boy involuntarily rescued (and thereafter dressed and addressed as a girl) by John Brown, the story is both poignant and hilarious as Brown and his outlaw band ultimately meet their destiny at Harper's Ferry two years later.

As a group, we were divided in our impressions of McBride's latest novel. Roy took issue with its historical accuracy, complaining that the pre-war reference to eating pheasant was sloppy (since pheasant wasn't introduced to America until the 1880's) and the caricature of John Brown as a nutcase fails to acknowledge that Brown was demonized by post-war historians with an axe to grind. Peter found the story slow and purposeless, but (like Dean) he enjoyed reading it in conjunction with seeing 12 Years A Slave. Most of the rest of us were less critical. John enjoyed the colorful vernacular, Doug and others appreciated the mixed motives of both Free Staters and Pro Slavers, Glenn and Paul remarked on Onion's story as a narrative of disguise, hiding, and survival (yet failed to mention The Book Thief!), and Jack and George (with murmurs from the rest of us) enjoyed a novel they might not otherwise have selected on their own--although George loudly objected to the cross-dressing conceit at the heart of the novel.

One indicator of a book's popularity is how many of us are able to finish it in time. In this case, 14 of us did, including Larry in absentia. Kudos to McBride. Unfortunately, his talents couldn't overcome the vote-canceling antics of Dean and Roy, who were egged on by Doug's pre-emptive 10. With a 7.6 average rating, McBride still produced a superior contribution to the MBC booklist.

Next Up
Due to Stan's upcoming travels, it fell to me to propose titles for our next dinner.  Because I pressed hard for my favorite read of 2013, the group graciously turned down Ishiguro's Remains of the Day and Walter's Beautiful Ruins in favor of The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.  Next month we'll find out if others are as intrigued as I was by Hig, the protagonist at the center of a world undone by disease.