Apr 27, 2015

The First Trimester of 2015: No Snow But Some Diverting Reads

Product DetailsLike last year, January’s ski trip was a bust.  Too little snow too early in the season canceled our Sierra excursion. Instead we met in February at Tom’s to see if Irving Stone’s 1938 work of biographical fiction (think The Agony and the Ecstasy, only much earlier and mercifully shorter) justified its selection as our first title of 2015. The verdict on Sailor on Horseback:  with a middling 6.4 rating, it didn’t quite deliver the goods. It certainly wasn’t the subject matter, as we all have a soft spot for local favorite and hero of Tales of the Fish Patrol, Jack London.  (Indeed, Irving Stone himself was a San Francisco native.)  Maybe it was the dated writing, the clutter of detail, or—as Stan put it—the fact that Stone “kept droning on,” but no one was actively applauding when the votes were tallied (except perhaps Tom, our resident Jack London fan).  No matter.  All in attendance enjoyed Tom’s food and wine pairings.  (Was it really Mondavi, Tom?)

Product DetailsMarch had us only two years removed from Sailor, as we brought back another local writer and past MBC author, John Steinbeck, but this time on an adventure down to Baja with his 1940 travelogue, The Log from the Sea of Cortez.  With fellow traveler and field biologist Ed Ricketts providing some of the narration, Steinbeck took cover from the furor over The Grapes of Wrath by embarking on a collecting expedition to Baja California with a notebook in hand.  His descriptions of marine life were frequently interrupted by a variety of philosophical and humanistic meditations.  Stan called them rants, and for once I had to agree.  While I criticized his constant riffing as self-indulgent and repetitive, others were much more forgiving. Larry and Glenn found the digressions refreshing, and Paul who likened these digressions to those in Moby Dick found enough to keep himself reading the interesting parts.   All of us, however, enjoyed Armando’s stories of his field work in the Sea of Cortez and especially the slide show of his most recent trip just a week before our dinner.  As an added touch, Armando’s main course (blue fin tuna) was caught, cleaned, and packed in the very locale described by Steinbeck. For that we gave Mando a huge thumbs-up and Steinbeck a very respectable 6.8.
For April, Doug convinced us to give short form fiction a try, and he sealed the deal when he offered to prepare and email us a packet of short stories with a combined page count of less than 100!  Not only were we engrossed by his selected stories (George Saunders’ Sea Oak took top honors in the length-of-discussion category), but every one of us claimed to have done the reading (impressive, even if some were embellishing a little).  With selections from Jess Walters (Anything Helps), Tom Perrotta (The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face), Dennis Lehane (Until Gwen), Steve Almond (Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched), and others, there was something for everyone.  With such impressive writing, I had high hopes our next selection would be from one of these men, but George tortured us and then steered us back to Gabriel Garcia Marquez (recall, we read News of a Kidnapping) and the work that sealed his Nobel Prize, Love in the Time of Cholera. In June, we'll find out whether a 50-year deferred romance in the Caribbean piques our interest as much as Bernie's lost appendages did in Sea Oak.