Jan 11, 2016

2015 Redux

Redux notwithstanding, I'll start with our early January 2016 ski trip.  The point is, after years of terrible conditions, we finally had enough snow for good skiing.  A day at Sugar Bowl and, for some, a day of cross-country at Royal Gorge, were appropriately exhausting.  They were also necessary, as they provided the spacing between Tom's lasagna, Peter's ribs, Dean's chicken piccata, and endless bottles of wine. Below, we tuck into that famous lasagna....

(L to R: Moguls, Aussie, Crash, Steeps, Hydro, 2XC4US)
Apologies to "Crash," who finally made our ski weekend only to have his wife's beautiful red SUV scarred by an errant (but honest) snowplow driver.

men's book club group discussion review The Financial Lives of the Poets Jess Walter
Our ski trip was only slightly consumed with reading.  We had a too-abbreviated conversation about Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets.  Proposed by Terry, and inspired in part by our appreciation of Walter's short story, Anything Helps, Walter's novel about one man's midlife travails was a comic if bittersweet glance back at the Great Recession.  His protagonist felt a little too like any of us:  middle-aged man (check), with kids (check), and beautiful wife whose fidelity is suspect (hmm...not going there), making bad decisions (sometimes), aware of those bad decisions (always), and with an epiphany at the end (time will tell).  We truncated our discussion to avoid spoiling it for those who hadn't yet finished.  But the consensus seemed to be one of great ambivalence.  Sort of funny, sort of painful, sort of true, sort of compelling.  An emailed rating later of 7.0 was surprisingly good for all the sort ofs.

In December, after a 6-year hiatus, we reprised our progressive holiday party. As before, we started at Larry's for appetizers (thank you for the fried lumpia, Larry!), had our entrees and sides at yours truly, and finished with dessert, mulled wine, and more at Terry's.  As usual, every man did more than he was asked to pull off this moving feast for 35 guests.  Special thanks to Tom (two days spent preparing Julia Child's boeuf bourgignon!), Peter (who, too sick to attend, still dropped off his slow-cooked ribs), and John (whose flourless chocolate cake was to die for, but who also sent each of us home with an individually-wrapped persimmon loaf from his kitchen). 

men's book club group discussion review Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
We traveled up to Petaluma in November for a midday meal with Glenn.  Ostensibly, we were there to discuss Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but most of us were happy touring Glenn's new/old house and listening to his plans for the barn (built, we were told, before Conrad penned his magnum opus).  Since he had no recipes from the Congo, and since Belgian food is French food ruined, Glenn turned to Apocalypse Now for inspiration and prepared an excellent dejeuner Indochine. With guest Rob contributing, we shared our thoughts on Marlow's tale of his quest for Mr. Kurtz. Despite the fact that everything has already been said about this story (most of it by college freshmen), our discussion was lively. Was the journey simply one long acid trip (Rob, speaking metaphorically, I think), intentionally purposeless (Terry), exploring darkness in the map's white spaces (Glenn), an indictment of corporatism (or was that mercantilism, Paul?), or just a vehicle for terrific writing (most of us)?  Regardless, our own quest to find Glenn up in Sonoma County left us amply (ful)filled. Enough so that, for the second month running, we lifted a title into our current top five, with an 8.4 rating.

men's book club group discussion review Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff Christopher Moore
In October, we repaired to Dan's for dinner al fresco and an opportunity to discuss one of the more original works we've read to date.  Violating our selection protocol by offering us only one title, Dan had us read Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.  The title was incongruous, but the book managed to capture our collective fancy.  Whimsical, comic, irreverent--none of these does justice to Moore's re-creation of the Christ story with Biff as his cartoonish narrator.  Like Aslan's Zealot, Moore's Lamb acknowledges that so little is known about Christ's upbringing.  But in Moore's telling, absolutely anything is fair game.  Our comments ranged from "sophomoric" (Doug) and "juvenile" (me) to "refreshing" (Peter) and "meaningful" (Tom).  Quibbles aside, almost everyone found Moore funny and highly creative.  And that, to my surprise, propelled Dan's solo title into our current top five with an 8.7.  Creativity was also to be found on our vino, courtesy of San Marino Cellars' Label Division:
Dan and his Disciples
 (P.S.:  Dan, your Jerusalem-inspired meal of lamb and chicken shawarma more than compensated for your rules violation.  But don't tell anyone I said that. Otherwise, I'll let the world know that your own guest, Miguel, confessed that while Lamb may have been funny, it had "no depth.")

men's book club group discussioni review The Onion Field Joseph Wambaugh
We convened in September wondering what Paul had in store for us.  In fairness, we'd been warned that our book's title should be taken literally.  And it was.  Paul's dinner dropped us right into the onion field described by Joseph Wambaugh. Seated outside and in the dark, we all took notice of the table's centerpiece, which was an artful arrangement of planted onion bulbs.  To make sure we got the point, each part of our meal featured onions, starting with an onion dip, then onion soup, and continuing with a delicious onion quiche.  The food unfortunately outdid the book.  Perhaps we were spoiled by Truman Capote, but everything about Wambaugh's true crime account suffered in comparison to In Cold Blood.  Most disappointing was the writing.  Plodding and tedious, the book's best moment was the actual homicide in the onion field north of Los Angeles.  While we all decried the writing, Larry further complained that the story had no protagonist worth caring about.  Indeed, had we cared more, we might not have been content to rate The Onion Field a 5.5.