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.

Feb 25, 2009

Just a Placeholder....

After an evening spent desperately trying to live up to such modest expectations for my cooking, I'm now too tired to summarize the highs and lows of our meeting. Indeed, I'm not sure I remember much after Dan showed up with a bottle of "Sawtelle Red" under his arm.

I will post something in short order, but I would be remiss if I failed to note that our rating for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle set a new MBC record. With an 8.5, Sawtelle nudged Blindness out of first place and is now top dog (sorry!) in our stable (sorry again!) of read titles.

More later....

Feb 23, 2009

Reading choices for March.

I have finally settled on the book choices for March. I started out with about ten and have narrowed it down to four. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your culinary tastes, there are no books on cannibalism. Also, much to our great leader's chagrin, I do not have anything by Updike. But I do have an interesting mix of books that we can select next month's reading.

Fool: A Novel, by Christopher Moore, 336 pages.

I am a big Christopher Moore fan. Ever since Blood Sucking Fiends I have read all of his books whenever I needed something light and fun to read. This book is currently #4 on the national bestseller list and would be a very fun book to read. Here is a synopsis from Publishers Weekly.

Starred Review. Here's the Cliff Notes you wished you'd had for King Lear—the mad royal, his devious daughters, rhyming ghosts and a castle full of hot intrigue—in a cheeky and ribald romp that both channels and chides the Bard and all Fate's bastards. It's 1288, and the king's fool, Pocket, and his dimwit apprentice, Drool, set out to clean up the mess Lear has made of his kingdom, his family and his fortune—only to discover the truth about their own heritage. There's more murder, mayhem, mistaken identities and scene changes than you can remember, but bestselling Moore (You Suck) turns things on their head with an edgy 21st-century perspective that makes the story line as sharp, surly and slick as a game of Grand Theft Auto. Moore confesses he borrows from at least a dozen of the Bard's plays for this buffet of tragedy, comedy and medieval porn action. It's a manic, masterly mix—winning, wild and something today's groundlings will applaud. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson, 224 pages

I have had this book for a while and I have seen the movie. It is an incredible tale of survival that talks a lot about an individual's will to live. Here is a synopsis review from Amazon.com:

Concise and yet packed with detail, Touching the Void, Joe Simpson's harrowing account of near-death in the Peruvian Andes, is a compact tour de force that wrestles with issues of bravery, friendship, physical endurance, the code of the mountains, and the will to live. Simpson dedicates the book to his climbing partner, Simon Yates, and to "those friends who have gone to the mountains and have not returned." What is it that compels certain individuals to willingly seek out the most inhospitable climate on earth? To risk their lives in an attempt to leave footprints where few or none have gone before? Simpson's vivid narrative of a dangerous climbing expedition will convince even the most die-hard couch potato that such pursuits fall within the realm of the sane. As the author struggles ever higher, readers learn of the mountain's awesome power, the beautiful--and sometimes deadly--sheets of blue glacial ice, and the accomplishment of a successful ascent. And then catastrophe: the second half of Touching the Void sees Simpson at his darkest moment. With a smashed, useless leg, he and his partner must struggle down a near-vertical face--and that's only the beginning of their troubles.

The Power of the Dog : A Novel by Thomas Savage, 304 pages.

I came across this book by accident and was surprised by the intensity of the comments in praise of this book. It seems like an interesting book from a relatively unknown author. Here is a brief synopsis from Library Journal and some reviewers comments:

Set in 1920s Montana, Savage's 1967 novel introduces the Burbank brothers, whose lives are permanently altered when one falls in love with a widow and brings the woman and her son to live on their isolated ranch. LJ's reviewer praised the novel, saying, Savage is a writer who can really write, and who never lets his style get in the way of his plot (LJ 2/15/67).
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

"...a writer of the first order, and he possesses in abundance the novelist's highest art--the ability to illuminate and move..." -- The New Yorker

"...offers so many pleasures...Put simply, The Power of the Dog is a masterpiece..." -- Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948 and Justice

"A fine novel...studded with fleeting insights, and reverberating for some time after it is laid down." -- Jack McClintock, Chicago Tribune

"Gripping and tense...a work of literary art..." -- Annie Proulx

"Thomas Savage is a writer of real consequence...a masterful novelist..." -- Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

All the Pretty Horses By Cormac Mccarthy, 304 pages.

Yes, I can't not have a Cormac Mccarthy in my selection. I think he is one of the greatest living American authors. This book is the only one of my selections that has won an award ( National Book Award, 1992). Here is a short review from Amazon.com:

Part bildungsroman, part horse opera, part meditation on courage and loyalty, this beautifully crafted novel won the National Book Award in 1992. The plot is simple enough. John Grady Cole, a 16-year-old dispossessed Texan, crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico in 1949, accompanied by his pal Lacey Rawlins. The two precocious horsemen pick up a sidekick--a laughable but deadly marksman named Jimmy Blevins--encounter various adventures on their way south and finally arrive at a paradisiacal hacienda where Cole falls into an ill-fated romance. Readers familiar with McCarthy's Faulknerian prose will find the writing more restrained than in Suttree and Blood Meridian. Newcomers will be mesmerized by the tragic tale of John Grady Cole's coming of age.