Apr 25, 2011

Twofer June

After digesting what was said regarding some of our recent book selections I will forgo from forcing you to read my uncle's book but rather persuade you to read 2 books (1 being my uncles) the others are award winning authors/books that are under 150 pgs. Therefore the combined number of pages for both books would be under the 500 page rule. We would also meet on the last Tues of June and that would be the 28th.

So here are my selections:

1. Condemned to Freedom by John DeFrank (330 pgs.)
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder (107 pgs)

2. Condemned to Freedom by John DeFrank (330 pgs)
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (144 pgs.)

3. Condemned to Freedom by John DeFrank (330 pgs.)
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan (128 pgs.)

Apr 24, 2011

No Fries With our Freedom

Larry deserves our thanks and praise:  he subbed in for Garth on short notice, put up an eclectic list of titles, and somehow convinced us to pick a novel that grossly exceeded our 500-page limit.  The real surprise is that, after plenty of good-natured grumbling, we appeared at Larry's and propelled Franzen's Freedom to our top five list.  But more on that in a moment.

In addition to dragging Jack back for an evening with the boys, Larry also deserves kudos for setting his table with his own version of Midwest comfort food.  His dry-rubbed ribs were falling-off-the-bone tender and nicely complemented by tossed potatoes and a green salad.  But the best was saved for last.  Larry made a homemade ice cream, a sheet of cookies, and then deftly assembled them into mouth-watering ice cream sandwiches, whose only drawback was their dainty size.  C'mon, Larry.  If you're going for Midwestern fare, then please say no to nouvelle cuisine portioning!

The Book
In Franzen's bestselling follow-up to The Corrections, the dysfunctional Berglund family in Freedom is presented as a crazy quilt of the aspirational upper-middle class.  A single family splinters (over the course of 568 pages) into competing strands of liberalism and neoconservatism, obsession and indifference, choice and passivity, deviance and desire, and more.  Much more.  In the end Franzen ties it up with a bow, but not before making his characters (and the reader) suffer a little.

As Larry noted at the outset, Freedom isn't sustained by an especially interesting plot, but rather (as we all agreed) by its characters.  They're engrossing, outrageous, unlikeable, sanctimonious, pathetic...and ultimately, to a one, unforgettable.  Their largely negative attributes would seem to be a prescription for disaster, and it was enough to make Doug and Stan express an ambivalence that was probably shared by others.

In the end, though, our fascination overcame our distaste and we gave Freedom a heady 7.9 rating.  Even Dean, our usually reliable critic of overstuffed prose, exclaimed how much he looked forward to reading every night.  And I, never objective in my assessment, agreed wholeheartedly.  Freedom was as compelling a love story as I've read in a long time. It's just not quite the love story we're all accustomed to reading.

Next Up
Our selection for next month was clouded by the controversy attending Garth's list of proposed books.  In an effort to tie all of his selections to the current debate over nuclear power, Garth chose three award-winning treatises, each addressing some aspect of nuclear power, and two exceeding our 500-page limit.  In Garth's absence we asked ourselves whether it's appropriate for one theme--especially a politically-charged topic like nuclear power--to dominate a list of titles.  In the end, we picked Voices of Chernobyl, in deference to Garth's wishes and out of curiosity over the subject matter.  But we agreed that, in the future and to ensure that we have a genuine choice of titles (by length, subject matter, and style), a slate of non-fiction titles should be accompanied by at least one novel.  And, if a 500-page tome is proposed, it should complement a list of conforming titles (i.e., be the 4th selection, with the other three all under 500 pages).

With Garth's Rule duly adopted, we'll all look ahead to next month when we can consider whether the current move towards "renewable nuclear" is a wise response to climate change and fossil fuel scarcity.  We'll also ask ourselves if the selection of our first book by a woman is a pardonable breach of MBC rules.

Apr 18, 2011

Garth's Picks for May

For our reading pleasure in May, Garth has proffered some very interesting reads:  all serious and weighty--just like his personality--and all designed to help us explore our views on the role of nuclear technology in today's world.

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (721 pages)
Winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize (Biography)

J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, a brilliant physicist who led the effort to build the atomic bomb for his country in a time of war, and who later found himself confronting the moral consequences of scientific progress. In this magisterial, acclaimed biography twenty-five years in the making, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin capture Oppenheimer's life and times, from his early career to his central role in the Cold War. This is biography and history at its finest, riveting and deeply informative. (Publisher’s Synopsis)

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (592 pages)
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize (Non-Fiction)

In the first full account of how the arms race finally ended, The Dead Hand provides an unprecedented look at the inner motives and secret decisions of each side. Drawing on top-secret documents from deep inside the Kremlin, memoirs, and interviews in both Russia and the United States, David Hoffman introduces the scientists, soldiers, diplomats, and spies who saw the world sliding toward disaster and tells the gripping story of how Reagan, Gorbachev, and many others struggled to bring the madness to an end. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the danger continued, and the United States began a race against time to keep nuclear and biological weapons out of the hands of terrorists and and rogue states. (Publisher’s Synopsis)

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Aleksievich (256 pages)
Winner of the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award (Non-Fiction)

A chorus of fatalism, stoic bravery and black, black humor is sounded in this haunting oral history of the 1986 nuclear reactor catastrophe in what is now northeastern Ukraine. Russian journalist Alexievich records a wide array of voices: a woman who clings to her irradiated, dying husband though nurses warn her 'that's not a person anymore, that's a nuclear reactor'; a hunter dispatched to evacuated villages to exterminate the household pets; soldiers sent in to clean up the mess, bitter at the callous, incompetent Soviet authorities who 'flung us there, like sand on the reactor,' but accepting their lot as a test of manhood; an idealistic nuclear engineer whose faith in communism is shattered. Alexievich shapes these testimonies into novelistic 'monologues' that convey a vivid portrait of late-Communist malaise, in which bullying party bosses, paranoid propaganda and chaotic mobilizations are resisted with bleak sarcasm ('It wasn't milk, it was a radioactive byproduct'), mournful philosophizing ('the mechanism of evil will work under conditions of apocalypse') and lots of vodka. The result is an indelible X-ray of the Russian soul. (Publishers Weekly)