Oct 21, 2012

Dean Picks a Fight

As we watched the second Presidential debate last Tuesday, Dean sweated the details and served up a fine all-American meal.  Any similarities to the banquet food in Fight Club were pure coincidence.  Yes, the pureed soup was suspect, but we were assured that Dean's pumpkin and summer squash were all natural and all from his very own garden.  We had no such concerns about our New York strip steaks, roasted endives, native rice, and apple crumble, as all were quite excellent.

The Book
We chose Fight Club from a list of titles that invoked the nihilists of the 19th century and the existentialists of the 20th century.  Some of us quibbled with the writing, but the content left no one wanting.  Pahlaniuk's short novel based on a short story (originally, only 7 pages) about disillusioned men who converge on late night bars to brawl in private is more than simply a mood piece about Yuppie angst.

We argued about the  writing and its inconsistent delivery (with Dean praising the narration and chapter inversions, and Doug and I picking at its consciously disjointed, anecdotal style) and some of us were put off by a world none of us could fully fathom (except Stan, who called Fight Club the "epitome" of fiction) .  However, all of us were struck by the atavism of Tyler Durden--schizoid or not--with Paul phoning his kudos in from Austin, TX.

The story's hard edge lost a few of us, though.  Tom, uncharacteristically, refused to read beyond 50 pages, and normally complaisant Jack excoriated the book's characters for their lack of empathy.   (I think that was sort of the point, Jack.)

Our votes were generally favorable, but the 4's from Jack and Doug limited Fight Club to no better than a 7 in our ratings book.

Next Up
We don't have either our host or a title selected for November/December, but that will be quickly remedied.  Stay tuned for more.

Oct 20, 2012

A Make-Up for 2012

As club secretary, I must fall on my sword for my repeated failure, over the last year or more, to regularly post summaries of our meetings. I blame Tom A. for initially stepping in to save me, only to later step out and expose my lack of constancy. With that mea culpa, herewith a very quick summary of our meetings since January's A Sport and a Pastime.

men's book club discussion review of Ghosts of Everest
In February, Paul fed us victuals from the Kashmir as we considered the story of the 1999 expedition that discovered the remains of legendary British mountaineer, George Mallory.  In Ghosts of Everest, Hemmleb et. al. chronicle their successful attempt to re-trace Mallory's fateful route in 1924 in order to figure out what exactly happened to Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine.  Less successful was the manner in which Hemmleb and his co-authors joined their account with Mallory's.  The story of each expedition was fascinating, but the book's split narrative was awkward and resulted in a modest 6.7 rating. Maybe it was the intimidating presence of our guest and published author/teacher, Andy, that made us extra critical.

men's book club discussion review of Reservation Blues Alexie
In March, we convened at Stan's (yes, another outstanding meal of grilled meat and roast potatoes!) to consider Sherman Alexie's modern-day account of life on the rez in Reservation Blues.  We split over the dream sequences and mystical moments, but were taken by the honesty with which Alexie paints his characters.  Alternatingly sympathetic and scathing, Alexie depicts life on and off the reservation (and his characters' infatuation with music) with a remarkable vividness, especially for those of us for whom the BIA is just another acronym.  The 7.0 rating understated the generally positive tenor of our discussion.

men's book club discussion review of Sweet Promised Land Laxalt
Armando hosted us in April with an ethnic feast that complimented Robert Laxalt's beautifully drawn memoir set in pre- and post-war Nevada.  As men of a certain age, perhaps we were predisposed to fall hard for Sweet Promised Land and its elegiac re-telling of a quintessentially father-son story.  The father, Dominique Laxalt, is a hard-working immigrant (herding sheep in the foothills near Carson City) whose sons achieve fully the American dream (one as a US senator, another as a university professor) but whose heart can't quite forget the family he left behind in a small town in the Pyrenees.  His return home with his younger son is both reunion and closure. Several guys commented that this story continued to resonate long after the pages were turned.  It certainly did for me.  For that reason, it earned an 8.3 rating and climbed into our current Top 5.

men's book club group discussion review of Unbroken Hillenbrand
We met next in June at my house and enjoyed plenty of sushi and sake as we considered Louis Zamperini's unforgettable odyssey from Torrance, CA to the Berlin Olympics to a POW camp in Japan.  Laura Hillenbrand is a shameless crowd-pleaser whose recreation of the Zamperini story engendered questions from us (and others) about its authenticity of detail. That aside, most of us felt uplifted and exhausted by Zamperini's extraordinary resilience and will to survive.  Our conclusion was to forgive the sometimes tedious and occasionally hyperbolic passages and celebrate--with a 7.4 rating--an amazing story of survival.

In July we declared a bye and instead appeared with spouses and no books at Doug's house for his second annual summer party.  After commiserating with him over his recent burglary, we tucked in and stuffed ourselves.  Thanks again, Doug.

men's book club group discussion review of Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!
Our last meeting was delayed to September, when Glenn hosted us at Roy's house.  With food from Sol, we were all ears as Ralph Leighton regaled us with stories about Richard Feynman, the Nobel physicist who was also his father's colleague at CalTech.  Glenn had proposed and we picked Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, unaware that Ralph Leighton was Roy's brother-in-law.  The book was filled with the infectious humor and antics of a renowned physicist who related his personal story to Leighton in a series of recorded conversations over the space of several years.  From those recordings, Leighton produced this delightful memoir.  Even those of us with little interest in applied physics found in  Feynman (via Leighton) a riveting storyteller indeed.