Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Magician's Assistant

Belated again! Gone are the days of the Thursday morning recap, but you know what they say... Thank you to the Foxx for hosting TCOB. It's so fun to see the progress on your house--it looks better every time! We started off the night with margaritas (the cocktail is a menu addition I like very much!) and chickpea bruschetta with olive tapenade. Then, some very healthy chicken enchilladas (courtesy of the Foxx's mother-in-law's famous recipe) with a mixed vegetable salad, and strawberry and rhubarb cobbler with creme fraiche for dessert. Dalish, and requiring a major workout the next day!

The Magician's Assistant, by Ann Patchett, scored a 6.75 on the Richter scale. However, as is often the case, that number doesn't tell the whole story. There were mostly 8's and then two nay-sayers brought the average tumbling down. The general consensus among the 8's was that the book was totally enjoyable, the story was good, they liked the Fetters family, and it was cool that the book (or at least half of it) took place in L.A.--Beverly Hills, downtown, and West Hollywood no less! We were about split down the middle on whether people liked Sabine: half found her character annoying or frustrating in that she had no backbone and put everyone else's interests ahead of her own. The other half really found her to be sympathetic. We also discussed Sabine and Parsifal's relationship, and again, opinions were mixed. How could Sabine have spent her whole life pining away for someone who definitively was not going to reciprocate on a sexual or even an intimate basis? Her living with Phan and Parsifal seemed weird, like the third-wheel neighbor who bunks in. On the other hand, maybe it was just a "non-traditional" family--and who are we to judge? We talked about Sabine's parents, and how even though they were such an important influence in her life, perhaps they were enabling their daughter in continuing on a path that never would lead to fulfillment for her. There was a lot to talk about with this book, and I feel like we just scratched the surface--probably because we hadn't gotten together for more than 5 weeks which meant lots of gossip to catch up on. In particular, El Jefe was curious to know everyone's take on the final magic trick, which Sabine seemed to have learned in one of her dreams and which supposedly was "real" magic. How did this fantastical and mystical twist fit in with a book that, although fictional, otherwise stuck to a completely realistic and pragmatic view of magic tricks?

Reminder: Janna Conner Designs and Lila Boutique trunk show at Logan's Run's house on May 2!
Our next meeting will be Wednesday, May 3 at Ms. K's house. La Madamoiselle is bringing apps, and Logan's Run dessert. The book is Last Orders, by Graham Swift, the 1996 Booker Prize winner.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Devil in the White City

Beter late than never for a BC recap! Thanks to Red for hosting a fun evening--we are so glad to have you and La Mademoiselle back in town! It was clear that Red was back in full effect since the quotation mark fingers came out early in the evening. We started off with a cheese and charcuterie plate. Then, since there's no such thing as too much cheese, we segued into a mixed green salad with hot chevre for dinner's first course, followed by sauteed chicken and asian vegetables as the entree. Dessert was stewed mixed berries over vanilla ice cream with Vahlrona chocolate. But why stop at just one dessert? We then had a taste testing of assorted Belgian chocolates courtesy of Raf. How do you say "lish" in Flemish?

The White City had rating of 6.57, but that doesn't tell the whole picture. Everyone except Logan's Run loved this book and rated it in the 7 to 9 category, but Logan's Run's score brought the average down. Harsh! In general, people found The White City to be fascinating. The story of the Chicago world's fair and how it was built undoubtedly is a landmark of huge cultural and historical importance--yet most (not all) of us knew very little about it. One neat aspect to reading non-fiction is that it puts into context things you have learned before. For example, some of us had studied the architects who built the fair, so the names Burnham, Root, and Sullivan already were familiar. For the rest of us, it gave shredded wheat, belly dancing, and the Ferris wheel new meaning. But, as interesting as these tidbits are, our discussion really focused on the difference between life at the turn of the 19th century and now, just over 100 years later. In what ways are we better off now, and in what ways worse? Throughout our discussion, a little of both came out. Take pollution. The description of Chicago's persistent haze and blanket of soot from coal burning and construction, not to mention the omnipresent stench of slaughtered animals was pretty revolting. But then someone raised the point of how much more we pollute the environment today. On the other hand, the rampant killing (even H. H. Holmes aside), kidnapping, "disappearances" and general violence--most of which went unprosecuted--seemed worse than what we have today. I could go on and on, we talked about medicine, the war in Iraq, women's rights, moustaches and the Whitechapel Club. We didn't have a whole lot of time left to discuss the characters, although another hour probably was warranted to talk about Holmes himself and what lead him to become one of the most grisly serial killers in history. Not lish. I have to give some airtime to the alternative viewpiont. Logan's Run just didn't find the story to be gripping, but rather a bit too bogged down in the details for her taste. Partly that may be because of writing style, and we did poke fun at the author, Eric Larson, for some of the dramatic sentence structures he used to try to infuse a potentially dry historical account with interest...... "and that man was Frank Lloyd Wright!"

Our next BC is on Wednesday, April 5 at Ms. K's house. Please volunteer for dessert or apps. Also, at our next meeting we will discuss potentially moving BC to the second Wed of the month to have less conflicts with Red's and La Mademoiselle's trade shows, so please look at your calendars and think about it. This change is part of a larger effort to increase book club attendance that has been expressed by some of our members. One last administrative point: bring book suggestions! The LOD is so 2004. We want to resume picking two books at a time.

We will be reading the Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett.

Thursday, February 2, 2006


Thanks to Logan's Run for hosting a fun and intimate TCOB last night!  Dalish as usual. Prosciutto-wrapped melon and fresh mozzarella, baked penne with a crisp arugula and parmesan salad, and a scrumptious apricot mousse Birthday Cake in honor of Ms. K.  Yum!  We missed our traveling compatriots:  Blondie (Sun Valley), Red (Paris--obv.) and La Madamoiselle (NY). Hurry home girls, we miss you!

On to the book. Freakonomics came in with a 6.5.  Despite a fairly respectable score, the commentary on this book was kind of lackluster.  It's not that people didn't like it, but rather that they didn't see much to discuss.  The overriding reaction was "neato, but not mind-blowing"--which is what the book jacket made it out to be.  There were mixed views of the author's methodology.  The Doctor, in particular, was not convinced that Levitt proved the theses he put forth because he didn't prove causality.  Ms. K and the Highlander, on the other hand, found his research convincing.  The most well-received chapter was the author's conclusion that legalized abortion accounted for nearly 50% of the crime drop between the 1980's and 2000.  A bold and controversial position that he handled with finesse and objectivity.  But, who wants finesse and objectivity when we can talk about scan-dal? (see below)  Did James Frey's drug addition cause him to forget he never served prison time, or was it just correlated?  A million little pieces of controversy. Tempting as it may be, we've decided not to suppot his literary career. Oh-o-woh-o-Oprah!

Our next meeting is Wednesday, March 1 at Red's house. (Red, please confirm this--we talked about it a long time ago). We need apps and dessert volunteers, please! The book is Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. It's a long one, 447 pages, so just click on the link below, and read early and often.