Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Thanks to the Maharani for jumping right in to host the November BC.  We caught up on the month's gossip over wine and a cheese platter, followed by the perfect fall meal:  Ina Garten's beef short ribs (falling off the bone!) with potatoes and, heavens, some delish dessert that is escaping poor El Jefe's overtaxed memory at the moment.  El Jefe does recall, however, the stunning arrangement of seasonal branches and leaves in the center of the Maharani's kitchen island!  Beautiful!  Maharani, you can host BC any time!

On to the book, as, given the late hour, El Jefe needs to keep this short (unlike Sloosha's Crossing, which was anything but...)

David Mitchell's tour de force Cloud Atlas scored a 7.3.  Let's break this down a bit further.  Now, this was an extremely difficult piece of literature to sink one's teeth into, and indeed there were two of our fearless band who did not make it to the main course and therefore abstained from rating.  A lowball 3 from the Maharani was paired with 8s and even a 9 from the rest of us.  An interesting dichotomy.  This book was comprised of six separate stories that shared certain thematic connections and were organized for the first half of the book in chronological order, and for the second half in reverse chronological order--with Sloosha's Crossing at the apex (or nadir).  The characters, plots and linguistic styles ranged from a Melvillian sailing expedition from the 1800s featuring questionable physicians and aboriginal stowaways, to the modern day rise and fall of a British book publisher cum old folks home prisoner, to a heart-wrenching tale of violence and survival set in post-Apocalyptic Hawaii and written entirely in a made-up pidgin dialect.  Phew!  So what did we make of all this?  Clearly Mitchell was not entirely successful in interweaving these tales.  The low rating was given on account of the stories failing to relate to each other in a coherent way and a lack of payoff (understandable that one would be looking for a payoff given how difficult it was to get through this book!).  On the other hand, high marks were given for the sheer literary achievement of Cloud Atlas and its many inventive features.  True, not everything was spelled out (in fact, most things weren't).  For example, what the heck was going on with those comet-shaped birthmarks sported by one character in each story?  To some, the birthmarks were an annoying and unsatisfactory gimmick.  However, as Ms. K. insightfully noted, even though they were not fully explained, the birthmarks might have symbolized death and reincarnation, a central theme of the book.  Overall, it seemed like the amount of enjoyment taken from this book was influenced by the reader's expectation, and perhaps the best way to read Cloud Atlas is with no expectation at all, just a willingness to go to whatever time and place the author takes you.

Interestingly, the motion picture feature was released the same week, to mixed reviews.  How about the casting?

Tom Hanks as a goatherd survivalist;  he also plays the nuclear physicist Isaac Sachs

 Halle Berry as Luisa Rey;  she also plays Meronym in the Sloosha chapter

Ben Whishaw as the composer Robert Frobisher;  also plays the record store clerk who helps Louisa Rey find a copy of the Cloud Atlas Sextet

 Jim Broadbent, playing Timothy Cavendish the book publisher;  also plays the composer who takes Robert Frobisher as his apprentice

Still confused?  Here's a guide to all the characters!

Our next meeting is, oops, today, that is, in 18 short hours.  It's the annual holiday BC at the Highlander's house.  Hopefully everyone knows their dinner assignments and has practiced their magic tricks (and, of course, read the book--we never said this wasn't a high maintenance book club!).  See you very, very soon.  xoej

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Beautiful Ruins

Thanks to Red for hosting what may be the last ever BC in The 'Dena.  The night started out like a skit from The Californians, with at least the first half hour devoted to "How did you get hearre?"  Be it The 10 to The 110 to The 5, or The 405 to The 101 to The 134, it just goes to show our DEDICATION to discussing a good book among friends over lots and lots of wine.  We started off with pepadew peppers stuffed with chevre and a platter of spinach and feta spanikopita, followed by a hearty vegetarian bean chili (with a kick!) out of the Once Upon a Tart cookbook, accompanied by corn bread and jalapeno jelly, followed by French cookies and petits fours to finish off the evening.  Lish!

Once Upon a Tart in NYC... probably underwater now

Welcome to the Maharani!  We're delighted and excited to have you on board (even if you did get a bit of a break the first month since you already read the book)! 

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter scored roughly a 6.  Forget the relative merits or detractions in the story, the Maharani brought the hammer down right out of the starting gate with a criticism of the cover!  That's right, we're talking about the book jacket.  El Jefe thinks this is a BC first, but, hey, what's the point of a new member if they don't bring fresh commentary to the table?!  Specifically (sorry, just can't resist), one can't judge a book by its cover after all.  If you thought you were picking up a sophisticated, subtle tale of love and loss, nostalgically set in the Cinque Terre circa 1950--well, you were, that is until you flip to the chapter about the cheesy movie producer and the even cheesier dude with the tattoo hawking his Donner Party movie script.  Say what?  Exactly.  It's not that this book was terrible.  It was really two books, one of which most people liked (the one about broken hearts on the Italian coastline and Richard Burton and Liz Taylor) and the other of which was more or less lame.  (This is how El Jefe is remembering the consensus opinion three weeks later, however, admittedly it may just be El Jefe's opinion.)  But really, this story was not all bad, or even half bad.  Certainly there was humor in this book, from the madcap hijinx that unfolded on the set of Cleopatra, to the descriptions of the producer Michael Deane's plastic surgery, to the charmingly named Hotel Adequate View.  The way the book mixed in real life personalities from 1950's Hollywood also was fun, and there were a number of likable characters from Pasquale the innkeeper to Alvis Bender the novel writer to the drunk fisherman on the beach in Porto Vergogna.  Although Beautiful Ruins won't go down in BC history as a fine piece of literature, it was an easy and enjoyable enough read, and (in retrospect) a breath of fresh air in comparison to next month's beast!!

 Cinque Terre, Italia

Those lips! No wonder she fell for him!

Our next meeting is on Monday at the Maharani's house.  El Jefe is on apps and Red on dessert.  Come with your note pads to review the propositions and your calendars to pick a date for Holiday BC.  Hope you've been reading early and often.  xoej

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Open City

Well, El Jefe wanted to knock this one out before decamping to Sun Valley to visit Blondie.  Plus, the book discussion won't take too long....  Thanks to Logan's Run for hosting this evening, and to the Highlander for making up for lost time on the apps!  With none other than William Jefferson Blythe Clinton (a mouthful, ha ha) on low volume in the background, we caught up over a bountiful cheese and charcuterie platter and all the reasons we should re-nominate the Pres for another four years.  Just think:  in two more books time, we will have ushered in the fourth presidential term of The Club of Books!  From our first meeting on Bronson in 2002 (George W. Bush's first term) to our regularly-scheduled meeting on the first Wednesday of the month, November 7, 2012, the day after we pick the 45th president of the United States (assuming no protracted election contest as a result of dangling chads).  What a lot has happened!  Maybe to lend us some historical gravitas we should start referring to our books like, "The Confessions of Max Tivoli was the 10th book of the 2nd term of George W. Bush."  Dinner was a fresh pea and mint puree soup, with tomato and buratta crostini.  And then luscious, creamy banana pudding with wafers and fresh blueberries in individual ramekins for dessert.  Lish!

A Book Club staple

Open City by Teju Cole scored about a 5.75.  However, that rating may not be entirely accurate.  If this novel were a stock on NASDAQ we're refer to it as "thinly traded," and may question whether the reported price truly reflects the value of the company.  Let's call this book "thinly read."  To be specific:  only 2 of 9 BC members got up the gumption to make it to the end, and only 3 of 9 felt that they had read enough to proffer a rating.  Wow!  End of summer should have been the perfect time to leisurely read (and complete) an acclaimed novel.  What gives?  In a nutshell, this book was too just damn slow.  Although beautifully written, it meandered all over the place, stopping to muse over such disparate topics as the attack on the World Trade Center, immigration, mental illness, the collapse of "old economy" stalwarts like Tower Records, race relations, bedbugs and global warming.  As the Doctor said, "The story really doesn't get going until page 50 when Julius ambles over to 143rd street and has a revelation about a flock of pigeons."  That email was more or less the death knell for those who already were skeptical about the esoteric ramblings of this book.  To be fair, while Julius' ruminations were insightful and poignant, he, as a character, was too academic and removed for readers to connect with.  This book's strong suit was being a calm and relaxing read if you had no places to go and no people to see, with all the time in the world to just give in to its gentle discussions.  And for anyone who lived in New York, it looks out upon the city through a particular lens, then lens of a black (but lighter-skinned due to being mixed Nigerian and German), single male professional, who is acutely aware of the legacy that race and politics have left on the City's history.  You truly get a sense that although the City hasn't always been "open" to everyone in terms of opportunity, it is "open" to exploration and experience and will reveal much to someone like Julius who makes an effort to learn its secrets.

Our next regularly-scheduled meeting is Wednesday, October 3.  Host TBD.  The October and November books are, in order, Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, and Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell.  Until next time, read early and often!  xoej

Slick Willie:  B.C. B.C.

Circa The Hours--young and vital

Circa Infidel.  Ouch.  Did we age that much?!

Circa Home
Circa Cloud Atlas?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gone Girl

Thanks to Ms. K for jumping in to host August's BC, featuring, full details below, one of the all-time great BC meals.  (Hint:  it did not come in a pizza box!)  We started out with grilled corn, crema Mexicana and cilantro crostini, and if anyone thought it couldn't get better than that, drum roll please:  build-you-own chicken salad sandwiches.  Sounds deceivingly simple, but El Jefe must linger just a moment to relish the memory.  Fresh cibatta rolls, topped with home made chicken salad chock full of pecans and walnuts and flavored with tarragon, with your choice of garnishes, accompanied by heirloom tomato caprese with a balsamic reduction, and... sigh, ruffled potato chips.  Heavenly.  El Jefe rushed straight to Trader Joes (not actually that night, but the next morning) and the balsamic glaze was out of stock.  But perseverence pays off, and it's now in the pantry Chez Jefe.  This just may be one of those rare discoveries--like cubed pancetta (thank you, Blondie)--that could revolutionize la cocina Jefe.  And then the mixed berry pie a la mode that tasted like it was straight out of the oven--from Whole Foods!  Ah, what a lucky time and place in which we live.  Can't wait to chow down tomorrow!

Grilled corn, crema Mexicana and cilantro crostini

On to the book, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  This book scored a perfect 7, to the decimal.  Big points for the entertainment and shock value.  This story kept reinventing itself with unexpected plot twists up until the last page.  Part One set up Nick and Amy's characters:  him, the hunky, flirty New York party guy, her, the sappy, frail wife who would take solace in her diary when Nick bailed on their wedding anniversary to hang with his guy friends.  Some even thought that the book got off to a slow start.  It was hard to tell what was going on or what to make of Nick's behavior in the wake of Amy disappearing.  After all, is there a "right way" to act when one's spouse may have been murdered?  Part Two addressed the question of whether there's a "right way" to act 100% psycho?  Apparently there is.  As the story unfolded, all the expectations from the beginning were turned upside down.  Part Three dealt with what happens to a totally creepy high school ex-boyfriend who thinks he can control the psycho.  Oops.  Whether this was great literature is debatable (not really), but it certainly was a fun summer read that didn't require too much discussion and left us ample opportunity for our other favorite BC pastimes, namely eating and trying on jewelry!

Tomorrow's meeting is at Logan's Run's house, and we are reading (hopefully have read) Open City by Teju Cole.  If you haven't gotten to page 75, you don't know what you're missing!  Bring your LOD suggestions!  xoej

Not seeing it...

Nope, can't see it.

Still no.

Ah, yes, now that's more like it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Thanks to the Saint for hosting a delightful midsummer BC.  Wine, cheese and charcuterie alfresco (nice work, Doctor, for rescuing us on that one!), followed by chicken Marbella and roasted brussel sprouts, and--was it fruit cobbler?--topped with ice cream for dessert.  Lish!

Chicken, prunes, olives and capers... who would have thought?

Let's get right down to it, since Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken was one of the top scorers for the year, and certainly up there in BC history overall.

This book was praised across the board, as evidenced by a whopping 8.9.  (Allow El Jefe a huge non sequiter right here:  on Wednesday can we please rate Michael Phelps?  As I'm typing, he's taken the lead in the 200M fly semifinals, OK, now he's won it.  Separate scores for face, body and personality.)  But yes, Unbroken was a big hit, not to mention timely given the lead-in to the Olympics.  Even those of us who normally don't like to read non-fiction found something good in this book.  Logan's Run commented that she felt a particular connection, having had family members in the military.  Ms. K. found the story to be an amazing testament to the human spirit.  And Red thought the author's description of Louie's 47 days stranded at sea on a raft was beautiful and compelling.  And the raft was just the beginning.  How many times in reading this book did you wonder how it was possible for one man to endure so much hardship?  If the author hadn't included 50 pages of research footnotes in 6-point font, the book would be completely impossible to believe.  (The Chinese men's gymnastics team is currently kicking ass on the pommel horse. Talk about hard to believe--is the human body really made to do that?!)

From narrowly escaping drowning in a plane crash, to having the single piece of chocolate on a life raft with three men stolen from under his nose, to somehow avoiding being shot to pieces by strafing from enemy aircraft, to drinking albatross blood, to fending off sharks with his bare hands, to... wait, sorry?  Oh right, all that happened before Louis got put in a Japanese POW camp and was terrorized within an inch of his life by a maniacal perverted sadist known as The Bird, and suffered what seemed to be about two straight years of diarrhea among other countless incidents of physical and mental torture. (Whoa! The Brits just won the silver in men's gymnastics.  El Jefe didn't even know they competed in that event!)

As if the plot needed more, it was all underpinned by the story of Louie's incredible athletic potential and the heartbreak of his being robbed of the opportunity to fulfil his life's dream--competing in the Olympics. (In a bizarre prallel, the judges just reconsidered the pommel horse score for Japan and gave them extra points--kind of like when the Doctor grade inflates!--demoting Great Britain to bronze and knocking Ukraine out of the running.)

Not only was Louie's own story amazing, but the author also opened our eyes to the conditions faced by thousands of World War II veterans once they returned home--alcoholism, PTSD (undiagnosed at the time), poverty, inability to connect with family and friends.  To be fair, there were some critiques of Unbroken as well.  One telling comment was that in spite of the amazing story material, a certain emotional component was lacking.  The reader didn't feel as if she herself was experiencing the saga with Louie, and in fact didn't shed a tear.  Actually, that was the only negative comment that El Jefe remembers. A great book and a great discussion. Nothing like some light summer reading.

Made in China?  So what?  Ador!

Ryan Lochte, now that's lishy.

But the American flag grillz?

Not lishy after all.

Missy Franklin, 100M backstroke

Guessing she's not competing in swimming.

Eternally lishy

Our next meeting is Wednesday (yes, that's tomorrow) at Ms. K's house.  El Jefe's on apps, the Foxx is on dessert.  Looking forward to talking about Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, and, don't forget your List o' Death suggestions so we can pick some new books!  xoej

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Already Dead

Already Dead.  What foresight the author had!  His title aptly describes the level of discussion that ensued from our June book pick.  The upside is, the book gets a score of 8 by default, since El Jefe was the only one who read enough to vote, let alone finish.  For what it's worth, El Jefe loved this noir-to-the-core novel with a crazy cast of offbeat characters--pot growers, spiritualists, Buddhist monks, and deadbeat policemen-- set along California's far north coast.  On the other hand (and here, El Jefe had to resort to Amazon just to get a counterpoint opinion!), "It's extremely long, meandering and often losing the thread of the plot; disturbed by meaningless shifts in the method of narration (from first to third person to retrospective documents), marred by far too much stream-of-consciousness rambling, such as a series of letters written by a lunatic which hold no interest at all."  Amen.

For anyone who noticed the format change, it's because there was simply no book discussion, so might as well dispense with it up front!  There was, however, plenty of enjoyment to be had otherwise at our little summer BC retreat, held in Cabana 173 down at the Bel Air Bay Club.

#173 is slightly north of this view

How many people in the world have the chance to relax at a cozy beach retreat, spending a weekday night with good friends, lots of wine, discussing books (or not) while the sun sets and the waves crash against the shore not 10 feet away?  Only nine people!!  How lucky can we get?  Pretty amazing.  We noshed on the Contessa's roasted eggplant and red pepper tapenade, always a winner, followed by a cheese and charcuterie platter and Feast from the East Chinese chicken salad (yes, yes, a bit of a mixed bag, but hey, no cooking facilities), and for dessert birthday cupcakes in honor of El Jefe and Logan's Run.  Delish!

We also just had to do a little beachside shopping... some of El Jefe's faves from Janna Conner Designs:

Gold wrapped smokey druzy briolette on an antique gold plated chain.
Gold wrapped cobalt quartz and turquoise.

Yellow gold starburst with diamond.

Our next meeting is at The Saint's house, on Wednesday July 11.  The Highlander is on apps and we need a dessert volunteer.  Surely most of you are nearly finished with our book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, and ready to start on the August book, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.  We need great picks for the fall, so bring your LOD suggestions to the meeting!  Until next time, Read Early and Often! xoej

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Marriage Plot

Thanks to Ms. K for hosting a lovely May BC!  The Saint was back in effect after her authorized one-month maternity leave, and hopefully at some point the little Saintlet will make an appearance, too!  And.... yet another book club bebe' has arrived!  Congratulations to Logan's Run on the birth of William!!   We expect you to be back next month.

We started off with Indian street food inspired "millet puffs," seasoned with turmeric, fresh curry leaves and Reshampati chili powder (oh, and marshmallows, natch), followed by a selection of several different Pitfire pizzas, including a greens egg and ham version that was topped with braised rapini, prosciutto and a fried farm egg on top, a green salad, and a scruptious hot fruit crumble with a dollop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.  Lish!
Indian street food inspired snacks.  How Mitchell Grammaticus.

On to the book.  Jeffrey Eugenides' long-awaited first novel since 2002, The Marriage Plot, garnered an average rating just short of 7.5.  Of the six of us, four ranked it in the "8's."  The other two ratings were lackluster 5's and 6's.  El Jefe suspects that there might have been some tendency towards grade inflation here:  either due to confusion caused by the book's deliberately misleading cover (the author is a Pulitzer Prize winner, not the book itself!), or due to a sense of loyalty towards Mr. Eugenides, who for the past ten years has been lauded as a BC favorite.  (And if someone doesn't send in that review of Middlesex...).  Now, just because El Jefe was one of the lowballers, she's not trying to undermine the majority who rated the book highly.  Rather, El Jefe is simply making the observation that when we got into the meat of the discussion, the actual commentary didn't hold up to the scores.  On the upside, several people did appreciate and enjoy that the book was set on a liberal arts college campus.  Although it took place before our own college years (the book was set in the 1980s), people found it to be funny and nostalgic.  Ah, to read about the foibles and pretensions of college seniors as they angsted over post-structuralism and breakups, religious studies and keg parties!  Another interesting observation was regarding the parallels and contrasts that could be drawn between Madeleine's choice of women's studies for her major, and her tendency to be anything but a strong woman.  She followed Leonard around like a groupie, let her own ambitions languish on his behalf, and generally was indecisive and passive.  Surely these ironies weren't incidental, but were deliberately plotted out in advance by the author and included as discussion-worthy tidbits for the insightful book clubs who pick up on them.  And, Eugenides' treatment of Leonard's mental illness was unanimously described as masterful:  how he led the reader to the darkest places in Leonard's tortured psyche, and broke our hearts with Madeleine's futile attempt to gain control over the disease.  But beyond those few points, there wasn't much more that we liked.  The characters were annoying.  Derrida is annoying.  Madeleine's thesis (or lack thereof) was annoying.  And most basically, what the heck was this book about?  "A novel about life, love and discovery."  "A story about being young and bright and lost."  "A robust rich story of adults in a love triangle."  "A confection for English majors and book lovers."  (All from Amazon.com's editorial reviews).  Oy.  All we said was that it wasn't as good as Middlesex.

Fashionably dressed students at South Shields Marine and Technical College in the 1980s.

Short shorts in college baskball... if only!

Even smarter than El Jefe in the '80s.

 Who can you spot on campus at Brown University?

Our next meeting regularly-scheduled meeting will be at Georgia's home.  We are reading Already Dead:  A California Gothic, by Denis Johnson.  Apps and dessert to be arranged by separate email.  Until next time, read early and often!  xoej

A contemporary noir, Already Dead is the tangled story of Nelson Fairchild Jr., disenfranchised scion to a northern California land fortune. A relentless failure, Nelson has botched nearly every scheme he's attempted to pull off. Now his future lies in a potentially profitable marijuana patch hidden in the lush old-growth redwoods on the family land.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Hunger Games

Thanks to the Foxx for hosting the April BC.  El Jefe heard it was lovely.  Rumor has it:  chicken pot pies (gotta assume with a green salad?) and an apple tart with vanilla ice cream.  Was it lish?  This is so piecemeal!  How much cap can a recap cap if a recap can't be capped?  On to the book...

Our book was first volume in the mega-bestseller Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins.  Courtesy of the Highlander:

"Overall, the book was very well received, with only two holdouts:  Ms. K and Logan's Run.  Most everyone loved the book and, while admitting it was pretty light fare, found it thoroughly creative and engaging. People were sucked in the plot and details, and were eager to get onto the next chapter of the trilogy!  Scores:

El Jefe, via write-in ballot: 9
The Foxx: 8 (loved the book, started it two days before BC and couldn't put it down. Already on to the second book)
The Doctor: 8 (much better than the tween fiction she thought it would be)
Red: 8
Miss Georgia: 8 (nice score…although she thought it was predictable, and written for an 8th grade audience)
Ms. K: 4 (thought it strange that it was written for young people, when she didn't feel the content was necessarily appropriate for young adults. She also thought it lacked originality)
The Highlander: 8.5 (very enjoyable; a book doesn't necessarily have to be a literary masterpiece to be enjoyable)
Logan's Run: 5 (thought it was strange the book has become so cultish; she said a client had taken her children and was SOOO into it, and Logan's Run kept thinking "what did I not get?!")"

Whoa, Highlander--do we have to do the math?!

Katniss Everdeen

Gale Hawthorne

Peeta Melark

Most importantly... which one is hotter?

Our next meeting is Wednesday, May 2.  Dinner assignments and host to be sent in a separate communique.  We are reading The Marriage Plot, by BC favorite Jeffrey Eugenides.  Until next time, read early and often!  xoej