"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Friday, December 18, 2009

QMBC II: 2001 - A Space Odyssey


The Meeting

The second meeting of the Quincey Morris Book Club took place on the evening of Friday 18th December 2009, the venue once again being O’Neill’s of Suffolk Street. Present in order of arrival were William Clay, Carl Jameson, Xavier Paddington, Tiger McGavin, Atticus McCarthy, Whitby Syme and Mycroft Webb.

This constituted a ‘royal flush attendance’ which we must endeavour to replicate in future meetings where possible. Taking the minutes was Whitby Syme and I am indebted to his accurate and comprehensible notetaking.

In addition the club was joined in an observatory capacity by the noted critic Foghorn Leghorn, sitting in bemused silence throughout the discussion.

The meeting was conducted at a brisk trot if not quite a gallop, due to all attendees having arranged a non-literary social outing to the Prodigy that same evening. In retrospect this may have proven a bridge too far in fusion of engagements, and consideration was given to the avoidance of such multiplicity in future. The parties having dined and supped by 6pm sallied forth into discussion of this sessions’ subject matter, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Fuck the film”

A consensus was established early on that the film falls down on a bare comparison with the book or indeed any other film. Summations such as “terrible” and “pile of shite” were bandied about freely, before it was agreed that the film didn’t merit further consideration as a topic given the time constraints. Instead, some minutes were diverted into a discussion concerning the fabric of Atticus' shirt, focussing mainly on its oil-like silkiness, iridescence, and unique panache as a garment.

Quincey Morrisness

Moving onto a focussed analysis of the book itself, the first attribute to be considered was its Quincey Morrisness. Despite having previously established that fiction doesn’t require a gun-toting American protagonist in order to register a reading on the QM scale, a meaningful examination in this arena was hampered by a belligerent and obstructive William Clay, who steadfastly refused to entertain any finding of QM-ness in the text of MMI:ASO. It appears from William’s viewpoint that a novel requires a minimum threshold of at least one Winchester rifle to register a QM reading, and thus he scored the novel a ‘minus 1’ on QM-ness.

Other members’ input was more constructive; Tiger noting that Bowman taking off his helmet in a vacuum was quite QM-esque (this was seconded by Mycroft). Atticus felt that Bowman’s fight and victory against HAL was also quite QM-ish. Carl felt that the spirit of QM was well represented in the depiction of primitive weapon use by apes in chapter one. Controversy raged on whether the character ‘Moon Boots’ comes close to fulfilling the role of surrogate Quincey Morris in any capacity. A firm consensus was never reached on this point.

Unputdownableness and/or Interestingness

MMI:ASO was deemed to be almost universally not unputdownable. Only Atticus was able to give it a ‘thumbs up’ in terms of unputdownableness, having finished it in merely three sittings. The rest of the club found the text to be akin to literary porridge, tedious to digest. Mycroft termed it ‘overdescribed’ and pointed out the presence of ‘star child’ as a get out of jail free card from bad writing. It was generally accepted however that where the author falls down in pure literary talent, he excels in imaginative thinking, thus rendering the novel high on a level of interestingness. High regard was had for his predictions of technological advances, for the notion that robots would someday make better astronauts than humans, for the use of centrifugal force to simulate gravity on a space station and for naming his evil computer HAL after IBM (shifted one letter).

One Sentence Summary

At this point, Whitby Syme canvassed a selection of one sentence summaries of the novel, a concept which was greeted with enthusiasm by the club. They are as follows;

Tiger: “Needs more sex”

Mycroft: “Would probably be a good graphic novel, though how about no more sci-fi for the next 6 months?”

Carl: “One small step for science fiction”

William: “I’ve read better sci-fi”

Xavier: “Ahead of its time”

Atticus: “As a virgin, it was my stargate to sci-fi”

Whitby: “Weak characters”

Scoring

A new scoring system was developed, based on a relative comparison between Dracula and the current novel. Members were free to assign marks to the book in its own right, or on a “Dracula +/- x points” basis, the baseline Dracula score being taken as their rating for said book. The results were as follows:

William: Dracula - 8 points (48.5)

Carl: Dracula + 1 (41)

Phil: 57

MB: Dracula +1 (41)

Xavier: Dracula (42)

Mycroft: 37

Whitby: Dracula -2 (57)

Thus the average score for MMI:ASO was established to be 46.21

Nominations

William:
Jaws by Peter Benchley
Berlin Game by Len Deighton
Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Carl:
The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Tiger:
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
War of the Flea by Robert Taber
The Murphy Report

Atticus:
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
A Long Way Home by Nancy Price Graff
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Mycroft:
Children of Men by P. D. James
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman by Bruce Robinson
Schopenhauer’s Telescope by Gerald Donovan

Xavier:
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Something by Richard Dawkins by Richard Dawkins

The nominations were thrown open to the group in the hopes of narrowing the list to a shortlist of 6-8 novels. Each member then chose a first preference book and a second preference, assigning them 3 points and 1 point respectively.

The League Table

WhitbyMycroftPhilMBWilliamCarlTotal
Berlin Game11114
Ginger Man336
Princess Bride
AQOTWF
All the Pretty Horses33
Children of Men336
Thomas Penman33
The Road1113

The Ginger Man and Children of Men were tied at 6 points each, so a show of hands was taken to break the deadlock. The result was 4 votes for The Ginger Man and 3 for Children of Men. Disquiet was expressed around the voting system, particularly to the effect that the 3 point allocation to the first preference was too much weight. It was observed that some of the books had a large second preference interest, yet were knocked out of the running by heftier first preference votes. This was recognised by all present as a valid concern, though one which nobody cared to resolve there and then. The Ginger Man was selected, thus ending a successful QMBC II.

Monday, November 9, 2009

QMBC I: Dracula

IX November MMIX

Reading: Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Meeting

The inaugural meeting of the Quincey Morris Book Club took place in O’Neill’s public house, Suffolk Street, Dublin on the 9th of November 2009. The night itself was a harsh one, and many pedestrians about the city complained of the wet weather, but your minute-taker is a fairly good runner and his speedy reactions allowed him to avoid most of the falling droplets.

The book of the night was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Present were Xavier Paddington, Carl Jameson, Whitby Syme, William Clay, Atticus McCarthy and Tiger McGavin. In abstentia was Mycroft Webb, though his electronic-censor-evading correspondence, read with aplomb by Atticus, made for a sterling opening to proceedings.

The already well-established good name of The Quincey Morris Book Club was called into question somewhat with the revelation that 3 of its 7 members had not finished the book. The shameful 3 were Whitby, Tiger and Carl. The situation was lamented by all present, and we can only assume that, simultaneously, Mycroft felt an inward pang though he knew not the cause.

Ratings

The ratings of Dracula, on a scale of 0 - 83, were:

  • Mycroft: 53
    (Quincey Morrisness 14/16 ; Actionness 8/15 ; Well Writtenness 9/15 ; Interestingness 12/15 ; Unputdownableness 10/22)
  • Atticus: 40
  • William: 56.5
    (QM quotient 16/16 ; Action 7/20 ; Well Writtenness 13.5/20 ; Interestingness 12/15 ; Unputdownableness 8/12)
  • Tiger: 39
  • Whitby: 59
    (Characters 19/20 ; Plot 15/20 ; Execution 16/20 ; Food for Thought 4/10 ; Extra Points 5/13)
  • Xavier: 42
  • Carl: N/A, later amended to 40

Giving the first book an average of 47.07, it having been decided that 2 decimal places made for appropriate accuracy.

As a note on scoring, both Mycroft and William considered “Quincey Morrisness” as a factor in rating the book. After the suggestion that all further books were unlikely to feature the “swashbuckling American womaniser and hunter”, and so would rate zero on such a scale, the idea was thrashed out that Quincey Morris can be thought of as a meta-character or archetype present, to varying degrees, in many stories. Neither of these terms was applied in the conversation itself, it being mainly concerned with the Quincey Morrisness of Jason Bourne.

The Rules

The following rules were agreed to:
  1. At the end of each meeting each member suggests 3 books for the next choice, giving their reasons for choosing them.
  2. No one can suggest a book which they have already read.
  3. Nominations are to be written down in advance, and cannot be changed.
  4. Once all suggestions are heard each book is discussed in turn, during which the chooser cannot add to their original argument in favour of their choice. The books are whittled down in a democratic fashion until one remains.
  5. “The person who wins wins not next time.” This rule, inadvertently phrased like a Van Helsing spake by Tiger, means that whoever has their book chosen does not suggest any at the next meeting.
  6. The person whose book was chosen has to arrange the next meeting, and prepare the minutes for the meeting just gone.
The following rule was suggested, repeatedly, but not agreed to: The written suggestions which do not win are ceremoniously burned at the end of the meeting.

The Nominations

Atticus:
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
The first book of many that night to feel the sting of William’s apparently inexhaustible veto.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
See The Road Debacle.

Anything by Wilbur Smith by Wilbur Smith

Xavier:
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
A contender, but had been read already by several present.

Carl:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
See The Road Debacle.

Gentleman of the Road (hereafter called “Jew Bandits”) by Michael “Jew Bandits” Chabon
One of the four titles on which the final vote was taken.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Another contender, but did not make the final cut.

William:
Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book by Chairman Mao
US Army Counterinsurgency FIeld Manual (Author unknown, but with a foreword by General David H. Petraeus)
Rejected, but a selection of “choice phrases” are to be read by William during the next meeting.

Shogun by James Clavell
A popular choice, but ruled out by suggestions of lengthiness. The possibility of reading a longer book as the third selection was put forward, as the holidays may make it more viable.

Whitby:
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
One of the final four.

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
Another of the final four.

Tiger:
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Vetoed by Xavier on grounds of not wanting to be creeped out.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
One of the final four.

Mycroft:
“Let’s stick with the obscure cheap classics.”

The Results
The four selected finalists were:
Jew Bandits
2001 A Space Odyssey
The Third Policeman
All Quiet on the Western Front

Jew Bandits2001The Third PolicemanAQOTWF
Atticus1st2nd
William2nd1st
Xavier2nd1st
Carl2nd1st
Whitby2nd1st
Tiger2nd1st
1st Preferences0321
2nd Preferences3120

2001 was taken to be the winner, although no agreement was made on how the voting system works or on the significance of first and second preferences. This omission is striking considering the amount of time given over to discussion of the rule regarding the burning of failed suggestions.

The Road Debacle

The Road by Cormac McCarthy was the only title of the night to be suggested by two members of the club (although one might imagine that come nomination time The US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual, with foreword by General David H. Petraeus, was on the tips of the tongues of several of our number). It was however met with fierce opposition, most notably by our foremost Quincy Morris enthusiast, William Clay.

Central to William's thesis, was the idea that Atticus intended to trick his fellow club members into reading a harrowing book, without any of the lightness of content that one might expect to find in a dictator’s compulsory reading for his subjects, or indeed in a killing textbook.

Any attempted subterfuge on Atticus' part, to convince us that The Road is an uplifting tale, was foiled by his enthusiastic declaration that it is “relentlessly bleak”.

A balanced report must however note that Atticus may have made a meager attempt to conceal his reading of The Road when it was first suggested by Carl. Needless to say one of our number’s hawk-eyed watchfulness drew the omission out into the light of day.

It should also be noted that Carl's description of the book, with his almost exclusive focus on the small number of bullets in the main character’s revolver, made some ground in winning over the hearts and minds of the group. For the record, the number was believed to be two, though in some accounts it ranged as high as “some other small number”.

Vanity Projects

In the winding-down of proceedings, other books which were not nominated were discussed, including those which would break the second rule of The Quincey Morris Book Club - No one can suggest a book which they have already read. These titles were dubbed Vanity Projects by Carl, and were met with arguably more enthusiasm than the actual nominations. They were:

Carl:
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

Xavier:
The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tiger:
1984 - George Orwell

Whitby:
Dune - Frank Herbert
Hyperion - Dan Simmons
Ender’s Game - Orson Scott Card

Atticus made no suggestions as he had left by this stage. William made no specific suggestion though he described several “alternative history” novels by Harry Turtledove. Were Mr. Turtledove to complete this paragraph, he might write that Tiger was exceedingly impressed with these accounts, and he renounced any respect he once held for non-alternative historians like Antony Beevor.

Concluding Remark

Despite almost half of the club not finishing the book, it receiving a barely passing grade and one notable debacle, the inaugural meeting was a resounding success.