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

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Currently Reading ...

Amanda McCready was four years old when she vanished from a Boston neighborhood twelve years ago. Desperate pleas for help from the child's aunt led investigators Kenzie and Gennaro to take on the case. The pair risked everything to find the young girl—only to orchestrate her return to a neglectful mother and a broken home. 

Now Amanda is sixteen—and gone again. A stellar student, brilliant but aloof, she seemed destined to escape her upbringing. Yet Amanda's aunt is once more knocking on Patrick Kenzie's door, fearing the worst for the little girl who has blossomed into a striking, clever young woman—a woman who hasn't been seen in weeks. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

QMBC IX: A Tale of Two Cities

QMBC IX took place on Tuesday, 15th February 2011. The venue chosen for pre-meeting vittles was a renowned purveyor of the finest delicacies of the Orient, Charlie's of George’s Street.  Present to dine were Carl, Mycroft, William and Xavier, with a late appearance from Tiger. After perusing the vast array of exotic foods to be had, the diners settled upon their respective courses and settled in for a pleasant anticipatory pause while the skilled chefs prepared their dinner. 

Before long the intrepid members were presented with steaming platters of foods the likes of which none had seen before. Spices combined with strange meats and vegetables to produce a symphony of odours and textures upon the plates, most unappealing to the senses. Not wishing to antagonise the proprietors, and in the interests of promoting goodwill between nations, the members set about their meals with surprising zeal given the matter before them. Thus, heavily fortified with rice and meat and reeling from a bellyful of Monosodium Glutamate, the men staggered to their next location for the convening of the meeting proper, namely the Library Bar of the Central Hotel.

Upon entering the Library Bar the members were immediately taken in by the pleasant and cheery ambiance of the establishment. An array of gentile cityfolk were gathered for wine and muted conversation at the various tables throughout the bar, and the room hummed quietly with the contented chatter of those enjoying the reward of a days’ work done.

 Not wishing to disturb these amiable citizens with the animated hubbub of a lively QMBC meeting, the members opted for the gloom and seclusion of an adjoining chamber, wherein they were joined by Whitby Syme. The chilly gloom of the ante-chamber could not have stood in more marked contrast to the cosy glow of the well lit bar, and much lamentation was made of the fact that we could not host our meeting amidst the collected company. 

Upon consideration however, it was decided that the dark and quiet would in fact suit our clandestine purpose, lending a conspiratorial air to the proceedings much in keeping with the subject matter of QMBC IX. 

Preliminary matters were discussed as those members present made themselves comfortable around the table. First order of business was to publicly reprimand William Clay for failing to deliver a set of typed minutes in respect of QMBC VIII. A poor show was suggested and carried by all bar one (Clay himself being forced to abstain from the vote by reason of forming its subject matter).

Tiger McGavin proceeded to commend the new production of “Spartacus; Gods of the Arena” unto the group. A discussion of the merits of this show versus other primetime viewing ensued, the consensus being that its high levels of sexiness set it apart from the herd as a piece of quality TV. 

However, McGavin’s stock was quick to fall among the members as he produced a decidedly shabby looking QMBC notebook from his satchel and confessed that it had suffered damage while in his custody. Apparently it had come by a soaking as a result of some domestic flooding to McGavin’s home. The members were nonplussed with this excuse, holding the shared opinion that any piece of QMBC property should be guarded more closely than a member’s dearest loved one when under their safekeeping. A poor show was recorded against McGavin without a moment’s hesitation by any member present.

Bring Out Your Dead

At this point the various members produced their copies of ATOTC and were invited to declare honestly whether or not they had read it. All present claimed to have completed the book, although throwaway accusations were bandied about to the effect that Xavier Paddington had in all likelihood failed to complete this or several other QMBC selections. 

William Clay raised an interesting issue, namely the downside of owning a handsome copy of a book. The nicer the print and binding, the more reluctant a person will be to read it in the toilet. Mycroft Webb confirmed this phenomenon, citing by way of example his own difficulties in proceeding through certain passages of his hardback copy of the Grapes of Wrath when called by nature to other business


The discussion next moved into the main topic, namely A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Xavier Paddington found ATOTC hard to read, requiring at least an hour’s “settling in” time for a reasonable reading session. Carl Jameson concurred on this point, finding the book tedious and difficult to concentrate upon. 

Mycroft Webb declared that he had read the book in several large chunks, deriving greater benefit from immersing himself in the author’s world than by dipping in and out on a chapter by chapter basis. Whitby Syme felt that the book was initially disjointed, and that it was not until after the wedding that the various strands began to weave together.

At this stage, Tiger McGavin indulged in some petty attention seeking by feigning ignorance of the Cohen Brothers’ film “True Grit” and purporting to confuse same with the upcoming and ridiculous “Cowboys and Aliens”.

William Clay expressed his unrestrained enthusiasm for ATOTC, declaring it to be (a) incredibly well written, (b) “un-fucking real”, (c) a book that made him cleverer for having read it, (d) the most incredible story he had ever read. 

Mycroft Webb concurred with this appraisal, noting that he was surprised by how much he enjoyed it.  Clay’s only minor grievance, if any, was to be found in the author’s habit of alternately referring to his characters by Christian and then Surname, leading to a small amount of confusion. Mycroft posited the theory that Mr. Lorry may be the first literary actuary, by reason of his operating an “immense pecuniary mangle”.

Whitby Syme noted that Mr. Lorry earned several QM points for having travelled into what was effectively a war-zone in order to take care of business, despite being at times surrounded by citizens sharpening their knives on the streets. Clay agreed readily with this point and went one step further, in suggesting that Mr. Dickens may indeed have been the inventor of the modern action genre.

Mycroft claimed to have anticipated the author’s train of events as early as page 190 of his edition, predicting Sydney Carton’s eventual sacrifice as the end game of the novel. Nonetheless it was a thoroughly enjoyable read for Mycroft, in particular the passages dealing with the alcoholic excesses amongst the members of the legal profession. Webb noted with relish, that what Stryver and Carton "drank together between Hilary Term and Michaelmas might have floated a King's ship."

Tiger McGavin felt that it was unclear as to who had killed the Marquis, and claimed that this was for him one of many moments of confusion in reading the book. Carl Jameson felt that Dickens was an insightful author for his time, and was impressed by the fact that an Englishman could write relatively sympathetically about the reasons for revolution, dispelling a longheld prejudice on Jameson’s part that all Englishmen were tub-thumping royalists at heart. 

What had been up to this point a pleasant and orderly meeting was interrupted at the shameful hour of 7:45 by the tardy arrival of one Atticus McCarthy. Not content with insulting the club by arriving 45 minutes late, McCarthy’s first action upon arrival was to declare that he had not read the entirety of ATOTC. 

An almost visceral shiver of ill feeling passed amongst the members present at this revelation. Hearty regret was felt by several members that the humane principles upon which the QMBC was founded prevented us from rousting McCarthy into the street to be thrashed with lengths of birch. 

Alas, the most severe sanction which could be imposed in the circumstances was a double poor show, which was summarily noted in the minutes. McCarthy tried to limit the effects of his double faux pas (fauxes pas?) by claiming to have made several determined efforts over a couple of months trying to read the book. He claimed to have read all of the footnotes, and believed that in all probability he did manage to read the “whole amount of words” in the book, though not in order. All such entreaties fell on deeply unsympathetic ears, and an effort was made to ignore McCarthy as the more committed members proceeded with the discussion.

Perhaps spurred on by McCarthy’s infamous behaviour, McGavin proceeded to inform the meeting that he had purchased an audiobook version of ATOTC. A brief but thorough interrogation followed, with the aim of determining whether McGavin had read or listened to the book. Given his previous history of “reading” audiobooks in the past the group was sceptical as he insisted that he had in fact really read ATOTC (with his eyes and not his ears). 

McGavin negotiated his way around this by moving the discussion of the book onwards, expressing his opinion that the book was deeply divisive. Quite what this means was left unclear, but what followed next was an abortive attempt by McGavin to explain the plot to Atticus McCarthy, much to the confusion of the other members. McGavin felt that Dickens was a deep critic of the mob mentality, and noted the inevitably dire consequence of deposing a King only to replace him with a tyrant (in this case Napoleon). 

Mycroft Webb declared Madam Defarge to be as tough as old boots. Xavier Paddington lamented the absence of any real sexiness in this selection. The closest approximation to any sexiness that could be found in the novel was the following passage concerning Madam Defarge: “The Vengeance and the Juryman, looking after her as she walked away, were highly appreciative of her fine figure and her superb moral endowments.”  Arid stuff.

Mycroft Webb then impressed the group with an explanation of the concept of “limerence”, before talking at length about Carton’s limerence of Lucie Manette. The members then spent a short moment reflective upon their own personal objects of limerence.

A lively discussion followed in which the following general findings were established; 

  1. (a) Sydney Carton was a good spy 
  2. (b) Miss Pross was essentially a Jason Bourne type character 
  3. (c) Shakespeare was pretty baudy in some of his plays 
  4. (d) Old books have good staying power 
  5. (e) Modern authors set out their plots more clearly
  6. (f) Nobody is to blame for poor QMBC selections, except in the instance of THWATF.

Scores for ATOTC

Tiger McGavin:  
Quincey Morrisness – 14/14
Unputdownableness – 1/20
Sexiness – 2/8
Action – 10/13
Well Writteness – 2/13
Interestingness – 10/15 
Total: 39/83

Whitby Syme:
Plot – 15/20
Execution – 15/20
Characters – 18/20
Food for Thought – 6/10
Extra Points – 10/13
Total: 64/83

William Clay:
Interestingness – 11/11
Quincey Morrisness – 60/72
Total: 71/83

Carl Jameson:
Total: 47/83

Xavier Paddington: 
Interestingness: 15/20
Quincey Morrisness – 12/15
Action – 9/10
Execution – 16/20
Unputdownableness – 5/10
Discussableness – 7/8
Total: 64/83

Mycroft Webb: 
QMness – 7/16
Action – 11/15
Well Writteness – 14/15
Interestingness – 11/15
Unputdownableness – 19/22
Total: 62/83

Atticus McCarthy:
Interestingness – 15/20
QMness – 7/15
Action – 5/10
Execution – 10/20
Unputdownableness – 2/10
Discussability – 4/10
Forgetability - (minus 5)
Total: 38/83

Average for ATOTC: 55/83 (a result which, in the opinion of William Clay, is the second only instance of the club getting something wrong. Presumably he would advocate that a higher score be recorded.)

One Sentence Summaries

Tiger McGavin: “If he were made to read this book, Sydney wouldn’t have bothered to save Charles” 

William Clay: “Excellent story, tough read; it has the best of lines and the worst of lines”

Mycroft Webb: “Rightfully, I had Great Expectations of this book and I was glad when it was Pickwicked. Though some others may have thought it a Barnaby Drudge to read, I thought it had an excellent Twist!”

Xavier Paddington: “A tale of two rivers: The best of Thames and the worst in Seine” - clarification/improvements to follow

Carl Jameson: “Please sir, may I have no more”

Atticus McCarthy: “Dickens can suck mine”

Whitby Syme: “Those who voted low shall have their names knitted into the QMBC register”


New Rule Passed Unanimously - “He who names his last, names first next”. The effect of this rule is that the person who is last to nominate a book in a given QMBC meeting shall be the first to nominate in the next meeting.

Tiger McGavin: 
(1) The Mystery of Olga Kitchova by Anthony Beevor
(2) Mary Mary by James Patterson

Whitby Syme:
(1) The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Mycroft Webb:
(1) Flashman by George McDonald Fraser
(2) Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (3rd Time Nominated)

Xavier Paddington:
(1) In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Carl Jameson: 
(1) The 39 Steps, by John Buchan
(2) Cymarron Rose, by James Lee Burke

William Clay:  
(1) The Evolution of Bruce Littlemore by Benjamin Hale
(2) Moonlight Mile by Denis Lehane

Atticus McCarthy: 
(1) Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
(2) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Selected with 900 points was Moonlight Mile, by Denis Lehane. Next closest selection was Flashman with 700 points. Thus our literary journey continues from the cobbles of revolutionary Paris to the gritty modern streets of South Boston……

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Picture of One City

As fate would have it, I found myself in Paris within a week of finishing the selection for QMBC IX - Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Paris has changed somewhat since the Revolution (no doubt the Barber would be taken aback on seeing a monument to an Egyptian God-King occupying the space where he did his daily shaving) but she remains a centre of high culture, as ever, inspiring lofty thoughts in the minds of all who encounter her.