HCIC 2011 Book Club

As is traditional, a group of us got together to have dinner at a local restaurant (this year: Fandango, a wonderful Basque restaurant) and talk about the books we read this year.  This is my notes from that meeting.  Any errors in commentary are purely mine (except when I'm quoting the reviewers, in which case the fault lies in the wine they were drinking).  

Robin Jeffries – “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. 

Unusual structure for a novel.  6 stories that seem written by totally different authors.  Robin says, “...the structure is really weird…”  (Stu Card says if you want weird structure, “see the novel ‘On a Winter’s Night’ by Italo Calvino.")

Dan Russell  “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” David Eggers 

Mentioned in passing as a great, but flawed work.  Superb for the first 2/3rds, but then repetitious and narcissistic.  

Bonnie John – “Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff. 

A long book, but heartbreaking tale of meth addiction.  The author has an amazing ability to express deep love, heartbreak and betrayal.  “So moving… such a great depiction of betrayal and permanence of love even in the face of continuing betrayal…”  If you love someone who’s addicted, you need to read this book.

Gary Olson –  "Hero" by Michael Korda. 

This is the 4th biography Gary has read about Lawrence, but finds that this is the first biography he’s read that’s balanced!  NYTimes Book Review 


Judy Olson – “The Heirs of General Practice” by John McPhee

 The book captures glimpses of young doctors with who belong to the new/old medical specialty called family practice. They are people who see a need for a unifying generalism in a world that has become greatly subdivided by specialization, physicians who work with the “unquantifiable idea that a doctor who treats your grandmother, your father, your niece, and your daughter will be more adroit in treating you.”


Carolyn Wei – “Wolf Hall: A Novel” Hilary Mantel.

 Henry VIII's challenge to the church's power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century Europe. Mantel boldly attempts to capture the sweeping internecine machinations of the times from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the lowborn man who became one of Henry's closest advisers. Cromwell's actual beginnings are historically ambiguous, and Mantel admirably fills in the blanks, portraying Cromwell as an oft-beaten son who fled his father's home, fought for the French, studied law and was fluent in French, Latin and Italian. Mixing fiction with fact, Mantel captures the atmosphere of the times and brings to life the important players: Henry VIII; his wife, Katherine of Aragon; the bewitching Boleyn sisters; and the difficult Thomas More, who opposes the king. (Publisher’s Weekly) 


Stu Card – “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” Atul Gawande

Stu says "[ Gawande ] is really interested in a problem that afflicts virtually every aspect of the modern world--and that is how professionals deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. It has been years since I read a book so powerful and so thought-provoking."

 Gawande begins by making a distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don't know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we made because we don’t make proper use of what we know). Failure in the modern world, he writes, is really about the second of these errors, and he walks us through a series of examples from medicine showing how the routine tasks of surgeons have now become so incredibly complicated that mistakes of one kind or another are virtually inevitable: it's just too easy for an otherwise competent doctor to miss a step, or forget to ask a key question or, in the stress and pressure of the moment, to fail to plan properly for every eventuality. Gawande then visits with pilots and the people who build skyscrapers and comes back with a solution. Experts need checklists--literally--written guides that walk them through the key steps in any complex procedure. In the last section of the book, Gawande shows how his research team has taken this idea, developed a safe surgery checklist, and applied it around the world, with staggering success.  (Malcolm Gladwell’s review)


Liz Ferrell-Nunge – Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Bundle: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  

The most compelling series of mysteries written in the last 20 years, and something that seems to have kicked off a bit of a Scandinavian upsurge in mystery writers. 

Gary Olson – “Pull up a chair: The Vin Scully Story” by Curt Smith.  

Vin Scully is the voice of Dodger Radio, and has been broadcasting for over 60 years.  This is much more than a baseball book, even though it might not seem so.   (Dan's note: As a kid who grew up in LA, Vin Scully is on the sound-track of my childhood.)  

Judy Olson – “Essays of E.B. White” by E.B. White 

White was an accomplished essayist, turning out pieces for The New Yorker and Harpers on a regular basis for many years.  What I like about White's essays is that they can be counted on to be insightful, amusing and well-written—like pleasant conversation with a friend. He's been thinking about New York and its inhabitants, he will tell you, and this what he's come up with. On another occasion it may be the personality quirks of his old dachshund Fred, or the controversy over white versus brown eggs. Anything and everything is food for thought, although you can be sure that White will broaden the scope of his topics to include the world at large. New York, he concludes, is a concentrated version of many worlds. 


Carolyn Wei – “Battle Hymn of theTiger Mother”  by Amy Chua   

Most critics agreed that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an entertaining read—lively and humorous, written with the intent to shock. More controversial is Chua’s stereotyping of Chinese and Western cultures, not to mention her authoritarian parenting methods. Critics judged the book largely by asking the following questions: Should self-esteem come before accomplishment, or accomplishment before self-esteem? If the latter, should it be achieved by threats and constant monitoring? Chua’s teenage daughters are undeniably accomplished, but at what emotional cost? While some reviewers found that Chua’s technique borders on abuse and her writing was, at best, self-serving, others were impressed by her parenting results and opined that the West could learn a few things from this remarkably driven Chinese American mother. (From Bookmarks Magazine) 


Stu Card – “Tales of the City”  (the musical)  by Armistead Maupin

  (A link tothe novel)   Maupin’s personal industry revolving around “Tales of the City” breaks new ground in the musical format.  If you don’t know the “Tales” universe yet, it’s a great way to see into the life of San Francisco…

Liz – “Air Disaster” series (Volumes 1 – 5, each covering a different set of disasters, grouped by decade or technology)   

If, like Liz, you’re a fearful flyer, this series will either desensitize you… or put you over the edge and never allow you to fly again.  The disaster at Tenerife (two 747s colliding on the runway at full take-off speed) is covered in immense detail in Volume 1, if you want to worry about ground control.  The good news?  The aviation world has learned deep lessons from each of these disasters, and works diligently to ensure they won’t repeat. 


Clayton Lewis – “Geography of Thought” by Richard Nisbett  (Gloria Mark agrees).  Masterful.  


Gloria Mark – “When China Rules theWorld: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order” by Martin Jacques  

 A convincing economic, political and cultural analysis of waning Western dominance and the rise of China and a new paradigm of modernity. Jacques (The Politics of Thatcherism) takes the pulse of the nation poised to become, by virtue of its scale and staggering rate of growth, the biggest market in the world. Jacques points to the decline of American hegemony and outlines specific elements of China's rising global power and how these are likely to influence international relations in the future. He imagines a world where China's distinct brand of modernity, rooted firmly in its ancient culture and traditions, will have a profound influence on attitudes toward work, family and even politics that will become a counterbalance to and eventually reverse the one-way flow of Westernization. He suggests that while China's economic prosperity may not necessarily translate into democracy, China's increased self-confidence is allowing it to project its political and cultural identity ever more widely as time goes on. As comprehensive as it is compelling, this brilliant book is crucial reading for anyone interested in understanding where the we are and where we are going. (Publisher’s Weekly review)