Friday, November 16, 2012

Today's Post --- Ah, The Notting Hill Napoleons Weekend Retreat!

Claire and I have another "When Swing Was King" presentation early this afternoon (our 5th this week!) but from there we will be heading down to the Whispering Pines Bed & Breakfast in Nebraska City for our annual autumn retreat with our book club of 20 years standing, the Notting Hill Napoleons.

We always look forward to this weekend but with the fatigue, the stress, and the need to renew our spiritual batteries after the disastrous election results, it may well be the most important retreat we've ever had.

We have a great relationship with the owner of Whispering Pines and she lets us take over the whole place for the weekend. We've been doing it for many years. Our traditions for the weekend include a discussion of that year's Charles Dickens novel, voting on the book selections for the coming year, enjoying memorable meals together, and an awful lot of talking, walking, praying and relaxing.

The general field for our book club is literature classics and so our achievements to date include Shakespeare, Dickens, Dumas, Tolstoy, Scott, Chesterton, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Cather, Stevenson, Collins, Sabatini, Doyle, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Austen, and many, many more. However, as you might imagine, after 20 plus years of the book club, we've nearly run out of genuine classics and had to delve into more modern stuff -- good stuff (usually) but not necessarily what Claire and I deem classic. We have tried to persuade our fellow Napoleons to include more re-reading but without much success.

We'll keep trying.

Anyhow, in case you're interested in perhaps finding some new books for yourself, here's the list of suggestions we're submitting to the Notting Hill Napoleons this year. (Note: in addition to brief comments about the books suggested, we provide prices, number of pages, availability in the Omaha Public Library system, etc.)

Denny’s & Claire’s NHN Reading Suggestions for 2013

We decided this year to only list books we have already read and thus could personally vouch for. Then we went through the list carefully and eventually cut it in half. So, from the original 20 titles, we present these 10 – plus 5 previous Napoleon suggestions we’re proposing as re-reads.

1) Cimarron by Edna Ferber – This is a rousing novel about Oklahoma's settlement and early history through the eyes of Yancy Cravat, one of the truly "larger than life" characters in American fiction, and his remarkable wife, Sabra. It's all here -- the “Sooners” and the land rush, gunfights, boom towns, Indians, a crusading newspaper, corruption, the development of civilized commerce and institutions, oil strikes, and local politics. Along the way, the reader learns just how critical to the winning of the West were the pioneer women. An exciting, informative read.  312 pages.  (About $4.00 at AbeBooks.  A couple copies in OPL)

2) The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers -- This is a tense and deeply moving novel about the escape of a young Communist from a Nazi concentration camp and his ongoing efforts to avoid recapture. It is a very well written book that illuminates several issues essential to our common humanity. 344 pages.  (Used starting at $1 at

3) The Bridges at Toko-Ri by James Michener  -- This novel tells of young pilots flying off aircraft carriers during the Korean War. It will give us more to talk about than its brief length might suggest. Admiral George Tarrant who bears the burden of command -- Family man Harry Brubaker, fighting resentment and cowardice -- Tough Irishman Mike Forney -- The burly and brave flagman on the deck -- These are some of the characters you'll not soon forget. And we’ll be able to talk also about duty, courage, skill, trust, teamwork, sacrifice, and more.  146 pages.  (Starting at $1 at AbeBooks and copies in OPL)

4) Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas -- Two decades have passed since the famous swordsmen triumphed over Cardinal Richelieu and M’lady in The Three Musketeers. Time has weakened their bodies a bit and dispersed them to pursue individual ends. But treason and skullduggery still cry out for justice. So when civil war endangers the throne of France and Cromwell threatens to send Charles I to the scaffold, the immortal quartet comes out of retirement to cross swords once again with the malevolent forces of history...and time itself.  (880 pages. New: $10.85. Used from $0.48 at Amazon.  Free Kindle edition.  4 copies in OPL.)

5) The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington -- This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel portrays the decline of the wealthy Amberson family, serving as a touching backdrop for the huge social changes America saw in the decades following the Industrial Revolution. Rather than join the modern age, George Amberson insists on remaining a "gentleman" and tries desperately to hang on to his patrician pride. But his town soon becomes a city and the family palace becomes surrounded by industry, destroying the elegant, cloistered lifestyle enjoyed by the family in years gone by. I really enjoyed this novel and have thought an awful lot about its lessons. 276 pages.  (New $13. Used from $.01 Free Kindle edition. 2 in OPL.)

6) Arc de Triomphe by Erich Maria Remarque -- Paris, just before World War II. A skilled, principled physician is caring for patients even though he is a "displaced person" without a passport who must elude the authorities in order to keep from being sent back to Nazi Germany. And yes, the novel has romance, intrigue, a tremendous amount of tension, and inspiring themes. This was quite rightly an international bestseller.  464 pages.  (Used from $.68 at Amazon.)

7) The Return of Don Quixote by GK Chesterton -- This was GK’s last novel and, like all his others, the plot is a bit difficult to describe. But that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable or provocative.  The action begins with an amateur theatrical but one of the drafted characters, librarian Michael Herne, decides he likes life a lot better in his medieval character’s guise. It is a superb way for GKC to use the past to comment on the present. There’s a lot of classic Chesterton here: politics, history, religion, and human nature – all delightfully and uniquely expressed. 220 pages.  (Used single copies from $11.66 or in Volume 8 of The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton starting at $18 from Amazon.)

8) Run Silent, Run Deep by Commander Edward L. Beach, Jr. -- No, this isn't much like the Clark Gable-Burt Lancaster flick of the same name. The book is different -- and much more interesting and worthwhile. The novel provides a detailed look at submarine service during World War II through the eyes of one crew, but the reader learns a lot about how subs worked, training, strategy, Pearl Harbor, and matters of the human soul. The plot also involves a very daring adventure against a Japanese war genius. Beach himself served on submarines in the Pacific during the war but his writing is terrific too.  343 pages.  (Used from $1 at AbeBooks.)

9) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier -- "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." You loved the movie; I think you’ll love the book – even though you’ll find the ending quite a bit different.  Du Maurier is an incomparable craftsman and in Rebecca she has created one of America’s most intense and intriguing gothic novels.  416 pages.  (Used copies starting at $.01 at Amazon.  10 copies in OPL.)

10) The Card by Arnold Bennett -- I looked for this novel after watching the 1952 Alec Guinness movie of the same name.  I was delightfully surprised to find that I enjoyed the novel as much as the film comedy. The plot involves Denry Machin's use of audacity, luck and inventiveness to rise from a menial job as a collection agent's clerk to Mayor. It's a funny and heartwarming novel, one that may provide us with a few helpful ideas for when we need to go out and scare up living money ourselves.  222 pages.  (Free Kindle edition and used from $1.50 Amazon)

In addition, we propose five books for re-reading: Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago; Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables; Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo; Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace; and Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.