March 4, 2015 – Notes
In attendance: Liz Clarke, Janice Loschiavo, Lois Pagnozzi, Cathy Quinn, Sharon Rome, Barbara Santillo, Tina Segali, Marilyn Sinisi.
Special Guest: Joan nee Quinn.
Absent: Vivian Krone, Meta Pitrelli,, Donna Sabetta, Jeri Stangl, Joan Swensen.
Book & Author: The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown.
Once again, the hardy club members braved the chill and icy streets to discuss a book (and of course to reconnect and to eat and think). All marveled at our good fortune of scheduling the meeting in between snowstorms. We had the pleasure of meeting Cathy’s sister Joan, who was visiting from Missouri, and were heartened to hear the good news that Cathy’s cancer is heading in the right direction – out the door! Much wine was offered in toast to this wonderful turn of events.
The book was unanimously well-received. What follows are just some of the points that we touched on.
Questions and Comments regarding The Boys in the Boat:
The ability of some people to come from the most desperate of circumstances and forge ahead to a happy and successful life is nothing short of amazing.
- Joe Rantz is a perfect example of this type of person. He also had an exceptional ability to forgive.
- What did you think of the coach? Some likened him to the teacher in the recent film Whiplash. They each straddled a line between motivation and cruelty.
- It was noted how you can only win at rowing if everyone in the boat is rowing together as a group. You can’t win if you have someone who is not a team player.
- The quotes of George Pocock were appreciated by the group. George knew that Joe needed something, needed the feeling of belonging.
- Today the coxswain is often a woman because the position must be someone of lighter weight.
- To win a race requires ability but also a keen strategy, harmony, balance and rhythm.
- The juxtaposition of the hardscrabble boys vying for a shot at history, and Leni Reifenstahl creating her own history on film, creates a perfect cinematic opportunity.
- Rowing is the source of the phrase “to pull your own weight.”
- Some thought that George was going to take Joe in and teach him the trade of shell building.
- It was pointed out that we were the only team not to do the salute to Hitler, but no Jews were allowed on our teams.
Here are some of the passages that were read. All are quotes from George Pocock:
“Good thoughts have much to do with good rowing. It isn’t enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison; their hearts and minds must also be as one.”
“To see a wining crew in action is to witness a perfect harmony in which everything is right…. That is the formula for endurance and success: rowing with the heart and head as well as physical strength.”
“Where is the spiritual value of rowing? … The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew as a whole.”
“One of the first admonitions of a good rowing coach, after the fundamentals are over, is ‘pull your own weight,’ and the young oarsman does just that when he finds out that the boat goes better when he does. There is certainly a social implication here.”
“Harmony, balance, and rhythm. They’re the three things that stay with you your whole life. Without them civilization is out of whack. And that’s why an oarsman, when he goes out in life, he can fight it, he can handle life. That’s what he gets from rowing.”
After some discussion, the book was awarded a 4.0 rating. There was some feeling that a 3 or 3.5 would have been more appropriate.
An updated list of books, with author and rating, was distributed. It was suggested that we add a sentence or two about each book (as we all get older, this is probably a good idea!). The request that we assign this job to those not present this month received a lot of laughter. Stay tuned to see how this project develops.
Next Meeting: Wednesday, April 1, 5:00 p.m., at Liz’s house. The book chosen by Liz is All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. A review from The New York Times follows.
April 1 at Liz’s’ house.
May 6 at Lois’s house.
June 3 – probably back at Joan’s house.
Submitted by Tina Segali
March 7, 2015
NY Times Review:
Boy meets girl in Anthony Doerr’s hauntingly beautiful new book, but the circumstances are as elegantly circuitous as they can be. The heroine of “All the Light We Cannot See” is blind, but anyone familiar with Mr. Doerr’s work, which includes the short-story collections “The Shell Collector” and “Memory Wall,” will know that its title has many more meanings than that.
The heroine is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, whose loving father, a talented locksmith, goes to extraordinary lengths to help her compensate for the loss of her eyesight. Professionally, Marie-Laure’s father oversees all the locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Privately, after his daughter is blinded by cataracts in 1934 at the age of 6, he devises tiny, intricate models of the places she must go, so that she learns to navigate by touch and then by memory.
Mr. Doerr’s acutely sensory style captures the extreme perceptiveness Marie-Laure has developed by the time World War II begins. Much of the story unfolds during the war, although it jumps back and forth. The book opens in August 1944, two months after D-Day, with the sound of things falling from the sky and rattling against windows. Marie-Laure knows these are leaflets. She can smell the fresh ink.
She is in the walled Breton city of Saint-Malo, a terrifically picturesque and apt setting for the most dramatic part of Mr. Doerr’s story. Saint-Malo is occupied by German forces and under siege by the Allied bombers that destroyed much of it before the war was over. And five streets away from the house to which Marie-Laure and her father have fled, a young German soldier named Werner Pfennig is trapped in the ruins of a grand hotel. Long before Werner and Marie-Laure meet, Mr. Doerr has created a skein of ties between them.
Marie-Laure grows up beloved and fortunate; Werner’s life is more grim. He is close to his sister, Jutta, but both are consigned to an orphanage after their father is crushed in a coal mine. For Werner, there truly seems to be no future: The German government decrees that when boys from his region reach their midteens, they must go to work in the mines. But Werner is also a prodigy. Just as Marie-Laure’s father has a genius for creating locks and models, Werner has a way with electrical circuits. He builds a shortwave radio that holds the key to his future.
Word of Werner’s extraordinary talent gets around. One day in 1939, a German officer who smells of cake asks Werner to accompany him to the household of a rich, powerful couple whose big, expensive Philco radio is on the fritz. Fixing it not only gets him all the cake he can eat (a treat beyond imagining for a boy of his background), but it also brings him candidacy for an elite Nazi school where the emphasis is on extreme military training. Werner isn’t surprised to pass the entrance exams easily. He’s more nonplused to find his head measured with calipers and his hair whiter than any of the 60-odd shades of blond on the examiners’ charts. It goes without saying that his eyes are also rated for their shade of blue.
Werner’s experience at the school is only one of the many trials through which Mr. Doerr puts his characters in this surprisingly fresh and enveloping book. What’s unexpected about its impact is that the novel does not regard Europeans’ wartime experience in a new way. Instead, Mr. Doerr’s nuanced approach concentrates on the choices his characters make and on the souls that have been lost, both living and dead.
The light in its title is, among other things, a topic that Werner hears discussed on a late-1930s radio broadcast about the brain’s power to create light in darkness. It’s an idea that reverberates ever more strongly as the book progresses. That the professor speaking on the radio turns out to be Marie-Laure’s grandfather just adds to the elements of felicity and coincidence that enrich this narrative. And the way Werner’s school so brutally tests his decency threatens to snuff out any of the light that made him such a special boy. Even allowing for the kill-or-be-killed values beaten into cadets at the place, Werner lets himself be seduced by the power newly bestowed upon him. He does nothing to stop the system that elevates him from destroying his best friend.
Self-protection is another of the many motifs running through this book. Marie-Laure is fascinated by snails, and takes the nickname the Whelk when Saint-Malo begins its small but creative efforts at Resistance; she is not timid, but she admires a snail’s ability to keep seabirds from smashing its shell. The book also falls under the spell of a huge blue diamond that is thought to cause suffering and is the subject of a frantic search on Hitler’s behalf. (“I want to believe that Papa hasn’t been anywhere near it,” says Marie-Laure, even though Papa has been in charge of protecting it in the museum.)
And then there are the lies. They come in all sizes and shapes here, from the falsely sunny letters written by those in grave danger (“I am incredibly safe, as safe as safe can be”) to the school propaganda that Werner is force- fed. As the words of his teachers fight the power of his memories, an inner voice tells him, “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”
A small thank you to Mr. Doerr for deliberately giving this intricate book an extremely readable format, with very short chapters, many about a page and a half long. As he told the Powell’s Books blog in a recent interview: “This was a gesture of friendliness, maybe. It’s like I’m saying to the reader, ‘I know this is going to be more lyrical than maybe 70 percent of American readers want to see, but here’s a bunch of white space for you to recover from that lyricism.’ ”