March 1, 2017 – Notes

 In attendance: Liz Clarke, Janice Loschiavo, Lois Pagnozzi, Cathy Quinn, Sharon Rome, Barbara Santillo, Tina Segali, Marilyn Sinisi

Absent: Vivian Krone, Meta Pitrelli, Joan Swensen

Emeritus: Donna Sabetta, Jeri Stangl.

Book & Author: Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Notes and Comments:

Perhaps because the night of March’s book club was even warmer than February’s, or perhaps because it was Ash Wednesday, there were mischief and disruption in the air. Plus, in attendance at Janice’s house were four husbands who, though they sat separately, created a bit of distraction and noise. They were, of course, forgiven.

  • As the initial comments made clear, the book elicited a range of responses from “one of the favorite books of my life” to “I read for pleasure – this wasn’t pleasure.” Some people confessed to not having read the book cover to cover while others admitted that Brideshead took a while to warm to.
  • Ryder was in love with Sebastian but Sebastian was a child. One reader felt that Sebastian had found his soul mate in Charles but the others disagreed.
  • Although Sebastian would have us believe his family made him an alcoholic, he was just a poor, pathetic soul.
  • The mother came across as cold and rigid but perhaps she merely didn’t want Sebastian to be a drunk.
  • Both Charles and Sebastian (as well as Julia) suffered from their fathers’ absences.
  • Did Julia really love Charles? Did Charles really love Julia?
  • Barbara asked each reader if there were a place she would go back to, as the Flytes to Brideshead.
  • The group discussed the issue that arises towards the end of the book regarding the administration of Extreme Unction to Lord Marchmain. This led to a reflection on the decline in importance of religion today.
  • Charles and Julia took advantage of each other (and Charles was really in love with Julia because she reminded him of Sebastian).
  • Everyone agreed that the Nanny was a warm and loving contrast to Lady Marchmain. Whenever Sebastian or Charles or Julia visited Brideshead, they always visited with Nanny and loved to be in her room.
  • Charles’ relationship with the Flyte family was his whole identity. He needed to maintain a connection with the family once he and Sebastian became estranged and Julia fulfilled that role.
  • Some readers were surprised at the openness of the homosexuality displayed in the novel, since it was published in 1945.
  • Who is holier, Sebastian or Cordelia?
  • Was Bridey’s wife a golddigger?
  • We ran out of time before we could discuss Anthony Blanche.

Janice had thoughtfully found a copy of the film of Brideshead from 2008, of which we watched a portion. Emma Thompson played Lady Marchmain, Matthew Goode (of The Good Wife fame) was Charles Ryder, and Felicity Jones played Cordelia.

Once again, we couldn’t figure out how so many desserts got to the meeting. Liz was the sole birthday girl and blew out all the candles on the cake.

Based on the criteria established at the last meeting (If we love it, it’s a 4; if we hate it, it’s a two; if it’s in the middle, it’s a 3), the book received a 3.0 rating despite a lone cry for a 4.0.

Next Meeting: Wednesday, April 5, beginning at 5:00 p.m., at Lois’ house in Cresskill. Assignments will be discussed as we get closer to the date.

Next Book: selected by Vivian, The Tender Bar, by JR Moehringer. Below is a review. The May book will be selected by Lois.

Submitted by Tina Segali

March 8, 2017

From The New York Times

The Tender Bar By J.R. Moehringer 370 pages. Hyperion. $23.95.

This is a model of the solar system, as constructed by the soused denizens of a now-legendary bar in Manhasset, N.Y.: the sun is a lemon. The earth is an olive moving around the lemon, used as a visual aid as somebody tries to explain why it gets dark earlier in New York than it does in California. Mars would have been a cherry but somebody ate it. You know, the 25,000-odd-mile circumference of the Earth sounds almost walkable. Or maybe not, hotshot: “You don’t even like to walk around the corner for The Daily News.”

If you can inhale this place already, no wonder: J.R. Moehringer’s autobiography brings it to life with hilarious stumblebum wisdom and a born raconteur’s ease. “Kid’s a scribbler,” one of the regulars says of Mr. Moehringer, in what turns out to be a whopper of an understatement. Kid’s the best memoirist of his kind since Mary Karr wrote “The Liars’ Club.” Kid’s book is a doozy.

Most of what Mr. Moehringer has to say about Publicans, formerly called Dickens and the center of his own particular solar system, sounds sanitized but essentially true. The only false note involves how difficult it supposedly was for him to put his reminiscences into print. Clearly, there were bad days: he considered calling this book “Moonshine and Monkeyshine” or “Tales of a Wayside Gin Mill.” But the finished volume is as polished as Publicans’ gleaming countertop. And its anecdotes are constructed as skillfully as a drink mixed by the author’s Uncle Charlie, Publican’s bartender. Uncle Charlie could “cream your spinach” when he made a strong one.

Uncle Charlie is one of the many ad-hoc patriarchs in “The Tender Bar,” a book that makes fatherlessness a well-developed motif. Mr. Moehringer’s father, a disc jockey, disappeared from the boy’s life so early that his having JR (short for Junior) for a first name was awkward to explain. The book begins when, as a child growing up in this Long Island suburb, the son feels stigmatized by his father’s absence. It ends shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, in a Manhasset now full of fatherless children. By the time he grew up to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Moehringer had learned his way around contrast and symmetry.

Although it describes various comical states of inebriation (“Buy you a beer?” “That what you Ivy Leaguers call a rhetorical question?”) “The Tender Bar” is too smart a book to make alcohol its main focus. Mr. Moehringer must know how thoroughly other memoirists have strip-mined this subject, so he keeps it ominously in the background: Publicans’ regulars become less lovable as they begin to injure themselves, develop memory lapses and so on. As for himself, the author keeps it simple: “Deciding to quit drinking was the easiest thing I ever did. Describing how I did it, and why, and whether or not I will drink again, is much harder.”

Instead of drowning in sorrows, the book creates a “Cheers”-style backdrop. It concentrates on good-time fellowship and uses the bar as its center of gravity, returning there after episodic visits to other places. And if Publicans takes on a circus atmosphere, what with “all the white-faced men with orange hair and red noses,” it also crucially anchors what would otherwise be a rambling story.

First there are tales of the author’s extended, impoverished family: he lives with his grandfather, who is “too cheap to be an alcoholic,” and who uses the phrase “Stupid Woman” as if it were his wife’s first name. When JR is still young, he has learned to talk like the bar’s regulars. (In reply to his grandmother’s offer of cake: “False. Cookies. You follow?”)

Then he goes with his mother to live in Arizona. They also visit seemingly out-of-reach Yale University. Although “The Tender Bar” is remarkably free of sentimentality, the mother’s fixation with sending her son to Yale takes on the shape of a fairy tale. Mr. Moehringer can frame anything, even the tale of how he lost his virginity, along these same lines: impossible dream; endearing naïveté and self-doubt; embarrassing folly (“And the behemoth bearing down on me? Ignorance!” he tried writing as part of his Yale application). Finally there is a gratifying victory against all odds.

Formulaic, maybe: but such stories are also highly entertaining. And the real richness of “The Tender Bar” lies in its including so many of these individual events while still keeping a larger literary context in mind. After all, the bar was called Dickens. The patrons loved talking about writers. And Manhasset was “Great Gatsby” territory. One of the book’s funnier moments comes when two of Mr. Moehringer’s many mentors realize, in horror, that the Kid has never read it.

  1. Scott Fitzgerald is invoked often and purposefully, as when the author picks his own version of Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald even figures in Mr. Moehringer’s efforts to earn extra money at Yale by taking in laundry. One of his clients comes from a family whose estate was a model for the Buchanan mansion. So Mr. Moehringer delivers Daisy’s famous line about being made sad by Gatsby’s profusion of beautiful shirts. It lands with a thud and leads Mr. Moehringer to yet another comic situation.

Other chapters of his life include an ill-fated stint as a New York Times copy boy (by this point the budding newsman has been nicknamed Edward R. Murrow-ringer) and the requisite resolution of his lifelong father problem. Only at moments like the latter do the book’s structural contrivances really show. And even then they are soaked and swaddled in the saloon poetry that makes the best of “The Tender Bar” so priceless.

Overheard at Publicans: “Don’t laugh at me! Do not laugh at me, pal. My mother laughed at me and I had her operated on needlessly.” Remarks like these were long ago scribbled on cocktail napkins and stowed away by Mr. Moehringer for the perfect moment. It’s here.