“But then self-doubt has always been there for Billy, self-doubt and its cousin the berating voice, these faithful companions have always been on call to help him through the critical junctures of his life.”

13325079Despite being recommended by a former leader of the fearless Brown Baggers, many group members were slightly skeptical as they first began reading Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. The seemingly crude tone and military focus slowly gave way to a much more richly crafted satire of Bush’s America during the Iraq War.

The Brown Baggers agreed this was certainly a different perspective of military life. We discussed how themes of manipulation, power, and image were woven throughout the book. The men of Bravo Company are being used for a Hollywood movie deal while the Dallas Cowboys are also trying to capitalize on the goodwill shown towards these soldiers. It can’t be categorized strictly as extortion though — in a way, the men of Bravo are keenly aware of how they are being used as pawns. Their gains may not be as substantial, but they game the system as much as possible to get forbidden booze and escape punishment for rowdy behavior. These constantly shifting power plays are evident in almost every scene, no matter which characters are involved. Continue reading

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Illustration - Street Cars of DamascusDuring the summer months, many Brown Baggers travel for vacations near and far. Appropriate, then, that we gathered in our “little corner of the earth” to discuss Mark Twain’s travel classic, The Innocents Abroad. Because various group members were off jet-setting, we had a smaller group but a great discussion as always.

Opinions were split on our latest title. While a few readers loved the gentle pace and subtle humor, others found the style meandering and repetitive. We did note that originally, Twain had published Innocents in installments, so the serial nature necessitated including some expository details. All ranges of opinion — including the indifferent — agreed that it was not a book to be read for its thrilling plot. Those who enjoyed it most savored it slowly, as if they were traveling with Twain and his shipmates in real time. Continue reading

“The mind and heart cannot be demobilised as quickly as the platoon. On the contrary, like a fiery furnace at white heat, it takes a considerable time to cool.”

bookofdanielDespite a rave review from the New York Times upon publication, response to E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel in the monthly meeting of Central Library’s Brown Baggers was tepid to say the least. Based on the true story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Doctorow’s novel focuses on a fictional counterpart family, the Isaacsons. The story is told from the point of view of Daniel Isaacson, their son, as he writes his own version of the events. The character of Daniel, as well as his sister Susan, are heavily involved in 1960s politics, which is used as a comparison to the Communist agendas of their parents.

While the novel is nominally told via the character of Daniel, the narration isn’t quite that fluid. The Brown Baggers found that the story did not move smoothly. The book switches back and forth between first and third person and jumps time periods as well. The plotline also meant that while some of the writing was excellent (when members could follow it), it was necessarily a dark and depressing read. Some readers suggested Ragtime or Billy Bathgate as more enjoyable Doctorow reads. Continue reading