Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Very Different "Dickens Weekend"

For 15 years or so, our esteemed book club, the Notting Hill Napoleons, has enjoyed a special retreat every November. First at a bed & breakfast in Denison, Iowa and then for the last 12 years at the Whispering Pines B&B in Nebraska City, we have taken over the whole facility for an entire weekend. We converse and pray together, cook our own meals, check out what's happening in the town, play games or put together puzzles, sit around bonfires, and conduct two very important orders of literary business; namely, we go through a rather elaborate process in order to select the books we will be reading in the coming year, and we discuss our November selection which is always a Charles Dickens novel.

This year, however, our November meeting was quite different. Because of the possible absence of one of the couples (a grand-baby was due at the same time) as well as the sure absence of another member, we decided we couldn't afford the expense this time around. So we had a Friday night dinner at our house where we composed 2017's booklist and then, the next day, we traveled to Big Grove Village B&B outside of Oakland, Iowa to have lunch together and to discuss Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit before heading back to Omaha in the early evening.

The hosts were friendly; the meal was fine; and the room included a nice fire going which made for a pleasant setting for our discussion. We have read all of the Dickens novels through the years and so this was our second time around with Martin Chuzzlewit. Still, for several reasons, it hadn't been an easy read. For instance, we had cut it too close to last month's book and none of us had enough time to comfortably get through the 887 pages.
Also, for many of us, our schedules had become so packed that even Dickens had to stand in line behind other priorities. I had to get up at 4 on Saturday morning to complete the book and, alas, a couple of our members broke a cardinal Napoleon rule and never did get it done. Finally, the book itself proved a bit difficult for though everything that Charles Dickens wrote certainly qualifies as exceptional literature, the plain fact is that Martin Chuzzlewit does rank as our least favorite Dickens of all. So, in many ways, this weekend was quite different than our norm.

Summation? The weekend activities for the Napoleons proved both fun and spiritually fulfilling. That was certainly no surprise. Indeed, our book club continues to be a blessing to us on many levels. However, Claire and I did miss the full retreat experience this year and, in particular, we missed hanging out at Whispering Pines. So, next year, who knows? We are going to start looking into it right away.

 By the way, for those of you who like to keep track of what the Notting Hill Napoleons select for reading material, the 2017 list is below. Sadly, I must say that my fondest hope was again not realized this year, that hope being a return of the Notting Hill Napoleons to reading the A-level classics that we did in our first 15 years or so (Dumas, Dostoevsky, Hugo, Shakespeare, Scott, Solzhenitsyn, et al). Still, it looks like there's some good reading and discussions for 2017.

And, of course, it always beats watching television!

January — Ice Palace (Edna Ferber)
February — Trustee from the Toolroom (Nevil Shute)
March — The Fateful Lightning (Jeff Shaara)
April — The Meaning of Names (Karen Shoemaker)
May — All The Kings Men (Robert Penn Warren)
June —Riders of The Purple Sage (Zane Grey)
July — Mutiny on the Bounty (Charles Nordhoff )
August — The Gates of Doom (Rafael Sabatini)
September — The Frozen Hours (Jeff Shaara)
October — Good Bye Mr. Chips (James Hilton)
November — Dombey and Son (Charles Dickens)
December — The Golden Ring (John Snyder)