San Francisco Book Group Seeking New Members

For twenty years, we have been meeting on the first Monday of the month for a potluck dinner and literary discussion.

Authors have ranged from Jules Verne to V.S. Naipaul, Fanny Burney to James Baldwin, Claude Levi-Strauss to Ulysses S. Grant, Iris Murdoch to Kenneth Grahame, Thorsten Veblen to Jim Thompson

If interested, call Frank Hanny, (415)552-2729 or email

Below, some of the books we have read, with my comments:

A Bend in the River V.S. Naipaul Flawed but very powerful story of post-colonialism in Africa.
A Distant Mirror Barbara Tuchman More than you wanted to know about the 4 horsemen in the 14th century.
A Frolic of His Own William Gaddis Badly in need of copy editing.
A Hero of Our Time Mihail Lermontov Greater than the sum of its parts, and very Russian.
A Modern Instance William Dean Howells Excellent 19th Century American social problem novel.
A Severed Head Iris Murdoch Cynical and amusing.
Adam's Diary/Eve's Diary Mark Twain Good yucks.
Against Criticism Susan Sontag Very dry, not very rigorous.
Among the Believers VS Naipaul Aspects of the anti-Enlightenment.
Animal Family, The Randall Jarrell Charming fantasy.
Atonement Ian McEwan Well written and researched, but somehow forgettable.
Autobiography Benjamin Franklin Venery for health, but not to excess.
Autobiography Charles Darwin Stick to the major works.
Autobiography Dalai Lama A sheltered childhood.
Autobiography W B Yeats Fairies in the garden of a tone-deaf laureate, but fascinating nonetheless.
Belinda Maria Edgeworth Didactic but intriguing. I preferred the characters before they reformed…
Benito Cereno Herman Melville Tabloid material transformed by genius.
Bible Ywh A popular religious text.
Black Prince, The Iris Murdoch Dark, strange and brilliant.
Brothers Karamazov Dostoyevsky Remember the TV series with Fred MacMurray?
Castle Rackrent Mariah Edgeworth Delightful 18th Century Anglo Irish satire.
Chaos James Gleick Like a good 3 part New Yorker article.
Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop 2nd rate
Confessions Jean Jaques Rousseau A fascinating document about a not very nice man with a persecution complex.
Conformist, The Alberto Moravia Fascism anatomized.
Consciousness Explained Daniel Dennett An amusing materialist.
Continental Op, The Dashiell Hammett Bad early stories. Read The Dain Curse or Red Harvest instead.
Crowds and Power Elias Canetti Polyymathic brilliance from the original of Iris Murdoch’s magus figure.
Death Comes For the Archbishop Willa Cather Good enough to overcome the anti-Catholic bias I acquired in parochial school.
Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Carl Sagan People believe the goddamndest piffle. Carl deplores this at tedious length.
Devils of Loudun, The Aldous Huxley The spiritual biography of a deranged exorcist by an admirer. Bludgeoning erudition brought to bear on the evils of intellectual pride.
Education of Henry Adams Henry Adams Fascinating, dripping with ideas and beautifully written, a surprise hit.
Epitaph of a Small Winner Machado de Assis 19th Century Brazil's foremost, a philosophical fantasy narrated by the deceased protagonist.
Evelina Fanny Burney Solidly engaging, and occasionally startling in its depiction of a violent, vulgar and amoral era.
Fathers and Sons Ivan Turgenev Short and almost perfect.
Frankenstein Mary Shelley Not bad for a 19 year old girl.
Go Tell It on the Mountain James Baldwin An impressive meeting of the King James Bible and Freud.
Guns, Germs and Steel Jared Diamond Firstest with the mostest.
Heartbreak House G B Shaw For once a drama richer than the didactic purpose stated in its preface.
His Monkey Wife John Collier Exquisite irony.
House of Mirth Edith Wharton Very fine.
Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain Several novels about a boy.
Innocents Abroad Mark Twain The Ugly American.
Insurgent Mexico John Reed Participatory journalism by a romantic.
Invisible Cities Italo Calvino Metaphysical candy fluff.
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte Great! Read Villette too, which is even better!
Jurgen James Branch Cabell A monstrous clever fellow.
Language, Truth and Logic A. J. Ayer Clever, clever, clever...
Life of Charlotte Bronte Mrs Gaskell A Gothic biography of a gothic novelist. Duty over pleasure.
Lives of A Cell, The Lewis Thomas Biological belles lettres.
Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis Big yucks.
Man Who Loved Children, The Christina Stead Unique and wonderful book by an unclassifiable writer. Her Letty Fox, Her Luck is also great.
Martian Time Slip Phillip K. Dick Another head-twister from the master paranoiac.
McTeague Frank Norris Not a pretty picture, but sticks to your ribs.
Memoirs of US Grant Ulysses S. Grant Another surprise hit: terrific prose, great sincerity and character.
Mind of A Mnemonist A. J. Luria Fascinating study of a man whose extraordinary memory seemed of little benefit.
Moby Dick Melville Many novels centering on a whale.
Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf I prefer Orlando .
Mysteries of Winterthurn, The Joyce Carol Oates Repulsive and tin eared 19 th century gothic pastiche.
Nicholas Nickelby Dickens Didactic and sentimental.
No Man Knows My History Fawn Brodie Bio of Joseph Smith, the man who found God in his hat.
No Man’s Land Harold Pinter I saw the original production with Gielgud and Richardson.
Nothing Henry Green A minor 20th C. English writer with a unique style and sensibility.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson Slight.
Ordeal of Richard Feverel, The George Meredith 18 th century style, 19 th century psychology.
Our Mutual Friend Charles Dickens Characters you will never forget. The Master.
Palace Walk Mahfouz Solid 19 th century novel.
Pere Goriot Honore de Balzac Oddly disappointing and sentimental. Read Droll Stories instead.
Posession A. S. Byatt Talent misused. The 19th C. pastiche is clever, the 20th C. satire tedious.
Professor and the Madman, The Simon Winchester An ok version of a terrific true story.
Psychopathology of Everyday Life Freud The book that introduced the "Freudian slip" into popular culture. Ponderously Teutonic but fascinating.
Rasselas Samuel Johnson Exquisite style and charming story. 18th C.
Rats, Lice and History Hans Zinsser Our friend the plague. Fascinating.
Redburn Melville A potboiler by a genius
Remains of the Day Ishiguro Honest but forgettable.
Roderick Random Tobias Smollett A comic masterpiece.
Savages Joe Kane Journalism re South American Indians and oil politics. Well done.
Seven Years in Tibet Heinrich Harrer Someone was ready when opportunity knocked.
Six Character in Search of an Author Luigi Pirandello No doubt a novel exercise in it’s day. Seems dated now.
Some Buried Caesar Rex Stout Classic murder mystery.
Songlines Bruce Chatwin Excellent travel book on Australia , In Patagonia is even better.
Souls of Black Folks W.E.B. Du Bois Sad but true.
Sylvie and Bruno Lewis Carroll Twee. Odd. Twee.
Ballad of the Sad Café, The Carson McCullers Disappointing Southern Gothic.
Beast in the Jungle, The Henry James Short and almost perfect.
Betrothed, The Allesandro Manzoni Italy's Sir Walter Scott. Scene of ruffians carousing atop a wagonload of plague victims astonishing.
Death of Ivan Illich, The Leo Tolstoy Short and almost perfect.
Egoist, The George Meredith A Jane Austen plot and a very elaborate prose style. Not everyone's cup of tea, but I liked it.
Girls of Slender Means, The Muriel Spark Elegant! read "The Comforters", "Memento Mori" and "Ballad of Peckham Rye" while you’re at it.
Good Soldier, The Ford Madox Ford A painful gem. Also read his modernist masterpiece Parade's End .
Hobbit, The Tolkien A better if more modest work than the trilogy.
Killer Inside Me, The Jim Thompson The author is a very sick man.
Masterpiece, The Emil Zola Bleak and powerful.
Monk, The Matthew G Lewis Torture, incest, rape, necrophilia, transvestism, Satanic posession and clerical incelibacy: how can you go wrong!
Old Regime and the French Revolution , The Alexis de Toqueville A very smart guy, with some very deep insights.
Ordeal of Richard Feverel, The George Meredith 18 th century style, 20 th century psychology.
Oresteia, The Aeschylus All in the family, Greek style.
Sea and the Jungle, The H M Tomlinson Terrific travel book, and a real vocabulary builder.
Things They Carried, The Tim O'Brien Vietnam
Virginian, The Owen Wister Smile when you say that.
Warden, The / Barchester Towers Anthony Trollope A 2 piece comic gem.
Theory of the Leisure Class Thorsten Veblen Absolutely brilliant! One of the great satires, and a profoundly insightful work of sociology at the same time!
Tiny Alice Edward Albee A disturbing theological puzzle.
Tragic Muse Henry James Very minor James.
Travels of Marco Polo An utterly prosaic business man goes to another planet, and for 500 years is believed a liar.
Travels With A Donkey Robert Louis Stevenson One of the prose masterworks of the 19th C. Absolutely delightful!
Tristes Tropiques Claude Levi-Strauss Intellectually scintillating, stylistically superb, another pick hit!
Under Milkwood Dylan Thomas Music to the ears.
Undiscovered Self, The Carl Jung A highly implausible political speech which proposes direct experience of God as the only alternative to Soviet style totalitarianism, style good, content incoherent.
USA John Dos Passos Unique modernist masterpiece and sociological document at once.
Valleys of the Assassins Freya Stark An English broad with serious chutzpah (and a good prose style) wanders around Persia in the early 1930's.
Voyage of the Beagle Charles Darwin Everyone loved this: excellent plain style, fascinating observations, and a delightfully modest narrator.
Voyages of Dr Dolittle Hugh Lofting Wonderful, and thankfully not bowdlerized in my copy!
Wapshot Chronicle, The John Cheever Perhaps the finest American stylist of the post WWII era. A very funny book.
Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys Skip this and read "After Leaving Mr Mackenzie".
Wind in the Willows, The Kenneth Grahame Poetically wonderful, albeit with some disturbing political angles when read as an adult.
Winter Notes on Summer Impressions Dostoievski Witty, Burkean pan-Slavism, believe it or not.
Woman in White, The Wilkie Collins Great 19th C. mystery. The Moonstone is also terrific.
Wonderful Life Stephen J. Gould Pretty unreadable. His essay collections are much better.
You Must Remember This Joyce Carol Oates Surprisingly good sex scenes.
Young Torless Robert Musil Fin de Siecle S&M in a military academy. Skip this and read The Man Without Qualities .
21 Balloons William Pene Du Bois Delightful text and pictures.
44: The Mysterious Stranger Mark Twain For devotees of textual variants.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne A great novel virtually devoid of psychology.
Undaunted Courage Stephen Ambrose Bipolar exploration.
A Coffin for Dimitrios Eric Ambler The pattern tale of Balkan suspense.
Quark and the Jaguar, The Murray Gell-Mann A Nobelist, lucid on how complexity derives from simplicity.
Decline and Fall Evelyn Waugh Cruel, funny and very well written.
Possessed, The Dostoyesvsky Surprisingly funny, psychologically brilliant, politically deplorable, a masterpiece.
Circular Staircase, The Mary Roberts Rinehart An old dark house mystery from the golden age.
Story of My Experiments With Truth, The Ghandi Crank diets and sexual anxiety lead to Indian independence.
Mysterious Island, The Jules Verne Men without women. Utopia. Darn that volcano.
Travels With Charley John Steinbeck An articulate boy and his dog.
Iris Murdoch, A Life Peter J. Conradi So she screwed around. Read the novels instead.
The Turn of the Screw Henry James Scary.
The Sixth Extinction Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin Dead critters.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakspeare Whimsical.
Betrayal Harold Pinter See the film!
Selected Letter of Gustave Flaubert ed/trans Francis Steegmuller Hard to tell if he was leading or following the trends.
Journal of the Plague Year Defoe Further proof of intelligent design. Amazing.
Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War Barbara Ehrenreich Read her sources, including Canetti, instead.
V. Thomas Pynchon Terrifying intelligence, occasional silliness. "Mondaugen's Story" will leave permanent scars.
Miles, the Autobiography Miles Davis Listen to the music, and skip this narcissistic piece of crap.
The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas Best villainess in literature!
Memoirs of a Polyglot William Gerhardie Fascinating memoirs of a British upbringing in pre-Soviet Russia..
My Name is Red Orhan Pamuk A colorful and intelligent novel of ideas.
Two Years Before the Mast William Henry Dana California before the real estate boom, and well before OSHA.
Palimpsest Gore Vidal Written in a hurry, presumably for money.
The Greek Coffin Mystery Ellery Queen Enough plot for 4 mysteries. Still under the shadow of SS Van Dine.
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution Howard Rheingold If one must read ephemera, it should be current. This was not.
Uncle Tom's Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe A solid 19th century novel which gives the devil some of the best tunes.
Turkish Reflections Mary Lee Settle Ms. Settle seems preoccupied with her place in the pecking order of knowingness, and occasionally writes sentences that aren't.
Sirens of Titan Kurt Vonnegut This warped my juvenile mind, and holds up very well.
A History of the End of the World Jonathan Kirsch The embedded text of the Book of the Apocalypse is far more interesting than the trite commentary.
Parzival Wolfram Von Eschenbach A surprisingly readable Medieval Arthurian romance.
All the Shah's Men Stephen Kinzer The prototypical CIA "intervention", and a truly unfortunate precedent.
Hajji Baba of Ispahan J.J.Morier An hilarious amoral picaresque.
The River of Doubt Candice Millard She never met a cliche she didn't like.
The Bachelor of Arts R.K. Narayan A lovely bit of writing, doubly impressive since in the author's second language.
Dead Souls Nikolai Gogol Funny, Russian, unique.
The Birth of Tragedy Friedrich Nietzsche Utterly improbable, but brilliant.
Satanic Verses Salman Rushdie The consequences of being too famous to submit to an editor.
The Cheese and the Worms Carlo Ginzburg When belonging to a book group had consequences.
West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story Tamim Ansary A surprisingly uninteresting man from a very interesting background.
Coast of Utopia Tom Stoppard Read Isaiah Berlin's "Russian Thinkers" instead.
Bury me standing : the Gypsies and their journey Isabel Fonseca Fascinating look into a genuinely alien culture, and a test case for moral relativism.
Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner Why do these dual historical/contemporary narratives seem to do better at representing the past?
The Wisdom of Crowds James Surowiecki Note recent counter evidence.
John Adams David McCullough Workmanlike bio.
King Hereafter Dorothy Dunnett Her usual astonishing erudition, and a plausible representation of the mind of a political genius.
Map of Another Town M.F.K. Fisher Neurasthenic sensibility, meticulous prose.
The New Life Orhan Pamuk An endless, self indulgent, post-modern binge.
Rabbit, Run John Updike He really could write.
The Language of Clothes Alison Lurie Mildly amusing journalism.
If Beale Street Could Talk James Baldwin Minor work by major writer.
The Letters of Abelard and Heloise Abelard and Heloise Love letters from Abelard to himself. The pattern intellectual male egotist.
Disgrace JM Coetzee Depressive, morally incoherent, fascinating.
The Buried Mirror Carlos Fuentes The book of the TV show meets the ramblings of the autodidact.
American Lion : Andrew Jackson in the White House Jon Meacham Earnest, but preoccuipied with tabloid scandal.
Billy Budd Herman Melville Motiveless evil, and a temptation to reductionism.
The White Tiger Aravind Adiga Black humor, and a consistent narrative voice.
The Canon Natalie Angier NY Times science journalist makes many feeble puns.
The Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum ICharming, but I prefer the movie.
Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons I saw something nasty in the woodshed.
English Hours Henry James " veracious and courteous the fresh, pure journals."
Wise Blood Flannery O'Connor A most unusual disquisition on the spiritual life.
Wind, Sand, and Stars Antoine de Saint-Exupéry A pre-modern sensibility enamored of modernity.
The Franchise Affair Josephine Tey An excellent mystery without a death.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men James Agee Journalism and self abnegation.
The Twelve Chairs Ilf & Petrov A very funny Soviet satire. Really!
The Viceroy of Ouida Bruce Chatwin Not a travel book. Had he been reading "100 Years of Solitude"?
The Quiet American  Graham Greene Cynical, wise and sad.
The Lost World of the Kalahari Laurens Van Der Post Lovely writing about some ambitious but incompetent  travelers.
Treasure Island R.L. Stevenson A gem. One of the best villains in literature.
Up From Slavery Booker T. Washington Fascinating and still topical.
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison A modernist  masterpiece, and yes, a shocking commentary on race.Eerie to read so soon after  Booker T. Washington
Baltasar and Blimunda José Saramago Odd, lovely, cruel, and sad.
The Demon in the House Angela Thirkell Comic gem that does not obscure the egotism of childhood.
Fabled Shore Rose Macaulay Portugal as it once was.
My Antonia Willa Cather A masterpiece of unrequited love.
Noble Savages Napoleon A. Chagnon A late career defense of the very good "Yanomamo, the fierce people" (1964)
Five Children and It E. Nesbit Children's *literature*.
The Waning of the Middle Ages Johan Huizinga Life was very different then, as the author makes beautifully clear.
The Invisible Man H.G. Wells Rustic comedy abruptly turns to moral tragedy. A great read nonetheless.
Cain Jose Saramago Biblical pastiche by brilliant Portugese eccentric.
At the Back of the North Wind George MacDonald I am decidely neither a Christian nor a mystic, but I loved this.
A Movable Feast Ernest Hemingway Papa engages in nostalgie de la boue, and mocks the infinitely superior writer Ford Madox Ford.
Night and the City Gerald Kersh An interesting early novel by an interesting minor writer. Very different in tone from the excellent film.
The Crime of Father Amaro Eça de Queirós A 19th century Portugese anticlerical masterpiece on the level of Flaubert.
The Great Cat Massacre Robert Darnton Fine essays in cultural history.
The Man in the High Castle Phillip K. Dick Eerie alternate history.
Self-Consciousness John Updike Not quite the Confessions of Rousseau, but warts and all.
On the Marble Cliffs Ernst Jünger A fascinating anti-Nazi poetic parable by a right wing nationalist, published in Nazi Germany.
Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis A very funny angry young man.
The Memoirs of Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar A brilliant and plausible entree into the mind of a Roman emperor who is a political genius.
The Stammering Century Gilbert Seldes Cults and cranks of the 19th century U.S. Folly from the top down.
Design for Living Noel Coward Brittle. Brittle. Brittle. The movie script by Ben Hecht is better.
West with the Night Beryl Markham A lost world.
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber Julian Rubinstein True crime as farce in post-communist Eastern Europe.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot A piece of science history turns into a tragedy of familial dysfunction.
Mrs. Palfrey at the ClaremontElizabeth TaylorOld age, death, and snobbery in a superb black comedy.
100 Years of SolicitudeGabriel Garcia MarquezLoved this as a stoned college boy, found it annnoyingly arbitrary this time.
Night and the CityGerald KershInterestingly less dark than the film, and perhaps less good, but a distinctive voice.
Domestic Manners of the Americans Mrs. Frances TrollopeSpiritual ancestors of the Trumpites anatomized.
That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana  Carlo Emilio Gadda Modernist/surrealist murder mystery set in Fascist Italy. Unique.
 The devil in the white city Erik LarsonAn unfortunate collision between architetcural/cultural history and true crime. Should have been 2 shorter books.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Mark TwainTerrific piece of storytelling.
Naples '44Norman LewisAn observant young Briton's wonderfully written journal of the Allied occupation of Italy, as managed by Lucky Luciano.
A Study in Scarlet & The Sign of the FourArthur Conan DoyleHolmes.
Into the Heart of BorneoRedmond O'HanlonRecreational hell-holing. Hilarious if you like loathesome diseases and parasites.
The Bottle Factory Outing  Beryl BainbridgePolished style and black humor.
The Shellfish Gene Richard DawkinsA clever if not entirely convincing thought experiment.
SheH. Rider HaggardMasterpiece of mystical adventure.
Pack My BagHenry GreenMemoir by the modernist novelist. Worthwhile, but the fiction is better.
The School for ScandalRichard Brinsley SheridanWit and construction at an exalted level.
The Bramble Bush Karl N. LlewellynGood plain style on the why and wherefore of the Law.
Numero Zero
Umberto Eco

Unreliable Memoirs
Clive James
The Antipodean youth of a very funny man.
Lament for a Maker
Michael Innes
A brilliant mystery told in Scots dialect.
According to Queeney
Beryl Bainbridge
Meta-biography of Samuel Johnson from the POV of his patron's daughter.
Tough Trip Through Paradise
Andrew Garcia
Memoirs of a sqaw man. Vivid idioms.
Casino Royale
Ian Fleming
Memorably disturbing torture scene, surprisingly inept secret agent, massive plot holes.