Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend, a number of my friends and I will be attending a literary conference at Harvard’s Law School on the British author Barbara Pym.  They are huge fans of hers, but I have never read any of her novels.  Would you suggest one to start my Pymian adventure?
Preparing for Pym
Dear Preparing for Pym,  Like your friends, I too am a huge Pym fan.  She has written about a dozen books  - each  a jewel to be read and reread many times.  Her novels are about the exquisite loveliness of everyday life with each word, each gesture, each character treated with humor, care, and respect-  offering gentle but frequently biting insights into the human condition.  Her descriptions of food, clothing, and those daily rituals which consume and distract us, envelope her readers in a familiar yet unique world.   This weekend’s conference at Harvard will be focusing on one novel in particular: THE SWEET DOVE DIED.   Lenora, the central character, is a middle-aged, rather self-absorbed woman who spurns the devoted Humphrey for his twenty-four year-old nephew James. Lenore’s romantic overtures are thwarted when James turns first to Phoebe- a young woman his own age- and then to Ned, a visiting scholar from America.  We watch in growing dismay as Lenore tries time and again to win James’s affection.   A wonderful look into the mysteries of attraction and love- highly recommended!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Tuesday, March 13 at 7:30pm all the candidates for Sea Cliff Village Trustee will meet at St. Luke’s Parish Hall to state their beliefs about Village governance and answer questions from the audience.  It should be an exciting, informative evening.  While I am waiting for the event to begin, I would love to have something interesting and worthwhile to read.  A recommendation?
Hoping to be Informed
Dear Hoping,  Every year the Sea Cliff Civic Association sponsors this Meet the Candidates forum and –you are right- it’s a great evening to learn about the workings of the Village. While waiting, you might want to get a copy of Elizabeth Flock’s debut work: THE HEART IS A SHIFTING SEA: Love and Marriage in Mumbai.  Flock writes about three couples living in present day Mumbai and how Indian culture – past and present- impacts their marriages.   We meet Veer and Maya, a Hindu couple whose life together is a struggle for Maya a school principal and Veer who is haunted by an earlier love- Shahzad and Sabeena, a Muslim couple who battle parental interference, depression, and childlessness- and Ashok and Parvati, a highly educated Hindu couple whose  marriage was arranged with the help of an online matchmaker.  A fascinating story of love, religion, economics, technology, and life in a changing world- highly recommended!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  With these first days of March,  my thoughts begin turning to our lovely Village beach. Friends have mentioned enjoying a crime novel with rich nautical overtones set at a New York City beach.   Any thoughts? 
Slipping into Spring
Dear Slipping into Spring, I’m sure it is MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan.  I loved her earlier A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD and this is indeed another winner- but with a very, very different approach.  In the first chapter, we meet  the three characters whose lives we will follow for the next twenty years. It’s 1934 and Anna Kerrigan and her father Eddie are visiting his business partner/mobster friend Dexter Styles at his mansion by the sea. The sea will play an ongoing role, perhaps even serving as the book’s fourth character.  Manhattan Beach is at the southern tip of Brooklyn and the story lines shift between here and Red Hook where the grown up Anna works in the naval shipyards, eventually as a diver as the nation prepares to enter World War II.  From beginning to end, the fates of all three are intertwined with the waters that surround them. Meticulously researching time and place, Egan gives us a fascinating mystery and a spectacular homage to New York’s waterways.

Monday, February 19, 2018


Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are planning to attend the annual  Crawl for a Cause  a/k/a the Pub Crawl this Friday, February 23 to benefit Sea Cliff’s ever vigilant environmental group Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor. But before it begins, I’ll have a few hours to read a fast paced thriller.  Any thoughts?
Crawler for a Cause
Dear Crawler for a Cause,  The Coalition celebrated its 30th anniversary last year and it continues to steadfastly protect our waters, so I hope all of Sea Cliff turns out for this fun event.  And, yes- I do have a quick enjoyable read for you: THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED by Mick Herron.  Maggie Barnes is a 26 year-old woman living alone in London, estranged from her family, friendless, no partner, and trapped in a dead end job sorting mail for a large international company.  Soon into the book, she is approached by a MI 5 agent ( think  America’s FBI) who convinces her to spy for the British government and save the nation from impending disaster.  This is a frightening, madcap look into a harrowing world of subterfuge, crime, and conspiracy theories with many plot surprises throughout.   Recommended!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

 Dear Great Book Guru,   With the upcoming Presidents’ Week holiday, I am looking forward to plenty of time for some really good reading.  Someone told me about a joint book club sponsored by  the PBS NewsHour and the New York Times. I would love to have some directed reading, but I don’t know the book that has been chosen.  Are you familiar with this program?
Presidential Week Reader
Dear Presidential Reader,  I just finished the PBS/NYTimes selection for February: KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON by David Grann and it is an exceptionally compelling book. In the 1920’s, members of the Osage Indian nation were the richest people in the entire world. The land they lived on in Oklahoma was a fantastically vast source of oil and their lives were incredibly enriched  by this until…. suddenly leaders of the tribe began dying unexpectedly- there were murders, poisonings, shootings.  What was going on in this last refuge of the Wild West?  The newly formed FBI took the case on under the direction of its  young  director J. Edgar Hoover.  The story of this scandal and the early days of the FBI  makes for a fascinating read and a horrifying look into our national original sin. The treatment of  Native Americans and the role the FBI attempted to play in remedying these outrageous injustices makes for a sobering read.  Highly recommended!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  I attended a lecture last week at the Brooklyn Historical Society on how democracies die.  It was both fascinating and horrifying.   Have you heard about the book that was at the center of this discussion? 
A Champion of Democracy
Dear Champion,  HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE by Steven Levitsky and David Ziblatt is perhaps the most thought provoking book I have read in the last few months.  While we usually picture democracies collapsing in violent chaos with tanks and militia in the streets, the authors show us that more frequently the very components of democracy–its constitution, courts, media, and elections- are used to destroy it.  They list four signs of its slow death: 1. denying the legitimacy of opponents 2.  condoning or tolerating violence 3.  showing  a willingness to curb civil liberties and/or the media 4. having only a weak commitment to democratic rules.  If one or more of these is present there is a strong possibility that democracy is in grave danger.  The authors also suggest that it is political parties that keep despots from coming to power and the post 1960’s primary system of nominating candidates has undermined the parties’ power.  The last and most devastating insight they offer is that at no time  in history has a democracy existed where all citizens- regardless of race or ethnicity- are equally empowered politically, socially,  and economically. Does democracy need inequality to exist? A disturbing question indeed!  Highly recommended…

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  For the last few weeks my friends and I have been trying to see as many of  the Oscar nominated movies as possible. Our favorites have included I, TONYA  and THE SHAPE OF WATER but we have a few more to see.   While on our way to one of the shows, someone mentioned a new literary thriller that uses classic movies to frame its story.  Does it sound familiar?   A Movie Maven

Dear Movie Maven, I just finished  THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A.J. Finn- and it is indeed an homage to many  noir movies of the past, especially Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW  but also SHADOW OF A DOUBT, VERTIGO,  and SUSPICION plus George Cukor’s terrifying GASLIGHT.  Anna Fox is a child psychologist who spends her days and nights spying on her neighbors. Because of an earlier traumatic event- which we gradually learn about- she suffers from agoraphobia.  Fueled by alcohol and heavy medication, Anna is a very unreliable narrator.  When a new family moves across the street from her, she takes an obsessive interest in their lives and soon sees and hears things she and the baffled reader must question.   However, there is no question this is a fascinating thriller... and highly recommended!