Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  Every Thursday during July and August, you will find me at Sea Cliff’s Memorial Park enjoying the Civic Association’s Sunset Serenades.  The music is lovely and the setting extraordinary.  While waiting for the musicians to arrive, I always look out at the Harbor with a good book in hand. Do you have a recommendation for this week?   Sunset Serenader

Dear Sunset Serenader,  This weekend, I finished a very short, very moving book: THE ONLY STORY by Julian Barnes.  When the story opens, Paul is a nineteen year-old British undergraduate spending the  summer of 1963 with his parents in their London suburb home.   To keep him amused and “out of trouble” his mother gifts him a membership in a local tennis club.  There he meets Susan Macleod- a forty-nine year old married woman with two grown daughters.   Susan and Paul fall in love and their story becomes for Paul  “the only story”- the story that is central to his identity.  The novel traces Paul’s feeling over a fifty year period as he questions the depth of friendship, of passion, of love.  We suspect from the beginning that love will not conquer all, but along the way we meet characters that hint at its redemptive powers. At the end, Paul leaves himself and the reader with the question: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more, or love the less and suffer the less?”  Highly recommended!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  Fourth of July in Sea Cliff is one of my favorite times: it starts on the Eve at the Children’s Library.  First there is the decorating of bikes, trikes, strollers, and carriages followed by the iconic “Happy Birthday, USA” with songs and music for and by all ages.  On the Fourth itself there is the reading of the Declaration on the Village Green and a parade down Sea Cliff Avenue.  When all this is done, I would like to throw myself into a good book.  Any suggestions?   Fervent Fan of the Fourth
Dear Fervent Fan of the Fourth,   I just finished a fascinating book about one of America’s most hated historical figures: Benedict Arnold.  In Stephen Brumwell’s TURNCOAT, we learn that Arnold  was one of the bravest and most revered of Washington’s generals.  Historians have posited that he was overcome with greed while others suggest he had come to resent the recognition others were receiving.  The book traces his enthusiastic support of the ideals of the Revolution to his villainous betrayal of the cause.  Brumwell comes to the radical conclusion that Arnold was the ultimate patriot: he believed America’s best interests would be served by ending the war, halting the bloodshed,  and remaining part of the British Empire. To accomplish this, he was willing to sacrifice everything.  A very interesting and controversial look at a man who has come to define evil itself. Recommended!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  Sea Cliff Beautification Committee will hold its Secret Garden Tour on Saturday, June 30 from 10 to 3 and I will be stationed at a friend’s beautiful backyard.   There will be time I’m sure for some good reading before and after…any suggestions?  Secret Garden Sojourner
Dear Secret Garden Sojourner,  I just finished one of the best books I have read this year: BAD BLOOD by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carreyrou.  This book has it all-  intrigue, corruption, jealousy, paranoia, lies, romance,  redemption, and a cast of unbelievably colorful characters. Elizabeth Holmes began Theranos- a company based on a revolutionary blood testing concept- in 2004 when she was nineteen years-old. By 2015 she was declared the youngest female billionaire with a paper fortune of nine billion dollars. This past weekend she was indicted for fraud and her fortune devalued to zero.  Carreyrou’s book underscores the power of lies, charisma, and greed. Backed by powerful but smitten men including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, General Mattis, Rupert Murdoch, corporate CEO’s of Walgreens and  Safeway, and a bevy of world famous scientists,  Holmes carried off this  billion dollar scam.  It is an  incredible story- a cautionary tale indeed but more over a great read- not to be missed…highly recommended!      

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, This Sunday June 17 is Father’s Day and I am planning a family get together. We will also be celebrating  Bloomsday- the annual tribute to James Joyce’s “Ulysses”- definitely two reasons for a great book gift for the fathers in my life.  Any suggestions?  Father’s Day Frantic
Dear Frantic,   Consider Michael Chabon’s newest book POPS: a short collection of provocative essays about fatherhood.  He opens up with advice he received from a famous albeit unidentified author: if you want to be a great writer don’t have children- too much of a distraction. Chabon went on to have four children and  has written eighteen books,  but he still wonders if he could have been a better writer or better father if only … .In the other essays he talks about moral dilemmas he has faced as a father, ranging from a racially aware  reading of Huckleberry Finn, discouraging his son from playing Little League baseball although he himself loves the game, encouraging another young son in his  fashion- based consumerism, addressing the social repression of junior high students, all culminating in the last piece: a reflection of his own father’s  very different parenting style and what he learned from him.  Definitely an interesting take on raising children from a thoughtful, talented writer…. Recommended!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Another busy Sea Cliff weekend- on Saturday, June 9 at 6pm there will be the annual Fire Departmental Inspection in front of the Fire House and then on Sunday there will be music and fun events from Noon to 4:00 along Sea Cliff Avenue with SpringFest 2018. As summer begins,   I am looking for something a little different to read, and I do always like short…    
Loving June in Sea Cliff
Dear Loving June…., I read a very unusual, very enjoyable, very short book this weekend: CIRCE by Madeline Miller.  It is told from the perspective of the Circe, a minor Greek goddess who has been hailed and reviled throughout literature.  We probably know her best from the “Odyssey” where she turns Odysseus’s men into swine, but is able to seduce him with her magical charms.   She also features in the myths of Scylla and Charybdis, the Minotaur, Jason and Medea, Prometheus, Daedalus, and the Fall of Icarus.   Miller reinvents and expands these stories to reveal a world not unlike our own.  In this strongly feminist interpretation, we  come to see ourselves as Circe stumbles through history in her search for enlightenment and redemption.  Highly recommended!  

Monday, May 28, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, With Memorial Day quickly coming  upon us, I am making my plans.  At 8am Monday we will be hosting a breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library after which we will march in the Village’s iconic parade - again organized by Phil Como.  Following the beautiful, bittersweet ceremony at Clifton Park, we will head down to Sea Cliff Beach for lunch.  Any suggestions for a good book to bring along?  Memorial Day Observer

Dear Memorial Day Observer, Sounds like you have a fine plan and I have an interesting, thought-provoking book to complete your weekend:  THE PERFECT MOTHER  by Aimee Molloy.  This psychological thriller can be read on two levels.  The obvious one is that of a crime novel- a child is kidnapped and there are many colorful suspects and leads. The other is a disturbing social commentary:  our harsh judgment of women- and mothers in particular.  The May Mothers is a group of Brooklyn women whose babies were born in May and have met up through an online parenting group.  They gather weekly at Prospect Park with their children to share, advise and- yes- judge.  The women decide to meet at a popular local bar for a night out without children or husbands. During the evening, one of the babies is kidnapped and for the next thirteen days, we follow the stories of four of these women as the media, their families, and their peers turn on them for what are perceived as failings.  While the resolution is farfetched, the story of societal demands on mothers is right on.  Highly recommended!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am decluttering my house in anticipation of the annual Village-wide Garage Sale here in Sea Cliff on Saturday, June 2.  I’ll be dropping my used books off at the Main Library after May 21 but I would love to have something to read now- perhaps a short novel on a current topic…
Avid Declutterer                   
Dear Avid Declutter, Congratulations on your determination and I do have a good book for you: THE PARKING LOT ATTENDANT by Nafkote Tamirat.  This debut novel opens in a utopian community where our unnamed narrator is living with her father. Neither father nor daughter is welcome and quickly the story line switches back to Boston where they had been living until forced to flee under mysterious circumstances.  The narrator had immigrated to Boston as a fifteen year old. To her father’s dismay, she is drawn to the charismatic Ayale, a parking lot attendant who is the unofficial king of Boston’s close knit Ethiopian community.  Soon it becomes evident that Ayale is a sinister force but this makes him all the more attractive to the young girl.  By the time she realizes the full extent of his plans, she has become totally complicit. This is a coming of age novel, a look into the loneliness of the immigrant, a study of fatherhood, and ultimately a darkly compelling mystery…..highly recommended!