Friday, January 12, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  With the Martin Luther King weekend coming up, I feel the need to read about the politics of our country.  I am interested in the new and very controversial book about the Trump presidency.  Have you read it and if so would you recommend it?
Fervent Fan of Politics

Dear Fervent Fan,  I was intrigued by all the pre- publication reporting on FIRE AND FURY  by Michael Wolff so at exactly 9am on January 5- its moment of release- I pressed the Buy button on my Kindle  Over the top on all the bestseller lists, this is indeed a worthwhile read on many levels, and  I was certainly not prepared to enjoy it as much as I did. It is surprisingly well written and filled with colorful details.  Wolff’s style is definitely in the “access journalism” school very reminiscent of many of Bob Woodward’s books. The image of this New York Magazine writer sitting invited but unnoticed on a sofa in the White House as scores of key political players casually reveal their secrets is strangely credible. While Wolff depends for a large part on the musings of the irascible  Steve Bannon, the more poignant and provocative insights come from three women: Katie Walsh, the young deputy White House Chief of Staff; Dina Powell,  a former Goldman Sachs executive now Middle East Security Advisor, and Hope Hicks, White House Communications Director.  The role these women play in White House politics could make for an entire book.   Whether Wolff is accurate or not, he tells a fascinating story. Highly recommended!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  We will be gathering  for our annual New Year’s celebration with family and friends- an early evening movie, dinner and dessert, followed by the ringing of the bell on the Sea Cliff Village Green at Midnight. As faithful followers of your column, we were wondering if you had some particular favorites from your 2017 book recommendations you would share with us?
New Year’s Reveler
Dear New Year’s Reveler, I was just looking over my 2017 reviews and I came up with 12 books I truly loved.  My # 1 favorite was Paul Auster's 4321 and here are the rest in no particular order:
                                                                                                                             
THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK
RESERVOIR 13
THE NINTH HOUR
DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
THE COLOR OF LAW
THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT
WAKING LIONS
EXIT WEST
GHACHAR GHOCHAR
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE
LITTLE DEATHS

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have a confession to make:  I feel like the Christmas Grinch- please, please recommend a good book or two to get me in the Christmas spirit. 
A Grinch in Search of Cheer
Dear Grinch, Never fear- redemption is at hand.  First, I am going to make an unusual suggestion:  THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT by renowned playwright and local resident Fred Stroppel. Far from the usual sentimental holiday fare, this play deals with death and redemption in a darkly humorous manner. Julia Dowling finds herself sitting in her cozy living room on Christmas Eve engaged in a fight for her life. The Christmas Spirit in the title is actually Death and he has come for Julia.  She begs for more time and in exchange offers Death the chance to celebrate a family Christmas with all the trimmings. Her assortment of dysfunctional family members plus the local priest, some troubled young guests, and the Christmas Spirit- who calls himself Jack Frost- gather at Julia’s invitation to celebrate the holiday. Life-altering secrets are revealed that offer hope….for a moment. Our friends and family love gathering every year for a reading of this monumental work. It is available in many formats but the Amazon Kindle version is the one we use.                                        

If you prefer a more traditional approach, I suggest A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. We read a beautifully illustrated and abridged version by Stephen Krensky on Christmas Eve afternoon - it takes about an hour with each of us taking a page or two. Get out the eggnog and gather around with your friends and family for a wondrous weekend!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I love to check out the various lists of the best books of 2017 and this year there are so many great novels I want to read .  Is there one in particular you would recommend?  Reader of the Best of 2017

Dear Reader of the Best of 2017,  I was pleased to see AUTUMN by Ali Smith leading off the New York Times Best Books of 2017 list.  My book club is reading it this week and I am eager to hear my friends’ reactions.  The story is a study of time, memory, politics, love, and friendship.  Set in the fall of 2016, following Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, the novel opens with the comatose thoughts of a 101 year-old man and then shifts to the thoughts of his closest friend, a 32 year-old woman. Both are  struggling with the new realities of life in Brexit England.  References to Dickens’s “Tale of Two Cities, ” underscore the immense change that England is undergoing as it closes itself off from much of what  has defined its nationhood.  Daniel, the elderly man, remembers a world far different from 2016 and looks in fear and amazement to the future. Elisabeth, the young woman, finds herself frustrated by the bureaucratic meanness of life in 2016.   Autumn with its seasonally melancholy look back on the year offers us a metaphor for looking back on a lifetime.  Recommended… 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,   This weekend my family and I will be having breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Fire House on Sunday, December 10 from 9:00am to noon.  Later in the day we will be at the Menorah Lighting ceremony on the Village Green at 5pm.  We will be back at the Fire House for the Hanukkah Happening on Thursday, December 14 from 6:30 to 8pm. In between, I would like to read an inspiring novel.  Any thoughts?  In a Holiday Haze

Dear In a Holiday Haze, Mary Ann Collins, a member of my library book club, recommended ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman and I am sure you will enjoy it too.  Eleanor is a delightfully quirky thirty year old in whose mind we reside for 288 pages of mystery, romance, and humor.  Monday to Friday she arrives at work punctually, methodically does her job, and listens without completely understanding her office mates’ cruel jibes. Every weekend she buys a supermarket pizza and two large bottles of vodka which she finishes by Sunday night. She has no visitors and no friends, but somehow she is fine- lonely but fine.  When a new IT person is hired, Eleanor’s life changes drastically and we come to see how complicated and tragic her early years were.  A cautionary tale of how easy it is to overlook and underestimate those around us.  Highly recommended!   

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, This is an iconic Sea Cliff weekend with so much scheduled I don’t think I will be able to attend everything, but there are two that I will not miss:  Introduction to “The Nutcracker” at the Children’s Library on Saturday, December 2 from 10 to 11am and the Scrooge Stroll (a reenactment of Dickens’s “Christmas Carol”) on Sunday, December 3 from 3 to 4pm in front of the Children’s Library. After these events, I will have some free time to catch up on my reading before the holiday parties begin. Any suggestions?  
Savvy Scrooge Stroller

Dear Savvy…., I spent part of the Thanksgiving weekend reading a fascinating and very disturbing book: LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint. Based on the sensational true story of Alice Crimmins, this novel poses a question that haunts us - can a woman be treated fairly if she lives outside society’s perceived norms.  Ruth Malone is a divorced 26 year-old mother of two young children, living in an apartment complex in Queens in 1965 and working as a cocktail waitress.  Her clothes, her makeup, her many suitors mark her as a woman capable of just about anything….even murdering her children.  From the moment she reports them missing, the public is convinced she is the murderer.  Despite other possible suspects, the press and police pursue her relentlessly.  This novel offers an astonishing take on how a patriarchal society mistrusts and mistreats women.   A 1960’s tale that takes on new meaning in 2017- highly recommended! 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Thanksgiving weekend is upon us and I look forward to time with friends and family but also time for a good read- something thought provoking yet entertaining …any recommendations?  
Thankful for Thanksgiving

Dear Thankful for Thanksgiving,  My book group last week discussed a modern classic REMAINS OF THE DAY by Kazuo  Ishiguro and we all agreed it was a wonderful choice.  While many had seen the award winning movie, few of us remembered reading this 1989 Nobel Prize winning novel.  Set in the early 1950’s, it is told from the first person perspective of Stevens, an aging British butler. Stevens had spent much of his life in the service of Lord Darlington and is now employed by a wealthy American  – as part of “a package”--the American  is the new owner of Darlington Hall and Stevens heads the staff that accompanies the manor.  Stevens thinks back on his unquestioning loyalty to a man who is revealed to be a Nazi sympathizer and a mediocre dabbler in world politics.  When he has the opportunity to travel the back roads of England, Stevens decides to visit Miss Kenton, a woman he had worked with decades before.  As he reminisces about their years together, we begin to realize there was great affection between them that was never articulated.  When Stevens meets her, she is unhappily married and voices  regret over choices she has made.  Stevens obviously is moved but even now cannot reveal his true feelings.  A story of remembrance and regret as these characters view the “remains of their days….”   Highly recommended!