Sunday, February 17, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Friends and I gathered for a pre-Valentine dinner last weekend. Over a fabulous winter soup, we discussed at length the state of the republic and many people mentioned a favorite of yours, HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE, but someone said there was a new book out with a similar theme. Are you familiar with it?   Valentine Politico

Dear Valentine Politico, MORTAL REPUBLIC by Edward J. Watts is a fascinating look into the fall of Rome and the parallels that exist in the United States today. What brought down the Roman Republic? Corrupt leaders, pestilence, civil war, and foreign interference all played a role in its end, but Watts believes it was the Roman people - who ultimately chose the comfort of living under the power of one man rather than the arduous task of maintaining a representative government.  Income inequality, bribe-taking, voter suppression, condoning of violence, the breakdown of norms - all contributed to the gradual downfall of the Republic.  The Roman system of governance lasted for centuries but it was not immortal – a fact Romans refused to accept.  There was an overriding belief that its strength would prevail because it had endured so well for so long.  When a series of natural disasters - massive flooding, fires, famine and a series of bizarre storms – beset Rome, the citizens were primed to give up their freedom to a charismatic dictator who promised them deliverance… and thus ended the Roman Republic. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I had a fun NOT Super Bowl party last Sunday with  great food and even greater conversation… about books seemingly overlooked by the critics.  My choice was Mona Simpson’s MY HOLLYWOOD – a novel I read many years ago that deals with the complex, often painful relationship between parents and the women who care for their children. Has Simpson written anything else you would recommend? 
Not a Fan of Football
Dear Not a Fan of Football, Recently I read CASEBOOK by Mona Simpson. In this novel, we meet Miles as a precocious nine year-old in 2000 who is curious about the comings and goings of the adults in his life. Using the primitive tools of the time, he is able to monitor his parents’ conversations – often with humorous misinterpretation. But soon he realizes things are not as he thought, and their divorce is imminent. Over the next ten years he continues his sleuthing – using the ever more sophisticated technology we all have at our disposal. There is a prevailing sense of mystery, drama, and comedy as we follow the lives of his parents, their new mates, his siblings and his friends - all set within the glitzy, grubby world of southern California.  An interesting look into family dynamics and dysfunction from a not always reliable but always sympathetic narrator….recommended!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, The Sea Cliff Civic Association is hosting a wonderful Valentine’s event on Friday, February 8 from 7:30 to 9:30pm at the SC Yacht Club. It will be Love Stories from folks who have appeared on NPR. Last year, it was sold out so I am getting my $15 in this weekend, but first I am looking forward to reading a “can’t put down” novel.  Any recommendation?  
Valentine Gala Goer
Dear Valentine Gala Goer, My book club just read a horrifying yet fascinating novel by Leila Slimani: THE PERFECT NANNY.  The story opens with the words “the baby is dead.”  The rest of this 220 page book tells the story of two women: Myriam the mother of two children and Louise the children’s nanny.  Louise is a magical addition to the household - the chaos of daily life is transformed to immaculate, peaceful orderliness.  The children are well behaved, meals are delightful, and Myriam finds a calm that has eluded her since becoming a mother. Louise takes pleasure in her duties and all seems idyllic until the unthinkable occurs. The complex relationship that exists between a mother and her nanny is brutally described. At times Myriam is in control but then we see Louise move to a position of power; ultimately the economics of worker and employer prevail. Louise lashes out in the only way she sees possible.  This is a very difficult book to read and one you will not forget. Highly recommended!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last weekend I was at a delightful dinner with friends (most delicious butternut squash soup ever!) where someone mentioned a new book about Lake Success -a neighborhood bordering Queens and Nassau- a place many of us knew. Are you familiar with this novel?
Dining with Delight

Dear Dining with Delight, LAKE SUCCESS by Gary Shteyngart is the story of one man’s search for the perfect life. Barry Cohen is a forty-five year-old Princeton grad who manages a billion dollar hedge fund and lives a life of incredible wealth and good fortune with $20, 000 glasses of whiskey and an extensive collection of million dollar watches. When we first meet Barry in 2016, his fortunes have just taken a hit - his perfect wife despises him, his perfect child has been diagnosed as severely autistic, his perfect hedge fund is collapsing, and Barry himself is being pursued by the FBI for insider trading. His solution is to board a Greyhound bus and travel cross country in search of a long-lost college girlfriend who will make his life perfect again. Barry is a supremely narcissistic character that both horrifies and fascinates us. This Master of the Universe offers us a glimpse into a world in which most of us are outsiders looking on from the shores of a mythical Lake Success.  Recommended!   

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a Family Holiday Party in Point Lookout last week and one of my cousins mentioned a novel her book club was reading. It sounded interesting but also disturbing; the author was Christopher Yates but she couldn’t remember the title.  Any thoughts?  Point Lookout Partygoer

Dear Point Lookout Partygoer, GRIST MILL ROAD by Yates is indeed a disturbing book and a great book club selection.  The novel opens in 1982 as a twelve year-old boy watches his best friend tie up and shoot a thirteen year old classmate. His description of the girl’s injuries is horrific and his guilt ridden inertia and cool fascination startling.  The book quickly shifts to 2008 where we meet the three characters now grown and bizarrely connected.  The remainder of this literary mystery shifts back and forth between 1982 and 2008 as each of them tells the story of that devastating moment from a different perspective.  We soon realize that things were not as we first thought and there is much shared guilt.   We see how the shooting has impacted their lives especially that of the onlooker, and our sympathy shifts from one character to the next as we learn about their early years and the painful adversities that shaped each of them.  Highly recommended!    

Monday, December 31, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  At our usual New Year’s Eve celebration: movie (this year VICE the Dick Cheney story), dinner, dessert, and the ringing of the bell on the Village Green- we all vowed to read more books in 2019.  Do you have any suggestions to get us started?   Reading Reveler 2019

Dear  Reading Reveler 2019, Great idea and I have a list of ten favorite Great Book Guru recommendations from the past year.  My #1 choice would be HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE- a book whose ideas have reverberated with me throughout the year.  The others are listed here in no particular order, but all were great favorites and highly recommended.  You can read reviews of these by going to

5.      THE FRIEND
9.      BAD BLOOD

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,   I am completely enthralled with all the wonderful  holiday festivities beginning with the Winter Solstice-  but I  do think it is a good time to pause for a moment and consider the years ahead and the years behind. Do you have something to suggest- remembering it must be short, very short and very meaningful…  
Holiday Celebrant
Dear Holiday Celebrant,  Every year around this time,  I read Thornton Wilder’s play THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER.  It is in many ways reminiscent of his more famous “Our Town” but Wilder uses just one event – a Christmas dinner- to show the passage of time. The set is simple: a long table festooned with holiday baubles around which the characters are seated.  Over forty minutes- the length of the play- ninety years of Christmas dinners are celebrated.  We meet them as young people, sometimes infants, elderly relatives, thriving businessmen and women, fathers, mothers, aunts- with the table being the only constant.  Deaths occur as characters exit through portals on stage and costumes are kept at a minimum with white wigs used to show characters’ aging.  Throughout we sense a beautiful symmetry as time passes and life is renewed.  A wonderful reading anytime of year, but particularly this week- highly recommended!