Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have just returned from a fabulous trip to Venice with my family.  We all had a great time and while we were there many people mentioned a mystery writer whose novels are  set in Venice.  I would love to relive my Venetian experiences reading these books. Who is this author? Searcher for Venetian Mysteries

Dear Searcher,  I am a huge fan of Donna Leon and have read all her mysteries- all set in Venice. I just finished her latest (she writes one every year): EARTHLY REMAINS.  Brunetti is a highly educated police commissario with an erudite Henry James scholar wife and two teenage children.  He faces life’s problems with  a benevolent stoicism.  In this her 26th novel in the series, Brunetti is spending two restorative weeks on one of Venice’s large islands. His days are filled with great food, philosophical conversations, and explorations of  the local  flora and fauna  Of course, there must be a crime, but as is always the case for Leon, it plays a minor role in this environmental , cultural, humanistic study of the world.  The victim is obsessed with the puzzling death of bees he has been cultivating over the years and his investigations lead him back to fifty years of mega industry’s polluting of the water and air around Venice and the world.  A wonderfully insightful book and highly recommended! 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Every year I attend the James Joyce Jaunt- Sea Cliff’s very own, unique celebration of Bloomsday. It begins by the Water Tower (think Dublin’s Martello Tower) and proceeds to Stenson Memorial Library where the story of Joyce’s ULYSSES unfolds. While I have read much of Joyce’s works in preparation for this event, I think I want a change of  mood and venue.  Do you have a quick moving , contemporary novel set in metropolitan  New York?  A James Joyce Jaunter

Dear James Joyce Jaunter,  I too am a huge fan of the Jaunt. Fred Stroppel and Dan DiPietro do an amazing job of making ULYSSES accessible and entertaining for Sea Cliff’s citizenry.  Last night I finished a novel by another Joyce: SMALL MERCIES. Eddie Joyce is not related to Dublin’s James Joyce, but I think you will find his work thought-provoking and worthwhile.  Set in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Westchester, and Manhattan, SMALL MERCIES  tells the tale of the extended Amendola family- parents, grandparents, children, and in-laws as they deal over the years with the death of a young son and husband in 9/11.   The story is told from multiple viewpoints, each adding a little more to our understanding of the Amendolas, the community  forces that shaped their lives,  and ultimately, the history we all share.  Highly recommended!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching .   I always look forward to the beautiful ceremonies throughout Sea Cliff, especially the breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library, followed by the piercingly poignant parade through the Village. With this long weekend ahead, I will have lots of time to get into a good book. Do you have a recommendation?  Memorial Day Marcher

Dear Memorial Day Marcher,   Yes, this weekend is one of memory and anticipation. Summer’s future glories lie before us as we pause to remember the past. Paul Auster’s enormous (867 pages) novel 4321 captures this in a startlingly unique way.  The numbers in the title reflect the four possible lives of one young man.  In Chapter 1.0 we meet Ferguson as he is born on March  2, 1947, son of Stanley and Rose.  From then on, each of  its seven chapters is divided into four parts beginning with 1.1.  – each part offering us a different version of Ferguson’s life. Same boy – varying outcomes-  but with some constants:  he loves Amy, films, music, baseball, and writing, Rose is a photographer and Stanley, a businessman; throughout Ferguson is enmeshed in the politics and culture of the 60’s. Beyond these, we see the effects of chaos and chance.  Death comes early to one while the other three see extraordinary differences in fortune, health, love, friendship, and success.  This fascinating novel poses the question we all ask ourselves about our own lives: what if…?  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, We are going to a beautiful wedding in a small village two hours outside of Barcelona,  and I would like to have a good book for the plane ride.  I have a few novels on my Kindle but I would like a thought-provoking piece of non-fiction. Any thoughts?   A Very Excited Wedding Guest

Dear Very Excited….Last night I finished a wonderfully challenging book that will make your plane ride fly: UTOPIA FOR REALISTS by Rutger Bregman.  Bregman is a young Dutch philosopher/economist with startling ideas about reconstructing society. He recounts the history of utopia going back to the 13th century where “The Land of Plenty” was described in exquisite detail- plentiful meats and sweets and peace enjoyed by all. He offers an interesting albeit controversial take on how modern society can create a Utopian society in three steps: by instituting a universal basic income, a fifteen hour work week, and opening borders around the world. The United States during the presidency of Richard Nixon came days away from offering a basic $10,000 universal income only to be defeated by spurious data. Probably the most difficult piece to implement would be  the opening of all territorial borders, which Bregman sees as the simplest  way to equalize income.  While many may think his ideas quixotic, he presents them in such a forthright and optimistic manner that he makes  a Utopian world seems very possible- indeed probable. Highly recommended!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, I am getting together with my family for Mother’s Day and I want to suggest we start a book club.  We all live on Long Island and we all love mysteries. Most of us have read and enjoyed all of Michael Sears’s great books, so if you have something like those, it would be perfect.  Lover of Long Island and Mysteries

Dear Lover of Long Island and ….. I just finished a mystery your family might enjoy: WHERE IT HURTS by Reed Farrel  Coleman.  Gus Murphy is a retired Suffolk County Police officer whose life took a tragic turn with the death of his teenage son. As he tries to put his life back together, he finds himself embroiled in many mysterious events set throughout Long Island towns and villages.  Police malfeasance, gang warfare, and petty crime all figure in this dark tale.  A shuttle bus driver at a small motel, Gus meets many quirky characters in his search for answers to the most existential of questions.  With evil lurking in the most innocent of encounters, we watch as Gus takes chances only the most desperate of sleuths would allow themselves.  Recommended!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at the Friends of the Library gala “Fun-Raiser” last night-  and what fun it was!  A group of revelers was discussing a number of books including “Dog Whistle Politics, ” “White Trash,” “ The New Jim Crow Politics,” plus another title I can’t remember. I plan on reading all of them so can you help me with that last one?  A Fervent Fan of the Friends of the Library

Dear Fervent Fan of…  The Friends of the Library is a favorite of mine too and –yes- I have read the book you are interested in HILLBILLY ELEGY by J.D. Vance.  This is a bestselling memoir of a childhood spent in Ohio and Kentucky, the author’s years as a U.S. Marine, and finally his success as a Yale  Law School graduate. He writes of his upbringing in a household where violence and multiple addictions were counterbalanced by fierce family loyalties and an  intense love of country.  He writes of the many- as he sees them- bad decisions made by his family, while still maintaining a strong affection for them. The roles of government, racism, and culture in his family’s misfortunes are analyzed in detail interspersed with at times terrifying incidents from his boyhood. In the end, Vance denounces a culture of “helplessness” that he sees as integral to his family and community’s malaise, while underplaying the role of economics and  punitive government policy.  An interesting read but recommended with some reservation...  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,   I was at a Sea Cliff Baseball game the other day supporting my favorite team “The Artful Dodgers” when one of the parents mentioned a book he had particularly enjoyed.  It was by the same author who had written for the very popular TV series “Big Lies, Little Secrets.” Any thoughts? Fan of Sea Cliff Baseball

Dear Fan of Sea Cliff Baseball,  My book group just finished the novel you are interested in: TRULY, MADLY, GUILTY  by Liane Moriarty.  Set in Sidney, Australia, the book follows the lives of three couples before, during, and after a fateful barbecue. In short, time alternating chapters, we meet their parents, neighbors, and children and the suspense builds quickly as  we wait to find out  what did happen that night. The pivotal relationship is that of Clementine and Erika. An attractive, witty cellist and mother of two young children, Clementine finds herself resenting her lifetime friend Erika, an anxious accountant who has been emotionally damaged by her flamboyant hoarder mother.  When Erika’s wealthy neighbor Vid- think Tony Soprano- invites everyone to a lavish evening barbecue, truths are revealed, tragedies of varying proportions unfold, and no one leaves the garden unscathed.  The strength of this fast moving novel is Moriarty’s ability to make us care deeply for her characters while offering a satisfying, seamless conclusion.  Recommended!