Monday, September 17, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I received an invitation to the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Newcomers Welcoming Party.  I am so excited to be meeting my fellow newcomers – apparently there will be at least thirty of us attending. Of course, we will all be sharing Sea Cliff origin tales, but if I need an additional conversation starter, do you have a good book I can bring up to discuss?  Newcomer to Sea Cliff
Dear Newcomer, You will have a wonderful time at the party, but you are wise to have a good book in your repertoire.  I recently read Ronan Farrow’s WAR ON PEACE- a fascinating account of how the United States has abandoned its peace-makers.   His main focus is his former boss, Richard Holbrooke, a much praised, much reviled diplomat who served under many presidents.  Ironically, for such a master diplomat, Holbrooke was viewed by many as acerbic and unrelenting.  Farrow presents this incredibly gifted yet flawed man as a metaphor for the state of diplomacy in Washington today. Another figure he includes is Robin Raphel, a classic diplomat who did her job so well she was brought up on charges of espionage.  She was eventually cleared but was left with huge legal bills and no job.   The book ends on a pessimistic note- when diplomacy is shunned, war is the outcome.  Highly recommended!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, This week a group of friends and I saw a fascinating movie “The Wife” starring Glenn Close.  When the credits began to roll, we realized that the movie was based on a recent novel.  My book group plans on reading and comparing it to the film.  Any thoughts on this plan? 
Movie Maven

Dear Movie Maven, I think this is a great idea.  After seeing the film, I read the book THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer and thoroughly enjoyed both: the differences, the similarities, the overall theme.  The book is narrated by Joan Castleman, the wife in question; it opens as she and her husband, a world renowned author, are headed to Helsinki where he will receive yet another prestigious literary award. We learn in the opening paragraphs that Joan plans to end the marriage when they return home. The novel then shifts back to the couple’s first meeting in the 1950’s when Joan was a freshman at Smith College and Joe, a young instructor- husband to Carol and father of an infant daughter. Joe and Joan leave Smith in disgrace, moving to Greenwich Village where he begins his writing career with a hugely popular, autobiographical novel. Wolitzer shifts back and forth over forty-five years- from their courtship and marriage and then back to the present. What we learn about them and the world we all share is shockingly familiar, especially with recent revelations of women’s struggles in multiple arenas.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, This Saturday September 8 will be the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Movie Madness at Roslyn Park. The fun will start around 7pm and everyone is invited.   I’m getting there early to set up my blanket and picnic dinner, but I would like something exciting to read while I’m waiting for the show to begin.  Any ideas?  
Movie Madness Maven.
Dear MMM, I just finished a crime noir novel with a strong feminist bent that I think you will enjoy: GIVE ME YOUR HAND by Megan Abbott.  Abbott has written a number of books using different milieus but always featuring strong women and intricate female friendships.  This latest novel probes the internecine conflict in a research lab where post docs vie for positions in a project headed by the formidable Dr. Servin, a woman of great fame and much mystery.  Into this volatile mix comes Diane Fleming a childhood friend and adversary of Kit Owens, long standing member of the lab. Years before the two women had shared a secret that now returns to haunt them both as they compete in this politically charged arena. An explosive tale of passion, obsession, and deceit- recommended!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  My family and I are planning a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard next week and I would like to suggest a book we could all read and then discuss.  I think non-fiction might work best.  Any ideas? 
Family Book Discussion Devotee
Dear Family Book Devotee,  I have a wonderful book your will love and enjoying discussing: FANTASYLAND by  Kurt Anderson.  Anderson gives us a sweeping history of America from the 1500’s until the present time- coming to the startling conclusion that Americans have always been drawn  to fantasy. Starting with our reverence for our Puritan forefathers who pledged to take down Quakers, Catholics, and most other Protestants, followed quickly by the myth- making of George Washington’s cherry tree escapades, our fellow countrymen and women have reveled in the magical, the pseudoscience, the great con.  Having been founded by dissident zealots, America became home to many fantastical religions, conspiracy theorists, and truth benders.  Anderson names Buffalo Bill Cody as the exemplar of this credo.  Cody toured the country fake-scalping actors playing warrior chiefs and then actually began killing real warrior chiefs while in costume.   Later generations were taken with UFO sightings and diabolical interventions.  He also questions the increasing infantilization of Americans  and the increased interest in fantasy versus reality.   Finally, we have to ask ourselves, what will the American people accept as truth?   Recommended!   

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, I have been invited to a “Great Gatsby Gala.”  It has been many, many years since I read THE GREAT GATSBY.  Any suggestions as to how I should prepare?  
Gatsby Gala Guest
Dear Gatsby Gala Guest, What fun awaits you! First, of course, reread THE GREAT GATSBY.  You will be astonished how much you missed your first time.   Next, I would read Maureen Corrigan’s SO WE READ ON: HOW THE GREAT GATSBY CAME TO BE…. A long time book reviewer for NPR’s Fresh Air show, Corrigan examines the novel with great enthusiasm and personal affection.  She believes it to be indeed the greatest of the Great American Novels with prescient commentary on race, class, and gender.  When first published, it was viewed as a crime noir with its violent deaths, femme fatales, and mobster connections.   Later it was appreciated for its commentary on the quixotic American dream of redemption.  Then for many years, it was seen as a cautionary tale of the danger of passions pursued. Today many readers admire it for its lyrical prose and profound metaphors.  Corrigan traces all of these reactions and then brings us back to her high school in Astoria, Queens where she first read GATSBY. And as Fitzgerald wrote, “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.”  Highly recommended!  

Monday, August 6, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, I love August in Sea Cliff- it is as if time has stopped.  Everything and everyone moves more slowly, voices are lower, music is softer. There is a magical Brigadoon quality to the entire Village- a perfect time to read a new book- something a little unusual. Any ideas?   August Acolyte

Dear August Acolyte, A few weeks ago, I read an unusual book with an equally unusual title: THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP by Joanna Cannon.  The title relates to a biblical parable about judgment day when the good and the bad will be recognized for their deeds.  But the trouble for the young narrator of this novel, Grace and her friend Tillie, is that the goats and sheep seem one and the same. Set in an English suburb first in the summer of 1976 and then back in time to 1967, the book centers on two mysteries: the recent disappearance of a neighborhood woman Mrs. Creasy and that of  a baby girl ten years earlier.  How are the two time periods and the two missing characters connected?  Grace is an amusing, perceptive, but ultimately unreliable narrator. The dynamism of the book rests in its six main characters - each with a backstory that ultimately explains the strange happenings on this one very British block.  When the mystery is finally solved, we realize there have been many goats in sheep’s clothing and none should be judged.    Recommended!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,   This is the half way mark for my favorite summer event: Sunset Serenades. With five concerts completed and five more to go, this is a good time to acknowledge the people that make these wonderful evenings possible.  Petrice Kaider proposed this concert concept sixteen years ago to the Sea Cliff Civic Association. The idea was quickly embraced, and every year since she has lined up an amazing group of musicians.  In addition, she and her husband Walter Kaider see that the lights are shining for every Serenade,  Civic Association Board members provide the refreshments, and all of Sea Cliff gets to enjoy a summer of beautiful music.  Now, please recommend a good book for an early August read.  
Grateful in Sea Cliff
Dear Grateful in Sea Cliff, Recently,  I read J. Courtney Sullivan’s SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS.   Reminiscent of Mary Gordon’s early works and Colum Toibin’s BROOKLYN, this novel is a family saga set  over  fifty years,  two continents,  and  told from the perspectives of  sisters Nora and Theresa.  We meet these women as young girls in rural Ireland as they prepare to emigrate to America.  Much of the story is set in Boston from 1967 to 2009 as the two women carve out very different lives in their new home.   Secrets are gradually revealed and we come to realize there are few villains and some unlikely saints in this story.  Highly recommended!