Friday, June 21, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I am looking forward to this these last days of June. There is such a feeling of anticipation and excitement with summer’s fun and freedom lying ahead. School will be closing, Story Time at Sea Cliff Beach begins, and Sunset Serenades start. Of course, in the midst of all this, I always find time to read.  Do you have a good book to recommend?
Swooning Over the Start of Summer

Dear Swooning, My book club just read TRUST EXERCISE by Susan Choi. This is a perfect start for your summer reading. Beautifully written with a complex storyline, the novel begins in July, the early 1980’s.  David and Sarah are fifteen and about to fall in love. They attend an elite school for the performing arts.   From radically different backgrounds, the two students find themselves in a life-changing situation as friends and faculty look on.  Their instructor suggests a series of trust exercises for the students, but we are also asked to exercise trust in what we see and hear.    As the timeline moves forward to the present, we realize there is much we do not know.  In fact, we may have been manipulated or misled, and it becomes obvious the identity of the narrator is crucial to our understanding.   A challenging book, but well worth the time and energy - recommended!

Dear Great Book Guru, Next Sunday is Father’s Day and we are planning a lovely day at Sea Cliff Beach, starting with a delicious breakfast at the Beach CafĂ©. Jennifer Angliss Desane is doing a spectacular job with a great menu, scrumptious food, and enthusiastic staff. Afterwards, we will all sit under those striped umbrellas and read the afternoon away! Looking for a short novel with a complex moral dilemma - any thoughts? Father’s Day Fan

Dear Father’s Day Fan, My book club is reading INCENDIARIES by R.O. Kwon and it is truly an outstanding debut novel.  Written from the perspectives of three Korean Americans, this 224-page book studies the impact of religious fervor on the lives of three young people.  Will is a scholarship student at a prestigious university (perhaps Yale?) where he meets Phoebe, also a student who is in mourning for her mother who died in a car accident caused by Phoebe.  John Leal, a former student, has returned to campus after having been jailed by the North Korean government while leading a humanitarian rescue mission. Their lives intersect when Leal forms a revolutionary group and recruits Phoebe, despite Will’s misgivings.   Soon we begin to question who is the narrator and - most importantly –
can we believe him/her?  Ultimately, we are left doubting everything we have read.  Recommended!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, I just checked my calendar of special events and noticed next week is Bloomsday.  Do you know of any local celebrations of this Joycean wonder?                    Bloomsday Bon Vivant

Dear Bloomsday Bon Vivant, The James Joyce Jaunt is the event for you! As most of my readers know, Bloomsday is celebrated every year to commemorate the day James Joyce’s ULYSSES takes place: June 16, 1904.  Joyce spent most his life in self-imposed exile, but he wrote obsessively about one place and one place only - his birthplace: Dublin, Ireland.  In ULYSSES, we follow three main characters through day into night- seeing and experiencing Dublin as they did. But ULYSSES is more than the portrait of one city on one day - it is also a study of the epic wanderings of the Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses) - mocking the wanderings of the most unlikely of heroes: Leopold Bloom.  On Wednesday, June 12 at 7pm the James Joyce Society of Sea Cliff led by Fred Stroppel and Dan DiPietro will walk the streets of Sea Cliff/Dublin stopping at parallel locations along the way. Beginning at the Sea Cliff Water Tower/Martello Tower, the group will stop among other places: Still Partners/Davey Byrnes Pub, Headless Park/Nelson’s Pillar, Memorial Park/Sandymount Strand and finish up 76 Main Avenue/7 Eccles Street. There will be dramatized readings by costumed actors at each of the stops with period music throughout.  If you are planning on attending the James Joyce Jaunt, stop by 76 Main Avenue to pick up a handy guide to this iconic event. Copies will be in a basket on the porch.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru,  Saturday, June 1 is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Village-wide Garage Sale and I always find such great things especially at the Friends of the Library sale on the Village Green. After the sale is over, I’m sure I’ll have time for a good book.  Could you recommend a recent favorite of yours?   Garage Sale Guru

Dear Garage Sale Guru, Years ago I read a wonderful book WISH YOU WERE HERE by Stewart O’Nan. Last month its prequel HENRY, HIMSELF was published and it is as wonderful as its predecessor. In HENRY,  HIMSELF, O’Nan captures the tiny, seemingly insignificant moments that make up a life.  In many ways O’Nan reminds me of the author Barbara Pym - their characters take comfort in the daily distractions which both authors describe in precise and poetic detail. In a series of vignettes, we follow Henry as he shops (on double coupon days), trains his dog, arranges a Valentine’s Day celebration for Emily - his wife of many years - frets over holiday plans with his grown children, and  mournfully attends the funeral of his longtime physician.  We trace Henry through one year and by its end, we have grown to know and love him for all his pettiness, insecurities, and gentle kindness. Henry is indeed Everyman… highly recommended!     

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff is special all seasons of the year, but late Spring is particularly wondrous. This Monday is Memorial Day with its early breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library, followed by a spirited parade through the streets of Sea Cliff and ending with a bittersweet, poignantly beautiful ceremony at Clifton Park. Over this long weekend, I am sure there will be time for a good book. Any thoughts? Memorial Day Observer

Dear Memorial Day Observer, I recently reread a very compelling book: CITY OF FALLING ANGELS by John Berendt.  Berendt is best known for his book about Savannah, Georgia - MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. Using a similar format, he writes about Venice, Italy.  Arriving three days after a massive fire that destroyed La Fenice - Venice’s iconic opera house - Berendt delves into the many forces that contribute to the beauty, magic, and mystery of this city.  In alternating chapters, we meet a master glassblower whose people have lived in Venice for over five hundred years and we learn of a feud that has been consuming his children for decades. Later we meet a poet who is being blackmailed and is found dead. Was he murdered? An internationally renowned Rat Poisoner is another character we meet and come to love. Somehow the twenty or so characters come together, but ultimately the most colorful character is Venice – such a strange and beautiful city.  Highly recommended!  

Saturday, May 18, 2019

 Dear Great Book Guru, Flowers are blooming and spirits are shining in Sea Cliff throughout the merry month of May.  Now I must have a book to match this beautiful time of year.  I’m looking for a novel – under 300 pages set in a lovely time and place.  Any thoughts?   Marveling in May

Dear Marveling in May, NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney is the book for you…. Set in present day Ireland shifting between Dublin and Carricklea - a small town in County Sligo - this beautifully written,  thought-provoking novel traces the relationship of Marianne and Connell. When we first meet them as sixteen year-olds, Marianne is a social misfit of sorts, scorned by her schoolmates, while Connell is a hugely popular athlete and academic star. His mother is a domestic worker and Marianne’s a prominent attorney.   While the teens become close friends, Connell is ever fearful his schoolmates will learn of their relationship.  When they enter Trinity College in Dublin, the nexus changes. Connell is the misfit and Marianne the star - largely because of class and privilege.  For the next four years, they consistently misread each other’s actions and their friendship falters. Throughout, Rooney presents her characters’ insecurities and vulnerabilities as a mirror of today’s economic and societal failings.   Recommended!

Dear Great Book Guru, I am planning a long weekend in Venice next week and I have prepared mightily with a very ambitious itinerary. But before we leave,  I would love to read a novel set in this magical city.  Any recommendation? Eager Visitor to Venice

Dear Eager Visitor to Venice, What a beautiful time of year to be in Venice and I have a wonderful book for you:  Donna Leon’s UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN. Her protagonist, Police Inspector Guido Brunetti, is a lover of opera, fine food and wine, and the Greek classics.  He is devoted to work and family - his wife Paola, a university professor, a teenage son and daughter, and his wealthy in-laws Count and Countess Falier. When the Count askes him to investigate an elderly friend who is acting mysteriously, Brunetti is reluctant to interfere, but when the friend dies unexpectedly, he finds himself deeply involved.  What is the nature of love, of fatherhood, of friendship? All these are questions Brunetti considers against the backdrop of the majestic beauty of Venice. Throughout, tender concerns of everyday life mingle seamlessly with larger issues of morality and mortality. This is Leon’s 28th novel and her hero continues to face life’s challenges with his characteristic humor, insight, and stoicism.  Highly recommended!