Monday, December 21, 2009


Dear Great Book Guru, I have just finished my last exam after my first semester in law school and I have three weeks to read whatever I want. Do you have something to get me started on my reading marathon? Legal Lizzie

Dear Legal, I hope your exams went well and yes, I have a wonderful book for you- MR. IVES' CHRISTMAS by Oscar Hijuelos. When we first meet Mr. Ives it is 1954, he is a successful New York businessman in a loving marriage with two adored children. He is deeply religious and, as Charles Dickens would say "a man who knew how to keep Christmas." Shortly into the book tragedy befalls Ives with the murder of his seventeen- year- old son on Christmas morning. The rest of the book deals with Ives's struggle to find spiritual peace after this devastating loss. While this might seem like a strange choice for holiday reading, there is something wonderfully comforting and uplifting about this book. Perhaps it is Ives's gradual transformation from a hollow grieving man to a gloriously forgiving redemptive figure. In some ways this can be seen as a contemporary version of THE CHRISTMAS CAROL, except, of course, Ives, unlike Scrooge, was always a good man . In this novel we also see New York City undergo a similar transformation from the gritty 50's to the present. You will find yourself thinking over and over about Mr. Ives and his journey .

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Dear Great Book Guru- I am looking for something to read over the holidays. What would you recommend? Mistletoe Mary
Dear Mistletoe, I am so glad you asked! I just read an amazing play by Frederick Stroppel-Christmas Spirit. This play is very, very funny and very, very sad. It reminds me of Wilder's Our Town, but better! The characters are well developed and oh so familiar. The premise is that Julia, a 72 year-old woman, is visited by a spirit who predicts her death will occur on the following day- Christmas. Her efforts to avoid this fate are filled with brutal, touching humor as she tries to make amends with her family while showing the spirit the joys of a "genuine family Christmas." The ending is startling and poignant. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great Book Guru III

Dear Great Book Guru, What is your Books and Bagels group discussing this week? Curious

Dear Curious, Our latest selection is Being Mrs. Alcott by Nancy Geary. I heard Geary speak many years ago at a Mystery Writers Brunch in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. She was young, first time writer and very nervous but strangely compelling. I bought her book Misfortune and liked it very much. It was set in the Hamptons and had an odd assortment of characters with puzzling family connections. I'll write in more detail about this book in a future column. Back to Being Mrs. Alcott.... This is her latest and is not in the mystery genre. It is a disturbing look at a woman marrying in the 1960's and living through and up to the present time. Her acquiescence to father, brother, sons, and husband is painful almost to the point of disbelief, but her voice rings true. Any book that traces a life from early optimism to its tragic unfolding is heartbreaking and this one certainly is. While one can certainly question her choices, her basic goodness is apparent throughout, making it all the more difficult to read. Highly recommended!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Great Book Guru II

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff is so beautiful this time of year with all those colorful leaves falling and swirling about. Do you have any books that bring this time of year to mind? Fall Fancier

Dear Fancier, Just today I was walking through the back streets of the Village, when I came upon a friend vigorously raking leaves. Quizzing him, I said," Charles, what book does this scene remind you of?" Quickly, he answered, " A FEW GREEN LEAVES by Barbara Pym." This book , a favorite of mine, is most appropriately read in late autumn . Pym writes of a small, unrestored medieval village just aside of present day London. A young author of romance novels retreats to the small village to find new sources for her next book. Her neighbors include eccentrics, , rectors, a restaurant reviewer, a gerontologist, a television celebrity, and a local historian among others. In creating these perfect miniatures, Pym offers us a glimpse of a village that is touched by time ever so lightly but ever so empathically. In its architecture and topography it is is of another age but the lives of its citizens are very much impacted by contemporary issues. Written with Pym's usual attention to small, humorous, character-defining details , this novel is a joy to read. Of all her works , this most reminds me of Sea Cliff.

Great book Guru I

Dear Great Book Guru, Do you have a favorite author and if so a particular work to recommend? Looking for the Best of the Best

Dear Looking, How can I answer this? It is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. Favorite restaurant-easy: Nizza in NYC; favorite opera: Mozart's Marriage of Figaro; favorite spot in the world: SeaCliff, NY, but a favorite author- impossible! However I do have many writers whose works I love and Anne Tyler is one of these. She has written 17 novels over 30 years and a new one is coming out next month. Her novels are similar in that they feature quirky, loveable families dealing with crisis and change over an extended period of time. Her latest novel Digging to America(2006) is about two very different families who share a common experience- the adoption of daughters from Korea. The Donadsons, a boisterous Baltimore family, and the Yazdams, whose reserved matriarch Maryam came to America from Iran 35 years and still feels very much the outsider, form an ongoing friendship which we come to observe in much detail as the girls grow and celebrate the milestones of childhood. The families follow radically different parenting styles with the Donalsons choosing a Korean name, clothing and language classes for their daughter while the Yazdans name their daughter Susan and envelop her in American culture. The title comes from the attempts of both families to find meaning or "roots" in their lives. I have loved all of Tyler's novels and would recommend any of them.