Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
With the 2010 Christmas blizzard , I have been pretty housebound and am eager to get into a good book. The Sea Cliff Library is right down the block so give me some suggestions and I will be out the door in a minute. Snowbound Lover of Books

Dear Snowbound, What a great week to catch up on some good reading! Last week I was at a delightful Winter Solstice party with Lorraine Garry, a reader extraordinaire and she mentioned a favorite of hers (and mine) -CHARMING BILLY by Alice McDermott. McDermott grew up on Long Island so many of her books are set in Brooklyn and Queens -always with a strong Irish-American flavor. CHARMING BILLY is told from the perspective of a young girl about a family myth- a cousin so charming, so handsome, so tragic that he wins the hearts of all who meet him, but a man who is also a melancholy, defeated alcoholic . Billy's entire adult life is built on a lie- a lie told to him to ease a painful moment. Decades later when the truth is revealed, nothing changes- Billy and a host of other great Queens Irish- American characters continue to live their lives of quiet desperation and at Billy's wake, where the novel opens, new lies are told and a new generation of storytellers take over the task of "getting" things right.
Talking about getting things right- since 2000, Larry Gordon has gotten the Sea Cliff New Year's Eve bonfire just right. At around 11:30pm people from all over begin to gather at Clifton Park; at midnight, the bonfire is ablaze and 2011 begins! This is a simple, very moving ceremony that I encourage all of Sea Cliff to attend.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
I was at a wonderful event last weekend- the 21st Annual Sea Cliff Cookie Swap hosted by Elizabeth Weinstein in her beautiful home overlooking Hempstead Harbor. As usual the cookies were great and the company even better; during the evening, people began discussing their favorite books and one sounded particularly intriguing- PEARL by Mary Gordon. Have you read this book and if so, would you recommend it? Book and Cookie Lover

Dear Book and Cookie Lover, Elizabeth's cookie swaps are so much fun and I am delighted to know that her guests have such strong literary interests. PEARL is a favorite of mine, also, and a particularly appropriate choice for this time of year since the novel opens on Christmas Day in New York City. Maria has just received a call from the U.S. State Department that her twenty-year-old daughter Pearl is near death in Ireland after having gone without food for six weeks. Pearl is protesting the death of a young freedom fighter/terrorist . The remainder of the novel deals with Maria's attempts to convince Pearl that life is worth living despite the cruelties and injustices she sees all around her. She calls on the redemptive powers of art, beauty, and religion to win Pearl back. Gordon immerses us in present day Irish politics where we are left to ponder how government encourages the human propensity to destroy the weakest among us . At one point, Pearl asks her mother," Why is it that it is life we want?" Maria answers, "It seems we are meant to." With this answer, Pearl realizes her mother is no more certain than she. As the narrator directs us-" we will hope for the best."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I attended an amazing production of The Nutcracker in the Children's Library. Dan DiPietro was a very yogic Drosselmeyer and the Stroppel family served as a great production team, but in the midst of this holiday treat, I realized I had some serious gift shopping ahead. Do you have any recommendations you would like to share with me? Bewildered Gift Giver

Dear Bewildered, Just this very weekend my son Daniel suggested a book that you should include on your Christmas shopping list: Garry Wills' OUTSIDE LOOKING IN. Do you remember Woody Allen's Zelig-where the character Zelig turned up in every major historical event over a thirty-year span? Well, Garry Wills is our generation's Zelig. Wills' book is an autobiographical record of his life and times, and he was everywhere, with everyone, and into everything. Each chapter is devoted to a person who played an important role in his life- from Barry Goldwater to Studs Turkel, from Ronald Reagan to Beverly Sills, from Hillary Clinton to the Berrigan brothers. Richard Nixon's chapter is particularly interesting since it was Wills' biography of him- Nixon Agonistes- that laid bare the intricacies of the Nixon psyche and predicted his tragic fall. Another featured figure is William Buckley, the archetypical conservative writer, publisher, his first employer, and long time friend; in contrast, Wills describes in detail his time in prison with fellow Vietnam War protesters. A devout Catholic, he has written on the gospels, the rosary, the saints and Jesus… but he finds himself strongly at odds with most papal directives. The book is short -less than 300 pages- but the reader comes away with a strong sense of the last fifty years- all from a man who while being the outsider, became the confidant of scores of this country's icons- conservative and liberal.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I have seen flyers around town about a Christmas play written by Fred Stroppel being performed this Saturday. I am a bit of a Grinch and sentimental Christmas events are not high on my list of ways to spend the weekend. However, I have loved Fred's other works, so I am interested. Are you familiar with this play and, if so, would you recommend it? Holiday Grinch

Dear Grinch, THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT will be presented this Saturday evening at St. Luke's Church in Sea Cliff at 8pm and I strongly recommend it . Far from sentimental , this play deals with death and redempton in a darkly humorous manner. Julia Kennedy is a seventy-two year-old woman who finds herself sitting in her living room on Christmas Eve engaged in a fight for her life. The Christmas Spirit in the title is actually Death and he has come for Julia. She begs for more time and in exchange offers Death the chance to celebrate a family Christmas with all the trimmings. Her strange assortment of dysfunctional family members plus the local priest, some troubled young guests, and the Christmas Spirit- he calls himself Jack Frost- gather at Julia's invitation to celebrate the holiday. Life- altering secrets are revealed that offer hope …for a moment. Truth in advertising forces me to reveal that the Great Book Guru, after many years playing roles such as Macbeth's fourth witch, the silent Tropicana Girl, and Messenger #2, is the star of THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. . The cast has a great time performing this play; let's hope the audience enjoys it too. Call 516-214-4240 for reservations.
For those of you who prefer the more traditional- what about a reading of an abridged version of THE CHRISTMAS CAROL ? A few years ago, Fred and Liz Stroppel- yes, the same Fred of THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT-presented a great version at Sea Cliff School- but you could do this in your own living room as we have done for many years. The version we use- Stephen Krensky's- takes about an hour to read. Get out the eggnog and gather your friend and family for a great evening!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I am so excited- this is such a great Sea Cliff weekend: first, we have the Holiday House Tour on Saturday, the Artists' Crafts Fair in Village Hall, and then on Sunday, the annual Tree Lighting on the Village Green. With such a busy weekend, I am going to find it hard to find time for my reading and, as you remember, I vowed to spend part of every day with a good book. Do you have something short and easy but worthwhile? Regimented Reader

Dear Regimented, I am very impressed with your disciplined approach and I do have a wonderful book to recommend which meets all your criteria. My book group has committed to reading the four novels of Philip Roth that form what he calls his Nemeses series. It includes EVERYMAN, INDIGNATION, HUMBLING, and NEMESIS. The common theme that links these books is the belief that a single choice can define an individual's life. In each of these short novels, we meet someone whose life is inalterably changed because of one decision he has made. While I recommend all four, the one I suggest you read this weekend is INDIGNATION . In it, we meet a young college student growing up in the 1950's who leaves his family home in Newark, New Jersey to attend a small college in Ohio. He leaves to escape his father's smothering love and unrelenting scrutiny. His classmates, roommates, and teachers all reveal aspects of their personalities that profoundly impact our narrator hero. At the book's midpoint we are confronted with information that colors our entire view of the novel- what we have read and what we will read. INDIGNATION can and should be completed in one sitting which will surely leave you ample time to enjoy this special Sea Cliff weekend.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I was having breakfast at B Brown's yesterday, and a group of us started talking about our Brooklyn connections. Apparently, many Sea Cliff families either once lived in Brooklyn, have children who now live in Brooklyn, or wish to live in Brooklyn themselves ( leave Sea Cliff? temporary insanity, I know…) . I would love to read a book, preferably a novel, about present day Brooklyn. Any recommendations? Baffled by Brooklyn

Dear Baffled, I was just in Brooklyn this weekend visiting our daughter who has moved into a beautiful apartment in Fort Greene by the Manhattan Bridge. Later in the day, I read a new novel by Paul Auster - SUNSET PARK. Sunset Park is a section of Brooklyn pretty much untouched by the gentrification that has swept over large areas of the borough . The book opens in Florida where a twenty-eight year-old New Yorker is scrapping out a living cleaning foreclosed and abandoned homes. Miles Heller has dropped out of an Ivy League college and left his affluent Manhattan lifestyle for a number of tortured reasons we learn about gradually. In the midst of a new crisis, he receives an offer from an school chum offering him a share in an abandoned house in Sunset Park . In effect, he would join a small community of squatters who are awaiting eviction by the city marshalls, but are living day to day in hopes that "things will turn around." Each of the tenants narrates part of the overall story, and we soon realize that the faltering economy with its sagging real estate market, widespread unemployment, and pitifully low wages is the demonic anti-hero of this novel. For those of us used to the sparkle of Cobble Hill, the grandeur of Brooklyn Heights, the allure of Carroll Gardens, this is a sobering read.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
Thanksgiving will be here next week- it's one of my favorite holidays- but November is also the anniversary of another event- the JFK assassination in Dallas, Texas-47 years ago. Texas has always held a strange fascination for me so when I heard that there is a new book out about the Lone Star State, I was immediately interested ,but I can't remember the title. Any idea? Fascinated by Texas

Dear Fascinated, Yes, I love Thanksgiving too. We celebrate the whole weekend. On Friday the Calzonettis, the Gordons, the Kennedy-Hansmanns, and all the DiPietros join up to share stories and leftovers and follow up the next day with a tree- decorating party. But back to your Texas fixation: THE BIG RICH by Bryan Burrough is the book for you . Burrough grew up in Texas , moved East as a teenager, but retained a great interest in his native state. He focuses on four men whose oil fortunes created modern day Texas. He identifies them as "a good old boy, a scold, a genius, and a bigamist." The story opens in 1901 in Spindletop, a small town in southeast Texas where "black gold" is discovered. For the next forty years- until the world turned to the Middle East for its oil fix- Texas produced billions of gallons and consequently, billions of dollars. These men, their families, and most importantly, their money created the conservative movement that so colors the politics of present day America. Each man's story reads like fiction and one is left wondering -is it the immense size of the state that creates such larger than life figures? For many years, Texas succeeded in maintaining its sovereignty before becoming part of the union. The question is- would we all - Texans and the rest of us- have been better off if it had continued to go it alone?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I was on the boardwalk down by lovely Sea Cliff Beach last weekend when I met my friend Beth walking her dog Chester. Now Beth is a voracious reader and (I hate to admit this character flaw) I really wanted to impress her. Well, guess what ? I couldn't think of a single book I had read in the last six months. Obviously, I need your guidance- please suggest something: fast-moving, current, and worthwhile. Reluctant Reader

Dear Reluctant,I don't think there is a more beautiful place than Sea Cliff any time of the year, and its beauty can be distracting, so I completely understand your desire/need to set up a reading regimen . I have a wonderful book to start you off - ROOM by Emma Donoghue. The premise is troubling yet intriguing. The narrator, Jack, a five-year-old boy, has lived his entire life in an 11 x 11 foot room. Room is his universe and he finds it totally satisfying . He has never been aside this confined area, but his days are busy and productive thanks to Ma. She has developed a schedule of activities, readings, exercises, art projects and TV watching that fills their days. When they are finally able to leave, the adjustment of mother and child to the outside world is difficult at best - for the child who has known no other life and for the mother who struggled mightily to create for her child as good a life as possible. The story is told completely from the perspective of young Jack, using only his vocabulary, his interpretation of events, and his observations of life during and after the "room."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
This year I have decided to be very brave and host at the Sea Cliff Civic Association's annual Progressive Dinner. I'm not afraid of the meal- I have a reputation as a good cook- but I am afraid of awkward silences at the dinner table with six strangers waiting for me to move the conversation along. Can you think of a book I could bring up that would get everyone talking? Fledgling Host

Dear Fledgling,
How generous you are to open your home to six mystery guests and what fun you will have! My husband and I have been hosting the Progressive Dinner for many years and we always enjoy the evening tremendously. And, yes, I think I have just the book for you. We (joys of a family Kindle account) just finished THE HELLHOUND OF WALL STREET by Michael Perino, who teaches at St. John's University Law School; guaranteed there will be a graduate of St. John's at your dinner. The hellhound is Ferdinand Pecora, a Sicilian immigrant , a former New York City assistant district attorney, and yes, a summer resident of the lovely village of Sea Cliff. The story opens on a cold March day in 1933- the inauguration day of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The country was at its lowest point- unemployment was over 25%, thirty-eight states had closed their banks, malnourished children and adults filled the streets, and tents were all about, the only homes many of these people knew. Pecora as special counsel to the Congressional banking committee just days before had revealed the causes of the Great Crash of 1929. The scandals he unearthed and the reforms he was able to put in place were to change everything. The author does a masterful job describing the power for good that this one man wielded. Much to talk about, much to think about!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
Last week I was outside the library on Sea Cliff Avenue with my friends Margie, Darlene, and Dahlia. They were headed to the Methodist Church's Pumpkin Patch for some pumpkin-picking when I suddenly remembered: two days after Halloween… is Election Day! Do you have a book I might enjoy reading before exercising my civic duty? Virtuous Voter
Dear Virtuous,
You are to be commended for taking your voting rights so seriously. Actually, I just read a book that might be perfect for this pre-election week: BIG GIRLS DON'T CRY by Rebecca Traister. In this book the roles played by Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Edwards, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Katie Couric, and Rachel Maddox in the election's outcome are skillfully presented. In addition, Traister does a great job recounting the turbulent months leading up to the election . Although it was only two years ago, it's amazing to read and remember how much happened in that relatively short period of time. An extremely readable account of the 2008 primaries and election, BIG GIRLS… also looks at the women's movement of the last one hundred years and its ongoing impact. All in all, a thought-provoking read!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru
Last night I had a lovely dinner at a new restaurant in Sea Cliff- the Metropolitan Bistro. At the next table I noticed there was a book club meeting. The book was HALF A LIFE. Do you know anything about it? The discussion sounded very intense. Inquisitive Diner

Dear Diner , I, too, am a big fan of the Metropolitan Bistro (site of the old Tupelo Honey). The book you heard being discussed HALF A LIFE by Darin Strauss is an excellent and logical choice for a local book group. Strauss, best-selling author (CHANG AND ENG, THE REAL MCCOY, and MORE THAN IT HURTS YOU) grew up in the area and attended North Shore High School in the late 1980's. In his senior year at North Shore, a tragedy occurred than ended a classmate's life and darkened the rest of Strauss's. Driving along Shore Road across the harbor in Port Washington, his car hit a bicyclist who had veered across two lanes into his path, killing her. Now eighteen years later- half of his life- he writes of that day and the days, months, and years after that have haunted him. In many ways, it is a simple tale of a young man's guilt- however ill-founded -but the guilt of the survivor. As he experiences life's milestones- graduation, marriage, career successes, parenthood, there is always the thought: she will know none of this. The grief and anger her family feels is vividly portrayed and their ensuing law suit is described in crushing detail. We come to know and respect Strauss as he numbly goes through life and finally emerges from this tragedy- half a life later.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,

This weekend is the annual Sea Cliff Civic Association's Newcomers Welcoming Party. I have heard that there are over forty new residents (including me) coming to the party. It sounds like great fun. Do you predict there will be one or two books that everyone will be talking about at the party? Newcomer to Sea Cliff

Dear Newcomer, How lucky you are! The party which will be held at Laurie and Phil Martone's lovely home and catered by B. Brown's should be the social event of the season, and, yes, I will predict that MY HOLLYWOOD by Mona Simpson will be the book on everyone's must- discuss list. The lead characters are Claire and Lola, who narrate alternating chapters. Claire is a new mother recently transplanted from New York to California. She is a musician/composer whose career is floundering in its new setting. Lola is a fifty year-old woman who is hired as the nanny for Claire's infant son. She has emigrated from the Philippines to finance her daughter's medical school education . Claire's torturous introspections about her work, her home, her child, and her role as employer are brutally recounted. Lola quickly bonds with the other caregivers and emerges as a powerful force in their community. Throughout, we are confronted with the imbalance that exists between employer and employee and the troublesome dependence that evolves when childcare is outsourced. This is a book that leaves its readers, whatever their present situation, feeling uncomfortable. Also, sure to be discussed is Woody Allen's YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. I saw it with very discriminating friends this weekend, and we all agreed it was a wonderful movie, not to be missed. I hope you get a chance to see it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,

My friend Patty is celebrating her birthday this week and I know she loves nothing better than a good story . Can you recommend a book that has lots of characters and secrets and surprises that I might get for her? Birthday Enthusiast

Dear Enthusiast, I hope your friend has a wonderful birthday and what a good friend you are to think of her! The book I was thinking about that might meet your criteria is FAMILY ALBUM by Penelope Lively. The story opens in the present as a young couple reluctantly pull up to Allersmeade- a lovely, somewhat shabby Edwardian family home. They are greeted by Alison and Charles , the parents of six grown children, each with an interesting story. Always present, always in the background, is the family au pair/housekeeper Ingrid . The story line swings back from the present to the past , and back again many times. We are there when Alison and Charles meet and decide to marry. We are present at the many elegant family parties Alison orchestrates, and we are there when the secrets that color the family's history are finally revealed. Throughout we have Allersmeade - and Allison's dream of the perfect home for the perfect family- obviously a recipe for the perfect nightmare. This is a quick read, but it brings with it a lingering sense of melancholy that seems just right for this time of year.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,

Last week I was with my friend Kathy Calzonetti at KC Gallagher's having one of their fabulous burgers when we both spotted a very interesting book jacket. There was an iridescent bird in the forefront of a beautiful sunset. Kathy insists the book's content is as compelling as its cover. I think the title was FREEDOM. What are your thoughts? Bird and Burger Lover

Dear B and B, I have to agree with your friend- FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen- although close to 600 pages- is a fast, worthwhile read because of its cleverly topical plots and exquisite character descriptions. The story lines shift back and forth effortlessly, beginning in the 70's and continuing to 2009. Walter and Patty Beglund meet in a Midwestern college in the 70's, each with a family history of damage they want to rewrite. Their two children- earnest Jessica and manipulative Joey-, close friend Richard- a sometimes struggling, sometimes successful musician-, the lovely competent Lalith- Walter's assistant and muse-, and assorted other friends and foes make for a kaleidoscope of a people we have come to call the Baby Boomers. The lauded athlete, the conservationist, the arms dealer, the rock star, the fan groupie, the cat enthusiast, the bird watcher, the Born Again, the perennial adolescent, the good mother, the wandering spouse- no one escapes Franken's clever dissection. By the end of the novel we are left to answer the question- are any of us truly free or are we all hostages of our history- national and familial?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,

My friends Carol and Bob are going to Dublin for the first time and I'm jealous! Can you think of a book about Dublin that I could read and, yes, tour along with them vicariously? Armchair Traveler

Dear Armchair Traveler, The book I have in mind might be the perfect antidote for your pangs of jealousy . FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French is set in modern day Dublin but it is the gritty, hard living, crime-ridden city that is seldom seen by tourists. Frank Mackay grew up in a housing project known as Faithful Place but left as a teenager for many reasons: abusive father, irritating mother, damaged siblings, and most of all- a broken heart. Frank had been planning a secret midnight elopement to England with his girlfriend Rosie Daly. Rosie never showed up that night but left a note indicating she had changed her mind. Neither Frank nor her family ever heard from her again. The next twenty-two years saw Frank marry, have a child, divorce, and become a highly regarded undercover Dublin police officer, but he remained tortured by what he saw as Rosie's betrayal . He never returned to Faithful Place until…. During a building demolition, Rosie's suitcase is unearthed and shortly after, her body is also found. Frank finds himself entangled with a people and a place he thought he had left forever. The author gradually intertwines past and present events until we come to the inevitable realization that terrible crimes have been committed and many are guilty. You will never think of Dublin without remembering the denizens of Faithful Place.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,

Last Sunday, I was at a wonderful lecture sponsored by the Sea Cliff Museum on the Rye Cliff Ferry fire of 1918. The speaker Glenn Williams made that day come brutally alive and Museum Director Sara Reres gave an enlightening introduction to Sea Cliff's love affair with the steamship. At the reception afterwards, I overheard a group of women discussing an upcoming book club selection- EVERY LAST ONE. They seemed visibly shaken by the book. Do you know this book and would you recommend it? Sea Cliff Museum Fan

Dear Museum Fan, How right you are! The Museum's Rye Cliff exhibit adds so much to our knowledge of Sea Cliff's past and present- apparently pieces of the boat still wash to shore. Interestingly, Sara Reres was one of the founders of that book club you mentioned- Bagels and Books. It's been meeting once a month for almost twenty years. Back to your question: EVERY LAST ONE by Anna Quindlen is a disturbing book on two levels. The first three quarters is an interesting portrait of middle class family life- preteen twin boys and a teenage girl, ophthalmologist father, and landscaper wife- whose concerns mirror those of so many families: prom dates, soccer cuts, sibling rivalry, drooping hydrangeas… until something happens which changes everything. I kept thinking of the quote" Nothing really matters very much and in the end nothing matters at all." If you have the emotional stamina, read this novel. If not, wait for another week's recommendation.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, With the approach of the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I wonder if you have a book that could help me understand how that horrific tragedy came about. After all these years, I am still confused and can't get seem to put all the players and events in place. Baffled

Dear Baffled, Last week, for my Sunday evening book group, I reread THE LOOMING TOWER by Lawrence Wright. This book came out in 2006 and won the Pulitzer Prize that year. Wright brings together in a series of 20 chapters the biographies of the leading figures in the 9/11 tragedy. The story begins in 1948 with the arrival in the United States of an Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutub ,who soon found himself at odds with American social mores. With his return to Egypt, he fathered the movement that eventually gave birth to Al-Qaeda. Other leading figures whose early lives are documented include the pivotal Osama bin Laden , the physician/strategist Ayman al-Zawaahiri who merged his jihad organization with Al-Qaeda increasing its power ten-fold, the revolutionary Ahmed Massoud who was assassinated moments before 9/11 began, Saudi and Egyptian politicians, and numerous FBI and CIA operatives . There were especially detailed portraits of John O'Neill and Richard Clarke, a prescient National Security coordinator. O'Neill's was possibly the most painful part of the book to read. He was a larger than life FBI leader, an extraordinarily dedicated patriot, and a morally flawed character who just a few days before the attack had begun a second career as head of security for the World Trade Center. Throughout the narrative, we have warnings and insights from O'Neill that, if followed, could have prevented the 9/11 tragedy . We come to know and admire the man so it is all the more difficult to read how he is betrayed by bureaucratic blunders and pettiness. For a moment, we are given hope that he has survived the attacks, but then in an ultimate act of bravery, he goes back into the towers and perishes. The title comes from a line recited by bin Laden"…wherever you are, death will find you in the looming tower."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I am feeling very sad today. My friends Deborah and Jay Fossett and their children have moved to Washington, DC. Do you have something for me to read that will help me adjust to the changes that accompany such a loss? Missing My Friends

Dear Missing, I know how you feel- the Fossetts were such wonderful friends to many of us here in Sea Cliff. We can hope the move is not permanent, but I do have something that you might enjoy reading and could help you. Whenever I need literary comfort, I always turn to the author Barbara Pym. Adapting to life's inevitable changes is the focus of many of her novels and SOME TAME GAZELLE in particular. The main characters are Harriet and Belinda Bede, two middle-aged sisters who have never married but are still eager for romance . The objects of their devotion are usually unsuspecting Anglican clerics. Throughout the novel, the Bedes' fierce love of life finds form in food, clothing, poetry, flowers, friends, and all those wonderful things that fill and enrich our daily lives. When the women are given the opportunity to leave their small village, each decides that it is far better to stay and enjoy these pleasures rather than leave. Change will come but the women know that as long as they have something to love "even some tame gazelle or some gentle dove" life is good. While I certainly do not like leaving lovely Sea Cliff ever, this weekend, my husband and I will be in Oxford, England at the annual Pym conference where Pym's characters take on lives beyond their novels in plays, papers, and academic discussions. For a Pym lover, this is close to Paradise!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends Diane, Sadie and I have recently begun yoga classes and we are very interested in the history of this ancient discipline. Do you have any books we might read to deepen our knowledge? Aspiring Yogi

Dear Aspiring, What an interesting topic! My husband who practices and teaches yoga to a select group of friends and family just received a gift from one of his students: THE GREAT OOM-THE IMPROBABLE BIRTH OF YOGA IN AMERICA by Robert Love. This is a fascinating biography of a young Iowan Perry Baker, who recreates himself as the exotic mystic/entrepreneur Dr. Pierre Bernard. Born in the 1870's, Bernard as a teenager stumbles upon the writings of Eastern spiritualists and becomes obsessed with their yogic message. In a truly American- Great Gatsby fashion, he seduces the wealthy, the socially connected, the local police, and the politicians of the day, allowing him to create a multi-million dollar empire. With this support, he is able to build a huge compound in Nyack, New York that housed multiple mansions, theaters, a circus menagerie, a baseball field and a race track. Author Love moved to Nyack a few years ago and found himself living in a cottage that had been part of this amazing estate. While many of us think yoga might have come to the United States with the Beatles in the "60's, author Love traces its American roots back to the Great Oom as Bernard was called. The book gives us a glimpse into that period immediately following World War I with its material excesses and its forays into spiritual and physical enlightenment. That the Great Oom could have convinced so many of the rich and powerful- the Vandebilts, the Goodrichs, the DeVries, and so many, many more (including the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger's parents) to follow his strict prescriptions concerning health, exercise, and morality is the most fascinating aspect of this work. In the end, we are left wondering - was the Great Oom, a well meaning philanthropist, a con artist, an astute businessman, a true mystic, a brash seducer of women, a control freak, the ultimate guru, or perhaps… all these things?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, The streets of Sea Cliff seem quiet and empty. Where is everybody? At least the Sea Cliff Library is open so I can check out some wonderful books and catch up with my remaining fellow citizens. Do you have a favorite book to recommend this week that I can check out? Library Lover

Dear Library Lover, Yes- it puzzles me too- why would anyone leave Sea Cliff ever, but people do. I know many Sea Cliff luminaries and the Great Book Guru herself choose Martha's Vineyard because it is so much like Sea Cliff, they can feel they have never left home at all. Talking about journeys- an interesting novel my book group read recently that you might enjoy was SILK by Alessandro Baraccio. This beautiful, haunting book is really a short novella (146 pages); it is set in France and Japan beginning in the 1840's and ends in 1874. Over his lifetime, Herve Joncour makes four journeys to Japan in search of perfect silkworms for the growing French silk industry. On each of these journeys, he meets with an enigmatic young woman. They never speak or touch, but the rest of Herve's life is dominated by his obsession with her. His beautiful and devoted wife Helene appears unaware of this strange love affair and it is only after her death that Herve realizes how stunted his life had become as a result of this obsession. The minute details of daily life is chronicled here against the sprawling backdrop of nineteenth century European and Asian history. SILK entertains and educates its readers in the most subtle of ways and leaves us pondering the question: can we ever truly know another ?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, As a dog lover myself, I have noticed that Sea Cliff is a veritable paradise for our canine brethren and home to many extraordinary dogs. Have you a book to recommend that has dogs as a theme? Canine Enthusiast

Dear Canine Enthusiast, Yes, there is indeed a bevy of beloved dogs here in Sea Cliff: Rusty, Chevy, Cuda, Chloe, the two Winnies, Lucky, Emma, Nelly, Rascal, Ariel and Oberon are just a few that come to mind. And, yes, I have a fascinating, albeit quirky, book in which dogs play a major role: DOGS OF BABEL by Carolyn Parkhurst who also wrote my great favorite - NOBODIES' ALBUM. DOGS OF BABEL opens with the death of a young scientist's wife. Was it murder, suicide, accident ? The only witness was the family dog. The grieving widower becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of his wife's death, so obsessed that he decides the only solution is to teach the dog to speak so it can tell him what really happened. We learn much about the physiology and psychology of dogs, but we learn even more about the intricacies of a marriage and its troubling legacy of guilt and grief. The characters are not particularly well-developed but there is an interestingly villainous subplot. After reading this book, you will never again look at a dog without wondering….."is it possible?"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, My family and I attend the Sunset Serenades at Memorial Park every Thursday and I don't know what I enjoy most: the music, the sunsets, or the crowd-watching. While at last week's Serenade, I overheard a fellow concertgoer saying that there is as much drama "here as in the new book THE THREE WEISSMANNS OF WESTPORT." Have you read it and, more importantly, would you recommend it? Sunset Serenade Fan Extraordinaire

Dear Extraordinaire, How I agree with you! The Civic Association's Sunset Serenades celebrated its tenth anniversary this summer and we all have Petrice Kaider to thank for this beloved Sea Cliff tradition. She came up with the idea herself and every year she singlehandedly organizes, schedules and tweaks the concerts , working on them from early winter until the final serenade of the season, which this year will be on Sept. 2. Back to the book, however: THE THREE WEISSMANNS OF WESTPORT by Cathleen Schine is yet another modern version of Jane Austen's SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. Here we have a mother and her two fiftyish daughters- one emotional and dramatic, the other bookish and reserved- banished from their beloved cavernous upper West Side apartment to a small beach cottage in Westport, Connecticut. The elderly mother has been cast from the family home because of a tangled, late- life divorce. Foolish old man, scheming younger woman, battling children, a sinking real estate market, imploding stock portfolios - all join together to make for a good summer read- nothing more, nothing less!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at Spooky Park this weekend where I saw a remarkable version of KING LEAR. The cast was amazing and the setting-despite the 100 degree temperature- magical. The theme of the aged parent and feuding children appears to be timeless. Can you think of a current novel that deals with this topic? Enthusiastic Theatergoer

Dear Enthusiastic, What a great performance and it certainly seemed as if the actors had even more fun than the audience! There is talk of a reprise in late September - I'll keep you informed. But back to a book recommendation: A THOUSAND ACRES by Jane Smiley is a modern day version of Shakespeare's tragedy with Lear and his daughters transported to a 1970's farm in Iowa . Larry and his three daughters, Caroline, Rose, and Ginny (notice the initials correspond to Lear, Cordelia, Regan and Goneril) live tortured lives with warring husbands, lovers, and sibling grievances all coming together to form an explosive ending. We are even given a rainy night scene on a heath/pasture. The interesting difference is that Smiley's version paints richly sympathetic portraits of all three daughters. Not so lucky are the men we meet , and the reader is hard pressed to see Larry/Lear as a noble figure brought down by foolishness, pride, and old age. Larry has none of Lear's redeeming characteristics so his downfall is less than tragic but makes for a rewarding tale, nevertheless.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, What a great Sea Cliff weekend- first the Civic Association's newest event the Summer Stroll, the Beach Committee's Movie Bash, and then the grand opening of Olives by the Sea! While standing with over a hundred other Sea Cliffers outside of Olives(corner of Summit and Central-across from Arata's) and listening to the group Crash My Party, I thought about a new book THE NOBODIES ALBUM which has as one of its subplots the culture of the music business. Have you read this book and, if so, would you recommend it to your readers?
Big Olives Fan

Dear Olives Fan,
Yes, this was quite the weekend- and you didn't even include the Crafts Fair at Memorial Park or Arts Council Show at the Library- quite a weekend indeed! NOBODIES ALBUM by Carolyn Parkhurst is a wonderful book and one I would recommend highly . The title comes from a young child's collection of songs that might have been but never were. Octavia Frost is a middle-aged novelist who is estranged from her very successful musician son- a son who is angry and guilty and very unforgiving of his mother's perceived transgressions. Her latest novel- also called The Nobodies Album- is collection of the last chapters of her novels each accompanied by a revised version of the chapter- a second chance at a happy ending, in a sense. When she learns that he has been accused of murder, she rushes across the country to be with him, wondering if this will be a chance to rewrite their past. A slip of paper is found with the words "Someone is lying" and the mystery begins to unfold. We meet a fascinating array of characters all with tortured pasts but none as tortured as her son's. The sins of omission and commission are many and the chances for redemption few, but mother and son cautiously struggle on. More than a mystery, more than a family drama- more a series of epiphanies that will haunt you for a very long time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
Last month, while attending a Summer Solstice porch party, my friend Rob and I heard members of a book club discussing their next month's choice. Although we disagreed on the title ( I think it was GOOD TO A FAULT), we both agreed it sounded interesting. Does it sound familiar to you?
Summer Solstice Senorita
Dear Summer, What a good choice for a book club! GOOD TO A FAULT by Marina Endicott is a novel that has a cozy feel to it but one whose true concern is far from cozy- what makes a good person? The heroine of the story is Clary and the book opens with a minor car accident in which Clary might or might not have been a t fault. The Pell family- a cranky grandmother, a very sick mother, an infant, two young children, and an irritating bombastic father are in the other car; everyone ends up in the emergency room for the briefest of moments. Only the mother remains hospitalized- it turns out she is gravely sick with a previously undiagnosed terminal illness. Clary, who has lived alone in her late parents' home, takes a leave from her job to care for the family. The children's father quickly deserts them , stealing Clary's extra car and is not heard from for much of the book. We witness all that Clary does for the ill woman and her very needy children ,but we also see the emotional satisfaction Clary gets from the situation. We are confronted with numerous plot developments that change our outlook on Clary's motivations. Along the way, we are introduced to a cast of fascinating characters: a sensitive, poetry-quoting recently divorced clergyman, a saintly, elderly neighbor, an equally elderly but pilfering in-law, and many more folks who all help us decide what goodness means and… is it possible to be a good person ?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru- I am feeling pretty patriotic with the Fourth of July approaching and I’d like to read something that will make me cheer even more for the red, white and blue. Any suggestions? Sunshine Patriot

Dear Sunshine Patriot- Well, of course, you should walk yourself over to the Sea Cliff Village Green on Sunday morning where there will be a reading of the Declaration of Independence and other patriotic festivities. Then you could read a favorite of mine: JOHN ADAMS by David McCullough This is an amazing biography which presents parallel tales of Adams and his wife Abigail, Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and ,yes, most interestingly, Adams and the new nation. McCullough uses original diaries and letters in such a skillful manner that you feel as if you are reading a fast-moving novel. Because of its length(726 pages) this could be a summer project for you but definitely a worthwhile one.

A family ritual of ours is the watching/reading of Peter Stone’s 1776 every Fourth. There is nothing that makes the heart swell more with patriotic fervor than listening, watching, and reading that great musical play that recreates the drama surrounding the creation of the Declaration of Independence, except, of course, hearing the Declaration read on Sea Cliff’s Village Green. 1776 is available in book form and DVD .

Happy Fourth!!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, My children have just finished school and we are looking for some great books to read together through the lazy, hazy days of summer. Do you have any suggestions?
Book Loving Parent
Dear Book Loving, What a splendid idea! I remember with great fondness my family's summers spent reading the novels of Roald Dahl. Dahl is the cranky, sinister author of many wonderful books that appeal to both children and adults. MATILDA is the tale of a very young , very bright child who finds herself with the most boorish and boring of parents- parents who encourage her to watch TV all day and forbid her to read! Well, Matilda finds hilarious ways to circumvent her dear parents. My daughter Gillian particularly loved this book. My son Justin's favorite Dahl was THE WITCHES- this is a mildly terrifying book- just right for most 8 to 10 year-olds who still enjoy communal readings but crave some adventure and gore. The hero of WITCHES has been turned into a mouse by a coven of witches who are having their annual convention in the resort where he and his grandmother are vacationing. As with all Dahl novels, good triumphs in a bizarre but satisfying way. TWITS was probably my son Daniel's first choice, not because of its literary merit, but because the brutish, ill-kempt albeit lovable characters reminded him of friends and family. Not a family read aloud, but definitely a good choice for the adults in the crowd is THE IRREGULARS- ROALD DAHL AND THE WASHINGTON SPY RING by Jennet Conant. Dahl turns out to have been working for the British government as an undercover agent in Washington. His assignment was to undermine the American isolationist movement whose goal had been to keep the U.S. out of World War II. Definitely more James Bond than JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH- another family Dahl favorite!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
While I was having breakfast down at Sea Cliff Beach last Sunday, someone mentioned that next week is Bloomsday- June 16- the annual celebration of James Joyce's famous ULYSSES. I'm not up to reading that 800 page classic but do you have something to recommend that I might read to put me in the mood for Bloomsday while enjoying the beach? Beach Booklover

Dear Booklover,
Last week, I was talking to my friend Cec, who too loves both the beach and books, and she asked for just such a recommendation. The book I suggested was THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore. This book originally came out in 1955 but remains fresh and pertinent in 2010. Set in Belfast, Ireland, the novel introduces us to a fortyish unmarried woman of limited financial means, but grand illusions. She has a small annuity inherited from an aunt whom she had cared for over many years ; she supplements this income with earnings from a few reluctant piano students. Judith is a woman who desperately wants to keep up appearances but finds her life spinning out of control as she moves into yet another shabby boarding house (her fifth move in two years). When she is courted by her landlady's brother, we sense impending disaster but Judith sees only romance and redemption. Alas, our fears are confirmed as we begin to realize the nature of Judith's problem- her real passion. A new edition of this novel is coming out June 15 with an afterword by Mary Gordon, one of my favorite writers. Enjoy the beach and yes, Happy Bloomsday!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I was wondering how you spend Memorial Day weekend and, of course, do you have a book to recommend?
Grateful Citizen

Dear Grateful, This is one of my favorite Sea Cliff weekends. On Friday night, the Beach Committee, headed by Michelle Capobianco, hosts a huge party for families early in the evening followed by music and dancing lasting late into the night. Over the weekend, the Sea Cliff Library begins their Books on the Beach program. You will be able to borrow books, read newspapers, and get material for your children all while enjoying Sea Cliff Beach. Then on Monday morning all of Sea Cliff marches through its streets honoring our war dead while hoping for a peaceful future for all. This touching parade is crowned with a beautiful ceremony at Clifton Park. Phil Como has organized this event for many, many years and it is always wonderful in a bittersweet sort of way. And, yes,a book I would recommend is MATTERHORN by Karl Marlantes. A Vietnam veteran, Marlantes began writing this book thirty years ago when he first returned home from his tour of service. The story is an incredible tale of misery, bravery, loyalty, and confusion. The hero, a young lieutenant, grows in his role while seeing friends display kindness, fear, and suffering all in the capturing of a small piece of land "Matterhorn" as they came to call it. This book is a long, difficult read, but ever so worthwhile.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,

The other night I was at Roots, a great restaurant in Sea Cliff, and I overheard a group of women discussing a new book one of them had just read. I think the title was THE IMPERFECTIONIST. Have you heard of it and would you recommend it? Perennial Eavesdropper

Dear Perennial,
I too was at Roots the other night with friends. In fact, we have a Roots Rendezvous every Tuesday- what a treat and the Santoro family always makes everyone feel so welcome! But back to the book- THE IMPERFECTIONIST by Tom Rachman is a wonderful, wonderful book that I just read this weekend. The story is fascinating and the format ingenious. Each of the chapters could stand on its own as a perfect short story but the cumulative effect of connecting characters within the overall theme of the rise and fall of a great newspaper is magical. In each of the ten chapters, we meet a different staff member -from the revered publisher to a young copy editor- and in short italicized essays connecting the chapters, we learn about the owners of the paper- the Ott family. While there is a focus on one person per chapter, we get to see each of them through the eyes of all the other characters so there is Rashamon/kaleidoscopic effect. In addition, each chapter has a shocking- sometimes brutal, sometimes heartbreaking- ending. When the book begins, it is 1953 and the paper is just being launched; at the conclusion it is 2007 and the paper has just folded. In effect, we are witnesses to the history of the modern newspaper business. Highly recommended! Check out greatbookguru.blogspot.com for additional recommendations.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I just received The Sea Cliff Civic Association's mailing and I notice the annual Village-wide Garage Sale is June 5. Will the Friends of Sea Cliff Library be holding their great book sale on the Village Green that day and do you recommend a book I should be on the lookout for?
Book Sale Obsessive

Dear Obsessive, Yes, the Friends will be hosting their wonderful event on Garage Sale Day (it's so much more than a book sale with its music, crafts, and refreshments). A book that will be in great demand, I'm sure, is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson. I had heard a lot of buzz about this book but its original title Men Who Hate Women was off putting .However, when the movie came out last month the reviews rekindled my interest and I decided to give it a try. Well, I couldn't put it down- it was so compelling that I read it in two sittings and immediately began on its sequel THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE. While definitely a mystery- it uses a classic Agatha Christie closed room device (all the suspects are gathered together with the victim on a small vacation island whose link to the mainland has been broken for one day by a widely photographed truck crash), this novel has a great deal of character development and political statement not usually found in such books. There are many plots and sub-plots spanning over forty years and a conclusion that is immensely satisfying. We learn much about modern day Sweden and its World War II past, a past that continues to haunt its citizenry. However, the most fascinating part for me was the character of Lisbeth Salander, a young girl with a mysterious background, multiple piercings, a photographic memory and an amazing ability to hack into any and all computer systems whether private or governmental. The message was clear- we have no secrets, and we are foolish to believe we do.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, My book group is looking for something really good to read and discuss. My friends prefer short books by women writers but I feel this is really limiting. Do you have any suggestions? Book Club Burnout

Dear Burnout, I have just the book for you and your friends- Anne Tyler's newest novel- NOAH'S COMPASS When my book group began almost seventeen years ago, we started with Anne Tyler's DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT, and we have since read all her novels and never once have we been disappointed. Her latest continues a common theme for Tyler- a damaged, mildly depressed, mildly likeable hero who is estranged from much and many . Liam Pennywell is such a man- sixty, twice divorced, recently fired from a teaching job at a second rate private school, and a mild irritant to his three daughters and ex-wife. He finds himself in an unattractive apartment in a questionable part of Baltimore; he is attacked and robbed on his first night and spends a large part of the book trying to regain those lost moments. How can this be a good read, let alone a great novel? Well, Anne Tyler has the enormous talent to make us see ourselves in Pennywell's ordinariness so we end up caring deeply for him. When he begins to find love and affection with a young, unattractive woman- Eunice- we feel buoyed and when problems arise (and they always do for Tyler's heros)we wring our hands and hope for the best, while knowing that a happy ending is most unlikely. Tyler imbues seemingly pointless moments of life with humor and insight, and those people who live their lives of "quiet desperation" are shown to be worthy of our greatest respect.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru. Since today April 23 is the birthday of William Shakespeare, I was wondering how you were going to celebrate and do you have a book to recommend for the occasion?
Shakespearean Student and Fan

Dear Shakespearean Student and Fan, Thanks for asking… my friends and I will be celebrating the Bard's birthday on my porch with readings and refreshments throughout the night. At some point in the evening, I will show Tom Stoppard's SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, a wonderful compilation of a number of Shakespeare's plays and in particular" Romeo and Juliet". If there is time, I will also show Orson Welles's CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT which combines the three plays in which the rascal Falstaff plays a role. Sometime during the party, I'm sure I'll turn to my favorite book of Shakespearean criticism - Marjorie Garber's SHAKESPEARE AFTER ALL. Garber offers the reader an analysis of each of the plays with emphasis on modern scholarship such as gender studies, colonialism, and character delineation. To really celebrate the birthday, get yourself a copy of one of the plays (Folger is my favorite series), watch a BBC production with captions (available at the Sea Cliff Library), and then read Garber's analysis . You will have arrived in Shakespearean paradise. Enjoy, my friend!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, This past Saturday I had the pleasure of listening to two Sea Cliff notables on National Public Radio. First was new resident Victoria Bjorklund who was a guest DJ; she talked about her great interest in early rock 'n roll and rhythm and blues. An hour later, Frank Mullen III, whose family goes back generations here in Sea Cliff, also spoke about music but with a strong focus on his own performance background. Shortly after that, I heard a discussion of a new book on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. It sounded great but I didn't hear the title. Are you familiar with this book?
Radio Obsessive

Dear Radio, I heard Victoria and Frank's interviews too, and enjoyed them tremendously. The book you ask about is THE DEATH OF AMERICAN VIRTUE by Kenneth Gormley which I just finished reading . Gormley , a constitutional law professor , over the last few years has interviewed Bill Clinton, Ken Starr, Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Janet Reno, Al Gore, and scores of other players in the Clinton impeachment saga. What I found most remarkable was that so many of these fierce enemies would agree to be interviewed . There were many startling pieces of information revealed in the book such as the intense power struggle existing between the Secret Service and the FBI, fueled by agents' memories of the Kennedy assassination . Along with a clear chronological account of the events leading up to the impeachment, Gormley gives us detailed portraits of main and minor characters, using their own words. Perhaps the most disturbing words were spoken to the author by Henry Hyde, who headed the House impeachment committee; when asked would he do it again, knowing all the personal attacks he would have to endure, Hyde answered, "Yes, because George W. Bush would not have been elected if we had not impeached Bill Clinton."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I love this time of year but I can't think of an appropriate book to share with my children. Do you have Spring book to recommend?
Parent Without a Clue

Dear Clueless, So glad you asked!!! One of my favorite children's books is THE COUNTRY BUNNY written in 1939 by Dubose Heyward. One of the earliest feminist children's books written, it remains as fresh, original, and sweet a story as you could ever want. The premise is that there are actually five rabbits who deliver Easter eggs - all very special and carefully chosen. When one is about to retire, the whole community gathers to see who among them will be found worthy to be the replacement. From the ranks, comes a young girl bunny who asks to be considered. When the other rabbits look scornfully upon her, she goes home where she marries and has a family of twenty-one children. She is a model of intelligence, discipline and compassion. She runs her household in an exemplary manner with her children all given tasks to help develop their talents and contribute to the family's well being. So we have sweepers, painters, folders, washers, poets all working together in great harmony. When another rabbit retires, our Country Bunny once again returns to the contest grounds. This time, the Wisest One who oversees the event recognizes her many strengths and she is chosen. That night she makes a most treacherous journey; her courage is rewarded with a pair of golden slippers. Her family, who has managed beautifully while she was away, rejoices at her return and her great accomplishment. The story in its retelling sounds simplistic and it is, but it is also so much more. The lovely quasi-Victorian illustrations by Marjorie Flack add much to the sweet quality of the tale. This is a book any adult or child would love to own and read over the years, so if you are looking for a perfect gift, here it is!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I saw the wonderful article "Living in Sea Cliff "in the Sunday New York Times with those great photos by local resident and renowned photographer Kathy Kmonicek. Do you have a book you would recommend about that ever fascinating topic: real estate? Contented Homeowner but Always Looking

Dear Contented, Read MODEL HOME by Eric Puchner and you'll stop looking. This novel is set in 1985-86 Southern California where Warren Ziller, a real estate developer, has moved with his wife and three children to an affluent gated beach community or as the ads call it- "an equestrian village." His plan to build cheap homes deep into the desert flounders when the county builds a toxic waste treatment center nearby, and he finds himself facing emotional and financial bankruptcy. The story is told from the viewpoints of each of the family members: Camille, a sweetly earnest woman who quickly realizes the good life is no longer within their reach and blames her husband ; Warren, the erring husband whose sees his cars, his furniture, his life being repossessed ; Dustin, a handsome seventeen year-old with a boring girlfriend and an addiction to alcohol and TV; Lyla, a sixteen year-old highly intelligent misanthrope; and finally, Jonas, an eleven year-old with a disturbing death obsession. When a terrible accident befalls Dustin and the reality of their financial debacle becomes clear, the family reinvents itself in a myriad of ways - some good, some bad, and all painful. Be aware: you will probably never want to move after reading this book.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, There are signs of Spring all over Sea Cliff and I feel the need to find a fresh new author to read during this season. Do you have any ideas? Smitten with Spring

Dear Smitten, I know that feeling so well and every year at this time I turn to a fresh new author and every year it is the same author- Barbara Pym. Pym wrote up until her death in 1980 and produced about a dozen novels , each of them a jewel to be read and reread many times. Her novels are about the exquisite loveliness of everyday life. Each word, each gesture, each character is treated with humor, attention, and respect. While nothing is overlooked by this author, the books are not lengthly tomes, but two to three hundred page chronicles of human interaction and reflection. The titles often come from English poetry: SOME TAME GAZELLE, THE SWEET DOVE DIED, A GLASS OF BLESSINGS…but none of what I have said, captures the gentle but frequently biting insights Pym has into the human condition. This weekend, I will be attending an annual conference at Harvard University analyzing and celebrating her works; the focus will be on one of her novels: a GLASS OF BLESSINGS. The title comes from the George Herbert poem "The Pulley." The main character Wilmet Forsyth is a young woman who finds herself misjudging many situations she finds herself in, while the other characters and the reader can see quite clearly the obvious folly of her ways. Her descriptions of food, clothing, and those daily rituals which consume our days envelop the reader in a world that is both familiar and unique. The novels are not plot- driven, which accounts for the pleasure one gets in rereading and finding level after level of new insight. Pym is a novelist who should be on every discerning reader's top ten list- she is not to be missed! Check out other recommendations at greatbookguru.blogspot.com and, of course, Pym's novels are available at the Sea Cliff Library.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a wonderful exhibit at Adelphi University where world renowned artist and Sea Cliff resident Marcia Widenor was showing some of her works. One was titled Tsunami- a beautiful filmy creation of muted muti-colored waves that filled a huge room. A friend attending the event with me mentioned a recent novel she had just read that was "a political tsunami" set in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Are you familiar with this book? Former but Ever Loyal Brooklynite

Dear Brooklynite , Marcia's show " Patterns and Shadows" is amazing; I hope to go again before it closes on March 24. The book your friend referred to is THE FOURTH ASSASSIN by Matt B. Rees. This was a fascinating novel whose plot involves a middle-aged Palestinian schoolmaster who has been asked to speak at the United Nations. His first stop in New York is a visit to Brooklyn to see his 24 year-old son who is living and working there with two friends from his home in Bethlehem. To the father's horror, he finds the apartment ransacked and a headless corpse lying in his son's bed. The political and criminal intrigues that surround this homicide are complex to say the least. We learn about Sunni and Shiite animosities that span centuries but are very much alive today and strongly impact this Brooklyn neighborhood of Bay Ridge known as Little Palestine. The colorful, detailed descriptions of food, dress, custom, and religious practices make this novel a valuable learning tool in addition to being a fast-paced adventure tale. This book is available at the Sea Cliff Library. On another note, Chris Hedges, the author of a book I mentioned in an earlier column- THE EMPIRE OF ILLUSION: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, is speaking Wednesday, March 17 at 7:30 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Shelter Rock Road in Manhasset.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I just came back from a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and would like to read something about paintings. Do you have anything to recommend? An Art Lover in the Making

Dear Art- Of course I have something for you- actually two great books that I know you’ll love. The first is THE LOST PAINTING by Jonathan Harr. This book while non-fiction reads like a well crafted , highly suspenseful mystery. The author who also wrote that environmental and legal thriller CIVIL ACTION traces a young art researcher’s quest to locate a missing Caravaggio- missing for centuries! We travel throughout Europe where Harr interviews a wide array of colorful and , yes, some very unscrupulous characters of the art world. Finally, the work” The Taking of Christ” is found in Ireland and then begins the tale of its restoration and finally the effect on the fortunes of those who own it. The details are beautiful and as a bonus, we learn a great deal about the Baroque giant that was Caravaggio. My second recommendation is the novel HEADLONG by Michael Frayn. While at the Metropolitan Museum, I’m sure you saw The Harvesters by Bruegel. It is one of the Met’s most popular paintings. Well, the premise of HEADLONG is that there was a series of twelve paintings of the seasons ( The Harvesters would have been late autumn)and one has been lost for centuries and has been unwittingly discovered by the book’s hero in an old country farmhouse. His attempts to profit from this discovery make for a hilarious, intellectually stimulating journey through the world of the Dutch Masters and modern day thievery. Both these books are available through Sea Cliff Library so get reading, my friend!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, My son who is a North Shore High School senior is awaiting word on college admissions. It is a stressful time for him and his friends and us, too. I was wondering if you have a book on the topic that will make the time go faster. Concerned Parent
Dear Concerned, Oh, yes, I can feel the tension all over the Village; there are many people in your son's position. I met my friend Marga the other day and we were discussing just this topic. She had recently finished reading an interesting novel which coincidentally I had just begun- ADMISSION by Jean Hanff Korelitz. This book tells the story of an admissions counselor at Princeton who is weighed down emotionally and physically because of the many fine students she must reject each year. While there are many farfetched plots and sub plots, the book does describe the admissions process in amusing and colorful detail. It was a good read and would certainly help the waiting time move more quickly. Another book I found interesting, more useful, and better written was THE GATEKEEPERS by Jacques Steinberg. The author, an Education writer for the New York Times, traces six students applying to Wesleyan University- from their first campus visits until that decisive letter in the mail. We come to know and care for each of the students so that by the end of the book we too are awaiting with great trepidation the final word from the admissions office. The book offers many good insights which will help young students (and their parents) look at this process more dispassionately. Both books are available at the Sea Cliff Library.
Reminder: Dr. Maureen Murphy's lecture on Colm Toibin and his novel BROOKLYN will be on Thursday, March 11 at 7pm at the Sea Cliff Village Hall.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, A friend of mine, well actually a friend to most of Sea Cliff, Monique McGhee died last week. Monique was an incredible person whose mantra was always "Celebrate Life." She refused to let her life be overtaken by fear or despair . Do you have a book for me to read which would reinforce this wonderful outlook? Grieving Friend
Dear Friend, Yes, Monique was an extraordinary person who was admired and beloved by so many. I have been thinking about your request and while nothing I can think of precisely mirrors her philosophy, I would suggest you read BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin. Like Monique, the heroine immigrated here and despite misfortune and loss, she prevailed and made many friends and a good life for herself. Set in the fifties, this novel captures a time and a culture foreign to many of us but compelling nevertheless. An added reason to read this book is that noted Sea Cliff author and critic Dr. Maureen Murphy will be discussing the works of Colm Toibin and BROOKLYN in particular at the Sea Cliff Library on Thursday, March 11 at 7:00pm. Copies of this book are available at the Library.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, How did you spend this Valentine weekend and did you get to read anything special? Curious
Dear Curious, What a fun weekend and thanks for asking! The Reres hosted a fabulous dance/cooperative dinner party at their lovely home, and conversation followed as rhythmically as a tango. One of the books everyone there was talking about was SLOW DEATH BY RUBBER DUCK- THE SECRET DANGER OF EVERYDAY THINGS by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. The premise of this book is that even the sweetest, most innocuous items in our home might pose long term dangers because of chemical contaminants- yes, even the beloved rubber ducky. From mercury in your light bulbs to the plastic in a child's sippy cup, the chemicals in your stain resistant carpet to the toxins in your flat screen TV- all of these are accumulating in our bodies with unknown results. Being naturally phobic about almost everything, I found myself drawn to chapter after chapter with mounting horror. Ultimately, though, the book is hopeful, since it offers simple ways to avoid some of the more egregious dangers. But I cannot recommend this as a good choice for an uplifting winter read. For that I would go with NOTHING BUT YOU, a collection of love stories from THE NEW YORKER edited by Roger Angell. The thirty authors include such notables as John Updike, William Trevor, Alice Adams, and Edna O'Brien; my favorite was "The Man in the Moon" by William Maxwell. Both books are available at the Sea Cliff Library.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, Friends of mine are raving about a lecture sponsored by the Sea Cliff Library last week about the Spanish painter Velazquez. I am sorry I missed it since I will be visiting Spain in April, and I would like to learn something about its artists and cities. Do you have any suggestions? Spring Tourist

Dear Spring Tourist, I was at Ines Powell's lecture too and your friends were right: it was fabulous. Ines is a renowned lecturer and educator at the Metropolitan Museum and a beloved Sea Cliff resident. Coincidentally, after the lecture, the Murrays, who are also traveling to Spain asked for some book suggestions. Here's what I told them- first, HOMAGE TO BARCELONA by Colm Toibin is a fascinating description of this beautiful city- its history, its art, its essence. ( Toibin, who is also the author of the current bestseller BROOKLYN, is going to be the subject of a lecture given by Maureen Murphy, Irish literature expert, on March 11 at 7:30 at the Sea Cliff Library) Another must read is the SPANISH GAME by Charles Cumming. This book is a fast moving spy novel set largely in Madrid. In reading this book, you find yourself quickly immersed in the daily life of the city and its inhabitants. Finally, you should read VELAZQUEZ- TECHNIQUE OF GENIUS by Jonathan Brown. Thirty paintings are discussed in wonderful detail and all but two of them are on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid. Also, while I do not pretend to be the Great Movie Guru, I would recommend seeing Woody Allen's VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, a beautiful presentation of the city. Happy travels!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the Family and Friends opening of the Five Napkin Burger Uptown this week. Although 5NB is located in NYC on Broadway and 84th Street, this was definitely a Sea Cliff happening. The Laffertys, the Gordons, the Speranzas, the Calzonettis, the Harrigan-Fleishmans, the Warrens, and of course, the host family , the D'Amicos were all in attendance and what a night it was! The food was delicious and the ambiance perfect . During the evening, someone mentioned that J.D. Salinger and Howard Zinn had both died during the week. Everyone at the table had read books by these authors but people's opinions of them varied greatly. What are your thoughts? Five Burger Fan

Dear Five Burger, I too was at the restaurant this week and my reaction was similar to yours- another great D'Amico restaurant in a great location. My thoughts on Zinn and Salinger are equally strong. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is a book every adolescent must read in order to understand that he/she is not alone in the universe. The angst and cynicism of Holden Caulfield so mirrors most contemporary teenagers' psyches that is truly shocking to realize it was written sixty years ago. It is a book that does not age but its audience does . Read it somewhere between the ages of thirteen and eighteen but then never again. Howard Zinn, on the other hand, while assigned to high school students, can be read throughout one's life. Zinn was a World War II bomber pilot who became an historian, teacher, playwright, and pacifist. His most well known work A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES offers a fascinating and sobering take on our country's history. THE ZINN READER is a compilation of his other writings and delineates his belief that a country's power must rest in its people . Both books are highly recommended.