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.