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 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.