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!