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."