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.