Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I was having breakfast at B Brown's yesterday, and a group of us started talking about our Brooklyn connections. Apparently, many Sea Cliff families either once lived in Brooklyn, have children who now live in Brooklyn, or wish to live in Brooklyn themselves ( leave Sea Cliff? temporary insanity, I know…) . I would love to read a book, preferably a novel, about present day Brooklyn. Any recommendations? Baffled by Brooklyn

Dear Baffled, I was just in Brooklyn this weekend visiting our daughter who has moved into a beautiful apartment in Fort Greene by the Manhattan Bridge. Later in the day, I read a new novel by Paul Auster - SUNSET PARK. Sunset Park is a section of Brooklyn pretty much untouched by the gentrification that has swept over large areas of the borough . The book opens in Florida where a twenty-eight year-old New Yorker is scrapping out a living cleaning foreclosed and abandoned homes. Miles Heller has dropped out of an Ivy League college and left his affluent Manhattan lifestyle for a number of tortured reasons we learn about gradually. In the midst of a new crisis, he receives an offer from an school chum offering him a share in an abandoned house in Sunset Park . In effect, he would join a small community of squatters who are awaiting eviction by the city marshalls, but are living day to day in hopes that "things will turn around." Each of the tenants narrates part of the overall story, and we soon realize that the faltering economy with its sagging real estate market, widespread unemployment, and pitifully low wages is the demonic anti-hero of this novel. For those of us used to the sparkle of Cobble Hill, the grandeur of Brooklyn Heights, the allure of Carroll Gardens, this is a sobering read.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
Thanksgiving will be here next week- it's one of my favorite holidays- but November is also the anniversary of another event- the JFK assassination in Dallas, Texas-47 years ago. Texas has always held a strange fascination for me so when I heard that there is a new book out about the Lone Star State, I was immediately interested ,but I can't remember the title. Any idea? Fascinated by Texas

Dear Fascinated, Yes, I love Thanksgiving too. We celebrate the whole weekend. On Friday the Calzonettis, the Gordons, the Kennedy-Hansmanns, and all the DiPietros join up to share stories and leftovers and follow up the next day with a tree- decorating party. But back to your Texas fixation: THE BIG RICH by Bryan Burrough is the book for you . Burrough grew up in Texas , moved East as a teenager, but retained a great interest in his native state. He focuses on four men whose oil fortunes created modern day Texas. He identifies them as "a good old boy, a scold, a genius, and a bigamist." The story opens in 1901 in Spindletop, a small town in southeast Texas where "black gold" is discovered. For the next forty years- until the world turned to the Middle East for its oil fix- Texas produced billions of gallons and consequently, billions of dollars. These men, their families, and most importantly, their money created the conservative movement that so colors the politics of present day America. Each man's story reads like fiction and one is left wondering -is it the immense size of the state that creates such larger than life figures? For many years, Texas succeeded in maintaining its sovereignty before becoming part of the union. The question is- would we all - Texans and the rest of us- have been better off if it had continued to go it alone?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I was on the boardwalk down by lovely Sea Cliff Beach last weekend when I met my friend Beth walking her dog Chester. Now Beth is a voracious reader and (I hate to admit this character flaw) I really wanted to impress her. Well, guess what ? I couldn't think of a single book I had read in the last six months. Obviously, I need your guidance- please suggest something: fast-moving, current, and worthwhile. Reluctant Reader

Dear Reluctant,I don't think there is a more beautiful place than Sea Cliff any time of the year, and its beauty can be distracting, so I completely understand your desire/need to set up a reading regimen . I have a wonderful book to start you off - ROOM by Emma Donoghue. The premise is troubling yet intriguing. The narrator, Jack, a five-year-old boy, has lived his entire life in an 11 x 11 foot room. Room is his universe and he finds it totally satisfying . He has never been aside this confined area, but his days are busy and productive thanks to Ma. She has developed a schedule of activities, readings, exercises, art projects and TV watching that fills their days. When they are finally able to leave, the adjustment of mother and child to the outside world is difficult at best - for the child who has known no other life and for the mother who struggled mightily to create for her child as good a life as possible. The story is told completely from the perspective of young Jack, using only his vocabulary, his interpretation of events, and his observations of life during and after the "room."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
This year I have decided to be very brave and host at the Sea Cliff Civic Association's annual Progressive Dinner. I'm not afraid of the meal- I have a reputation as a good cook- but I am afraid of awkward silences at the dinner table with six strangers waiting for me to move the conversation along. Can you think of a book I could bring up that would get everyone talking? Fledgling Host

Dear Fledgling,
How generous you are to open your home to six mystery guests and what fun you will have! My husband and I have been hosting the Progressive Dinner for many years and we always enjoy the evening tremendously. And, yes, I think I have just the book for you. We (joys of a family Kindle account) just finished THE HELLHOUND OF WALL STREET by Michael Perino, who teaches at St. John's University Law School; guaranteed there will be a graduate of St. John's at your dinner. The hellhound is Ferdinand Pecora, a Sicilian immigrant , a former New York City assistant district attorney, and yes, a summer resident of the lovely village of Sea Cliff. The story opens on a cold March day in 1933- the inauguration day of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The country was at its lowest point- unemployment was over 25%, thirty-eight states had closed their banks, malnourished children and adults filled the streets, and tents were all about, the only homes many of these people knew. Pecora as special counsel to the Congressional banking committee just days before had revealed the causes of the Great Crash of 1929. The scandals he unearthed and the reforms he was able to put in place were to change everything. The author does a masterful job describing the power for good that this one man wielded. Much to talk about, much to think about!