Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
With the 2010 Christmas blizzard , I have been pretty housebound and am eager to get into a good book. The Sea Cliff Library is right down the block so give me some suggestions and I will be out the door in a minute. Snowbound Lover of Books

Dear Snowbound, What a great week to catch up on some good reading! Last week I was at a delightful Winter Solstice party with Lorraine Garry, a reader extraordinaire and she mentioned a favorite of hers (and mine) -CHARMING BILLY by Alice McDermott. McDermott grew up on Long Island so many of her books are set in Brooklyn and Queens -always with a strong Irish-American flavor. CHARMING BILLY is told from the perspective of a young girl about a family myth- a cousin so charming, so handsome, so tragic that he wins the hearts of all who meet him, but a man who is also a melancholy, defeated alcoholic . Billy's entire adult life is built on a lie- a lie told to him to ease a painful moment. Decades later when the truth is revealed, nothing changes- Billy and a host of other great Queens Irish- American characters continue to live their lives of quiet desperation and at Billy's wake, where the novel opens, new lies are told and a new generation of storytellers take over the task of "getting" things right.
Talking about getting things right- since 2000, Larry Gordon has gotten the Sea Cliff New Year's Eve bonfire just right. At around 11:30pm people from all over begin to gather at Clifton Park; at midnight, the bonfire is ablaze and 2011 begins! This is a simple, very moving ceremony that I encourage all of Sea Cliff to attend.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru,
I was at a wonderful event last weekend- the 21st Annual Sea Cliff Cookie Swap hosted by Elizabeth Weinstein in her beautiful home overlooking Hempstead Harbor. As usual the cookies were great and the company even better; during the evening, people began discussing their favorite books and one sounded particularly intriguing- PEARL by Mary Gordon. Have you read this book and if so, would you recommend it? Book and Cookie Lover

Dear Book and Cookie Lover, Elizabeth's cookie swaps are so much fun and I am delighted to know that her guests have such strong literary interests. PEARL is a favorite of mine, also, and a particularly appropriate choice for this time of year since the novel opens on Christmas Day in New York City. Maria has just received a call from the U.S. State Department that her twenty-year-old daughter Pearl is near death in Ireland after having gone without food for six weeks. Pearl is protesting the death of a young freedom fighter/terrorist . The remainder of the novel deals with Maria's attempts to convince Pearl that life is worth living despite the cruelties and injustices she sees all around her. She calls on the redemptive powers of art, beauty, and religion to win Pearl back. Gordon immerses us in present day Irish politics where we are left to ponder how government encourages the human propensity to destroy the weakest among us . At one point, Pearl asks her mother," Why is it that it is life we want?" Maria answers, "It seems we are meant to." With this answer, Pearl realizes her mother is no more certain than she. As the narrator directs us-" we will hope for the best."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I attended an amazing production of The Nutcracker in the Children's Library. Dan DiPietro was a very yogic Drosselmeyer and the Stroppel family served as a great production team, but in the midst of this holiday treat, I realized I had some serious gift shopping ahead. Do you have any recommendations you would like to share with me? Bewildered Gift Giver

Dear Bewildered, Just this very weekend my son Daniel suggested a book that you should include on your Christmas shopping list: Garry Wills' OUTSIDE LOOKING IN. Do you remember Woody Allen's Zelig-where the character Zelig turned up in every major historical event over a thirty-year span? Well, Garry Wills is our generation's Zelig. Wills' book is an autobiographical record of his life and times, and he was everywhere, with everyone, and into everything. Each chapter is devoted to a person who played an important role in his life- from Barry Goldwater to Studs Turkel, from Ronald Reagan to Beverly Sills, from Hillary Clinton to the Berrigan brothers. Richard Nixon's chapter is particularly interesting since it was Wills' biography of him- Nixon Agonistes- that laid bare the intricacies of the Nixon psyche and predicted his tragic fall. Another featured figure is William Buckley, the archetypical conservative writer, publisher, his first employer, and long time friend; in contrast, Wills describes in detail his time in prison with fellow Vietnam War protesters. A devout Catholic, he has written on the gospels, the rosary, the saints and Jesus… but he finds himself strongly at odds with most papal directives. The book is short -less than 300 pages- but the reader comes away with a strong sense of the last fifty years- all from a man who while being the outsider, became the confidant of scores of this country's icons- conservative and liberal.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I have seen flyers around town about a Christmas play written by Fred Stroppel being performed this Saturday. I am a bit of a Grinch and sentimental Christmas events are not high on my list of ways to spend the weekend. However, I have loved Fred's other works, so I am interested. Are you familiar with this play and, if so, would you recommend it? Holiday Grinch

Dear Grinch, THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT will be presented this Saturday evening at St. Luke's Church in Sea Cliff at 8pm and I strongly recommend it . Far from sentimental , this play deals with death and redempton in a darkly humorous manner. Julia Kennedy is a seventy-two year-old woman who finds herself sitting in her living room on Christmas Eve engaged in a fight for her life. The Christmas Spirit in the title is actually Death and he has come for Julia. She begs for more time and in exchange offers Death the chance to celebrate a family Christmas with all the trimmings. Her strange assortment of dysfunctional family members plus the local priest, some troubled young guests, and the Christmas Spirit- he calls himself Jack Frost- gather at Julia's invitation to celebrate the holiday. Life- altering secrets are revealed that offer hope …for a moment. Truth in advertising forces me to reveal that the Great Book Guru, after many years playing roles such as Macbeth's fourth witch, the silent Tropicana Girl, and Messenger #2, is the star of THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. . The cast has a great time performing this play; let's hope the audience enjoys it too. Call 516-214-4240 for reservations.
For those of you who prefer the more traditional- what about a reading of an abridged version of THE CHRISTMAS CAROL ? A few years ago, Fred and Liz Stroppel- yes, the same Fred of THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT-presented a great version at Sea Cliff School- but you could do this in your own living room as we have done for many years. The version we use- Stephen Krensky's- takes about an hour to read. Get out the eggnog and gather your friend and family for a great evening!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, I am so excited- this is such a great Sea Cliff weekend: first, we have the Holiday House Tour on Saturday, the Artists' Crafts Fair in Village Hall, and then on Sunday, the annual Tree Lighting on the Village Green. With such a busy weekend, I am going to find it hard to find time for my reading and, as you remember, I vowed to spend part of every day with a good book. Do you have something short and easy but worthwhile? Regimented Reader

Dear Regimented, I am very impressed with your disciplined approach and I do have a wonderful book to recommend which meets all your criteria. My book group has committed to reading the four novels of Philip Roth that form what he calls his Nemeses series. It includes EVERYMAN, INDIGNATION, HUMBLING, and NEMESIS. The common theme that links these books is the belief that a single choice can define an individual's life. In each of these short novels, we meet someone whose life is inalterably changed because of one decision he has made. While I recommend all four, the one I suggest you read this weekend is INDIGNATION . In it, we meet a young college student growing up in the 1950's who leaves his family home in Newark, New Jersey to attend a small college in Ohio. He leaves to escape his father's smothering love and unrelenting scrutiny. His classmates, roommates, and teachers all reveal aspects of their personalities that profoundly impact our narrator hero. At the book's midpoint we are confronted with information that colors our entire view of the novel- what we have read and what we will read. INDIGNATION can and should be completed in one sitting which will surely leave you ample time to enjoy this special Sea Cliff weekend.