Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I was at Nunzio's Auto Works when a customer came in very excited about a new book he had just read. It was a collection of short stories -EMPTY FAMILY- by Colm Toibin. I'm not a big fan of short stories- I prefer novels or even novellas- but the man was so enthusiastic, I'm considering giving it a try. What do you think? Short Story Shirker

Dear Shirker, First, let's talk about Nunzio- the man is more therapist than mechanic, although indeed an expert mechanic. People come to him filled with auto angst; he placates them, addresses their problems, and quickly gets them back on the road and all the while keeping his shop pristine with fresh paint and plants galore. In addition, it now appears his customers have a strong literary bent: THE EMPTY FAMILY is a wonderful collection of short stories with a common theme of characters searching for happiness within the framework of family. In one of the stories, an elderly movie set designer returns to Ireland for a brief visit; she laments lost loves and strained family ties, all the while imagining how she could have changed outcomes. In another, which apparently is autobiographical, a middle-aged man returns to his mother's Dublin death bed where he finds that despite the passage of many years, his mother is still coolly distant, and he comes to realize that nothing he does will make her love him. My favorite was "Colour of Shadows" in which a young man arranges care for his elderly aunt who raised him and now makes him promise never to visit his mother. Fractured families indeed! House keys play a recurring role in many of the stories. A key to lock family members in and to lock them out comes to symbolize the elusive comfort all Toibin's characters crave.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a party this weekend at Scott and Karen Kessler's in honor of the Friends of Sea Cliff Library. In addition to great food and conversation, there was a lovely presentation of Shakespearean sonnets during which someone mentioned a new novel about a family obsessed with the Bard. It sounded interesting but no one could remember the title. Are you familiar with the book? Shakespeare Sonnet Swooner

Dear Swooner, I'm so sorry I missed the Kessler soiree (I heard it was a smashing success- Scott and Karen always give such wonderful parties) - we were in Palm Beach for a weekend conference- but I certainly know the book being discussed: it was THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown. What a fun read! The daughters (Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia) named by their scholar father after three of Shakespeare's heroines, have returned to the small university town where they grew up, each facing a crisis that reflects her namesake's personality. The eldest sister finds it impossible to leave the cocoon of the family, the middle sister faces paralyzing financial and career problems, the youngest is dealing with the aftereffects of her bohemian life style, and the poor parents are consumed with their own frailties. Can a good quote or two from Shakespeare help this beleaguered family? Well, as the omnipresent narrator tells us "There is no problem a library card can't solve" so rest assured: all works out … eventually.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I have enjoyed many of the novels you have recommended, but I think I need a change of pace. Do you have something about politics or recent history that I might enjoy? Potential Political Pundit

Dear Pundit, I have just the book for you: BOMB POWER by Garry Wills. The premise is that the creation/invention/production of the atomic bomb has had an immeasurable impact on American society far beyond what one would think. The author takes us back to 1943: the beginning of the Manhattan Project where we meet General Leslie Groves- the man who managed the atomic bomb operation- a man who answered , well, really to no one, except possibly FDR. Vice-President Truman, Congress, and the courts were all unaware of the scope of Groves's power. The secrecy, anxiety, and discipline necessitated by our possession of the bomb would give rise to the Cold War, to a myriad of covert and overt operations, and ultimately to the present war on terror. Because the president (whoever he/she might be) has control of "the button," enormous , unchecked power has passed to this office, to the diminishment of Congress and the courts. If the president has the final control of a weapon that can destroy multiple nations, then who can deny him anything ? Certainly not Congress, not the courts, not the American people. .. Ultimately then, American presidential power truly rests on "bomb power."