Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I feel there is so much I don't know about huge parts of the world that are mentioned in the news every day. Could you recommend a book that might help me, but is also entertaining? Searching for Knowledge in All the Right Places

Dear Searching, I know just what you mean- it seems the more I read, the more I realize how little I know about so much. Last month I read a wonderful book that helped me understand the world a little better: MONSOON by Robert D. Kaplan. The title has multiple meanings in that, while it is a type of storm, it is also a life-changing force that expedites travel and trade. Its secondary title is "The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power." Kaplan skillfully introduces us to the countries and major cities that border the Indian Ocean- yes, there are oceans other than the Atlantic and Pacific. We learn the long history of Kolkata (Calcutta) and its dynamic present; we visit Oman whose ruling family has been in power since before the founding of the United States; we learn about Somalia's centuries' old history of piracy, and the multiculturalism of the gritty, colorful island of Zanzibar. Sometimes Kaplan focuses on a literary figure to illuminate a country's history; other times he details a piece of history to explain a country's present political affiliation. Often we feel as if we are being taken on a Grand Tour by an accomplished guide and storyteller. We come away with a warm affection for the subject matter and, yes, knowing far more about this part of the world than we imagined possible.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I have read many of the books you have recommended and have been pretty happy with your choices. Now I am looking for something to suggest to my book club. We are a group of women who meet every month or so. We prefer something under 300 pages, written by a woman, and dealing with issues that will make for a good discussion. Any thoughts? Book Club Booster

Dear Booster, I am always amazed at the number of book clubs in Sea Cliff- it truly is a book lovers' paradise. At the Children's Library alone we have six, all with cleverly alliterative names: two Pizza and Picture Books, Pizza and Paperbacks, Tacos and Tales, Novels and Nachos, and one for adults: Books and Bagels. I just finished a book I would strongly recommend for your group: SO MUCH PRETTY by a first time author Cara Hoffman and it meets all the criteria you set out. The book is told from the perspectives of twelve characters presented in short chapters, over a fifteen -year time period. The story opens with a missing twenty year old girl from a small, rural upstate New York dairy town. We learn about the many people who touched her life; the lead characters are a couple who, having turned away from their medical careers, have chosen to live a simpler, back to nature life with their young daughter. They gradually come to see the violence that underlies the community, violence particularly against women. A young investigative reporter serves as a Greek chorus as we see this unfolding story through her eyes. The characters' complex moral decisions will make for much discussion... This is not an easy book to read but one that will remain with you for a very long time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, What a busy week in Sea Cliff! First, Election Day on Tuesday followed by a celebration of civic virtue at the Metropolitan Bistro and then St. Patrick's Day with parties all over town- from a festive lunch at B. Brown's to dinner and drinks through the night at Roots, Partners, and of course our very own Irish pub- K.C. Gallagher's. Now I would like to get into a good "welcome to spring" novel. Any thoughts? Spring Celebrant

Dear Spring Celebrant, Yes, this was a wonderful week to be in Sea Cliff. I was at a lovely St. Patrick's Gala myself where the talk quickly turned to an upcoming literary event: the annual Barbara Pym Conference at Harvard University this weekend. You probably know that Pym is a favorite of many Sea Cliff literati. Aside from her great skills as a writer, so many of her novels are set in Sea Cliff-like English villages and peopled by characters that strongly resemble our very own friends and neighbors. The Hansmann-Kennedys and the DiPietros will be there representing the Pym Society of Sea Cliff; the books to be discussed are EXCELLENT WOMEN and NO FOND RETURN OF LOVE. Either book will make you sing of spring. NO FOND RETURN… opens with the heroine Dulcie Mainwaring's odd but wise decision to attend a literary conference to get over a broken heart and a broken engagement. Her curiosity about the lives of others makes for many an interesting adventure- from parish halls to seaside resorts all accompanied by a bevy of familiar Sea Cliff-like characters. Pym's novels are touching and light-hearted at same time- the perfect introduction to spring.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a wonderful Mardi Gras party this week. The food was delicious especially the little party treats that I was told came from a recipe Sea Cliff luminary Gina Cressey (now a Maine resident) has shared with a multitude of her friends. Where can I get this valued recipe and, yes, do you have a good book to recommend, preferably one with a culinary theme? Food Fanatic

Dear Food Fanatic, How lucky you are- I have answers to both your questions. Gina's recipe for Party Rolls is in the Sea Cliff Civic Association Progressive Dinner Cookbook. I have served these many times and always to rave reviews. Now let's get to that good book for you: THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman. Two sisters, so alike so different…. Emily is the CEO of a Silicon Valley startup firm and Jess is a doctoral student in philosophy at Berkeley. The women lead parallel lives, each devoted to the other, each baffled by the other's choices in men, clothes, food, whatever. While there is much discussion of restaurants, favorite dishes, and family recipes, the underlying theme is one of substitution. The sisters substitute reading cookbooks for cooking (how many of us are guilty of that one?), collecting instead of using, starting instead of finishing. The characters that surround them: parents dead and alive, lovers, friends, and yes, a pair of rabbis, all add to this richly colorful tale. The sisters' adventures crisscross the country from Boston to L.A. giving us insight into life on both coasts, into the worlds of technology and academia, all of this with a touch of mysticism thrown in. Definitely there is food for thought in this book!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the Sea Cliff Bistro yesterday afternoon having my daily cappuccino when a group of people began discussing a book they were reading for their book group. It was about modern India and the hero was a murderer. Does this sound familiar? Cappuccino / Latte Lover

Dear Cappuccino/ Latte Lover, Don't you just adore the Sea Cliff Bistro -everyone calls it Lily's after its talented and gracious owner. The perfect spot for a late afternoon treat! I was there this weekend, when Greta Gorder and Michael and Diane Biolsi came in for their lattes. Diane and Greta, in fact, are reading the very book you are asking about- WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga This is a very disturbing look into the mind of the clever but amoral entrepreneur Balram Halwai who came from the "darkness" as he calls his rural village into the "lightness" which is the sophisticated, upscale Indian city where he now lives and works. The novel takes the form of letters in which Halwai recounts his determination to rise above his impoverished beginnings - to be the white tiger that appears once in a generation. He realizes that society views him and others of his class as its rubbish, its throwaways. The killing of his employer which is mentioned on the first page of the book is not a violent act prompted by hatred or passion, but a calculated gesture meant to insure a good life for himself. The reader is left conflicted: can one condemn a man who feels life is simply a contest in which one is the eater or the eaten?