Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru,
I am so excited about the Village-wide Garage Sale this weekend in Sea Cliff and especially the Friends of the Library's sale on the Village Green- there will be hundreds and hundreds of books at bargain prices and even a crafts table for children. But I have a mission: it is my friend Paul's birthday and I'd like to get him a great book- he loves music from the "80's and an interesting plot line. Any thoughts? Frugal Gift Giver

Dear Frugal, I have a great idea for your friend and if you are lucky you will find it at the sale: A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan. The goon squad is Time and we are all its victims - a rather sobering theme for a birthday gift…. Egan's novel is a series of sketches in which we meet thirteen characters whose lives are interconnected. It spans from the 1960's through 2019 and takes place largely in New York City but there are scenes set in Africa, Italy, and California. Each person impacts others-some in minor ways, some in major ways - but it is Time that always triumphs. We meet Benny as a forty year old and then as a teenager and finally as a man in his sixties. When we meet Sasha in the opening pages, she is a thirty-five year old kleptomaniac and then a tortured young girl in Italy, and finally a settled sixty -year old. The young man Alex whose wallet she steals in 2003 reappears in 2019 as internet scammer of sorts working for Benny in a world that is experiencing a baby boom after fifteen years of war. As you can tell, we bounce back and forth over countries and decades; it's a wild ride and read - very worthwhile!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru,
Sea Cliff is such a wonderful place any time of year, but May is a particularly special time. I just came home from the Landmarks House Tour. It was amazing: there were so many homes- from tiny jewel boxes to majestic castles- and so much in between. But next Monday is Memorial Day with its spirited parade through the Village and its bittersweet conclusion at Clifton Park; I would like to read something befitting this day. Do you have a suggestion? Memorial Day Observer

Dear Memorial Day Observer, I agree with you- the House Tour was the best ever- Tina Marchese and Leslie Guerci and all their committee members are to be congratulated on a job well done! Of course, Memorial Day evokes another side of life in Sea Cliff and I admire your desire to set the tone with a tome…. I would recommend A PEACE TO END ALL PEACE by David Fromkin. The title comes a British commander's comment at the end of World War I, " After the war to end all war, they have been pretty successful in making a peace to end all peace" referring to the decisions by the British and to a smaller extent the Americans and the French that created new borders, new countries, and new hostilities. The book delves into the many missteps and misconceptions whose repercussions continue to plague the world today. Can we learn from the mistakes of those who came before? The book suggests probably not, and this makes Memorial Day all the more poignant an observance.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I have been reading that an award-winning, recently published poet is doing a reading of his work this weekend at the Sea Cliff Library. I don't like much of modern poetry, but I am intrigued at the thought of a local Sea Cliff writer sharing his work with us. Do you think I would enjoy the event and is there any way I could prepare myself for the experience? Fearful Fan

Dear Fearful Fan, Fear not…. you are going to have a wonderful, wonderful afternoon. On Saturday, May 21, 1pm at the Sea Cliff Library, Charles Hansmann will be reading from his latest work -LONELINESS JACKET- a majestic collection of his poetry. "Some lines I know by heart as soon as I read them" is a passage from one of Hansmann's poems, but it could be said of much of his work. There is a simple elegance in his descriptions of life's tiny shared moments, and while he writes of loneliness, his tenacious connection to the world and his loved ones pervades each of his poems. You will soon realize you understand far more than you thought, but if you still would like to do a little preparation there is a new guide to modern poetry that might give you the confidence you seek- BEAUTIFUL AND POINTLESS by David Orr. As Orr says, "poetry matters to people for the same reason anything appeals to anyone: because they love it" and I am certain you will love Hansmann's poetry. In fact, there is talk of naming him the Poet Laureate of Sea Cliff. He has my vote…

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend, a group of us were enjoying a lovely Mother's Day walk around Sea Cliff when we met our friend Charlie Weinstein . After talking about books, real estate, and restaurants- three top favorite Sea Cliff topics- someone mentioned having read a book about the closing of a restaurant. Charlie thought his book group might be interested but no one knew the name of the book. Any ideas? Book Stalker

Dear Book Stalker, I just finished reading LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER by Stewart O'Nan- a new favorite author of mine- and yes, it would be a fine choice for a book club. The novel (a quick 146 pages) is set in a Red Lobster chain restaurant in a Connecticut mall during a blizzard a few days before Christmas. The corporate owners have told the long time manager Manny Deleon that they are closing his restaurant. O'Nan creates in fine detail a portrait of this workplace: the cooks, wait staff, hostess, line people and the customers -from cranky toddlers, to coupon-bearing retirees, boisterous party goers, and predictable regulars; all come under the loving eye of the flawed but decent and indeed noble Manny. The novel recounts the last day from his unlocking of its doors to its final closing that night. His workers will all have to find new jobs- Manny himself will be an assistant manager at an Olive Garden. Since his customers have no idea that it is the restaurant's last day, Manny's dealings with petty squabbles, half price coupons, irritable waitresses, comment cards, and a mutinous kitchen staff take on a hellish, tragic-comedic quality. At the end, we are left with a strange respect for a man who has given his love and loyalty to, yes, a Red Lobster restaurant, and sadness that this love and loyalty goes unrequited.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru,
Growing up in the '60's, I have always been fascinated by the story of Malcolm X. I read his autobiography and I've seen the Spike Lee movie" Malcolm X"; now I hear there is a controversial book that challenges many of the facts surrounding his life. Have you read this book and, if so, would you recommend it? Truth Seeker

Dear Truth Seeker, Like you, I have been fascinated by the story of Malcolm X. This weekend I was at a conference in San Diego so I had a long plane ride and many hours by the pool to read the book you mention : MALCOLM X: A LIFE OF REINVENTION. The author Manning Marable, a noted historian from Columbia University, worked for over twenty years sorting out the recorded facts of Malcolm X's life; tragically Marable died a few days before the book's publication. The picture he draws is quite different from that of the poor, uneducated ex- convict who found redemption through religion and the love of a good woman and, at the end of his life, gave up his racist views in a burst of universal love. No- Marable tells us a far different story: a man who created a tawdry persona and exaggerated his criminal past to make his message more powerful- a man whose marriage was painfully unhappy- a man whose friends and family betrayed him at every turn- a brilliant international diplomat who walked and talked with kings and princes. His assassination at age thirty-nine remains clouded by mystery with suggestions of police, FBI, CIA, religious, and gang involvement. This is definitely a great read and highly recommended for its portrait of an iconic figure and a chaotic time in American history.