Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at a "Beat the Winter Blues" party last week and I think it really worked. My spirits have lifted and I am now looking for a new adventure: something great to read. I love English settings, a lively plot line, and the more contemporary the better. Any suggestions? Feeling Spring is Just Around the Corner

Dear Spring Around the Corner, Well, this is very easy: my recommendation for you is HOW IT ALL BEGAN by Penelope Lively, set in 2010 London, and filled with wonderfully colorful characters. Lively's premise is that chance plays a pivotal role in our lives; she then goes on to show how a single event changes the lives of each of her characters. The book opens with Charlotte Rainsford looking up from a London street pavement on a lovely April day. Her purse has been stolen and her hip broken. Now unable to live on her own, she is forced to move into her daughter Rose's home. Because of her mother's accident, Rose misses work, Rose's employer Sir Henry find a substitute for the day, the substitute, his niece Marjorie, inadvertently causes her lover's marriage to implode, and as a result she meets an glamorous new client who will soon alter her life forever. Suddenly, everything has changed. Lively describes each of these characters in brief (224 pages) but exquisite detail as they all come to question life's purpose. In alternating chapters we see Charlotte's evolution and those (many of whom she never meets) who are impacted by her fall. The title is somewhat misleading because we soon realize there are no beginnings or ends in this novel but rather a series of spontaneous combustions. Highly recommended!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I have loved your recommendations, especially last week's THE SENSE OF AN ENDING . I particularly liked it since I have always enjoyed reading about young people who are leaving school and trying to find life's purpose. I guess you'd call them books of passage. Can you think of another book In this category? A Lover of the Journey

Dear Lover of the Journey, I was away this weekend in sunny San Juan so my plan was to catch up on the many books I have stored on my Kindle. When it was first published in October, Gillian DiPietro had given me MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides . Based on her recommendation (and Daniel DiPietro's, too), I eagerly began reading it as soon as we took off from JFK. While a long book ( 416 pages), it was a quick read, I think, because of the constant shifting of viewpoints among characters. We first meet Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell on the day they graduate from Brown University. In alternating chapters, we experience the day from each of their perspectives. Madeleine is an English major who is the indulged daughter of a college president, Leonard is a charismatic manic- depressive science major whose parents have deserted him (as he recounts his history), and Mitchell is a religious studies major who is searching for spiritual enlightenment. Each of the men is in love with Madeleine who sees her life mirrored in the novels of Jane Austen. With graduation, the three set out to find their purpose and we are along for the journey: Cape Cod, Calcutta, Paris, Monte Carlo, and back to Providence- we get to experience it all through the eyes and egos of the threesome. I think you'll enjoy it!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, Now that the New Year has begun, I feel energized to start a serious reading regimen. My criteria is simple: a challenging storyline, but something I can finish over a weekend. Any thoughts? Reader with Resolve but Little Time

Dear Reader with…., Last night I finished a wonderful book on my Kindle and I think it just what you are looking for: THE SENSE OF AN ENDING by Julian Barnes, winner of the 2011 Booker Award - England's highest literary honor. At 160 pages, it is a very manageable read and the topic, while challenging, is fascinating: we create stories or endings to bring order to the chaos which is life, but these stories are seldom, if ever, true. The protagonist Tony Webster, 65 years-old, is living an ordered existence- a somewhat detached father and grandfather, amicably divorced, comfortably retired. He has tied up the loose ends of his life and is, if not happy, contented. We learn of a painful romantic encounter he had in his teens and a friendship that ended tragically. He remembers the people and events with clarity… or so he thinks. Unexpectedly, he receives $1000 inheritance, a letter, and the promise of a diary- all from the mother of his long ago girlfriend. Apparently, nothing was as he remembered. With the documents at hand, he sees that he has rewritten his life; his history was his own creation now debunked by irrefutable evidence. At the core of the book is a compelling mystery, but we come away with so much more: a look into our own memories, our own tales, our own attempts to write endings. Very thought provoking and a perfect read to begin the new year!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, One of my New Year's resolutions is to see more quality films and perhaps join a discussion group. I know you are all about books but can you help me in this pursuit? A Cinema Senorita

Dear Cinema Senorita, I can certainly understand your interest in film- just this past week a group of friends and I went on our annual holiday movie marathon. We saw a film a day and then met for a drink or dinner to debate and discuss what we had seen. The films included A DANGEROUS METHOD (this is an adaptation of a wonderful book with the same title) - Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud join forces to treat a fascinating patient with strong masochistic tendencies; after discussing their methods and beliefs the two men find they despise each other. There was much to discuss after this film. THE DESCENDANTS is an entertaining look at death, real estate and infidelity. The group had strongly differing opinions on this one but I loved it. On the other hand, everyone loved THE ARTIST- an homage to the silent film industry. It was funny, touching, and always entertaining. MY WEEK WITH MARILYN was another favorite of the group. Set in 1956 England, it traces a young assistant's week with Marilyn Monroe as she and Laurence Oliver clash over style and temperament in the production of The Prince and the Showgirl. We all came away with a new respect for Marilyn Monroe- her intelligence, her sweetness, and her demons were evident throughout. On New Year's Eve we saw the American version of the GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, yet another favorite of the group. Many of you have read the books, but it is great fun to see this adaptation. The lead character- Lisabeth Salander- is exquisitely portrayed as is the Swedish countryside. Yes, I think you have some wonderful movies to choose from- find some discerning friends and head out to your local theater this weekend, but remember, my friend, as always put aside time to read a good book!