Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I was on the Pub Crawl last weekend- what fun! I made it to Metro Bistro, the new Oak Room, Partners, and Gallagher's -each was more crowded than the next. While I was waiting to get into Partners, I heard a group of people talking about a new book they had all read. It was set on the Amazon River and sounded like a great scientific adventure story. Do you know the book and, if so, would you recommend it? Fascinated by Amazon Adventures

Dear Fascinated, The Pub Crawl was fun- the Beach committee did a wonderful job and, despite the rain, everyone seemed to have a great time. I do know the book you mention: STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett. She wrote the very popular BEL CANTO and while both are psychological adventure tales set in South America, this latest novel focuses on scientific rather than political intrigue . The story opens in a Minnesota pharmaceutical company where researcher Marina Singh has just discovered her friend and fellow researcher has died in a remote village deep in the Amazon jungle. His wife asks Singh to travel to the jungle to reclaim his body, and the head of the company also wants her there: to complete the dead man's mission which was to bring back a native drug that extends human fertility indefinitely. The head of the research outpost is a strange, charismatic woman who intimidates everyone around her. Mix in a cannibal tribe, a series of catastrophic accidents, malaria-induced hallucinations, a score of fascinating characters, some corporate malfeasance, all topped with a generous dollop of romance and you have an exciting read with strong overtones of Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS.

Remember: Meet the Candidates is Thursday, March 8 at 8pm in Sea Cliff Village Hall. All three candidates for Village Trustee will be there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the fabulous new Five Napkin Burger in Manhattan on 14 Street and 3rd Avenue this weekend . What fun and what great food! Chef Andy D'Amico has yet another winner. While we were there, one of the happy diners was going on about a book she had read long ago in college and had just reread recently with great pleasure. It was TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf . I have never read anything by Woolf since she always seemed so intimidating but this sounded very good. What do you think?
Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Dear Afraid, I was at the new Five Napkin Burger this weekend too and I agree: great food, great location, great restaurant! I do think you should give TO THE LIGHTHOUSE a try. It is a short novel (203 pages) divided into three parts: The Window which describes one day in the life of the Ramsey family ; Time Passes, the shortest of the three, covers the events of the next ten years; and finally, To the Lighthouse recounts one morning. It is a story of family, of marriage, of friendship but mostly it is a story of time - how we perceive it, how it changes us, and how in time our lives are lived "each alone." I listened to a beautiful reading of this novel on a set of CD's that I borrowed from the Sea Cliff Library; it added immeasurably to my understanding and appreciation, so I would recommend you do the same. This is not an easy read, but a very, very rewarding one!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, Presidents' Weekend is coming up and I am planning on spending it in Sea Cliff with friends and family but I always like to have a good book on hand- something unusual, something beyond my usual comfort zone. Any ideas? Willing to Throw Caution to the Wind

Dear Willing- I know just how you feel - this is the time of year to try something new and I have just the book for you - RIN TIN TIN by Susan Orlean. Let me make it clear: I am NOT a dog lover- well, I do have a dog of sorts although I think most would call Oberon faux- but I liked this book because it was so much more than an animal story. Orlean details the horror of war, the science of eugenics, life in orphanages at the turn of the century, the history of the movie industry, the birth of television, the evolving status of dogs and, finally she introduces us to the many fascinatingly obsessive characters that surrounded Rin Tin Tin. The story opens in a small town on the border of France and Germany- a very dangerous and brutal place in 1917 when Lee Duncan arrived as an infantry soldier . There are dogs all about serving a myriad of roles: bringing medicine, bandages, cigarettes to the wounded and, in the end, offering comfort to the dying .In this nightmarish world, Duncan finds two newborn pups that he names Nanette and Rin Tin Tin after a pair of lucky charms that were popular in France at the time. Nanette dies shortly after but Rin Tin Tin proves to be Duncan's lucky charm, indeed. He survives the war, returns home with this spectacularly intelligent dog and his fortune is made as Rin Tin Tin becomes star of countless silent films and later a hugely popular TV series. We follow the ups and downs of their life together and in between we learn about the cultural history of the 20th century. This is a wonderfully enlightening and tender story. I think you'll love it!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, Last night I was having dinner at Billy Long's Metro Bistro- what a crowd! There was a birthday celebration at the bar, great music at the front of the restaurant, and in the back a book group was meeting. In the midst of all the noise and excitement, I heard someone toasting Charles Dickens- apparently this year is the famed author's bicentennial. Do you have a good Dickens's biography I might read this month? Undaunted by Dickens

Dear Undaunted, Yes- Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812 so this week would be his 200th birthday! I recently read BECOMING DICKENS by Robert Douglas Fairhurst This is an interesting biography in that it focuses on Dickens's amazing capacity to reinvent himself . The mournful thought "what might have been and what was not" permeates so many of his works from "The Christmas Carol" to "The Tale of Two Cities" and the other fifty or so in between. When his secure, affluent childhood collapses into financial ruin, his young business partner commits suicide in despair, and his first (and perhaps only love) dies suddenly, Dickens begins anew but always with angst and regret. His characters are searching for security: both emotional and financial. Fairhurst captures the genius of the man and also his almost crippling neurosis. In many ways, Dickens is his own finest character. After finishing the book, I vowed that I would begin a year of Dickens's readings- a Dickens Society of Sea Cliff- and where would we meet? Perhaps a back table at the Bistro…

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, A few weeks ago I attended an event at St Boniface's Church at which Sea Cliff's Mayor Bruce Kennedy spoke beautifully about education being the proper community response to prejudice. I vowed then that I would try to learn about other cultures and religions this year. I would like to begin with a novel. Can you suggest one to help me reach my goal? Eager to Learn

Dear Eager, I have a wonderful book I read a few weeks ago which I think you will enjoy and find worthwhile: THE GOOD MUSLIM by Tahmima Anam. Set in 1980's Bangladesh, the book traces the diverging paths of a brother and sister who have each been traumatized by the brutality of war. Sohail Haku turns from a secular life of the intellect to become a charismatic religious leader while his sister Maya becomes a physician, completely eschewing the faith of her childhood. The inevitable conflicts are exacerbated when Maya returns home after a seven year absence to find the family home has become the center of Sohail's ministry. She feels her young nephew has been neglected as a result of his father's fervor while Sohail sees his sister as an evil influence on the boy and the community. That good, loving people can find themselves at such different places is the novel's troubling theme. Throughout, we see examples of misunderstanding, miscues, and misplaced blame but the book also us shows a possibility of redemption. Meanwhile, we learn much about the plight of the Bangladesh people, their troubled history, and our common humanity. This is definitely a worthwhile read and relatively short (304 pages).