Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru. Many of my friends have read the first book in the "Hunger Games" series, and I wonder if I would enjoy it. I know it is written for a teenage audience, it is violent, and is fantasy- none of which makes it very appealing to me, but I am intrigued because of all the publicity it has gotten. Have you read the book and if so, would you recommend it? Hungry for a New Genre

Dear Hungry, Yes, I have read THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins and while I had many of the same reservations you have, I did enjoy it and would recommend reading it and also seeing the movie. Last weekend, we were at breakfast with the Merediths (formerly of Sea Cliff and now of Rhode Island) and the Kennedy-Hansmanns when the topic came up of why adults would be attracted to novels whose target audience is middle school and teen readers .What do so many sophisticated, educated adults find interesting in these books ? Well, I think the best of YAs (as these books are called) are clever, fast moving, and offer glimpses into worlds we want to learn more about .To be able to be transported into another universe and back all in a day's reading is very compelling for the time-strapped reader of whatever age. HUNGER GAMES offers even more with its carefully developed plot and memorable main character: a young woman who is angry, fierce, competent, and at times touchingly compassionate. Her ethical dilemmas while set in a futuristic , post-apocalyptical world are familiar to all of us and, yes, there are chilling hints of the barbarism that lies below the veneer of our civilized present day world. A good read!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at my friend Diane Biolsi's birthday celebration the other night at the new restaurant in town- the Oak Room Tavern- when I overheard a heated discussion about a book that a group of women had just read. It was set in an Indian slum and traced the daily lives of its inhabitants . Everyone agreed it was a life transforming book but some felt it was too disturbing to recommend. Do you know the book and, if so, what is your opinion? Intrigued but Uneasy

Dear Uneasy, The book is BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katerine Boo. The author spent four years chronicling the lives of three families from a slum near the Mumbai airport situated just behind a strip of luxurious hotels and expensive shops; all the names are real, every event personally witnessed, everyone an individual the author met and interviewed. These residents earn their living from the trash that airport travelers discard: bottles, newspapers, cigarettes, metal trinkets, anything and everything. While everyone needs food, shelter, and good health to survive, very few here have even the barest of these. One of the most shocking revelations was the overwhelming corruption that pits doctors, police, judges, and teachers against the poorest of these slum dwellers . The question the author poses remains unanswered: there are so many poor, living such wretched lives just beyond worlds of great wealth and waste, why don't they rise up? Instead, so many turn their anger against one another. Yes, this is a disturbing book but one that leaves the reader astonished that "while it is blisteringly hard to be good in such circumstances, some people are good and many try to be…"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I just started watching the PBS series Downton Abbey and am fascinated by the rigid rules that governed life on an English manor, by the legions of servants needed to maintain these ancient homes, and by the changes that time brought. Can you recommend a book that would replicate this viewing experience? Fascinated by All Things British

Dear Fascinated, Many people are discovering Downton Abbey; Season One is available at the Sea Cliff Library albeit with a long list of eager borrowers. However, I just finished a book I think you will enjoy very much: HOUSE OF TYNEFORD by Natasha Solomons. My friend Jen Scheffel who is a voracious reader had recommended it to me and I think she and I would agree that while this is not fine literature, it is a very moving tribute to a time and lifestyle long gone. Set in a beautiful village on the Dorset coast, the novel tells the story of Elise Landau, a nineteen year-old Viennese girl who with her opera singer mother and novelist father enjoys a charmed existence. They have a beautiful home filled with antiques, fine wines, and devoted servants. All of this changes with the rise of the Nazis; the family is forced to flee Vienna- some to New York, some to San Francisco, but Elise alone must go to England: as a housemaid until a more suitable arrangement can be made. The novel details the difficulties encountered in this brutal reversal of fortune. The manor house she arrives at in 1939 shares some of Downton Abbey's majesty, but by the end of the book, Tyneford and Elise's world have both been changed beyond belief.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I am so excited- I just received an email from the Sea Cliff Museum that Ines Powell is giving a lecture on early Italian Renaissance portraits next week. I have heard Ines speak many times and it is always such a treat. While I love art history, the intrigue that surrounds art collecting has also been a great interest of mine. Are there any new books on this subject? Interested in Intrigue

Dear Interested, Yes, I too look forward to Ines's lecture which will be Tuesday, March 13 at 7:30 in Village Hall. Last month while visiting the Getty Museum in California , I read CHASING APHRODITE, a book that offers more than a glimpse into the world of art collecting. While this might seem like a topic of limited interest to the general reader, it turned to be an amazing tale of greed, elaborate tax evasion schemes, hidden bank accounts, secret island paradises, shady grave diggers, aristocratic criminals, billionaire misanthropes, Nazi collaborators, and avaricious academics- a real page turner. Written by two investigative reporters, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, the book traces the fortunes of the Getty Museum, as its staff and administrators, fueled by an enormous endowment, feverishly buy up ancient Greek and Roman art pieces . There are a myriad of fascinating characters but two stand out: Marion True, a Harvard educated art historian, who led the buying spree and ended up in the Italian courts for almost ten years, and, J. Paul Getty, the oil tycoon billionaire whose bizarre life style and lust for antiquities are at the root of this amazing "chase." Highly recommended!