Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend I will be attending the Holiday House tour on Saturday,  the Christmas Tree Lighting on Sunday,  and then celebrating my friends Tina Marchese and Jackie Warren's birthdays,  but I am sure I will have time to read a good book. Any suggestions? In the Holiday Spirit

Dear In the Holiday Spirit, What fun and yes, I think I have a good book to fill any free moment you have:  SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan.  McEwan is a prolific writer (Atonement, Amsterdam, Solar, Saturday, On Chesil Beach….) whose works are known for their clever twists.   Told in the first person by Serena Frome, the novel takes place  in 1970's England-  an England of IRA bombings, Cold War spying, labor unrest, and a dreary economy. Frome ("rhymes with plume")has just finished an idyllic summer  with an older man who is married, teaching at Cambridge, and a former spy. When he ends their romance abruptly, she finds herself courted by MI5- the British equivalent to our FBI.  Frome,  the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, and a speed reader of novels, is assigned to recruit writers whose image of the West is known to be positive ; the operation is known as "Sweet Tooth". The novel is hilariously funny ,  occasionally bittersweet , and always intellectually stimulating. A great read and only 300 pages so it should be perfect for a busy weekend !

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  What a beautiful weekend  we had here in Sea Cliff! There were parties and family gatherings galore.  In fact, we had a family reunion, a  turkey hunt, and  a bocce tournament  all on a Saturday afternoon.  Despite the great weather and everything that was going on, I really wanted to see the new Spielberg LINCOLN movie so on Sunday we joined with friends for dinner and the movie. While I loved the movie, I was confused at times and would like to learn more.  Do you have a book to recommend that will sort out all the historical figures we met? Loving Lincoln

Dear Loving Lincoln, We too saw LINCOLN  this weekend and I was very happy to have a copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin's TEAM OF RIVALS on hand to clarify many points brought up in the movie. Our friends and fellow moviegoers Vic Ambrose and Linda Halliday had read the book too, so it made for great dinner discussion.  The book's thesis is that Lincoln's genius lay in his ability to take his fiercest opponents and make them his greatest supporters. The book is really a series of multiple biographies: in addition to Lincoln, Attorney General Bates, Secretary of Treasury Chase, Secretary of State Seward, and Secretary of War Stanton.  These men were dismissive of Lincoln and angry at losing to this underwhelming, unattractive opponent. By the end of his life, Lincoln had won them all over with his sensitivity, intelligence, and good will. The book is long (700 plus pages) but a compelling study of power and personality.

P.S. This is the third anniversary of the Great Book Guru Blog. Special thanks to Ricky Silver who three years ago early on a Thanksgiving morning  helped launch this blog. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  I attended a very moving Veterans' Day celebration at the Sea Cliff Fire House this week.  The Brengel family, who had lost both a father and son in two long ago wars, was honored with a plaque in the garden outside the firehouse. Mayor Kennedy spoke as did our new Congressman Steve Israel  and Phil Como,  organizer of the event .  After the storm travails of the last few weeks, it was great to gather together on a warm sunny day to honor our past losses and rejoice in our present good fortune. While there I heard someone mention a book set in northern California about two families dealing with issues of parenting, job loss, friendship, and nostalgia. Does the book sound familiar?             Book Seeker

Dear Book Seeker,  The  Brengel dedication was very touching, indeed and I too overheard that conversation. The book is Michael Chabon's TELEGRAPH AVENUE.  Chabon and his wife Aylett Waldman are favorite authors of mine. This novel takes place in 2004 but it is an homage to an earlier time- the 1960's.  Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are partners in a viny record store; their shared love of the "60's-its music, movies, clothes, celebrities- gives focus to their lives. There are many concentric subplots- their wives who are partners in an upscale midwifery practice face a racist hospital board, their sons are mirror images of each other, both with  adolescent identity angst, and their  elderly parents are colorful artifacts of Oakland and Berkeley's   uneasy  shared history.  Chabon's love of the 1960's is evident throughout the novel and certainly gives the reader an appreciation for a fading moment of our history. Recommended!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,  Throughout this surrealistic week, one of my main sources of comfort was- you guessed it- reading.  I had just gotten a copy of the book you  recommended the week before: HOW TO BE A WOMAN. It was so good to laugh, think, ponder  about something other than the cold and darkness.  Well, now I am ready for another good book to get me through the psychic aftermath of the storm.  Any suggestions?      Harried by the Hurricane

Dear Hurricane Harried,   Many people told me that, like you, they were reading HOW TO BE A WOMAN  last week and  that it prompted spirited discussion.  We have Gillian DiPietro to thank for that suggestion and, yes, I have a good book to recommend for this upcoming week: THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Fris, two Danish women writing together for the first time. Their heroine is Nina Borg,  a Red Cross nurse who has worked in  many war torn areas of the world but , as the book opens, has just returned to her husband and children in orderly, civilized,  peaceful Denmark. She quickly finds herself embroiled in a crime of astonishing cruelty because Nina's Denmark turns out to have an underbelly of corruption with widespread mistreatment of  immigrant women  and  children.   In short biographical  chapters, the authors introduce us to characters that seem to have nothing to do with one another until gradually we see the links that bind them together. From Lithuania to Denmark to Somalia, we meet women of all ages and classes, fighting oppression - all involved in a fascinating mystery which keeps the reader's attention throughout. Highly recommended!