Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,   Sea Cliff is about to lose two of its finest citizens to Springfield, Massachusetts- Ann and Andy Weickert.  After thirty years of living here and  supporting countless  community organizations, they are headed north . At a party in their honor last weekend at the lovely home of Charles and Elizabeth Weinstein, friends and neighbors gathered to wish them well.  As often happens at Sea Cliff gatherings, the conversation turned to books.  Cee Wheeler mentioned a novel she had heard reviewed on NPR- it was set in Saudi Arabia and reminded her of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" but she couldn't remember the title.  Any clue?          Wishing the Weickerts Well

Dear Wishing,  We will all miss Ann and Andy, but I am happy to tell you that I do know the book you are interested in:  A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING by Dave Eggers, a really fine choice for a cold February weekend. The hero Adam Clay is a consultant to a huge American IT company that is trying to get the contract for King Abdullah  Economic City, a brutally hot, partially developed city of  many contradictions. Following the precepts of salesmanship   Clay has practiced for over thirty years, he is dismayed to realize they do not work in the new global economy.  His product is without substance; it is an image- a hologram and he,  a hollow man.  Chilling for all of us is that Eggers suggests that this is America's fate also.  A difficult but worthwhile read!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  This past weekend, I saw the much touted film "Zero Dark Thirty" about the capturing of Osama Bin Laden.  I was underwhelmed ,and  afterwards when I was discussing it with friends, someone suggested  I read a novel  ( YELLOW BIRDS- was the title, I think) about our military involvement in the Arab wars for another perspective . Have you heard of it and, if so, would you recommend it? Wanting to Understand

Dear Wanting to Understand,  I saw "Zero Dark Thirty" with our Cinema Cliff Club and the reactions were mixed- some seeing it as a great artistic achievement and others bewildered by its popularity.  But, yes, I have read  THE YELLOW BIRDS by Kevin Powers and what a powerful book it is!  Told in the voice of twenty-one year-old John Bartles, the novel spans  five years: 2004 to 2009, with chapters set in Al Tafar, Iraq;  Richmond, Virginia; and  Fort Knox, Kentucky . The daily lives of Iraqi civilians, Bartles, his fellow soldiers, their commanders and  families back home are recounted in painful detail.  When eighteen year old Daniel Murphy's mother asks Bartles to bring her son safely home to her, he assumes what becomes an emotionally devastating burden.  The horrors these two young men endure are recorded in a strangely dreamlike lyricism. An underlying mystery that is made clear only in the final chapters permeates our narrator's psyche and ours throughout.  Recommended!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,   I was at the opening of the Sea Cliff Village Museum's newest exhibit- "Architectural Details- Ceiling, Floors, Windows and Doors" and its new permanent exhibit "Gone But Not Forgotten"  an extensive collection of photos of Sea Cliff buildings demolished or destroyed over the years.  Museum Director Sara Reres did a fabulous job organizing this exhibit and her presentation at the opening ceremony was great. While there, I heard an enthusiastic group  singing the praises of a new book -WONDER. They insisted it would appeal to everyone from ten-year olds  to the octogenarian crowd and all ages in-between. Is it possible that a book can transcend the generations?  Doubtful in Sea Cliff

Dear Doubtful,  Put your doubts aside and go get yourself a copy of WONDER  by  R.J. Palacio.  The book is written from the perspective of funny, sweet, smart, sassy August Pullman,  a ten-year old with a  severe facial deformity. "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse" he tells us in the opening chapter.  Faced with going to school for the first time (he's been homeschooled by his loving -also funny and smart- parents), August bravely faces new friends, new experiences and new feelings.  In alternating chapters, his friends and sister give us their perspectives on the events which define August's year.  While his world is a young boy's, it is also the world all of us inhabit- one where kindness and humor can make a heaven of the most hellish of experiences.  Highly recommended for all ages!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at the annual Doherty-DiPietro-Heneghan-Voccoli-Garrett- Gurbo  Holiday Happening in Point Lookout, where I overheard a spirited discussion of everyone's favorite topic: "what good books have you read lately?" A few people mentioned a harrowing  memoir about a young woman's  month -long journey through the Pacific Crest Trail. Some liked it; others couldn't get past the first few chapters. What is your take on it?                     Point Lookout Partygoer

Dear Point Lookout Partygoer,  What a great party and, yes, I too, like some of the partygoers,  have mixed feelings about: WILD  by Cheryl Strayed.  Written in 2007, the book recounts the author's hike across  the deserts, mountains, snow, and rain of the Pacific coast from California to Washington in 1995.  It is a tale of mourning, addiction, fear, estrangement, and ultimately redemption. In the opening pages of the book,  Strayed's mother at age 45 is diagnosed with terminal cancer,  and we quickly become enmeshed in her last days and Strayed's anguished response. After her mother's death, she marries but cannot make a commitment to a man who obviously loves her. She slips into many untoward relationships and ends up with a heroin addicted lover and worse, a heroin addiction. Her response is to remove herself from her life as she knows it and begin a trek across the Pacific trail. She is challenged by nature and the many folk she meets along the way.  Her adversities are many and her rewards few, but she ends the journey with a strong sense of achievement and hope for the future.  I cannot say I enjoyed this book but I did empathize with Strayed's desire to make her life right. Recommended with reservations….

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  What a fabulous beginning to the  New Year! Suggested by John Brady and put into action by Mayor Kennedy,  Musical Welcome to 2013 rang through the streets of Sea Cliff with citizen musicians playing and singing Auld Lang Syne , and I heard next year we might be doing this altogether at Memorial Park illuminated by the glow of  hundreds of candles.  Well, after this great beginning,  do you have something fun I can read over the next few days?  New Year Reveler

Dear New Year Reveler,  I too loved the Musical Welcome as did all our guests who enthusiastically joined in this event. Thank you, John and Mayor Kennedy!  While getting ready for the evening's festivities, I read a really enjoyable Grisham mystery.  Early Grisham I loved , mid- career Grisham I avoided, but his last few have once again won me over. THE RACKETEER is his latest and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Told largely in the first person voice of Malcolm Bannister, a forty-three years-old, recently divorced, recently disbarred, presently imprisoned ex-lawyer, the novel chronicles his  extraordinarily  clever pursuit of justice in and out of a minimum security federal prison. We travel with him and his entourage throughout the South and to colorful Caribbean islands- all the time trying to figure how the many puzzling details will come together, and of course, they do in sterling Grisham fashion.  The book is a quick read (about three hours) but the characters will linger with you for a very long time.