Monday, July 29, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  I love mysteries, I love spy novels, I love courtroom dramas, but this summer I think I should expand my literary horizons .  Do you have a really fine book that I could read as we begin the month of August?  A  Determined  Summer Reader

Dear Determined,  Last month I was at an amazing musical event- the  WNYC's  Battle of the Boroughs where a great innovative band  Victor V. Gurbo and Co. won the audience's vote. While there I was talking to two voracious readers Cecilia and Louise Voccoli .  Having been a fan of his earlier novel,  Cecilia strongly recommended Colum McCann's newest : TRANSATLANTIC.  Well, this weekend I read it and a most wondrous book it is! McCann links his native Ireland and his present home America in three novellas that transport us back and forth over the Atlantic. We enter the mind of Frederick Douglas as he visits Ireland in 1845; he contrasts the exalted treatment he receives from the Irish aristocracy to his status as a slave in the United States, but he is also horrified at the living conditions of Ireland's poor.  Next we meet  pilots  Alcock and Brown in 1919 as they attempt the first transatlantic mail flight under extremely dangerous conditions. The last of the three journeys is George Mitchell's,  the former US  Senator,  as he attempts to broker a peace deal in Northern Ireland in 1998.  These three journeys across the Atlantic and over three centuries are tied together by the lives of four women we meet who share a common lineage and a letter.  This is a beautifully written, lyrical novel of intriguing complexity. Highly recommended

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was having breakfast at Sea Cliff Beach last Sunday and what a great experience it was! Ann Kopple and her staff keep the Beach and the Pavilion pristine plus we have Bernard's  serving  the most delicious meals all through the day. And the best part- you can always find friends to share a table with and that's just what I did- I met up with Gail and Bob Lafferty. As you would expect with such an erudite couple,  the conversation quickly took a literary turn. We were sharing recent recommendations and I couldn't remember  the name of the  new highly acclaimed  novel about a young girl who had been cyber-bullied with a tragic result.  Do you know the book?                                 Sea Cliff Beach Breakfaster

Dear Beach Breakfaster,  I share your enthusiasm- I had a scrumptious grilled vegetable omelet there last week. On a darker note, the book is RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA  by Kimberly McCreight. Amelia is the fourteen-year-old  daughter of Kate Baron, a partner in a prestigious New York City law firm. The novel opens with Kate traveling to Amelia's exclusive private school in Brooklyn's Park Slope. Amelia is about to be suspended for plagiarizing a paper on Virginia Woolf. Kate's irritation turns to horror when she realizes that Amelia is dead- despondent over disappointing her mother, she has jumped to her death. Within hours though, Kate receives a text "she didn't jump" and the mystery unfolds-  this is all within the first ten pages . We learn much about Amelia as Kate gains access to Facebook accounts, text messages, and notebooks,  but we learn much  about Kate as well . While this is definitely a  literary mystery,it is also a coming of age novel., a study in mother-daughter relationships, and an indictment of social media.   Recommended!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last weekend, I went to see the classic film "Lawrence of Arabia" in Brooklyn's iconic BAM Harvey Movie Theater.  Recently renovated and restored to its 1920's gloriously gilded past, the Harvey is showing some of the best movies of the last decades and "Lawrence…. " was certainly one of those. Making it even more interesting and relevant was the picture it drew of how the Middle East of 2013 with its myriad of issues came into being. I would love to learn more about that period of history and its many colorful characters.  Any suggestions?  Loathe to Leave Sea Cliff but….

Dear Loathe to Leave…. I know just how you feel about venturing out of Sea Cliff on the weekend but sometimes one just has to do it. We joined Joseph Anzalone and Gillian DiPietro to see that movie in Brooklyn  and it was indeed incredible.  (Of course, we returned to Sea Cliff for a delicious dinner at the Metropolitan Bistro !) We were left with so many questions that I searched out some books for answers and I found an especially good one:  GERTRUDE BELL-QUEEN OF THE DESERT, SHAPER OF NATIONS by Georgina Howell. Bell was a contemporary of Lawrence's and in many ways more influential in determining the fate of that region. Born into the sixth wealthiest family in Britain, Bell had the means, personality, and intelligence to do whatever she wanted and her passion was Arabia. While she, Lawrence, and many of their allies were  ultimately viewed as  puppets of British imperialism, Bell remains a fascinating figure in a fascinating time.  Recommended!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend is the Sea Cliff Beach Committee's annual  Beach Palozza and I can't wait! It will be  Saturday, July 13 from 11am until 11pm with bands, contests, and great food, but when  I am at the beach, I must always have something  to read. Do you have a recommendation?     
Sea Cliff Beach Palooza Fan

Dear Beach Palooza Fan,  I just heard from Justin and Jenna DiPietro who are on the Beach Committee that this year's Palooza has an amazing lineup of bands plus activities for everyone from toddlers to nonagenarians. A book I think you will enjoy reading  at the event  is Claire Messud's  THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, the story of Nora Eldridge, a forty-two year old third grade teacher. She is grieving her mother's death, she regrets not pursuing a career as an artist,  and she fears- most of all -that she will  be "the woman upstairs" colorless, nameless, always on the fringe of other people's lives… until into her life come the Shahids: husband, wife, and eight year Reza. Glamorous, successful people, the Shahids become Nora's obsession.  The book opens with an angry tirade by her, five years after having met the Shahids,  but most of the book is devoted to the year that she and the Shahids' lives intersected . This is a psychological thriller of sorts because we are never sure if Nora is a credible witness to the events she describes. She might be, but then again, maybe not. A disturbing portrait that rings true on many levels! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Dear Great Book Guru,  What great fun we had this week at Sea Cliff's many Fourth of July related celebrations.  My favorite is always the reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the Library. Carol Vogt and her committee do a super job every year and this was no exception.  While  on the refreshment line - love those Grassroots' muffins-  I heard someone mention having  just finished  a book about the changing state of America told through a series of short biographies. It sounded interesting to read on this holiday weekend. Any thoughts?    Summer Patriot

Dear Summer  Patriot,  Yes, I know the book: George Packer's  THE UNWINDING: The Inner History of the New America. This is a very sad, very disturbing book, but worthwhile and beautifully written.  In its essence, "unwinding" is the coming apart of all that has kept the country together: economically, politically, and morally. While America has undergone unwinding in the past and emerged stronger than ever, this time he sees major differences that do not auger well for the future. He traces the lives of three citizens all born in the 1960's who are struggling to reinvent themselves in a changing America,  a country he sees as Walmartized- cheap goods, low salaries, and huge profits for the very few- as an example,  the six Walmart heirs have more money than the entire bottom 30% of the population.  Interspersed with the tales of these three, are ten short biographical sketches of modern day icons, some virtuous (Elizabeth Warren) but most - if not villainous- complicit (Oprah Winfrey, Joe Biden, Colin Powell, Robert Rubin, Sam Walmart) in Packer's view.  Certainly not light holiday reading, but highly recommended!