Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  With this unrelenting cold weather, I find myself staying home night after night- even the lure of dinner at the Metro Bistro or K.C. Gallagher’s is not enough to get me outdoors. Do you have a good book I can read while in this self-imposed isolation?  Shivering in Sea Cliff

Dear Shivering,  Yes, the cold bleakness of January and early February can wear one down, but you are so right- a good book can make most things bearable.  E.L. Doctorow’s ANDREW’S BRAIN might be just what you need to get your mind off the cold. Andrew is a cognitive scientist who thinks a lot about… well, thinking.  Andrew and an unnamed man- probably a psychiatrist- discuss Andrew’s life past, present, and future; it soon becomes clear that Andrew  has brought death and disaster to all who have come in contact with him, whether they be spouses, children, neighbors, or friends - a Typhoid Mary of the psyche.  But is this true? Can we believe Andrew or as he says “ just thinking about something changes it” so can anyone be a reliable witness to one’s own life? This slim  (189 pages) novel touches on many topics- the Bush presidency, post 9/11 America, the secret life of ants, and Mark Twain’s writings- to name just a few. This is a difficult but worthwhile book, containing many surprises that left this reader more puzzled than pleased.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  While we were stocking up for the big snow storm this week at North Shore Farms, we ran into friends and neighbors galore.  One of these friends Juanita Fairclough mentioned a book she had heard about- written by the author of “The Unholy Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.” I loved that book so I am eager to get started on this new one.  What is its title and have you read it? Snow Storm Shopper

Dear Snow Storm Shopper,  Rachel Joyce wrote  “The Unholy Pilgrimage….and  PERFECT is her second and latest novel.   PERFECT has an interesting premise: it is 1972 and two seconds are to be added to the world’s clocks to compensate for variations in the earth’s rotation (apparently this actually did happen and over the years since, twelve more seconds have been added). While scientists insist this necessary adjustment will have no ill effect, eleven year-old  Byron and his friend James are very concerned. As it turns out, they were right: their entire lives and those of their friends and families were changed by the addition of those two seconds.  In alternating chapters, the reader experiences the  summer of 1972 and the  winter of 2012. Always there is the question: how will these two time periods intersect?  The 1972 piece is set in a lovely English suburb with a beautiful moor, a lush pond, and is told from young Byron’s perspective.    In 2012, the perspective is that of a very damaged middle-aged man living in an abandoned van and working in a failing shopping mall.   Each of these stories could stand alone, but Joyce links the two in a devastating conclusion. A very thought-provoking book!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at a great family reunion last week in Point Lookout, a community that reminds me a lot of Sea Cliff, when a group of partygoers left to finish the night’s festivities at a new restaurant right on Lido Boulevard: J.A. Heneghan’s Tavern.  What a fabulous place! Named after the iconic John Anthony Heneghan, it combines the feel of a cozy Irish pub in the front and a lovely, romantic restaurant in the back. Well, while I was there one of the patrons began talking about a controversial new book about TV’s role in local and national politics.  I can’t find it listed anywhere. Any thoughts?     Fan of J.A. Heneghan’s

Dear Fan of J.A. Heneghan’s,  I too love this restaurant with its fun atmosphere and delicious food! The book you are looking for was just published this week and “controversial” is putting it mildly. THE LOUDEST VOICE IN THE ROOM by Gabriel Sherman is an unauthorized biography of TV mogul Roger Ailes, who singlehandedly has shaped the political climate of this country beginning with his grooming of presidential candidate Richard Nixon- many believe Nixon would never have been elected without Ailes’s  coaching.  The Florida recount, the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, the emergence of the Tea Party, the alleged War on Christmas, the Sarah Palin candidacy  are just a small part of the Ailes’s legacy,  leading many including President Obama to call him “the most powerful man in America.”  While a fascinating look into the life of one man, the book is much more: it is a study of power and the ease with which a nation can be manipulated.  Terrifying!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last week, I joined with a hardy group of Sea Cliff residents and friends to ring and sing  in the new year on the Village Green.  I love moments like that when we can be part of something larger than ourselves.  While at this event, someone mentioned a short, beautifully written novel  set in the Ozarks in the  1920’s   Any thoughts?   For Whom the Bell Tolls

Dear For Whom…,  Yes, THE MAID’S VERSION by Daniel Woodrell is a very good read and it does indeed deal with community, but not in the lovely way you describe.  The main character is  Alma Dunahew, the maid whose life past and present is forever scarred by a fiery dance hall  explosion in which 42 people, including her beloved, fun-loving sister Ruby, were killed. The town is haunted for generations by the mystery of who was responsible.  Alma ‘s hard life is made even harder when she questions those whose money and position put them above suspicion. In exquisitely drawn tiny portraits, we meet victims and survivors; the innocent and the guilty; the poor and their masters; ultimately we are shown the power of money  to make “things”  go away. When we come to the end of the book, we realize we have learned much about Alma’s community-  its bigotry, its cruelty, its injustice, and, yes, at times,  its generosity. Highly recommended!