Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, This Friday, February 28, I will be at one of Sea Cliff's iconic events: the Beach Committee’s 7th Annual Pub Crawl. As an added attraction this year, we will get to check out the Woodpecker’s Lodge (311 Sea Cliff Avenue) where tickets, and mugs, and shirts will  be sold.  The rest of my weekend is free so I would love to have a good book to read when I get home from the Crawl. I think a mystery would be just right.  Any ideas?  Enthusiastic Pub Crawler

Dear Enthusiastic,  I love this event too- the best part for me is seeing all of Sea Cliff out and about after the numbing isolation of winter.   I have an interesting book that is a quirky sort of mystery, character, historical and geographical study: THE LAST ANNIVERSARY by Liane Moriarty.  Set in Australia and in particular on a picturesque island a short ferry ride from the mainland, the novel is told from varying perspectives and over a number of years starting with the 1930’s up until 2010. The novel’s focal point is “The Baby Munro Mystery”- Alice and Jack Munro disappeared over seventy years ago from a small cottage on the island- the couple left with a marble cake cooling, a pot of tea ready to be poured, a trail of blood, and, oh yes, an infant daughter lying happily in her pram. As a result of the “mystery” and the entrepreneurial skills of the young sisters who raised the baby, the island has become an enormously profitable tourist destination with food concessions, souvenir shops and guided tours. This is a quick, enjoyable read with some rich character development and, of course, a clever mystery waiting to be solved.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I attended a fabulous Presidents’ Day brunch over the weekend, and one of the fun things we did was choose our favorite president.  Many of us, myself included voted for Theodore Roosevelt. I have visited Roosevelt’s homes in Oyster Bay and Manhattan, read a number of his biographies, but I would like to learn still more about this fascinating man.  Any thoughts?      A Fan  of T.R.  
Dear T.R. Fan.   I too have always been fascinated by our 26th president. I just finished a great book by a favorite author of mine- Doris Kearns Goodwin:  THE BULLY PULPIT.  This is more than a standard biography of a president- it delves into Roosevelt’s relationship with his handpicked successor William Howard Taft and also the role journalists played in creating the narrative of Roosevelt’s life before and after his election. In fact the subtitle of the book is “Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism.  Taft and Roosevelt make for such a wonderful contrast- the sickly child who devoted his life to becoming healthy, athletic, and fit and Taft, robust as a child ,  who went on to spend his adult life unsuccessfully fighting severe obesity.  Both progressives, Roosevelt was the consummate politician and friend of journalists while Taft had little political acumen, shunning interviews and photo ops.   Despite these differences, they had an intense friendship which came to a devastating end when Roosevelt decided to run against Taft for reelection with Democrat Woodrow Wilson ultimately winning the election. It was only years later, shortly before Roosevelt’s death, that the two men were to reconcile.   A very long book (900 pages), BULLY PULPIT gives us an interesting look into a time when the presidency, politics, and the media were all reconfiguring.    A very worthwhile and enjoyable read!

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Dear Great Book Guru,  Valentine’s Day is a lovely respite from the snow and cold of February and I plan on celebrating with friends at a local restaurant, but I also would like something good to read this holiday weekend. My friend Jim Doherty mentioned Elmore Leonard as an author I might enjoy.  Any thoughts?  Be My Valentine

Dear Valentine,  I had never read any Elmore Leonard until recently and I do think you might find him a good choice. Known as the Dickens of Detroit for his colorful characters and conversational flavor, Leonard has written over thirty novels, many that have been made into movies and television series (“Get Shorty”, “Justified”, “Out of Sight” among others}. His early books were Westerns but later he concentrated on contemporary Detroit and its surroundings- always with desperate but decent heroes who show little respect for the  conventional mores of   law and order.  PAGAN BABIES is a  favorite of mine.  It opens with Father Terry Dunn hearing the confessions of his parishioners in modern day Rwanda. Soon however Terry and the reader are back on the streets of Detroit with aging mobsters, fugitive felons, attractive ex-convicts, bumbling assassins, all in pursuit of the American dream or at least a great deal of cash. Everyone has a secret, everyone has a mission- and Leonard brings  them all together in a humorous- at times poignant- fast-moving conclusion.

Happy birthday this week to Joseph Anzalone, Shannon Doherty, Victor Ambrose,  and Lousie Voccoli- readers  who always find time for a good book!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at the opening of Karen Kessler’s great new Sea Cliff Stitchery.  What fun and such beautiful things! I signed up for a class with Karen and can’t wait for it to begin. While we were there at the K. DiResta Collective, many people were talking about the late Pete Seeger.  I would love to learn more about the man and his times- do you have a book you would recommend?   Seeger Fan

Dear Seeger Fan,   I read a wonderful biography of Woody Guthrie  a few months ago that presented a detailed description of Pete Seeger and the  movement Seeger led for so many years. The book was RAMBLIN MAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WOODY GUTHRIE by Ed Cray. While a rich record of Guthrie’s troubled life, this book also highlights a vast array of  characters that brought song and protest together: Leadbelly,  the Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem,  Jack Elliott, Cisco Houston, Joan Baez, Alan Lomax,   Bob Dylan… with Pete Seeger- ever present and ever the movement’s  moral compass.  Guthrie was a much more ambiguous character- an immensely talented song  writer  and chronicler of the country’s political and economic ills, but  tortured by debilitating illnesses,  family tragedies, and a ruthless determination to become a legend in his own time. This book is a tribute indeed to those men and women who with their songs attempted to create a more just society.  Highly recommended!