Monday, March 31, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, I read with great interest and enthusiasm your review of Dave Eggers’s THE CIRCLE, so much so that I convinced by book group to read it last week. Well, while the overall reaction was not as positive as yours or mine, it did provoke a spirited discussion. Do you have another book we could read to follow up on this debate on privacy, government, and technology?  Fan of  Fiery Debates

Dear Fan of Fiery Debates,  I am sorry that your friends did not appreciate my recommendation but I do think the best discussions are not always about the most liked books.  I suggest you read George Orwell’s 1984 as a follow up to THE CIRCLE.  Apparently the sale of this 1949 classic increased seven-fold the week the NSA surveillance tapes were released so it is indeed a relevant choice.  Set in the then future year 1984, the novel opens with its hero, everyman Winston Smith questioning his role in this strangely gray, frightening world of Big Brother, doublespeak, thought crimes, and memory holes where War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. We follow Winston as he tries to unravel the mysteries of existence in a society where truth is a constantly changing commodity.  Many of us read 1984 in high school but a second reading as an adult living in 2014 is a very different experience and highly recommended.

If you find this Orwellian dystopian world a bit overwhelming, you might want to head out to the Village Green on Friday, April 4 for Sea Cliff’s  first ever Warm Up. From 5:30pm on local musicians will perform on the Green, bars and restaurants will feature great specials plus live music, and shops will stay open late. A great way to celebrate community and Spring!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at the victory party last week for Village Trustees Kevin McGilloway and Elena Villafane and Justice John Reali at the McGilloways’ beautiful home when conversation turned to – what else ?- books!  Carol Vogt,  a great student of history, reminded us that 2014 is the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War I, a subject I am very interested in.  I wonder if you have a book to recommend about that “war to end all wars”?   History Buff

Dear History Buff,  I just finished a short novel (118 pages): 1914 by Jean Echenoz. This is a story of five young men from a small village in the Loire Valley of west central France whose lives are forever changed when their  village  bells  begin to toll on a lovely  summer Saturday afternoon, calling them to war.  Anthime is bicycling through the village on his way to a picnic, Charles is experimenting  with his new Reve Ideal camera, while Padioleau, Bossis, and Arcenel, three friends, are enjoying the afternoon at a local cafĂ©.  While all realize the war has begun for them, they believe  it will end quickly, perhaps in two weeks or so. Their concerns at first are of attractive uniforms and romantic farewells. Of course, all of this changes .   Echenoz relates, almost dispassionately, the horrors these five Frenchmen endure, but this only underscores his fury at the absurd savagery of war.   There is no beauty, no grace, no redemption in this account of- as it was called- the Great War.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  We were at Still Partners the other night with the Marcheses and the Abbenda/Hughes listening to that great band “Kingfisher” when someone mentioned that the annual Barbara Pym Society conference in Cambridge is scheduled for this coming weekend. While only a few members from Sea Cliff will be able to attend  ( it was sold out months ago), those lucky few promised to report back all the exciting comings and goings. Do you know what book will be featured since I want to be able to discuss it with the returning Pymites?   A Devoted Pymophile

Dear Devoted Pymophile,  The book chosen for this year’s conference is a favorite of mine: EXCELLENT WOMEN.  It was one of Pym’s early novels and is a perfect example of her distinctive style.  Written from the perspective of Mildred Lathbury, a thirtyish woman living alone in 1950’s London, the novel is all about- well, nothing … or perhaps I should say all those wonderful little things that we cling to so that our lives will have meaning. Sensitive and self-deprecating,   Mildred is a keen observer of others, who finds herself called upon to play many different roles in the lives of her friends whether they be the colorful Napiers- anthropologist Helena and her dashing naval officer husband Rockingham- or the ever so slightly shabby Malory siblings- cleric Julian and his devoted sister Winifred. This is not an epic novel filled with great ideas, but rather a great novel filled with small delights.  Highly recommended!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru, I will be celebrating St Patrick’s Day at K.C. Gallagher’s here in Sea Cliff, but I heard that Heneghan’s Tavern in Point Lookout is the place to be if you are willing to leave our lovely Village.  But before I go anywhere this weekend, I want to have a good book in hand.  Someone told me there is an interesting first novel set in Brooklyn about writers. Sound familiar and, if so, would you recommend it?  St Patrick’s Day Celebrant

Dear Celebrant, I applaud your choice of venues and yes, I have heard of THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P. by Adelle Waldman.  Waldman writes about a thirtyish author  who finds love and happiness in Brooklyn- well, maybe not love and possibly not happiness.  Set in the present time, the novel traces Nate Piven as his first novel is about to be published and, to his surprise, finds his magazines articles and book reviews suddenly in great demand. His relationships with various women are recounted and we begin to see a pattern of smart man, too many choices.  Nate is bright, articulate, but ultimately superficial and the reader begins to tire of his many romantic missteps. The beauty of this book lies not in Nate’s portrayal,  but rather  in Waldman’s carefully crafted depiction of  social and literary sites in Brooklyn and Manhattan. From cozy taxi rides over the Brooklyn Bridge to antique lit backyard restaurants, the author offers us a glimpse into a visually attractive but socially chaotic world.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  Last weekend Sea Cliff lost a beloved friend and esteemed scholar John Moyne. A man of great literary, linguistic, and technological accomplishments, John was remembered by his many friends and family members at a gathering on Sunday at the Moyne family home. While there, one of my friends mentioned having just finished a novel about a small village in Haiti and recommended I read it. Are you familiar with it? Reflective Reader

Dear Reflective,  John Moyne was indeed an extraordinary man and there will be another opportunity to honor his memory this Saturday, March 8 at 11am at St. Luke’s Church here in Sea Cliff. Edwidge Danticat’s CLAIRE  OF THE SEA LIGHT is the book your friend recommended. Set in Ville Rose, a small village a few miles from the capital Port au Prince, the novel opens with the disappearance of seven-year old Claire and the death at sea of an elderly fisherman.  It is Claire’s birthday and from the beginning,  death has shadowed her.  We are introduced to neighbors, friends, politicians who all play roles in Claire’s young life - from her impoverished widowed father who wants desperately for Claire to have a “good life”- to the hostess of a local radio show “Tell Me” where residents have the opportunity to tell stories of betrayal and gain retribution- to the headmaster who will do anything to protect a troubled son. Throughout, the lives of rich and poor intersect in profoundly disturbing ways. A beautifully written book!

Reminder : Meet the Candidates Night - Kevin McGilloway, Elena Villafane and John Reali will present their positions and answer questions from the community Thursday, March 6 at 8pm in Sea Cliff Village Hall. This annual event is sponsored by the Sea Cliff Civic Association.