Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  As the holiday festivities continue into 2015, I would like to take a moment and think about the years behind and the years ahead.  Do you have something to recommend that is short but very, very  meaningful?                                Ponderer of the Past and Future

Dear Ponderer, I have just the thing for you: A LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER by Thornton Wilder.  His play “Our Town” has always been a favorite of mine and this one act play captures much of that same spirit. Time passes and people inevitably move on.  The set is a long table festooned with Christmas baubles and around this table sit the characters. Over forty minutes- the length of the play- ninety years of Christmas dinners are celebrated.  We meet characters as young people, sometimes infants, elderly relatives, thriving businessmen and women, fathers, mothers, aunts- with the only constant being the set. Deaths occur as characters exit through portals on stage and costumes are kept at a minimum with white wigs used to show characters aging. Throughout we sense a beautiful symmetry as time passes and life is renewed.  A wonderful, wonderful reading for anytime of year, but particularly as the year winds down. Highly recommended!

If you are in Sea Cliff on New Year’s Eve, join us on the Village Green a few minutes before midnight to welcome the new year in!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  This year is the 25th anniversary of Elizabeth Weinstein’s beloved Cookie Swap . There are many cookie swaps throughout the Village- in fact a group- the Sea  Cliff Moms-  had its first get together this year and it was a great success so the  tradition grows! While at the Cookie Swap, there is always talk of new books and old favorites.  Do you have something I might read - something with a holiday slant?  Long Time Cookie Swapper

Dear Long Time Cookie Swapper,  At this time of year,  I always find myself rereading  Oscar Hijuelos’s  MR. IVES’ CHRISTMAS. When we first meet Mr. Ives,   his life is perfect- after  beginning life as a foundling, he was adopted into a good home and now in 1954,   he is a successful New York businessman with a beautiful, loving wife and two adored children and buoyed by a deep  faith in the goodness of all things.  By the second chapter, with the murder of his young son on Christmas Eve, his faith has been destroyed.   The rest of the book deals with Ives’s struggle to make sense of his loss. While it might seem like an odd choice for holiday reading, there is something enormously uplifting about this book as we follow Ives on his journey from a hollow grieving man to a gloriously forgiving redemptive figure. In many ways, it is a contemporary version of Dickens’s CHRISTMAS CAROL as we travel back in time to joyful moments and then forward to moments of unspeakable horror and then forward again to Ives’s moment of ultimate salvation.   This beautifully written story of his journey through life will remain with you for a very long time. Highly recommended!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,  Sea Cliff is filled with the holiday spirit- I just came back from the Tree Lighting on the Village Green and now I am looking forward to the Hanukkah Happening on Tuesday, December 16, 6:30pm at the Fire House. Friends and I will be getting together at a favorite spot- the Sea Cliff Bistro- known to all as Lily’s- this week to discuss books we have read over the last couple of weeks. The problem is I haven’t read anything in quite a while. Do you have something I could read quickly, but also worthy to bring " to the table" ?  Holiday Sprite

Dear Holiday Sprite, After years of looking forward to John Grisham’s newest legal thriller- I found myself losing interest and eventually I stopped reading them but in the last couple of years, I feel his books have improved.  His latest GRAY MOUNTAIN came out this fall and it is indeed an important work.    Samantha Kofer is a 29 year- old third year associate at a prestigious New York law firm, whose career takes an abrupt turn with the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. The novel contrasts the excesses of her former privileged existence with her new position at Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in the ravaged town of Brady, Virginia in the heart of the Appalachian mountains- a town rife with poverty, illness,  and injustice.    Grisham’s characters – good and bad- are vividly described, but it is Big Coal that receives the most devastating indictment as we learn of its corruption of nature, community, and the legal system.  A hard but necessary book to read!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dear Great Book Guru,
With temperatures in the 60’s, it certainly doesn’t feel like December, but the coming weeks will certainly be filled with winter fun, beginning with the Tree Lighting on Sunday, December 7 at 5pm on the Village Green. Last week I read a mystery you recommended – somehow winter nights cry out for a good mystery- and I would love to read another – something short but heavy into character. Any thoughts?  Mystery Maven

Dear Mystery Maven, One of the most revered mystery writers of the last fifty years, P.D. James died this week so I think it fitting to recommend one of her classic works: AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMAN, featuring the indomitable Cordelia Gray. Gray, a young English woman, has  inherited a struggling detective agency  in a rather seedy part of London.   Her first case involves the death of a young Cambridge student Mark Callendar, son of a wealthy, aristocratic scientist. As in all James’s novels, it is the descriptions of place and character- not the plot or crime- that capture the reader’s attention. Gray’s struggles with class obsessed witnesses and sexist colleagues make this 264 page book so much more than a quick read, while  the intrigues of university life and village politics elegantly trump the details of the actual murder.  Recommended!