Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at Metropolitan Bistro on this past snowy weekend and, to my delight,  it was filled with Sea Cliff friends eager to enjoy a cozy dinner close to home….the Warrens, the D’Amicos,  the Kennedy-Hansmanns, the Glennons, the Kavanaghs, and the Harrigan-Fleishmans- what a great night! Of course, at every table conversation turned to books. A few people mentioned reading about a controversial museum in Philadelphia.  Sound familiar?  Fan of the Metropolitan Bistro

Dear Fan of the Metro, It does sound like a lovely evening and I do know the book: ART HELD HOSTAGE by John Anderson. It is a fascinating story of the Barnes Foundation, founded in the early 1920’s by a wildly successful physician- turned tycoon- turned art collector, Alfred Barnes.  By the time of his death in 1951, Barnes had amassed a huge collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings- 89 Renoirs (his favorite artist), 69 Cezannes, 60 Matisses, and 44 Picassos plus a smattering of earlier works by El Greco, Rubens, and other Renaissance painters. The collection is valued now at over fifty billion dollars. The book details how Barnes’s wishes were thwarted after his death.  Racial tensions,  political corruption and overall greed  intersected to a bring this  fabled institution to the edge of bankruptcy.  The characters, all richly drawn, include Barnes himself, his assistant Violette deMazia,   Richard Glanton,  president of the Foundation and high-powered attorney,  Niara Sudarkasa, the embattled president of  struggling Lincoln College- America’s oldest black college and  heir to the collection-plus a coterie of  not-so-charitable foundations, law firms and politicians.  You might consider a field trip to the Barnes’s new home in downtown Philadelphia  after reading this book…or not.  Recommended!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  With so many of my friends are away this week either skiing or sunning,  I find I have lots of time to get into a good book.   I am a big fan of Anne Tyler and I was wondering if you have read her latest work. Apparently, reviews have been mixed. A Presidential Week Stay at Home

Dear Presidential Week Stay at Home,  Anne Tyler is a favorite of mine also and I  truly loved her latest:  A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD.  As is true of all her books, it is set in Baltimore and  chronicles the story of one  family over many generations.  We meet Red and Abby Whitshanks in 2012, a genial couple with four children , numerous grandchildren and a history that brings us back to the early 1900’s. Shared stories- that we find over the course of the novel are not  true- define their lives.  Their son  Denny is the proverbial black sheep of the family but it is his grandparents- long dead- who harbored the darkest secrets, never to be known by their family, only the reader.  Layers of history are revealed throughout the novel but some of the most startling are saved for the final chapters. What is a happy marriage, what is a successful life, who is a good person- all these are questions Tyler presents in this wonderful book. Highly recommended!

PS  The Sea Cliff Beach Committee’s 8th Annual Pub Crawl will be Friday, Feb. 27.  Tickets will be sold at the Village Wine Merchant’s that night. It sounds like great fun!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am looking for a good  Valentine’s Day gift for my husband- he’s interested in politics but I think he needs something a little light for these dark winter days. Any thoughts? Valentine Gift Seeker

Dear Valentine Gift Seeker, I just finished a very, very funny book by our local Congressman Steve Israel: THE GLOBAL WAR ON MORRIS.  It’s a darkly satirical novel with a real insider’s take on national and local politics. Morris Feldstein, a pharmaceutical salesman from Great Neck, is living just the life he wants- comfortable, secure, uneventful; he is married to the lovely Rona, a home therapist with an interest in current events, an interest certainly not shared by Morris.  Through a series of plausible cyber mishaps, Morris finds himself the chief target of an FBI terrorist watch team. Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are deeply involved in Morris’s travails as he struggles to understand how he could be implicated in an upcoming bombing of the 2004 Presidential debate in Miami.  Add to this Hurricane Frances, Russian hostages, reelection woes….. doesn't sound funny?  Wrong, it is a laugh aloud spoof on political correctness gone awry with the added attraction of a deliciously humorous take on Long Island with its landmark restaurants, diners, malls, and roadways.  I very much enjoyed this comedy of errors with its strong local flavor.  Recommended!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, Snowbound again!  Please recommend a book that will transport me from this Winter Wonderland for a few hours…Lover of Sea Cliff Sun and Snow

Dear Sea Cliff Sun and Snow Lover,  My evening book group just read a wonderful historical novel ( just 200 pages) that will take you far, far away  without your having to leave Sea Cliff : EUPHORIA  by Lily King.  Set in New Guinea in the 30’s, this book tells the story of three young scientists who find love, intrigue, and despair in their study of tribal life.  With some startling changes, the story is largely based on the lives of  Margaret Mead, her two husbands Reno Fortune, Gregory Bateson, and her lover Ruth Benedict- all renowned anthropologists.  Anthropology was a relatively new science in 1930 and each of the characters takes a very different approach to its practice. Nell- the Mead character- is the most appealing of the trio, but she too shows remarkable callousness and misguided benevolence toward the men and women she encounters.  The characters’ back stories, especially of their early years in London and New York, prove a fascinating contrast to their lives in the South Pacific. With a touch of mystery and a strong overlay of tropical romance, you have a  fine read for a snowy evening.  Recommended!

P.S. Don't forget- LONG WAY DOWN by Sea Cliff renowned author Michael Sears is available February 5.  Highly recommended!