Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, With the Passover and Easter holidays this weekend, I will be seeing friends and family and- as always- someone will ask “What have you read lately?” I would love to have a title to offer so my question is:  do you have something short and compelling that I could read over the next few  days?Looking for Something Short and But Definitely Not Sweet

Dear Looking…… I have just the book for you: ALL THE OLD KNIVES by Olen Steinhauer- a wonderful foray into the morally ambiguous world of the CIA.  Told from the perspectives of two agents- Henry and Celia- who had been stationed in Vienna six years before, this psychological thriller takes place almost entirely over one evening in an upscale Carmel restaurant.  The novel is in many ways reminiscent of Herman Koch's "The Dinner” with its elaborate descriptions of food and wine and the inevitable unraveling of the diners’ psyches. In alternating chapters, the two former lovers recount the events leading up to a tragically botched rescue attempt at a Viennese airport in which 120 passengers were killed. New intelligence points to a CIA mole who- in all likelihood- is either Celia or Henry.   The outcome of their dinner tonight  will be swift, annihilating justice.  While tension builds throughout and there are clues aplenty, the ending is nevertheless shocking, and we find ourselves caught up in a disturbing moral quandary. Highly recommended! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,   Last weekend I had the most wonderful time at a ceilidh here in Sea Cliff. I know- you are asking: what is a ceilidh? Well, it is a night of Irish songs, poems and prose, going back to ancient times in Ireland.  Joe Hughes, a Sea Cliff musician of much renown, performed with a crowd of   enthusiastic fans accompanying him. The poetry of William Butler Yeats was featured prominently and literary talk filled the air. Over desserts and port, one of the party goers mentioned a novel set in present day Ireland about a Roman Catholic priest dealing with a crisis of conscience. Are you familiar with it? Fan of the Ceilidh

Dear Fan of the Ceilidh,  I have attended many a ceilidh and they are always great fun. HISTORY OF LONELINESS by John Boyne is a hauntingly beautiful book about Father Odran Yates, a good man who finds himself questioning choices he has made over the years. When his father and young brother died under mysterious circumstances, his mother became obsessively devout and convinced teenaged Odran to enter the seminary.   Now forty years later, he wonders how he might have lived his life differently.  The narrative shifts in and out of the decades and we see how the corrupting forces of politics and greed bring down even a very good man.  Recommended!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  A friend of mine told me about a Long Island-wide book discussion.  I am very interested in participating. Do you know how I can go about this? A  Long Island Read Hopeful

Dear Long Island Read Hopeful, Long Island Reads is a great event sponsored every year by libraries in  Nassau and Suffolk counties. Sea Cliff Library will be co-hosting a discussion of this year's choice: THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS  on Thursday, March 26 at 7pm  at the Metropolitan in Glen Cove. It’s free with great desserts, treats and raffle prizes; John Canning is the moderator  and this year author Alice Hoffman will be present to answer  questions about her novel.  Set on greater Long Island (Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan) , this book is a mystery, a romance, and a work of historical fiction- with a collection of characters you will long remember.  The extraordinary things are creatures that are “wonders of nature” gathered together by the darkly oppressive Professor who includes his young daughter in this collection  as the mysterious Mermaid of the Hudson. With the 1911 bookend tragedies of the Triangle Shirt Factory and the Coney Island Dreamworld fires,  we learn of the impoverished lives of these early New Yorkers and the political corruption which allowed such horrific injustices to prevail. So get yourself a copy of the book, read it, register at northshorereads.org,  and then come join us at the Metropolitan! 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  An exciting week lies ahead….  the many St. Patrick Day celebrations at our local restaurants- the annual Barbara Pym Conference at Harvard that many of my friends will be attending,  the election for Sea Cliff Mayor and Trustees on Wednesday, March 18.  Yes, a busy time but always time for a good book. Do you have anything that would be especially good this time of year? Marching into Spring

Dear Marching into Spring,  I am so glad you mentioned the Barbara Pym Conference. Pym is a favorite author of mine and this year the Conference will focus on one of her later novels QUARTET IN AUTUMN. The book’s quartet is made up of four people who share an office (and very little else) in an unnamed company doing rather meaningless work that could easily be done by computers.  In fact when they retire, they will not be replaced- their department will disappear as will they. Letty, Marcia, Norman, and Edwin tell their stories over four seasons,  and gradually we come to realize that their apparently gray, lonely, conscribed lives are much richer, much more complex that we could ever have imagined.  Set in the 1970’s this beautifully written novel has little plot- its merit lies in its unflagging attention to detail-  the extraordinary details of the lives of ordinary people. Highly recommended any time of the year!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, I had a wonderful time at the Sea Cliff Beach Committee’s Pub Crawl 2015 last weekend.  Despite the cold, the snow, the ravaged roads and streets, my friends and I had so much fun! At one of the pub stops, I heard a group of revelers discussing a book set in World War II about two young people with conflicting loyalties.  Any thoughts?  Very Satisfied Pub Crawler

Dear Pub Crawler, What a fabulous night! The Beach Committee is to be congratulated on this great community building event, and yes, I have read ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr in which a young blind French girl and an orphaned German boy lead parallel existences. Marie Laure’s father is the keeper of thousands of keys for the French Museum of Natural History and in this role he has created a miniature world for his daughter to inhabit and master.  Through his interest in radios, the boy Werner learns about stars and galaxies that transport him far beyond his everyday life.  In short alternating chapters, we hear the voices of these two young people as they struggle with the emotional and physical deprivations of war. Yet there is a fairy tale quality to this book and when the young people’s lives finally intersect in the closing chapters, we realize the universal ties that connect us all.   Recommended!