Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  We have had  a great couple of weeks here in Sea Cliff-  Starry Starry Night, the Progressive Dinner, Cider Social, - all organized by the Sea Cliff Civic Association- and now the Pet and Puppet Parade at noon on Halloween - what fun! Do you have a serious but short book for me to read this busy holiday weekend?    Halloween Happening Enthusiast

Dear Halloween Happening Enthusiast,   I met recently with  Eileen Heneghan, a  voracious and discriminating  reader, and we both agreed THE THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING by Colum McCann is one of the finest books either of us has read this year.   A collection of short fiction- a novella and three short stories, this book delves into the inner lives of its characters in a manner reminiscent of James Joyce.  In the 143 page novella, an elderly judge goes about his day contemplating the indignities of aging, mourning his  late wife, planning the rituals of a good meal,  while in alternating chapters the police are scanning a myriad of  surveillance videos that have recorded his actions up to and including his murder.  We see what he sees but we also see what the videos have recorded and there are huge discrepancies. What really did happen? The three short stories while wonderful, do not have the sharp impact of the opening novella.  An elderly nun catches a glimpse on camera of a man who had kidnapped and brutalized her decades ago, a middle-aged woman fears her autistic son has drowned because of her carelessness, and a young writer struggles to complete an assignment.  All are excellent, but if time is short, make sure you  read the opening tale.  Highly, highly recommended!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend I will be attending my first Sea Cliff Civic Association Progressive Dinner and I would love to have a good book to bring up if conversation lags.  Any thoughts? Pensive Progressive Diner

Dear Pensive Progressive Diner,  You will  surely have a wonderful time , but  I do have a great book to jumpstart any conversation:  AMONG THE TEN THOUSAND THINGS by Julia Pierpont, an author we learned about from Gillian DiPietro.  The book opens with eleven-year old Kay in the lobby of her family’s Upper Eastside apartment building about to accept a large package from a friendly doorman. Kay fantasizes that it is an early birthday present but then again why is it addressed to her mother?  Well, it is indeed quite a present- the box contains the printouts of her father and his ex- lover’s sexually explicit emails.  When Kay shares them with her fifteen year-old brother Simon and then her mother, the family is destroyed.  As each family member begins to deal with this new reality, we learn about the   details of their lives. Half way through the book , the  author  gives us in one chapter  a panoramic view of the next ten years, only to bring us back to the past  again. What was important – apparently nothing much as we watch dust gather in the abandoned family home, beloved  pets and grandparents die, and the family fade away.  The question remains- could any one of ten thousand things have changed this story?  A remarkably memorable book and highly recommended!    

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,
This weekend is the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s  great astronomy event Starry Starry Night at Clifton Park on Sunday, October 18 from 7 to 8pm. There will be music by The Milky Ways (Heidi Hunt and Joe Hughes), seven telescopes- people are also encouraged to bring their own- and a team of instructors to guide us.  I can’t wait but please suggest something good to read before this all begins…. Fan of the Milky Way and The Milky Ways

Dear Milky Way/s Fan,  I hope the stars will be shining brightly, but if not… I have a great book to light up the weekend for you: MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante.  This is the first of a quartet that follows the lives of two friends Lili and Lenu  over a fifty year period. The first book- focusing on childhood and adolescence- introduces us to the highly intelligent, ambitious, very competitive Lili and the  narrator-friend Lenu-  young Neapolitans born at the end of World War II.  The violence, brutality, and deprivations of the city and the times are vivdly recounted but there is also a universal quality about the girls’ experiences that captures our attention from the beginning.  As we follow the characters through the days of their lives, we realize that nothing and everything is happening- reminiscent of a  Seinfeld episode or a Barbara Pym novel. Skillfully crafted, beautifully worded, and highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  With the upcoming Columbus Day weekend, I am looking for a good novel to read. First , of course, I will attending the Sea Cliff Museum’s opening of its 1960’s retrospective that curator Sara Reres has so smartly organized.  It sounds like great fun especially with everyone being encouraged to come in 1960’s attire.  But back to that novel, any recommendations?  Sea Cliff Museum Supporter

Dear Museum Supporter,   I am certainly looking forward to Friday night’s Museum reception and I do have a fast moving, topical novel to recommend: A WINDOW OPENS by Elisabeth Egan.  Alice Pearse is happily living in an affluent suburban community,  her husband is on the partner track at a prestigious New York law firm, she works a few days a week as a magazine book reviewer while helping her best friend run a local bookstore, her three young children are well adjusted, her devoted parents live nearby, and she has Jessie, the perfect babysitter. Shortly into the book, everything changes and there is one major villain (other than the vagaries of life): Scroll-her new employer- a fictional combination of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple.  Scroll is developing plans “to reinvent reading as Starbucks reinvented coffee” with lounges featuring leather chairs, e-reader terminals, foot massages, plastic-encased first editions,  and artisanal refreshments.  Midway through the story, the company decides to shift its focus from books to video games, but meanwhile Alice finds herself caught in a nightmarish trap of  electronic servitude reminiscent of Dave Eggers’s THE CIRCLE.   This  book, while predictable in many ways, was surprisingly poignant in its depiction of family and work relationships. Recommended!