Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, This holiday season I received so many book suggestions that I am not sure what to start reading- mysteries, spy thrillers, poetry, and biographies…. With the long weekend ahead, can you recommend something that you know I will love.  New Year Celebrating Bibliophile

Dear New Year Celebrating Bibliophile,  I just finished a wonderful book I  received as a  Christmas gift from Daniel DiPietro- it was a favorite of his and now  is a favorite of mine: EAT THE DOCUMENT by Dana Spiotta.  The story opens in 1972 with Mary Whittaker and Bobby Desoto going underground after a political protest that went very, very bad. Mary changes her name, her appearance, her very essence…. The question of identity creation is central to the book as we see both Mary and Bobby choose what aspects of their former lives to retain and what to  change.   The music of the 60’s and 70’s is as large a character as the young protesters. In fact the title of the book comes from a legendary film documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe where the schism between young and old took on revolutionary force. The story comes full circle when we meet Bobby and Mary twenty years later and view their lives through the eyes of Jason, Mary’s Beach Boys obsessed fifteen year-old son.   This is a lively, rich take on the music, politics, and personalities of an era that still confounds the nation and beyond. Recommended!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, Last night I was at a wonderful Winter Solstice party here in Sea Cliff.  We all had great fun and as we were leaving, one of the partygoers mentioned a collection of plays by a local playwright.  She said they all had a dark but hilarious take on the holidays. I still have a long list of people to buy gifts for and this sounds like the perfect gift. What are your thoughts?  Procrastinating Present Purchaser

Dear Procrastinating , You truly have stumbled upon the perfect gift-  Fred Stroppel’s CHRISTMAS COCKTAILS-  a collection of six plays all with a holiday theme, all brutally funny. “O Christmas Tree” opens with a young couple gazing at the tree at Rockefeller Center. As he timidly tells her he loves her, she begins to berate him for not giving her a ring- “This is not about love; this is about a holiday tradition! You go into New York City to see the tree, you get engaged. It’s a no brainer,”says the lovely Jennifer. In “Epiphany” we meet the three kings who are more “wise guys” than wise men, while in “Jingle Bell Express” we get to meet the unhappy employees of the ever cheerful, very shabby Christmas Village. My favorite was “The Land of the Sweets” where Madam Irina, an aging, hard drinking, fast talking ballet teacher savagely critiques her students’ Nutcracker performances. There is nothing sentimental in any of the six plays- just some of the funniest dialogue you will hear this holiday season.   Available as a Kindle book for $2.95, it is indeed the perfect gift ! 

Friday, December 18, 2015

 Dear Great Book Guru, All over town there are holiday parties and some of the most fun are cookies swaps and the best and oldest of these is Elizabeth Weinstein’s.  For 26 years Elizabeth has been hosting  her elegant celebration of sweets and friendship.  Well, this year I have my cookies baked and ready to go, so I have time for a good book.  Do you have something short I could read before the party?  Cookie Swap Connoisseur

Dear Cookie Swap Connoisseur,  I just finished a very short , very touching semi-autobiographical novel (146 pages) by a young Italian  physicist Paolo Giordano: LIKE FAMILY.   A young husband and wife hire Mrs. A, a middle-aged widow as a  housekeeper, and eventually nanny for their young son. She quickly becomes the center of their family life with her quirky steadfast devotion to each of them. When she falls ill,  the couple are confronted with their own mortality, their commitment to one another, and their diminished expectations for themselves and their child.  The husband/narrator brings us effortlessly from past to present as we see Mrs. A cope with life’s  cruel challenges.  The four members of this “family” share much, defining themselves in relation to each other so when one is removed, everything must be reexamined.  Beautifully written and very compelling- recommended!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, December is filled with such fun events and I particularly loved the Scrooge Stroll this past weekend- we are all hoping it will become an annual event here in Sea Cliff. But now I feel I have time to devote to a longer book, perhaps a political thriller.  Any ideas?  Delighted in December

Dear Delighted, I just finished a fascinating and very disturbing book: THE DEVIL’S CHESSBOARD by David Talbot. Its subtitle is “Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.”  A few months ago I recommended THE BROTHERS by Stephen Kinzer – a biography that detailed the lives of Allen and John Foster Dulles, showing their nefarious roles in 20th century global politics.  This book focuses on Allen Dulles and his impact on the United States government and national psyche. As the longest-serving head of the CIA, he skillfully manipulated Congress, the FBI, and all three Presidents he worked for: Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy.  Richard Nixon himself rose to power as a result of Dulles’s coaching and financing.   His role in the Cold War -in particular the dark days of the McCarthy scourge- is highlighted.  His involvement with Nazi war criminals and the Mafia is revealed as is  terrifying evidence of his role in the Kennedy assassination. The book reads like a spy thriller, but it supported by extensive documentation. The 21st century world we live in now is in many ways the creation of Allen Dulles.  Recommended!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru, This looks like another fun-filled weekend in Sea Cliff. On Saturday, there is the Mutual Concerns Holiday House Tour followed on Sunday (December 6) by the first ever Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Scrooge Stroll directed by esteemed  playwright Fred Stroppel  and featuring a cast of 20 actors.  Starting across the street from the Children’s Library at 2pm and strolling through the Village, the cast will enact scenes from  Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.”  Then at 5pm, the annual Tree Lighting and Visit from St. Nick will take place on the Village Green.  Since I plan on being at all these events, I am looking for a short but worthwhile book to read.  Any thoughts?  Lover of the Holidays

Dear Lover of the Holidays,  I have just the book for you: THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT by Helen Phillips.  Set in Brooklyn sometime in the near future …thriller, mystery, existential quest, theological study, cyber drama-  all in 192 pages! Josephine and Joseph are newly married and working at jobs that are bizarrely yet crushingly boring… or maybe not? Nothing is as it seems.  There is something very, very strange going on in their workplace, and their quest to find a decent home takes a sinister turn as they move  from one dingy apartment to another.  This is a beautifully written, very funny book that ends up asking and answering questions that define our very existence.  Recommended!