Friday, May 27, 2016

 Dear Great Book Guru,   Memorial Day weekend is always a special time for me.  I love the annual spirited Village Parade, the bittersweet ceremonies at our parks, and – of course-the breakfast beforehand at the Children’s Library, but I really do need a good book to see me through the weekend.  Any thoughts?  Memorial Day Fan

Dear Memorial Day Fan,  I just finished a fascinating book VANISHING VELAZQUEZ by Laura Cummings. This is a true story of one man’s obsession with a painting- an obsession that caused him to lose everything: his family, his wealth, his reputation, his home, and some say… his mind.   In 1845,  John Snare stumbled upon a portrait  of the future King Charles I of England by Velazquez- or at least that’s what he believed- and so begins the story.  Cummings is a world renowned art critic and expert on the works of Diego Velazquez, the 17th century Spanish master, so this book is a homage to the artist in addition to being a riveting mystery, a history of the court of Spain’s King Philip IV,  and a psychological profile of  the besotted art collector Snare. You will find this a great read for the long holiday weekend and an definitely an inspiration for a trip to the Metropolitan Museum where you can see at least seven of Velazquez’s paintings. Recommended!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff is filled with great things to do this time of year- the St. Boniface Fair, SC Baseball/Softball games, parades, school concerts….My problem is I have little time left for reading now, and as luck would have it, it is my turn to host my book club.  Please, please suggest something not too long, very easy to read, and good for discussion.  Can you help me?
Harried Book Club Host

Dear Harried, Interestingly, my book club just met and our selection might be what you are looking for: THE ART OF HEARING HEARTBEATS  by Jan-Phillip Sendker.  This short novel (320 pages) is set in Burma and takes place from the 1950’s to the present.  A successful attorney mysteriously disappears from his home in New York City leaving behind a wife and two grown children.  Four years elapse with no word from him. While going through his papers, his daughter Julia finds a letter which suggests he has had a secret life and love for many, many years.  She travels to the location mentioned in the letter where she meets a man who promises to reveal all her father’s secrets.  We learn about two teenage lovers- one blind and one crippled- who despite living with tremendous deprivation and ill fortune, find enduring love.  Filled with spiritualism and mysticism, this international bestseller evoked wildly diverse reactions from my fellow book club members.  Most enjoyed it tremendously while a few (myself included) found it saccharine and predictable. You might enjoy this ….or maybe not.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru, I am headed out on a family vacation with my family and would like to load my Kindle with some good books for the long plane ride. Do you have some suggestions?  Devoted to My Kindle

Dear Devoted,  I recently read this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction: THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen and would certainly recommend it .    It is a beautifully written, shocking Vietnam War novel with a complex narrator- a young captain in the South Vietnamese army, born in the North to a teenage Vietnamese girl and a French priest. While chief aide to the General, who is head of the National Police, he is also a secret agent for the Communist North Vietnamese. With the fall of Saigon, the General flees with his family and loyal staff, including our young narrator.   When they arrive in Los Angeles, he continues his double life – obsequiously serving the General while regularly sending reports back to his handlers in Vietnam.  Life in 1975 Los Angeles is described in touching, at times humorous detail, as the General and his coterie adjust to his diminished status, but the novel soon takes a very dark turn. Our narrator finds himself forced to prove his loyalty to both sides by committing acts of incredible violence.  While a spy novel, a work of historical fiction, a portrait of a fascinating young man, this book is ultimately a chilling indictment of the absurdity of war. Recommended!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru, I will be spending this Sunday- Mother’s Day- with friends and family here in Sea Cliff and I would love to give gifts to everyone. A book is always my first choice so if you have a suggestion…..
Perennial Book Giver
Dear Perennial Book Giver,  I just finished a wonderful book I would definitely recommend: MOTHERING SUNDAY by Graham Swift.  Mothering Sunday was celebrated in England on the fourth Sunday of Lent –it was the day wealthy landowners would give their servants time off  to return home to visit their mothers. This very short novel (177 pages) takes place on one Mothering Sunday in 1924 – an unseasonably warm day that would change Jane Fairchild’s life forever.  As an orphan , Jane has no mother to visit so instead she spends the afternoon with the young heir to the neighboring manor Paul Sheringham, who has been her lover for the last six years. He is to be married in two weeks so this is to be their farewell.  Jane describes in exquisite detail the luminous beauty of the day, the house, the food, the gardens. She will remember this day throughout her very long life- we learn she lives well into her nineties  and will become an internationally celebrated author. Reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s  “Mrs. Dalloway,” the novels of Barbara Pym, Joseph Conrad’s “Youth”and, yes- a touch of “Downton Abbey,” this  book- this day- is one you too will long remember.  Recommended!