Friday, December 30, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru, With the new year about to begin, I would like to read a book about things that matter- really matter.  Do you have any suggestions?
Greeting the New Year with Trepidation
Dear Greeting the New Year…. As a Christmas present, I asked for Peter Singer’s newest book: ETHICS IN THE REAL WORLD.  Singer is the controversial Australian philosopher who teaches at Princeton University, and is widely known for his early work “Animal Liberation” the handbook of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).  This new book is a series of eighty-two very short essays that deal with- as the author says “things that matter.” Topics include euthanasia, extreme poverty, the sale of kidneys, right to happiness,  what makes for a good life, are chimpanzees people, should smoking be banned, is all human life sacred, does religion make for a better people… plus seventy- three  additionally provocative essays.   Ultimately, he poses the question “does anything matter?”  These might seem like difficult topics to consider at this festive time of year, but Singer presents them dispassionately with this reader finding comfort in confronting indeed “things that matter.”  Highly recommended!

With music makers in hand, join us near the Village Green for the ringing of bells at midnight of New Year’s Eve….everyone welcome!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are planning a New Year’s Eve dinner party here in Sea Cliff. How I would love to add a literary piece to the evening’sfestivities!  We would need something short, meaningful, and seasonal. 
Literary New Year’s Reveler
Dear Literary New Year’s Reveler,  I have the perfect piece for your dinner party: James Joyce’s “The Dead”- the finest short story ever written.  This is the tale of a dinner party to celebrate the new year at the home of two elderly sisters in Dublin over one hundred years ago. The descriptions of delicious food and drink, the sparkling conversation and lilting music make for delightful reading but there is so much more going on here.  We meet the self-important, courtly Gabriel, the sisters’ adored nephew; his wife Gretta; the easily intimidated and intoxicated Freddy Malins;  his tedious, complaining mother Mrs. Malins; Lily, the young troubled servant girl… plus a whole array of colorful partygoers. There is a feverish litany of past parties, achievements, slights, and political barbs with the story’s climax coming as the party ends.  Gretta is in a melancholy mood as she remembers a boy she had known many years before.  Gabriel immediately becomes jealous and questions her fidelity only to learn the boy had died decades ago. Michael Fuery had despaired when Gretta decided to leave their small village for boarding school; he came to her window on a brutally bitter night to bid her farewell. He died shortly after, but the devotion he showed that night was still vividly alive for Gretta these many years later.  Gabriel laments his own pettiness and lack of passion in contrast to young Michael Fuery’s.  The story ends with Gabriel looking out as the snow covers Ireland, falling “upon all the living and the dead.”  Highly, highly recommended!
The people who brought you the Scrooge Stroll and the Joyce Jaunt are preparing a dramatization of “The Dead” early in 2017.  Watch for more details!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  So many fun things to do this weekend in Sea Cliff – lots of parties, cookie swaps, and on Sunday at 5pm the lighting of the new Menorah on the Village Green ! Any good books to recommend for a busy holiday celebrant?
Loving the Holidays

Dear Loving the Holidays,   I have just finished  a short, beautifully written and very disturbing book: THE SPINNING HEART by Donal Ryan.  Set in a rural Irish village as the economy crashes in 2008, this debut novel tells the stories of a community whose world has gone awry.  A local construction company- the prime source of employment for the village- goes bankrupt and its corrupt owner flees the country. His family, his workers, and their children face this new impoverished reality with varying degrees of grace and bitterness. Each chapter is told by a different character so by the end of the book we have heard from twenty- one villagers with their stories revealing starkly contrasting views.  We hear a six-year old girl’s concerns about parental strife, her parents’ fears of economic ruin, an aging patriarch’s shame at his son’s illicit dealings, the son’s unspoken plea for forgiveness…. This is a work of  enormous beauty, some humor,   and offers  great insight into the Irish psyche- highly recommended!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru, This weekend I am planning on attending the Sea Cliff Children’s Library’s annual Introduction to “The Nutcracker” – at which Dan DiPietro explains and demonstrates the delights of this favorite holiday ballet. Everyone gets a chance to participate- adults and children alike. I would like something short but compelling to read at this busy time of year.  An Excited Fan of Nutcrackers Near and Far

Dear Excited Fan of Nutcrackers …. My book group recently read THE VEGETARIAN by Han Kang. A very short novel ( 190 pages), this work was originally published in South Korea as three novellas. Yeong-hye is a young wife whose husband chose her for her ordinariness “completely unremarkable in every way”- because she would expect little from him. To his surprise and anger after a few years of marriage, she announces she will no longer eat meat, cook it, or store it their home. He has her committed to a psychiatric hospital to “cure” her but to no avail. The second part is told from the prospective of her artist brother-in-law who sees her as an art object . The final piece is told in the voice of her sister as she watches Yeong-hye descend into total madness. This novel can be seen as an analysis of detachment- first from society’s conventions, then from human desire, then finally from existence itself.  This is a very strange book whose images will remain with you for a very long time.   Recommended!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Dear Great Book Guru,  What a wonderous Sea Cliff weekend  awaits us!  On Sunday December 4 at 3pm we have the Scrooge Stroll -a reenactment of Charles Dickens’s CHRISTMAS CAROL as we walk through the streets of Sea Cliff Village with playwright Frederick Stroppel as Dickens himself, Dan DiPietro as Scrooge and a merry troupe of  costumed Sea Cliff actors playing all the other roles. Then at 5pm  everyone gathers in front of the Adult Library to celebrate the lighting of the Village Christmas Tree. Do you have something for me to read while waiting for these festivities to begin? 
Scrooge Stroller and Village Tree Lighter

Dear Scrooge Stroller and Village Tree Lighter,  At this time of year, I often find myself returning to MR. IVES’ CHRISTMAS by Oscar Hijuelos. When we first meet Mr. Ives, his life appears perfect- abandoned as a young infant , he was adopted into a loving home and now in 1954 he is a successful New York businessman with a beautiful, devoted wife and two adored children and buoyed by a deep faith in the goodness of all things. By the second chapter, with the murder of his young son on Christmas Eve, his faith has been destroyed. The rest of the book deals with Ives’s struggle to make sense of his loss. While it may seem an odd choice for holiday reading, there is something enormously uplifting about this book as we follow Ives on his journey from a hollow, grieving man to a gloriously forgiving redemptive figure. In many ways it is a contemporary version of Dickens’s CHRISTMAS CAROL as we travel back in time to joyful moments and then forward to moments of unspeakable horror and then forward again to Ives’s moment of ultimate salvation. This beautifully written story will remain with you for a very long time- highly recommended!