Saturday, December 30, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  We will be gathering  for our annual New Year’s celebration with family and friends- an early evening movie, dinner and dessert, followed by the ringing of the bell on the Sea Cliff Village Green at Midnight. As faithful followers of your column, we were wondering if you had some particular favorites from your 2017 book recommendations you would share with us?
New Year’s Reveler
Dear New Year’s Reveler, I was just looking over my 2017 reviews and I came up with 12 books I truly loved.  My # 1 favorite was Paul Auster's 4321 and here are the rest in no particular order:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have a confession to make:  I feel like the Christmas Grinch- please, please recommend a good book or two to get me in the Christmas spirit. 
A Grinch in Search of Cheer
Dear Grinch, Never fear- redemption is at hand.  First, I am going to make an unusual suggestion:  THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT by renowned playwright and local resident Fred Stroppel. Far from the usual sentimental holiday fare, this play deals with death and redemption in a darkly humorous manner. Julia Dowling finds herself sitting in her cozy living room on Christmas Eve engaged in a fight for her life. The Christmas Spirit in the title is actually Death and he has come for Julia.  She begs for more time and in exchange offers Death the chance to celebrate a family Christmas with all the trimmings. Her assortment of dysfunctional family members plus the local priest, some troubled young guests, and the Christmas Spirit- who calls himself Jack Frost- gather at Julia’s invitation to celebrate the holiday. Life-altering secrets are revealed that offer hope….for a moment. Our friends and family love gathering every year for a reading of this monumental work. It is available in many formats but the Amazon Kindle version is the one we use.                                        

If you prefer a more traditional approach, I suggest A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. We read a beautifully illustrated and abridged version by Stephen Krensky on Christmas Eve afternoon - it takes about an hour with each of us taking a page or two. Get out the eggnog and gather around with your friends and family for a wondrous weekend!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I love to check out the various lists of the best books of 2017 and this year there are so many great novels I want to read .  Is there one in particular you would recommend?  Reader of the Best of 2017

Dear Reader of the Best of 2017,  I was pleased to see AUTUMN by Ali Smith leading off the New York Times Best Books of 2017 list.  My book club is reading it this week and I am eager to hear my friends’ reactions.  The story is a study of time, memory, politics, love, and friendship.  Set in the fall of 2016, following Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, the novel opens with the comatose thoughts of a 101 year-old man and then shifts to the thoughts of his closest friend, a 32 year-old woman. Both are  struggling with the new realities of life in Brexit England.  References to Dickens’s “Tale of Two Cities, ” underscore the immense change that England is undergoing as it closes itself off from much of what  has defined its nationhood.  Daniel, the elderly man, remembers a world far different from 2016 and looks in fear and amazement to the future. Elisabeth, the young woman, finds herself frustrated by the bureaucratic meanness of life in 2016.   Autumn with its seasonally melancholy look back on the year offers us a metaphor for looking back on a lifetime.  Recommended… 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,   This weekend my family and I will be having breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Fire House on Sunday, December 10 from 9:00am to noon.  Later in the day we will be at the Menorah Lighting ceremony on the Village Green at 5pm.  We will be back at the Fire House for the Hanukkah Happening on Thursday, December 14 from 6:30 to 8pm. In between, I would like to read an inspiring novel.  Any thoughts?  In a Holiday Haze

Dear In a Holiday Haze, Mary Ann Collins, a member of my library book club, recommended ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman and I am sure you will enjoy it too.  Eleanor is a delightfully quirky thirty year old in whose mind we reside for 288 pages of mystery, romance, and humor.  Monday to Friday she arrives at work punctually, methodically does her job, and listens without completely understanding her office mates’ cruel jibes. Every weekend she buys a supermarket pizza and two large bottles of vodka which she finishes by Sunday night. She has no visitors and no friends, but somehow she is fine- lonely but fine.  When a new IT person is hired, Eleanor’s life changes drastically and we come to see how complicated and tragic her early years were.  A cautionary tale of how easy it is to overlook and underestimate those around us.  Highly recommended!   

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, This is an iconic Sea Cliff weekend with so much scheduled I don’t think I will be able to attend everything, but there are two that I will not miss:  Introduction to “The Nutcracker” at the Children’s Library on Saturday, December 2 from 10 to 11am and the Scrooge Stroll (a reenactment of Dickens’s “Christmas Carol”) on Sunday, December 3 from 3 to 4pm in front of the Children’s Library. After these events, I will have some free time to catch up on my reading before the holiday parties begin. Any suggestions?  
Savvy Scrooge Stroller

Dear Savvy…., I spent part of the Thanksgiving weekend reading a fascinating and very disturbing book: LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint. Based on the sensational true story of Alice Crimmins, this novel poses a question that haunts us - can a woman be treated fairly if she lives outside society’s perceived norms.  Ruth Malone is a divorced 26 year-old mother of two young children, living in an apartment complex in Queens in 1965 and working as a cocktail waitress.  Her clothes, her makeup, her many suitors mark her as a woman capable of just about anything….even murdering her children.  From the moment she reports them missing, the public is convinced she is the murderer.  Despite other possible suspects, the press and police pursue her relentlessly.  This novel offers an astonishing take on how a patriarchal society mistrusts and mistreats women.   A 1960’s tale that takes on new meaning in 2017- highly recommended! 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Thanksgiving weekend is upon us and I look forward to time with friends and family but also time for a good read- something thought provoking yet entertaining …any recommendations?  
Thankful for Thanksgiving

Dear Thankful for Thanksgiving,  My book group last week discussed a modern classic REMAINS OF THE DAY by Kazuo  Ishiguro and we all agreed it was a wonderful choice.  While many had seen the award winning movie, few of us remembered reading this 1989 Nobel Prize winning novel.  Set in the early 1950’s, it is told from the first person perspective of Stevens, an aging British butler. Stevens had spent much of his life in the service of Lord Darlington and is now employed by a wealthy American  – as part of “a package”--the American  is the new owner of Darlington Hall and Stevens heads the staff that accompanies the manor.  Stevens thinks back on his unquestioning loyalty to a man who is revealed to be a Nazi sympathizer and a mediocre dabbler in world politics.  When he has the opportunity to travel the back roads of England, Stevens decides to visit Miss Kenton, a woman he had worked with decades before.  As he reminisces about their years together, we begin to realize there was great affection between them that was never articulated.  When Stevens meets her, she is unhappily married and voices  regret over choices she has made.  Stevens obviously is moved but even now cannot reveal his true feelings.  A story of remembrance and regret as these characters view the “remains of their days….”   Highly recommended!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  We are looking at another busy weekend here in Sea Cliff with the Harry Potter 20th Anniversary celebration at the Children’s Library on Friday, November 17 from 5 to 7pm and then the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Turkey Hunt ( 400 toy turkeys waiting to be found) with the promise of a visit from the Great Turkey Himself on Sunday, November 19 from 2 to 3pm at Geohegan Park- ominously aka Headless Park.  After the weekend I am looking to do some serious reading.   Any thoughts?
Fall Reader

Dear Fall Reader,  Last month at the Brooklyn Historical Society,  I heard Linda Gordon speak about her latest book: THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK.   In the 1920’s the United States saw a revival of the Klu Klux Klan, focused largely east of the Mason Dixon line.  The original KKK of the 1870’s had intimidated  African Americans living in the South, successfully curtailing their voting rights and economic prosperity through stealth violence.   The new Klan broadened its range to include Catholics, Jews,  immigrants, and Northern “elites.”  Unlike the early Klan who attacked secretly during the night, the new Klansmen ran huge public rallies,  recruited members openly, charged dues, and owned over 200 newspapers and even a motion picture company.  Public officials including many Congressmen, a Supreme Court Justice, and  a President were  members.  The new Klan’s attraction seemed to lie in its ability to offer an “us against them” level of comfort to a large part of the population.  Prejudices were already in place, and the Klan was ready and eager to exploit them.   A startling read and highly recommended!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, We have a three day weekend coming up with the children off from school. First, we will attend the Veterans’ Memorial Service at Clifton Park on Friday at 11am and then it’s off to the city. With train time and a weekend without chores, I would love to read a good novel- something thought-provoking and literary.  
Reader of Novels in November

Dear Reader of Novels… Jon McGregor’s latest book RESERVOIR 13 has been nominated for the prestigious Man Booker award and would be a good choice for your upcoming weekend.  Rebecca Shaw disappears while on vacation with her parents in a small village in England’s Lake district- a place  they have visited many times before.  The novel is divided into thirteen chapters each covering a year following her disappearance. We meet the villagers as they live their lives – marrying, being born, separating, starting businesses, graduating from school- all impacted but  not consumed by the girl’s plight. Reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” or James Joyce’s “The Dubliners,” the novel is an homage to the  magnificence of our petty concerns- those wondrous  distractions that move  our lives from day to day.   In the end, we know little about the fate of Rebecca but we have learned much about ourselves.  A beautifully written book and highly recommended!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, This weekend I am going to be hosting my very first Progressive Dinner.  Every year the Sea Cliff Civic Association sponsors this iconic event at which almost 200 residents get to share appetizers, dinners, and dessert at each other’s homes.  I have my menu in place, my table set, and flowers arranged- but what will we talk about?  I was thinking I would bring up a new book that might spark some lively conversation.  Any suggestions?  Progressive Dinner Diner and Host

Dear PDDH,  Great idea and I have just the book for you:  THE ROOSTER BAR by John Grisham.  This is the latest legal thriller from the  ever prolific Grisham and his focus this time is the scam behind for-profit law schools that lure  students with the promise of high paying jobs while hiding   the  reality of staggering tuition debt     Mark, Todd, Gordy, and Zola are in their final semester at Foggy Bottom Law School with no prospects for employment and student loans close to $200,000 each.  After meticulous, manic research, Gordy discovers their school is one of a chain that is run by a corrupt hedge fund operator mired in numerous banking and investment scandals.  When Gordy dies, the friends decide to start their own law firm… without law degrees.  Things go well until things go very badly and only Grisham can make it all come together so seamlessly.  A great tale of greed, friendship, and redemption- highly recommended! 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Sea Cliff is ablaze with Halloween fever- so many beautifully, ghoulishly decorated homes, so many fun events!  One of my favorites is the Cider Social this Sunday, October 29 from 3 to 4pm at Central Park near the old Harbor Day Care building. Heidi Hunt and her amazing high school assistants provide crafts, music, and refreshments for the many costumed Villagers who attend.  Afterwards, I would love to have a great book to read  – preferably something short and current.   
A Cider Socialite
Dear Cider Socialite,  One of my favorite authors Alice McDermott just came out with a new book: THE NINTH HOUR.  The story opens with a young Irish immigrant turning on the gas jets in his Brooklyn tenement apartment, leaving a pregnant wife to grieve for him and whatever their future might have held.  Their grandchildren narrate the story of this ill-fated couple- going back in time to Civil War Brooklyn where we meet Red Whelan who for $350 took their great-grandfather’s place in the Union Army. He remains a vivid part of the family’s history a century after his death.  But the most vivid players in the family narrative are the Little Nursing Sisters of Sick Poor who took Annie the widow and her baby Sally on as their cause, providing them with material and spiritual care.  There is nothing saccharine about these women with each of them willing to sacrifice everything- even eternity- for the present good.  This is a dark but very rich tale and highly recommended.

And a very happy birthday to a great fan of great books….Dan DiPietro! 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am looking forward to the Scarecrow Gathering at the Children’s Library in Sea Cliff this Sunday, October 22 from 1 to 3pm.   Everyone is encouraged to bring a favorite scarecrow to the library’s front lawn and Mutual Concerns will have a basket for canned goods donations.  It sounds like a great autumnal afternoon and afterwards I would love an interesting book to read.  
Ardent Fan of Scarecrows

Dear Ardent Fan of Scarecrows,  I read a troubling book last week: HISTORY OF WOLVES  by Emily Fridlund.  Madeline- known as Linda by everyone other than her parents- is the sole remaining child from a disbanded commune.  She lives in a remote, decaying homestead in northern Minnesota.  Life is hard for everyone but particularly for Madeline.  Miles from her nearest neighbors and ostracized at school by her classmates, she finds her life suddenly transformed the year she turns fourteen.  A new teacher with a troubled past arrives and encourages her interest in the study of wolves  At the same time, a family moves in across the lake from her home and she is drawn to the young mother and son. She becomes the child’s babysitter or as the mother calls her “the governess.” Immediately, the reader senses something is terribly wrong but Madeline overlooks much either out of fear or adolescent narcissism.  When we meet Madeline as a grown woman in her thirties, we see how this one year so changed  her life and we are left to question – just as with wolves- when does the prey become predator? Recommended!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  We have a very busy weekend ahead here in Sea Cliff- first on Saturday there is the Silly Shakespeare’s production of “A Winter’s Fail” directed by Elizabeth Sehring in an open air setting.  On Sunday we will have “Starry Starry Night” an astronomic delight with music provided by The Milky Ways (aka  Heidi Hunt and  Joe Hughes), stellar sweets, and a chance to view the night sky with telescopes and instruction provided by a local group of enthusiasts: the Amateur Observers Society. Petrice Kaider of Sunset Serenade fame is the organizer. With so much going on, I am  looking for an enthralling but quick read.  Thoughts?   
Wishing on a Star

Dear Wishing on a Star, I just finished a fast  moving, relatively short book: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng. The story opens with a fire that destroys a beautiful home in the affluent community of Shaker Heights, Ohio in the late “90’s.  The Richardsons – parents and four teenage children – and their tenants the Warrens – Mia and her daughter Pearl- are the main characters and we soon see how all are connected  as the story shifts from present to past. What makes a good parent is a question that underlies much of the storyline as Elena Richardson and Mia Warren vie for their daughters’ approval.   While good intentions abound, misunderstandings and missed cues accentuate economic, racial, and class differences.  Who or what can put out these fires?   A great choice for a book club with many issues ripe for discussion –highly recommended!  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, With the long Columbus Day weekend coming up, I’m planning on spending my days and nights in Sea Cliff- it’s such a beautiful time of year here and the perfect opportunity to read a good novel.  Any suggestions? 
Loving October in Sea Cliff

Dear Loving…. I just finished a fun book I’m sure you will enjoy: THE MISFORTUNE OF MARION PALM  by Emily Culliton. It’s a first novel, and the young author is skillful at capturing voice and venue. Marion Palm is a Brooklyn Heights mother who has been embezzling money from her daughters’ exclusive private school.  When the book opens, Marion has just learned the IRS is about to audit the school’s tax returns.  She packs a knapsack with $40,000 in cash, takes her children out to a local restaurant for a farewell lunch, skips out without paying, and thus begins her odyssey through the outlying neighborhoods of Brooklyn in an attempt to avoid her clueless poet- husband, a baffled detective, and an avenging school board. It’s a madcap journey with strong feminist undertones as she confronts and defies many of society’s stereotypes.  Told in very short chapters in the voices of Marion, her husband, and daughters, the novel is a compelling read and highly recommended!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  This weekend is Minimart Sunday and I am very excited. My friends from high school all return so it’s a Mini reunion. We especially love visiting the Children’s Library with its vast array of great used toys and books.  Talking about books, do you have a novel with a current events theme? Perhaps a spy novel…?   MiniMart Maven

Dear MiniMart Maven,  I just finished a remarkable book: DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH - a spy novel, a romance, a literary mystery,  a political thriller- set in the Israel, Gaza, Paris, and Berlin.  The story is told from the perspectives of Z an imprisoned American, his betraying lover, his Israeli guard, the guard’s mother, a German businessman, and finally a comatose Israeli general, modeled closely after Ariel Sharon. As the story weaves back and forth over a twelve year period,  we see how each of the individuals we meet influences the others in remarkable ways.  There are no heroes and no villains in this novel and apparently little hope for optimism. Its author Nathan Englander was born in West Hempstead, Long Island and the novel’s pivotal character Z is also a Long Islander. The moral dilemma Z faces leaves the reader wondering if peace is ever possible.  A compelling book and highly recommended !

Friday, September 22, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  We are headed into New York City to the East 59th Street Playhouse to see SMALL WORLD by renowned playwright and local resident Frederick Stroppel.  Friends who have seen it, tell us it is wonderful and not to be missed.  We will be taking the train so I would like to have something to read for the trip back and forth. Any ideas?
Fans of Fred

Dear Fans of Fred, We loved SMALL WORLD and plan on seeing it again – and I do have an interesting book for your trip: WHAT SHE ATE by Laura Shapiro.  Shapiro writes about six women and the role food played in their lives.  Starting with Dorothy Wordsworth and her culinary devotion to her poet brother William and ending with Helen Gurley Brown and her obsession with thinness, Shapiro shows us the often overlooked cultural impact of food.  Eva Braun, Hitler’s lover, found comfort in sweets and champagne as millions suffered. The colorful Rosa Lewis rose from kitchen waif to the Duchess of Duke Street and became the prototype for Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady,”  all based on her culinary acumen. Eleanor Roosevelt is purported to have hired the worst chef in White House history as a punishment for Franklin’s  infidelities. Her most charming piece is on Barbara Pym, one of Shapiro’s favorite authors. Pym filled her novels with recipes and culinary asides underscoring how life’s seemingly trivial gestures offer the greatest opportunities for happiness.  A lovely, informative book and highly recommended!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am going to the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Newcomers Party next weekend.  I am looking forward to meeting the fifty or so others who have moved to Sea Cliff over the last twelve months, but I am a bit shy.  If I had a good book to bring up, it might make things easier.  Any ideas?
Eager but Nervous Newcomer

Dear Eager but Nervous….No need to be anxious…. I am sure you will have a great time –  but  I do have a book you might enjoy:  THERE YOUR HEART LIES by Mary Gordon.  This is the story of Marian Taylor, who we meet as a young nineteen year-old Newport debutante who leaves her life of ease and affluence to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade- a group of idealistic Americans who came together to fight  Franco and the Nazis in the Spanish Civil War.  She marries her dead brother’s lover so that they can travel to Spain as part of a medical team.  Quickly disillusioned by the internecine fighting, the couple rethink their commitment to the war and to each other.  We then meet Marion as a ninety-two year-old woman back in Rhode Island sharing her memories with Amelia, her young granddaughter.  When pieces of the story fail to make sense,  Amelia returns to Spain to search out the truth.  This is a fascinating tale of one woman’s attempt to come to terms with her past and of a country still coping with the horrific aftermath of civil war.  Recommended!  
P.S. Don't miss the renowned ANTIGONE RISING  musical event from noon... on at Sea Cliff Beach- Saturday, September 16 !  

Friday, September 8, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are planning to attend the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual Movie Madness this Friday, September 8 at 7pm in Roslyn Park.   Sarah Beaudin, chair of the event, promises us a surprise- filled evening beginning with a showing of the original Disney “Beauty and the Beast.”  The next night we are headed down to Sea Cliff Beach for the Sea Cliff Fire Department’s Music on the Harbor. Sounds like a great weekend,  but I need a good book to read while waiting for the fun to begin.         Lover of Weekends in Sea Cliff

Dear Lover of…. Yes- you have  quite a weekend ahead and I have the perfect book for you: TRAJECTORY by Richard Russo. This is a collection of four short stories linked by a similar theme – the fragility of human nature. We are shown in each story how one incident changes the course of a person’s life.  In “Horseman”  a young academic is confronted with the realization that much of her career has been as fraudulent as her young students’ plagiarized papers.  Will she be able to redeem herself- where will her trajectory take her? In “Voice” a retired academic tours Venice with his brother and finds how estranged they have always been, but will he be able to forgive himself for past missteps?  A real estate broker helps a hoarding client find peace in “Intervention” and in the last “Milton and Marcus”  an aging and struggling writer tries to change the course of his life.   An illuminating collection and highly recommended!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  In last Sunday’s New York Times there was an article about a writer that I think you have written about in the past: Barbara Pym.  The Times reporter wrote of her continuing appeal over the years and the joy her writings bring to readers.  Do you have a favorite Pym novel you would recommend?   A Potential Pymian

Dear Potential Pymian,   Yes, Pym’s many fans here in Sea Cliff were thrilled with Matthew Schneer’s beautiful tribute to her in the New York Times.  This weekend many of us will be gathering in Oxford, England for the annual Pym Society convocation where each year one of her books is discussed and celebrated.   This year’s  choice is NO FOND RETURN OF LOVE.   The book opens with Dulcie Mainwaring attending a literary conference to help recover from a broken engagement. When the main speaker at the conference faints during his presentation, it is Dulcie who is there to make everything right, or so she imagines.   Dulcie is a prototypical Pym character- a woman ever curious about those around her, self- deprecating but aware of the ironies and yes humiliations that surround our daily lives.  Will Dulcie find happiness in the old Victorian home left to her by parents? Perhaps, but we do know she will live a rich, imaginative life bolstered by her interest and appreciation of all things great and small.   A wonderful choice for a weekend read and highly recommended!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am headed over to Memorial Park to hear John Brady for the last of the Sunset Serenades 2017  this Thursday, August 31.  For the rest of the Labor Day weekend, I would love to spend time reading a  book that will open my mind to new ideas- non-fiction, preferably…  
Seeker of Knowledge

Dear Seeker of Knowledge,  I read a book recently that I think you will find interesting and horrifying: THE COLOR OF LAW by Richard Rothstein.  Rothstein, a housing policy expert, overturns many of the myths surrounding segregation. He rejects the common  belief that our cities and suburbs are racially divided because of personal prejudices, income disparities,  callous bankers, and unscrupulous real estate brokers.  Instead he places the blame almost entirely on our federal, state, and local governments.  By passing malicious zoning laws and supporting restrictive covenants, the government denied African- Americans the opportunity to live in safe neighborhoods with access to good jobs, good schools, and good homes. Going back to the racist policies  of Woodrow Wilson and following the trail of local and federal court decisions that separated once vibrant, integrated  communities, Rothstein presents a compelling reassessment of American history.  In many ways this book is a more powerful indictment of flawed and craven government policy than the monumental EVICTED by Matthew Desmond. Highly recommended!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Sea Cliff seems  quiet this time of year but very beautiful. Like many folks, I will be leaving here for a few days so I will need a good book to read while vacationing- something fast moving, possibly a local setting, and thought-provoking.  Suggestions? 
Reluctant Vacationer

Dear Reluctant Vacationer, Yes- I too find it hard to leave Sea Cliff even for a short vacation, but I do have a book that will make the time go quickly : BED-STUY IS BURNING by Brian Platzer.  Platzer touches on an amazing array of topics in this 330 page first novel.  Aaron the main character is a non-believing ex-rabbi fired because he was caught embezzling funds to support a gambling addiction. He is living with a pop star journalist Amelia and their newborn son Simon in a beautifully restored brownstone they recently purchased on a block in a neighborhood that is quickly becoming gentrified.  The story opens with the shooting of a 12 year-old child by the police. Residents rally to protest this act and when the police respond by arresting a group of high school students for turnstile jumping, the situation become even more inflamed.  By the end of the day, the streets are littered with victims and Aaron’s family is barricaded in the once beautiful brownstone.     This book makes for an uncomfortable but rewarding read- probably because it questions so many of our beliefs and ideas about American society.  Recommended!    

Friday, August 11, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, I am looking forward to hearing one of my favorite groups The Outliers at Sunset Serenade Thursday, August 17.  But before I head over to Memorial Park, I would like to have a good book in hand to read- something current, fast moving but not a mystery.  Any suggestions? All Out for the Outliers

Dear All Out for the Outliers,  This weekend I read a newly released book that has gotten a lot of favorable reviews: MRS. FLETCHER  by Tom Perrotta. Eve Fletcher is a single mother whose hapless son Brendan is headed off to college as the novel opens.  Brendan’s crude and cruel farewell to his longtime girlfriend disturbs Eve but she soon has to deal with her own very mixed emotions , her new freedom, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness- a classic case of the “empty nest” syndrome.  The rest of the book is told from varying perspectives: Eve’s transgender college professor, Brendan’s new classmates, her colleagues from the Senior Center where she works, and finally the many friends she makes in her attempt to reinvent herself.  While often hilariously humorous, the story has a sad undercurrent as we watch   both the adolescent son and middle-aged mother struggle to find meaning in their lives. Recommended!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, I was at the Sea Cliff Beach Café last weekend with friends and family –a delicious breakfast in a beautiful setting- when one of the party mentioned a new, controversial novel about present day Northern Ireland. That part of the world and its history have always interested me. Have you heard of the book?   Troubled by the “Troubles”

Dear Troubled,  Yes, I just finished reading MODERN GODS by Nick Laird, an interesting book on many levels.  It opens with a brief, undated newspaper account of a massacre in a local pub.  Throughout the rest of the novel, short accounts of the victims’ last hours are interspersed.  From the massacre, the story shifts to an engaging family drama of aging parents and  adult children dealing with upended lives in a small, largely Protestant village in the Irish province of  Ulster .  The younger daughter Alison is about to remarry and her fiancé is a quiet, timid man with a secret he is willing to share but no wants to hear.  The story shifts once again- now to New Ulster, an outpost in Papua New Guinea, where Liz, the older daughter is filming a documentary about a new religion and its charismatic leader- a woman named Belef.  The reader quickly sees the parallels between life in each of the Ulsters- places where religion, politics, and history have scarred the population and violence permeates the lives of all.   Recommended!  

Friday, July 28, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, As we approach summer’s midpoint, my thoughts turn to - yes- enlightenment! I have read many good novels over the last few months and now I want to learn something new with perhaps a scientific bent. I do so love historical fiction.  
In Search of Enlightenment

Dear In Search of….. I just finished a wonderful historical novel set in the 1880’s about the fierce struggle to electrify America: THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT by Graham Moore.  The major players are George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison.  Told from the perspective of Paul Cravath, a young lawyer who goes on to invent the prototype of the modern law firm,   this  factually accurate novel is both a suspenseful mystery and a psychological study of genius. Edison is portrayed as an egotistically driven showman whose light bulb is inferior to the naïve, well-intentioned Westinghouse’s. It is Edison’s threat of a billion dollar law suit that brings Cravath on the scene.  With the help of the eccentric Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla and renowned opera singer Agnes Huntington, he struggles to win what is called “the current wars.” Will alternating current A/C or direct current D/C prevail?  All this is set against the backdrop of late nineteenth century New York as magical thinking gives way to scientific progress.  A fascinating, always entertaining work further enhanced by an eight page author’s note outlining where fact and fiction diverge- highly recommended!    

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  With heavy rain ruining my plans last week ( I was so disappointed: The Lazy Dogs, Trilogy,  and Kingfisher were all rained out),  I am hoping for better weather this week. But if not, do you have a good book I can have on hand – something set far away and with maybe a moral dilemma or two thrown in?  Summer Rain Ranter

Dear Summer Rain Ranter,  I just finished a book that might be  what you are looking for: WAKING LIONS by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen.  Neurosurgeon Eitan Green lives a privileged life- he and his police detective wife and their two young sons have a lovely home in Beersheba, an Israeli desert town.  Driving home in his luxury SUV after an exhausting night of surgery, he hits an Eritrean immigrant.  Determining there is nothing to be done for the severely injured man and fearful of criminal prosecution, Green leaves the man to die.  Shortly after he arrives home, Sirkit, the man’s wife, appears with Green’s wallet.   He offers her cash , but she is not interested in his money . Instead, she threatens to go to the police unless he follows her directions.  She wants him to help her run an underground hospital in an abandoned garage behind the fast food restaurant where she is a dishwasher.  His patients will be African immigrants who cannot find medical care elsewhere. While this certainly seems a way to atone for his crime, things are not as morally clear as they might seem.  There are many surprises throughout that soon leave us questioning our own moral rectitude.   Highly recommended!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I am planning on meeting friends and family Sunday morning for breakfast at Sea Cliff Beach Café. I love their omelets and the bagels are delicious.  When we all get together conversation often turns to what everyone is reading.  I would love to have a good book to “bring to the table.” Any thoughts?  Beach Breakfaster

Dear Beach Breakfaster,  I am  also a big fan of the Beach Café, and a big fan too of DO NOT BE ALARMED  by Maile Meloy.  This novel tells the story of three families on a cruise ship traveling through the ports of Central America.  The two American cousins Nora and Liv   have husbands and two children each- all of whom are very close.  When the husbands accept a golfing invitation, Nora and Liv decide to go onshore with the children for a zip line expedition- a decision they all come quickly to regret because indeed- “there is much to be alarmed about…”  When their well-meaning but inept guide crashes his car on the way to their destination, the women find themselves separated from the children.  Disaster after disaster awaits them.  Much more than a tale of suspense, this book analyzes the role luck plays in our lives.  Being born an American is shown to be huge piece of luck and to be a wealthy American so much the better, but in the end, luck itself proves ephemeral.  A fascinating thriller… and a strong sociological study- highly recommended!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  This week begins Friday Music at Sea Cliff Beach and I am looking forward to a wonderful night: just back from Nashville,  Roger Street Friedman with the Ramblin’ Kind will be the first group to perform.   Justin and Jenna DiPietro have worked up a great lineup for the rest of the  summer too. As usual, I plan to get there early, have dinner,  and read for a few hours. Do you have a good novel to recommend?  
Beach Music Bon Vivant

Dear Beach Music Bon Vivant,  Sounds like a good plan and I have just the book for you: THE HEIRS by Susan Rieger.. Rupert Falkes, a wealthy British born lawyer, dies in the opening pages of this compelling novel. Father of five successful sons ( each with a  fascinating back  story), Falkes has been the  emotional and intellectual center of his family for decades so everyone is shaken when it appears he has had a secret life complete with  another wife and children.  His sons grapple with the possibility/probability they knew very little about their father.  From his orphaned beginnings in England to his tragic death in Manhattan, Falkes lived a multi-tiered existence- fascinating to both his family and  readers.  A beautifully crafted literary mystery of sorts and highly recommended!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  With the Fourth of July long weekend coming up, I can barely contain my excitement.  Starting July 1 Saturday, there is going to be bike and trike decorating party on the front lawn of the Children’s Library. Then on Monday, the eve of the Fourth, we will be attending the annual Happy Birthday USA- again at the Children’s Library.  Joe Hughes will lead the songs and everyone will share in a lavish birthday cake.  Of course, the major event will be the Reading of the Declaration of Independence on the Village Green on the Fourth followed by a parade down Sea Cliff Avenue to Lincoln Plaza.  And, yes- all these are sponsored by the Sea Cliff Civic Association with everyone in the Village invited to attend.   Do you have something for me to read between these gala celebrations ?  Fervent Fan of the Fourth

Dear Fervent Fan of the Fourth,  It is certainly admirable that you plan on doing some reading in the midst of all these celebrations.  I think Dennis Lehane’s newest novel might be just the book for you: SINCE WE FELL.   The protagonist Rachel Child, a  Pulitzer prize winning TV journalist, is victim to paralyzing anxiety attacks.   The daughter of a once successful writer of self-help manuals , Rachel struggles to learn her father’s identity- something her mother has refused to reveal.  When she has a breakdown on air while covering a disaster in Haiti, her husband abruptly leaves, a former private investigator befriends her, and one mystery after another unfolds until we wonder if Rachel’s revelations can be trusted…  A psychological thriller for sure and recommended!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  The Sea Cliff Civic Association’s Sunset Serenades at Memorial Park start  Thursday, June 29 and I plan on being there every Thursday throughout the summer.  I like to get there early, set up a chair, read a good book, and wait for the music to begin. Do you have something to start the summer off just right?  Sunset Serenade Swooner

Dear Sunset Serenade Swooner,  I too am a big fan of the Serenades and we all have  its founder and chair Petrice Kaider to thank for this summer wonder.  I have a short (224 pages) debut novel to recommend: CHEMISTRY by Weike Wang.  Wang gives us a sly, poignant look into the life of an unnamed  Chinese doctoral student who finds the pressures of the lab, love, and life overwhelming.  Her faithful boyfriend Eric who has had the perfect childhood, her successful best friend , her exacting parents, her questioning therapist- all star in this drama that plays out in her mind.  While some of the scenes are very, very funny, they are interspersed with grim memories of her childhood here and in China,  her parents’ violence towards one another and their astonishing expectations for their only child.   Throughout, we wonder how reliable a narrator she really is.  Nevertheless, a very unusual coming of age novel and highly recommended!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I have just returned from a fabulous trip to Venice with my family.  We all had a great time and while we were there many people mentioned a mystery writer whose novels are  set in Venice.  I would love to relive my Venetian experiences reading these books. Who is this author? Searcher for Venetian Mysteries

Dear Searcher,  I am a huge fan of Donna Leon and have read all her mysteries- all set in Venice. I just finished her latest (she writes one every year): EARTHLY REMAINS.  Brunetti is a highly educated police commissario with an erudite Henry James scholar wife and two teenage children.  He faces life’s problems with  a benevolent stoicism.  In this her 26th novel in the series, Brunetti is spending two restorative weeks on one of Venice’s large islands. His days are filled with great food, philosophical conversations, and explorations of  the local  flora and fauna  Of course, there must be a crime, but as is always the case for Leon, it plays a minor role in this environmental , cultural, humanistic study of the world.  The victim is obsessed with the puzzling death of bees he has been cultivating over the years and his investigations lead him back to fifty years of mega industry’s polluting of the water and air around Venice and the world.  A wonderfully insightful book and highly recommended! 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Every year I attend the James Joyce Jaunt- Sea Cliff’s very own, unique celebration of Bloomsday. It begins by the Water Tower (think Dublin’s Martello Tower) and proceeds to Stenson Memorial Library where the story of Joyce’s ULYSSES unfolds. While I have read much of Joyce’s works in preparation for this event, I think I want a change of  mood and venue.  Do you have a quick moving , contemporary novel set in metropolitan  New York?  A James Joyce Jaunter

Dear James Joyce Jaunter,  I too am a huge fan of the Jaunt. Fred Stroppel and Dan DiPietro do an amazing job of making ULYSSES accessible and entertaining for Sea Cliff’s citizenry.  Last night I finished a novel by another Joyce: SMALL MERCIES. Eddie Joyce is not related to Dublin’s James Joyce, but I think you will find his work thought-provoking and worthwhile.  Set in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Westchester, and Manhattan, SMALL MERCIES  tells the tale of the extended Amendola family- parents, grandparents, children, and in-laws as they deal over the years with the death of a young son and husband in 9/11.   The story is told from multiple viewpoints, each adding a little more to our understanding of the Amendolas, the community  forces that shaped their lives,  and ultimately, the history we all share.  Highly recommended!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching .   I always look forward to the beautiful ceremonies throughout Sea Cliff, especially the breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library, followed by the piercingly poignant parade through the Village. With this long weekend ahead, I will have lots of time to get into a good book. Do you have a recommendation?  Memorial Day Marcher

Dear Memorial Day Marcher,   Yes, this weekend is one of memory and anticipation. Summer’s future glories lie before us as we pause to remember the past. Paul Auster’s enormous (867 pages) novel 4321 captures this in a startlingly unique way.  The numbers in the title reflect the four possible lives of one young man.  In Chapter 1.0 we meet Ferguson as he is born on March  2, 1947, son of Stanley and Rose.  From then on, each of  its seven chapters is divided into four parts beginning with 1.1.  – each part offering us a different version of Ferguson’s life. Same boy – varying outcomes-  but with some constants:  he loves Amy, films, music, baseball, and writing, Rose is a photographer and Stanley, a businessman; throughout Ferguson is enmeshed in the politics and culture of the 60’s. Beyond these, we see the effects of chaos and chance.  Death comes early to one while the other three see extraordinary differences in fortune, health, love, friendship, and success.  This fascinating novel poses the question we all ask ourselves about our own lives: what if…?  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, We are going to a beautiful wedding in a small village two hours outside of Barcelona,  and I would like to have a good book for the plane ride.  I have a few novels on my Kindle but I would like a thought-provoking piece of non-fiction. Any thoughts?   A Very Excited Wedding Guest

Dear Very Excited….Last night I finished a wonderfully challenging book that will make your plane ride fly: UTOPIA FOR REALISTS by Rutger Bregman.  Bregman is a young Dutch philosopher/economist with startling ideas about reconstructing society. He recounts the history of utopia going back to the 13th century where “The Land of Plenty” was described in exquisite detail- plentiful meats and sweets and peace enjoyed by all. He offers an interesting albeit controversial take on how modern society can create a Utopian society in three steps: by instituting a universal basic income, a fifteen hour work week, and opening borders around the world. The United States during the presidency of Richard Nixon came days away from offering a basic $10,000 universal income only to be defeated by spurious data. Probably the most difficult piece to implement would be  the opening of all territorial borders, which Bregman sees as the simplest  way to equalize income.  While many may think his ideas quixotic, he presents them in such a forthright and optimistic manner that he makes  a Utopian world seems very possible- indeed probable. Highly recommended!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru, I am getting together with my family for Mother’s Day and I want to suggest we start a book club.  We all live on Long Island and we all love mysteries. Most of us have read and enjoyed all of Michael Sears’s great books, so if you have something like those, it would be perfect.  Lover of Long Island and Mysteries

Dear Lover of Long Island and ….. I just finished a mystery your family might enjoy: WHERE IT HURTS by Reed Farrel  Coleman.  Gus Murphy is a retired Suffolk County Police officer whose life took a tragic turn with the death of his teenage son. As he tries to put his life back together, he finds himself embroiled in many mysterious events set throughout Long Island towns and villages.  Police malfeasance, gang warfare, and petty crime all figure in this dark tale.  A shuttle bus driver at a small motel, Gus meets many quirky characters in his search for answers to the most existential of questions.  With evil lurking in the most innocent of encounters, we watch as Gus takes chances only the most desperate of sleuths would allow themselves.  Recommended!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at the Friends of the Library gala “Fun-Raiser” last night-  and what fun it was!  A group of revelers was discussing a number of books including “Dog Whistle Politics, ” “White Trash,” “ The New Jim Crow Politics,” plus another title I can’t remember. I plan on reading all of them so can you help me with that last one?  A Fervent Fan of the Friends of the Library

Dear Fervent Fan of…  The Friends of the Library is a favorite of mine too and –yes- I have read the book you are interested in HILLBILLY ELEGY by J.D. Vance.  This is a bestselling memoir of a childhood spent in Ohio and Kentucky, the author’s years as a U.S. Marine, and finally his success as a Yale  Law School graduate. He writes of his upbringing in a household where violence and multiple addictions were counterbalanced by fierce family loyalties and an  intense love of country.  He writes of the many- as he sees them- bad decisions made by his family, while still maintaining a strong affection for them. The roles of government, racism, and culture in his family’s misfortunes are analyzed in detail interspersed with at times terrifying incidents from his boyhood. In the end, Vance denounces a culture of “helplessness” that he sees as integral to his family and community’s malaise, while underplaying the role of economics and  punitive government policy.  An interesting read but recommended with some reservation...  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,   I was at a Sea Cliff Baseball game the other day supporting my favorite team “The Artful Dodgers” when one of the parents mentioned a book he had particularly enjoyed.  It was by the same author who had written for the very popular TV series “Big Lies, Little Secrets.” Any thoughts? Fan of Sea Cliff Baseball

Dear Fan of Sea Cliff Baseball,  My book group just finished the novel you are interested in: TRULY, MADLY, GUILTY  by Liane Moriarty.  Set in Sidney, Australia, the book follows the lives of three couples before, during, and after a fateful barbecue. In short, time alternating chapters, we meet their parents, neighbors, and children and the suspense builds quickly as  we wait to find out  what did happen that night. The pivotal relationship is that of Clementine and Erika. An attractive, witty cellist and mother of two young children, Clementine finds herself resenting her lifetime friend Erika, an anxious accountant who has been emotionally damaged by her flamboyant hoarder mother.  When Erika’s wealthy neighbor Vid- think Tony Soprano- invites everyone to a lavish evening barbecue, truths are revealed, tragedies of varying proportions unfold, and no one leaves the garden unscathed.  The strength of this fast moving novel is Moriarty’s ability to make us care deeply for her characters while offering a satisfying, seamless conclusion.  Recommended! 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

 Dear Great Book Guru,  We will be having our annual Family Duck Hunt (rubber duckys, of course) next week and I always like to have a new book to discuss with my erudite cousins and siblings. Do you have something short, relevant, and worthwhile to recommend?  Hunter of Ducks and Good Books

Dear Hunter of….. I just finished a strange but very moving novel by Mohsin Hamid EXIT WEST that you might want to discuss with your family.  Set in the 21st century, this short (220 pages) work introduces us to a young couple Nadia and Saeed, university students living in an undisclosed country (closely resembling Syria) that is on the brink of civil war. Their love for each other is described in poetic detail as the world they know begins to disappear in violence and chaos. Finally, they decide they must leave and here the novel takes a fantastical turn- think C.S. Lewis’s   "Chronicles of Narnia" where doors become portals into new worlds or Colson Whitehead’s “ Underground Railroad” where there are truly trains to freedom.  The young couple steps through appointed doors that lead them first to the Greek island of Mykonos, then to Vienna, on to London, and finally to California. In each of these places they experience great misery as  outcasts and  persecuted migrants.  Interspersed are brief portraits of other refugees in Sydney, Tijuana, Dublin,  Marrakesh… set in a future where everyone is displaced, everyone is in search of a homeland.   A hauntingly beautiful, provocative novel- recommended!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Friends of mine attended the annual Long Island Reads this week and they really enjoyed the discussion. As usual, John Canning received high praise as its master of ceremonies.   I think I might want to use the selection for my book  group.  Any thoughts?     Long Island Reader

Dear Long Island Reader,  DEAD WAKE by Erik Larson was this year’s LI Reads choice and it did make for a spirited discussion.   Larson, a Freeport native, writes of the sinking of the Lusitania - ten months after World War I had begun.   The luxury ocean liner with over 2000 people aboard sank in the Irish Sea eighteen minutes after being torpedoed by a German submarine.  Larson tells the background tales of many of the ill-fated passengers, the lucky survivors, the German Captain Schwieger (deemed the villain but many  admitted to finding themselves  rooting for him at times), and the beleaguered British Captain Turner (the hero who found himself accused of negligence by the Admiralty). He offers interesting insights into the politics of Winston Churchill (possibly the true villain) and the romantic meanderings of Woodrow Wilson.  While we know that the ship is doomed, we do not know which of the passengers are.  Will the little boy with measles and his pregnant mother live? Or will the book dealer with the original annotated Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” in his briefcase make it back to America?  Will the young spiritualist/architect and her even younger friend find their way to Paris?  Larson is a masterful storyteller and his story of the Lusitania will remain for you for a very long time.  Highly recommended!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  April showers have come a few days early to Sea Cliff and as I sit looking out at another rainy day, my thoughts turn to finding a good book.  I am a fan of short stories long on beauty and insight.  Do you have any suggestions?  Awaiting April

Dear Awaiting April, Unlike you,  I am not a huge fan of short stories, but I just finished a remarkable collection of eight beautifully written, compelling tales: THE REFUGEES by Viet Thanh Nguyen- author of last year’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel THE SYMPATHIZER.  Nguyen left Vietnam as a young man – a refugee who found a home in California.  His newest book recounts the lives of those who came here and those who remained behind, and how these lives intersect.   In the opening story, a young woman is haunted by the spirit of her brother who died helping her escape, but she finds herself questioning who is truly the ghost: she or her brother. Others of the refugees include an elderly professor who begins to confuse his wife with a young girl he knew long ago in Vietnam. Soon we see that each of Nguyen’s characters is forced to deal with the present and the past. It is not their memories that pain them, but their need to forget so much of what formed them.  While each refugee’s story is unique, all share the pain of a lost homeland. Highly recommended!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Spring has just arrived and I am filled with energy and optimism.  Sea Cliff is as lovely  all seasons of the year, but I would love to read a book about other cultures.  Any thoughts?  A Spring Sprite

Dear Spring Sprite,   I was away this weekend at the annual Barbara Pym Conference in Cambridge, MA where I picked up a short, incredibly moving novel: GHACHAR GHOCHAR by Vivek Shanbbag. The title comes from a phrase invented by children to describe a tangled web and this is indeed a tangled web of a story.   We meet the nameless narrator in a large coffee house in Bangalore, India.  He is anxiously seeking advice from the shop owner, who he sees as a man great wisdom. Very soon we have reason to question our narrator’s reliability.  He and his family have been living an impoverished,  stressful existence where every rupee had to be accounted for.  Horrific news comes: his father the main provider for the family has lost his job.  When a young uncle offers to start up a spice business using the father’s severance pay, everyone fears financial ruin. But instantly the business prospers and the family becomes extraordinarily wealthy.   The contrast in their former and present life styles makes for a fascinating study of Indian society.    The novel takes a very dark turn as corruption, indolence, and violence become embedded in their daily lives.  When the story ends, we feel terrified for what is to come.  Highly recommended! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  I plan to be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Brooklyn this week with friends and family.  I know I annoy them with my many, many questions about this popular borough so I would like to read something that will provide me with some answers. Any suggestions? Baffled by Brooklyn

Dear Baffled by Brooklyn, I remember reading a short story by Thomas Wolfe “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” and wondering if it were true since for me Brooklyn has always seemed cloaked in myth and mystery. Well, I just finished a book that brought great enlightenment to me: THE NEW BROOKLYN by Kay Hymowitz.  The author takes us on a journey of hundreds of years from the 1600’s Dutch farmlands, through the Civil War, the Southern migration,  two World Wars, the postwar suburban exodus, and finally bringing us to today’s Brooklyn, one of the world’s most desirable urban locations.  The roles ship building, sugar distilleries, subway lines, bridges, and -yes- breweries played in Brooklyn’s  history is highlighted throughout in colorful detail. Focusing on seven neighborhoods: Park Slope, Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Sunset Park, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, and Canarsie,  she details how each exemplifies “what it takes to bring a city back.”  In later chapters, she wrestles with the question “can this new wealth lift up the long disadvantaged?”  Highly recommended!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Dear Great Book Guru,  Next week my friends and I are attending the annual Barbara Pym literary conference at Harvard .  It is always a great weekend and to prepare, I would like to read or reread one of Pym’s novels.  Please suggest a favorite of yours.    A Very Enthusiastic Pymite

Dear Enthusiastic Pymite,  I have just finished rereading LESS THAN ANGELS by Pym and it was a delight from start to finish.  The story opens in 1950’s London at a reception for anthropologists, some returning from Africa, some students beginning their careers, plus a bevy of eccentric administrators and wealthy benefactors.  Catherine Oliphant, a writer of romance novels is somewhat involved with Tom Mallow, a “callow” younger researcher recently back from the field. She is the true anthropologist here and a stand-in for Pym herself.   Catherine observes those around her, recording their patterns and eccentricities in exquisite detail.  When the story shifts to the London suburbs, we meet sisters Rhonda and Mabel whose days are filled with observing   neighbors, friends, and relatives and we realize we are experiencing yet another anthropological study.  When the story moves to the countryside, we soon recognize the rituals with which the landed gentry organize their lives.  Throughout, we see Pym at her best: describing the smallness of life in all its grandeur.  However and wherever, people will find meaning in the distractions which make up their lives and ….ours.  Highly recommended!