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!