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!