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!