Sunday, January 28, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru, We were at the Women’s March in New York City    last weekend with friends and family.  It was an amazing display of unity and activism.  The signs were wonderful- ranging from “Love Trumps Hate” to “Toddlers Against Tyranny.”  As we marched, we talked about many things,   including good choices for our book clubs.  Someone mentioned a new novel about Lincoln that sounded interesting- any thoughts?  Marching with the Many                                        
Dear Marching,  George Saunders’s LINCOLN IN THE BARDO  is an excellent book club choice. Although central to the plot,  Lincoln is only one of 166 characters we encounter in this very unusual,  award- winning novel.  Bardo is the place where the dead await their afterlife, possibly reincarnation, possibly damnation….  We meet Lincoln as he visits the crypt where his young son Willy lies after having just died of typhoid fever. The president’s grief is so intense that Willy cannot move on. The other ghosts- many who refuse to believe they are dead- share their life stories. There is the racist soldier who brags about the many women he raped, a miserly widow, a young mother who fears for her children, and a group of slaves that recount the horrors they have endured. Interspersed throughout are quotes from Lincoln scholars and journalists offering commentary on the events of the day.   Saunders tells an extraordinary tale- both beautifully poetic and ribaldry humorous- of love, grief, and redemption.  Highly recommended! 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at an annual gathering of friends:  “The Beat the Winter Blues Gala” last week. While we were dining and chatting, someone brought up a new book she had read- set in sunny Greece about a missing person, but she insisted it was not a mystery.   It sounded interesting… any thoughts? Seeker of the Sun

Dear Seeker of the Sun,  Yes, all of us could use some sunshine around now, but I’m afraid you won’t find it in Katie Kitamura’s A SEPARATION.  This is a dark novel set in London and southern Greece.  The unnamed narrator has been separated from her husband Christopher for over six months. She has little knowledge of his life but is aware he has had many affairs throughout their marriage. His mother, an ardent supporter of Christopher and our narrator’s nemesis, reluctantly reaches out to her when he stops returning calls.  Surprised the mother does not know of the separation, the narrator maintains the secrecy and heads out to the luxurious hotel resort where Christopher is staying. The remainder of this short novel teases us with clues about his life and possible end.  Throughout,  Kitamura offers us an study on what separates little lies and great betrayals, legal and personal misdeeds, and ultimately,  the need to know and the need to protect.  The beauty of Greece shines through this novel but there is no sunshine for its characters. Recommended! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Dear Great Book Guru,  With the Martin Luther King weekend coming up, I feel the need to read about the politics of our country.  I am interested in the new and very controversial book about the Trump presidency.  Have you read it and if so would you recommend it?
Fervent Fan of Politics

Dear Fervent Fan,  I was intrigued by all the pre- publication reporting on FIRE AND FURY  by Michael Wolff so at exactly 9am on January 5- its moment of release- I pressed the Buy button on my Kindle  Over the top on all the bestseller lists, this is indeed a worthwhile read on many levels, and  I was certainly not prepared to enjoy it as much as I did. It is surprisingly well written and filled with colorful details.  Wolff’s style is definitely in the “access journalism” school very reminiscent of many of Bob Woodward’s books. The image of this New York Magazine writer sitting invited but unnoticed on a sofa in the White House as scores of key political players casually reveal their secrets is strangely credible. While Wolff depends for a large part on the musings of the irascible  Steve Bannon, the more poignant and provocative insights come from three women: Katie Walsh, the young deputy White House Chief of Staff; Dina Powell,  a former Goldman Sachs executive now Middle East Security Advisor, and Hope Hicks, White House Communications Director.  The role these women play in White House politics could make for an entire book.   Whether Wolff is accurate or not, he tells a fascinating story. Highly recommended!