Monday, February 25, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Last Sunday I hosted an Oscar party and what fun we had! There were Oscars for all and a grand prize for the guest who guessed best – a vintage salad spinner.  Well, during the awards, someone mentioned a book she had recently read about a British family, sharing secrets, silences, and a summer together; she thought it would make a great film. Sound familiar? An Academy Awards Aficionado

Dear Academy Awards Aficionado, How wonderful that books were on everyone’s mind in the midst of this annual Hollywood extravaganza!  THE PAST by Tessa Hadley is a memorable novel set around 2015.  Four middle-aged siblings agree to spend three weeks together in their decrepit family vacation home - perhaps for the last time. The three sisters and their brother bring a history that begins in the 1960’s with their parents’ marriage and covers the years, deaths, and rivalries that followed.  As Hadley says “They knew one another well, all too well, and yet they were continually surprised…”  The novel spans generations as we hear Jill their mother - long dead - muse on her disappointing marriage and fifty years later her children wondering where their relationships have gone awry. The beauty of this book lies in its ability to make the ordinary moments of that summer so alive with each of the characters sharing stories that underlie the beauty and uncertainties of life. A book with quiet but lasting appeal - highly recommended!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, With so many families away for Presidents Week, Sea Cliff was rather quiet but there was a rousing celebration at my friends’ home with great food and lively conversation.  One of the guests mentioned a recent novel about the horrors of war from a feminist perspective; many of us were interested in reading it for our book club.  Any thoughts?  Presidential Supper Scholar

Dear Presidential Supper Scholar, Great idea! Pat Barker’s THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS is a perfect choice for a book group. This retelling of the story of “The Iliad” focuses on a briefly mentioned character: Briseis - a young Trojan princess - whose brothers and husband have been killed by Achilles and his men. She is taken as a trophy of war as are the other women and girls of Troy.  In “The Iliad” we hear little to nothing of their stories, but Barker breaks their silence.  With an astonishing voice, Briseis destroys the tales of war’s glory and men’s valor.  Instead, we hear of women’s pain, terror, and subjugation.  Told through the ages of the “glorious Achilles, godlike Achilles, brilliant Achilles," we hear instead Briseis call him “the butcher.” Barker, who has written the award-winning “Regeneration” trilogy about the horrors of World War I, attempts to correct ancient wrongs- wrongs found throughout literature and life. She has given these women voices, but many silences still abound. Highly recommended!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Friends and I gathered for a pre-Valentine dinner last weekend. Over a fabulous winter soup, we discussed at length the state of the republic and many people mentioned a favorite of yours, HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE, but someone said there was a new book out with a similar theme. Are you familiar with it?   Valentine Politico

Dear Valentine Politico, MORTAL REPUBLIC by Edward J. Watts is a fascinating look into the fall of Rome and the parallels that exist in the United States today. What brought down the Roman Republic? Corrupt leaders, pestilence, civil war, and foreign interference all played a role in its end, but Watts believes it was the Roman people - who ultimately chose the comfort of living under the power of one man rather than the arduous task of maintaining a representative government.  Income inequality, bribe-taking, voter suppression, condoning of violence, the breakdown of norms - all contributed to the gradual downfall of the Republic.  The Roman system of governance lasted for centuries but it was not immortal – a fact Romans refused to accept.  There was an overriding belief that its strength would prevail because it had endured so well for so long.  When a series of natural disasters - massive flooding, fires, famine and a series of bizarre storms – beset Rome, the citizens were primed to give up their freedom to a charismatic dictator who promised them deliverance… and thus ended the Roman Republic. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, My friends and I had a fun NOT Super Bowl party last Sunday with  great food and even greater conversation… about books seemingly overlooked by the critics.  My choice was Mona Simpson’s MY HOLLYWOOD – a novel I read many years ago that deals with the complex, often painful relationship between parents and the women who care for their children. Has Simpson written anything else you would recommend? 
Not a Fan of Football
Dear Not a Fan of Football, Recently I read CASEBOOK by Mona Simpson. In this novel, we meet Miles as a precocious nine year-old in 2000 who is curious about the comings and goings of the adults in his life. Using the primitive tools of the time, he is able to monitor his parents’ conversations – often with humorous misinterpretation. But soon he realizes things are not as he thought, and their divorce is imminent. Over the next ten years he continues his sleuthing – using the ever more sophisticated technology we all have at our disposal. There is a prevailing sense of mystery, drama, and comedy as we follow the lives of his parents, their new mates, his siblings and his friends - all set within the glitzy, grubby world of southern California.  An interesting look into family dynamics and dysfunction from a not always reliable but always sympathetic narrator….recommended!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, The Sea Cliff Civic Association is hosting a wonderful Valentine’s event on Friday, February 8 from 7:30 to 9:30pm at the SC Yacht Club. It will be Love Stories from folks who have appeared on NPR. Last year, it was sold out so I am getting my $15 in this weekend, but first I am looking forward to reading a “can’t put down” novel.  Any recommendation?  
Valentine Gala Goer
Dear Valentine Gala Goer, My book club just read a horrifying yet fascinating novel by Leila Slimani: THE PERFECT NANNY.  The story opens with the words “the baby is dead.”  The rest of this 220 page book tells the story of two women: Myriam the mother of two children and Louise the children’s nanny.  Louise is a magical addition to the household - the chaos of daily life is transformed to immaculate, peaceful orderliness.  The children are well behaved, meals are delightful, and Myriam finds a calm that has eluded her since becoming a mother. Louise takes pleasure in her duties and all seems idyllic until the unthinkable occurs. The complex relationship that exists between a mother and her nanny is brutally described. At times Myriam is in control but then we see Louise move to a position of power; ultimately the economics of worker and employer prevail. Louise lashes out in the only way she sees possible.  This is a very difficult book to read and one you will not forget. Highly recommended!