Sunday, April 28, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, The Friends of the Sea Cliff Library are hosting a tea party this Sunday, April 28 from 3 to 5pm in Jackie’s Secret Garden to thank all their supporters. Afterwards, I have my Sunday book group, and it’s my turn to choose next month’s selection.  Any ideas?  Fan of the Friends

Dear Fan of the Friends, My group just read a quirky, very funny novel: LESS by Andrew Sean Greer. The opening sentence is both puzzling and revealing: “From where I sit, the story of Arthur Less is not so bad.” Who is Arthur Less, what is his story, why such a tepid evaluation of this story and who indeed is speaking?  All is answered by the end of this 250-page Pulitzer Prize winner.  Less is a writer of modest fame whose lover is about to marry someone else. Rather than endure the pain and embarrassment of attending the wedding, Less decides to travel around the world. Looming over all of this is his impending fiftieth birthday. First stop, Mexico, then Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, India, ending up in Japan. In each of these countries, Less is confused, humiliated, feted, and forced to confront his sense of failure and fear of aging. The journey combines elements of Homer’s “Odyssey”, Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and Twain’s “Innocents Abroad.”   This is a very funny, very poignant take on romance, aging, narcissism …and ultimately the human condition. Recommended!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Spring is surely in the air with the beautiful month of April upon us!  Do you have a good book to start off the month - I’d love a thriller with historical background. April Admirer

Dear April Admirer, Every year, I look forward to the newest John Grisham and this year’s is a particularly fine addition to his collection: THE RECKONING.  Pete Banning, a Mississippi landowner, is a returning World War II veteran when the novel opens. Shortly into the book, he murders the young pastor of his family’s church. No explanation is given and Pete is stoic throughout his trial and the verdict. Throughout the book, we wonder what could have caused this supposedly good man to have done this.  His children, his sister, his wife - are all collateral damage as they struggle with the aftermath of Pete’s crime.  Time shifts and we are cast back to his childhood, courtship, and then in the most graphic part of the story, we learn of his suffering and bravery in the Phillipines during the war. Again there is a time shift forward and we see to our horror the racism underlying all we have seen.  This is perhaps Grisham’s starkest commentary on the banality of evil. Highly recommended!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Last weekend we attended the annual North American Barbara Pym Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As always, it was a great time to catch up on all things Pym with dinners, lectures, and - of course - catching up with fellow Pymians from around the world. This year the featured novel was CRAMPTON HODNET. I know you’re a longtime fan of Barbara Pym. Where would you rank this novel? A Passionate Reader of Pym

Dear Passionate Reader of Pym,  Barbara Pym (1913-1980) wrote twelve books - any of which I would heartily recommend - but I must admit CRAMPTON HODNET is a huge favorite of mine. Set in Oxford with its ancient colleges and medieval rituals and written decades ago, the novel has a surprisingly modern tone. It is a very funny take on village life - a village peopled by quirky characters including pretentious professors, young romantics, philandering spouses, and interfering relatives. There are three intersecting plot lines: the middle-aged Frances Cleveland’s dalliance, the young Cleveland daughter's tryst with an insufferable future politician, and the lonely but very witty Jessie Morrow's passionless affair with a local clergyman (he forgets her name as he is proposing). Misread moments, tangled romances, and furtive escapades all make for a hilarious read. And yes… I see much of Sea Cliff Village life in this tale. Highly recommended!