Saturday, May 25, 2019

Dear Great Book Guru, Sea Cliff is special all seasons of the year, but late Spring is particularly wondrous. This Monday is Memorial Day with its early breakfast on the front lawn of the Children’s Library, followed by a spirited parade through the streets of Sea Cliff and ending with a bittersweet, poignantly beautiful ceremony at Clifton Park. Over this long weekend, I am sure there will be time for a good book. Any thoughts? Memorial Day Observer

Dear Memorial Day Observer, I recently reread a very compelling book: CITY OF FALLING ANGELS by John Berendt.  Berendt is best known for his book about Savannah, Georgia - MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. Using a similar format, he writes about Venice, Italy.  Arriving three days after a massive fire that destroyed La Fenice - Venice’s iconic opera house - Berendt delves into the many forces that contribute to the beauty, magic, and mystery of this city.  In alternating chapters, we meet a master glassblower whose people have lived in Venice for over five hundred years and we learn of a feud that has been consuming his children for decades. Later we meet a poet who is being blackmailed and is found dead. Was he murdered? An internationally renowned Rat Poisoner is another character we meet and come to love. Somehow the twenty or so characters come together, but ultimately the most colorful character is Venice – such a strange and beautiful city.  Highly recommended!  

Saturday, May 18, 2019

 Dear Great Book Guru, Flowers are blooming and spirits are shining in Sea Cliff throughout the merry month of May.  Now I must have a book to match this beautiful time of year.  I’m looking for a novel – under 300 pages set in a lovely time and place.  Any thoughts?   Marveling in May

Dear Marveling in May, NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney is the book for you…. Set in present day Ireland shifting between Dublin and Carricklea - a small town in County Sligo - this beautifully written,  thought-provoking novel traces the relationship of Marianne and Connell. When we first meet them as sixteen year-olds, Marianne is a social misfit of sorts, scorned by her schoolmates, while Connell is a hugely popular athlete and academic star. His mother is a domestic worker and Marianne’s a prominent attorney.   While the teens become close friends, Connell is ever fearful his schoolmates will learn of their relationship.  When they enter Trinity College in Dublin, the nexus changes. Connell is the misfit and Marianne the star - largely because of class and privilege.  For the next four years, they consistently misread each other’s actions and their friendship falters. Throughout, Rooney presents her characters’ insecurities and vulnerabilities as a mirror of today’s economic and societal failings.   Recommended!

Dear Great Book Guru, I am planning a long weekend in Venice next week and I have prepared mightily with a very ambitious itinerary. But before we leave,  I would love to read a novel set in this magical city.  Any recommendation? Eager Visitor to Venice

Dear Eager Visitor to Venice, What a beautiful time of year to be in Venice and I have a wonderful book for you:  Donna Leon’s UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN. Her protagonist, Police Inspector Guido Brunetti, is a lover of opera, fine food and wine, and the Greek classics.  He is devoted to work and family - his wife Paola, a university professor, a teenage son and daughter, and his wealthy in-laws Count and Countess Falier. When the Count askes him to investigate an elderly friend who is acting mysteriously, Brunetti is reluctant to interfere, but when the friend dies unexpectedly, he finds himself deeply involved.  What is the nature of love, of fatherhood, of friendship? All these are questions Brunetti considers against the backdrop of the majestic beauty of Venice. Throughout, tender concerns of everyday life mingle seamlessly with larger issues of morality and mortality. This is Leon’s 28th novel and her hero continues to face life’s challenges with his characteristic humor, insight, and stoicism.  Highly recommended!

Friday, May 3, 2019

 Dear Great Book Guru,  This Saturday, May 4 from 9am to 2pm, Sea Cliff’s Beautification Committee will be hosting its annual Plant Sale at St. Luke’s Church on Glen Avenue.  I always get the most beautiful plants there and all the proceeds go to making Sea Cliff’s parks even more beautiful. After the sale, I’ll have time for a good book- perhaps something about the environment?  SCBC Booster

Dear SCBC Booster,  I recently read AMITY AND PROSPERITY  by Eliza Griswold- winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction.   Amity and Prosperity are neighboring Pennsylvania towns,   bordering Appalachia.  Amity is a former steel mill town while Prosperity is a village long polluted by coal mining. Griswold uses the story of Stacey Hanley and her family to tell a tragic tale of industrial pollution, government neglect, and political corruption.  Hanley grew up in Amity and returned there to raise her two children.  Her home sat on top a mountain and the water was clean and wildlife and vegetation plentiful.  She needed money to build a barn so when a local energy company approached her with offers of bonuses and royalties if she were to lease her land for fracking, she quickly agreed. Shortly afterwards, her son became mysteriously ill, pets began to die, and black sludge spew from her water faucets.  The company denied responsibility, local officials refused to help, and the family had to abandon their home. A local husband wife law team took up her battle in the courts, but the outcome is far from satisfying. While this is the story of one family’s horrific misfortune, it is a cautionary tale for all of us.  Highly recommended!