Monday, September 28, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, There are many things I miss during the pandemic, but I especially miss traveling.  We had many trips planned for 2020 and all have been cancelled.  Could you recommend a book that will transport me to a faraway place at least in my imagination?  A Wishful Traveler

Dear Wishful Traveler, I know the feeling – we keep wondering if we will ever revisit one of our favorite destinations - magical, magnificent Venice - but  I do have a vicarious literary alternative: TRACE ELEMENTS by Donna Leon.  This is Leon’s 29th Guido Brunetti mystery set as always in Venice, and once again offering us a glimpse into the many facets of life in this most beautiful of cities. Her mysteries are always more about moral dilemmas than actual crimes. There is little overt violence and often a morally ambiguous ending. Leon calls herself an eco- detective because she writes about ecologically damaging crimes. In this novel, a young widow asks Brunetti to investigate the death of her husband. The husband had been employed by a testing company that measured the cleanliness of Venice’s water supply. Shortly after submitting questionable results, he died in a mysterious motorcycle accident. What seemed like a private tragedy, is soon revealed to have much wider implications. All of Venice is endangered and Brunetti wonders what a good man can do in the face of a global catastrophe. A disturbing call to action and highly recommended!


Monday, September 21, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, With cold nights and chilly days upon us, my thoughts turn to a good read - a novel with a message…  Any thoughts?     A Chilled Reader

 Dear Chilled Reader, I recently read a short, widely admired novel you might enjoy: A CHILDREN’S BIBLE by Lydia Millet. We follow a group of twelve children - mostly teenagers - who are spending the summer together with their parents in a sprawling lakeside house on the East Coast of the United States. The children are contemptuous of their parents’ languid lifestyle. When a spectacularly destructive storm hits, the children leave the adults behind and head out on what looks like a merry adventure. They soon realize the storm is not a local phenomenon but is impacting the entire world…. the apocalypse has begun. Eva the narrator takes charge and tries to save the children particularly Jack - her young brother - who has brought along a children’s version of the Bible - a castaway from one of the adults. Jack is obsessed with the book and begins to see biblical allusions to the events around them. The children come to believe Jack’s Bible is coded to help them understand the cataclysm the world is experiencing, and we come to see this novel as a prophetic testament to the unraveling of the cosmos because of eons of neglect and malfeasance.  Frightening yet highly recommended!


Monday, September 14, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru, With the coming of Fall and the start of school, I feel I should add some non-fiction to my reading list.  Present day politics is always fascinating but there are so many new books coming out, I find it hard to choose.  A recommendation?  Seeking Knowledge

Dear Seeking Knowledge, Last week I read an enlightening albeit very disturbing book: CASTE by Isabel Wilkerson. Her premise is that strict, often hidden lines divide and keep us apart. Caste can be seen as casting roles in a huge production with society being the producer. Because of your role, you are assumed to have certain qualities, personality traits, deficiencies, virtues, and vices. Whatever you do, your role or caste determines the outcome. Wilkerson traces the American caste system to colonial times and the human need to have an underclass. The concept of scapegoat which goes back to the earliest stages of human history is also addressed. She spends a large portion of the book linking the caste systems of America, Nazi Germany, and India, seeing a common thread based on bloodlines, stigma, and divine will with the cruel logic of casteism requiring a bottom class for those in the middle  to measure themselves. The book abounds in anecdotes that exemplify her observations. In the end, she offers some optimism that our society will be able to move beyond present divisions to a shared humanity. Highly recommended!


Monday, September 7, 2020

Dear Great Book Guru,  With the coming of Fall, my friends and I  have resolved to broaden our reading- We want to explore other lands, other cultures in fast paced novels.  Where shall we begin? Eager Learners

Dear Eager Readers,  Last week I  read a book I think you will find just right: BEIJING PAYBACK by Daniel Nieh. The novel opens with Victor Li and his sister Jules meeting with their father’s attorney to discuss his estate. College student Victor has led a very comfortable life in the suburbs of Los Angeles - a basketball player with many good friends, a beautiful home, and a devoted sister. But all this changes when his father is found murdered and Victor discovers he was not a simple restaurateur but a smuggler and part of a vast international crime syndicate. He is left with enigmatic instructions to return to Beijing where he quickly becomes embroiled in a glamorous world of glitz, intrigue, and incredible violence. We go back in time to China’s leanest Communist years and the horrors of his father’s childhood. As a way to escape, he and his friends joined together to form this criminal enterprise which continues to the present, resulting in his murder.  Throughout the novel, Victor reminds himself of advice his father gave him - now all the more important - as he travels in both worlds his father inhabited.   He (and the reader) is faced with moral quandaries as he confronts the roots of his privileged immigrant experience. Highly recommended!