Monday, January 18, 2021

 Dear Great Book Guru, I am still finding it hard to concentrate during the pandemic.  Is there something short and relevant you could suggest?   Distracted Reader

Dear Distracted Reader, I just read a remarkable book - BEFORE THE EVER AFTER by Jacqueline Woodson. It is a 179-page novel in verse told from the perspective of a twelve-year-old boy. ZJ is the son of Zachariah Johnson, a legendary professional football player beloved by all because of his prowess, warmth, and intelligence. He had to retire in his early thirties because of brain damage caused by the brutal pummeling he received throughout his career.  When we meet him, he is a shattered man with trembling hands, uncontrollable rages, and severe memory loss. ZJ alternated stories of their past happiness - his pride in being the son of this strong, kind, wealthy, handsome hero - with tales of his father not remembering his name, sleeping for days on end and fighting invisible enemies. Woodson captures the boy’s bewilderment and despair as each encounter brings more pain. She skillfully combines the personal tragedy of this man and his family with the overarching story of the exploitation of Black athletes. She has done a remarkable job in capturing the short-lived glory of the Before and the everlasting pain of the Ever After. Written to appeal to a teen audience, this book is a perfect choice for adults also.  Highly recommended!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Dear Great Book Guru, 

Over the holidays, I heard from a lot of my friends about their favorite new books and many have mentioned one they found horrifyingly prescient. It is set close to home – on the East End of Long Island with characters that are eerily familiar. Do you know the book and - if so - would you recommend?   Books for the New Year

Dear Books for the New Year, I recently finished LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND by Rumaan Alam - a truly terrifying tale.  Amanda and Clay leave Manhattan with their two teenage children, Archie and Rose, for a two-week vacation at a luxurious rental home in a secluded spot on the far reaches of Long Island. Their cell phones have notoriously poor service so there is little concern at first when they lose contact with friends back home. However, a late-night knock on the door reveals that the world as they knew it has come to an end.  The owners, George and Ruth, have fled New York City because a sudden blackout has swept the nation.  This affluent, sophisticated Black couple are viewed with suspicion and racial stereotyping, but each couple soon comes to realize their need for each other.   Loud sonic blasts fill the air and strange illnesses develop. With TV and internet down, it is impossible to know the nature of this disaster. Comparisons to the present pandemic are of course uppermost in readers’ minds.  A book you will not be able to put down - highly recommended!