Sunday, September 17, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  With summer ending, I’ll so miss Sunset Serenades, breakfasts at Sea Cliff Beach, and meeting up with friends for outdoor dining throughout the Village. But now is the time to turn to some extensive reading- I have a 50 book challenge and have only read 18.  Help me, please !  Hopeful Fall Reader

Dear Hopeful Fall Reader,  I recently read a great book by a favorite author of mine: Colson Whitehead. HARLEM SHUFFLE is the first in a proposed trilogy – all to be set in Harlem over the  turbulent decades of the late twentieth century. We first meet Ray Carney in 1959. Owner of a flourishing furniture store in Harlem, Ray is confronted daily with ethical choices. As a side business he also sells jewelry and appliances  of very questionable provenance, but even his legitimate business requires payoffs to corrupt politicians and violent criminals. Always hoping to better his situation, Ray gets involved in a jewelry heist at the iconic Hotel Theresa- Harlem’s Plaza Hotel .  He realizes quickly that he has become entangled in a world of high finance and political malfeasance.  Throughout we see that Ray’s misdeeds barely register on the scales of justice with the race riots of the early 1960’s serving as a backdrop to Ray’s story. By the end of the book,  Ray is living a double life – middle class aspiring homeowner/businessman by day  and an avenging Robin Hood- like defender of his community after hours.   A very funny read and on the other hand- a complex look at what exactly  is a crime. Highly recommended!   

Friday, September 8, 2023

Dear Great Book Guru,  My friends and I are planning on starting a monthly book club and we need direction.  Some want to stick to fiction, but others want to stick to non-fiction.  Can you help us resolve the problem before our club ends before it begins!  Lover of Books

Dear Lover of Books, I recently read a great novel that has many aspects of non-fiction woven throughout: THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE by James McBride. McBride is a longtime favorite of mine and most of his novels do  have a historical background. His THE GOOD LORD BIRD is a fictionalized account of John Brown’s Raid, and his earlier COLOR OF WATER was a memoir.  This latest book opens in 1972, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania where a construction crew has just uncovered a skeleton with no identifying signs except a mezuza, a belt buckle, and a pendant.  The mezuza leads the investigators to question the town’s only remaining Jewish resident. But shortly after, Hurricane Agnes washes away all evidence so the case is dropped, and we are quickly brought back in time to the 1920’s where the story begins.  This a tale of Jewish, Black, and East European men and women living in an impoverished section of Pottstown, Chicken Hill, and the racist and anti-Semitic trials they endure. The title comes from the store run by Chona, wife of Moshe who owns a theater and dance hall. Her generosity and goodness to everyone is acknowledged by all and becomes a force that unites the community despite the many tensions that exist. This is an epic tale with many heroic figures and McBride masterfully brings them together for a dazzling conclusion.  Highly recommended!