With the warm weather finally here, it’s time to think about summer reading and time to ponder gifts for Mom, Dad, grads, and your favorite teachers.
Here are some suggestions.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is not a book I would have picked up without a passionate recommendation by a fellow bookseller. First off, the narrator is a dog, a technique that can go very wrong. Second, the racing in the title refers to car racing, something in which I have no interest. But the woman who recommended it said she had cried in the first three pages and was riveted until the end, so I gave it a shot and I am glad I did. It is a moving story that includes thoughtful passages on what makes a champion, both in car racing and in life. Enzo, the dog, starts the story at the end of his life. He is old, incontinent and in pain; he is ready to let go of his failing body and move on to the next stage. He is confident about what comes next because he has watched a documentary about Mongolia in which the truth was revealed: “When a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.” Enzo yearns to be a man as great as his master, Denny. Not only does he want opposable thumbs and the ability to speak, he wants to be a championship race car driver like Denny. As Enzo tells the story of his life from puppyhood to old age, we see the depth of his relationship develop with Denny, then Denny’s wife and child. Through a dog’s eyes, we see his wife’s death and the ensuing custody struggle with his in-laws over little Zoe. All the while Enzo references championship race car driving techniques drivers use to conquer impossible odds. If you enjoy stories of loyalty, love and justice, this book’s for you.
Chris Bohjalian’s newest novel, Skeletons at the Feast, is a departure from his previous work. Instead of a contemporary novel set in Vermont, he’s written a historical novel set in Poland and Germany in the closing months of World War II. Inspired by the diaries of a friend’s grandmother, Bohjalian starts with her story of traveling west ahead of the Soviet army and turns it into a fictional tale of love, violence and redemption. Anna is an 18-year-old German girl raised in a privileged family, innocent of Nazi atrocities. Callum, a Scottish prisoner of war assigned to work her parents’ farm during the harvest, opens her eyes to the evil of Nazi philosophy and her heart to love. When her family must flee their farm to avoid the approaching Russian army, Callum journeys with them, both to protect the family and to be a good-will token should they encounter the British or American armies on their trek. On the way, they encounter Uri Singer, a Jew who has escaped from a cattle car transport and managed to survive for almost two years on his wits. Bohjalian deftly moves from the journey to the back stories of each character, fleshing out their histories and making their choices more poignant as their friendship and interdependence develop. Who will live and who will die? The author keeps up the suspense until the last page, with a surprise twist at the end. This would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift.
Leisureville: Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias by Andrew D. Blechman is a fascinating look at today’s age-segregated retirement communities. He starts by visiting former neighbors from New England who moved to “The Villages” in Florida when they retired. Although his neighbors had seemed happy enough up north, he finds them more relaxed and happier than he’s ever seen them when he arrives in Florida—concerned with nothing more than their golf game. The Villages is frequently described as Disney World for adults, a vacation every day; but as Blechman discovers, this carefree existence comes at a price. Because these communities are privately owned by the developer, residents must conform to the developer’s dictates. For example, no lawn ornaments are allowed; it is a small issue that illustrates the unlimited control the developer has. Blechman also delves into the history of retirement communities, attends a developers’ conference and visits Sun City in Arizona to get an idea of how older retirement communities are faring. The author has done a thorough job of investigating the “retirement ghettos” and their implications for future communities and he raises some thought-provoking questions. Is segregation by age legal in a free society? Is it ever acceptable to sacrifice civil liberties for safety and security? A must-read for anyone who plans to retire.
Local author Joseph E. Persico has a new book out this month, Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherford, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life. Anyone with an interest in Franklin Roosevelt will enjoy this book.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982 and currently works at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Stop by the store if you are looking for a good book—she’s read a lot more than she can talk about here!