April 24 2014 12:00 AM

An Early "Best of 2014" Contender


Thursday, April 24 — Back to new books this week. The publishers continue to put out a steady stream of major new releases, ramping up for what everyone expects to be a blockbuster summer reading season. Here's what we're reading:

Francine Prose

I became a fan of Ms. Prose in 2005. I remember because that was the year her brilliant Reading Like a Writer was published. I had never read a book about the pleasures of reading so inspiring - and still haven't found another. I got caught up on her novels, became a fan, and yet was still unprepared for this, my first major contender for novel of the year.

In her intro, Ms. Prose explains the book is based on the story of a real person; a cross-dressing lesbian athlete in Paris between the wars who became a Nazi sympathizer and eventually a Gestapo enforcer. She elected to tell the story as fiction instead to allow herself more freedom to fill in missing details of the story. The story is told through the voices of five different participants, four of whom are characters in the constantly compelling story that unfolds, the fifth a modern-day biographer supposedly related to one of the four key players. The strands weave together in an exquisite, sometimes contradictory, tapestry that challenges the trustworthiness of memory and truth. The ending was unexpected and even shocking - one more aspect of a truly fulfilling reading experience.  kobo eBook                                                        

Craig Nelson

Simply, the most intense and unusual slice of history I've read in quite some time. Mr. Nelson's brilliant new book is the story of the Atomic Age, from the purely accidental discovery of x-rays in Germany, up to the disaster in Japan following the tsunami - and it's a whopper of a story. More historically famous names that I could count - the Curies, Oppenheimer, Einstein, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Fermi, Feynman - the list goes on. Almost all of the earliest scientists who began to unlock the secrets of the newly discovered atom died young; the danger of radiation wasn't understood for decades. The weaponization of this miraculous new source of energy came first. The look into the whole Los Alamos project is fascinating and more than a little frightening. The eyewitness accounts of the first bomb test are incredibly moving as the folks watching try to describe what they're seeing. The Cold War, the breakthroughs in medical treatments, nuclear power; it's all here, and all endlessly fascinating. Our tiniest scientific discovery changed the world in profound ways. kobo eBook


Lisa Robinson

If you were a rock music fanatic growing up in the 70s, reading all of the glorious, and now mostly departed, magazines that seemed to be everywhere, operating on varying levels of sleaze and gossip, then you've undoubtedly read Lisa Robinson. She's been in the thick of that world since then, writing from NYC, and hanging out with everybody there was to hang out with. Her delightful new memoir is one only she could have written, and she does so with respect for (most of) the players, and a sense of gratitude for the life she's had these last forty years. That doesn't mean the book is without a certain amount of dish. As avid a reader about the industry as I've been over the same time period, I still learned a few things: the rest of the band U2 has very little patience for Bono's political globe-trotting; Michael Jackson used two voices - the high, breathy one for the public, a lower and more forceful one for business dealings; David Bowie's current aversion to touring is due to heart health issues from a few years ago. You get the idea - if you're someone who would enjoy this book, you don't need me to say more.

I always enjoy the response I get when I write an issue spotlighting our used books. Apparently, there are lots of you out there who find the treasure hunt as fun and exciting as I. Thanks for sharing, and I'm sure I'll do it again before too long.

Until next week,


NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.