Jan. 29 2015 12:00 AM

Mid-Winter's Tales


THURSDAY, JAN. 29 — So far this winter hasn't been the kind of snow and cold onslaught that had us hunkering down inside to read last year, but those of us looking for any excuse can point to occasional days of flurries and do it anyway . Here's what we're reading:


Bruce Cockburn

I've read more tell-all memoirs by popular musicians than I can count and, yes, I must confess the tales from the over-the-top lifestyles is a literary guilty pleasure of mine. This one is not that. Mr. Cockburn's music, which I enjoy a great deal, has always struck me as the creative outlet of a somewhat stuffy English lit professor. The story he tells of his life doesn't do much to change that perception.

Sure there was some minor drug use, mostly when he was young, and transitions between the key women in his life haven't always been smooth, but the primary themes of his life have been the embracing of Christianity in the 1970's, turning away from it due to his aversion to being aligned with the growing conservative evangelical (read: political) movement, traveling to war-torn areas of the world and becoming an activist through his songs, and coming to grips with the paradox of being intensely shy and socially averse in an all-too-public profession. Not exactly sex and drugs and rock and roll as usual, but a compelling tale well told, nonetheless.

Ron Rash

Simple yet affecting language, characters drawn as gracefully as a skilled artist, landscapes and conditions beautifully rendered. This is Mr. Rash as we've come to know and expect him - a master of the modern short story. Am I able to recommend this collection that spans his career to everybody? Well, it depends. Apart from the gorgeous writing, the subject matter focuses entirely on the poorest inhabitants of Appalachia, and the stories are reflections of difficult and narrow lives that often seem hopeless to the characters involved. The beauty of the prose is in sharp contrast to the harshness of the environment; these aren't tales of redemption, but rather of survival and coping with deprivation and loss. I can heartily recommend this collection to the reader who can appreciate elegant writing and vivid imagination, and see beauty in the darkness. kobo eBook

Michael Shermer

Mr. Shermer has devoted his career to debunking psuedoscientific and paranormal claims; a highly visible advocate for reliance on true scientific reasoning through the Skeptics Society he founded and its very successful magazine, The Skeptic. This new title is easily the most ambitious of his many books. The author uses the work of scientists, philosophers and sociologists to make a case that it has been our race's growing aptitude for, and increased reliance upon scientific objective reasoning that has led us to be more moral, both individually and collectively. The world has become a more just place over the span of our history due far more to science than religion, in a nutshell. Mr. Shermer takes his time laying out his argument and offers a wealth of historical trends and statistics as support. The reading can be a little slow at times, but it never drags.

It occurs to me that the goal of a book like this (knowing the author's history) is to persuade. Would a person who didn't share the author's philosophical point of view, a devoutly religious person let's say, be likely to re-think and re-evaluate their beliefs after reading? Always an interesting question, but I fear this type of book is rarely read casually by people who don't share some level of agreement with the author going in. The ideas here could provide weeks of lively discussion in a book group with the right mix of readers. If any of you test that idea, let me know. kobo eBook

I mentioned the tell-all rock star memoir earlier as being one of my "guilty pleasure" types of reading. How about you, reader? Any particular genre in your life that would fit that description?

Until next time,


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.