Feb. 23 2015 12:00 AM

Three From the Vortex


MONDAY, FEB. 23 — How come nobody's using the phrase "polar vortex" to describe these recent days of record-setting cold weather? I kinda miss it. Hard to believe I'm feeling nostalgic for last winter. Here's what we're reading:

T Geronimo Johnson

Tackling the state of race relations in present-day America strikes me as a daunting task. The sheer complexity of our melting-pot society combined with the ubiquitous presence of news and social media presents too many angles for a clear path to show itself. The brilliance of Mr. Johnson's approach is to not try to simplify matters but to embrace that very complexity.

Four very different students from Berkeley decide to travel to the small rural Georgia town one of them calls home. The plan is to stage a protest of the Civil War reenactment that Braggsville stages every year. The protest goes as wrong as it possibly could, and suddenly the students and sleepy little town are the center of a media firestorm and federal criminal investigation. Race is at the center of the mess, with the author exploring seemingly every possible facet of the subject. His prose jumps and cracks like a whip, veering from outrageous humor to deep pathos to quiet reflection - at times within the space of a couple of pages. The story is by turns infuriating, embarrassing, redemptive and confusing; just like the subject at its heart. kobo eBook


Steve Israel

Not every book worth its weight in paper and ink needs to be an enduring literary classic. Some just need to be a fun way to spend a couple of days.
Take Congressman Steve Israel's (D - N.Y.) highly amusing and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek new novel. As an insider, Rep. Israel brings a realistic feel to his tale of our national security hyper-vigilance gone haywire.

A mis-used business credit card brings pharmaceutical sales rep Morris Feldstein, a man whose whole life has been devoted to not making waves, to the attention of every federal, state and local law enforcement agency on the East Coast. He triggers newly-colored DHS alerts and heightened security with every movement, all while remaining completely oblivious to everything except his beloved Mets and classic movies. There are a lot of laughs in these pages, even as you realize the author is letting the whole premise spiral into the absurd. It's the kind of book I may not remember having read in six months or so, but for now I'm very glad I did.

Peter Richardson

My name is Neil and I'm a Dead Head. Not that I ever spent a year traveling around the country following one of their tours - never even owned a VW mini-bus - but I love their music, own countless hours of it, was an avid tape trader and have read dozens of books by and about the band. Each new one that pops up now I judge by whether or not it offers something new or fresh to a oft-told story. No Simple Highway does exactly that.

Mr. Richardson takes a sizeable step back from the immediate scene surrounding the band in order to tell their story in a broader historical and cultural context. He begins his telling several years before the band formed in order to place them in the particular time and location that allowed them to not only survive, but flourish as a "hippie" outsider community. The cultural change and flux of the late 60's pressured the band to make particular decisions about their direction, even as the choices they made influenced the society through which they traveled for so many years. It's a wider perspective that's satisfying and enlightening even for folks who've been "on the bus" for decades.

When's the last time you read a book that gave you fresh insights into a subject or topic you thought you knew thoroughly?

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.