Notes from Neil
|By Neil Rajala|
Picked a fallen maple leaf from the hood of my car as I was leaving for work this morning. Along with looking forward to the second week of college football and watching the school buses on the morning streets again, it's obvious we're saying "so long" to a very fine summer. I spent enough of it reading, but maybe I should have gone to the beach more. Ah well, there's always next year. Here's what we're reading:
Fourth and Long - John U. Bacon.
When we last read Mr. Bacon, he was performing the autopsy on the Rich Rodriguez-era of Michigan football in Three and Out. This time out he had that same impressive level of access to four schools - Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern - chronicling their 2012 - 2013 football seasons as a way to highlight the bigger issues facing major college sports in today's world of nearly unlimited money, temptation and distraction. All of the schools were facing significant obstacles, some under official sanctions and in the case of Penn State, a near death sentence.
It is, in fact, the story of the young men and coaches at Penn State, left behind to pick up the pieces after a devastating scandal and its penalties (not the least of which was the public opinion maelstrom), that I found most inspiring and illustrative of Mr. Bacon's larger point; the true spirit of college athletics lies now, as it always has, with the young men and women who compete and the fans who cheer them on. To protect that spirit from the school administrations, television networks and alumni trying to carve up an ever-growing financial pie is the true challenge facing the NCAA.
Let Him Go - Larry Watson.
This novel is a wonderful example of all of the elements of storytelling coming together exactly as they should. The author's prose matches the spare beauty of the 1950s northern plains setting, telling the story of grandparents attempting to reclaim their only grandson from their son's widow and her shady new husband in a plainspoken and emotionally controlled way. Dangerous incidents are reflected in dangerous weather and terrain; solutions are as inaccessible as the rocky, washed-out Montana roads. The climax is shocking, and yet befitting the hard-fought lives and measured expectations of the characters. Mr. Watson has assembled all the pieces in a way that fully transports the reader to a specific time and place - the heart of great book.
The Explanation for Everything - Lauren Grodstein.
There are significant questions at the bottom of this story, ones that drew me in more deeply as the characters wrestled with them. What's the purpose of religious belief in people's lives? How does that purpose change when life radically alters the playing field?
Andy Waite's a recent widower, raising his two daughters while teaching science at a less-than-prominent New Jersey college. His heart is broken, his career stalled, his mentor either missing or dead. The highlight of his year is the class he teaches to first year students, trying to convince them of the non-existence of God through evolutionary biology. The arrival of a student applying for an independent course of study to prove intelligent design throws a wrench in the works as Andy realizes he can't dismiss her or her ideas as easily as expected. He questions, she questions; they draw closer, they pull apart. It would be too great a spoiler for me to divulge what answers they're able to find, but the depth of their investigation is fully absorbing.
Duplex - Kathryn Davis.
Sometimes a book is just plain indescribable. I read Ms. Davis' new novel pretty quickly as it's a slim 200 pages. I found it disturbing and unsettling in its shifting time frames, descriptions of insidious robotics and overall level of fear and paranoia. I can tell you what I think the story is about, but I can't be 100% sure I'm correct. The young couple at the heart of the story is facing a future without much hope. Do they get there? What role does the sorcerer play? Would you read a novel written so abstractly? I'd very much recommend that you do, even if you'll have difficulty describing it to others
I received some excellent responses when I asked about the best books you've read this summer. If anybody else would like to weigh in, I'm just an email away.
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.