Notes from Neil

By Neil Rajala

I've got kind of a grab bag of things this week. I'm even throwing in a non-book item that caught my eye today, just because it brought me back to a earlier and simpler era of books. Here's what we're reading:

The Chinese Takeout Cookbook - Diana Kuan.
Since the audience for this newsletter is primarily in two good-size cities, I'm guessing there are a few of you in the same predicament as myself. Namely, you've discovered a favorite place for Chinese takeout that's all the way across town; not exactly handy for pick-it-up-on-the-way home dinner or satisfying that late-night craving. Thankfully, Ms. Kuan's new cookbook is full of familiar, uncomplicated (read: easy) and delicious recipes - and the photography's much better than you find on most restaurant menus. You can eat as well or better than your favorite place and save gas money at the same time. Win-win.

- Jeff Smith.
Regular readers know of my admiration for Mr. Smith's Bone, a Tolkienesque epic fable worthy of the comparison. His new tale is more Philip K. Dick than Tolkien; a gritty version of parallel universes, art theft, sci-fi military weapons and shady government operatives, with a dose of sex and drinking thrown in for good measure. Not for the youngsters, but paced like a 450-page car chase for the adventurous grown-ups.

The Trolley Problem
- Thomas Cathcart.
Have you heard of The Trolley Problem? It's been a famous thought experiment in ethics for many years: You're near a trolley car line, standing in front of a switch that will cause the trolley to veer from the track it's on, which has five people stranded on it who will likely be killed, onto a different track with a single person in harm's way. Is it morally defensible to throw the switch and sacrifice one life to save five? Mr. Cathcart explores multiple aspects of the question by creating a fictitious court trial (with expert testimony and subsequent media coverage), in which a woman in San Francisco is charged with murder for doing exactly that. A small book you'll spend far more time pondering than it takes to read.

Fantasy Life - Matthew Berry.
Most of us know somebody who devotes a little too much time to a fantasy sports league. The current estimates are somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 million people participating at some level. Some are strictly for bragging rights, while others collect and pay out serious cash. Mr. Berry is ESPN's Senior Fantasy Sports Analyst (a job title for the current century, to be sure), and his book surveys the whole passionate, surprising, sometimes uplifting and often absurd landscape. Give it some thought - you know someone who'll want to read this book.

The Beatles in 100 Objects - Brian Southall.
Admittedly for fans and geeks, but a photography book that's irresistible for the right fan or geek - it certainly caught my attention and didn't let go for a while. Just a few of the fascinating images: an Ed Sullivan Show ticket from the date of the group's first appearance; an invite to John and Yoko's "Bag One" art exhibit; a concert handbill from 1963 - their first as headliners; the guitar Paul borrowed to join the Quarrymen; John's round sunglasses, George's leather jacket and the infamous "Beatle" boots.

Doctor Sleep - Stephen King.
Neither you nor the author needs me to announce that he has a new book out. This column has always been about highlighting titles that need a little help getting your attention instead. But if you're an old-school fan of Mr. King's books like I am, you're probably wondering if Doctor Sleep is a worthy sequel to The Shining, a genuine classic. So I'll offer one word: Absolutely. OK, three more words: Read it soon.

And finally, the non-book item: Someone put a few examples of our new line of greeting cards from Flypaper into my hands. Outside, they're attractive images and nicely designed, but inside they have the classic library book pocket and circulation card attached. Just write your message on the card, slip it onto the pocket and surprise and delight any recipient who remembers checking out library books before computers ruled the world. And if you have a rubber date stamp when you fill it out, even better.

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.