Notes from Neil

By Neil Rajala

October down here below the bridge is nearly always a month of spectacular weather and scenery. It's nice to be able to enjoy it without the Yooper in me looking over my shoulder in case there's a blizzard sneaking up from behind. It took me several years away to get over that habit. Here's what we're reading:

The Tilted World
- Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly.
I've been a big fan of Tom Franklin since someone put a copy of the delightfully twisted western Smonk in my hands several years ago. His next book, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, moved to the American South with a pitch-perfect, tense and poignant murder mystery.

The Tilted World pairs him with his wife, award-winning poet Beth Fennelly, for a vivid and satisfying slice of historical fiction. The Mississippi River Great Flood of 1927 provides an ominous and surreal backdrop for the story of a government man, an orphaned baby, a lady moonshiner and the petty crooks and thieves preying on the flood-threatened area's growing panic. Part history lesson, part love story, part mystery - all of the threads come together for an amazing climax that shows off Mr. Franklin's visual and emotional writing. Or is it Ms. Fennelly's? Doesn't matter, they make a great writing team.

From Scratch
- Allen Salkin.
I couldn't resist this history of The Food Network for the same reason I was hooked by Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN. We've come to think of the two networks as monoliths that dominate the airwaves in their particular field and have made full-blown stars of dozens who appeared before their cameras, but it wasn't a smooth path to get there for either of them.

When the clumsily-named Television Food Network hit the air in 1993, few people were aware. Its primary show was the Sportscenter-like "Food News and Views", the unctuous Robin Leach had a show, and Julia Child had agreed to make "occasional appearances." The on-air cooking talent burden rested solely on the shoulders of an unknown chef from New Orleans - Emeril Legasse. There were several years of what could be kindly called experiments as the programming found viewers. Eventually Rachel Ray (who insisted she wasn't a chef during her interview), Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Gina DeLaurentiis and others came on board, found their niche, and the juggernaut was rolling. The Food Network is so successful today that we can even forgive them for airing the William Shatner-hosted early version of Iron Chef USA.

Outside the Lines
- Souris Hong-Porretta.
It's time to take a stand and not let our kids have all the fun. Too old for coloring books, you say? You haven't seen Ms. Hong's amazing new take on the books we left behind so long ago. Outside the Lines features black and white images from a who's who of cutting-edge graphic artists, musicians, photographers, graffiti artists, video game designers and cartoonists. Some of the pages are pure silly fun, some intentionally irreverent and provocative, others will have you scratching your head wondering how to go about coloring them. My advice is to grab some colored pens, pencils or crayons and dive in.

Goat Mountain - David Vann.
I'm going to recommend this dark novel because I enjoyed it, but I'll do so with a caution attached. The action in the book revolves around an episode in the narrator's life when he was eleven - his father let him look through his hunting rifle's scope at a poacher on their property, and the boy pulls the trigger. The remainder of the book is a beautifully written but intense description of our struggles with the animal within, religion, and right and wrong. The focus is so inwardly directed we never even learn the main character's names. Beautifully structured and written, Goat Mountain is the type of novel to invite reflection and discussion rather than provide escapism.

Tom Clancy, 1947 - 2013 .

Sad to report that the man who single-handedly created the genre of military techno-thriller passed away this week at the age of 66. His work, featuring the one and only Jack Ryan, will be missed by millions of fans (and lovers of great action movies). The final book featuring his iconic main character was completed before his death and Command Authority will be released on December 3rd.

Drop me a line and let me know what books you're enjoying with your yearly helpings of colored leaves, apple cider and pumpkin carving. Or pumpkin ale, whichever you prefer.

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.