Notes from Neil

By Neil Rajala

2013 Odds and Ends

Thursday, Dec. 19 — Over the last couple of weeks I've (hopefully) tempted you with lists of my favorite books of the past year, both for your own reading pleasure and for the gift-giving season. I'm going to take one last look back at 2013 this week and mention a few titles that, while probably not everyone's cup of tea, would be a perfect choice for the right hard-to-shop-for person.


The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 - Christopher Clark.
The author tackles a big question - not why World War I started, but how (a significant difference) - and tells the complex story through exhaustive research and meticulous detail. An easy read? Not really. A rewarding one? Absolutely.


Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews - Marilyn Hagerty.
Ms. Hagerty became an instant celebrity this year when Anthony Bourdain fell in love with the unfussy, old-school hominess of her restaurant reviews for the Grand Forks, North Dakota newspaper.

Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food - Christopher Boffoli.
Photo landscapes made up of food items, populated by tiny human toy figures. Every page is an inventive, humorous feast for the eyes (pun intended).


- Michael Farris Smith.
This gripping debut novel was criminally overlooked this year. Kind of a waterlogged Cormac McCarthy, it's beautifully written and very exciting.

Lighthouse Island - Paulette Jiles.
The dystopian future setting is very well conceived, but the heart of this excellent novel is the white-knuckled dangerous journey of the young heroine.

Quiet Dell
- Jayne Anne Phillips.
The serial killer at the center of this novel was real; the details of his trial and the identities of some of his victims (including photos) are historically accurate. But Ms. Phillips adds invented characters, magic realism and a curious delicacy of tone, creating an odd dream-like reading experience.


Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division - Peter Hook.
Joy Division fans are the very definition of cultish - small in numbers, rabid in enthusiasm. A great look at the band's history as told by the bassist.

Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock 'n' Roll in America's Loudest City - Steve Miller.
A messy, spirited oral history of the Motor City music scene from the 60s until now, as recounted by survivors, non-survivors, and some whose status is hard to determine.


The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football - Jeff Benedict & Armen Keteyian.
A look at top-level NCAA football from every conceivable angle. There are as many stories to infuriate as there are to inspire.

Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who's Lived It
- Matthew Berry.
Those who are obsessed with fantasy sports games are truly obsessed. If you know one, this is their book.


RASL - Jeff Smith.
From the creator of the wonderful Bone saga, an action-packed sci-fi series for adults. Non-stop adventure and a science lesson featuring Nikola Tesla, as a bonus.

Battling Boy - Paul Pope.
Serious comic fans know Paul Pope, and were waiting anxiously for his first foray into an original superhero series. It turned out to be everything we were hoping for.

Bluffton - Matt Phelen.
A gentle and emotional story set in Muskegon, 1908. The town has a summer resident, young Buster Keaton, who interacts with the local kids during their school vacation.


Outside the Lines: An Artist's Coloring Book for Giant Imaginations
- Souris Hong-Porretta.
An enormously fun coloring book for grown-ups. Images were contributed by musicians, graffiti artists, tattooists, cartoonists, fine and graphic artists, video game designers and more. Grab your crayons and be amazed.

O What a Luxury - Garrison Keillor.
Serious readers and NPR fans seem to be a lot of the same people. For a Prairie Home Companion follower, this collection of the host's on-air poetry will be endlessly entertaining.

The beginning of 2013 found me in a much different place than I am now. Different store, different job, and a very small group of people even aware of this newsletter. It's been a terrific experience to see the growth of Notes From Neil, from a couple hundred to many thousands of recipients. The best part has been the responses I get every single week from readers wanting to keep the discussion going between issues.

I offer my sincerest thanks for your support and enthusiasm. The Schuler community exists solely due to your passion for reading and literature and we are very grateful (and more than a little impressed). Happiest of holidays, be safe in your travels, and I look forward to discussing books with you on into 2014. I'm reading some of the advance copies now, and there's a lot of great stuff on the way. .

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.