Notes from Neil

By Neil Rajala

Between Holidays Edition

Friday, Dec. 27 — Sorry folks, I'm a day late this week due to an uninvited Christmas head cold. My halls were decked with antihistamines and cough medicine, but the silver lining was time to catch up on a couple of books remaining on my pile from this year. Here's what we're reading:

In Calamity's Wake - Natalee Caple.
There are many writers who compose both poetry and fiction, but I've rarely come across a work that combined the two so seamlessly. The story of a young Canadian woman, Miette, who makes a promise to her dying adoptive father to search for her mother, the legendary Wild West figure Calamity Jane, who abandoned her shortly after her birth. Despite his warning that she won't like what she finds, she keeps her word and sets out on a difficult and dreamlike solo trek across the wilderness of the northern plains.

There are song lyrics, poems, mystical animals, ghosts and the voice(s) of her mother interspersed with the description of her journey. Emotions and images bubble up with poetic impact, and quickly disappear to allow the story to continue. Despite the unusual structure, Miette's adventure remains absorbing and suspenseful, and the resolution of the book's final chapters is very satisfying. A lovely book, and a bit of a sleeper from the year that's leaving us soon.

Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism Year One - Kevin Jackson.
Another uniquely structured book, Mr. Jackson defines the year that began with the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses and ended with the publication of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land as a watershed moment in history - the year art and literature went from a historical paradigm to a modern era. Presented in sequence, each of the twelve chapters describing the events of a particular month, the delight of the book is the author's description of the monumental change that was happening through the works not only of Joyce and Eliot, but also through the lives of figures as diverse as Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock, Paul Klee, Jean Cocteau, Albert Einstein, Louis Armstrong, Valentino, Hemingway, Hitler, Freud, Chanel and too many others to mention. Part cultural history, part gossip column (a surprising number of these folks not only knew each other but had strong feelings, good and bad, about their contemporaries), it's a lot of information to take in, but Mr. Jackson's skill at telling the story with the necessary perspective leaves you with an appreciation for the significance of the year in review.

- Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir.
What do you get when you cross an economist with a behavioral psychologist? A book every bit as fascinating as last year's The Power of Habit.

Shortages of things we value in our lives - time, money, friendships, etc. - should focus us in on ways to alleviate the shortcomings, but the author's research shows they quite often do just the opposite. A combination of distorted thinking and false assumptions can cause the poor, for example to make bad financial decisions, and the lonely to find it more difficult to make friends. Busy people tend to make themselves busier, and thus less productive, while dieters feel the pull of scarcity defeating their efforts to become healthier. This title sits in our Business section, but to me it contains information and ideas much broader than any one category. In fact, it just might be the perfect book to read to start off the new year. It could help with making, and sticking with, those pesky resolutions.

The next time I write, the calendar will read 2014. I wish you all a healthy and fulfilling new year, and let's keep talking about books.

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.