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Thursday, May 15,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

by Neil Rajala

Thursday, May 15 — We seem to be getting a double dose of the old spring adages. There's no shortage of May flowers to been seen around town, but the April showers are being rather tenacious about sticking around, as well. As I say in almost every situation - there are always books! Here's what we're reading:



SUPREME CITY
Donald Miller

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about an early contender for my favorite novel of the year, so here's one for the nonfiction side. Mr Miller's history of midtown Manhattan in the 1920s is a dazzling collection of wonderful slices of history and nearly unbelievable personal stories of larger-than-life figures.

The re-imagined Grand Central Terminal at 42nd and Park was the catalyst for the dramatic shift of wealth, power, culture and influence from the lower part of the island to the blocks below Central Park. Midtown became the place where skyscrapers sprung up in unforeseen numbers, enormous fortunes were being made by names like Arden, Chrysler, Roxy, Rubenstein, and Bergdorf; usurping the old-money Astors and Vanderbilts. Criminals like Owney Madden and Frank Costello were growing in wealth and power due to Prohibition, while the city was run by Jimmy Walker, the perfect playboy mayor for the glittery Jazz Age. David Sarnoff and William Paley were connecting the world with the newly popular radio before they turned their attention, as well as their NBC and CBS networks, to the fledgling television industry. Sports had Dempsey and Ruth, entertainment had Ellington and Ziegfeld. Every story Mr. Miller tells is one of historical importance and great excitement. String them all together and you have 600 pages of some of the most compelling American history imaginable.



ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Anthony Doerr

These long gestation periods can be hard on a book fanatic. Even though it was very much worth the wait for The Goldfinch, we have to hope Donna Tartt can turn out her next novel in fewer than eleven years. Mr. Doerr gave us About Grace, a favorite of many a bookseller, ten years ago. His new novel more than rewards those who were waiting patiently.

In beautiful and elegant prose - the kind that makes you stop and admire at times - the author traces the journeys of two young people; a Parisian girl who loses her eyesight to disease at a young age but is granted a degree of independence by her father's meticulous wooden model of their neighborhood, which she learns intimately through her sense of touch; and a German orphan boy whose genius with electronics saves him from the life in the coal mines his peers are facing as soon as they turn fifteen. We follow their separate and compelling paths until the onset of war puts them both in Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast during a fearsome fire-bombing by the allies. Underlying their story is a sub-plot concerning the Sea of Flames, a rare and possibly cursed gemstone of unimaginable beauty. There's more than enough enthralling story and beautiful language in this novel to justify the decade it took to create it.


CONSOLE WARS
Blake Harris

During the few years of my life in which I was addicted to video games, I was a huge fan of the Sega Genesis - the scrappy newcomer trying to upset the Nintendo empire. In the bigger picture, it was Sonic vs. Mario, the two biggest names in the competing franchises, but I was hooked on Ecco the Dolphin, Micro Machines and PGA Tour III, the best golf video game ever made.

So I went in to this book rooting for the underdog from Page 1. The story is a fascinating one - a business saga that reaches from the drawing board to the martketplace; leading to lawsuits and court battles between the two companies, as well as between the United States and Japan. In the end, even though they played a key role in revolutionizing the video game industry, Sega bowed out following the failure of their Dreamcast console in the late 90s. Nintendo, once the dominant player, took an entirely different approach when the XBox / Playstation wars began, and developed the Wii, offering a kinder, friendlier playground as an alternative to first-person shooters (with motion detection!). And Mario lives on, racing around in high-powered carts on psychedelic-looking racetracks.

I thoroughly enjoyed the responses I received to my question from last week about your favorite creepy books (if you haven't answered yet, it's not too late), so let's try another: What book just plain made you feel great at the end? Hopeful, happy, ready to cheer? Or all of the above.

Until next week,


Neil

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.

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