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Thursday, July 31,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

Sharp Satire for a Cool Summer

by Neil Rajala

Thursday, July 31 — Mid-70s during the day, mid-50s at night. Honestly, I couldn't have ordered summer weather more to my liking than what we've seen so far. Reading a book in one of the local parks without melting is greatly preferable to seeking out air conditioning indoors. My apologies to those of you who like the temperatures and the humidity levels higher - maybe next year. Here's what we're reading:



LOST FOR WORDS

Edward St. Aubyn

Wicked and funny - and wickedly funny. The novel is a biting satire about the process of choosing the candidates for the Man Booker Prize for Literature. The book is one laugh-out-loud scene after another. The politics, the public reaction, the media manipulation, the self-importance of the authors and the content of the contending novels are all fair game to be delightfully and spitefully skewered by Mr. St. Aubyn. The thinly disguised Elysian Prize for Literature is the catalyst for the type of biting contemporary satire usually associated with Martin Amis or Kurt Vonnegut. A perfect read for when you crave a little hot sauce with your humor. kobo eBook



THE NIXON DEFENSE

John W. Dean

Does the world really need this book? And yes, for those of you of a certain age (like me), the author is that John Dean.

The former key Watergate witness has taken it upon himself to be the first to crawl through all of the tape transcripts from the secretly recorded conversations in the White House, along with thousands of documents from the National Archives and Nixon Library, in an attempt to create the most accurate answer yet to Sen. Howard Baker's famous question from the hearings: "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"

After all this time, and with so much Watergate under the bridge, I started reading as a skeptic. The book is written as a narrative, with the relevant conversations threaded in the right places, and as I kept going I became more and more engrossed. Such a small percentage of the tapes were released into evidence at the time that there's a mountain of new material, some expected, some surprising - some even shocking. If you feel the need to know more some four decades later, you'll likely find this as mesmerizing as I did. kobo eBook



WE ARE CALLED TO RISE
Laura McBride

Last year, somewhere along the line, I threw out the observation that 2013 was the year of the novel. There were so many great ones coming out by seasoned authors that I was both delighted and scrambling to keep up. For this year, I'd amend that statement a little and say that so far 2014 has been the year of the debut novel. There have already been some astonishing first books, and this one definitely needs to be added to that list.

This gripping and surprising debut, set in a version of Las Vegas that outsiders never see, follows the lives of four seemingly unrelated characters as they struggle with their own difficulties and triumphs. An unexpected tragedy in one of the stories starts the process in motion of slowly bringing the disparate threads together. Where their stories blend and clash is handled beautifully by the author, and I was left with a lingering feeling of admiration for both her moving content and her firm command of a difficult style. Highly recommended. kobo eBook

I have to admit that while I was making my way through the 700 pages of the new Nixon book, I was constantly wondering if anybody out there still cared about Watergate and its aftermath. Have too many years passed? Would any of you be inclined to read another book on the subject? Other than the history geeks like me, I mean.

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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