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Thursday, August 7,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

Ronald Reagan and Quentin Coldwater

by Neil Rajala

THURSDAY, AUG. 7 — It's a good week for books. One of my most-anticipated titles of the year arrived and was more than worth the wait. A new American history book is making media waves, for the wrong reasons. Here's what we're reading:



THE MAGICIAN'S LAND

Lev Grossman

I was waiting for the release of this book with a combination of excitement and apprehension. Excitement, because I so thoroughly enjoyed the first two books of the trilogy - THE MAGICIANS and THE MAGICIAN KING - that I couldn't wait to get back into the world of Quentin Coldwater, Brakebills and Fillory. Apprehension, because I so thoroughly enjoyed the first two books of the trilogy that if the final installment didn't measure up, it would be a huge disappointment after following the saga for five years.

For those of you who've been waiting along with me, you'll be glad to hear that the final book may very well be the best of the three. The same level of surprise, high adventure and deeply-felt relationships that made the first two books so affecting is here. Some ends you didn't even realize were loose are tied up, and the ending to what has been a long and delightful story is not only unexpected, but feels inevitable and satisfying. If you've been a fan all along, don't hesitate to grab a copy and dive in. If you aren't yet, start with the first book and treat yourself to a significant work of American fantasy. kobo eBook



RIDE AROUND SHINING

Chris Leslie-Hynan

There are a lot of ways to write about the current state of race relations in this country, and in this novel, the author chooses an edgy and risky path. Jess, at the center of the story, is a white man who takes a job as chauffeur for Calyph West, a star player on the Portland Trailblazers basketball team. Calyph is black, his wife Antonia is white. Jess' presence in their lives introduces a mixed bag of consequences that can't be foreseen or undone. Mr. Leslie-Hynan, in the course of telling this moving and unique story, asks a lot of questions about what parts envy, assumptions and animosity play in the drama that unfolds. Alliances shift; sometimes intentionally, sometimes due to racial pressure from the outside. Jess and Calyph ride out the turmoil with uncertain motivations and conflicting priorities. It's hard to feel as if you truly know who these people are, but you'll think about it, and consider the forces that bind them as well as push them apart. kobo eBook



THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE
Rick Perlstein

The author's been taking some flak in the conservative press since this book's release. Apparently, the current Republican party isn't entirely happy with his portrayal of former President Reagan as a mostly unstudied opportunist, whose political career would have no chance to get off the ground in today's age of Google and PolitiFact. To me, it seems as if the critics are missing the bigger, far more important picture in this brilliant history book.

Mr. Perlstein researched and wrote about a very specific time in our country - starting with the decline and fall of the Nixon presidency through Reagan's efforts to win the 1976 Republican nomination - and taken as a whole, it's easy to see that the the overall message, rather than the accuracy of individual facts, was the key to the transformation of Ronald Reagan from B-movie actor to a national political powerhouse. The end of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, followed closely by Watergate, threw the country into a tailspin. Belief in government, patriotism and optimism about our future were all in steep decline. Popular culture reflected that mood with cynical and satirical television and films. Rampant inflation and energy shortages crippled the economy, and our campuses were in a state of unrest, if not open rebellion. Through it all, the one national voice not steeped in skepticism and doubt was the former governor of California. Through as many public appearances as he could schedule, and a popular weekly radio show, he kept preaching the gospel of a triumphant America, at a time when that idea seemed outdated, to say the least. That the country started to listen to and eventually embrace the idea strongly enough to carry Reagan to the White House is a gripping and important story. Whether President Reagan was good for this country or not - that's not the point of Mr. Perlstein's book. Our journey from deep division to a restoration of national unity is, and it's a much more important point than the sniping with which the current media is entertaining itself. kobo eBook

With few exceptions (including this week's significant one), I'm not one to read multi-volume book series much. Haven't even cracked open the Game of Thrones books. So this week I'm asking those of you who do to let me know which ones are worth diving into. What's your favorite literary series?

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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