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Thursday, August 21,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

Was It Funny for You, Too?

by Neil Rajala

THURSDAY, AUG. 21 — An eclectic trio this week, a reminder that the world of literature is able to cover more of the vast array of human interests and concerns that any other artform. If it interests you, worries you, or entertains you, there's undoubtedly a book on the subject. Here's what we're reading:



SEASON OF SATURDAYS
Michael Weinreb

The college football season is almost upon us, and I can't think of a better way to welcome it than by reading this excellent book. Mr. Weinreb is a journalist and passionate fan. Having grown up in State College, PA, his life as a boy and young man revolved around game time every week. It was both his connection to friends and family and an escape from the difficulties and adjustments of adolescence.

The author chooses fourteen games, from the very beginnings of the sport to the modern revenue-infused era, to create a fascinating timeline of the significant changes that created the modern game. Early changes to the rules that moved play away from a dangerous, rugby-like butting of heads; the advent of the student athlete, awarded a prestige previously unheard of among the student body and alumni; the arrival of television money, scandal and criminal behavior; the carefully chosen games are placed within the greater societal trends that were changing our nation at the same time. Through it all, Mr. Weinreb describes the continuing passion of the fans, and why it never flags, even when their allegiances (and sensibilities) are tested. kobo eBook



THE SUPERNATURAL ENHANCEMENTS
Edgar Cantero

Remember a film from a few years back called "The Blair Witch Project"? It was a horror film shot to look like found amateur footage. It had the look and feel of an unintended documentary rather than a studio production and was a huge success. It spawned a lot of imitators, first in other films, then the idea made its way into books (Marisha Pessl's brilliant Night Film comes to mind). Mr. Cantero takes the concept and runs with it; the entirety of this creepy and fascinating book is told through diary entries, personal letters, scribbled notes and video and audio surveillance equipment recovered from an old estate in Virginia with a sordid history. The piecemeal construction made it hard to figure out what kind of book this was at first. Was it a ghost story? A murder mystery? A treasure hunt? All or none of the above? Why does a European named A. inherit a mansion in the U.S. from a distant relative he never knew? Why does he bring a mute young Irish girl to America with him when he takes possession? Why did his relative kill himself by jumping out of a third story window? What was the yearly gathering held at Axton House every year on the Winter Solstice?  Where did the butler go?

I'm asking all these questions because that's the way the book reads. Each snippet of film, audio and paper pulls you in deeper with a new twist or surprise. By the time things start to take shape around mid-novel, I guarantee you'll be turning pages at record speed. A gutsy approach that the author turns into an impressive achievement.  kobo eBook



WILL NOT ATTEND

Adam Resnick

After I finished this one, I told a friend that I found it funnier than the last couple of David Sedaris books, and I meant it. Mr. Resnick, a former writer for David Letterman and SNL, knows his way around humor writing and I had many laugh-out-loud moments reading this memoir. Every one of the essays was good for at least a couple.

So here's the thing - the author is nowhere near as nice a person as Mr. Sedaris. In fact, his anti-social behavior is the main point of the book. He's not fond of any obligatory social situation, up to and including speaking to any of his apartment building neighbors. The personal essays that make up the book cover the entire span of his life, from an Easter egg hunt in second grade gone devastatingly wrong, to a poorly conceived trip to Disney World with his sister-in-law and her family. He attempts to offer up reasons for his dislike of as many different types of social situations as he can, and he does it mercilessly and with an impressively profane vocabulary.

I'm guessing Mr. Resnick isn't really the person he describes himself to be in this book; or he is, but the degree is exaggerated for effect. But ultimately it really doesn't matter. He set out to write a humorous memoir and nailed it. Whether or not he's actually one of the most misanthropic people in U.S., he's definitely one of the funniest. A warning: if a bad attitude and harsh language offend you, this may not be the book for you. 

I couldn't help but think about Adam Resnick's book this week. As I said above, I found it extremely funny, despite the premise and the heavy use of words some might find offensive. So my question is this: Where do you draw the line? Would you read such a book and be able to enjoy the merits of it, or would the bad attitude and language get in the way?

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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