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Thursday, November 14,2013

Notes from Neil

by Neil Rajala

An interesting batch this week - a remarkable biography, an art project gone globally viral and quite a few laughs (notice how I avoided mentioning the first snowfall?). Here's what we're reading:

The Heart of Everything That Is - Bob Drury & Tom Clavin.
The only Native American leader to defeat the US Army, forcing the government to sue for peace. At one time in control of one fifth of the United States, and in command of an army of thousands. All true, and all referring to the Sioux warrior Red Cloud, one of the most towering figures ever to be lost to our country's history. The author's extensive research, including the discovery of a lost autobiography, brings Red Cloud's life back to the prominence it deserves.

Post-Civil War, the government needed the riches the under-explored American West promised. Forts, roads, soldiers and guns pushed the various Plains Indian tribes further and further north, while at the same time wiping out the massive bison herds that kept both their bodies and traditions alive. The Sioux were already in a desperate corner when the Army attempted to create a new road from the Plains to lumber and mining camps in Montana - right through the heart of remaining Sioux territory. The ensuing war was brutal and decisive - the U.S. sued for peace, the road was abandoned and the stations and forts along it were burned to the ground. Of course the victory was temporary and that road and much more was eventually regained, but Red Cloud remained such an impressive figure during his lifetime our government brought him to Washington D.C. late in life to speak and be honored as a statesman. His was an American life worth returning to the history books.


Before I Die - Candy Chang.
It started innocently enough, Ms. Chang painting the side of an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood with chalkboard paint and stenciling the unfinished sentence "Before I die I want to _____________" on it. By the next day the wall was covered with responses; since then more than 400 similar walls have been created all over the world.

The book is a photographic record of the phenomenon - a person in South Korea wants to "leave the army safely"; one in Georgia wants to "give everything, fear nothing"; in Montreal, a desire is to "meet an alien." You get the idea - so many nationalities, personalities, hopes and desires, silly and profoundly serious thoughts have been expressed that the book works like a giant human diary. An impressive result from such a humble beginning.


Jeeves and the Wedding Bells - Sebastian Faulks.
P.G. Wodehouse's original stories of addled socialite Bertie Wooster and his ingenious and sarcastic "gentleman's gentleman" Jeeves are considered some of the best comedic writing in the English language. Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and BBC Television turned Wodehouse's classic characters into international icons. Prior to this book's release, the idea of turning the pair over to a new author had many devoted fans up in arms. Now that it's out, everybody's relaxing a bit - and laughing.

Mr. Faulks has done an excellent job of capturing the tone, voices and narrative style of the original, while moving Bertie and Jeeves forty years ahead into the present. Is it a perfect copy? Of course not. Is it funny? Very much so, in ways that'll make you remember the originals. Could Fry and Laurie play this version of the characters? Absolutely, and I'd pay to see it.


O, What a Luxury - Garrison Keillor.
Unlike the various collections of "Good Poems" that he's been editing for many years, this new book by the host of A Prairie Home Companion is full of the verses he's written over the years to be read on the broadcasts. If you're a fan of PHC, that'll tell you enough about the works of silliness, sarcasm, vulgarity and hilarity to be found here. And if you're not a regular listener, you're in for a real treat when you first hear "Lutheranism Explained", "The First Trimester", "T.S. Eliot Rock" or really, any of these.

Thanks for the great emails in response to last week's newsletter. This week, let me know how you'd finish the sentence "Before I die I want to read ______________." Could be fun.

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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