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Thursday, January 16,2014

Notes from Neil

A Mid-Winter's Mix

by Neil Rajala

Thursday, Jan. 16 — One thing you won't see in this newsletter are reviews of the various self-improvement books that pop up like mushrooms this time of year - you know, the ones that make you feel bad about already having broken your resolutions. Why not? Because I've always believed that reading itself the greatest form of self-improvement, regardless of the topic. Here's what we're reading:

2014 BCS Rose Bowl Program
Even though they sold out on game day in Pasadena, all of our stores still have copies of the souvenir program from the 100th Rose Bowl game, which I'm led to believe was won by a team from our own state. Needless to say, supplies are limited.

A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II - Eric Jaffe.
A beguiling slice of mid-20th century history, as told by the grandson of one of the key players. The scene is the post-Second World War trial of twenty-eight Japanese men, twenty-seven military and one civilian, accused of war crimes. During the opening proceedings the lone civilian, Okawa Shumei, slapped the head of former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, and shouted phrases in German. The author's grandfather was the U.S. Army psychiatrist tasked with determining if Okawa was actually insane, or was feigning madness to avoid prosecution.

In addition to the sensational aspects of the war trials, the book traces the history of the two men at the center of the story, and how they arrived at that particular crossroads. Through their life stories the reader learns about American military psychology practices of the 1930's and 1940's, as well as the evolution of that era's Japanese military philosophy. An enlightening and very human history lesson.

A Prince Among Stones: That Business with the Rolling Stones and Other Adventures - Prince Rupert Loewenstein.
One of the most successful business partnerships of the last half-century or so was also one of the oddest. Rupert Loewenstein is indeed a prince, descended from a line of Bavarian royalty (which he describes in great detail in the book's appendix). One of the founders of the London merchant bank Leopold Joseph, and a name-dropping member of what was referred to as "café society" in the Europe of the early '60s, Prince Rupert was as different as night and day from the scruffy Mick Jagger who showed up on his doorstep in 1968, seeking help regarding the financially crippling contracts and recording deals the young Rolling Stones had naively signed. In his forty years as the band's financial advisor, he not only corrected their earlier mistakes, he made each member, and the band as a corporation, extremely wealthy. He didn't care in the slightest for their music, but his affection for them as people is apparent throughout. It's not at all unfair to say that the trails the Stones and the Prince blazed together changed the way the music industry did, and still does, business.

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books
- Nick Hornby.
Nick Hornby's been writing a monthly column called "Stuff I've Been Reading" for The Believer magazine since 2003. Each starts off with two lists: the books he purchased in the preceding month and the books he actually read in that same time. Essays that start out as book reviews can end up anywhere; wandering off into pop music, the nature of reading vs. buying books, shower gels, love, sex, and anything else that crosses his fertile and funny imagination. There are many opinionated and surprising book reviews, of course, and underneath it all is the author's profound love of the written word. As the title indicates, the book is a collection of ten years worth of columns, perfect for dipping into when you're in the mood for one of our most astute and witty social observers.

Judging by the emails I received over the past week, many of you have very ambitious reading goals for the coming year. Nothing makes me feel better about being a bookseller than tapping into the passion for reading and diversity of our customers. Thanks, as always, for writing. 

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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