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Thursday, January 30,2014

Notes from Neil

Football & Fiction (In That Order)

by Neil Rajala

Thursday, Jan. 30 — It only seems fitting to start this week's edition with a book about pro football. I probably should have included a cookbook featuring cheese-filled bacon snacks, too, for the full Super Bowl experience. Here's what we're reading:

COLLISION LOW CROSSERS
Nicholas Dawidoff

Mr. Dawidoff doesn't seem to fit the profile of someone who would immerse himself for an entire season with an NFL team in order to write a book about that violent and testosterone-filled world. He's a Harvard grad, Guggenheim fellow, Pulitzer nominee and Henry Luce Scholar. The man has serious academic and literary credentials and, to be honest, writes like it. The resulting book, covering the 2011 season of the New York Jets, is an uncommon and compelling look at high-dollar, high-risk pro sports.

The Jets let the author go everywhere, and allowed him to interview everybody (he claims to have ended up with over 8000 pages of notes). There are many scenes in the book I'm sure the Jets would have preferred to leave unaired, but at the same time representatives of every level of the organization insisted that the book be as accurate a portrait of their day-to-day life as possible. Mr. Dawidoff's intention was to show the few hours of gametime on Sunday as just one small piece in a much larger process of analysis, preparation, frustration, dedication, repetition, counseling and instruction.- a process that barely stops in time for the kick-off and resumes immediately after the final whistle. Casual fans have always had a vague sense of the unseen side of the game, but it's never before been revealed with this much detail and humanity.



SYLVIA PLATH: DRAWINGS

It's a great thing to be surrounded by booksellers every day. I wasn't even aware of this delightful book until I saw it on the Staff Picks shelf in our store. Nice to have so many pairs of keen eyes helping with this newsletter.

Ms. Plath met, married, and honeymooned with poet Ted Hughes between 1955 and 1957, while she was in Europe on scholarship and before she was first published. During that time she sketched her surroundings, usually in pen and ink. This collection shows an artist of impressive ability and sensitivity. Her linework is precise but relaxed, almost playful at times. She has a firm command of value and perspective, and her architectural city and townscapes are especially nice. There's some reading here, too, for the fans - a few letters from the period, a diary entry, a particularly fine intro by her daughter - but her previously unknown (at least to me) drawing skills steal the show. kobo eBook


STORIES II

T.C. Boyle

More often than not, I have two books going at the same time; one full-length novel or nonfiction and one in a more bite-sized format - essays, humor pieces, articles, etc. Mr. Boyle's first anthology of short stories, published in 1998, was something of a literary sensation - readers who were first discovering him through his quirkily entertaining early novels had a chance to catch up to his even earlier mastery of the shorter form, and the collection rocketed up the bestseller charts.

Literary career and reputation now firmly established, he continues to write short stories because he obviously loves to do so. Stories II combines three smaller collections from 2001 to 2010, plus the extra treat of fourteen new stories. That he'll go anywhere, from brutal humor to magic realism to heart-tugging emotion, makes each story a world as deep as a novel's. I confess I'm not to the end of the book yet, but it's currently filling its role as my "bite-size" book splendidly. kobo eBook

The "live" version of Notes From Neil I mentioned a couple of months ago has moved from idea to reality! I'll have more info as we get closer, but the first one will be at the 28th Street store in Grand Rapids on February 25th at 7:00pm. And yes, we'll be coming to Lansing in the near future. Stay tuned...

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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