Oleson presents year-end book review

It’s that time of year again: time to review some of the books sent to me this year that may or may not make good Christmas presents. If not in local stores, all are available on Amazon.

The one book I couldn’t put down was “The World Almanac for Kids 2014.” The 352-page fact-filled softcover book contains a variety of interesting and useful information from entertainment to science, which will definitely make you smarter than any fifth grader. You can get this book for your kids, but once you start looking at it, they may never see it.

Also high on the list is Todd Anton and Bill Nowlin’s 272-page “When Football Went to War.” Focusing largely on World War II, it contains the name of every NFL player who has served in every war since the league was formed in 1920. Besides photographs of players in uniform, there are brief stories of hall of famers who served (George Halas, Tom Landry, Paul Brown), players who performed heroically and even those who were killed (most notably Pat Tillman). As amazing as it is inspiring.

Speaking of Halas, most Chicago Bears fans are probably aware of the legendary figure, but what about Edward “Dutch” Sternaman, who co-founded, co-owned and co-coached the Bears in their first decade? You will know about him, too, if you pick up Kent McDill’s “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” full of team history, anecdotes and insights.

A great book for Packers fans is “Packers Pride” by LeRoy Butler and Rob Reischel. Divided into short chapters, the 330-page book features former players and coaches, sharing insights and stories from Jerry Kramer nearly slugging Vince Lombardi in practice to how Butler, a former cornerback, began the now famous Lambeau Leap into the stands after scoring a touchdown. Even as a longtime Bears fan, I enjoyed it very much.

As the title implies, “Wrigley Field: The Centennial: 100 Years at the Friendly Confines” by Les Krantz explores many of the top games and events that have happened within the ivy-covered walls beloved by both the Cubs and Bears. Special moments include Babe Ruth’s called shot, Ernie Banks’ 500th home run, Gale Sayers’ 6-TD game, Kerry Wood striking out 20 batters, the Cubs’ first night game, and special segments about Sammy Sosa’s 1998-99 home run binge and Harry Carey singing the seventh inning stretch. The colorful, 180-page book, which includes a CD, is a nice look at the second-oldest ball park in the majors.

Longtime Blackhawks fans may enjoy “Keith Magnuson: The Inspiring Life and Times of a Beloved Blackhawk,” by Doug Feldman. Told with the cooperation of the late Blackhawk’s family, the 288-page book is an interesting look at life as a hockey enforcer, detailing some of the popular redhead’s most famous fights almost punch for punch.

Parents of young children may find “Rodney the Repo Reindeer” by Geneva authors Karen Tomko and Laurie Heine helpful.

“There are a ton of books about Christmas, but not about the day after,” Tomko told me. Rodney, who can take away children’s toys if they’re bad, gives parents a way of dealing with kids who are on their best behavior before Christmas, then their worst afterwards.

For women, there’s “Triptych,” by former DeKalb resident Margit Liesche, a well-crafted political mystery of a complex mother-daughter relationship set against the backdrop of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Weaving the tale of two separate women, years apart, along with historical facts, the novel shows how we are all connected.

My favorite local book was “The MisAdventures of an Old Saddletramp” by former Shabbona resident Robert Schweiger. Told with folksy humor, he “narrates” his many marvelous adventures – some of which I actually believe – during the last eight decades, often on the back of a horse. One that stands out is the time he accidentally flipped over a Model A while rounding second base on a victory lap around the diamond. At 130 pages, I just wish it was longer.

Possibly the best book I read, however, was the re-issue of “Waking the Rez Road,” Jim Northup’s 2009 account in short stories and poems of a Vietnam War veteran surviving poverty on an Indian reservation in modern America. Told with humor in a straightforward, primitive manner, the 176-page book is the kind you read slowly to make it last as long as possible.

Judging from this small sampling, I’d say 2013 was a pretty good year in book publishing.

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