The Monday Book

I Should Have Stayed Home: The Worst Trips of the Great Writers – Roger Rapoport

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Jack is doing the Monday book this week (Wendy will do the Wednesday post)

I hardly read novels these days, much preferring history, biography or memoirs. This collection of short stories by fifty well known authors, most of them travel writers, falls into the memoir category I suppose.

I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced a ‘journey from hell’ at some point. Rapoport was able to persuade these well-known authors to contribute their particular ones. Some are funny and others are truly scary!

The idea originated with a student essay competition run in conjunction with a travel writers’ conference and the winning entry is included here.

Among the more famous contributors are Paul Theroux and Barbara Kingsolver and this brings me to the only problem I really have with the collection. Obviously there are great many different writing styles and some appealed to me more than others.

There are stories that focus on the sheer discomfort of certain modes of transport such as a hair-raising ride through the Egyptian desert in an ancient bus with an even more ancient driver. Others are more about culture clash and these tend to be more poignant and reflective.

Perhaps my favorite was about a stay in a supposed hotel that turned out to be a collection of huts that were infested – first of all with cockroaches and then with lizards that ate the cockroaches.

The book held my attention all the way through, though, and I can definitely recommend it as a good bed-time read that can be dipped into a few stories at a time over succeeding nights.

Maybe 4 stars out of 5.

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A Chiel’s Amang ye Takin Notes –

I guess Jack should just make this the Thursday guest post – he’s late again – – –

I make every effort not to comment on whatever stramash is exercising the lave on FaceBook at the minnit – but –

It seems to me there’s no defense for a mature man making eyes at a fourteen year old girl. The argument that some fourteen year olds look ‘older’ takes no account of emotional maturity or experience of life. It’s just plain wrong!

This subject came up recently on a long running BBC political discussion program called ‘Question Time’ and one of the audience asked of the panel – “why do I, a normal young man, not engage in these kind of activities, while celebrities and politicians do?”. One of the panel (a Conservative Party MP) responded rather too quickly and truthfully – “because you don’t yet have power”. He quickly tried to backtrack but that comment has gone viral!

I think this gets right to the heart of matters. This isn’t really about sex or the attractiveness of a young girl. It’s simply about the exercise of power – I do this because I can, and have enough power to get away with it.

Which brings us to another matter. How do they get away with it?

The powerful look after each other and always circle the wagons when any attempt is made to confront them. There’s a long catalogue of these kind of things having gone on for decades in the UK and, almost every time, any investigation is dragged out until the culprit has died and can no longer be cross-examined.

Finally – the way that Mr. Moore’s behavior has been excused by some so-called Christians is chilling in the extreme. It amounts to a recruiting call for lecherous older men to head to their nearest evangelical Church and start eyeing up whatever young lassies are ‘available’!

I recommend watching this – http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-brightbill-roy-moore-evangelical-culture-20171110-story.html

 

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A Lad o’ Pairts – –

Jack’s Wednesday post is on time for a change –

I suppose everyone, when they reach my advanced age, looks back and is surprised (even amazed) at where their life has taken them.

Here I am in southern Appalachia, in the midst of a glorious and so important region in the history of American traditional music.

When I first got interested in folk music when I was in my late teens and early twenties back in Scotland, I was singing mostly American songs and it wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered my Scottish musical roots.

But I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would end up living here, where many of the songs I was singing back then originated.

Yesterday was pretty crazy in many ways. It was election day here and I was standing for county supervisor (regional councillor in Scotland) and then it finished with Wendy and I performing at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol Tennessee. Of course, I was roundly defeated in the election, but that gig – – –

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I actually thought that appearing on a CD along with Pete Seeger, Doc Watson and Dolly Parton might be the highlight of my musical journey, but perhaps last night might just equal that.

The concert was well attended by a very enthusiastic crowd and I got to sing The Carter Family’s song ‘The Storms are on the Ocean’ which was recorded close by in 1927 and has fascinated me for years, not least because it contains two verses straight from an ancient Scottish ballad and another that has a strong similarity to one by Robert Burns in ‘Red, Red Rose’.

But, really – the idea of a guy from Dunfermline playing that venue – whodathunkit!!

Wendy and I were very worried beforehand how the audience would react to a program of Scottish songs and ballads, particularly as the promoters were a local arts organization more usually concerned with chamber music, opera and the like. But, we needn’t have been concerned – they were engaged and enthusiastic from start to finish and (not surprisingly) the sound system was really excellent.

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The Monday Book: REQUIEM BY FIRE, a novel by Wayne Caldwell

requiemSorry so many Mondays have slipped past. I have started many books that didn’t make me want to finish them, this past month. And then came REQUIEM, a story so enticing it makes me go to bed early just so I can read.

The book is set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and focuses on what the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park did to the people it bumped.

I know these people – Jim the local boy who wants to return home and work, the successful man; his wife Nell who wants to follow in the footsteps of her overbearing mother and get the hell outta there to a place with electricity and running water; Silas the contrarian who will be carried off the mountain feet-first, one way or another; the lawyer who turns on his own people and gets over his regret. They sound like stereotypes, but these folk walk, eat, and most definitely talk like real North Carolinians.

The tension between the people who live on (and off of) the land, and the government officials, some clueless, some very clued up indeed, flows under the rest of the action. Actually, this book is less action than scene by scene contacts between people, dialogue sent against lightly descriptive background. I am a sucker for well-drawn characters having pithy, realistic conversations, and this book is that in spades. Not a fan of a lot of description myself, I nevertheless was hooked by the opening scene of the novel, depicting an act of benevolent arson.

The ending will not be given away in a spoiler because I haven’t finished it yet. This is a book to savor. I’m so glad to have found something that restores my faith in Appalachian fiction!

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Nothin’ scary ’bout the Bookstore – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post beats the deadline!

One of our favorite times here in the bookstore is Halloween when the shops in town provide treats to the kids. We’re a bit different because our treat is a free book! This sometimes comes as a bit of a shock for a couple of reasons. First of all we invite the kids to come in and choose a book from the ‘kids’ room’, and secondly, they occasionally  expect something of a more candy-ish nature. I discovered years ago that inviting kids into the shop is considered a bit scary around here (they usually expect to just stand at the door and get a ‘treat’). For us it’s a treat to see upwards of a hundred kids with their parents traipsing in and out clutching a book and the costumes are usually amazing.

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Up, Up and Away – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post sets a new record for lateness –

So, we’re beginning to get fairly close to election time here in Virginia – it’s November 7th just in case anyone has forgotten!

To be a wee bit more specific – I am one of three candidates for the position of County Supervisor in district 3 of Wise County.

While up in the dizzy heights of the State level campaigns party allegiance may be an important consideration, I don’t believe that’s greatly significant at county level. In fact I’m certain that all three of us standing here have a good understanding of the issues facing this part of the Commonwealth and would be conscientious in addressing them.

At this point, for my many Scottish friends who read this blog, I should do a quick translation. County Supervisor would be the equivalent of a regional councillor in Scotland and a district would be the same as a ward.

Now, why should my neighbors vote for me? Well, probably there are three very big and interlinked issues facing Wise County right now. The first is a declining working population, partly because of increasing unemployment in the coal industry and partly because young people ‘get the h**ll out of Dodge’ at the first opportunity. The second is an economy that for too long has been over-dependent on the aforementioned coal industry and needs to urgently diversify. The third is a very significant problem with drugs – particularly prescribed opioid pain medications.

Regular readers will know that Wendy and I lost a friend recently, who took his own life, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the intersection of these three issues had a bearing on what he did.

So let’s look up instead of down and try to chart a way forward. We should no longer be sitting back and waiting for someone else, somewhere else to solve our problems. We need to give ourselves a good shake and then – –

Wendy attended a rural health conference recently where one of the presenters spoke about ‘Bright Sparks’ around the country; places that were doing much better than all the evidence suggested they should. Why was that? It seemed to bear out what we had observed a few years ago as we did our trip through the backroads of nine rural states around here. Some towns were obviously doing well while others were nothing more than ghost-towns. The secret seemed to be one of two things – either a respected locally born individual or community group that just ‘did it’ instead of waiting for others to do it for them!

I might be standing for office, but I’m very clear that office holders, at town, county or state level can’t do this. Not at all! What they can do, though, is smooth the way for the individuals and groups that can just ‘do it’. Over the last 12 years Wendy and I, along with like-minded friends, have fought our way through interminable minefields of policy documents, vested interests and many folk who just want things to roll along as they are. First was the bookstore, then the farmers’ market and then the Celtic festival. It’s easy to just roll over and give in – but each time we found that it was possible with like-minded locals to create a buzz and get things done.

That’s what I want to do – help get things done!

A final note – Virginia is actually a Commonwealth. That translates in various ways – common wealth; common wellbeing; common good (in Scotland – commonweal). That suggests to me that the rural areas of the State should share equally in the benefits that are enjoyed by the urban north. Even better – let’s help the rural south west become a bright spark!

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C’est La Vie NOT

Attending the Appalachian Regional Commission meeting on “Transforming Appalachia” was a mixed bag. More respectful than I remember urban do-gooder conferences being, it was still painful.

The chirpy moderator who opened the panel on opioids couldn’t pronounce Appalachia as natives do, nor understand why her question “how can we bring hope to such a despairing region” brought a hiss of breath intake from half the crowd.

But then at lunch Gerry Roll, a foundation director out of Hazard, KY, said that we own our problems without allowing them to define us. Some of the ARC staff looked startled.

This isn’t a rural-specific conference, but Gerry also said even at her most despairing and poor in Kentucky, she’d never felt as lonely as she did living in poverty in an urban center. And part of the new respect I’m seeing for Appalachia is recognizing that Central Appalachia in particular has social networks and pathways that create community cohesion in ways other places can only imagine. A lot of heads nodded.

One of the parts I loved/hated was the “Brights Spots in Health” segment. The ARC had put out a study call a couple of years ago, for places that defied the odds with better health outcomes than their social determinants suggested they should have. A big takeaway from this presentation is that ARC now recognizes and factors into its policies that Appalachia has at least three distinct cultural regions: Southern, Central Coalfields, and Northern.

Southern Appalachia tends to have a lot of bright spots, defying the odds more than Central or Northern. In fact, Mississippi is confounding everyone. While the rest of us might even count it good if we just don’t get worse at the same rate as last year, Ol’ Miss down there is getting BETTER. Not just getting worse slower: getting BETTER.

Is it the water? No one knows, but there’s a study headed to find out.

If I had to guess, they’re going to found that Southern Social Cohesion is a barrier to more than just people who don’t fit in. Maybe it keeps out germs. Yeah, no. But maybe it applies its forces for good as well as evil, encouraging church members to exercise together, teaching kids to plant gardens and eat the fruit thereof….

Whatever it is, I’ll all for it, because the hate part of that “Bright Spots” event was when I started crying as the project director outlined the stats for “diseases of despair”: alcoholism, drugs, and suicide. I pulled up a picture of our friend Jessee on my phone, and held it through the rest of the presentation. When the ARC presenter said “and we have to keep in mind these are people, not stats, and how do these surroundings affect the lives of those living in them” I thought about Jessee’s wife Destiny giving away a kidney, and cried quietly there in my seat, watching the stats roll by.

C’est la vie, as we say in Wise County. Except maybe not. The past doesn’t have to control the future. One of the points the presentation hammered was that all the bright spots had a few commonalities: someone who started an internal catalyst of organizations coming together; a coalition; resilience; and some recognition of/fighting against substance abuse issues. The internal part was key; they may have brought in experts, and they certainly brought in funding, but they started within the community and identified their own assets. jessee

This is different from other places I’ve heard do-gooders talk about Appalachia. They are listening. This is good. We were listening too. Working together is something we’re pretty good at, here in Wise County.

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