Tag Archives: books

Be Sure your Sins will – – -?

Jack gets to do the Monday book this week –

The Big Short –  Michael Lewis

Of course, the movie is probably just as famous as the book and I’ll have something to say about that later.

Our good friend and financial guru David recommended this to us because he reckoned it was one of the most eye-opening books he’d ever read about the financial shenanigans that led to the great meltdown of 2008. He described it as “really, really frightening” and he should know!

He also said that he saw no evidence that any lessons had been learned since then (except perhaps in Iceland, where they jailed the bankers, changed the banking regulations and turned around their economy in record time).

The book follows the experiences of a number of people who separately stumbled across an enormous flaw in the mortgage market based on a complete lack of oversight by the rating agencies. The folk involved had different motives for pursuing this: some realized they could make enormous amounts of money by betting that the market would crash, while others were more interested in exposing the crooks and getting the banking regulations changed. The book follows these characters as their paths cross and they become aware of each other, ultimately more or less working together. As they variously stumble across ever more blatant disregard for financial common sense among financial professionals who should also have seen what was wrong, they begin to home in on the rating agencies. That’s when they discover that these agencies, supposedly holding the banks to account, are actually in their pockets.

So, what of the movie?

I actually enjoyed it just as much as the book but for different reasons. Of course the movie has to be much shorter and that’s hard to pull off. You need to keep the essentials and be careful what gets cut out. I think, in this case, it was a good idea to not have the author of the book write the screenplay (in fact I think it almost always is.) I recently watched a film that was directed and cast by the author of the book it was based on, and who also wrote the screenplay – it went straight from a limited theater run to the Netflix ‘B list’ with barely a pause.

So, what’s the ‘take away’ from the book? In the case of this reader, a profound belief that human greed will always manage to dress itself in respectable clothes, attend the right Church, give to the most fashionable charities (or start one) and find the most influential politicians to bribe.

Something else I took away – potential move to Iceland – – –

 

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Strangers in the day

 Jack’s Wednesday (just) guest post –

For some reason that I can’t fathom we’re getting a lot of out of town (and out of State) visitors to the bookstore and the cafe just now. It’s not the season for school reunions or vacations, and although some folk have deliberately detoured this way because of reading ‘The Little Bookstore’ many of them haven’t.

It seems to be a completely random thing – just passing through or maybe here for a funeral or family visit.

Quite apart from the welcome business, it adds to the busyness! I love it when strangers come in when we have local loyal friends of the place just hanging out and everyone ends up swapping stories.

Two examples from today –

1) A couple drove for five hours from Elkins in WV yesterday because they had read the book. They visited yesterday afternoon then came back this morning as soon as we opened and stayed on for lunch. As they were leaving they said they’d be back soon. Of course they had dinner in town last night then stayed overnight in a local hotel and had breakfast before heading back here and encountering the hanging out crowd.

2) A gentleman drove up from Johnson City simply because he heard a repeat broadcast on the local NPR station of an interview with Wendy about the store. As soon as he heard my voice he said “you’re the guy on WETSfm that has the Celtic show”. I’ve been presenting Celtic Clanjamphry every week for almost ten years as an unpaid volunteer and, in return they now count that as sponsorship by Tales of the Lonesome Pine, so we get a mention on air as well.

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Nobody can spell Clanjamphry!

Just two examples of how new customers arrive at the door. Of course they are, for different reasons, already pretty well primed to be ‘on side’. The challenge for anyone who runs this kind of shop is to try to read the personality of the completely ‘cold callers’ and respond appropriately. As I said at the beginning we had a good few of them as well. One couple were quiet and focused and I simply responded to their occasional request while another guy started like that, then encountered a kitten and became much more engaged. On the one hand you have to like people to do this job, but on the other hand you have to be able to quickly read people too.

It’s still great fun!

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Filed under bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book

Jack’s guest Monday review (on Tuesday – just) –

Ian Rankin – The Rebus Series

Not so much a book review, as an author review this week –

I’m not usually one for novels, preferring biographies and memoirs for the most part. But I do have just a few novelists I like and one of those is Rankin. I hasten to add that it’s not that I like every book he’s written, but the Rebus series do stand out, in my opinion.

It’s probably because both Rankin and his character have their roots in West Fife (my home territory) but are resident in Edinburgh (a place I know well). In the series Rebus frequently revisits Fife and the Edinburgh that forms the backdrop to most of the books is very lovingly and accurately portrayed.

The books are well written, full of believable characters and with plots that grip you to the last page. This is noir detective with a Scots accent and firmly in the world of Philip Marlowe.

The Edinburgh he describes is a mixture of the historic center after dark and the run-down housing schemes on the outskirts. His plots are always relevant to the times and clearly involve  a lot of careful research.

Rebus is a complex guy with a troubled personal life, who is looked on with suspicion by most of his colleagues and especially by his superiors. During the course of the series he moves from being a regular working cop to the branch that deals with internal matters such as bribery and collusion with criminals and gangs.

All the books except the last one have been made into TV dramas, with half being done by the BBC and the other half by ITV. The casts were different for each series and, although presenting contrasting interpretations, both were excellent.

I have read other novels by Rankin that were not part of the Rebus series and didn’t find them as compelling I’m afraid.

 

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The Monday Book

Jack’s Guest post – The Swan Thieves

Wendy and I listened to Elizabeth Kostova’s 17-disc novel as a recorded book to entertain us from Big Stone Gap all the way to western Wyoming and part of the way back. We like big books for big drives, and we cannot lie. Actually, I believe that the voices made a big difference and held our attention well.

As for the story – I thoroughly enjoyed it. The format is the tried and trusted multi-strings that begin as if they are completely unrelated, seem to develop without any obvious connection, and then finally resolve with all loose ends satisfactorily tied up.

The tale opens with a successful artist being arrested for attempting to damage a painting in a New York art gallery and continues through the voices of him, his ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, a 19th C. French artist and her uncle, and mainly the opening artist’s psychiatrist.

I’ve often found that this style of book loses me as I try to keep up with the different strands, but this time I had no problem and I felt gripped all the way to the end. The story is set mainly in New York, Maine, N. Carolina and Paris as well as 19th C. Normandy. Among other elements of enjoyment, the author really describes them well.

I suppose if I have any quibble at all it’s that the different threads of the story were rather abruptly brought together at the end, almost as if Kostova. got fed up and decided she’d had enough. I would have preferred a gentler landing perhaps. Then again, a book that entertains for 17 hours of driving is holding its own.

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The Monday Book

Wendy is still on a writing deadline so Jack is standing in again –

Tsunami by Iain MacWhirter

Health warning: this is a book about Scottish politics, specifically the landslide victory by the Scottish National Party in Scottish constituencies during the 2015 UK election.

I have a great deal of respect for Iain MacWhirter, a thought-provoking political commentator who works for the BBC.  MacWhirter has a long and honorable pedigree as an observer of UK and Scottish politics, not to mention the respect of his peers. That’s not to say that he hasn’t penned a few newspaper articles with which I’ve taken issue, just that his  voice carries weight.

Tsunami is a follow up to an earlier book by the author about the Scottish referendum on independence the previous year, Disunited Kingdom.

Regardless of my occasional disagreements with him I recommend both of these books to anyone with an interest in the incredibly fast-moving political scene in the UK right now. Of course the arrival of ‘Brexit’ means that Iain will probably have to write another book about the second referendum on Scottish independence next year.

For those unfamiliar, Scotland wanted to stay in the EU and since there was a vote recently on Scotland leaving the UK, Scottish politicians are ready to take advantage of the mood and the timing to try again. Scottish voters declined to declare themselves independent of the UK, and then pretty much found that the promises made to them if they stayed had been false. As a result, the vote that McWhirter writes about in Tsunami was expected to swing so overwhelmingly toward the Scottish National Party candidates that the leaders of the party began to caution people not to have unrealistic expectations.

Tsunami captures the flow of the various parties’ campaigns in the lead-up to the UK election. A big part of its thrill is McWhirter’s description of the atmosphere in the BBC green room, and the responses of the various spin doctors, that election night, as the SNP finished with 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. Watching the events, I remember one political commentator saying, “This isn’t an election. It’s a rout.”

The book finishes with the overwhelmingly triumphant SNP members of parliament arriving at the House of Commons in London to find themselves disregarded within a parliament of 650 members, despite being the third biggest party there.

MacWhirter captures with humor and insight a strange time in Scottish politics, and sets the tone for the stranger times yet to befall the UK as the full implications of Brexit become clear to all parties.

Better read this before it’s completely out of date; books will be coming out soon on Brexit.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

A Story within a Story within a Signature

Wendy is on a tight writing deadline before holidays next week, so Jack takes up the keyboard and presents this guest blog.

We often have folk come in to ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ bookstore carrying a copy of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and hoping to meet Wendy. They come from all over the country and even from other countries. Their personal tales frequently carry on a theme of the book, that the customers’ stories are as important as those in the books we sell.

One of the other conversations in Wendy’s book was about the fact that some products that are sold on from one owner to another only benefit the creator the first time they’re sold – houses, books etc. The result of the exchange was that there wasn’t much to be done about it, nor should there be. Another question was how long  ‘The Little Bookstore’ would circulate in used book stores.

To our great amusement we received a lovely card from a fan in New York a couple of months after the first publication, saying how much he’d enjoyed the book and that he’d bought it for $10 in a used book store. He enclosed a $10 bill just to prove that the author was wrong!

But today topped that. (Drum roll, please….)

Three couples had been through the store today looking for Wendy, so when I looked out the window and saw a woman holding a copy of the book and the husband taking pictures, I knew what they were about. Sure enough, Carol and Paul were on a trip back to Cary, NC and came the long way through Big Stone Gap to see the bookstore because they loved the book and follow Wendy’s blog.

However, their story had a twist. Carol loved Wendy’s book, which she’d paid $5.99 for in a used book store, already signed to someone called Laura. And she’d come to get Wendy to sign it again, having read the conversations about second hand books in Little Bookstore.

We had a lovely chat (they are also cat lovers) and then I signed her copy and so did Wendy – but check out the picture to see how she did it.

carol

May the circle be unbroken, Laura – wherever you are!

 

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Monday Book (on Tuesday)

Jack is deputizing  for Wendy this week – and still jet-lagged from his annual visit to Scotland.

Hamish Henderson – a biography by Timothy Neat (2 volumes)

Two admissions –

1 – I knew Hamish Henderson, and 2 – I read volume two before I read volume one.

I really wished I’d read the two volumes in order. The second one covers the period when I knew Hamish and when he was much better known generally as the great promoter of the folk music revival in Scotland and founder of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University. The trouble is that anyone who had the slightest knowledge of him during that period is now vying to have been his best friend. I’m not one of these since although I admired him enormously and we were acquainted we were not close friends by any means. I say this because the second volume kind of reads as a personal appeal by Tim Neat to be recognized as not only THE HH authority, but his best friend and associate.  Now that may be true, of course, but I don’t think it needed quite so many reminders.

Leaving that aside, I greatly enjoyed both volumes but particularly the first one, which was a revelation to me. I had only the vaguest idea of Hamish’s earlier life and really no knowledge of his childhood or war career. It may be that because the first volume is based much more on research than personal anecdote there are many more voices present than in the second one and less of Tim Neat’s.

Looking back at what I’ve written I can see that I may have been a bit harsh, but that’s simply because I had such admiration for Hamish. He encouraged my (and many other’s) interest in Scottish traditional songs and ballads, he took on the establishment and he never sought personal recognition or fame.

Perhaps I was too close to the events and history of volume two to be objective in my appraisal.

If, like me you want the complete story of a remarkable life then there are a number of recent books out there and, despite my slight misgivings Timothy Neat’s should certainly be counted among ‘required reading’!

 

 

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch