Jack’s guest post a combination of the Monday Book and his usual Wednesday one –
This isn’t about a particular book, or even a specific range of books – it’s about how I was introduced to books and how they’ve played into my view of the world.
When I was attending high school and college to gain my basic English literature qualification I was following a curriculum that had a clear direction with no place whatsoever for Scottish authors, poets or playwrights. We had to study Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens, although Walter Scott was allowed. I think Scott was OK because he more or less invented the notion of a romantic ‘previous’ Scotland that no longer existed and that was acceptable.
What’s strange about this is that the Scottish education system has always (since 1707 and the union of parliaments) been completely independent from the English system. My guess is that the UK government always made sure that they had folk in positions of authority in place to make sure we toed the line. Not surprisingly I found all this a bit confusing.
But I had a wonderful English teacher at high school called John (Baldy) Forrest who had little interest in set curricula and a great love for the works of Damon Runyon. Baldy would stride around the classroom on a Friday afternoon (the fact that we were the ‘no hopers’ and it was Friday afternoon probably emboldened him) wearing his required academic gown and read sections of Runyon’s short stories aloud in a convincing New York accent – a bizarre sight indeed. He had sewn a block of wood into the side panel of his gown and would whack inattentive pupils on the back of the head which only endeared me to him more! The fact that I can picture him and recall his name is a great testament to his teaching abilities and ongoing legacy. If he’s still alive he must be well into his nineties but I doubt he is – RIP Baldy.
Later I attended evening classes in the local college I ended up working in for over twenty years and once again (no longer a ‘no hoper’) attempted to gain my Higher English qualification. We were a mixture of ages, and beneficiaries of the excellent Scottish system that left doors open for late learners. I am mortified to say that I can’t remember the name of the young teacher but he re-introduced me to Shakespeare and specifically Macbeth. I can still recite lines from ‘the Scottish play’ and it got me interested in Scottish history (something else we weren’t taught in school). But he also introduced us to ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. These are American classics that both link to poems by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.
Now I can appreciate Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens because I’ve read Burns, Grassic Gibbon, Runyon and Hemingway.
What have I learned from all this? The best teachers don’t slavishly follow laid down curricula and learning doesn’t have to only take place in the classroom or lecture hall.
BTW – Scott wrote bodice rippers and fake ballads!
The Monday book (on Tuesday) isn’t a book – it’s a recording – –
Jack is standing in for Wendy as she is ‘on the road’.
Into the Purple Valley – Ry Cooder
I got this back in the early 1970s when it first appeared as an LP and was completely blown away. We all have certain albums that constitute ‘milestones’ in our musical lives and this is definitely one of mine. I had never heard of Ry Cooder until a friend who already had this played it for me. I immediately got a copy of my own, I still have it and I still listen to it from time to time. But nothing can re-capture hearing it for the first time.
The singing has a world-weary quality that perfectly suits the songs and the choice of songs conjures up rural America dealing with hard times. They come from a wide variety of sources ranging from Woody Guthrie to Leadbelly and Joseph Spence and all have been performed and recorded by lots of other people. However, Ry Cooder through this wonderful album established ‘ownership’ of all these songs.
In the end, though it’s not the singing that makes this such a stand-out – it’s the arrangements and Cooder’s fabulous guitar playing.
My favorite tracks are Vigilante Man, The Farmer Feeds us All and Denomination Blues, but that’s just me – there’s not a dud on here!
Of course other albums followed this and there are great performances from concerts and TV shows on YouTube, but this was the beginning.
To get the full experience you should search out the original LP in good condition but failing that it’s been re-issued as a CD.
(Wendy will be surprised at my choice as the next Ry Cooder album after this has an Airstream on the cover!).
This week’s blog by guest Willie Dalton, author of Three Witches in a Small Town.
I had been putting it off for months. I’d seen the book advertised in countless places and endorsed by many celebrities. “You have to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up!”
I thought it sounded interesting and no doubt I could definitely use some decluttering in my life . But I’d read all the blogs, all the tips, and liked all the Facebook pages about minimizing and none of the advice had ever had a lasting impression. Could this book be that different? Finally, I caved and bought the book.
To my surprise it is very different from all of the other advice out there. The author’s method is from a lifetime of observing and studying habits and patterns to get it down to a step by step system of what works and what can be maintained. You begin with things of less sentimental value and end with the items that are hardest to sort. She claims if you do it exactly as she says you will NEVER have to do it again. Sounds good to me!
This method “the KonMari” way of decluttering is also becoming known as the “joy method.” You hold each item and ask yourself if it brings you joy, if it does, you keep it and if not you get rid of it. She emphasizes most people believe items bring them joy just because they did at one time, but if that time has passed you thank it for the joy it brought to you and release it. It might sound silly to thank an inanimate object but I have to admit it made it a little easier for me to say goodbye to some ratty old t-shirts that I once adored.
The goal isn’t to get rid of as much as possible but to focus on surrounding ourselves with things that bring us joy and happiness. She says if we are truly honest about the things that delight us and let go of all the extra “stuff” our homes automatically become more manageable and less cluttered. Of course we all have things that need to be saved for other purposes that don’t bring us anything resembling joy and she has a method for managing that as well.
I’m only getting started in the sorting process but so far I’ve already discarded three full garbage bags of shirts. I have very high expectations of becoming the organized person I’ve always wanted to be now that I have a true system to follow. But you might want to check back with me in a year….
Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on Wednesday again – – –
Last night Wendy and I were the guests of an informal book group in Abingdon VA.
As we followed one of the members along the winding road to the house where they were meeting we passed more and more exceedingly imposing residencies and speculated on what might be awaiting us.
However any fears we had were quickly allayed as the rest of the members trickled in. We had forgotten that the group had visited the bookstore earlier in the year, had all bought copies of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and were very well versed in our adventures.
They all came in clutching their copies of the book – each copy with post-it notes sticking out from favorite pages and passages. We were among old friends!
We have often remarked upon how completely different these occasions tend to be. Of course there are book clubs, reading groups, friends of the library groups and writing clubs and they are each bound to have a different focus. We certainly never know exactly what to expect, which is why we tend to be a bit nervous of them. what’s interesting is that I see similarities to my singing career over the years – gigs were often like that too.
Whenever we attend an event we start off by trying to judge what folk want to hear. Will it be writing advice, getting an agent advice, finding a publisher advice, more about Big Stone Gap?
But this was close to being unique – a whole group who had already read the book and visited us in the bookstore. We proceeded to have a really great evening of personal stories, reminiscences, parallel experiences and our own continuing adventures beyond ‘the book’. Unusually, we were even able to open up a bit on some less happy things that were hinted at in ‘The Little Bookstore’ or followed on from its publication. That’s something we would definitely only do in the company of old friends!
To finish, I should say that the evening started with me as the only man in the room, but we were eventually joined by our host’s husband and his name is Moffat – and that’s also the name of a town in Scotland that I visit every two years on my group tour.
Oh – and we ended with some songs!
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 – – –