Tag Archives: literature

The Monday Book

Jack has the honor of the Monday book post (and just scraped through in time).

Portrait of a Legend – Spitfire, Leo McKinstry, 2007

I am a complete nut for airplanes (or aeroplanes as we Scots would say), so stumbling across this book in a thrift store in Oban in Scotland a couple of weeks ago was like discovering the holy grail (we also visited Roslyn Chapel on our trip).

I should say that as a Quaker I have very mixed feelings about warplanes, but the Spitfire seems to transcend that and can stand in its own right as a thing of beauty. Many of the pilot testimonies in the book talk of that beauty of the plane as distinct from the job it was designed to do.

Most books about the Spitfire paint a romantic picture of a machine that appeared just in time to ward off the Nazi menace and the winning of the ‘Battle of Britain’ in 1940. What I hadn’t realized until reading this one was what a struggle there had been from its maiden flight in 1936 to getting it into production. The company that designed it was a very small business specializing in seaplanes and had won a series of high speed races in the early 1930s with planes designed by R. J. Mitchell who went on to design the Spitfire. But the business was far too small to undertake the contract to build the numbers that were needed in the approach to WW2. Attempts to outsource production went disastrously wrong and the construction of a massive new factory went equally badly. Even after its acceptance by the public as the ‘icon’ of fighter command it continued to be mired in high level debate surrounding its suitability for a whole range of different and essential tasks.

spitfire

Despite all that it remained in service around the world from 1939 through the late 1950s in a wide variety of roles and still thrills crowds at air displays to this day.

I well remember seeing a Lancaster, a Hurricane and  Spitfire flying over our house near Leuchars RAF base in Scotland about 15 years ago at low altitude – six Rolls Royce Merlin engines making a wonderful sound!

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in the story of this gorgeous flying machine – a big thumbs up!

 

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Intersections

Jack’s doing the Monday Book this week because yesterday was Wendy’s birthday – –

This is more about books in general and the kind I favor.

I tend to read memoirs, biographies, histories and novels that are set in the present. I tend not to read romances, historical novels, science fiction or fantasy. BTW – romances about the Amish may be popular but I’ve never read any.

The most recent read was ‘Monty Python Speaks’ which is really a history of the famous fellows from the their roots and on to infamy (they’ve all got it infamy). It included a reference to my big sister’s old school chum Denise Coffey, who starred in a precursor of the ‘Circus’ on British TV called ‘Do not Adjust your Set’ it even had her in a picture alongside Cleese, Palin and Jones. I was probably about 10 years old when I last was in her company.

So books can not only be a way into a particular world from the point of view of the author (and her husband), but also alongside a character referenced by someone else altogether. This gets us towards something else – altogether – –

One of my favorite writers of fiction is the author of the Inspector Rebus novels – Ian Rankin. They’re novels, but the author and Rebus are from West Fife where I also spent most of my life. He captures the Fife coalfield villages perfectly and those passages are very real to me.

So I suspect we (or at least some of us) live our lives, very often, through reliving our lives through others’ writings or maybe projecting our lives into others’ writings. We wander back and forth through our own lives, imagined lives, lives we’ve read about, imagined lives we’ve read about –

Aren’t books wonderful?

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Not the Rolling Thunder Review

In Wendy’s absence Jack gets to do the Monday book – on Tuesday

The Dylan Companion – Elizabeth Thomson and David Gutman

As some of you will know I am a BIG fan of Mr Dylan/Zimmerman. So I’ve read many books about him (and by him). This is among the better ones, though.

Thomson and Gutman have assembled a grand collection of essays and articles spanning the period from 1962 through 1998 and more or less presented chronologically. Some are fairly lightweight and ‘of the moment’ while others are quite weighty and academic. All, however, have a good deal of authority.

Of course there are many well known names here – Robert Shelton, Paul Stookey, Alan Ginsberg, Richard Farina and Joan Baez. But there some unlikely and little known ones too.

Everyone knows that Bob Dylan famously re-invented himself when he arrived in New York in the early 1960s – following in the wake of many other American idols (such as Buffalo Bill Cody or Ramblin’ Jack Elliot). What caught my attention in this collection were the pieces that pointed out how single minded he was in building his new persona. The interview with his early New York girl friend Suze Rotolo is revealing in that respect, as are a number of others. Also revealing is that he was clearly already a fine performer before he hit New York!

Because the final pieces are from 1998, there’s nothing about the ‘never-ending tour’ that still continues, but there a few that shed some light on Bob’s reasons for performing live and the tensions between his public and private lives.

Correction – the afterword in the 2000 reprint does briefly touch on his continuing tour.

As the title suggests, this is a book that can be dipped into at leisure while residing perhaps on your bedside table.

Finally – although there are no essays or articles here by the man himself, he is quoted extensively throughout.

“Come Gather ‘Round people”

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Keep Calm and – – -?

Jack is doing the Monday book this week –

Crime Control as Industry – Nils Christie

Regular readers of this blog will probably know that I visit inmates at our local Federal prison each month, and I’ve been doing that for over four years. It’s against that background and in that context that I’m reviewing this book – – –

One thing I had inevitably learned in my conversations with inmates was that there seemed to be an enormous economy surrounding prisons in the US, then research showed me there was a very disproportionately high number of African-American prisoners, and the overall percentage of the population behind bars in this country was among the highest in the world (the three highest are China, Russia and the US).

Christie’s book is mainly concerned with western European countries and the US, and focuses on the very different attitudes and approaches to crime and punishment in them.

Nils Christie is a Norwegian criminologist, and his world-view is naturally affected by where he is based and grew up. The first thing that caught my attention in this book was that (at the time it was written – 1998) there was a waiting list in Norway for folk to serve their prison sentences! The number of prisons was small and there was a consensus that people shouldn’t be crammed in, so folk carried on with their lives and waited to be told when there was a space for them. The sentences were fairly short in most cases and only the most serious actually received prison time at all. Despite this, crime figures were low compared to other countries.

What on earth was going on here?!

What Christie goes on to unravel is the very definition of crime, the need for ruling elites to create and then control a ‘surplus population’ and the market led industry that operates that control. At its crudest (which is always), the market needs a level of unemployment in order to suppress wages and allow the economy to compete with others around the world (this is exactly the thinking of the recent winner of a certain Presidential election). That ‘surplus population’ in the US has historically been mainly black, so there are residual racist reasons feeding into the equation as well.

So, where are we now?

Christie is/was tentatively optimistic that reason would prevail and that his Norwegian model would set an example, however, other more recent research suggests otherwise. The growth of private prisons, the economic market surrounding State, Federal and private prisons, the increase in the ‘surplus population’ and the demonization of anyone who isn’t a WASP.

Maybe the fact that I’m a WASP and can write this is a good sign? There again, maybe an algorithm has already identified me as part of the ‘surplus population’?

 

 

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The Monday Book: DUMA KEY by Stephen King

Yes, I know; some of you are even now saying, “Whaaaa? She’s recommending a bestseller?! I want something more obscure!”

But here’s the thing. King has reached the point in his career where, as one NY editor put it, “He could publish a phone book and it’d make bestseller.” And since all his books are bestsellers, there are people who ignore him. What’s for the masses must not be good.

That dismissal would be a disservice to good, honest writing. Like fellow “pop lit” writer Terry Pratchett, King–even in the midst of his boyish fascination with making horror from human scatology and secretions–sometimes hits literature. Consider these quotes, all from Duma:

“When I look back on that time, it’s with the strangest stew of emotions: love, longing, terror, horror, regret, and the deep sweetness only those who’ve been near death can know. I think it’s how Adam and Eve must have felt. Surely they looked back at Eden, don’t you think, as they started barefoot down the path to where we are now, in our glum political world of bullets and bombs and satellite TV? Looked past the angel guarding the shut gate with his fiery sword? Sure. I think they must have wanted one more look at the green world they had lost, with its sweet water and kind-hearted animals. And its snake, of course.”

“Stay hungry. It worked for Michelangelo, it worked for Picasso, and it works for a hundred thousand artists who do it not for love (although that might play a part) but in order to put food on the table. If you want to translate the world, you need to use your appetites. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. There’s no creation without talent, I give you that, but talent is cheap. Talent goes begging. Hunger is the piston of art.”

When King is on, he’s on. When he’s off, welcome to Under the Dome. A friend and I were talking about King’s massive body of hit-and-miss novels, and we postulated that when he’s writing about something that has personal interest for him–his relationship with his wife and family, for instance (Bag of Bones, Lisey’s Story) or people getting hurt in accidents (like in Duma)–he’s spot on.  When he’s not that interested, well, can I just offer my opinion that Doctor Sleep sucked hose water?

In Duma Key, King explored something that definitely fascinates him: creativity. Hence, the book has that great mix his regular readers have come to expect of human nature captured so well in tiny sound bites, amidst tight storytelling about strange phenomena.

So, for all the aspiring writers, painters, chefs, and dancers among us, here’s one more quote from a guy who knows: “Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won’t carry a quitter. ”

Stay hungry, and enjoy.

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The Bookshelf Con

(Jack and Wendy have headed off to the first book-signing today, leaving Andrew Whalen, shopsitter, extraordinaire in charge. Here’s Andrew’s guest blog for this weekend.)

I have a big secret:

I’m keeping a little list on the side, like a mob bookie running numbers outside of The Family. The list contains books I’ve found on the shelves here at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and desire… AND I WILL HAVE THEM.

I wrote earlier about the perils of alphabetizing, and I’ve continued to  tackle a shelf a day. It makes me look dutiful and pragmatic. Section by section I can be sure that the shop is in an order I can navigate. It even helps me get to know the stock more, so I can help customers.

WINK.

THE-STING-NOSE-RUB.

You see, I was actually running a long con. Alphabetizing is just the excuse for eye-balling books that I super want to filch. Books that I want to transform from books into possessions.

The thing is, I could probably just hide them. But that would be unsportsmanlike. And the classic gentleman con-man values honor above all else. He also dresses really dapper. Still working on that one. Okay, no I’m not, that’s a lie… or a CON. So I’ve left them in place, visible and perfectly alphabetized. It is up to the whims of the bookstore to determine whether they get sold or not.

At first I figured that my tastes ran weird enough that I was safe. I would not hoard gold, like a dragon, but leave it out for all to see, and still I would win the day and walk away with my reward. But then, justhours after placing one of my beloveds, in comes a customer. He pulled MY book off the shelf. If he had seen me stroking the cover and purring, “YES MY SWEET YES YOU WILL BE MINE,” less than an hour earlier, well, he may have been too grossed out to touch it. But no, he flopped it onto the table and handed over his filthy lucre. “Going to use this for toilet paper… for my incontinent iguana,” he said, in my mind, where I imagined him being an awful person.

So the game’s afoot. The books are out on the shelves. I’m not going to tell you what any of them are, but there are several in the Sci-Fi section, one in General Fiction, and one in History. OR THIS IS A DOUBLE BLUFF.

And now, with this blog post, I’m definitely spilling the beans. The jig is up. Unless this blog post is all part of my elaborate ruse…

THE-STING-NOSE-RUB… AGAIN.

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Pluck It….

Okay, so I’m just a quiet little person with a happy small life who runs a sweet wee bookstore in the middle of nowhere. I like it that way. New York doesn’t know me, and DC sure doesn’t ask my opinion about anything–or, for that matter, care to hear it offered unsolicited.

I just run a bookstore. That’s enough politics–large and small “p”–for me. So let me say this one thing, and then I’ll go back to being that cheerful pudgy woman who sells books and keeps her mouth shut about the crap flying around in the real world.

“IT’S A SODDING SANDWICH AND THEY’RE BLOODY PUPPETS! NOW WOULD YOU PLEASE GET OVER YOUR TOO-EARNEST-BY-HALF SELVES!”

I understand economic sanctions. I still assign my college students the film “Food, Inc.” and ask on the final exam why bovine hormone milk got pulled off Walmart’s shelves  (Answer: D because shoppers voted with their wallets by not buying it).

But I have cousins who think I’m halfway down the slippery laundry chute to Hell because I still shop at Lowe’s (when my local hardware doesn’t have what I need) and EVERYBODY knows that Lowe’s supports “the homosexual agenda.”

I’m sorry, but I have many gay and lesbian friends, most of whom couldn’t organize their way out of a paper bag.

Yet now those friends are threatening to cut me off if I continue displaying in my shop the cow calendar from Chick-Fil-A. (They put out a very funny one with parodies of literary classics, like “Old Mooler,” and “Jack the Flipper.”)

Get over it, lads and ladies; I think those cows are cute – sometimes cuter than you. The calendar stays. I’m not taking advice on what not to eat from a pig wearing way too much mascara and bling for daytime television, nor accepting religious guilt from a cow.

Put bluntly, Chick-Fil-A and the Muppets are each corporations having a field day with the marketing boom from this gleeful exchange of crossfire. Keep playing these stupid games, you two, and I will learn to live without either of you. It’s not like you have feelings. It’s not like you’re people.

It’s more like you’re laughing all the way to the bank at how easy it is to wind up those little toys called consumers…..

Now please leave me alone to finish this chicken strips basket, so I can go back to working my bookstore. Thank you.

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