Category Archives: out of things to read

The Monday Book – The Sinner

The Sinner – Stuart MacGregor (J Philip O’Hara 1973)

There are many facets to the city of Edinburgh – cultural, historical, academic and poor suburbs. I lived most of my life within easy distance and rode the thirty minute train journey most weeks in the late 1950s and early 1960s to go to jazz clubs and folk clubs. It usually involved climbing the steps from the station to the high street, stopping at the pub halfway, then on up to Bunjie’s coffee bar and finally to number 369 and the jazz club before racing for the last train home.

MacGregor’s book is set around that time and captures the atmosphere well.

There are really three strands to the story – the main character is Denis Sellars who has an on-off relationship with Kate and is a folksinger. Then there is a debate between traditionalist folkies and entertaining folkies. There are many thinly disguised real people who emerge in this strand. Denis is caught in the middle and his brother is being groomed as an entertaining folksinger.

I could fairly easily recognize many of the ‘real’ people who were referenced and I worried about that, as I don’t think they were as ‘right and wrong’ as MacGregor suggests. My memory is of a much more understanding time and Hamish Henderson (who is one of the thinly disguised ones) always encouraged guitar wielding youngsters like me.

I do believe, however, that he captured a particular atmosphere of cultural Edinburgh at that time really well. That I recognized!

The relationship with Kate was also believable and, I’m sure, would chime with many of my generation.

MacGregor was a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, helped start one of the first folksong clubs in Scotland, and wrote songs and poems. After graduating, he married and moved to take up a job as a doctor in Jamaica. He died in a road crash around the time this book was published.

I was amused that the cover looks like a reference to Bob Dylan’s second album.

His best known song is ‘Coshieville’ a bittersweet love song set in a small hamlet in Perthshire when the hydro-electric dams were being built – here’s a nice performance –

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The Monday Book: THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean

Our Monday book this week comes from Janelle Bailey


Oh, this book spoke to me…and made a number of my synapses tingle in agreement with and understanding of, valuing of ideas Orlean shared here. I feel that our affinity and fondness for libraries and for books is…very similar. And literally, I listened to the audiobook, and since Orlean read it herself, she truly did speak to me as well.
The first thing that struck me is that this particular event that she focuses on throughout the book, a fire in a Los Angeles library in April of 1986 had me wondering whether I was possibly IN Los Angeles when that happened. I will have to do some digging to see if that is, indeed, when I was in LA and at Merv Griffin Studios for my first Wheel of Fortune tryout/testing, etc. Man, I just think that I possibly was. MAYBE that was earlier that spring…say in late March or early April. Regardless, this had me thinking about how without cell phones and notifications and news and social media, well…it may not have been something I would have learned about right then even IF I was right in that city when it happened.
And here is another audiobook which I wish I had read in print, as there were so many lines I wanted to underline and savor and save, such as something she said about like alcoholics crave and need alcohol do librarians love and need their books…or something like that. Actually the entire thing made me feel that maybe I don’t need to write books so much as I should become a librarian. And then I thought naw…I AM a librarian in all of the ways that they thrive; I’m just not being paid to do the work, and I don’t have to report to anyone. But alllllll of the satisfaction conveyed in this book about “being” a librarian, I do enjoy from having my own alphabetized shelves and collection and the willingness to make recommendations to others and share them, etc.
I enjoyed Orlean’s practice of starting each chapter with citations of particular works, including their authors, call numbers, publication dates and authors, etc…sometimes even location in a library. Again, since I listened to the audiobook rather than reading a print version of the book, I am imagining what this looks like on the page, but it truly took me a few chapters to figure out what was happening there, and then a few more after that to understand how each collection was united. I wish I had been able to easily go back to the beginning of the chapter at its end to see how that all played out in each chapter. I thought that the last chapter’s citations were just plain poetic in list. Giggled out loud on my walk.
This is a very enjoyable non-fiction “read,” though the story it tells is a troubling one at its roots, the story of this horrific and extremely detrimental fire on April 29 of 1986 at the Los Angeles Public Library, and also some of the story about Harry Peak, the only “suspect,” really, ever questioned about that fire, it seems. And what a tangled web that all is/became.
If I’m critical of anything it is that there is repetition, that the book is just a tad longer than it needs to be to tell this story and even to tell it well. I suspect I “get” why Orlean may have chosen to do that, but I didn’t think it was necessary or helpful in building a case. It came across as though she may have forgotten she’d already said those things.
And I’m truly not critical of that, even, as I appreciated everything about this book. I loved meeting the librarians and hearing about how they’d gotten there and what they hoped to accomplish, and of Orlean’s own history with libraries, back to childhood and beyond. I enjoyed meeting the patrons and the employees in their various facets of contribution to the workings of libraries and appreciate the efforts of libraries to be community centers, places where people can find sanctuary of some kind in challenging times.
Was I the last one to get to this book? Have you all read it already?! If not…please do.

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