BEFORE THE BLOG

Before I organized myself into an actual blog, I was commenting on Facebook about the books I had read. My intent is to add these FB postings to this blog, if I can overcome my limited technological savvy. So, some older titles with my previous comments. Here is the first one: THE LONG WAY HOME by Louise Penny

I was very happy to receive the latest Louise Penny mystery, THE LONG WAY HOME and spent the next few hours back with the good people of the rural Canadian village of Three Pines. This time, Chief Inspector Gamache is tugged out of retirement to lend his expertise to the search for one of Three Pines’ own, who is missing. Reading this is like stopping in on a family event…familiar and predictable. You are happy to be with old friends, finding the same old stories and character quirks. This chapter in the Three Pines series lacked the nuances that distinguish some of the earlier books in the series; still a good read, but lacking that ambivalent edge. If you have not read Penny’s books, start with STILL LIFE (still the best, I think) and you will probably be hooked- and you will have nine more Gamache adventures for your to-read list. (Any of the books can be a stand-alone and the focus on the vision of artists and the business of the art world adds intrigue to each story.)

MY MISTAKE

Daniel Menaker spoke at the Westport Library recently. He read from his memoir My Mistake. Unlike some other author readings, every excerpt he shared was both interesting and entertaining. Menaker is charming.

His book takes the reader chronologically through his life in short episodes (just over 200 pages total) starting with his birth and continuing to the almost present. The heart of the book is the unexpected death of his older brother when they were young adults. Menaker places  heavy guilt on himself for a momentary act that no one else would ever blame. His gradual, but never complete, self-forgiveness threads through the rest of his book, a fragile strand in each significant event.

I’m certain that my reading enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that Menaker and I share a birth year. High school and college stories, as well as locations (NY, PA, MD), also trod common ground. That said, my keen interest in his years at the New Yorker and at Random House arose out of my years at the Library selecting books to buy and booking authors to appear. My fascination with books, writing, and grammar was satisfied by stories of his editing disputes and compromises, as well as his interaction with authors and agents and his accommodation of publishing industry demands. (Lots of insider stories for fans of the publishing business.)

There is much snarky humor in these stories; it’s a style of coping that has dominated our culture in my lifetime and one that has lost a lot of its appeal for me.  In spite of that, I relished Menaker’s intellectual sharpness and his precise writing about his personal life and literary career.  And he seems like a really good guy!

 

BAD PAPER

I’m back with comments about the latest book I have read. It’s a non-fiction account of an obscure (to me) aspect of the financial world around us. In BAD PAPER: CHASING DEBT FROM WALL STREET TO THE UNDERWORLD, Jake Halpern writes a narrative that instructs and entertains. He returns to his hometown of Buffalo, which is the infamous hub of the debt collection industry. In the book, which reads like fiction, you meet the colorful characters and criminals who inhabit the world of buying and selling “paper” which usually consists of  Excel spreadsheets with debtors’ names and social security numbers. The paper is purchased for pennies or less on the dollar and then used to try to collect the debts.

Halpern takes the reader into the collectors’ cubicles to observe the techniques used. Some of this paper is resold multiple times; some is stolen. Collection agencies come and go, change names, get new investors, garner huge profits, go broke. Everything happens without formal contracts, so there is ample opportunity for double -dealing of various kinds. Halpern tells enough about the collectors he interviews to give a sense of the life on the street and in the jails that often leads to this career. He also investigates the lives of some of the debtors and the causes and effects of their debts and subsequent “nagging” by the collectors.

One tip from the book: In case you are ever taken to court by a debt collector, ask for written proof of the original charges. Usually no such proof exists and the case is dropped.