Shuggie Bain

This is an incredible book.

I’d been reading S.A. Cosby’s “Blacktop Wasteland,” and it was mildly interesting, although my mind still did wander, I’d get a hankering to look at my phone, I’d go down the internet rabbit hole, I’d force myself to get back to the book and then I’d repeat the process.

“Blacktop Wasteland” ultimately got better, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Both of these books I got from the library, via Libby. My mother would never buy a book, she would always reserve them at the library, so the concept of purchasing a hot book hot off the presses…it never happened in our household. Actually, one of my great disappointments in my life is my mother’s birthday presents. She’d always send me something I was not truly interested in. Even worse, she’d send remainder books, you know those that had failed or gone out of print, that were sold on a table for a buck or two. If the title was in my wheelhouse, she’d send it to me, usually two or three, since they were so cheap, I remember one on ice cream…it was unreadable, that’s why it was on the discount table. But at least I got birthday presents, but I’m getting ahead of myself once more.

So I became inured to library unavailability. I doubted the library had the book I wanted to read, and if it did, I might be able to get it soon, in six months, or late, in a year, when it was already out in paperback. That’s another thing I don’t understand in today’s market, paperback books. All the scuttlebutt during Covid has been the collapse of movie windows, simultaneous showing on streaming services, but in books, windows still exist, you’re supposed to wait a year for a discount version. Don’t they understand you strike when the marketing is hot, when everybody is aware of it, when you can build on the buzz?


And now I’m getting further off point, because to tell you the truth I’m not feeling it right now, I’m trying to work my way into it, to get you to feel how great “Shuggie Bain” is. Most people just say to read something. Reviews tell you what happened. I want you to FEEL something, and if you align with this feeling, then the book is for you.

“Shuggie Bain” is not for everybody.

“Blacktop Wasteland” is a genre book. I didn’t expect that, because there were such serious accolades, which typically genre books…crime, mystery, thrillers, romance…don’t get. Not that I knew it was a genre book before I jumped to “Shuggie Bain.”

You see, “Blacktop Wasteland” I’d reserved a few months back, when I did research and reserved a slew of books via Libby that seemed interesting but I wasn’t champing at the bit to buy. This included “Shuggie Bain,” but “Blacktop Wasteland” became available in the regular queue, and I had it for three weeks, I jumped the line for “Shuggie Bain.”

Like getting a vaccine appointment, Libby requires constant attention if you want to play the game to your advantage, if you want to get what you want early. And checking the Libby app at least once a day now, I saw that “Shuggie Bain” was available for seven days, which made me wince. Why? Because I was so backed up, I had so many books in my mental queue, but I knew these opportunities were rare, so I clicked and downloaded “Shuggie Bain.” And since I only had it for seven days, I started it.

I can’t say I was immediately hooked.

You se it starts at the end. And it’s dark. But then…soon, thereafter you go back in time and it’s light. You go from the rooming house to the apartment, where the ladies are playing cards. And that’s when I really got addicted.

“Shuggie Bain” is set in Scotland. Not only will you not know the definitions of some words, there’s a ton of slang that you cannot look up in the dictionary, but you can ultimately understand the meaning.

“Shuggie Bain” is the story of the downwardly mobile. The lower class descending into poverty. Wait, wait, WAIT! This is not some nonfiction tome that you must read to better yourself, to become aware of how the other half lives, then again, if you’ve got a problem with poverty and the ills it engenders, “Shuggie Bain” is not for you.

So what you’ve got is a beautiful mother who wants more. You can trade on your looks, you’d be surprised, if you know anybody that good-looking I’m sure you’re aware of this. The only thing is looks will get you in the door, but to go to the head of the class, you need more. But in a world where no one makes it to the head of the class, looks are a trump card. But Shuggie’s mother Agnes has got a flaw, she’s an alcoholic.

I hate giving anything away, it takes a few pages to figure this out, but if I didn’t say this you’d have no idea what the book is about.

I don’t really want to say more.

But I will say, we live a fast-paced life of notoriety. That’s everybody’s goal in the twenty first century, to be noticed. Either you’re proactive or reactive. You’re an influencer on YouTube or a hater on Twitter, or maybe both. No one resides in the peanut gallery anymore, everybody is active, at least those under the age of forty five. You believe you can make it, and if you can’t, then nobody else should.

The Bains are going nowhere. They’re surviving. Oh, they’ve got their laughs, they’ve got each other, but their dreams are positively pedestrian, and minimal. Shuggie hasn’t seen much of Glasgow, never mind the rest of the world.

So despite the foreign words, you find yourself getting hooked. It’s not just me, but Felice too. It’s the story. Too often today’s vaunted literature focuses on language and not story, that is not the case with “Shuggie Bain.” You’re constantly drawn back to it, you want to know what happens, not only in the plot moving forward, but how the characters feel about it, what changes they go through, how they cope.

And if you’re willing to open your insides, which fiction does best, you’ll find yourself somewhere along the line. Were you bullied in school? Did you think appearances were everything? Were you an isolated daydreamer or part of a gang or… Life is universal in so many ways, we’re all human beings, and even though we rarely reveal our flaws, we know them, as well as our life-changing bad experiences. Sure, there are memoirists who detail all of this, but they’ve got a different agenda, they believe if they lay it all on the line they’ll be saved, most people believe if they reveal their warts they’ll go to the back of the line, and this is anathema when you’ve spent so much time trying to get to the front. We live inside our brains. And in “Shuggie Bain” we get inside others’ brains. Which ultimately makes us feel more connected. You can read “Shuggie Bain” alone and ultimately feel a bigger part of society, more enmeshed in its fabric than if you had a house party that lasted all night. Yes, most of us walk through life feeling unseen.

So, one of the reasons I did not buy “Shuggie Bain” was because it won the Booker Prize. I’m fearful of award-winning books. I’m fearful of all awards. Because there’s almost always an agenda. Historically the Booker Prize winner is not the best book, or the most readable book, but something different that insiders can anoint to feel good about themselves, oftentimes the winner is inherently unreadable. In music and movies we usually go the other way, the bland is anointed and the edgy is ignored. And it’s the edgy that live on.

But in this case the award is well-deserved.

So, should you read “Shuggie Bain”?

Well, chances are you don’t read any books at all, and if you’re a guy, you read nonfiction, as if the lessons of successful people, if studied hard enough, will translate to you. They won’t. Actually, you’ll learn more from fiction, it’s truer to life.

But if you read fiction…

If your idea of a book is something easy, that can be consumed in a day or two, “Shuggie Bain” is not for you. “Shuggie Bain” takes some time, which is one of its best features, it doesn’t wear out, it doesn’t end, the story goes on, and on, just like life.

If you’re a fan of genre fiction, and a great percentage of what sells is such, if you think reading is Stephen King or John Grisham…”Shuggie Bain” is not in your wheelhouse.

If you resist fiction because it’s too highfalutin’, made for an audience that you are not a member of, that’s oftentimes the case, but not with “Shuggie Bain.”

“Shuggie Bain” is an adventure, the best one I’ve gone on this year, at least when it comes to books, I’ve seen a few streaming shows that are in this neighborhood of quality, and they’re not the ones everybody talks about. People are sheep.

Not that “Shuggie Bain” is outside and exotic. If you click the link above, you’ll see that “Shuggie Bain” has a four and a half star rating and 3,085 reviews on Amazon, both of which are significant, this is a popular book, not one of those trendsetting albums you keep reading about and then listen to and don’t get.

And “Shuggie Bain” is not a movie. It’s less about action than internals. Not that there’s not action, and who knows, in today’s streaming world they greenlight so much that you’ll probably end up seeing a visual reproduction, but it will never come close, because you can’t shoot pictures of what’s inside people, their thoughts and emotions.

But the book will have you creating a whole landscape in your mind. I could positively see it when I was reading it. Clearly. Even though your mind may depict it differently, that’s the essence of reading.

And after finishing “Shuggie Bain” Friday night, I picked up “Blacktop Wasteland” again yesterday. I hit the action, I finished it, but it was wholly unsatisfying. So there were innovative plot twists, the crimes didn’t play out the way I thought they would…but I’m not a criminal and I’m not a plotting mastermind, but I am human and that’s why “Shuggie Bain” resonated so much.

This would have been much better earlier in the week. But I didn’t want to write until I finished “Shuggie,” for fear the book might get worse, which happens a lot, but does not in this case. I’d keep reading and get to a plot point and then smile or wince believing this is exactly how life works.

Not that your life will resemble that of the Bains.

So at this point I’ve either intrigued you or I haven’t. If you buy a book to read over months, don’t get it. But if you buy a book to get hooked and go on a ride, go for it. It’s not easy at the very beginning, but you’ll find yourself getting obsessed soon, the people, the story, “Shuggie Bain” is irresistible.

Right now, the Kindle version of “Shuggie Bain” is $8.67. That’s a bargain. The hardcover is $27.00 and the paperback is $14.53. This is how e-books should be priced, but too often are not.

And if you’ve never read an e-book…I implore you to buy a Kindle right now: It’s an investment of only $89.99. And with Libby, you can even get books for free!

DON’T listen to the haters. FORGET their excuses, they tried it, they don’t like it, they get headaches, etc… It’s just complete B.S., the truth is they’re addicted to print books, IGNORE THEM!

And if you’ve got an iPad and like to read that way, give it a go, use the app, you don’t even need to buy a Kindle. HOWEVER, the reason you want a Kindle is because of the technology, which is different, I’d explain it but the screen is not like your computer, phone or tablet, e-ink is made to be like paper, the lighting will not tire your eyes.

Now I feel like I did writing about digital file music twenty years ago. Do you see how that played out? Today CDs are worth NOTHING! I get e-mail from people asking me what to do with their collections, no one wants them, they’re worthless. E-books have been here for over a decade. The publishers and the government forced prices to become inflated, hobbling adoption, but reading on electronic devices is not only the future, it’s here now.

Start with “Shuggie Bain.”

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