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Sunday, February 28, 2010

How to Build a Business Warren Buffett Would Buy

I thought that my mother and I could not possibly have any overlapping taste in books.  There are two exceptions that have proven themselves over the past two years.  One was the old family copy of Don't Forget the Star that she sent in 1998 and the other is How to Build a Business Warren Buffet Would Buy that she sent this last Christmas.

The book is the story of RC WIlley, the Utah and now Nevada and Idaho furniture store.  I knew RC Willey as the store where Joanna and I bought some of our furniture in Utah.  There was also an episode where I lived behind the West Valley store in a storage shed with my friend Dave but that's a story for another day.

So RC Willey started a store, and then he died.  This book is actually the story of his son in law who wasn't named Willey and who actually saved the store from the creditors and built up a debt free furniture and appliance industry.  Yes common business sense abounds, treat the customer right, make sure you keep your product line relevant, watch the bottom line.  The main things that made the story remarkable were that after inheriting the store in a pile of debt, Mr. Child kept it debt free and never opened on a Sunday.  Those are two bold moves that should have smothered this retail company as soon as a more nimble and less risk adverse competitor came to town.  However the concept worked and the owner was able to make a bundle selling out to Warren Buffett.  Not that selling out to Buffett is like selling out, he usually lets the business owners continue on as before and if you're in love with your business I would suppose that's the way to go.

The book is steeped in folksy charm.  In my younger years I would have vomited at the sentimental viewpoint but now that I'm a bit older my tolerance for maple sap spilled all over the page has increased a bit.  This book was a good read but it sent me looking for something darker to cleanse my palate.  But thanks Mom, maybe we do have some tastes in common after all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

So round trip from Thomas Paine to now, I finally read something that could be considered current.  Let the great world spin had a publication date in 09 and the edition I had included reader notes with a 2010 copyright date.  That's the shortest time span from a book coming off the presses to me flipping through the pages that I've ever experienced.

This book was listed as Amazon's best fiction book of 2009, on top of that the late Frank McCourt gives a hearty endorsement on the Amazon page.  Feeling flush with overtime money from the Christmas and New Year's holidays I thought I'd try it out.

Parts of this book made me feel like I was reading the best book ever.  The book is broken down into short stories about characters who's lives all intertwine on a certain day in 1970s New York.  You can certianly find out about the event portrayed or other information about the book, spoilers abound on the web because this book has been heavily discussed in literary circles.  I'll leave it up to you to decide if you want a more thorough spoiler laden review before deciding whether to read it but I'll stay at a high level here.

It joins the proud tradition of New York stories, not a new genre, a good one but I've grown tired of novels set in the city.  When stories are told about New York, this includes TV series like Sex in the City and movies like Woody Allen movies, the rest of us are somewhat left out.  Writers get all gushy about their favorite brownstones and doormen and write a lot of dialogue about what a pain in the ass it is to get a cab when you want one.  What Makes setting a story in New York a tired gimmick at this point is that it's the easiest way to smash the world of the haves and the have nots together, mix it around a bit and see what comes out.  This story is not an exception to that formula, the run ins between the classes are what makes the stories move.  Most of them are so well written that it's not a noticeable faux pas but there are a couple chapters where I just couldn't hold up my suspension of disbelief  long enough to not wish that those painful passages would end.

The issue here is that Collum McCann writes each of the chapters in a different style.  Some are written in a first person biographical style, some in a classic third person omniscient style.  He's able to nail 10 out of the 12 chapters and I kept thinking through all of them that everyone should read this book.   The two that I felt were clunkers used different voices but both were in a stream of consciousness style.  Collum McCann, you are not a Joyce or a Faulkner.  You are however one of the most brilliant narrative writers that I have had the pleasure to read.