Books a Bazillion

In which Jack returns to writing his weekly blog post, and sighs patiently over a subject known only too well to bookslingers everywhere.

garbage-landfill Yesterday one of our cafe regulars asked if we bought books. I explained that we didn’t, but gave store credit if the trade-ins met our needs and standards.

“Oh, I can just donate them,” he said, and headed for his van.

That seemed like a clue that these weren’t going to be top of the line, but I went out to watch him struggle up the front steps with an enormous TV box–the kind I advise folk not to use, as they weigh a ton when full of books.

A better man would have helped, but I admit to you my moral failing: I knew what was coming and just didn’t care.

A quick glance established that most of his donations were older Grishams and Pattersons; to add insult to injury, they were minus their dust jackets. After explaining as gently as I could that  these were pretty much useless to us, I raked through to find eight acceptable hardbacks as well as more (useless) battered paperbacks. At this point he shrugged and said he’d got them from a friend.

(So – a friendship wall?)

This was the third time in as many days we’d had much the same experience, having to explain that we don’t take hardbacks minus their jackets, torn or stained paperbacks, romances including Danielle Steel or kids’ coloring books already colored in. It’s the law of used book shops: people don’t want to dump, so they donate. And they mean well for the most part, but a couple months of that, and customers will have a hard time differentiating your shop from a dump site.

Surveying our store the other week, with its spiraling pinwheels of shelves moving toward the center of every room, eking out the final frontiers of space, I resolved to become even more choosy about what to accept. And perhaps instigate a cull.

After all, folk are generally pretty sanguine when I explain our policy. What I hope is that people will begin to weed out themselves before bringing stuff to us, but in the meantime, I’ll stifle a sigh. And maybe help with the box next time.

Perhaps I can build a garden wall somewhere with all those jacketless Grishams and Pattersons? Wendy would like that….

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The Monday TV Show?

snobsRegular readers know my passions (besides Jack and books) include rescuing cats and crocheting, often combining these in projects such as the SPAY AND NEUTER AFGHAN. (Thanks for the generous support so many of you have shown!)

The calming repetitive muscle movement of crocheting begs for intellectual accompaniment. Alas, I’ve gone through the entire Lonesome Pine Regional Library System’s collection of recorded books, and the fastest way to fall asleep while crocheting is listen to music, so….. hello, Netflix.

Jack and I don’t own a TV, but if he’s busy with a fix-it project around the bookstore – and since our house was built in 1903, he often is – I wind up sitting in front of the computer screen, whipping out kitty butt coasters while binge watching some quality network programming.

Given that readers won’t always admit they even watch TV (bibliophile elitism is not a big social problem, though) it startled me when I put out a call on Facebook for some potential watching, and got 50+ responses.

Here are the winners of the “bibliophilic snobs recommend” thread, with a few snarky comments from me:

BEEN THERE, SEEN THAT

Cadfael, House of Cards (US and UK), Downton Abbey, Bletchley Circle, Call the Midwife, Vicar of Dibley, The IT Crowd – LOVED ‘em all

Sherlock  – hated it, watched just to see how they did the Doyle do-overs. Best part was Season 3 playing with itself over Reichenbach Falls. Dear Networks: Please note that decorative men are no substitute for substance.

Jericho and Revolution – post-apocalyptic shows, both cancelled mid-storyline. The well-written Jericho was saved by a fan campaign, while Revolution -heh, who knew 15-year-old boys were writing Hollywood scripts? To paraphrase Mark Twain, of 357 possible plot failings, Rev committed 350.

Orange is the new Black – by all accounts, Season 2 is better than 1. To which my usually gentle husband Jack responded, “That wouldn’t take much.” Oh well….

Wallander – Jack and I tried the Swedish version and gave up halfway through Episode 1. We hear the English version might be better.

Law and Order (original) – not so much watched as memorized. I’m a huge LnO fan.

Northern Exposure – Remember liking it live, may have to try it again as a binge watch

Borgias and Tudors – Historical characters that interesting did not need added sex and violence.

TED talks – I like TED talks, but find the bundles available on Netflix tend to lead with celebrities, segue into duds, then finish with really thought-provoking ideas. So I’ve started skipping to the last three of any bundle. :]

MAYBE, HECK YEAH, and HELL NO

Dexter – Lemme get this straight: you want the Quaker bookstore owners to watch a show about an assassin who only takes out people as need killing, and is really a nice guy despite a couple of problems? Yeah. Everybody has some of The Light inside them…. Pass, thanks.

Hell on Wheels – We might try this. We’d never heard of it and lotsa people recommended it.

Sons of Anarchy – Poor misunderstood lost boy motorcyclists? Sounds a bit like Peter Pan for grown-ups, but okay, we might try it.

Walking Dead – Just say no to Zombies–at least until someone makes them sparkle. Which will happen, mark my words.

Treme – Sounded interesting; gonna try it.

The White Queen – I liked Gregory’s book, and it’s clear that Elizabeth Woodville is her favorite historical character, so I’d like to see it, but Netflix doesn’t care.

LOST and Twin Peaks – Confusing worlds where nothing is as it seems? This is diversion? Sounds like an NPR broadcast.

Sex and the City – Insert penis joke here. NEXT!

The Killing – A cult that worships a lit professor? Sign me up!

Hemlock Grove – Look, anything Netflix is pushing that hard just has to be garbage. Plus, I don’t like it when bad guys leap out of people’s stomachs. Gore makes my stitch tension too tight.

Game of Thrones – Ooooh, you say there’s a fantastic new  fantasy world out there where women get the shit beat out of them and raped and can’t hold onto power? WOW! Gotta check that out;  sounds like real escapism to me…..

Justified – A show that treats Appalachians like real people? PLEASE Netflix, get this for streaming!

Okay, we’ll go back to books next week and pretend this little interlude never happened. But now we know; readers watch, too. And it’s not all bad.

spay and neuter afghan

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Fifteen Adults Laughing very hard Together

We’d been plotting the Cards Against Humanity game for a long time. Susan and David Hamrick, some of our favorite people on Earth, had recently lost Hazel, the beloved eldercat who sparked public outrage in Southwest Virginia when her owner surrendered her to the shelter at the age of 20; Hazel’s plight birthed a webpage for eldercat advocacy.

David and Susan also adopted Mal, the high-expense, high-care kitten with the cleft palate who crossed the bookstore lawn about a month before. So planning the CaH game was a chance for Hazel’s ashes to return to her hometown, Mal to see his adoring public now his feeding tube was out, and us to see David and Susan.

The participant list grew. Local doctors looking for a fun weekend (I work with regional medical recruitment); our sainted vet Beth, who diagnosed both Mal and Hazel free of charge; her husband TNB (we call Brandon That Nice Boy Beth Married, TNB for short); and a plethora of others, most of whom have adopted a cat from us. Being adult professionals, we had salad and vegetarian curry, black bean chili, and – in honor of Beth’s recent birthday – Peanut Butter Chocolate Reese Butterfingers Eight-Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Health care professionals know how to party.

And then the CaH came out, with the expander pack. Beth put bottles of her homemade Merlot on the table, and David set out his carefully hoarded Ben Nevis single malt.

But the fun started before the drinking, because the first card out of the gate was something like “How do you get laid?”

After Brandon won with a card that suggested certain specific activities in very precise anatomical locations, I turned to him and said, “I’m never calling you ‘That Nice Boy’ again.”

It all kinda took off from there.

There is something wonderfully healing about 15 adults sitting around a table acting like adolescents who have a deep background in politics. People literally snorted whisky out their noses, we laughed so hard.

And about every 15 minutes, someone shouted “Kid!” and the room went silent as the four young boys hanging out downstairs in the children’s room, playing with kittens under the supervision of a teen, came up and helped themselves to soda.

(Susan and I sent David and Jack to the store for children’s drinks before the party. They returned with a bottle of Mountain Dew. We sent them back for ginger ale.)

In the silence of an early “not in front of the children” moment, David said, “Did everyone enjoy the lovely weather today?” and we all died laughing again.

And again a minute later, when the winning response to “What are Jack and Leroy doing in the basement?” (there are blank cards for making up your own question) turned out to be “Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II.”

Jack’s praying for Scottish Independence, come September. He and Leroy were downstairs sorting a quick plumbing problem before joining the game.

Yeah, it’s raucous and raunchy and irreverent, but CaH is such good steam-valve-release fun. We play by the “everybody gets one veto” rule. Donald refused to play a Holocaust card; I put back “The Blood of Christ”; Kelley doesn’t allow the one about a pool of children’s tears. Everybody has limits.

But few and far between, for the most part, and sitting there watching 15 adults return to high school in their brains while eating vegetables and drinking responsibly, laughing themselves silly in good company, I couldn’t help thinking, “This is why Jack and I started a bookstore.”

Sitting around that table: two cancer patients, the mother of another, a cancer survivor, three medical professionals who make life-and-death decisions every day, a government employee, two professors, a couple trying to get pregnant, four people who lost parents this year, and two newly-fledged adults launching into the world. This world.

To have these moments, this place, where you can stop being the Responsible Adult, cut loose, and enjoy life is a rare and wonderful thing. We’re so lucky to be able to do this.

 

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The American Way (again) -

coffee failWhen I first started coming over to the US, as an itinerant folksinger, I was weaned off tea and onto coffee as the standard/regular ‘cuppa’, but was happy to leave the brewing of this brew to friends and hosts. Later, and especially after moving over permanently, I found myself being required to make it myself from time to time.

The complexities of a filter machine evaded my sense of logic so completely – and often – that I joke that ‘I had found more ways to fail to make coffee’ than anyone in recorded history.

Too much coffee; not enough coffee; too much water; not enough water; water not going through the coffee; machine not switched on; etc., etc. Once I left the spout off the machine and didn’t notice, which resulted in a fairly spectacular “caffeine hosedown,” as Wendy dubbed it.

As the years went by and we settled into running a bookstore, we developed a routine: Wendy got up in the morning and fed the cats – and there can be quite a lot of them sometimes, given all our fosters – while I set up the coffee the night before, so that all she had to do to achieve caffeination amidst all those felines was push the button.

A couple of days ago, having congratulated myself on long ago mastering the art of making coffee successfully, I really scored a ‘bulls-eye’ for the other team.

I got up before Wendy, hit the switch, and went out for a smoke while the coffee percolated. I came back in to find coffee was flooding the counter top and down over the kitchen floor. When I organized things the night before, I’d done everything except put the jug back in its allotted place under the filter. Ours is not a pot that stops when the carafe is out.

Of course I find that most folk around here have no idea how to make a pot of tea, so I suppose we can call it (in soccer parlance) ‘a score draw’. Now look at that, I scored a World Cup reference, and I haven’t watched a single game.

 

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The Monday Book: WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg

Yeah, it’s a classic. And it’s a classic for a reason.

One of the coolest things about Goldberg’s book is, even outdated, it updates itself in your mind. “Think about the pen and notebook you use.” She doesn’t mean a small laptop. She means paper. Remember paper?

But from choosing your tools carefully, through “don’t cross out”–which means don’t edit your first draft, just get it down, get it down, get it down–she’s giving great advice.

In fact, her advice lines up with Anne Lamott’s and Stephen King’s, so there’s an endorsement for you. And I have always loved the way her advice is chunked up into little two-page pieces: be specific, keep a notebook with lists of names of stuff, and use the real names, not just “fruit”; and she deals with the old procrastination trick of “making a writing room” very well. (I have never successfully had a writing room. Jack and I have made four, and I have used none. But I still get my writing done.)

In fact, my only beef with myself for choosing a “how to write” book for the Monday book is that reading about writing may take the place of you doing it. “Just one more how to, and then I’ll be ready.”

Nah. You’re ready now. That’s one of the things I love about Goldberg’s book. She makes sure you know you’re ready now, with advice that lets you know there’s no special fairy with a wand you need to wait for; just do things like “Use your senses as an animal does.” Or the section called “Claim your Writing,” where you’re allowed to believe in yourself ENOUGH TO CARVE OUT TIME TO DO THIS. I think that’s the thing I hear particularly from moms over and over again: I can’t find time; it’s not worth it while my kids need me. OK, but I never hear a guy say that. No, take that back – Neil Gaiman said something like that once. But he’s a nice guy.

The point is, we make time for what we feel we have to make time for: kids, words, whatever. And Goldberg’s very practical yet poetic advice makes it clear that, if we want to, we can not only find the time, but the ideas, the words, and the logistics to get our writing done.

 

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MORE AUTHOR HUMILIATIONS

Johnathan Rand is a household name if you’ve got kids. His RandAmerican Chillers series, Michigan Chillers series, and Freddie Fernortner-Fearless First Grader series have more than 5 million copies in print. But even highly successful authors aren’t immune to the vagaries of humiliation; read on. (And then check out his website: www.americanchillers.com).

On Saturday, April 28, 2001, I was scheduled for a signing at a Large-But-Now-Deservedly-Defunct-Chain-Bookstore. Upon arrival, I was informed that the manager had been on vacation for ‘some time.’ No one at the store knew about the signing.

The publisher had sent a dozen 18″ by 26″ posters for in-store promotion; they had not been placed. The store also received over 1,000 4″ by 6″ bag stuffers advertising the event. Again, these had gone unused. The press releases provided hadn’t been sent out, no media had been contacted.

The predictable result? Not a single person showed up. Note that the vast majority of my events tend to be capacity-positive, and most stores utilize a numbering system for customers to organize the flow of the line. Case in point: at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Saginaw, Michigan, the very next day, there were over 600 kids waiting for the signing to begin.

Hmmph…..

Could it get any worse? Oh yes. Just ask Joe Cobb Crawford, author of The Poetry Company:

My agent scheduled me to do a signing at a book store that had shuttered their doors two weeks prior to my arrival. No one told me. I showed up to see a sign reading “Out of Business.” This was to be my first ever book signing. Add to the embarrassment, this store was located near my childhood home town and some friends and relatives were to attend. Lucky for me, and with no help from my agent, a kind gentleman and owner of another book store in the town allowed the signing to be held at his book store.

(Joe’s website is http://crawfordpoetrycompany.com/ and he will be putting out a book of humiliation experiences this fall, entitled What the Bookman Saw.)

 

 

 

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A Quiet and Human Place

Kelly Saderholm’s guest blog about her and her daughter’s recent stint as shopsitters in the Little Bookstore -

“Oh, wow, I just LOVE it here!” The customer said as she handed me money for her purchases. “I could LIVE in a bookstore!”

“I am living here,” I said, happily, as I gave her a receipt and explained how I was shop-sitting while Wendy and Jack were away in Scotland.

“That’s really COOL,” she said. And she was right.

My daughter Rachel and I agreed to shop-sit and look after the two dogs and ever-changing number of foster cats; in exchange, we could pick out whatever books we wanted, and have the experience of tending a bookstore. For so many of us hard-core reader types, this is a secret fantasy. In the age of disappearing brick and mortar stores (of any kind but especially bookstores) I had often wondered how that fantasy would stack up against the real thing. In this case, the reality fared pretty well!

I was fortunate not to have bad days, crank customers, or disasters. The worse thing that happened was that Bert, one of the dogs, got upset by the Fourth of July firecrackers and chewed up a basement step.

The best thing? There were so many “best things” it is hard to choose. Of course the books, surrounded by books, ahhhhh. I loved chatting with customers. With a high school class reunion and the holiday weekend, people from all over were visiting family and friends. Most had either read Wendy’s book or heard about the bookstore from friends and family. It was interesting talking to people from different regions, discovering their connection to the area.

Even more interesting were the people living here. Rachel and I fell in love with the place. I realized that our temporary home was not just a used bookstore, but Big Stone Gap’s Bookstore, catering to the needs and wants of the community. In the introduction to one of my favorite books, Laural’s Kitchen, one of the authors, Carol Flinders, talks about “a sense of place.” Jack and Wendy’s shop is very much a nurturing “Place” with capital letters, where people feel a connection to each other, to the town, the region, the culture.

Speaking of cooking and food and place- Kelley’s Second Story Cafe (on the bookstore’s second floor) is another very special place, with delicious food. She kept us well-fed during our stay!

Kelley’s food nurtured our bodies, the books nurtured our minds, but a third, intangible element of the bookstore nurtured our souls. A strong sense of Quiet pervades the bookstore. That feeling was re-enforced as Rachel and I took our leave last Sunday just as the Friends Meeting started upstairs. But the whole week there was a gentle, quiet feeling throughout the place. Several customers remarked on it. All week people came in just to browse and enjoy the quiet. One guy stayed for two hours.

If one is looking for a business to make fast, easy money, a used bookstore is not it. But, if one is a bibliophile interested in a satisfying, rewarding business–not in a profit sense but in a people sense– one could do worse than to run a used bookstore.

The first Foxfire book has a chapter titled, “A Quilt is Something Human.” It makes me happy that with so many chain retail stores selling mass-produced consumer goods, Jack and Wendy’s bookstore is indeed Some Place Human.

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