Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

The Monday Book: PATRON SAINT OF UGLY by Maria Manilla

ugly coverThe author of this book is a facebook friend of mine, and I got it directly from her by request, because I like books set in Appalachia and wanted to review it. It’s a  magical realism romp, set in Sweetwater, West Virginia. Normally I’m not much for magical realism, but the cast of character in Ugly just won’t quit, from the indomitable Nonna to her fierce-yet-naive granddaughter Garnet Ferrari.

Garnet has a mop of flaming red hair, and the port-wine stains all over her body replicate a map of the world. Pilgrims flock to her home, convinced that she is pretty much the reincarnation of Saint Garnet, healer of skin ailments and other miracles. (Along with truth and lies, theology gets a little tangled with practicalities in this funny, fast book.) Garnet, used to being an outcast and the victim of bullies, doesn’t have much use for people, but all those poor unfortunates give her pause. She’d really like to just convince them this is all hooey, and they should go home, but at the same time she doesn’t want to hurt them.

It doesn’t help that the family has origins in the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily, where another saint named Garnet once presided, so the Vatican sends an emissary to investigate. Garnet’s written responses on the questionnaire to the investigating priest are some of the funniest bits in the book. Slowly she untangles a sad history of family rights and wrongs, learning that reality and myth blend in every family, and that love doesn’t always conquer all, even if it helps.

I like snarky writing, so enjoyed Garnet and Nonna’s interactions particularly well. Nonna, so patient, so reasonable, so astute behind that little-old-lady innocence, is the perfect foil for Garnet’s “please go away” attitude.

If you like magical realism, if you think Michael Malone’s Handling Sin is funny, if you love to read snappy dialogue from quirky characters, if you like bittersweet humor, you’ll enjoy this book.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Grandma was Right?!

seriouslyWhen I was a little girl we lived next door to my father’s parents. They were strict people: no short sleeves, no jewelry (including wedding rings) no music except hymns on Sundays.

But they were also great fun, being crazier than anyone else I knew. In my house, books lined the hallway, flowed across bedroom floors, covered every flat surface. In theirs lived just three: a Bible (KJV and don’t you forget it); a strange novel from the 1920s called something like Mary of the Hazel Woods, about a mountain girl’s search for book larnin’ so she could get herself a Bible – which she did months later after taking in sewing and then walking barefoot through the woods for eight miles to buy one second-hand, repairing the cover with her sewing needle; and, for some unknown reason, a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

I don’t think they’d read the sonnets. I read every book in their house at least three times in the years they babysat me after school, and by age eleven understood that a bunch of those poems were about sex. I didn’t let on, though; I’d had enough of that self-righteous prig Mary o’ Hazel Woods.

Everyone in my family but them liked books. And although everyone in my family liked God and talked about Him a lot, Grandma and Grandpa said things the rest of us didn’t. Like He didn’t like it when people with straight hair used curlers.

So  I grew up viewing my grandparents with equal parts love and suspicion, learning not to rely too much on Grandma’s little homilies, delivered as we were cooking or sewing together. Among other things, Grandma believed women should not go to college, that when Catholics died they shot down a specially reserved chute straight into Hell, and that the people across the street were spies for the CIA.

“Why would that matter, Grandma?” I asked, still kinda stuck on the “girls shouldn’t go to college” part.

“Because they’re spying on me.”

“The CIA wants to spy on you?”

“‘Course they do. They wanna know ever’thin’ ’bout ‘ever’body in America.”

“Uhh, okay, Grandma. How do I turn this seam?”

As the years flew by, it grew simpler to filter out the silly stuff–like not having sex except to have children (which explained why some of the extended family had so many, but I kept my mouth shut)–and hang onto the stuff that seemed wise–like darning socks over a light bulb, and putting the milk into the biscuit batter last.

Trouble is, I missed a good one. All these years later, with Grandma long gone and her granddaughter crocheting her own socks after getting a PhD and then opening a bookstore, I have to admit Grandma was right about the spying. The CIA does watch everybody – or maybe it’s that NSA, or whoever’s in charge of the Internet now. Everywhere you turn it’s Edward Snowden, data mining, privacy rights, and on and on and on.

Who knew?
Grandma!

Sorry, Gran, you were right the whole time. About that. I’m still not buying that women should stay home with three books and not go to college. Love you, though, and thanks for the recipes!

 

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Beulah Plots Revenge

beulahGood morning. My name is Beulah, and I am the shop greeter at Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used and New Books (The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap).

No doubt news of my recent lawsuit has reached you by now, so allow me to provide the untold half of this story. People tend to side with their own species so quickly….

Yes, I am suing my employers for compensatory damages after emotional distress, and punitive damages. Owen Meany has assisted me in filing the needed legal briefs with Mr. Kallen, the lawyer across the alley.

Here are the facts of the case: On Thursday last I was taken against my will to a local animal hospital. In a carrier into which I was stuffed headfirst. Like a sack of potatoes. Despite my best efforts, which I assure you were considerable.

At said hospital I was drugged, and this was done to me.

beulah shaved IIGo ahead, laugh. I’ll add you to the lawsuit.

As I came groggily to myself, an unspeakable procedure called a “fecal exam” was performed. I added the animal “doctor” to my lawsuit. Don’t let that sweet little smile fool you; this woman is a sadist.beth More about her later.

One would think enough suffering had been inflicted, but on my return “home” I was locked in a room for three days, while vile concoctions were mixed into my food, something called “panacur.” First it was in milk. When I rejected this, they brought tinned food, again with the horrid stuff. I don’t know which was worse: having this thrust at me, or their belief that I was unintelligent enough to fall for such simple bribery.

But then they brought chicken. Lightly poached in its own juices. In tiny shreds. My willpower weakened from two days of confinement…..

I ate the chicken until I detected a foreign substance in my mouth. Ejecting the small pink pill (which they’d so “cleverly” smeared with chicken fat) via a ladylike “ptui,” I continued my meal.

The next day, a plate of tuna awaited me. As I loathe tuna, I followed protocol and covered it with cat litter. (Did I mention they’d provided me with a nasty little portapotty?) The unhygienic humans removed the pill–now looking very unappetizing indeed–and came toward me.

The phrase “fought like a wildcat” is incorrect. I fought like a calico. When three of them finally got the thing in and held me down, I waited. And waited.

I am very good at waiting. When they released me with murmurs of “good kitty, sweet kitty” I looked up at the ringleader and spat out the pill.

Their curses were as music to my ears.

By then I had been in confinement for three days, enduring the vile panacur mixed with chicken shreds. The humans, apparently satisfied with this torture, released me.

And then…. SHE came back!!!!!beth hood

As I sat at my old familiar post, greeting customers, Miss Priss trotted across the lawn, and before I knew what was happening, she had grabbed me and forced a whole new pill down my throat. I resisted, I fought, and then I waited. And waited.

But so did she. My mouth filled with saliva. I thought I would drown. And still she waited, smiling. Oh, that smile……

Finally instinct took over, and–curse all the dogs of this world and the moon–I swallowed.

The Evil One released me at once. And. Patted. Me. On. The. Head.

“Was that so hard?” she said, and as the door closed, I heard her say, “No, no problem at all. She’s a little lamb.”

I moved her name up in the lawsuit to primary defendant. You’ll get yours, Missy. Just you wait.

Owen tells me it may be next summer before my case comes to court. That’s fine. Revenge is a dish best served cold. I am very good at waiting….

 

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, VA, writing

Let the Music Flow

We always enjoy emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, but this year the job had two big bonuses.

First, a combination of thoughtful performer choices, near-perfect weather, and on-the-day professionalism has made this year musically superior to others. Sigean, Maidens IV, Night Crossing, and the debut of the charismatic and very silly Kryss Dula and Taylor Morefield, along with whistle player Martha Egan, the Irish Skye Dancers and Sandra Parker on Celtic harp, has given the year a more acoustic and genteel flavor.

I wouldn’t say gentle, because there’s been plenty of hard-driving fiddle and a high energy bodhran or two, but the overall ethos has been people drawn together by the quality of the music rather than showmanship. This year has also lacked who’s-on-first band crap. That’s been very pleasant.

During his set Kryss spoke to the festival’s theme, Scottish Independence (election Sept. 18) and talked about the “civility of political discourse” he’d been watching when reporters asked people on the street whether they’d be voting for or against–and why. “We should have that kind of unscripted, friendly dialogue in America,” he says. “We’re all one people. We should talk to each other.”

It was that kind of call for community all day at the festival, and it was really answered. Audiences sang in harmony, clapped to rhythms, and helped get the tent sides back up quickly when a peal of thunder threatened our little corner of paradise with rain in the sound equipment.

A day of dwelling in harmony, indeed.

And then, last night at the concert, as the sun went down and we watched a thunderstorm pass us by the west, a bright yellow full moon began to rise above those storm clouds. Full moons have traditionally been thought to excite, but people listening to Night Crossing’s lovely vocals and smooth blend of whistle, fiddle, bodhran and guitar were wandering out of the tent with little smiles on their faces, some clutching a partner’s hand, to watch as peeking became rising became shining. Mare’s tail clouds wisped over its bright-pale surface as Denise, their lead vocalist, sang a haunting Irish lament.

In short, it was pretty near perfect.

moonriseSouls that need soothing enjoy music. Souls that are celebrating enjoy music. And a warm night with just enough breeze to make it comfortable, listening to performers who are contributing together to a successful community event–well, throw a beautiful moonrise on top of that, and we all went home happy.

If you missed yesterday but live near Elizabethton, Tennessee, you can still make today’s musical moments. The festival runs 10:30-5. And if you can’t make it here, don’t forget that Big Stone Celtic is Friday night Sept. 26 and all day Saturday Sept. 27.

And as I look forward to these days, I will treasure yesterday, Sept. 6, like a shining moon on a calming sea.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch

Never Underestimate the Healing Powers of a Primal Raspberry

raspberry catOK team, it’s like this: the former Governor of Virginia and his wife were between them found guilty of 20 out of 28 possible corruption charges; I quit teaching an enjoyable subject because of in-house shenanigans; two of our foster cats died; and the other little furry beasts gave me poison ivy on my face.

In shorter terms: this week sucked.

Jack and I are off to emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival today, and I’ll be able to write a relaxing blog about that tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s just all take a collective deep breath and emit a nice primal raspberry. Primal raspberries are deeply underrated in adult society. They’re healing. Go on, try it.

PBBHHHHHHHTTTTTT – take that, universe! I’m still a happy person, I still get to spend the weekend enjoying all things Celtic, and we still adopted two fur babies to lovely forever homes.

PHHHBBBBTBTTTTTTBTTTT! And DOUBLE PHBBBBTTTTTTTTT!!!!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized

Triple Play Weekend

Jack’s guest blog on our unusually busy bookstore weekend

harrellIt was a triple play weekend here at the Little Bookstore. Friday night we had an excellent and well attended house-concert with Michael Reno Harrell, whose stories and songs were absolutely first class.You can see a video of him on our bookstore facebook page Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC.

cards-against1Then on Saturday night we had our bi-monthly ‘Cards against Humanity’ game night, also well attended and as hilarious as ever. The play of the night came when, using a blank card, Wendy asked “How did Susan persuade David to take in their latest adopted cat?” Several cards appeared–including the one no one would admit playing, “That Ass,”–but the winning card was “Abstinence.”

Played by David.

I had no idea Susan’s face could turn as red as her hair.

And then Sunday night was an event that I set up: a special movie night featuring ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, preceded by a documentary with Terry Jones and Michael Palin visiting the Scottish castles they used in the film. I aimed it at local folk who had been on my annual Scottish tour (and had, therefore seen at least one of the castles). That was another good night with lots of laughs and a lovely feel of reunion among those who’ve gone to Scotland with me.

This weekend Wendy and I emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Elizabethton (TN). And then at the end of the month, our own Big Stone Celtic festival is upon us here in town!

And, just as I thought I was finished writing this, a couple arrived all the way from Nashville who had read Wendy’s book, used to own a bookstore, and are now planning to do it again. At the same time, the mailman delivered a lovely thank-you card from the 17 members of a Johnson City book club who visited us a couple of weeks ago (and ate lunch in our cafe).

Just in case this sounds too idyllic, our old and rickety building still tests my less than professional carpentry and plumbing skills. I loathe and detest sink drains and stairs, but that’s what I’m doing between bouts of nerves over the upcoming Big Stone Celtic.

So – just another typical week. If it’s Wednesday, it must be time to check on our international superstar coming from Scotland. And then I’ll tighten the u-joint in the bathroom. Hey ho…..

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

That Ten Books Challenge Thing

authorsOh dear, that book list thing is circulating again, and a handful of people have challenged me.

One chapter of Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap contains a list of eleven books that influenced me. Anyone who’s done this challenge knows that narrowing to ten is hard, so rather than repeat those, here are eight books I swithered over when making that Little Bookstore list, plus a few published since then.

How many Hills to Hillsboro (Fred Bauer) – Published by Guideposts in the 1970s, it sat on a stack of books in my father’s office one day, whence I picked it up randomly and read it….

And read it, and read it, and read it again. Hillsboro started my lifelong affair with wanderlust. I still have that original copy. (I guess my dad never realized he owned it, since I stole it at age seven.) The book is about a family of five who bicycle across most of America. They don’t make it to the California coast before the summer is over, but that becomes part of this charming, gentle story about taking a long road trip together, replete with adventures, enlightenment, and fun.

Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap (Wendy Welch)The specifications for this list say books that have stayed with you in some way; this one pretty much changed my life. Since I wrote it, we’ve made friends with and met fascinating people—not superstars, like authors who hang out poolside with the fancy or famous—but very cool, salt-of-the-earth on Facebook types. And gone places and done stuff we wouldn’t have done before.

Jack and I still plan to visit Portugal because of all the lovely people who’ve contacted us from there. People in Poland are sending us letters now. The Korean Minister of Culture sent a congratulatory note after naming Little Bookstore a “Book of the Year” because it “uplifted the human spirit.” And lots of people visit our bookstore and tell us their stories. Which sounds all jet set, but was just a nice thing that happened because we had a story to tell that resonated with people. Yeah, this book stuck with me. :]

Winter in Moscow (Malcolm Muggeridge)Like Grapes of Wrath, this is a book that taught me about injustice, imbalance, politics versus people, and how life just sometimes goes wrong. Yet we can be humane and human in the midst of it.

Women’s Ways of Knowing (Belenkey et al)This is an odd book that came out on the 1980s, detailing research on how women acquire knowledge. It lists six stages, running from just “standing in their shoes and looking out” to becoming experts in a field. It’s psychology not so much made feminist as put into an entirely feminine atmosphere. It’s amazing how much can be measured when the people measuring it are the same as the people they are measuring. Women no longer have to fit men’s square pegs into their round holes—heh, no pun intended. This book defines women’s knowledge the way women feel themselves to possess it. It underpinned a lot of my later work in storytelling, and when Brene Brown’s Ted talk on vulnerability went viral, it felt like an affirmation of how women use emotional means as valid ways of learning what they need to know, among other concepts.

This book got me in trouble in grad school, though. I still remember a professor using the term “unnecessary beauty” to describe some artifacts like water pots, etc. that had been decorated even though the objects were “just functional.” Without thinking and without raising my hand, I just shot out, “That is an entirely male construct. Ask any woman in the world whether beauty is useful, or needful, and she can give you a whole new way of seeing how her life is ruled by it—or lack of it. And what’s more, beauty is defined by men.” It all kinda went downhill from there….

Cricket Magazine, roughly 1972-1977These are probably what set me on the road to ruin as a child, teaching a love of storytelling. This was a literary magazine with high quality illustrations, stories, and articles for kids ages 10 or so. I still have my collection. Trina Schart Hyman, Jane Yolen, Shel Silverstein: all the big guns wrote for this publication. Early exposure… there’s no cure for that. :]

A Candle for St. Jude (Rumor Godden)When I made the list in Little Bookstore, I actually left this one off because it was “higher” than all the others. This is about a down-at-heel yet genteel dance school run by an old woman who was a past master, and the relationship between her, her favorite student, and her most talented ones. It explores the human heart as much as the arts world, but particularly human hearts in the arts. Because fairly often, the music (or dances, or stories, or paintings) presented at a festival is more about the politics of who gets to play, than the beauty of the playing. I love this book.

Prayers from the Ark (trans. Rumor Godden)A collection of very sweet animal poems, translated by Godden from a WWII refugee who wrote them in French in a nunnery while recovering from a breakdown. They’re lovely, and thought-provoking and sweet and sometimes the wee bit scary.

Holy Bible (semi-anonymous)Who was it that said, “If the Bible weren’t the Bible, it would be banned for all that sex and violence and anti-feminine rhetoric?” I’m not clear on everything, I’m not feeling called on to have a position statement on everything, and I don’t care to debate stuff ad infinitum. But I read the Bible at least three times a week (which is as good as “every day” actually looks for some of us). Sometimes I’m moved and motivated, sometimes I’m confused, or challenged. That’s okay. There’s that prayer thing, too. It helps.

Now, here’s the thing: authors meet other authors, and we sometimes get a lot out of each other’s books, but if you mention one book and not someone else’s, it all gets a little sad. So at the risk of offending some new authors who are bound to get left off, here are some nice people from AuthorWorld, and their books that I loved:

Saffron Cross (J. Dana Trent) – A female Southern Baptist minister meets a Hindu Monk on eHarmony, and marries him. And they decide not ‘to each his/her own’, but to participate in each other’s worship, dedicating it as their own. Fasten your theological seat belts; it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

The Murderer’s Daughters (Randy Susan Myers) - a compelling novel about girls growing up in foster care, more or less – but dysfunction was never written with such lyricism.

Heart in the Right Place (Carolyn Jourdan) - Country girl making good in the city returns to the country when her dad needs help keeping his GP MD office open. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue, and some life lessons get learned.

Hooked (Tele Aadsen – she’s not finished yet. Check with Riverhead Press in 2015) Woman fishes for a living off Alaskan shore. Sex, water, salmon, self-discovery.

Second Wind (Cami Ostman) - Outrunning a divorce, she runs a marathon on every continent. And learns some interesting things about herself and other people. And icebergs.

Hiding Ezra (Rita Quillen) - There were lots of deserters in Coalfields Appalachia in the World Wars, mostly because their families really needed them more than their country. This is a compelling story about one such man.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, Scotland, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing