Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

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

♪ Old Friends ♪…. (RIP, Jean Redpath)

jean redpathAs I get older more old friends depart this life and this week was no exception. A special one took the trip a few days ago.

Fellow Fifer (as in Fife, Scotland) Jean Redpath and I crossed paths many times over the years as she blazed a trail for singers of genuine Scots ballads and songs here in the States. Her voice and her ‘Coinyach’ were wonderful. She died this week, in hospice care.

When I first started getting interested in Scots ballads and folksongs, Jean was just a little bit older than me. She was a member of the Edinburgh University Folksong Society, led by the famous and influential Hamish Henderson, so had access to the archives of the School of Scottish Studies and had already begun to make recordings that were an inspiration to me.

I eventually began singing in partnership with Barbara Dickson and I tended to be the researcher of potential material. Jean was always a regular ‘go-to’ and we ‘stole’ quite a lot of her stuff. :]

After she moved to the US, she would regularly return to Scotland to tour the folk clubs and festivals, and I always made a point of going to see her. On one of these  nights she said that one of the things she’d kind of forgotten was how polite Scotsmen were. While staying at her mother’s house in Fife she had gotten what she described as a ‘heavy breathing’ phone call. But the gent on the other end of the line started by saying “would you mind if – – -“. So Jean’s great sense of humor also permeated her performances and that taught me a lesson as well.

Many years later, just around the time I was touring the States quite a bit, I found myself sharing the stage with Jean at East Tennessee State University. During the afternoon we appeared live on the local radio station to help promote the concert. I had almost forgotten about that program until it re-surfaced recently; I was stunned when I heard her rendition of Robert Burns’ song ‘O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast’ – absolutely beautiful and a real challenge!

Shortly after that she again toured in Scotland and I was fortunate to interview her for my own radio show Scene Around. We did the interview in her late mother’s beautiful house down near the harbor in Elie, Fife–the same place where the polite heavy breather had phoned.

For someone so well known through regular appearances on Prairie Home Companion and other great venues, I found her completely charming and down to earth, never over the years turning the least bit ‘prima donna-ish’.

My abiding memory of her, though, is of her performing one of Robert Burns’ most explicitly raunchy songs–it’s so bad, I can’t even write the title here–to a typical audience of elderly ladies at that concert at ETSU, and getting away with it through her sheer personality.

Or maybe they just didn’t understand any of the words, given her lovely Fife accent.

Rest in Peace, Jean. You inspired successive generations, and you will be missed.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Scotland

What has it got in its Pocketses?

golumnPeople who own bookstores wind up with the most amazing things in our pockets at the end of the day. Here is an inventory of mine from yesterday:

a broken cat toy – Saw it on the floor, didn’t want a dog to swallow it, picked it up just as our first customers walked in, so stuck it in my pocket until I could get to a trash can.

guitar picks – Jack is often asked to spontaneously entertain bookstore guests, and he leaves these everywhere after.

wood screws – Ditto. I don’t complain; he puts up shelves every week, just about, or does some other repair. Sometimes I think he leaves the screws so I’ll know he was working there….

a crochet hook – This is the only thing I deliberately put in my pocket that morning. Because you never know when you’ll have spare time.

various receipts and school photographs – People are forever leaving these in books. I’m pretty sure I never bought “vg lmn ast 2pk $4.99″ from a place called “Far and Away” in Levington, MT. (IS there a Levington, MT?)

a mangled paperback cover – Our foster kittens sleep in the mystery room. Usually they understand the rules of correct behavior, but yesterday they’d had a go at poor Herman Wouk. I grabbed the shredded evidence from the floor because I was on my way to showing customers where Sue Grafton’s books were, and I didn’t want them to see what the kittens had done.

a lettuce leaf – We had several people eating buffet style yesterday. I don’t help serve, but was up there getting a glass of water and the leaf was just sitting, enigmatically, on a low shelf of food-themed murder mysteries. I picked it up, intending to throw it away, but someone was in the bathroom so I stuck it in my pocket until I could get to a trash can.

two pencils, a pen, four paper clips, and a pencil sharpener – Straightening a couple of shelves, I noticed some books didn’t have prices, so grabbed a pencil. Apparently about an hour later, I did the same thing, plus the sharpener. I grabbed the pen to tally a customer. I don’t know how the paper clips got in there.

a child’s sock – I found it in the children’s room, on a shelf. I don’t know why. I don’t know what to do with it.

two business cards – People come in; they tell you about their services; you tell them they can put a flyer up in the “local business” section by the door. They thank you, give you one business card, and leave. They never bring flyers. I don’t know why.

assorted bottle caps – Customers who come into the store with soft drinks or bottled water are usually very taken with the kittens, and give them the caps to play with. No problem, everyone likes this, but throughout the day I tend to rake in quite a haul.

a 500MG Tylenol – I meant to swallow it surreptitiously in our private kitchen, but when a customer asked a question, I pocketed it for later, and then it got mixed up with the pencils and the lettuce leaf, and the sock…

So, what’s in your pockets?

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections

Michael Reno Harrell on Bookstores

Today’s guest blog is from Michael Reno Harrell, storyteller, on Why I’m a Big Fan of Independent Bookstores. Michael will be with us for a concert August 29th, and is storytelling in residence in Jonesboro that week.harrell

 

I’m a storyteller. I write songs and tell stories, mostly about the Southern experience, which I perform all across the United States and the British Isles. I have written for magazines and newsletters and blogs, have had my work published in books and recorded fifteen CD’s. I’m lucky that I have an agent that likes for me to be working. I don’t have to pay her 20% or even15%. She gets it all. She’s my wife, Joan.

I find that most of the folks who are interested in folk music and storytelling tend to be avid readers as well, so I look at everything I do as one in the same, storytelling. I remember as a teenaged Woody Guthrie want-to-be going into record stores and coming out two hours later, having perused minutely every folk album cover in the store. What a wonderful way to spend some Saturday afternoon time.

 

A good bookstore is the same. We each have our own personal analogies, for me it’s, like entering a favorite restaurant where the staff knows what you like and only suggest things that they know you will enjoy. And I know that I will leave an hour later sated. There really is something so right about sliding a finger along the spines of a row of books until it stops on an intriguing title. There is that moment of ponder, then the volume is slid from its place in line, opened and the first page is scanned. This process is repeated until one finds oneself on page three. A small voice in the head says “Yes” and the book is tucked under an arm and a new friendship has begun. Or maybe you simply want to stop in and thumb through a periodical about a new field of interest.

In the last few years Joan has become a gardener. Now the gardening section in bookstores and the magazines on the subject are where she heads first, then to cycling and health stuff. For me it’s motorcycle magazines, fiction, autobiographies, DYI, a good chair, coffee and a blueberry scone. It is the experience, the colors and the smells and the lighting and all that information and entertainment just waiting for me to hold in my hands. Try that on a laptop.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, reading, VA

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS

The Write Whisperer
(guest post by workshop attendee Lizbeth Phillips)

kizbethAccording to Flannery O’Connor, an epiphany is not permanent. After spending a day with Wendy Welch at WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, I have a new understanding of what O’Connor meant. Being an educator, I can come up with a hundred reasons a day to not make or take the time to write. For years, I have used it as an excuse to abandon essays, short stories, poems, and my first novel. No more!

Why? Because epiphanies are not permanent. Either you let them go or you do something so that whatever enlightening moment flashed before your eyes becomes intrinsically absorbed in what defines you. I am many things, especially a writer.

What did I learn at WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS? First, excellent writing has strands of universal themes so that writers can connect to readers. We have to evaluate how words appear to the reader—just in case our notions are a bit alien.

But even before that, just get it down! Write the first draft without revision. Whether we start at the beginning or the middle, we have to write to the very end before we go back and restart. A first draft is not the final draft. After writing the first draft, evaluate the work and clarify. Add details to make the narrative and dialogue credible in the eyes of the reader. In other words, ask if my imagination transfers to the page so the reader sees the same movie I saw.

Becoming aware of the narrative arc and anticipating how to string a story along so that characters grow has released me from the big writer’s pit that equipped me with excuses not to finish my novel. I can now write straight dialogue without any narrative (and visa versa) and communicate to a reader.

I used to flounder on strong narrative and ruin dialogue or write dialogue at the expense of the narrative. Until today, I am not sure I had a handle on blending the two. If I am to move my novel along and not write myself into a corner, I have to create the proper mix! Writing is unforgiving. So are readers.

I came to the table with all kinds of reasons and excuses for not committing. When I left at the end of the day, I was an empowered writer.

If inspiration gleaned from attending WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS were bit-coin currency, I would be the richest person on the planet right now. And since epiphany is not permanent, I’m going to spend my time cashing in on all that inspiration so it counts.

 

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing, YA fiction

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS!

write houseDear friends – Tomorrow is WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, our annual workshop out here in scenic Southwest Virginia. So I’m not blogging until Sunday, when I can tell you all about it. Meanwhile, enjoy this picture of the resident goat at the farmhouse where WCttC is held. And if you’re so inclined, you can plan to attend next year, when the workshop moves to July to accommodate more people whose schedule follows the academic calendar of public schools. Also pictured are the contemplation pond on the property, and the flowers in bloom just now. (The house behind them is the farmhouse where WCttC is held.)

See you Sunday!

goat

pond

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Of Hookers, Husbands, and Wives

I like to crochet while minding the bookstore, and joined an online crochet forum a couple of months ago. It turned out not to be much fun. A few days in, people were fussing about announcements of imminent grandchildren “disguised as crochet posts with plans to make a stupid hat or something.”

jack hat afghanWhen I posted a pic of Jack wearing a needleworker’s bag on his head after a crochet-and-knit meeting at the bookstore, the message came from a list administrator that the pic had been removed and I should review the rules.

Everybody knows it’s hard to work with wool that’s too tightly wound—stuff stretches out of shape—so I got off the list. But a few days later someone (I don’t know who or how) joined me to a much bigger group, and over time they seem to be less apt to felt their fibers into itchy knicker twists.

What’s really fun about the list I’m on is how much husband-wife adorability comes up. A few weeks ago a woman went into false labor and was sent home from the hospital to “absolute and complete” bedrest. At seven months, she figured she’d be bored out of her mind, but when she reached the bed, her hubby had stacked on it several skeins of yarn, a five-pack of assorted hooks, and a boxed set of DVDs of her favorite TV show, seasons 1-5.

Now that’ s manning up, ladies and gentlemen.

Another lady’s husband got hurt on the job and has a six months recovery to endure. Depression set in and she despaired. His second week at home, he picked up one of her hooks and some yarn (which she needed for a work in progress). She kept her mouth shut and watched him produce the world’s most lopsided dishcloth, which she told him was perfect; she then photographed it and slammed the thing up on the list with a brief backstory. List members cheered his bad edgings and suggested projects, and several posted pictures of manly men crocheting. He’s about halfway through a very nice granny square afghan, after asking his wife a few days ago, “Hey, how do you change colors?”

A woman’s husband woke her Saturday past with a “get your crap out of the living room today; I’m tired of looking at it.” She gave him a baleful stare and went to see what on earth he was talking about, since she considered the living room “his mancave”—and found he’d paid $230 at an estate sale for about a ton of yarn and several boxes of hooks.

Husbands can be very sweet. So can crochet lists, if you find one where a little humanity keeps the edges in line.chickens

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA