Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

The Monday Book: OFF THE GRID by Nick Rosen

Sorry about not getting a blog up over the weekend. We had a massive group from Berea College visiting because of my new (academic) book Public Health in Appalachia. We had a great time with the team and will be blogging about it later this week. And we’re more or less back on schedule now, and proud of the fact that we fed 42 people in our bookstore all at the same time – a triumph of logistics over space. :]

off the gridUsually I only do Monday Books that I’ve loved, and I admit that this one is kind of a “like.” Rosen’s book is interesting, but suffers from that thing that often happens to researchers who turn their work into a popular narrative style of writing: repetition and lack of a story line.

(Oh, did I just hear my agent giggling? Believe me, the words “narrative arc” come out of that wise woman’s mouth 12 times a day. And gosh darn it, she’s right. We want a beginning, middle, and end that look different from each other, strung together with smaller stories that flow toward a conclusion.)

Rosen writes about people who get off the power grid in the United States, for reasons ranging from dropping off one end after running out of money, to buying their way off the other end as rich, powerful, and/or famous citizens. (A lot of TV and film stars have off-the-grid hideouts.)

In between he covers off-gridders one might not think about, like truck drivers. And of course he includes survivalists and hippies and that controversial Mike Reynolds guy who “invented” earthships. I helped build an earthship in Scotland at a local sustainable farming community; that’s when I learned to make walls from bottles and shoes from tires. Neither of these have served me much in my present career as a bookseller, but I figure if A***on finally does us in one day, I can get great mileage out of my eclectic knowledge base and homemade sandals.

Thing is, Off the Grid, published in 2010, doesn’t so much talk about how to go off-grid as describe how it has turned out for a bunch of people who did, which gets repetitive after awhile, and also starts to skim across surfaces, hinting at conflicts and conspiracies and confusions that don’t get fully explored. (He did write, in 2008, a book that appears to be more how to.)

If you like storytelling in your stories, you may not like Off the Grid very much. I like reading about off-grid lifestyles, so I enjoyed this book. If you’re looking for how-to, try his 2008 book. If you’re looking for how-it-went-for-us, this is a good read. And if you’re into psychology-driven narrative, you’ll have a field day with what Rosen isn’t saying between the lines of what he is.

As a side note for those who have heard me talk about discovering St. Martin’s wanted to publish LITTLE BOOKSTORE on the same day that the last BORDERS bookstores announced their imminent closure, this is one of the two books I bought from BORDERS that day.

 

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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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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

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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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

The Monday Book: CALL THE MIDWIFE by Jennifer Worth

Worth imageOne of the nicest things about vacationing in Scotland is that the books landing in charity shops there are completely different from here. I must have counted six copies of Gone Girl and two of Divergent.

Jack and I scored several titles, including one I’d intended to get to since enjoying the series on Netflix. Call the Midwife is actually part of a trilogy of books Jennifer Worth wrote; the others are Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. (She also did one on hospice nursing later.)

I enjoyed the books, but this is one of the few times I have to say watching the series first helped. I’m not up on 1950s and ’60s medical parlance or practice, and there are details in Worth’s writing that I wouldn’t have understood without seeing them played out in pictures first.

Worth tells her story in simple, straightforward ways. It isn’t her writing that’s attractive so much as the details she gives, her way of understanding how humans are feeling. One might be tempted to use the word “clunky” once or twice on certain passages. She died in 2011, just as the series based on her books was coming to TV. Not having had the chance to meet her, I suspect she’d have proven a great humanitarian rather than wordsmith.

Still, who cares, because the stories in Midwife are fascinating, compelling, and lovely to read after seeing them portrayed. Some were taken straight from the book, others embellished from mere hints and whispers she included in passing. A lot of her descriptions were taken care of with just a couple of camera shots.

Let me say it again: it is the stories and not the storytelling that makes this book a great read. It is a methodical and prosaic capture of a way of life now over: one feels the pavements, smells the odors, and shares the fears and happinesses. Worth writes like a camera takes pictures, presenting snapshots, no corners left dark.

Worth’s life is in itself fascinating. She married in 1963 about ten years after she became a nurse, had two daughters, and left nursing in 1973 to teach piano and voice at a college. And she didn’t start writing until late in life. Midwife came out in 2002, and took five years to reach bestseller status.

Worth reminds me of another favorite book from a British author, The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The older of its authors didn’t start writing in earnest until late in life; her book was also post-humous, and a bestseller, and took a snapshot of a terrifying yet exuberant time to be human.

Let that be a lesson to those of us who write; get going. Stories need to be told more than perfected. Think what else these woman could have given us if they’d started earlier.

 

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Scotland, writing

So Happy Together

Don’t forget the Author Humiliation contest ends Sunday, June 29. Send entries to jbeck69087@aol.com. Scroll back to Monday’s blog for the rules, and have fun!

I have arrived in Scotland, with many thanks to Kelly and Rachel Saderholm, the mother-daughter team minding our bookshop while Jack and I are making holiday.

First thing Jack and I did was make a bee-line for Jean and Davy’s place. Jean and Davy served as second parents to me during the seven years (and a day) we lived in Scotland, and I was so delighted to see her again.Digital Camera Jean is the woman who advised me, “Be yourself in Scotland. People here will be seeing ‘an American.’ Just be Wendy, and let them figure it out.”

Time has taken its payments; Jean is moving with difficulty and the aid of wheeled things. Her husband Davy has left behind this mortal coil in all but body; an artist whose paintings were exhibited internationally, Davy’s mind is now living in some of the abstract worlds he brought to canvas.

As Jean and I joked, talking to him now isn’t that different than talking to him then.

Skipping the part where one pontificates or waxes philosphical on the ravages of time, or the lasting bonds of friendship – it was just ever so lovely to see Jean again. I look forward to the rest of our holiday, but when your best day is the first, because it mattered most, well, icing on the cake is very sweet.Digital Camera

 

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Filed under Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

AUTHOR HUMILIATION CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT

embarrassedFor those who’d like to see them, last week’s EDIBLE BOOK CONTEST photos are here: Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC

We are pre-empting the Monday Book (but I’ll run one Wednesday or Friday, depending on whether Jack gets me a  blog from his Scottish tour this week) to bring you

THE AUTHOR HUMILIATION CONTEST!

It all started when a fellow writer online described her recent arrival at a Very Large Bookstore in a Big City to tout her Very Good New Book. Karen Spears Zacharias had the following conversation:

Asst. Manager: I had no idea you had an event here today.
Me: Wow. Really? It was in the newspaper and on television. We’ve been corresponding about this for months.
Asst. Manager: My boss didn’t tell me.
Me: Embarrassed. Humiliated. Diminished.
Asst. Manager: Snotty. Bugged. Annoyed.
Me: This book is local. It won the Weatherford.
Asst. Manager: What’s the Weatherford?
Me: Best in Appalachian Fiction.
Asst. Manager: I’ve never heard of that.

Her post sparked a veritable wordslide of other authors describing similar incidents, and an idea was born.

My 500th blog post will be next Monday. In honor of this earth-shaking occasion, Karen and I are announcing a contest: send us, in 500 words or less, your author humiliation moments. Are you an Author who arrived on the wrong day? Walked in to find your event cancelled? Discovered they were expecting someone else? Tell us about it, or any other mortifying circumstance.

Or take it from the other end. Are you a library, book festival, individual, or bookstore that has hosted an event that just would not get on track no matter what? Or a first class A88-hole? (Y’all know what an a88hole is, right? Similar to an a**hole, only worse.)

Jack and I have looked at book signings, author visits, and all that glamorous stuff from both sides now: as the people with the book AND the people with the bookstore. We’ve seen a whole lotta love and silliness from each, so don’t hold back. Tell us your story.

First prize winner in the author category gets a 5-day stay in my writing retreat cabin, in eastern Tennessee. (Sorry, you have to pay your own way there, but the place is free and we’ll even throw in a bottle of wine. Buy your own milk.) You pick your dates.

First prize winner in the author hosting category gets a signed copy of every entering author’s book. That’s the fee for entering, folks. When the winning host is announced, you are REQUIRED to mail, at your expense, a free copy of your autographed book. (Winners may donate their books to another address if they prefer.)

Second prize for both categories is an autographed copy of Karen’s and my book; third prize… how about a free kitten?

We’ll run the first place entries next Monday. The top ten after that will get blogged once a week, probably on Saturdays. And the MONDAY BOOK will return after this coming Monday.

The rules:

Entries are due by Sunday, June 29, at 11:55 pm EST.

Send entries to jbeck69087@aol.com, with tagline specifying author or host humiliation entry.

Entries exceeding 500 words (not including title) will be disqualified.

Don’t use real names in identifiable locations. We haven’t got enough money to be worth suing, but a88s tend to do that when reality invades the self-sphere. “A Barnes and Noble somewhere in America….” is fine. Make it part of the creativity to keep the names fun and clean.

Keep all entries family friendly. Some kids read this blog.

This is cheerful therapy. Don’t just vent; entertain.

Have fun doing so.

greyAnd remember, it’s okay to talk about the embarrassing moments. Many authors have put themselves into utter self-humiliation, and gone on to live happy lives.

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EDIBLE BOOK CONTEST SATURDAY, JUNE 21

  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. –Sir Francis Bacon, English author (1561 – 1626)

We’re holding our first ever EDIBLE BOOK CONTEST here at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and we’re really looking forward to it!

What is an edible book, you ask? Well, it is a clever and consumable representation of a book that you liked. For example:

twilight

or

humpty dumptyor

20000 leaguesor one of my personal favorites:

grapes of wrath

All of these are edible book contest entries from other places, and they’re all lovely. (I suppose Twilight was inevitable, yes?) Anyway, bring your edible book to Tales of the Lonesome Pine’s Second Story Cafe  Saturday, June 21 for 2 pm and join the fun. Judging will be done by our guest shopsitter JanelleJanelle Bailey (a staff member of the Wisconsin Book Festival and high school English teacher). Janelle and her two youngest daughters will be minding the shop for a week while Jack is in Scotland. She will be joined in judging by Second Story’s official dessert Erinbaker Erin Dalton, who is pretty much Emily Dickenson reincarnated.

Still confused about how to make an edible book? You can google the concept – there are lots of great pictures out there – and here are the rules:

  1. Everyone can participate: the young, the old, the professional and non-professional, residents and non-residents, and even groups.
  2. Entries must be book-related. Examples of this can be found online.
  3. Entries can be made out of anything, as long as it is edible.
  4. Entries must be family-friendly.
  5. Entry is free and does not require pre-registration. Just bring your edible book to the shop for display at 2 pm. (If you’re going to need to assemble it here, come earlier. We regret that you may not enter the cafe kitchen, but we can loan you some basic tools or heat something if you need us to. You’re not allowed in the kitchen. Health stuff.)
  6. Winner will receive either a free weekend trip to a mountain cabin, or a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore – winner’s choice. All entries will receive a $10 gift certificate to the bookstore.

So get cracking and make us an edible book of such tastefulness as will set Big Stone Gap talking – not that that takes much, but you get the idea. Come one, come all, and let’s have some fun.

edible book

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