Category Archives: small town USA

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.

2 Comments

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

Parkville Bookworm in Maryland needs our Help!

 

This is a guest blog from my friend Melissa, a fellow bookstore owner. Please, if you live near Baltimore, share this information. Thanks!
melissaMy name is Melissa Eisenmeier. I own the Parkville Bookworm, a used bookstore in the Baltimore, Maryland, suburbs. It’s the perfect job for me: I have to read books to recommend them to customers. I get to talk to and meet all kinds of interesting customers, from Kathryne, a fellow history junkie and cat lover; Alicia, who plays guitar, likes science, and Stan Lee, my staff cat; the lady who comes in with her husband once a week and recently told me her cat is Stan Lee’s girlfriend; and Karen, my outsource buyer(Jack and Wendy would likely call her the no-cash crew). I enjoy showcasing all the cool books out there. My customers seem to like the store, too; I often get told this.stan

 

Things were going fairly well in June, but I still wasn’t quite making enough to pay the bills. The past two months have kicked my butt, however. July and August, as I expected and tried to plan for, have been slower than I would like, and I quickly ran through what money I had set aside. I tried some different stuff to draw people in, from art shows to book clubs(the art show with Jenny O’Grady went over really well, and she was a lot of fun to have in the store).

 

When the credit union told my business partner she was at her limit, I knew I had to act fast. I didn’t want to close the bookstore, and we couldn’t borrow any more money. I decided to turn to my customers. I did the math, and figured out if I could get all 325 people or so who liked the bookstore’s Facebook page as of Thursday afternoon to come in and spend $10 by the end of the month, then I could make the rent, pay my assistant Lisa, and pay all my other bills.

 

stan leeThe Parkville Bookworm is located at 2300 E. Joppa Road in Parkville, MD. The store is located across from Taco Bell, and the entrance faces Ed an Jim’s Auto Body Shop. You can also find us on Facebook.

And of course I encourage you to support your local bookstore if you’re lucky enough to have one. Should you not, you can message the bookstore’s Facebook page with a short list of books, or send an Excel sheet or Google spreadsheet list to me at parkvillebookworm@gmail.com. If it’s in stock, I can mail it after we do a credit card transaction..

 

4 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

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.

 

Leave a comment

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

1 Comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose – -

janelle basketIn which Jack looks back with a nostalgic smile, and forward with a sardonic grin

It’s amazing how the bookstore has changed and evolved over the last few years–particularly since Little Bookstore was published and SECOND STORY CAFE opened.

While many of our long-term customers continue to support us, others have moved away for job opportunities. New arrivals have discovered the bookstore. Passers-through have made sometimes lengthy journeys just to see the place and swathes of non-readers from the community have become regulars in the cafe.
In other words, the bookstore is flourishing, and trying to give back as well.

Meanwhile Big Stone Gap continues to be exasperating and charming in equal quantities – the eternal push-pull between reactionaries and progressives of small towns everywhere. But one very good thing that has happened is the work the Town Council has done to seriously tidy up the downtown streets and the greenbelt walking trail. Wendy and I walked the trail recently for the first time in a few months–don’t judge; we’ve been busy–and were amazed and impressed by it. The river that runs alongside has been stocked with trout and families of ducks paddle up and down serenely. Some of the surfaces are redone, the lighting improved, and rails put up alongside roads.

It’s nice to have something so lovely to point out to visitors. Wendy delights in taking them for walks up the Greenbelt to the campground, where colorful local character Johnny Cubine has carved faces into six of the trees. In the last week shop visitors have included a forty strong group from Berea College, as well as some couples and a few of what Wendy calls ‘girlfriend posses.’
Now, if we could just find a way to pull together as a town and support some more specialist shops through their difficult first year….

 

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

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.

 

1 Comment

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA