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The Monday Book: FREE GIFT WITH PURCHASE by Jean Godfrey-June

godfreyPublished in 2006, Free Gift with Purchase: my improbable career in magazines and makeup sat on our shelves in the shop awhile. One day I picked it up, realized it was a memoir that had been misfiled in fiction, and headed across the shop floor. But I opened it and read a random section–

–and started laughing. I don’t wear make-up, or move in fashionista circles, but the book drew me in. The fun of reading is living someone else’s life for awhile.

Godfrey has a wicked sense of humor, balanced by a strong grounding in the fact that her life is about something halfway between silly and essential. I loved her opening explanation establishing why beauty is important–war zones doing a roaring trade in black market cosmetics, e.g.–and that everyone has some sort of beauty regime, whether it involves “product” or not. She seems to have a healthy respect for the the American consumer, pointing out that about half of “advice” is really “sales pitch” and it’s up to the purchaser to discern the difference.

Then she just starts telling stories, interspersed with advice. Most of the advice sailed over my head, but I devoured her funny, wise stories, like how networks (and careers) are formed and lost by a single ill-timed giggle. How those glam parties full of celebs are really the trading floor, everyone working hard without daring to sweat into silk OR admit they’re working. (If you look like you’re networking, you’re doing it wrong.) How you need to know yourself before you let anyone at a makeup counter touch you, or you wind up looking like a man in drag, and the woman behind the counter may revel in this because you didn’t buy anything.

This isn’t a cohesive story with a narrative arc, and I liked it for that reason, dipping in of an evening to relax before bed. This is a sweet, alluring book, with a little more depth than expected, if one comes to it with a healthy disrespect for the lines between which Godfrey-June colors. Underneath her writing runs a sense of “we’re not curing cancer, but we’ve made women with cancer feel better by giving them prettiness.”

Spots of name-dropping and elbow-rubbing with the insider crowd decorate her prose (like glitter in eye shadow? teehee) but aren’t the focus. Those with journalism backgrounds might particularly like the “vapid meets intensity” moments when people who write for a living have to come up with something meaningful to say about perfume that doesn’t involve “sweet” or “fruity.”

Not setting the world on fire, but adding a bit of color, this fun, cheerful book.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Planning of Cat Parties is a Difficult Matter….

The naming of cats is a difficult matter/It isn’t just one of your holiday games….–T.S. Eliot

cat-feeding-circleJack and I have finally crossed the line between “cat people” and “those crazy cat people.” We’re hosting a reunion for all who have adopted cats from us. With an unprecedented ten adoptions in the last two weeks we now have 110 fur babies running around happy–and spayed or neutered–out there in the world. We look forward to seeing how many of their parents can make it to the reunion.

Here’s the plan: mark March 13-15 on your calendar. Friday, March 13 is our regularly scheduled ceilidh dance to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. What better way to kick off an event than by, well, kicking off? Ceilidh dances are lots of fun, lots of movement with catlike grace. Lots of kicking. And we teach the dances as we go.

Saturday we’ll have lunch for cat adopters, and everyone will bring a photo of their fur baby. Those who want to can share stories in the circle. And that evening, a nice dinner, followed by a Murder Mystery themed around Cat Rescue! (Ohh, the puns and jokes we will have. It’ll be the cats pajamas. Sorry.)

Sunday will be a brunch for those who want to attend. We’ll need to charge a nominal weekend food fee to cover things for Our Good Chef Kelley. Also, since about half of our adoptions have been local, we can round up spare rooms for those who don’t want to add hotel expense to their travel. For those who want more privacy, there’s a lovely B&B in town, Carousel House, operated by Donna Ball–three blocks from the bookshop. There’s also the Comfort Inn (chain operated, a mile and a quarter away by car) and the Country Inn (a local establishment, about 4/10 of a mile and easy to walk). And there’s the Jessee Lee Campground, with a charming creekside walking path covering the .75 miles between them and us.

So if you’re a cat adopter, let us know if you want to bunk in with someone local; otherwise we suggest making a reservation soon at one of these fine establishments. There aren’t that many rooms in Big Stone Gap. :]

If you haven’t adopted a cat but want to attend, you are very welcome as a “Friend of Cats” member.

Yes, we have gone crazy. But this seems like a nice way to celebrate the rescue of 110+ cats. Especially when we think about the ones who didn’t get rescued. As the Chinese proverb says, “It is better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the dark.”

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: THE SILVER TATTOO by Laura Treacy Bentley

tattooDark literary thrillers are not my thing; I got this book in the post from the author who requested consideration for the Monday Book. We like to support regional authors (and she’s in WV) so while prepared to be optimistic, I worried I’d not have much to say about it.

But I totally loved Bentley’s writing. She has a great way with details and scene-setting. Her characters are not driving the plot; the plot drives the plot, specifically the psychotic weirdness of the stalker after her protagonist Leah. Bentley paints the slow, steady suspenseful rise with increasing depictions of violence or madness that pretty much verge on poetic. In the background hover tributes to Irish folklore that add nice atmosphere.

Bentley’s writing reminds me of two fantasy authorities: Ray Bradbury (one of her writing heroes, so it stands to reason) and Stephen King. She has that playful sense of poetry that Bradbury has, and like King she eschews explanation and too-obvious depictions of what’s going on inside the person’s head– a la King’s “he did it because he did it” writing.

This is a scene-by-scene book, and some of the scenes are quite intense. If you like plots that are less twist-and-turn than finely drawn, if you like to figure out for yourself why someone is behaving as they are,  or if you like Irish mythology, you’re going to love The Silver Tattoo.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Music in Me – and in our Bookstore

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Swann2For all the musical events we hold here in our bookstore and the larger community, I had no interest in music until I was around 14 or 15. On what I seem to remember was the last family vacation, to Morecambe in Lancashire, I went to the fairground where they played music over speakers around the site.

That’s where I first heard Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and my life was forever changed.

From Holly, I became besotted with jazz – everything from New Orleans style to Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan. That led to skiffle, epitomized by Lonny Donegan who influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to the Rolling Stones.

From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the discovery of my own indigenous traditional music in Scotland: ballads, folk songs and, somewhat later, the reels, jigs and strathspeys.

A dear old friend (hat tip to Davy Lockhart) once said that joining the music group ‘Heritage’ saved his sanity and his life. He and I played in that band throughout the ’80s and ’90s (with some modicum of professional success, I might add) and when I look back I can see what he meant. For the 25 years that I was a professor in my hometown college, music  provided a ‘bolt hole’, a place apart, something completely different. A “third space,” if you will.

Music has taken me to strange and exotic places I’d never have had any reason to visit otherwise, and introduced me to a history and political geography I’d never have known. I experienced wonderful food and made many good friends all over the world.

And it brought me to America, where I met Wendy and began a whole new life.

Here I sit, in Big Stone Gap, still immersed in music – helping to organize an annual festival, presenting a weekly radio show, running a bookstore that holds regular ‘house-concerts’ and still teaching and performing.

I continue to be amazed that a few musical notes, a bunch of wood and strings and a couple of vibrating vocal chords could have so shaped my life!

For some of Jack’s musical insights and to hear him in company with Dolly Parton, Pete Seeger and Doc Watson among others, pick up a copy of ‘Wayfaring Strangers’ (book and CD) from UNC Press.

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The Monday Book: WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson

WeHaveAlwaysLivedInTheCastle“A pretty sight, a lady with a book.” –Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The problem with being a big reader in school is that by the time you get to classes where the teacher is passing out big books (or even big concept stories) you’ve seen that theme/archetype/trope/chestnut already in something else.

Our high school English teacher made us read “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, for Halloween. Lame. And old hat. Ursula LeGuin in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” or even Tam Lin and the sacrifice to Hell were better deals.

So when I picked up Jackson’s Castle, I wasn’t expecting much.

That’s how the best things happen.

Aside from first learning of the wonderful name MerriCat for Mary Katherine, this is the book that teaches many writers about untrustworthy narrators. The story is basically two sisters, MerriCat and Constance, living alone in an old house, young girls, and slowly but surely you come to find out why. And then everything goes to Hell on the point of a knife, but it’s a good ride. Here’s another quote, just to give you an idea:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

Yeah, she’s a beaut, that Merricat. Jackson’s writing style is so cheerfully prosaic as she pushes out lines of such blood-curdling creepiness, you think, “Who WRITES like this?” For instance, when MerriCat idly comments: “I wonder if I could eat a child if I had the chance.’ ‘I doubt if I could cook one,’ said Constance.”

If you want a post-Halloween scare, read this atmospheric, quirky, Poe-as-a-woman-with-a-semblance-of-feminine-understanding masterpiece.

If you read it before bed, you might want to leave the light on. And stop taking sugar in your tea.

Why this book this week: I read this book years ago, and picked it up again when some bookseller friends and I were discussing online what we were currently reading.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Downton Abbey, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Shut Up, Voices

innercriticI’m not someone who normally struggles with writing. Making the writing good, that’s different, but producing the words on paper, nope. I was a journalist in my early career, and if there’s one thing such a program of study beats out of you, it’s the whole “tortured artist” game.

We weren’t allowed to have writers block. Words would come or you would go. Journalism is also great training for book writing because it keeps you from feeling you’re saving the world. You are producing infotainment, setting it down for people to read, and tomorrow you’ll do it again, when today’s words are carrying out the coffee grounds or scooping puppy poop. Words is words; even though they can ignite, there are a million more behind where those came from.

In other words, don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t for one minute believe you’re the reason the earth can heal, now that you’re here.

So I’ve never struggled with getting a rough draft down. Until now. For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on just setting out the basics of a story. The whole while, my inner critic has been howling like a banshee, tearing like a panther, raging like a stuck bull.

Usually I’m pretty good at turning off those voices, sotto voice just beneath the surface of creativity: “This is crap; you don’t know what you’re doing; ‘you have made the mistake of thinking everything that happens to you is interesting’ ” (a succinct and heart-sinking sentence sent to Anne Lamott in a rejection letter). As Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.” I always adhered to that.

Yet it seems lately as though each finger is burdened with a ghost, clinging as I type, all muttering a non-stop cacophony through which every word can be clearly heard: “You can’t do it. You can’t write any more. This is boring. This is bad grammar. This is bad writing. You are bad.” Tiny little ghosts, grinning an evil grin, unrelenting.

Shut up, I tell them; shut up. I would like to say that, with each word that fights its way out from under the babble, their voices diminish. But they don’t.

So, if this is the new phase of writing I’m entering, the “fight for your life” phase, one might call it, so be it. Eventually the shrieking voices will have to give up out of sheer boredom, I suppose, from being ignored.

But gol-amighty, I wish I knew where they came from so I could send them back there. I’m busy, here, and they’re taking up energy.

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Filed under bad writing, between books, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: SUMMON THE KEEPER by Tanya Huff

tanya huffOne of those books that appeared in my bookstore and called to me from the shelf, I took this beat-up paperback to bed one night and stayed up past 2 a.m., giggling.

This book was just plain fun, and then right at the end it has one of the loveliest “didn’t see that coming” moments ever. Which you will not get as a spoiler in this review, because I don’t want you to miss the enjoyment of reading Huff’s sf novel.

Summon the Keeper has a cast of thousands – including Claire, the pragmatic heroine; a lovesick ghost named Jacques; Dean, the gormless hulking guy from Newfoundland; a sarcastic cat (book quote: “No one had ever been able to determine if cats were actually clairvoyant, or merely obnoxious little know-it-alls.”); and a bratty little sister who goes around turning sofas into pygmy hippos (prompting this response from their mother: “If she does call, would you please explain to her that turning the sofa into a pygmy hippo for the afternoon might be a very good transfiguration, but it’s rather hard on the sofa, and it confuses the hippo.”)

There are other characters, too.

Claire is a keeper; she mends holes in the fabric of the universe when people mess it up with bad magic. She gets put in charge of a hotel that has a hole in the basement leading to Hell, which is problematic and must be closed. The book turns on this plot device, but if ever the words “character drives plot” were proven, it is in this fun read. The joy lies not in what, but who and how.

The whole book rollicks along like a sitcom with smart writers behind it, charming and snappy. The best news is that Summon is the first of three books in the KEEPER series. Short enough as a series to keep its zip, but a good satisfying run.

And except for the sprinkled-at-just-the-right-intervals sweet moments when you say, “Awwwwww,” you’re going to giggle all the way.

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