Tag Archives: books

A Quiet and Human Place

Kelly Saderholm’s guest blog about her and her daughter’s recent stint as shopsitters in the Little Bookstore -

“Oh, wow, I just LOVE it here!” The customer said as she handed me money for her purchases. “I could LIVE in a bookstore!”

“I am living here,” I said, happily, as I gave her a receipt and explained how I was shop-sitting while Wendy and Jack were away in Scotland.

“That’s really COOL,” she said. And she was right.

My daughter Rachel and I agreed to shop-sit and look after the two dogs and ever-changing number of foster cats; in exchange, we could pick out whatever books we wanted, and have the experience of tending a bookstore. For so many of us hard-core reader types, this is a secret fantasy. In the age of disappearing brick and mortar stores (of any kind but especially bookstores) I had often wondered how that fantasy would stack up against the real thing. In this case, the reality fared pretty well!

I was fortunate not to have bad days, crank customers, or disasters. The worse thing that happened was that Bert, one of the dogs, got upset by the Fourth of July firecrackers and chewed up a basement step.

The best thing? There were so many “best things” it is hard to choose. Of course the books, surrounded by books, ahhhhh. I loved chatting with customers. With a high school class reunion and the holiday weekend, people from all over were visiting family and friends. Most had either read Wendy’s book or heard about the bookstore from friends and family. It was interesting talking to people from different regions, discovering their connection to the area.

Even more interesting were the people living here. Rachel and I fell in love with the place. I realized that our temporary home was not just a used bookstore, but Big Stone Gap’s Bookstore, catering to the needs and wants of the community. In the introduction to one of my favorite books, Laural’s Kitchen, one of the authors, Carol Flinders, talks about “a sense of place.” Jack and Wendy’s shop is very much a nurturing “Place” with capital letters, where people feel a connection to each other, to the town, the region, the culture.

Speaking of cooking and food and place- Kelley’s Second Story Cafe (on the bookstore’s second floor) is another very special place, with delicious food. She kept us well-fed during our stay!

Kelley’s food nurtured our bodies, the books nurtured our minds, but a third, intangible element of the bookstore nurtured our souls. A strong sense of Quiet pervades the bookstore. That feeling was re-enforced as Rachel and I took our leave last Sunday just as the Friends Meeting started upstairs. But the whole week there was a gentle, quiet feeling throughout the place. Several customers remarked on it. All week people came in just to browse and enjoy the quiet. One guy stayed for two hours.

If one is looking for a business to make fast, easy money, a used bookstore is not it. But, if one is a bibliophile interested in a satisfying, rewarding business–not in a profit sense but in a people sense– one could do worse than to run a used bookstore.

The first Foxfire book has a chapter titled, “A Quilt is Something Human.” It makes me happy that with so many chain retail stores selling mass-produced consumer goods, Jack and Wendy’s bookstore is indeed Some Place Human.

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“Is That the Bookstore?”

crazy bookstoreMaybe it’s that blood moon. Maybe it’s the pollen count making us all high on Sudafed. Or maybe I just happened to catch the best moments, but this week has produced some absolute classics in “funniest things ever said in a bookstore.” Here are three of my recent favorites:

*phone rings*

“Hello, is that the bookstore? I am downsizing and have a truckload of books for you.”
“Oh, lovely…” Oh, sh———
“These are all that’s left. I’ve burned about as many as are still here, but I can’t burn fast enough. Would you come and get these?”

 

*door opens, two women enter*
First woman: “We heard you could tell us how to market a book.”

Me: “Pardon?”
First woman: “We wrote a book. It’s a mystery, set ’round here. We’ve sold a lot to our family and friends, people that know us, but we want to sell it to more people.”

Second woman (to first): “Maybe she could sell it in here.”

First woman (looking around, shakes head): “Nah. Too many books in here, it’d get lost. (to me) Can you give us any ideas on how to sell it?”

 

*phone rings*

“Is that the bookstore that has the book about it?”

Me (bracing for impact): “Yes?”

Person: “I’ve written a book. Would you sell it?”

Me: “Sure! We like to promote books by local authors, but we can’t do any specific special promo because we don’t have the space. We have a shelf first thing when you come into the store, and we will put it there with the others. If you want to put a sign up on top of the shelf or hang it from the ceiling, we do that for the first six months your book is out.”

Person: “Well, my book is only available on Amazon. Could you put up a sign telling people to buy it there?”

Y’all come on down. We’re here, bricks, mortar, books, sense of humor and all.

 

 

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

Hello, is that Wendy?

book manJack’s guest blog will be Friday this week, due to internal Welch-Beck household circumstances involving a burst pipe.

See this guy made of books? That’s the profile picture of my Facebook friend Wendy Welch. She lives in Nevada, and she’s the one who found eight Wendy Welches and hooked us all together via a secret FB group.

But then, we couldn’t figure out which one of us was typing at any point, so we gave that up and emerged on the Internet–to the consternation of friends and relations. Navigating ‘twixt so many Wendys is tricky.

In addition to Wendy, who started the whole thing, there’s Wendy the graphic artist hippie in Tennessee, and of course Wendy the eye technician, and retired Wendy, and then Wendy runs a homesteading farm in New England. Not forgetting Wendy who lives in Northern Virginia; she and I are the only ones sharing a state, that we know of.

So far, confusion has been abated by our differing locations and jobs, but poor Wendy’s mother-in-law in Nevada is having a time of it. She keeps leaving the sweetest notes on my timeline, telling me she loves me and is so glad I married her son.

This makes Jack nervous.

It’s intriguing to meet other people with your name, especially when you find out you like them. Graphics Wendy has a wicked fun sense of humor. The other day she talked about invading her son’s room for laundry pick-up he’d forgotten to gather, saying, “I’ve never seen so many ironic t-shirts in one place in my life.” Homesteading Wendy lost her husband to cancer two years ago, and moves bravely forward creating a sustainable lifestyle with her dogs and chickens–who get along with each other, so she must be doing it right. Nevada Wendy’s approach to life is playful. We’re considering ganging up on our husbands online.

As a kid, riding in a car I couldn’t steer to destinations I hadn’t chosen, I’d look out the window and play a game. Pick a house, imagine what it would be like to be a completely different person, living in there. Neat, messy, full of extended family, isolated and empty? In high school, books with “start life over” plots fascinated me: new identities, yuppies who upped stakes to become desert ranchers, that kind of thing.

Perhaps this winding circle of namesakes is the grown-up version of these, but I feel my life has been enriched by the embrace of so many strong, sweet, funny Wendy Welches within it.

A battering of Wendys…. look out world, here we come.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Hidden Pleasures in the Night

One of the coolest things about running a bookstore is the nighttime raids. On any given evening, when the shop is closed and Jack and I head downstairs to our bedroom den, one of us might say, “Oh, I finished my book.” Thus begins a pleasant twenty minutes of discovery.

Jack and I take turns minding the store, so while we each have a really good idea of inventory, things are likely to come in on the other’s watch that we don’t yet know about. Trolling the shelves brings happy surprises. “Oh, I didn’t know we had the latest Sarah Allen!” Or “Hmm, a book about building fake ship docks and air bases during World War II.”

The little gems sit on our shelves waiting for us to traverse a section, not straightening, not searching, just browsing. It is such a pleasure to browse one’s own bookstore. And that “you can’t judge a book by its cover” thing? Hah. Yes you can. You can tell what’s targeting women – hello gorgeous ballgowns or period dresses with the wearer’s head not shown on the cover–and what’s marketed toward lit lite readers, covers edged in a dignified gilt frame, or photos of faraway cities and characters splashed behind a new author’s name.

A gorgeous photo, the judicious use of color, a drawing where a second glance reveals a second meaning: these are guaranteed to make me flip the book and read the blurb. If I’m not hooked by then, I do the random test taught me by a browsing customer years ago. Open to page 123 and read it. If the author’s writing is personally appealing, take the book downstairs. If not, there are 35,ooo more to browse.

I don’t think this would work if we didn’t live here, as we’re too absent-minded to remember to bring the books back once we’ve read them. And of course, if someone wants something, we have to bring it up from the den. I once sold a book Jack was reading from right off the nightstand, removing his bookmark and swearing later I didn’t remember seeing it. (Don’t tell him; he still doesn’t know I did that.)

Yeah, it’s a business. But when the main lights go out, and the relaxed evening hunt for something to read begins, it’s pure hedonistic happiness to live in a bookstore.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

A sign of the times

Jack’s guest post comes a little early this week -

It’s not surprising that many bookstore customers, on hearing my accent ask where I’m from, and then talk of their own family connections back to Scotland or Ireland. This area of Southern Appalachia has strong ‘Scotch-Irish’ antecedents. Frequently these conversations will drift around to the difference between perceptions and the reality of Scotland from an American point of view. Most Americans have an image of Scotland derived from movies like ‘Braveheart’ or ‘Brigadoon’ (Vincent Minnelli famously toured Scotland looking for suitable places to make ‘Brigadoon’ but eventually made it in Hollywood because he couldn’t find anywhere in Scotland that looked ‘Scottish’ enough!).

These conversations will often move on to questions about the real Scotland and how it fits into the modern world and global economy. Of course perceptions aren’t helped by confusion over what Scotland actually is in relation to – The U.K., Great Britain, The British Isles or even ‘England’.

In case you, dear reader, also find that confusing – hold on tight, and here we go -

The British Isles is a geographic description that covers Great Britain and the complete island of Ireland.

Great Britain is the union of two nations – England/Wales and Scotland (Wales was never a separate nation, sadly – it’s a Principality of England).

The island of Ireland is split into the independent Republic of Ireland and the much smaller province of Northern Ireland.

Great Britain plus Northern Ireland makes up the U.K. (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to give it its full name).

Got all that?

Finally I will often mention that in September 2014 there will be a referendum in Scotland on the restoration of the country to independent status again. Supporters call it ‘independence’ while opponents call it ‘separation’ – ah! The power of words!!

Talking of words, Wendy and I recently saw this sign on Interstate 77 just north of the NC line. We thought some of our Scottish friends might see the significance -

independence_14

Shurely shome shignificance (as Sir Sean Connery would Shurely Shay)

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Judging a book by its cover

Perceptions are powerful.  We are drawn to certain colors and textures, to certain people, but avoid others, often without a conscious thought.  Our brains make a split second decision on whether we want something or dislike something.  Have you ever met a three-year old who has a wavering stance on something?  Nope, didn’t think so.  Our brains are wonderful adaptive masses of tissue and fibers.  Through experiences we learn that appearances and perceptions can be deceiving.  Like that delicious dark purple jellybean.  You were expecting a sweet grape, but no, it is that villain of all flavors, licorice.  You either love it or you hate it; there is no middle ground.

Books are no exception to this rule.  I am a big fan of books with a good summary, a brief bio about the author, and a good cover design.  I don’t pay much heed to the reviews from a major newspaper or periodical, or another famous author.  My perception is more impacted by a great picture with a nicely worded title in a font that is appealing or different.  I like bright colors; I guess that goes to my magpie roots. 

The Little Bookstore is located in a historic home in downtown Big Stone Gap.  To the locals the building has always been “that old house behind the liquor store.”  One of my fellow local coworkers, and dear friend, was unaware of the treasures inside the bookstore until one day I needed to go buy some gifts and she tagged along.  It is hard to change the perception of things that we have known for a very long time.  They become sort of permanent fixtures in our minds.  But when presented with new information, that image is no longer the same.  There is a sense of newness, a small light in a dim room that grows brighter as we really see what is present.  This is the same thing that happens when we realize “that old house behind the liquor store” is really a treasure trove of learning, adventure, and wonder.

What happened to change this perception came from books;  many books.  When we really think about what a book is, it is merely a simple organization of the 26 letters of the alphabet and a few (hopefully correctly placed) punctuation marks.  Yet the power that is contained within that binding is limitless.  They creep into those hidden recesses of the mind, in that deep part that is our self, and grow roots.  Some roots are more troubling than others, especially if it is a horror or thriller that grabs our attention.  Maybe the roots become intertwined with our thoughts and begin to influence our perception of the world.  Like scales falling off our eyes, revealing a new and different picture.   Books change who we are. 

Books can change spaces too.  That “old house behind the liquor store” is now a quaint little bookstore.  But it is more than that.  It’s a local meeting spot, a safe haven for intellectuals to bemoan,  a quiet place to meditate and engage in a cuddle with a soft kitten, a place to weave and knit, a place to laugh and talk, a place to challenge ideas and engage in political banter, and a place to grow.  Wendy and Jack have created their own oasis in the desert with the Little Bookstore.

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Bless their Hearts

Another guest blog from Jack while Wendy is ‘hors de combat’

 

I’ve been thinking about the books I read (yes, I know – I live in a bookstore) and why folk read the kind of books they do. For instance I tend not to read all that much fiction, preferring history and biography. There are exceptions, of course – Ian Rankin for one. He’s famous for a series based around his Inspector Rebus character. The reason I enjoy him is probably pretty obvious to anyone who knows me and the books; both Rankin and Rebus are from West Fife in Scotland, both moved to Edinburgh and the books capture the seedier side of Edinburgh (and West Fife) perfectly. All places I know very well. Throw in references to old friends of mine and he can hardly go wrong (the stories are great too). I knew that Rankin was popular and successful, but I hadn’t realized that he had US editions of his book until I moved over here while half way through the Rebus series.

 

Here’s where it gets weird!

 

You would think that an American edition of a British book would just have the price in dollars instead of pounds – end of story (Ha!). But you’d be wrong because – - – this isn’t a British book; oh no, this is a SCOTTISH book. It’s in a foreign language, so the US publishers paid someone to translate it into proper English! These American editions are completely hilarious. They translate things like ‘city bypass’ to ‘urban freeway’, yet blithely ignore much more problematical things like ‘wee bampot’. Of course no-one in Scotland would say ‘urban freeway’ and most Americans could make a reasonable guess at ‘city bypass’, so I’m left puzzled though amused.

 

All this must have a point, I here you ask –

 

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is being translated into a slew of foreign languages, none of which either of us speak (at the last count, Chinese, Korean, Polish and Portuguese). A friend suggested I should translate it into Scots and that suddenly made the connection to the sad saga of Inspector Rebus. How will we know if ‘urban freeway’ has become ‘city bypass’ or ‘insignificant idiot’ has become ‘wee bampot’?

 

Publishers – bless their hearts!

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