Tag Archives: bookshop life

Questions and Answers (you will never hear in a bookstore)

We apologize for the delay in this weekend’s blog. Wendy was away writing, and Jack forgot!

Questions bookstore customers ask and the answers bookslingers long to give, but never do.

“Where do you get your books from?”

The book fairy brings them. At night. And we also get together with other bookstore owners and dance naked around the book conjuring cauldron on James Patterson’s birthday.

Gullible people like you who don’t know there are hundreds of pennies to be made on the sale of each and every hardback work of fiction ever published.

Oh, we just go to the library and search the dumpster.

Yard sales. And then we mark them up 400%. And spray them with Lysol if they smell like cat pee. What can I help you find today?

“So have you read all these books? Heh heh heh.”

Duh. You think I’d sell a book I hadn’t read?

Just the red ones. Heh heh heh.

Who, me? I’m sorry; I thought you were asking the shop cat. Yes, she has.

“Do you sell books?”

No. This is a drug front. Say the password so I know you’re not an undercover cop.

Only if we can’t talk you into a Nook or Kindle.

Sometimes, if we’re very lucky.

“So how’s this work, like a library, you borrow the books and bring them back?”

No. You buy the books and bring them back. Then if we like you we’ll sell them to you for another two weeks.

Yes, that’s how it works, but you have to give us your Social Security Number so we can sign you up.

Oh, is THAT how a library works?! I’ve always been afraid to try one, since I saw that HBO film as a child, where the librarian looks all sweet and kindly but is actually a soul-sucking demon from Hell.

“Is this the adult bookstore?”

That depends on how you’re using the word “adult.”

Get out. And wash that raincoat.

Why? Can you read?

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, publishing, Uncategorized

Dragons Among Us?

kent dragon

My friend Teri read the post yesterday about Firmin, and asked about its suitability for her eight-year-old.

Uh, probably not. Firmin has intense, child-unfriendly issues in his whiskered, oversized head. But that did set me thinking about great children’s books, and my friends Nicole (who sells them out in Memphis) and Chris (who gets kids excited about checking them out of the library here). We each have books we recommend over and over, so I’m inviting them to leave their comments on this post, or do a guest blog about favorites.

My most beloved childhood book doesn’t seem to make the “hit parade” very often. In fact, looking up pictures to add to this blog, I found its illustrator celebrated on a “forgotten geniuses” site. Hmmph.

Jack Kent was famed for his cute, plump, round-nosed drawings of people and his startling juxtaposition of odd things against calmness: children followed by lions, dragons having pancakes for breakfast. When I was still too young to be able to read, I had a book called There’s No Such Thing as  a Dragon, with accompanying record.

I “read” (lip-synced) Dragon over and over; in fact, that’s why my dad gave in and taught me to work my children’s record player–so he wouldn’t have to keep restarting the stupid thing. I think that book taught me to read. It’s the kind that, as Nicole says (quoting somebody famous), you can read at 50 as happily as at 5.

The premise: Billy wakes up to find a dragon about the size of a kitten at the foot of his bed. He tells his parents, “I have a dragon!” and his parents say (firmly, throughout the next 10 pages) that there’s no such thing as a dragon. So the dragon gets bigger and bigger until it takes off with the house on its back and finally the parents admit that the dragon is there–whereupon the dragon shrinks back to kitten size. Billy gets to deliver the final kicker: the dragon kept getting bigger until someone believed in it, because it just wanted to be noticed.

As an infant, toting this book about the house, lisping the word “dwagon” and shouting there was one in my bedroom, I might not have gotten all the intricacies, the symbolism, the plot development. But like any child, I knew what it felt like to be ignored sometimes, and that adults didn’t always understand what they couldn’t see–which was a silly way to live.

Growing older, I still couldn’t have explained that the drawings– the dragon’s tongue sticking out of its mouth, Billy’s cheerful aproned mother, the father’s Fedora hat–contributed to the enjoyment of the story. I couldn’t get my tongue or brain wrapped ’round the vocabulary needed to talk about the 1950s neighborhood where Billy and his dragon-that-wasn’t-there-except-it-was lived.

But I took the book with me when I left home as an adult, and now I can analyze the symbolism of a dragon that keeps getting bigger until someone acknowledges it, the sweetness of the story’s simple-yet-wise plot. The record is long-gone, but I can recite the words without looking as I turn the pages, engrossed in Jack Kent’s illustrations.

Sometimes you can go home again, and it’s the books of childhood that take you there.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, VA

Book Orgies

“Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.” –Virginia Woolf
 

Jack and I have different ideas of what our bookshop should look like. Left to my own devices, I would alphabetize the spice rack in three subcategories: Asian, Italian, and Other, while he would put all the paperwork in the house in one room and call it “the office.” (Come to think of it…)

However, we do agree on a few basic principles:

  • the books should be on shelves
  • there is some vague sense of separating fiction from non-fiction
  • the shop bathroom should be free of personal laundry

Beyond that, we have to negotiate.

Lately, though, the books seem to be fighting our best efforts, bent instead on mayhem and madness. Perhaps it’s the holiday spirit; they could just be gearing up for their office party (after all, tonight is St. Andrew’s Night). Still, every time we turn our back, the neat rows of Science Fiction and Fantasy leap from their shelves, race across the room, and jump into Christian fiction before we know what’s happening. We hear the flap of pages, and when we turn around, there’s a little pocket-sized Amish romance lying inside the covers of a Stephen King hardback. Looking smug.

That ain’t right, I tell ya.

Last night I went to bed secure in the knowledge that Mysteries and Thrillers had been tidied to perfection; this morning, there were three vampire paranormals lying in the floor, entwined with a John Sandford.

“Have you no shame?” I asked them, picking them up by their corners with a good hard shake. “Look at yourselves, pages splayed in lewd display, your covers bent backward. Where is your pride, your sense of decency?”

I’m pretty sure one of the paranormals belched.

So there it is: every day I go through the stacks, straightening, shelving, putting O’Brien back in front of Roberts, forcing Jack to separate Historic Fiction from Cookbooks, and at night when we head upstairs, we hear the noisemakers, the champagne corks, the swing of the chandelier as the Norton Literature volumes do somersaults into the punch bowl. {Sigh} Books today. What can you do?

Don’t forget today is the last day for the November Caption Contest. Scroll back to the photo in the blog and leave your caption under Comments.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Construction Ballet

Construction workers have been busy installing a new sewage pipe in the streets around Tales of the Lonesome Pine. But the more they close off sections of street, first on one side of the house and then the other, the more it feels like they’re building a giant moat around the bookstore.

On Wednesday Jack moved the pickup to a parking lot across the street while men and women in hardhats tore a deep channel out of the road. They worked at a breakneck pace and had laid the pipe and covered it with a new layer of gravel by late afternoon.

The chaos and noise seemed to be over, so I moved Jack’s pickup back in front of the store. Big mistake.

The next morning saw the construction shifted down the block, with Jack’s truck now a key part of the roadblock cutting the street off to traffic. Cones lined up diagonally out from the back bumper. A new border was drawn.

“So what’s the problem?” you might ask.

With the pickup forming a new boundary for construction, it became the line inside which immense yellow machines roared and tore at the street. I sat and watched at the window as they spun out gravel with a backhoe, all within inches of the truck door. It became a kind of performance piece, with each terrible machine whizzing as close to the pickup as possible while other construction workers admired the precise daredevilry of the driver.

For several hours they played chicken with the parked truck. I got up every few seconds to look through the window, fully expecting to see a massive metal claw lodged in the truck’s roof. I began chewing every pencil in sight.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and went out with the keys. “Can I get that out of your way?” I said. One guy glanced over and insisted it wasn’t a problem, then turned back just in time to marvel at a bulldozer that had swung its blade up within two inches of the door while simultaneously spinning into a 180 turn. They were like guys watching skateboard stunts, except with a skateboard that weighed 8000 pounds and could crush a refrigerator. And with the pickup boxed in by a dump truck there was nothing I could do.

About an hour later a construction worker came in to the store. He took off his helmet, as if about to offer condolences. I tensed and latched on to the table with clawed hands.

“Can you flassdiscommoe?” he said.

It didn’t sound anything like “move your truck” or “we destroyed your truck” or “your truck is about to explode,” so I didn’t process it at all. My brain could only understand the word “truck,” and he had failed entirely to oblige this temporary insanity.

“You want me to move the truck?” I asked.

“No, no. Can you flush the commode?” he said. I breathed again. It had nothing to do with the truck. With that settled I moved on to the task of unlocking why he wanted me to flush the toilet. After some confused back and forth the truth came out: they needed to test the new pipe.

They were done for the day. And as the toilet water spun down the drain with my test flush I knew that Jack’s truck would be safe. The truck and I had survived the construction ballet.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, shopsitting, small town USA, VA