Tag Archives: Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

The Monday Book: MY NAME IS ASHER LEV by Chaim Potok

I discovered Potok in high school, and entered a world very different from my own. (And isn’t that part of why we read, to find the places where things are so very different, yet common threads run through them?) Hasidic Judaism and big cities are neither one familiar to me, and yet the points on which this story turns are accessible because they’re based on human connections. What I read as lovely background, people from other communities and cities would read as familiarity; perhaps Potok’s genius lies in depicting a world so well, people from both sides of the window can see it without distortion.

Potok has a lovely way of just telling his story, and letting you think what you will. He almost writes like a literary television: here is the scene. What, you don’t understand the facial expression on the protagonist? Well, figure it out.

I really, really like writing that gives the reader his/her own sovereignty. Asher Lev is about a brilliant kid who, if you want to put it in simple terms, was kind of born into the wrong family. Except he wasn’t. They love him, but he’s… wrong for their way of life. He’s a very gifted artist in a family that doesn’t even have pictures in the house because of strict beliefs. His genius leads him to create a division in his family that causes all sorts of things, including a betrayal of his religious identity and, ultimately, his parents. He betrays his father by painting his mother, while his whole life is one long, slow betrayal of her, as she stood between the two of them and helped her son achieve greatness. In doing so, she gave him the tools to cut his father to the core. It’s an amazing story.

But the whole story is told from Asher’s point of view, much of it as a child, so it flows past in the background while he concentrates on making art. He’s something between a straight shooter and an unreliable narrator. When his parents won’t buy him paint, he takes him mother’s coffee and cigarette ashes and uses them with pencil to create a color effect, without recognizing what his father sees, watching him do that. Did you see the scene in the film Billy Elliot, where the dad–opposed to his son’s dancing all this time–watches him break into dance in their kitchen, and gives up?

Asher is a sickly kid, but his mom is pursuing a PhD at the behest of the Reb, and his father is deeply involved in politics and even some clandestine missions on behalf of the community. None of which this child cares about. He’s painting. It makes an interesting read, and a conflicting experience as to whether Asher is a heroic protagonist or not.

The story reminds me a little bit of an essay called “The Monster,” about what a horrible person Wagner was and how incredible his music is. Asher Lev is a book sort of like Vanity Fair, one of my other favorites. It has many heroes and none.

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, VA

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – -

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA

The Monday Book: PATRON SAINT OF UGLY by Maria Manilla

ugly coverThe author of this book is a facebook friend of mine, and I got it directly from her by request, because I like books set in Appalachia and wanted to review it. It’s a  magical realism romp, set in Sweetwater, West Virginia. Normally I’m not much for magical realism, but the cast of character in Ugly just won’t quit, from the indomitable Nonna to her fierce-yet-naive granddaughter Garnet Ferrari.

Garnet has a mop of flaming red hair, and the port-wine stains all over her body replicate a map of the world. Pilgrims flock to her home, convinced that she is pretty much the reincarnation of Saint Garnet, healer of skin ailments and other miracles. (Along with truth and lies, theology gets a little tangled with practicalities in this funny, fast book.) Garnet, used to being an outcast and the victim of bullies, doesn’t have much use for people, but all those poor unfortunates give her pause. She’d really like to just convince them this is all hooey, and they should go home, but at the same time she doesn’t want to hurt them.

It doesn’t help that the family has origins in the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily, where another saint named Garnet once presided, so the Vatican sends an emissary to investigate. Garnet’s written responses on the questionnaire to the investigating priest are some of the funniest bits in the book. Slowly she untangles a sad history of family rights and wrongs, learning that reality and myth blend in every family, and that love doesn’t always conquer all, even if it helps.

I like snarky writing, so enjoyed Garnet and Nonna’s interactions particularly well. Nonna, so patient, so reasonable, so astute behind that little-old-lady innocence, is the perfect foil for Garnet’s “please go away” attitude.

If you like magical realism, if you think Michael Malone’s Handling Sin is funny, if you love to read snappy dialogue from quirky characters, if you like bittersweet humor, you’ll enjoy this book.

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Grandma was Right?!

seriouslyWhen I was a little girl we lived next door to my father’s parents. They were strict people: no short sleeves, no jewelry (including wedding rings) no music except hymns on Sundays.

But they were also great fun, being crazier than anyone else I knew. In my house, books lined the hallway, flowed across bedroom floors, covered every flat surface. In theirs lived just three: a Bible (KJV and don’t you forget it); a strange novel from the 1920s called something like Mary of the Hazel Woods, about a mountain girl’s search for book larnin’ so she could get herself a Bible – which she did months later after taking in sewing and then walking barefoot through the woods for eight miles to buy one second-hand, repairing the cover with her sewing needle; and, for some unknown reason, a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

I don’t think they’d read the sonnets. I read every book in their house at least three times in the years they babysat me after school, and by age eleven understood that a bunch of those poems were about sex. I didn’t let on, though; I’d had enough of that self-righteous prig Mary o’ Hazel Woods.

Everyone in my family but them liked books. And although everyone in my family liked God and talked about Him a lot, Grandma and Grandpa said things the rest of us didn’t. Like He didn’t like it when people with straight hair used curlers.

So  I grew up viewing my grandparents with equal parts love and suspicion, learning not to rely too much on Grandma’s little homilies, delivered as we were cooking or sewing together. Among other things, Grandma believed women should not go to college, that when Catholics died they shot down a specially reserved chute straight into Hell, and that the people across the street were spies for the CIA.

“Why would that matter, Grandma?” I asked, still kinda stuck on the “girls shouldn’t go to college” part.

“Because they’re spying on me.”

“The CIA wants to spy on you?”

“‘Course they do. They wanna know ever’thin’ ’bout ‘ever’body in America.”

“Uhh, okay, Grandma. How do I turn this seam?”

As the years flew by, it grew simpler to filter out the silly stuff–like not having sex except to have children (which explained why some of the extended family had so many, but I kept my mouth shut)–and hang onto the stuff that seemed wise–like darning socks over a light bulb, and putting the milk into the biscuit batter last.

Trouble is, I missed a good one. All these years later, with Grandma long gone and her granddaughter crocheting her own socks after getting a PhD and then opening a bookstore, I have to admit Grandma was right about the spying. The CIA does watch everybody – or maybe it’s that NSA, or whoever’s in charge of the Internet now. Everywhere you turn it’s Edward Snowden, data mining, privacy rights, and on and on and on.

Who knew?
Grandma!

Sorry, Gran, you were right the whole time. About that. I’m still not buying that women should stay home with three books and not go to college. Love you, though, and thanks for the recipes!

 

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Beulah Plots Revenge

beulahGood morning. My name is Beulah, and I am the shop greeter at Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used and New Books (The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap).

No doubt news of my recent lawsuit has reached you by now, so allow me to provide the untold half of this story. People tend to side with their own species so quickly….

Yes, I am suing my employers for compensatory damages after emotional distress, and punitive damages. Owen Meany has assisted me in filing the needed legal briefs with Mr. Kallen, the lawyer across the alley.

Here are the facts of the case: On Thursday last I was taken against my will to a local animal hospital. In a carrier into which I was stuffed headfirst. Like a sack of potatoes. Despite my best efforts, which I assure you were considerable.

At said hospital I was drugged, and this was done to me.

beulah shaved IIGo ahead, laugh. I’ll add you to the lawsuit.

As I came groggily to myself, an unspeakable procedure called a “fecal exam” was performed. I added the animal “doctor” to my lawsuit. Don’t let that sweet little smile fool you; this woman is a sadist.beth More about her later.

One would think enough suffering had been inflicted, but on my return “home” I was locked in a room for three days, while vile concoctions were mixed into my food, something called “panacur.” First it was in milk. When I rejected this, they brought tinned food, again with the horrid stuff. I don’t know which was worse: having this thrust at me, or their belief that I was unintelligent enough to fall for such simple bribery.

But then they brought chicken. Lightly poached in its own juices. In tiny shreds. My willpower weakened from two days of confinement…..

I ate the chicken until I detected a foreign substance in my mouth. Ejecting the small pink pill (which they’d so “cleverly” smeared with chicken fat) via a ladylike “ptui,” I continued my meal.

The next day, a plate of tuna awaited me. As I loathe tuna, I followed protocol and covered it with cat litter. (Did I mention they’d provided me with a nasty little portapotty?) The unhygienic humans removed the pill–now looking very unappetizing indeed–and came toward me.

The phrase “fought like a wildcat” is incorrect. I fought like a calico. When three of them finally got the thing in and held me down, I waited. And waited.

I am very good at waiting. When they released me with murmurs of “good kitty, sweet kitty” I looked up at the ringleader and spat out the pill.

Their curses were as music to my ears.

By then I had been in confinement for three days, enduring the vile panacur mixed with chicken shreds. The humans, apparently satisfied with this torture, released me.

And then…. SHE came back!!!!!beth hood

As I sat at my old familiar post, greeting customers, Miss Priss trotted across the lawn, and before I knew what was happening, she had grabbed me and forced a whole new pill down my throat. I resisted, I fought, and then I waited. And waited.

But so did she. My mouth filled with saliva. I thought I would drown. And still she waited, smiling. Oh, that smile……

Finally instinct took over, and–curse all the dogs of this world and the moon–I swallowed.

The Evil One released me at once. And. Patted. Me. On. The. Head.

“Was that so hard?” she said, and as the door closed, I heard her say, “No, no problem at all. She’s a little lamb.”

I moved her name up in the lawsuit to primary defendant. You’ll get yours, Missy. Just you wait.

Owen tells me it may be next summer before my case comes to court. That’s fine. Revenge is a dish best served cold. I am very good at waiting….

 

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, VA, writing

The Monday Book: THE CHANGELING GARDEN by Winifred Elze

garden coverWhat a weird, fun little book.

I bought The Changeling Garden in Neenah, Wisconsin, at my friend Tina’s PAPERBACK BOOK EXCHANGE. Which is a funny name for her shop because it’s a beautiful store with lots of lovely hardbacks and paperbacks on multiple subjects standing tall and proud on shelves stretching above your head, not one of those sad places with chest high shelves full of well-thumbed Penguin Classics lying sideways.

Although a book did fall on my head while I was there, so maybe there’s something to be said for chest-high shelves, Tina?

ANYWAY, Garden has a little bit of everything: reincarnation, Mayans, killer plants, environmental awareness, and space-time refraction – Oh My!

The story’s premise is that a bank is making some bad investments in rain forest deforestation, and a local woman has a house with a garden that she and her son can talk to, and there are a couple of Mayan priests from the Fourth Age running around watching the Greenhouse Effect take down the humans who shouldn’t be here any more….. yeah. Convoluted, and yet, sort of like the root structure of a tree, it builds a foundation a story can grow from.

This book is actually kind of fun. The writing is deadpan, sometimes a bit illogical, but you really don’t mind because who can help but enjoy moments like these:

(Annie, the protagonist:) “Well, stop him! He murders people!”

(Mayan time traveler:) “He’s allowed to kill people if he wants to. He’s a priest.”

Yeah. That kind of thing. This book was published in 1995, way before the Mayan calendar crisis of 2012, but its take on the preservation of plants and forests is not preachy, just tucked underneath a lot of rushed-past unexplained phenomenon. Elze’s writing kind of reminds me of Stephen King’s advice: Not everything in life is explained, so why should writing be different?

I was in the mood for something different, and this book obliged. If you’d enjoy reading about murderous plants, night flights as women turn into birds, modern day herbalist witches who really don’t want to be, and planet-surfing Mayans decked out in parrot feathers who speak in English slang because of translation headbands, you’ll like this book.

And what’s not to like about planet-surfing Mayans with translation headbands? :]

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Let the Music Flow

We always enjoy emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, but this year the job had two big bonuses.

First, a combination of thoughtful performer choices, near-perfect weather, and on-the-day professionalism has made this year musically superior to others. Sigean, Maidens IV, Night Crossing, and the debut of the charismatic and very silly Kryss Dula and Taylor Morefield, along with whistle player Martha Egan, the Irish Skye Dancers and Sandra Parker on Celtic harp, has given the year a more acoustic and genteel flavor.

I wouldn’t say gentle, because there’s been plenty of hard-driving fiddle and a high energy bodhran or two, but the overall ethos has been people drawn together by the quality of the music rather than showmanship. This year has also lacked who’s-on-first band crap. That’s been very pleasant.

During his set Kryss spoke to the festival’s theme, Scottish Independence (election Sept. 18) and talked about the “civility of political discourse” he’d been watching when reporters asked people on the street whether they’d be voting for or against–and why. “We should have that kind of unscripted, friendly dialogue in America,” he says. “We’re all one people. We should talk to each other.”

It was that kind of call for community all day at the festival, and it was really answered. Audiences sang in harmony, clapped to rhythms, and helped get the tent sides back up quickly when a peal of thunder threatened our little corner of paradise with rain in the sound equipment.

A day of dwelling in harmony, indeed.

And then, last night at the concert, as the sun went down and we watched a thunderstorm pass us by the west, a bright yellow full moon began to rise above those storm clouds. Full moons have traditionally been thought to excite, but people listening to Night Crossing’s lovely vocals and smooth blend of whistle, fiddle, bodhran and guitar were wandering out of the tent with little smiles on their faces, some clutching a partner’s hand, to watch as peeking became rising became shining. Mare’s tail clouds wisped over its bright-pale surface as Denise, their lead vocalist, sang a haunting Irish lament.

In short, it was pretty near perfect.

moonriseSouls that need soothing enjoy music. Souls that are celebrating enjoy music. And a warm night with just enough breeze to make it comfortable, listening to performers who are contributing together to a successful community event–well, throw a beautiful moonrise on top of that, and we all went home happy.

If you missed yesterday but live near Elizabethton, Tennessee, you can still make today’s musical moments. The festival runs 10:30-5. And if you can’t make it here, don’t forget that Big Stone Celtic is Friday night Sept. 26 and all day Saturday Sept. 27.

And as I look forward to these days, I will treasure yesterday, Sept. 6, like a shining moon on a calming sea.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch