Tag Archives: Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paula McLain’s novel about Ernest Hemingway’s wife Hadley was one of those books I let go in and out of the shop while it was bestselling, but had on my “as soon as it slows down, I’m taking it downstairs to read” list.

I guess I missed the window. Out of state recently in a thrift store, I found it lying on a neglected shelf of musty, curling books for a quarter. Although we typically eschew buying books for cash, there seemed only one course of action….

I admit that Hemingway’s Missing Suitcase of Work (if you’re not familiar with this cautionary tale, google it) has fascinated me for years, sorta like the Bermuda Triangle. So I anticipated really enjoying this book.

While I liked it, I didn’t love it, and that’s mostly down to how well McLain describes her characters. They don’t come off as nice people, the Stein/Fitzgerald/Anderson glitterati set inhabiting Paris between the wars. They come off as vapid and aggressive. Which means McLean is a really good writer.

She doesn’t try to sound like Hemingway. Hadley, as first person narrator of the book–and Hemingway’s first wife if not his first love–sounds like a lot of women trying to be their own person and also satisfy a guy.

McLain deals well with the added tensions of artistic competitiveness, both within the marriage and between the glittering members of the lit set. If you know a lot about Hemingway’s life, seeing these events from a close-but-not-the-same point of view is interesting–particularly the lost suitcase, a pivotal yet fairly quiet event just after the novel’s middle. It has the feel of just another day in the life, as McLain has written it–a bad day, but not coming out of the writing’s character to trumpet “And from that moment to this….!” There is no literary anachronism in this book.

I am glad I got to read it, but it won’t go down in history as a favorite. It turned out to be more interesting to me in relation to the Paris writing yuppies than as its own work. Which is likely why many people read it. It doesn’t disappoint, and I think it’s odd that the thing that shows what a good writer McLean is, is the thing that consigned the book to “meh” for me: that she shows the character and flawed core of all those literary heroes.

She did such a good job, I didn’t like them, or her book. But I liked her writing. Go figger. :]

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Filed under book reviews, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, writing

Hi! I’m Prince Caspian!

DSCN1247Hi! I’m Prince Caspian! I’m a very brave explorer and a good shoulder sailor. I love to find small spaces to hide in and then jump out at people’s feet. And I love, love, love to cuddle.

I’m just here at the bookstore until I get my forever home. The bookstore is fun for now, though. Lotsa tall places to climb up and jump on people’s shoulders from. The other day I did a perfect four-paw landing on the back of one of the ladies who works here, as she was stooped over shelving some books.

DSCN1214Was it my fault she screamed like that? Honestly, it was kinda fun though, flying through the air. It didn’t hurt cause I landed on a soft chair. Just kinda bounced a little. But to hear her tell it, she thought the devil had her.

I’m just a little kitten, lady, no big deal!

Really I’m kinda sweet and innocent. Except I’m gonna be a pirate when I grow up. But don’t tell the people in the bookshop, ’cause they said I’m named for a character in a Christian children’s book.

People say I’m cute, but what they don’t know is what a very brave cat I am.They used to call me Small Fry, but I didn’t like that very much because it reminded me of the scary time I spent in that garbage can. There wasn’t anything to eat in there but cold french fries and it was so hot and hard to breathe. I knew I had to get out so I was very brave and cried and cried for help, and a nice lady heard me and got me out.

I’m trying not to hold a grudge against the guy who put me in there. He said I’d find some stuff to eat and it wouldn’t be his problem. Buddy, you need to rethink how you’re living your life. That’s all I’m saying.

DSCN1226Who needs a grudge when I’ve got all these nice people around me? First I went to the animal hospital and I stayed there a whole two weeks because I was so small and you could see my ribs – well, cold fries just aren’t much to eat, are they? And I had coccidea, which is a kitten disease that’s easy to take care of if you get the right nutrition. (Again, with the cold fries….)

Everybody loved me at the hospital and carried me around on their shoulders and let me ride on their shoes. And then I came to the bookstore, and everybody here loves me too. I’m a really lovable guy. And I get all I want to eat here! This place is great.

Mom says soon somebody will take me to another place and that will be my forever home, and I’ll get all I want to eat and have lots of laps and shoulders and chairs and shelves. I’m looking forward to it.

‘Scuse me, I see somebody coming and I don’t want them to know I’m using the computer. Come see me! Ask for Prince Caspian! Bye!

DSCN1253

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, 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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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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