The Sweater

I came to Charlottesville for the VA Festival of the Book and enjoyed my day out, eating excellent foods from distinctive cooking traditions and haunting yarn shops. Yesterday I listened to three writers in two panels discuss their work and how it comes together, and it was good info. My panel is this morning, talking about Appalachia as stereotype and reality in economics, foster care, and history.

IMG_3588But I have been these last ten weeks in Fayetteville, West Virginia, a town with a different ethos. This is what I wore in Fayetteville quite a bit, and people would stop me and say, “I love that t-shirt, and your sweater is beautiful. Did you make it yourself?” I saw one woman cross the street to come talk to me, and the first thing she did was fondle my sweater.

Here in Charlottesville, the city of wealth, people are not lame or demeaning. Don’t get that idea. But they look at my sweater and avoid making eye contact. The night I pulled into the hotel at 11:30 pm, lugging my worldly goods in a laundry basket (didn’t have any luggage with me at the writing residency) the desk clerk said, “May I help you?” When I said “Welch,” she looked at me for a moment, then blinked.

“Oh, you have a reservation.” And her fingers flew. So it was only a second there that she wondered why this road-haggard woman with the dandelion fluff hair and the fuzzy sweater carrying a laundry basket was standing at the counter.

Friday, I went out with my sweater to see the world, Charlottesville style. On the Pedestrian Mall (socks $25, earrings $30) people glanced at my sweater and look away again. I know what they were thinking, “Gee, I wish I had a sweater that pretty.”



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Here, There and Everywhere

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post is a day late –

I continue to be somewhat amazed at how small the world has become, and it’s not just the number of people from far afield who visit our wee bookstore in rural Appalachia – even this week when it was snowing.

Just yesterday I had an email conversation with a gentleman in Rome, Italy called Massimo. It started first thing in the morning with a request for the words of a song I recorded with my old group Heritage on our second album back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued and in a subsequent message he explained he was a big fan and had spent years collecting all the available recordings that I and the group had made over the years. As of this morning there are two CDs he didn’t know about winging their way to him via the USPS and Poste Italiane!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the presenter of a folk music show that airs on a radio station based in SW Scotland and we have begun to exchange programs. The ones I’m sending him are mostly digitized copies of cassettes that were made of a live show that I did back in the 1990s on a different (and now defunct) station in Scotland. But these cassettes were stored here at WETS which is the station where ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ is based, because back then I sent them over to be re-broadcast here. So a show that originally went out live to rural Perthshire has gone through a series of different technologies, traveled the Atlantic twice and is being heard by listeners of Folk n’ Stuff over the internet in (among other places) Tallahassee where there are, apparently, a loyal group of fans!

Sticking with the radio theme, I had the great pleasure of interviewing a lovely Irishman called Liam at the WETS studios on Monday morning, who is a visiting professor at ETSU just now, and made a good friend in the process. We concentrated on two themes that are part of his research focus and will also be the subjects of presentations he will make here. One was the importance of the culture of small geographical areas and the other was the challenge of Brexit for Ireland (North and South).

On Tuesday Wendy and I had our guest blog post for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum published and that also has a transatlantic theme.

Meanwhile I continue to fine tune the arrangements for my annual small group tour of Scotland at the end of June, which also entails a fair amount of international communication.

It’s all a mad gay whirl I tell you – – –


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Dragon and Thief
Timothy Zahn
A Starscape Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
First Starscape edition published March 2004
248 pages
US $5.99
ISBN 0-765-34272-3

26754248_1710858812270915_1194046930_nJack has a secret that he’s been keeping for quite some time. If this secret gets out, he could be in a world of trouble. As it is, he’s already in that – on a whole different world. In a whole different galaxy.

Hiding out on the uninhabited planet of Iota Klestis, Jack and his Uncle Virgil are witnesses to an aerial battle in the sky above their concealed spaceship. As they watch, four little ships are firing on four large and lumbering spaceships. At the end of the short and deadly battle, one of the large ships has crashed on their hideaway planet. Uncle Virge urges Jack to go search for survivors or anything else worth salvaging.

This is when the story gets interesting. Jack comes face-to-face, or should I say, back-to-front, with an alien K’da dragon warrior named Draycos, who is like nothing that Jack has ever experienced before. Draycos changes from a three-dimensional dragon to a two-dimensional form that flows onto Jack’s body, and transforms himself into a living tattoo that wraps itself across Jack’s back, shoulders and arms.

Needless to say, Jack is freaked out! This book will keep you fully engaged in the adventures that Jack and Draycos encounter, while continuing to establish their relationship as host and symbiont. Draycos also teaches Jack about ethical behavior, as befitting a K’da dragon warrior.

This book is the first of six books in the Dragonback series, written by none other than Timothy Zahn, who is well known as the author of eighteen science fiction novels, among those two Star Wars© series.

I stumbled across this book (written for young adults aged 10+) at my local “used books” bookstore. Intrigued, I stood there reading it for a good 30 minutes, before finally putting it down; but not before I had taken a quick photo of the cover. A year later, I went back to find it. I had been so impressed by the creativity of the author that I just HAD to finish reading it! It’s a good 2-hour read from start to finish. You will enjoy it – if you are looking for the feeling of having finished something light and satisfying, when you turn the last page.


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Bookstores – What are they Like?

A guest post from Jack on Friday because Wendy has more urgent requirements –

It’s time for me to talk about bookstores for a change!

This is traditionally our quietest time of the year, but not this time for some unfathomable reason. We’ve had the usual mixture of old stalwarts and out-of-towners despite the cold, rainy or snowy weather. Maybe Spring is close because we’ve also had lots of donations and traded books as well, which means a lot of pricing and shelving of course.

A couple of months ago our good friend David helped me to do a very deep clean of most of the front shop and that resulted in a significant culling of duplicates, battered and ‘never sell in a million years’ books. That freed up some space so now we have some shelf space (as well as half a garage full of boxes of duplicates and ‘never sells – -‘).

In between all this I’ve been checking emails and FaceBook where I’ve been seeing lots of reports of bookstores closing and others opening up – so the scene continues to be pretty dynamic. I haven’t had any time to try to analyze what’s going on but it would certainly be interesting. I’ve heard many reports of retirees buying existing bookstores as a kind of fun thing to do as a source of extra income (although there are only really certain ways of doing that – mainly – sell used books and live on the premises!).

Just to put the top hat on things, Wendy sent me the manuscript of one of the books she’s been working on while she’s been on her writing residency in WV and, lo and behold, there’s a mythical bookstore in it that seems strangely familiar! It’s quite disturbing to read a novel (yes, a novel) with so many recognizable places and characters in it. Being a novel, she allowed herself to mess with the characters as well as the bookstore which makes it even more odd. Our bookstore has had many adventures and strange happenings associated with it but none quite like this!

To finish – as I was writing this a tall and exceptionally beautiful woman came into the store and asked if we had any Dostoevskys – I directed her to the classics room and she volunteered that she was just waiting for her car to be serviced round the corner. “Where are you from” I ventured – “Michigan” she replied.

Wendy was born in Michigan – – –


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1960, 1991, 2018

Today is the day students are walking out of schools to demand tougher gun legislation.

On January 17, 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf addressed a different group of young people, many of them also 18. Those young people were armed to the teeth. To those kids, marching into a fierce battle that opened Desert Storm, he said some words that have a strange resonance now.

“You are a member of the most powerful force our country has ever assembled,” he began. He meant the military. The military is strong. Grassroots are stronger. Have you ever tried to pull up grass by its roots?

“You have trained hard for this battle and you are ready….I have seen in your eyes a determination to get this job done…My confidence in you is total! Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.”

This isn’t Desert Storm, when we called on young people to be brave and scary and inflict shock and awe on another country. This is students fighting for their own lives, inspiring shock and awe within their country.

Every battle is different. Every battle requires courage from those on the ground.

Go kids. Go.





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Paul Garrett is a retired guy and writer who enjoys offering interesting points of view for consideration. Have fun!

fatwa (2)Your Fatwa does not Apply Here

by Karima Bennoune

Viewing frequent headlines fraught with images of Islamic terrorism, it may be easy to assume that it all started on 9-11, or to paint all Muslims as murderers. After all, where is the anti-Islamist backlash among the Muslims?  In this masterfully written book, Karima Bennoune, an Algerian-American Muslim, human rights lawyer and  frequent Ted talker, attempts to set the record straight:  Peaceful and steadfast Muslims have been resisting the onslaught of Fundamentalism for decades, mostly unnoticed by the larger world.

The book opens in Algeria’s “Dark Decade” of the 90’s when over 200,000 Algerians fell victim to Islamist violence. Even her father, a college professor, was attacked for the “sin” of teaching Darwinism.

She points out that as many as 85% of the victims of Islamist violence are themselves Muslims. Nor is Islamism monolithic. It includes a wide spectrum of disparate groups. She dislikes the approach of the American Right, which often opines that violence is endemic in Islam, but also that of the Left, which makes excuses for Muslim violence or blames the West.

Through over 30 visits to countries around the world, and interviews with over 300 Muslims, she chronicles the activities of defenders of the faith, who, despite threats, torture and even the death of family members, remain resolute in their opposition to Fundamentalism in a world wherein simple persistence is often a heroic act.

Perhaps the most poignant image in the book is that of a watch. It is stopped at three seconds before 5:18 on January 26th, 1997, the moment its wearer, Amal Zaawani was dragged from a bus and killed for the “crime” of attending the university.  Later, Amal’s younger sister Lamia defiantly attended the same university and received the law degree that was so brutally denied her sister.

These are two heroes of the resistance, along with others like Aziza Yousef, who led the successful attempt to earn women the right to drive cars in Saudi Arabia, and, Malala Yousafsai, who survived being shot by the Taliban and eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for women’s rights.

As we fret over images of Islamist violence, we may question who will win this war for the hearts and minds of Muslims. So long as there are people like Lamia, Aziza, Malala, and writers like Bennoune to chronicle their efforts, there is at least a fighting chance.



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Avanti o Popolo, Alla Riscossa.

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to tradition and appears on Thursday –

OK – I’m going to dive in!

As an ex-teacher I’ve obviously been following the battle waged by my WV colleagues and it reminded me very much of the situation in Scotland at the height of Maggie Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister.

The Scottish teachers were the only group to actually win a strike against her and it was partly through the same solidarity that the brave and solidly united teachers of WV have shown.

But something else I’ve begun to see – that’s the young folk all over this country who are emerging and aren’t intimidated. Right now it’s about gun control but that’s sure to lead to other things. I wonder if there’s just the possibility that we might see a revival of the movements of the 60s and 70s that would bring about some change?

It’s so tiring and frustrating to be continuing all the time to fight back and it mostly means going out there either on the street or into hostile territory. Many people have paid a terrible price for doing that and many more likely will!

But here’s the really scary thing. In the US and the UK there’s effectively a two party system and that makes it so easy for the vested interests and the big corporations to simply pay them both off. That seems to be exactly what’s happening. Of course the argument is always to get elected on a party ticket and then change things from within. All I can say is that there are hardly any examples of full-time professional politicians that I see who haven’t been bought – either with brown envelopes or ermine cloaks – or both.

Things appear to work better in those European countries that use voting systems that promote multi-party coalitions but I don’t see any likelihood of the folk benefiting from the existing system ever agreeing to that.

So, for now, there doesn’t seem to be much alternative than to be inspired by the WV teachers and the young folk around the country! Of course you can also visit your local bookstore and find lots of great books about community activism – such as Randy Shaw’s excellent ‘The Activist’s Handbook’!


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