The Monday Book: THE BEAR WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN by William Kotzwinkle

Okay, I hate magical realism. Why I picked up this book, I cannot tell you, but I’m so glad I did. It is laugh out loud funny. I read so many parts of it out loud to Jack, he finally told me to stop, he’d read it later.bear

Aesop’s Fables meets David Lodge in this book about a bear who finds a novel in a briefcase, and decides to turn himself into somebody. Which means going to New York, becoming the toast of the publishing and talk circuit world, and buying a British title. Also lots and lots of pies, cakes, ice cream, pretzels, and potato chips. He’s a bear. He names himself Hal Jam, because there’s nothing nicer than jam, and he can remember how to spell Hal.

People involved in the publishing and/or cult of celebrity world will shriek with recognition at some of the antics of this bear and his team, but everyone is going to love him on some level. If it gives you any insights, the book culminates in a lawsuit about copyright.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

The bear looked out the window at the city. “Mine,” he thought. Of course he’d need to shit around the perimeter and subdue some females, but time enough for that.

When I wasn’t annoying Jack by saying, “Wait wait, listen to this!” I was laughing out loud, startling the dogs as they lay by the bed. This book is so very, very funny. It skewers the publishing experience and a few other things besides. And it never lets up.

So when I finally realized I was indeed enjoying a magic realism novel, I thought it had to be because the author was such a good writer. Simple, fast sentences with complex nuances, floating between bear brain and publisher brain. He’s good, this guy.

Yeah, well, William Kotzwinkle wrote ET. Yes, that ET.

Two unopposable bear claws up for THE BEAR WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN.

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Ariel Chats with the Crowd

arielHi! I’m Ariel! I’m an Appalachian Feline Friends foster cat, which means I have a safe place to stay while my furrever family finds me.

I’m really glad to be an AFF cat, but I’m getting kinda bored, y’know? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know good and well what COULDA happened – don’t think I don’t. It’s just that I’ve been waiting about six weeks now and I only get out to play once a day and it’s just flat boring.

Peggotty, the cat in the pen next to mine, she’s a good conversationalist and sometimes we talk. About the places we’ve been, the hard times we’ve seen, the kinda homes we’re hoping to have. She wants a big place where she can run around up and down stairs, and a nice soft bed to sleep on indoors at night.

Come to think of it, so do I. I’m a real sporty girl, love to run and play, and when I do get my paws on that jingle ball, baby, it’s mine. But I also have a warm side. Shoulder rides are kinda… you know, nice.

What I really wish is I could be captain of a volleyball team, really a beach volleyball team, but the people who work here say they don’t give those jobs to cats. Which is a shame. We’d have won those Olympic thingees for y’all.

But okay, so I have to do cat jobs. I’ll take care of your mice, and I’ll keep my litter box and my bed neat as a pin, and if you have other cats around I’ll play nice with ’em. I’m not too familiar with dogs, but hey, they should be easy for me to train. Never had any trouble teaching the kittens right from wrong, and they’re smarter than dogs. No kittens for me, though. I’m spayed.

Not that I’m prejudiced, mind. Live and let live, that’s my motto. Except for mice. That’s different.

So if you’re looking for a sporty girl with some high energy love to give who would just love to curl up against your shoulder at night for some quality cuddle-n-purr time, look no further. Call AFF and ask for Ariel.

Oh, and yeah, Peggotty’s here too. She says hi.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: The Girl in the Spiders Web by David Lagercrantz

Jack and Wendy started listening to The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz on the way back from Wyoming. They tried to finish it back home. This guest blog by Jack is the result.

I got the distinct feeling that this was an unfinished story by the original series’ author Stieg Larsson that had been finished off by Lagercrantz.

The first two thirds of the book is just as gripping as the previous books in the Lisbeth Salander series, but then it fairly abruptly drifted off into a plotless limbo. I never thought I’d end up forcing myself to finish it simply to find out what happened to one of the characters. And the characters! How many do you need to keep introducing? Reporters, magazine executives, IT experts, gangsters, movie stars, psychologists, US intelligence agents and on and on – – . Many of these appeared as the plot was beginning to lose direction, so thank you Mr Lagercrantz.

Enough, already!

The basic idea of taking something that most people have a vague knowledge of, in this case the genius savant,  and then stretching it to its limits and building a gripping conspiracy around it, got the book off to a pretty rollicking start. It’s just a shame it shifted into neutral and started coasting.

It hasn’t put me off going back to re-read the original books by Stieg Larsson, but I won’t be rushing to buy Lagercrantz’s next epic.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, writing

Hadley Marie Hemingway, Spooksfeline

Windsome hadleyHi everybody. You all know me. I’m Hadley Marie Hemingway. I’m famous.

sotto voice, offstage: Hadley, please….

Oh, right. I gotta job to do. A couple months ago Mom got with some friends and they started a cat rescue. Like they did for my brothers and me a couple years ago. They save kittens that are gonna get left alone or taken to the shelter. Big cats too. There’s been a lotta cats through this place. Some of ’em are nice, and some of ’em I’m glad they left. They were bigger’n me.

Mom and all the other people are working hard, and I guess that’s good, but sometimes the kittens come downstairs and sleep on the bed. With us. Near Mom’s face. Where I like to be.

whispers: Tell them about the fun you have playing, dear.

And sometimes they play with the dangly mouse on the cat tree. Which is mine. Or hog the sunbeam in the mystery room. If they do that I sit on them, though, so they usually move.

HADLEY! YOU PROMISED!

I mean, I like that mom an’ the lady who smells like bacon, an’ Fuzzy Daddy an’ the other people who work here – or maybe they live here, I don’t know – anyway, I like that they help the little kittens. I was a little kitten once.

Two of the kittens here now are really scared of everybody, so they’re hiding up under the bathroom sink. There’s a hole at the back of the cupboard that lets two or three cats get in there at once. Mom calls it “the Scaredy Cat Flat.” Sooner or later they all come out to play, though. There used to be three from this group, but Frosty – she’s a white cat like me with spots; we look so much alike people ask if we’re sisters. We’re not. I’m the only cat who’s like me.

*ahem*

Anyway, Frosty came out for wet breakfast after a couple of days, an’ now she’s my friend. We play jingle catch together with the feathery ball. That’s kinda fun, an’ I’m glad she’s safe an’ away from the shelter an’ all, but I’m not sharing my dangly mouse. That’s mine. We can share the sunbeam. It’s a big sunbeam.

Mom says I’m a good lil sister to the other cats, which is funny ’cause I’m older’n some of ’em, but that’s okay. An’ she says I get to be the spookycat. Um wait, the spookscat.

stage whispers: Spokescat, dear

Um yeah, you know, the cat who talks about the other cats. I get to have my picture on the FacePage an’ all.

FaceBoo-oh, never mind

So you can go look at me. I’m the cute one, above the blue button that says “donate.” Mom says that means “help us get the cats tutored.” I wasn’t gonna do it at first, but Mom says if Nate gets enough money, I can have my own sunbeam. That would be nice. Here’s where my spookscat picture is: https://www.facebook.com/appalachianfelinefriends/.

Mom says that spells “adorable photo of Hadley Marie Hemingway.”

Anyway, I’m Hadley an’ I improved this message.

Approved, dear

That’s what I said.

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Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: DOCTORS FROM HELL by Vivien Spitz

It’s bound to be Monday somewhere (the Monday book on Tuesday) a guest blog by Jack

I suppose, as a Quaker, I’m always interested in how folk can be persuaded to treat other human beings badly, or even kill them. Of course it usually requires the creation of the ‘other’ – on racial or religious grounds and the application of the state propaganda through a compliant media. It also helps to have a large segment of society that feels hard done by. Then you need a strongly hierarchical society where it becomes particularly hard to ‘buck the system’!

Spitz was a young court reporter at the Nuremberg Trials – specifically the follow-up trials of the doctors and health professionals who carried out a series of dreadful experiments on concentration camp internees and prisoners of war. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was impressed that she didn’t shy away from the fact that the dubious ‘science’ of Eugenics wasn’t pioneered in Germany, but in the US. She also touches on experiments that were carried out without permission in the US after WW2 on some groups as well as by Japan during the war.

I’ve never believed that there was something uniquely different about the German population in the 1930s and 40s that made them somehow different from the rest of humanity. I often wonder how I would have behaved if I had been living there and then.

The main defense that was put forward by the defendants during the trials Spitz reported on revolved around two things. First, that they were fighting a war and were ordered to carry out certain actions and had to comply. Secondly that, as doctors, they believed they were acting for the ‘greater good’ – they could help many by sacrificing a few.

Some of the accused were found guilty and others were acquitted. Of those found guilty some were sentenced to death and others to long jail sentences.

But others who might have been tried at Nuremberg were never brought to trial. Some escaped to South America and others were recruited by the US, the UK and the Soviet Union as useful assets for the next war. Most famously, Werner van Braun became the hero of the US space industry bringing  the expertise he gained on the back of prisoners from the camps who died in their thousands building his V2 rockets for the Nazi cause.

Per Ardua ad Astra instead of Arbeit Macht Frei?

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A guest blog from TWO BEARS FARM

This blog is from Lisa, who blogs at twobearsfarm.com, about her visit to our bookshop. Thank you, Lisa!

A while ago my mom loaned me a book called The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.  A memoir, it sat on my bookshelf for a while before I read it and discovered it was so much better than I ever expected.  I fell in love with the quirky used bookstore in Big Stone Gap, and suggested to my parents (who both enjoyed the book, too) that we go there.

Big Stone Gap is waaaaayyyy down in the deep southwest of the state.  It took us a while to get there.  On the way we stopped at a farm to table restaurant in Meadowview called Harvest Table where I got the best grilled chicken sandwich ever.  I never even knew chicken could taste like that. On homemade focaccia with a remoulade sauce, it was the most tender, most flavorful chicken in existence.  If you are ever out that way (and you probably won’t be), be sure to stop in.

Eventually, we made it to Big Stone Gap, deep in the Appalachian mountains.  The bookstore didn’t disappoint.   The boys had a blast exploring all the rooms and carrying around the six (!) foster kittens in residence.  We all found a few books we needed.

On the way home we took a little detour through Lebanon so I could see the area where my grandfather’s family lived.  I enjoyed seeing his old stomping ground, imagining him as a young boy there with his siblings.

It was a lot of driving for one day, but included unique experiences, and I got to see some beautiful areas of the state I had never seen before.  Plus, that chicken sandwich?  Totally worth seven hours of driving.

Readers – have you ever gone out of your way to see a place from a book or a movie?

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

What do you do?

 Jack’s weekly post –

 

In a previous post I spoke about my visit to the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody, Wyoming a few weeks ago.

I felt I needed to put that into much more of a personal context, so here goes –

As I said previously my Grandad went to see the Wild West Show in Dunfermline in 1904, which was part of the last European tour by Buffalo Bill’s show and was augmented by additional subcontracted acts such as Zulu warriors as well as Cossack and Japanese horsemen.

I had always been intrigued by the notion of the cobbled streets of my historic old hometown being clattered by Native Americans and the Deadwood Stage, not to mention Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley!

bb

Buffalo Bill Cody himself!

But back in the early 2000s I was roped into collaborating on a CD featuring my friend and folk music mentor, the late John Watt. John was a wonderful and very individual songwriter and most of his songs were written from a very ‘Fife’ point of view. The CD was titled ‘Heroes’ and one of these accorded this honor was Buffalo Bill. I discovered that John’s father had also witnessed that 1904 performance in my (and his) hometown.

We talked about this shared family history and it turned out that John had written a number of songs about that occasion, and two of them were to be on the album. One was a quirky and very funny one called ‘The day that Billy Cody played the auld grey toon*’ while the other was much more thoughtful – ‘The Wild West Show’.

The ‘Wild West Show’ describes the mix of acts, but also points out that the massacre of Wounded Knee had happened just a few years earlier and suggests that the answer to the ‘Indian Problem’ was to turn them into cheap entertainment, playing a parody of themselves in front of European heads of state.

John very rarely wrote ‘message’ songs, but this one, with a great tune and a very sing-able chorus has been covered by many other performers and is one my own favorites.

Shortly after we left Cody we deliberately drove to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre where we met a number of descendents of the survivors staffing tables by the side of the road. They weren’t selling trinkets or souvenirs; nor were they asking for money; they were just there to tell their story.

I felt very guilty that many of the Scots that were ‘cleared’ from the highlands and survived the coffin ships to reach America, then proceeded to ‘clear’ the indigenous folk they found there in turn.

The irony is that because this was the last tour, some of the Indians decided to stay on in Glasgow. A ‘ghost shirt’ they had brought with them ended up in a local museum and was finally returned to the US five years ago – quite a circular tale!

“The red man rides for the white man’s fee,
Better than a grave at Wounded Knee,
I better he never thought he’d see,
The spires of the auld grey toon*.

“Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill, my daddy saw you comin’ down the hill.

A big success for soldier blue, with the last brave dead in the snow,

What do you do with the Cheyenne and the Sioux?

You put them in a wild west show”

 

*The auld grey toon is an affectionate nickname for Dunfermline.

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch