The Monday Book: WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel

wolf hallThis book caused quite a stir when it came out, and has recently been made into a Masterpiece Theater mini-series, so probably most of you have already heard of it. I’m a sucker for historic fiction, but too often that means a thinly veiled bodice ripper in the hands of lesser artists.

Not here. This is a tough, sardonic, wickedly funny underneath and terrifyingly brutal on the top portrayal of one of the most confusing and dangerous times in political history. You weren’t going to get killed in the breakdown of government, but BY the crazy, inhumane government itself.

Hmm, maybe that’s why we in the early 2000s are so fascinated by King Henry’s court, when two almost equally powerful factions were smashing into each other trying to reign, with the end result that no one knew at any time what was right and wrong to be doing in the eyes of the law, or whether they were going to go to work tomorrow.

This book uses sarcastic wit, historic accuracy, and the filling in of a few personalities, to present a novel without heroes, from a time period that might have been the same. Everyone believed in something, but nobody believed in the same thing–unless the king wanted them to, in which case they either did believe it, or died in some horrible way. Ho hum…. The genius of the writing is how well Mantel makes then feel like now: the animals are going extinct; modern times are too fast to keep up with, now the printing press has been invented; the rulers are fickle; the parliament can’t get anything done. Etc.

Mantel’s good at description, and I’m not such a fan of dense descriptive books when it comes to room settings or wooded copses, but she does make you feel as though you are there. And when she gets to describing the tensions in the room at any given meeting, suddenly less is more. She conveys so much through dialogue, you wonder how she manages to write up settings so descriptively well. Usually a writer is better at one than the other, but she’s great at both.

Two hats in the air for WOLF HALL. If you like historic fiction, you’ll love it. If you like politics, you’ll love it. It’s kind of a THRONE OF CARDS game. :] (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Fun with Philly Bookstores

I went to Philadelphia wearing my college hat, talking about rural health infrastructure and entrepreneurial activity. But of course there were a few spare minutes here and there, so I got to visit four bookstores. :]

chaucerThe first was the Quaker-run Book Corner, just beyond the Free Library of Philadelphia. THEY HAVE STAFF CATS! Catticus Finch declined to have his picture taken, but this is Chaucer. Book Corner supports the nearby library, which is how they wound up acquiring the cats. The two boys were trying to get into the library last winter, and it was cold, so the Quakers did as Quakers do, and now they have staff cats.

The boys weren’t all that interested in talking to me about Hadley et al; apparently they are sophisticats. But the lady who staffed the bookstore was very friendly, and at $3 per hardback, $2 per trade paperback, I had a grand old time!

book trader 1 book trader 2Then it was off to the Book Trader (shown above) across from historic Christ Church – a place of looming shelves and sideways books and a cheerfully curmudgeonly shopkeeper. When you think “used books store” this is the place you think of. Also, he proved cover color theory – just look at his display of Chick Lit books!chick lit

 

The conference started so no time for excursions again until today, when I got to catch up with old friends Ann and Adam. Ann owns The Spiral Bookcase in nearby Manayunk, and had just come from a photoshoot featuring her store. (She’s a brilliant marketer and a tireless community organizer!)ann and adam

Since our schedules wouldn’t permit meeting at her shop, she trained over, her husband Adam walked down from his office, and we had a late lunch at an upscale, trendy wine bar. “The kind of lifestyle one aspires to,” we agreed, nibbling on cheese that had been described on the menu as having a “fluffy personality.” (Yes, it kinda did.)

curtisRealizing we were near another bookshop owned by a mutual friend, we walked over to Neighborhood Books, run by Curtis. It’s so much fun to talk shop with fellow bookslingers: “What do you do with your old romances? Do you sell much sports? How often do you cull? When’s your biggest tourism season? How do you brace shelves that curve? Etc. etc. ad infinitium. Bookslingers can talk strategy all day long, and then move on to the great themes of literature over dinner.

Unfortunately, our schedules wouldn’t allow dinner either, so we said goodbye and headed back to our respective places in life. Walking back through Phillly, my head was buzzing with good ideas from the conference and good ideas from fellow bookshop owners.

There’s gonna be some work to do when I get home. Heh heh heh…….

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

What’s a Husband to Do?

house husbandJack’s weekly guest blog, flying solo!

Wendy has been away in Philadelphia since the beginning of the week and won’t be back until Saturday.

How strange the place is without her! It’s quiet professor – too quiet!

– and I have to feed the felines and doggies, handle all the bookstore stuff, liaise with the cafe, think about upcoming events, keep the place clean, feed myself and keep up with the needs of a 111 year old building.

– then on Sunday we head off together to Florida for a week where Wendy will be presenting on rural health issues at a conference.

– but that means a ‘shop-sitter’ and they arrive on Saturday and need an orientation to get up to speed.

– but that means the guest room has to be ready, and the ‘bookstore manual’ has to be re-written to be up to date.

– uh, oh – the dogs are barking and I think I hear a cat fight, and someone just phoned to see if we can take in five kittens!

Did I say it was quiet? QUIET??

I love you dear – please come home – – – –

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The Monday Book: PLAYING WITH STORIES by Kevin Cordi

Kevin sent this book to be reviewed; he and Wendy were in graduate school together, at the ETSU storytelling program. Jack wrote the review.

playing-storiesWendy asked me to review this book because she knows the author personally. I’m pleased about that as I found it fascinating!

This is a book about storytelling; specifically it’s about the combination of storytelling and play (in the many senses of that word). In the opening section of the book, Cordi talks of his introduction to stories as a young child in a family setting.

My own introduction to storytelling as an integral part of traditional culture happened in the 1960s when I was honing my skills as a singer of ballads and folk-songs in my homeland of Scotland. I visited with the Stewart family in their home in Blairgowrie and was immediately immersed in a wonderful mish-mash of tunes, ballads, songs, stories and riddles. It was only later, when I met Wendy, that I realized that storytelling was an art-form that could stand on its own two feet and wasn’t just what you did between songs. Later we became friends with Duncan Williamson and through him many other wonderful ‘traveler’ storytellers.

So I was interested in the idea that stories don’t live apart from other activities. In my case they live alongside music and songs. In Cordi’s book they are aligned with play.

Cordi makes important arguments for the use of storytelling and creative play as a counter to the culture of standardized testing and ‘league tables’ in the education system. In other words, he uses stories and play as ways to open up minds and encourage real learning.

He also uses ‘play’ in many different senses – having fun, playing with words and language, setting old stories in modern settings etc.

As someone who worked as a professor in a Scottish college for more than twenty years I can completely sympathize

Going back to my own experiences –

Some years ago I was staying over the weekend of the Auchtermuchty Traditional Music Festival with Duncan Williamson. Also there were some of the Stewarts and another iconic traveler storyteller, Betsy Whyte. As the night wore on the stories and songs gave way to riddles and finally homed in on riddles about death. The next morning we discovered that Betsy had died in her sleep in her trailer parked in the yard outside.

I don’t know if Kevin Cordi knows that story, but it certainly reinforces his opinion on the strength of connecting stories with real life!

If you want to visit Kevin’s website, it’s http://www.kevincordi.com/

 

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Bizarre Bookstore Days

kangarooIt’s been an odd, OCD kind of week here at the bookstore.

On Tuesday, we had an entire day where people used credit from our big blue ledger. No cash purchases were made, no books brought in. (The ledger stays in the bookstore and regular customers have a page where we keep an updated tally.) Since we don’t have the ledger computerized, we’d have to look at the dates on each page to know how much trade credit was used, and neither of us cared at the end of Tuesday, because we were tired of looking in the ledger.

On Wednesday, every single customer bought books for cash, and we outdid our previous sales record for best day ever by $41. We were slammed and it was fun, but when the day was over, we fell without grace or ceremony into chairs and stared at the ceiling awhile.

At some point I said, “You want supper?”

He said, “No. You?”

I said, “Can’t be bothered.”

He said, “All right, then.”

We went to bed.

On Thursday, from every corner of the world, it seemed, people brought in books to trade. Bags of books, boxes of books, miles and miles and piles of books! I was actually away Thursday, and came home to a carpet of them. Jack held up his hands as if to beg for mercy.

“They came too fast; I couldn’t keep up.”

We spent that evening shelving books, gnawing on some cheese and tomatoes between stacks.

On Friday, two kangaroos and an elephant came in. The elephant was pregnant and the roos were giving her a gift certificate to our children’s room. Nice folk.

And so it goes…. people ask us about “patterns in book retail.” There’s only one pattern: expect every day to be different from the one before it, and you will always be right.

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

Black Jack’s Legacy

Elissa and BJOur friends Elissa and Joe lost their beloved elder-dachshund Black Jack today. Black Jack was the patriarch of a herd of ten at the Powers-Lewis home, some fosters, some permanent, all members of the family.

In the same way that Valkyttie (now of blessed memory) was the icon for our bookstore, Black Jack was the poster dog for the work Elissa did with In His Hands Small Animal Rescue. A protective dog, BJ fiercely guarded his Mama from ladybugs, falling leaves, and sometimes other rescues. If Black Jack said a foster wasn’t staying, well, best not be in town when the sun went down.

Rescuers love all animals, and we all love our animals, so it’s doubly sad when a grandfather figure like Black Jack passes – not that BJ was EVER a grandfather, I hasten to add. Despite his good looks and impeccable pedigree as a Black-and-Tan, he was neutered at a young age, and barked often and passionately at dachshund gatherings about the importance of spays and neuters. An advocate against backyard breeders as well as for responsible dachshund ownership, BJ leaves a legacy better than any litter: he and his family can be proud of their part in keeping Southwest Virginia aware that, no matter how “special” the breed, dogs should not be gotten from breeders, but rescues.

BJ IIIThe Rainbow Bridge is happy for the pet who leaves, returning to health and vitality as he sheds years to bound across, but oh so very hard for those of us left behind. We miss them; how could we not? And yet, when we have made the most agonizing decision a responsible pet owner can make, and cradled our loved ones into a new world with no pain, we know we have done right by them. Joe and Elissa did right by their Elder Wiener, and continue to do right by their herd of sausage dogs, despite the sadness that floods the pack tonight.

So we say goodbye to Black Jack, aged 16 years and one month, who probably did not bound over the bridge with ears and tail flopping today. No, we think Black Jack would have made the crossing in a teak sedan chair borne by four Maine Coon cats, with a chi-corgi mix doing back flips and juggling ahead of him. I picture his faux-fur robes of purple trimmed with silver glitter, and his scepter would be a rawhide bone – lightly chewed, of course. You’ve heard of three-dog nights? Black Jack was a three-breakfast dog.

You go, BJ! You were loved and will be missed. But go knowing your story of being a black-and-tan neuter with so much more to give than puppies will be told again and again, amid laughter and tears.

BJ

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

The Monday Book Review

The Monday book guest review by Jack

Although I do read the occasional novel, my preference leans towards biography or history. So today’s book is Total War by Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint.

You might wonder what a Quaker is doing reading books about war, but it’s really to try to understand why these terrible things happen.

This is a weighty book in a number of senses. It deals with the 2nd World War, but starts from well before with historical background around the world. It examines the political pressures and options, not just in the main protagonist countries, but also in places that aren’t usually given much attention – such as China, India and The Balkans etc.

I quite like the fact the book has a good deal of opinion in it as well as straightforward facts. I’ve always held to the frequently expressed phrase “history is written by the winners” and most other books I’ve read about WW2 pretty much exemplify that (maybe because most were written shortly afterwards). So it was refreshing to find detailed accounts of the attitudes, points of view and shifting pressures, not only in Britain, The US, France and Germany, but also in Japan, China, India, Poland, Hungary and The Balkans.

While there is personal opinion here, it didn’t strike me as polemical or partisan. For instance I was pretty much unaware that for many Asian and Pacific countries the war really became a choice between which empires to be part of and where there was an emerging independence movement where their best option lay. Even in Europe there were groups and recently established countries that had the same difficult choices to make.

This is a big book, but highly readable . I learned a lot from it!

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