Wendy, Me, Words and the Road to SIBA

Guest Blog by Cami Ostman, friend and author

I’ve known Wendy since we were 18 years old (so, in other words, for 10 years… ahem). We met in California, where we both lived for a year. In the intervening years (ok, more than ten, I’ll admit it), I haven’t moved far—just up two states to Washington—while Wendy’s moved all over the world: Tennessee, Canada, Scotland, England, and now, Big Stone Gap, Virginia (where I come to visit her at least once a year at her bookstore/house, shop downstairs, home up).

Each year, one thing I look forward to is seeing how the bookstore has changed. Who are the new creaturely additions to the family? Where has the classic literature section moved to? Is there new porch furniture? But most especially, what new friends will wander in and what will they say? What will they be looking for? What books will they choose?

As a reader and a writer—a lover of words—I’ve spent a lot of time in bookstores throughout my life. And just as much as I love savoring the sound of a well crafted sentence, I love the smell of books, the feel of them in my hands, and the way other people’s eyes light up when they caress covers and flip through pages. New or used, (and yes, paper or electronic) books give me a comfort, a sense of home and community.

When I get to Big Stone Gap, I feel the penultimate sense of home. Wendy oozes words. She facilitates words among the groups that gather in her home/shop (Tuesday night we had “needlework night,” and I can tell you there were far more chatty conversations than needles probing in and out of cloth) but most importantly, she VALUES words. And I mean this literally. She and Jack (her lovely assistant and partner in life) make their living by taking books that are brought to them and placing a monetary value on each one, all the while knowing that the value of a particular book to a particular patron has nothing to do with the penciled in amount on the first page.

It’s precisely because Wendy understands the way a certain book calls forward a different mood or memory in each person who reads it that she is such a keen observer of the way books and the individuals who love them find one another. Her observational skills are the reason she could write her savvy, warm, pithy, soon-to-come-out book about how her little shop changed her life and the lives of those who frequent it.

And it is because of Wendy’s savvy, warm, pithy, soon-to-come-out book that she’s on her way to Florida to attend the Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show and to sit on a panel there about booksellers who write books.

I’m driving with her through six sticky-warm Southern states to join her at SIBA, and we’re having a blast. With words. We talked for 8 hours yesterday as we drove, chewed the fat with Wendy’s pal Debbie when we arrived at her house to camp out for the night, and we finally drifted off to sleep exhausted, from words—sweet words.

Now we’re on for one more day of driving… and one more day of (you guessed it) WORDS. When I get home to Washington next Monday, I’ll be happily exhausted and ready for a quiet day sitting with my own creatures in my own house with a book and a cup of coffee. And I’ll be planning next year’s trip to Big Stone Gap.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA

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