Category Archives: bad writing

Nicely, nicely does it – – –

Jack’s guest post a combination of the Monday Book and his usual Wednesday one –

This isn’t about a particular book, or even a specific range of books – it’s about how I was introduced to books and how they’ve played into my view of the world.

When I was attending high school and college to gain my basic English literature qualification I was following a curriculum that had a clear direction with no place whatsoever for Scottish authors, poets or playwrights. We had to study Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens, although Walter Scott was allowed. I think Scott was OK because he more or less invented the notion of a romantic ‘previous’ Scotland that no longer existed and that was acceptable.

What’s strange about this is that the Scottish education system has always (since 1707 and the union of parliaments) been completely independent from the English system. My guess is that the UK government always made sure that they had folk in positions of authority in place to make sure we toed the line. Not surprisingly I found all this a bit confusing.

But I had a wonderful English teacher at high school called John (Baldy) Forrest who had little interest in set curricula and a great love for the works of Damon Runyon. Baldy would stride around the classroom on a Friday afternoon (the fact that we were the ‘no hopers’ and it was Friday afternoon probably emboldened him) wearing his required academic gown and read sections of Runyon’s short stories aloud in a convincing New York accent – a bizarre sight indeed. He had sewn a block of wood into the side panel of his gown and would whack inattentive pupils on the back of the head which only endeared me to him more! The fact that I can picture him and recall his name is a great testament to his teaching abilities and ongoing legacy. If he’s still alive he must be well into his nineties but I doubt he is – RIP Baldy.

Later I attended evening classes in the local college I ended up working in for over twenty years and once again (no longer a ‘no hoper’) attempted to gain my Higher English qualification. We were a mixture of ages, and beneficiaries of the excellent Scottish system that left doors open for late learners. I am mortified to say that I can’t remember the name of the young teacher but he re-introduced me to Shakespeare and specifically Macbeth. I can still recite lines from ‘the Scottish play’ and it got me interested in Scottish history (something else we weren’t taught in school). But he also introduced us to ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. These are American classics that both link to poems by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.

Now I can appreciate Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens because I’ve read Burns, Grassic Gibbon, Runyon and Hemingway.

What have I learned from all this? The best teachers don’t slavishly follow laid down curricula and learning doesn’t have to only take place in the classroom or lecture hall.

BTW – Scott wrote bodice rippers and fake ballads!

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Filed under bad writing, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: ENDGAME by James Frey

well-this-sucksOh dear God in Heaven, Frey, you make up a memoir about drug addiction and somebody gives you the keys to a fictitious city????

How many ways is Endgame bad – the writing that has characters doing abrupt turns from their previous hopes and dreams, all in the space of one sentence? The conceit of hiding a treasure hunt inside, along the lines of that golden rabbit buried a couple decades back, and getting people to buy the book so they can do the math and be one of the treasure hunters? The really, really stupid plot device of 12 ancient lines who all know about themselves but not each other, and who have successfully passed this secret from family to family without anybody else knowing? Kids killing each other – wow, where did you get such a great new idea in YA fantasy?

Shall I go on, or do we now have enough reasons to leave James Frey’s book alone? He’s the guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces in which he claimed to have had dental surgery without anesthetic, crawled into a crack house within weeks of getting clean in order to carry his girlfriend out and enroll her in a program holding a spot for her, and been taken into the fold of a gangster who treated him as a son during their rehab. At the time I was reading Pieces I was working with addicts in a literacy program, and I remember thinking about halfway through the book, “No way, man. He’s lying.” Which turned out to be what everyone else thought, too.

Give it up, world. There is no taste, no truth, and no future. The Sky Gods are coming for us all, unless we’re one of those ancient lines or found the golden rabbit.

Short version: this book sucks.

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Because Nothing Clears the Air like a good Murder

May 2016 murder 054Last fall when Big Stone was going crazy on itself, we got a nasty letter from the town council saying our lawn was out of order with town order and we’d be fined if we didn’t fix it. Jack called the town planner out, and the poor lad looked things over and said, “Well, this is embarrassing. The part that’s out of order is the part we were supposed to be cutting.” The next day some guys came and cut the verge.

But a couple of days later, a town councilor who shall remain nameless visited the bookstore for the first time in our ten-year-history and offered town resources to cut our herbarium and wildflowers down. “At no cost to you, and they can be here in ten minutes.” We explained again that the seeds had been a wedding present from the Quakers in Scotland, and the unplanned look was deliberate. The councilor left graciously–perhaps unconvinced, but graciously.

May 2016 murder 012Garden Gate, as we came to call it, was silly. Not malicious, just silly, involving misunderstandings about heirloom seeds and personal choice and English wooded gardens. So never mind about that. The fun part was planning a murder mystery based on it.

Heh heh heh.

Fourteen gardeners gathered last night to provide The New Bookstore Lawn, paid for by Big Stone’s new tourism fund. Unfortunately, half were Baptist and half Methodist. Plus we all know what happens when John Bach’s bookstore has more than a dozen people in it at a time…..

Sure enough, Paxton face planted into her salad, and the whodunnit was on. Perhaps it was the hats, or the cupcake-fueled sugar craze, but the attendees were never more in character, and the one-liners flowed faster than red wine. Poor little Girl Detective Margaret Bach coped with her helicopter mom and a room full of flower power as best May 2016 murder 019she could, while Swinger Jimmy begged her to smell his hands, and Grand Mother of Snap Dragons Peony Overbloom snarled at church lady Joy Abounder, “No shit you’re having an affair with my husband! Who do you think engineered it? He’s the most boring man I’ve ever known and you bedding him gives me more time in my flower beds!”

It was that kind of night. Hippie Hannah pepper sprayed people with No Terra oils. Town bimbo Poppy Upster sold secrets on Facebook. Halfway through, the murderer–confused by improvisation rather than scripting–confessed. The undaunted steel magnolias continued unearthing a blackmailing, secret bigamist marriage, and church funds embezzlement before the murderer was finally allowed to repeat her confession, backed by the olfactory powers of No Terra oils.

We blow off more steam this way, and it’s so fun. But bad news, good people of Big Stone: the toilet stays. It’s postmodern ironic. And full of petunias. The rest of us, we’re full of belly laughs from last night.toilet flowers

 

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

PAXTON’S PUSHING UP DAISIES!

toilet flowersToday’s blog is the character list for our upcoming murder mystery on Friday, May 13 starting at 7 pm. Wendy has way too much fun writing these. Jack fears she will snap one of these days on the line between fiction and reality…..

The bookstore lawn has long been the talk of the town. Some find their toilet flower container post-modern ironic, others call it disgusting. Then there’s the English garden herbarium, and something called heirloom seeds brought over from a Quaker Peace Garden in some remote Scottish village? All very quaint, but hardly up to standards. So the garden clubs have been sent in to help. John Bach, bookstore owner, finds himself caught between feuding clubs: the Superior Gardener Club of the Ladies of the United Methodists, and the Gardener Superiors of the Southern Baptist Ladies’ Society, Eastern Division, Virginia Chapter.

It’s gonna get ugly, and that’s not just the designs and still life in pot arrangements and perennials on a plate they bring to the meeting. When the Methodist president goes face-down into the fertilizer, whodunit? Come join the fun in PAXTON’S PUSHING UP DAISIES, the 15th Murder Mystery held at the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

When you see the part you want to play, send Wendy a PM on Facebook, or comment here. We regret to say that all parts are assigned, so if you’ve not already asked for one, you are welcome to watch but we can’t offer you a live role. Also if a part is in bold, it has an assigned person. Thanks!

Superior Garden Club President (Methodist) – Paxton

Garden Club Mother Superior (Baptist) Peony  Large – As bombastic as the scent of honeysuckle, and just as strangling. Can you get a word in edgewise? Perhaps she’s the intended victim – people would certainly stand in line to do things to her with a trowel. VIRGIE

Assistant to Superior Garden club Baptist President, Violet Shrink – She has good ideas, if you could hear her. How can anything bloom in the shadows? And is it true she and Paxton were best friends in high school?

Earth Mom and fey Baptist, Hannah Hephzibah-Eleanora Smith – Never underestimate the power of Epsom Salts and good clean living digging in the dirt; but what else has she been digging up? VICKY

Loud Male Chauvinist Council Guy who keeps addressing everyone as ‘Dear’ Christopher Love – here to oversee the competition John Bach didn’t know he was running HARRY

Nerdy swinger just there to pick up girls: Jimmy – He’s like a bee in the flower garden, but maybe he’s the one getting stung (Jimmy Brown)

The Proper Horticulturalist, James, a widower – Is he one of the garden ladies’ fancy man, or does he really know that much about how to make something come to life? JAMES RYAN

Prepper, grow food while you still can, Primrose Evergreen – It’s all going to end badly, like, tomorrow. Of what use are flowers at the end of the world; produce ornamental edibles! Too bad she’s got the wrong idea about some of those poisonous blossoms.

Flirty girl, bimbo, Poppy Upster – Pushing up daisies? No, pushing up something else. Did Paxton’s husband really date her in college? SANDY

Peggy Dunn Good Bach – Margaret Bach, Girl Detective, brings her mom this time! She’s John Bach’s sister-in-law, this helicopter mom determined her little Daisy is getting in the Junior League, come blossom blight or high water. Her daughter will provide the winning garden design, or someone will die trying. The fact that Margaret isn’t interested in flowers is neither here nor there.

Hat saleslady, Ima Millner – Garden, schmarden, she just wants to sell hats and she’s got the wrong idea about this garden club thing. But maybe she’s got a couple of other wrong ideas as well; did she crash this party on purpose?

Sweetness and light to the point you want to drown her, Jonquil May– How can you not love this sweet child? Easy. Can anyone be this nice, or is she a plant? ERIN

Passive aggressive poisonous criticizer Ivy Sue Mac– “Oh, what an… innovative arrangement, dear.” If she said something nice to you, you’d know you had a terminal illness.

Overly enthusiastic gardener, Joy Abounder – The quintessential church lady; when she says “Bless you” it sounds as though it starts with “F” JERRY LOU BROWN

Social Climber Hyacinth Bucket – She came from the dirt, so it’s only natural she should use gardening to rake her way to the top; was Paxton in her way?

 

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Hunger Games, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

THE MONDAY BOOK: Collections of Nothing – William Davies King

Jack offers the Monday book on Tuesday this week

 

This is a very weird book!

I started off not believing that the title was what the book was actually about – that it was some kind of metaphor. But, no, this is a book by a guy who collects pure detritus. Things of no value and of no particular interest.

But then it begins to turn into a different kind of book. More of a sad family history that explains how he got to be that ‘collector of nothing’.

I actually found many of the stories in the book really depressing and I have a feeling it was written as a form of therapy. King flies above the story from time to time and comments on his writing and the development of the book, which apparently took a very long time and which he laid aside frequently.

We get the author’s life story, his relationships with his handicapped sister, his parents, his ex wife and newer girlfriends.

So if you are collector and think this might be for you? Definitely not!

If you like memoirs and the vicarious thrill of observing someone else’s problems then is the book for you!

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The Naming of Cats is a Difficult Matter…….

For your pleasure and edification, this weekend’s blog is word for word an online conversation between Our Good Chef Kelley, Saint Beth the Vet, and me. Here’s the background: Our Good Chef Kelley likes to name some of the foster cats, and we told her next time they came around, she could do so. After being foster-free for 12 hours, we agreed to take in kittens from three different rescuers – a momma and three babies from the shelter immediately, and two sets of three feral kittens from two rescuers trying to trap them, as and when they managed to. Plus one male cat from a lady who was getting drop-offs at her house and couldn’t afford to neuter him amongst all her girl cat pets (not spayed). All of them were to go to Dr. Beth before coming here, to get checked out.

You can guess what happened, can’t you? No sooner had the shelter cats arrived than the feral trappers informed me they’d caught the kitties and the lady with the drop off dropped him off. Beth went from 0 to 9 Bookstore cats in the space of an hour. We can pick up the thread from there as Beth tries to talk Kelley through the naming process.

  • Beth (2:38 pm): We have a Female torrid and Black male Grey who thinks he is badass

     That is tortie not torrid
     and an orange long hair male

    Then we have the sickly ones. Grey female Orange make and tortie female

    All need names

    And the little sick runt Erin has, that Wendy took this afternoon.

    Kelley (2:42 pm): Mom = Berenice Dilute tortie = Morella Orange male = Prospero Gray tabby = Montressor

    It is Edgar Allan Poe time smile emoticon

    I don’t wanna name the sick one till I know he is gonna make it

     Beth (2:43 pm): That’s the one I’m not sure of sex either

     baby 2

    Kelley (2:45 pm): Wait hang on. There is a black male too?

    Beth (2:45 pm): Yes

    Kelley (2:45 pm): So mama and five kittens?

    Beth : 6

    Kelley (2:46 pm): One mama, six kittens?

    Beth (2:46 pm): Plus the sick one

    Kelley (2:46 pm): So plus the sick one, 1 mama and seven babies?

    Beth (2:46 pm): Yes

     And orange boy

    baby 1Kelley (2;54): 1. Mom 2. Black male 3. Orange male 4. Dilute tortie 5. Gray male tabby 6. Gray male? tabby with Erin 7. ? 8. ?

  • Beth (2;55 pm): Another tortie kitten and adult male orange and grey male solid

Kelley (2:55 pm): Ok so all of these do not belong to the mama?

  • Beth (2:56 pm) : Nope

    Kelley (3:10 pm) : I’m so confused. Sorry. Are there 9 total?

    Beth (3:11 pm) : Yes if u count Erin’s

    I’m not helping. I’m brain dead

    Kelley (3:12 pm) : Ok gotcha

    Is OK Wendy didn’t tell me about all of the others

    Mom = Berenice Dilute tortie = Morella Orange male = Prospero Gray tabby = Montressor Black male = Pluto Tortie 2 = Annabel

    Who am I missing?

    Other than the sick one. I am missing 2

    Beth (3:15 pm) : Adult orange male and kitten orange male

     So which one is prospero

    Kelley (3:16 pm) : Is there a sickly orange kitten and a well orange kitten?

    Beth (3:17 pm) : Sick orange and healthy adult

    And grey bad assbaby 3

  • Kelley (3:34 pm):

    Confused again. I named an orange kitten Prospero. Is there another orange kitten or just an adult orange?

    Beth (3:35 pm): Adult

    Kelley (3:36 pm) : Healthy adult orange = Luchesi (loo-kasey)

    Ok so that is everyone but badass gray?

    Is the solid gray male the badass?

    Beth (3:37 pm) : He certainly thinks so

    Kelley (3:38 pm): The only one I haven’t named is the solid gray

    Let’s call the badass Montressor and the tabby boy can be Valdemar

    And that should be everyone except sick baby. Right?

    Wendy (3:40 pm): Y’all are so cute

    Kelley (3:40 pm) : Ok cool. ROFL. Wendy I didn’t know there were so many! Hehehe

  • Wendy (3:41 pm): Neither does Jack.

    They’re coming in groups of 3

    The rest are hanging with Auntie Beth awhile

     He’ll never know how many there are if they come in clumps.
    So now you know, gentle readers: neither the life nor the online presence of a rescuer is ever dull.
    baby 4

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

Rewrite a Classic Title Game

DSCN0018Some friends and I on a bookstore owner list were playing with classic titles, rewriting them to reflect the realities of running a bookshop. Here are a few we came up with:

Oh the Places You’ll Dust

Farewell my Harlequins (please!)

The Old Man and the C Shelf

Bonfire of the Vanity Presses

The Optimist’s Slaughter

Go Set a Watch (for those unfamiliar, timing the moment your front door can close so you can go to a party/go to bed early is one of the big joys of small business ownership)

How to Make Friends and Influence People’s Reading Habits

And we actually found a few titles that needed no alteration:

The Hunger Games

The Friendly Persuasion

Odd Hours

Yeah, you kind of have to be a literary snob, or worked retail, to get some of them. Please add your titles in comments. It’s kind of addictive once you get started….

Think and Grow Poor

The Thorn Books (those by authors whose star has faded; think about it)

The Cuckoo Flew Over One’s Nest (because you do kinda have to be crazy to do this)

To Kill a Mocking Teen

The Devil Wears Too Much Perfume (for all who’ve ever been choked by a customer)

Along Came a Spiderweb

Two Years before I went Bankrupt

The Battle of the Bookshelf Labyrinth

A Farewell to Free Time

A Prayer for All the Meanies (if you’ve ever worked retail….)

Come on, you know you want to make up a few…

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