Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

The Monday Book: NO I DON’T WANT TO JOIN A BOOK CLUB by Virginia Ironside

I found this at one of the Philly bookstores I visited and loved the title. The novel is about a woman turning sixty with some enthusiasm, dealing with all the things that turning sixty entails.

She is a sassy curmudgeon, the protagonist, with a lot of common sense and a few blind spots. I always say character drives plot, so this book has a great plot. It is written in diary form, which is not my favorite kind of book but does let the writer get in all sorts of silliness for extra laughs.

It’s a gentle read, kind of  haha-ouch stuff if you’re someone headed toward those years, probably a haha, I remember that if it’s behind you. There’s something affirming about finding you’re not alone in the things that happen to us all, yes?

This isn’t a book for everyone; it’s a gentle, light-hearted story, kind of “aga saga for the senior set” or for those who just love character-driven books. Because Marie (the diary writer) really is a character. If this book were food, it would be pudding in a cloud, vitamin-fortified, because there are just enough “stop and think” moments in the fun romp to add savory to the sweetness.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

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

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

Charlaine Harris Tells Her Side of the Story

charlaineMy name is Charlaine Harris, and I’m stuck in a room in a bookstore. It all started a few weeks ago, when my human dad came over crying, picked me up, said he’d always love me, and then drove me in his arms to this place. And left me here.

The people in the bookstore took me into a back room, showed me some food and water, a litter box, and a little basket of toys. (I selected a catnip mouse.) And then they went off and left me in there! I found a chair in the sun and took a long nap. It was kind of a hard day.

The next day, my sister from Dad’s place came. She wasn’t feeling well so they set her up in a little tent by herself. We could see and talk to each other, but she had her food and litterbox, and I had mine. And she pretty much slept for four days. (She’s feeling better now, thanks, but they say she’s got some special needs so she might not get adopted with me, unless a family is willing to have us both.)

That’s what the couple here say will happen next, that I’m gonna get adopted. They said just the right person is gonna come along, and I’m gonna go live with him or her. I said, what happened to Dad? And they looked kinda sad and said he had to move into a different place to live because of some difficult circumstances. What’s that mean, difficult circumstances? Like the time I got stuck behind the toilet and they had to take the lid off to get me out? Yeah, that was kinda hard. My foot hurt for days….

Anyway, I have to stay in this room now because the couple who took me in opened the door once, and GEEZ O PETE there were like FOUR cats out there. And they all came to the door and looked at me, and well, you hafta remember I used to live just with one guy and a sister cat, so they seemed kinda intimidating to me. One of them stepped forward, so I did what I thought was best. Attacked her.

Well geez you’d a thought I’d thrown lit dynamite into a pond full of fish. (Not that I wouldn’t if I got the chance. I LOVE fish!) Turns out that scrawny little kitten I attacked is like the golden girl of the place, some chick named Hadley who has a few screws loose. She couldn’t even defend herself, and geez o pete, all I did was bap her around a couple times. Honest. But the couple got all soberfaced and said I’d have to be “supervised” with the other cats, and I guess I kinda understand they want me to like ’em, or at least ignore ’em, but geez o pete, I’m eight years old and I’ve spent my whole life keeping other cats outta my yard, so it’s really hard to remember not to get my retaliation in first, y’know? I’m not violent or anything; I’m just set in my ways.

The lady from the couple came in and had a talk with me and she said she understood, but she thought it best that I stay in my own room until they could either find someone who wanted a (and she said this with a straight face) SENIOR cat – Thank you very much lady! – or until they could get me a private room at PetSense. Apparently that’s like a little apartment complex for cats where people come and look at them and see if they want to take them home.

So I’m biding my time, and I’m trying to not mind too much being in this back room. People come in and see me a lot and they all scratch me behind the ears and the couple are very regular with meals and checking my water and giving me friendly back rubs and such. So it’s not terrible, but geez, I’m a little bit bored, y’know? Doesn’t anybody out there want a cat who talks a lot and doesn’t want to live with other cats? (Dogs are fine. I don’t mind them.) Maybe you could come tell this nice couple that you’ll take me? I’m no bother – just feed me, give me someplace to lie in the sun, and hold a conversation with me once in a while. Not much to ask, is it? C’mon, come visit me and let’s see how we get on together. This bookstore ain’t my scene, y’know?

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

Barn Raising, Bookshop Sitting, Oddball Friends, and All!

Jack’s weekly guest blog has a familiar musical refrain…..

i_get_by_with_a_little_help_from_my_friendsFriends and Neighbors –

We come from a region of the mountains known for its community spirit; think barn raising. And we have occasion to know that barn raisings are not dead, just mutated into other ways of helping each other. Our friend Witold, three blocks away, called Jack when he wanted to take down a tree. Elizabeth brought the baby goats over to be goatsitted for a weekend (and regular blog readers will remember the fun that produced).

Back when we started the bookstore we relied on our local oddball friends and champions to ‘mind the store’ on the odd times we had to be away. But that was usually only for a day or maybe two at any time.

That was also before ‘the Little Bookstore’ was published and turned our lives upside down. Almost immediately we had to find someone to look after the place for a month, and so the great ‘bookstore-sitter’ project began. To our great surprise it went viral – all over the internet as well as National newspapers, magazines and NPR. The wonderful Andrew Whalen was chosen out of nearly 200 applicants and was feted and fed by the aforementioned oddball friends and champions.

Since then we have continued to have occasions of being away for extended period, and continued numbers of equally wonderful and interesting folk staying in our guest room. They fall in love with our animals, our oddball friends and our town of Big Stone Gap. We look forward to Lisa Heins Vincent and her husband minding shop for a week in late April, and dissertation-writing Emily visiting this summer.

The trouble is that, amidst publicity and hoopla and longer visits from our much -appreciated longer shopsitters, the oddball friends and champions who live in town and give us a day here, a day there, tend to get overshadowed in their contribution to how this place runs.

Just yesterday our friend James spent a day looking after the bookstore, fielding phone calls, cash sales, credit card sales, book swaps for credit, inquiries about the cafe menu, etc., etc. In return he got lunch and the right to take any books he wanted off the shelf and go home with them. As I said to him “James – you know there’s no such thing as a – – – -”

So my day-late guest blog post this week (I couldn’t ask James to do that too) finishes with a belated toast: Please raise a glass to all our crazy, oddball, dedicated local friends and champions who have done even just one day’s duty in the bookstore – cheers, saludos, slainte etc. THANK YOU! When we talk about community spirit, we mean you.

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