Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

The Monday Book: ASTRAY by Emma Donoghue

Astray is a collection of short stories themed around old newspaper clippings. In each, someone is adrift, out of sync with life, expecting one thing but getting another. They are really powerful stories in some cases.

The opener is about an elephant keeper whose charge is sold off to America, and his running conversation with his charge. It’s adorable. Less adorable but quite hard-hitting is the woman traveling with two small children, expecting to meet her husband in America, having been lucky enough to get passage out of famine Ireland.

Then there’s the Revolutionary War story, “The Hunt,” which covers a side of troop behavior that doesn’t make it into patriotic celebrations. Many of these stories have that undercurrent theme, the “alternate reality” feeling that makes them good fiction. So when you find out each is based on actual events, with just some ideas and feelings and motivations colored in between the lines sketched in by history, it’s a powerful thing. This is history with a small h, and therefore more accurate.

And of course it’s no small feat to pack an equal wallop of caring about a fully developed character in less than 10,000 words. Donoghue’s words are each carrying their own weight. She’s one of those rare gestalt writers, whose sum exceeds the parts. She makes you feel as though you know someone well, even though you’ve read two sentences about her.

An enthusiastic shout out for this book; you don’t have to be interested in history to enjoy the many dramas unfolding in this compact volume’s pages. Big things come in little packages.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erika Swindler

bookThis book came into the bookstore, and its cover attracted me. (Yes, I know about that saying you can’t judge a book by its cover; it’s a lie. People go to special marketing schools just so you can.)

I’m not the biggest fan of surprise endings – let’s start with the ending, shall we – but this one had a great twist. I’m also not a big fan of time-hopping books, but this one moved between the eighteenth and twenty-first century with some smooth maneuvers.

I am a big fan of well-developed characters, which this book has in spades. Even the minor players get major development.

The basic plot is some families have been hanging around each other for a few centuries, working the carnival circuit, and some of them keep dying the same way. It all comes down to a very old curse, some very new secrets revealed, and a cast of quirky misfits.

I’d call this something between a mystery and a family saga. It’s too gentle for a thriller (Gott sei dank) and too mysterious for general fiction. Now might be a good time to say, if you’re afraid of water, you won’t like this book. I’m a certified lifeguard, and parts of it made me queasy. (Also, let me just say now, don’t try any of that stuff at the lake.)

The writing doesn’t get in the way of the story; this is character-driven well-plotted book that would be enjoyable anywhere, except the beach. Trust me; don’t read it at the beach. Your bathtub is safe.

Two hands up, waving not drowning.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Isabella has a few Things to Say

isabellaWell h’lo there! I’m Isabella. I came from a large family of cats – fourteen or so of us – that got dispersed because Dad died and Mom was kinda fed up with the whole thing.

I’m spayed and I keep my sleeping area neat as a pin. I’m so glad to finally have one of my own to keep! Used to share with three of my sisters, and they were always sticking their feet in my eyes.

I wear a tuxedo all the time, but I’m not stuck up or dressy or anything. My foster mom here says the tuxedo is right for me ’cause I’m not very feminine. Or maybe she said feline. She says I run around so much, I’m like a lightning bug on cocaine.

I’m really good at catching lightning bugs. And flies. And dust beams. Foster Dad says I’m their tiny dancer ’cause I do the most graceful pir- piroue – flips. He says I’m more fun to watch than television.

At night when things slow down I like to wait until Mom’s asleep and then sneak down and get between her shoulder and her chin. It’s my favorite place to sleep. When she wakes up and finds me there she laughs. She says no one would ever believe I could hold still long enough to sleep.

isabellaMom asked me what I wanted in a forever home, and I’ve given it a lot of thought between runs. I want a place where it’s okay to climb up on things. I LOVE being queen of the cat castle in the mystery room here at the bookstore! It would be fun to have another cat or two around, and I don’t mind if there’s dogs. It would be nice to have some older kids to play with, but I’m not gonna get dressed up in a bonnet, ‘kay? I play; I don’t get played with. And NOBODY puts Bella in a stroller!

Other than that I don’t much mind what kind of home it is, so long as it’s forever and the people are nice and don’t expect me to ride around on their shoulders. Laps are cool; shoulders and getting carried, not so much. Why ride when you can run?

So maybe you’re looking for a good mouser inside (I’d be lonely in a barn) or a friendly cat to play with who isn’t gonna be all co-dependent and everything. That would be ME!

Come by the bookstore. Ask for Isabella. See ya!adoptables 036

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

“Kids, Glorious Kids”

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

Wendy and I don’t have kids – but – – –

Kelley, our chef par excellence married her true love Sam in February and immediately inherited a bunch of them, and has entered the role of parent with joy and enthusiasm. As have we, as surrogate grandparents. But we’re not the only ones, as our other friends Mark and Elizabeth (the goat herders) are also staking a claim and have these well-adjusted young people climbing on trees, feeding baby goats and being stand in grandchildren as well.

Despite not having any children, I have a plethora of nieces, nephews as well as their offspring and I delight in their doings of course. Wendy has a nephew and that gives her some insights as well.

But there’s nothing like kids running around your feet and we consider Asher and James, as well as Brook and Ciaran not to mention grown up Thom, as part of our extended family.

When my old singing partner Barbara was with us before and after ‘Big Stone Celtic’ a couple of years ago she and her husband Oliver immediately became stand-in grandparents too. They cheered them on at their soccer matches. My fond memory is of Oliver standing on the touchline dressed in typically English garb, complete with a hat, with a bunch of Asher’s team-mates circled round him. The players were obviously aware that he was an expert but couldn’t understand a word he was saying as he berated them. Completely illegal of course, to coach from the side while the game is in progress!

That’s children, though – they capture your heart. They don’t have to be yours, but they are part of the next generation and that does make them your responsibility too.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: CALLING ME HOME by Julie Kibler

Apologies for the failure-to-appear of Friday’s blog. We threw a party for friends newly married on Saturday, and that kinda sucked all the oxygen out of the weekend.

homeI plucked this book from our shop shelves one day and was glad I did. Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister asks her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis to drive her cross-country to a funeral. Why she does becomes clear as the book unfolds, hopping back and forth between Dorrie’s present-day relationship, and Isabelle’s just before World War II. It’s a tear-jerker for sure, but it also explores not just male-female relations, but friendships between women, and between mothers and daughters. Kibler’s writing is easy and fast, like a spring all flowing in one direction. Very few diversions, and nothing overly poetic to get in the way of a gripping read.

Normally I’m not a big fan of time-hop books but this one worked particularly well, making some subtle points about how the times, they may not be a-changing as fast as people think when it comes to race relations.

There are not many surprises in the book, and not all the characters are fleshed out, but Dorrie, Isabelle, the men in their lives, and Isabelle’s mother and Dorrie’s son are well-drawn. Which, as you will see, is enough to tell this tale with bittersweet dignity.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

To Caffeine or not to Caffeine? That is the question.

bean memeSo most of you know I turned in the manuscript to Fall or Fly, my journalism-storytelling book about foster care in the Coalfields, and then got sick. For a week I was down, during which I basically didn’t eat or drink much.

Two weeks later, down I went again with something viral. With the end result that no coffee has been in my body for almost a month. Nor iced tea, nor hot tea, nor other caffeinated beverages.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been monitoring how that changes anything – do I sleep better (possibly, jury is still out) feel better (the same) see any other advantages (I get out of bed ready to go as opposed to needing 30 minutes with the mug) or disadvantages (there really isn’t anything to order at a hotel for breakfast except expensive “juices” that don’t taste like real juice).

So, those of you who have kicked the habit, or who haven’t, any words of wisdom? Booksellers who don’t drink coffee are not unheard of. Booksellers who don’t drink coffee OR hot tea (Earl Gray, hot) are a bit more unusual. What will I drink at the salons? What about when out with girlfriend booksellers? Or just girlfriend posse members? There’s a whole social aspect to coffee, as there is with cigarettes. Will I miss the rituals? Will I miss the camaraderie?

Send thoughts. Send chocolate (I do still partake of that caffeine source). And thanks!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

1/3 Piece of Dry Toast

sick dogI ate 1/3 of a piece of dry toast today. I might have eaten more, but our foster cat Butterscotch – the one who leads the charges and plots all the mischief – hopped up on the chair arm next to me as I sat in the bookstore with my meal. He spied the toast, gave me a bright smile of thanks, snatched it up in his mouth, and instigated a game of hockey with his foster brothers, Justin, Edgar, and Alfie. There was some complicated scoring mechanism by which they took bites at certain times, so the remaining toast was soon gone.

But it had done its work; it settled in and stayed put in my stomach, a place I had come to think of as similar to the Bad Marshes of Middle-Earth: gases everywhere, unsure footing leading to likely death; and an explosion could happen at any moment.

So I’m on the mend from the Virus of Voiding that seems to be making the rounds these days. Three nights of simultaneous toilet-and-sink hugging, my cheeks resting at each end on cold porcelain, hadn’t left much inside to expunge.

I am now determined to change my diet if I ever get back to eating real food. Our Good Chef Kelley has promised me vegan falafals. I may never touch caffeine again, after the withdrawal headache that exacerbated the first night of misery.

Who am I kidding? A life without Pal’s Tea wouldn’t be worth living. But speaking of misery upon misery, I really think it ought to be a law that one should not have to deal with poison ivy at the same time as the Voiding Virus. The cats have been going out in this warm weather, and apparently the favored spot of My Archenemy beneath our apple trees is going strong. I have poison ivy on my chin and neck, from where they gave me cat scans during my comatose illness state.

All the same, I’m on the mend. I am actually thinking about the future in a hopeful way: bookshelves to sort, pages to write, cats to foster. I may manage a whole piece of toast by supper–assuming I can hide it from Butters, of course. And someday soon, I will sip a cup of hot tea.

Soon. For now, though, I shall return to my bed and a book, and try to keep the cats from sleeping on my neck.

Slainte

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch