Category Archives: humor

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

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

The Hamsters in my Brain

Jack and I are attending the Appalachian Studies Association Conference in Johnson City, TN this weekend, and it has been a busy couple of days. Saturday morning my colleagues Beth, Jody and I did a panel on combating Appalachian stereotypes in the media. Kind of an interesting row to hoe, and several people had stories to tell. On Sunday, I am heading a panel on adoption in Appalachia, after running a storytelling project with a local group that supports adoptive parents. (If you want to see the blog we just launched, visit ADOPTION IN APPALACHIA. (It’s also a wordpress blog.)

Between these were some fun meetings and some hard meetings, plus Jack and I joined Doug and Darcy Orr, President and First Lady Emeritus of Warren Wilson College, in presenting a panel on Doug and Fiona Ritchie’s book Wayfaring Strangers. The pictorial book chronicles the journey of songs and their singers from Scotland to Appalachia. It’s been really well received and is in its third printing. Jack is one of the source singers on the accompanying CD.

But that’s where things began to take a weird turn. The night before the panel, Doug and Darcy came to our hotel room to practice songs. We sat around the table working out dulcimer chords, guitar accompaniments, and harmonies. All very satisfactory and fun. We sang stuff just for the joy of the moment.

The instant we finished singing, we heard loud voices coming from the room next door, and Beth suggested the doors between the rooms might not be correctly closed; hence the volume. We checked our door: bolted and good to go.

But as Beth pushed against our door, voices from next door yelled “Are you trying to break into our room?” A second later the phone rang. Front desk had received a complaint: had we tried to break into the adjoining room?

When I stopped laughing, I said no and didn’t elaborate. A minute later, the phone rang again. A male voice demanded, “Who am I speaking with?”

Well, I was tired and I was sung out, but one brain cell still functioned, so I figured this was something to do with that mysterious crowd next door, and asked for his name instead. He said I had tried to break into his wife’s hotel room and demanded again to know my name.

I hung up, and the phone shrilled again immediately. I disconnected that call and rang the front desk, explaining the situation. They apologized profusely and said the phone call had not originated in the hotel, and they would ensure no further calls were transferred in.

Which really put a top hat on things, because if the guy who was calling in wasn’t in the room with his wife, whose was that male voice making very explicit suggestions quite loudly through the wall?

We gave up, and went to bed, but I don’t think we’ll be staying at the Carnegie again. Who in their right mind puts a phone call through to a room number if the caller can’t give a name? At least that couple didn’t batter the door down in the night, but I hope that poor husband figures a few things out.

sleeping hamsterMe, I can’t figure anything out. Six meetings, two panels and four hours of sleep have done for me. It was a good day today, and now the hamsters in my brain are asleep in their little exercise wheels.

Go by, mad world.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, Scotland, small town USA, VA

We’re Still Having Fun

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Wendy and I often have conversations on Facebook with other owners of small independent bookstores – usually about how to drive more customers through the door. The trouble is that every bookstore is unique in some way, be that the character of the owners, the geographical position of the shop, the demographic of the local population, etc, etc.

Our own strategies have been many and varied and some are detailed in ‘The Little Bookstore’. They have ranged from the early days of me handing out flyers outside the local Super-Wallie to running community events in the store. Flyers are good when you’re getting established. Community events are good for two reasons – publicity and bringing in new folk who might become regular customers.

This is where local circumstances come into play; Wendy and I live in the same building as the bookstore so it’s no biggie for us to run events. It might not be so easy for others.

We are currently running a ‘give-away’ competition for boxes of children’s and young adult books aimed at the local schools. This is partly because we simply have too many, but also to help raise awareness among school staff, parents and students that we are here and our children’s books are cheap even when you have to buy them.

We have also found that opening a cafe created spin-off business between the two. Of course that means finding the space, meeting health inspection rules (GOATS!), and identifying someone with the skills and personality with whom you can comfortably work, etc, etc. We were very lucky to find Our Good Chef Kelley as a partner!

Finally, it certainly helps to write and have published a best-selling memoir all about your bookstore. That has brought lots of people from around the country (and abroad) to visit us who generally don’t leave without buying books and eating lunch. As I write this a couple from Fairfax sit upstairs in the cafe; they drove all the way here because of the book. They have a book club who all read Wendy’s book and are talking about a group visit. That would certainly involve an overnight stay, so additional business for the town as well.

And after finally (well, a post-script then) it pays to have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life. :]

 

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