Category Archives: humor

SHELVING: THE FORGOTTEN ART

Our shopsitter Emily guest blogs on her shelving experiences

EmilyI like to organize. So in a bookstore where there’s always books coming in and out, daily, I feel these urges to put all the shelves in perfect order – alphabetical, by genre, all in a line, etc. Which has led me to stand in front of the shelves for a few days in a row now, head slightly tilted, sometimes just staring, sometimes repeating the alphabet out loud to myself, looking like a weirdo, trying to figure out what all these words on the spine mean and each bound object relates to each other.

I’ve discovered who Grace Livingston Hill is and that “inspirational romance” is quite popular (I’m going to have to try one, it sounds quite nice). I’ve seen parenting books that start with dealing with your own mommy issues and work through just about every month of the next twenty years of your life. There’s more gender in books than I’d ever realized before – clearly, some books are ladies’ books and some books are gents’ books. I’ve spent most of my time so far among the fiction books, and I’m totally impressed by the number of stories there are to tell in the world.

But one of the coolest parts has been realizing that all (or at least most) of these used books have come from someone else’s home, where they were sitting on someone else’s bookshelves or nightstand or closet floor. They probably all have a story to tell about the home they used to live in and how they got that slightly crooked spine. In my time here, the books on these shelves have already witnessed dozens of friendly faces, new and familiar, a rowdy game night, four cats who got adopted, and a strange lady who keeps staring at them, planning a master plan about how best to move them shelf to shelf to shelf just so they can get adopted, too. If only books could speak, right?

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The Monday Book: SHADOW TAG by Louise Erdrich

shadow tag This was a creepy book. On the one hand, it’s scarier and more ominous than many thrillers I’ve started but never finished. On the other, it’s about marriage. Draw your own conclusions.

If I had to choose one word to sum up this book, ironically enough it would be “Complex.” The complexities of how people exhibit love, whether love and hate really are two horns on the same goat, and what it means to belong to as opposed to live freely beside someone are all explored with some fairly high-concept stressers added. The couple are Native Americans. They are successful artists. They are alcoholics. And whether they love each other or use each other or even like each other is up for grabs in the eyes of the reader.

And get this: she creates that complex effect with simplicity. Her writing, lyrical though it is, is pretty simple. The dialogue where the couple are arguing about love and divorce, interjected with tossing a salad and setting the table, had me weeping with laughter. “You don’t understand love at all. Do you want croutons?”

Also, Irene, the writer, is writing two diaries at the same time to confuse her painter husband Gil, who is reading the one he thinks is real. And she gets confused between them herself. Which is kinda funny, kinda tragic.

What is clear is that chaos creates chaos creates complications, and that the kids are incredibly well-drawn characters in this novel. Your heart breaks over them, and I suspect no two people would read this book in quite the same way. It’s just a jumble of ideas that are strung together in a story line, and sometimes it’s a series of descriptions rather than a “this happened next.”

Which works and adds to the chaotic doomed feeling of the book.

All I can say is, don’t read this book if you’re in a really good mood, or a really bad one. Read it when you have time to think about the complexities, puzzle over the “why did she and why didn’t he” moments, and feel. You’re gonna need a lot of time to feel, and you’re not always going to know why you feel what you feel. At least, I didn’t.

Two head scratches and a thumbs up for this beautiful, scary novel.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

Getting Away from It All…..

Jack’s guest blog covers the dark side of nature…..

Wendy and I have a log cabin about two hours away that is very isolated, with no telephone, TV, internet or cell phone reception. It’s normally very restful and relaxing to hide away there for a few days. Wendy can get writing done there without distractions. The dogs love it because they can go off and wander to their hearts’ delight and there’s a pond for them to swim in.

And me? I can deal with the repairs and maintenance that are always needed there in our holiday dream home…..

But this time it was hot and thundery – VERY hot and thundery! With no breeze and no air conditioning I found myself becoming more and more lethargic. The dogs hardly moved except to dive into the pond and the only one to expend any energy was our ‘special’ kittie Hadley, who we’d taken as well as a treat.

Despite all that languid pressing heat, I still managed to deal with wasps’ nests, wood-boring bees, a ginormous wolf spider clinging to (Wendy says “carrying off”) a Mason jar in the sink, and get some weed-whacking done. Wendy got writing aplenty done and the dogs got so smelly in the pond they needed a bath this morning when we returned home. So all in all it was a success–at least for everyone but the spider.

Sometimes it’s good to get away. And sometimes, it’s better to get back to air conditioning – – –

 

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SHOPSITTER GUEST POST: RAINY DAYS

Meet Emily, our shopsitter, who wrote this guest blog about her arrival.

I love rainy days. We don’t get many in California. We don’t get more than one or two a year, actually… so when I get them, they remind me of the luxury of being able to stay inside.

Shelves and shelves of books do that, too. So many books that it takes a whole afternoon to read all the titles on just one of the walls, because you keep getting distracted by the ones you pick up just to read the backs of. So many books that look loved here, and some that look pristine.

I’m shopsitting off and on this summer for Wendy and Jack as a preliminary way to get to know the area in preparation for my dissertation research. I’m an anthropologist, and my research has brought me back here, back from California, to the South, to the mountains, relatively closer to where I grew up, closer to where it feels like a comfortable space inside from the rain.

My dissertation fieldwork officially begins next summer, and it isn’t going to remain in such comfy-cozy spaces. I’m studying the social lives of print books, or how print books work as social media among people who might not otherwise be connected – particularly, how print books work as social media in prison.

Eventually, whenever Richmond gives me the okay, I hope to be in touch with people in prisons about their experiences with books, both employees and inmates. People who love to read books, people who are paid to teach books, people who mail books, move books from place to place, and think they’re too heavy or think they smell nice. I’m interested in how all those experiences make people feel about the world of words, about one another, and about themselves.

Anthropology is slow work, so for now, it’s just me and my personal experiences sitting in a shop, staying inside because of a little weather, literally surrounded by books. My favorite kind of book for a rainy day is a nice and slow ghost story. I’m pretty loose with that definition – I might even include in it The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of my all-time favorites. There’s a scene when our two heroes are watching a regular summer storm and Huck says to Jim, “Jim, this is nice. I wouldn’t want to be nowhere else but here.”

Pretty much.

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The Monday Book: Bridget Jones – Mad about the Boy by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy – Helen Fielding

 

Regular readers will know that I (Jack) tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, but I do make exceptions. So when ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy’ slid into the shop, I made one of these exceptions.

My introduction to ‘Bridge’ was through the movies of the first two books in Fielding’s series, which led to me reading them as well. And enjoying them.

This latest addition is very much in the same style as the previous ones and I agree with many reviewers that Fielding really does have a knack for capturing a place and a life-style. The life-style is that of engaging and fashionable 30 to 40 year olds and the place is modern day London.

My problem is that I’ve always hated London – actually, I’m not that keen on any big cities, but London is right at the bottom of places where I’d like to live! So it’s meant as a compliment that I’ve enjoyed all the ‘Bridge’ books despite their setting.

I could say the same for ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ as well as ‘About a Boy’ – also about the same kind of social group and in the same setting. Maybe there really is getting to be a specific genre that we need to create a special shelf for in the bookstore: Trendy 30-somethings in the Big City. We could title it ‘Cheers’ or ‘Friends’ – – –

Seriously, though – I did enjoy ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy’ as poor Bridge dealt with being a widow with two small children, the guilt of wanting a new companion, school events, life on Twitter, and the inevitable daily catastrophes. I particularly liked Fielding’s cheeky inclusion of Bridge’s negotiations with a movie company over her updating of ‘Hedda Gabbler’ by Anton Checkov (yes – Gabbler with two ‘B’s and, yes, Anton Checkov!). Fielding’s writing is just short of madcap, and paints word pictures one can’t forget.

Two glasses of sparking Evian Water up for ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy!’

 

 

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Fixing Mariah Stewart

DSCN0455I try to be a good foster mom. I really do.

The mystery room has been taken over by eight fuzzy little miscreants, and just as one was adopted yesterday, an emergency came in. Yeah, it’s been that kind of summer. The emergency kitten – we named her Miss Kitty Butler – is a Russian blue with brown eyes, a lovely wee thing who narrowly missed getting squished on the side of the road. She’s not supposed to be here, but it was better than the alternative.

Now, with eight kittens, and our dear Mrs. Hudson adopted a month ago, you can imagine the state of things. We keep on top of the boxes (which all the kittens are using like champs, in every sense) but they have a kitty tube, a climbing tree, a spiral hat, two dangly toys, assorted jingle balls, and about a thousand catnip mice in there.

We open the door by day, and herd them in at night. When I open the door the next morning with their (two) plates of wet food, they swarm my ankles like fuzzy piranhas, meat-seeking missiles. While they eat, I tidy the room. Which is a lot like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill, because the kitties have discovered the joys of tunneling through our new shelves. See, we just redid the mystery room about two weeks ago: new shelves, better classification system, and a big tidy that included Saint Anne buffing and rewaxing all the floors.

Yeah, good thing we got it tidied.

Every morning the kittens have created new tunnels between the central shelf’s lowest level, pushing Ed McBain, Mariah Stewart, and Charlotte MacLeod out of the way in great strings of books across the floor. These fallen soldiers of the kitten wars were, the first week or so, restacked with careful attention to titles and authors, turned sideways to allow a tunnel left open for the fur babies, and given a little tlc.

The kittens ignored the prefabricated tunnels and created more. Ridley Pearson. Richard North Patterson. When they shoved our 200 Robert Parker novels out of the way, I knew they meant business. You mess with Spenser for Hire, nobody is safe.

So I’ve stopped worrying about the kitten tunnels, and just shove those titles willy-nilly back under the bottom shelf each morning. Charlotte and Ridley have grown….close. Entwined, one might say. I’m pretty sure some of the Stewarts are pregnant, and will give birth to slim volumes of Harlequin Suspenses. Sigh….. 081

We ensure the kitties never give birth. It’s been a bad year for people forgetting their responsibilities, and these are the result. But I’m not sure how to fix the Stewarts…

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kings mtnJack’s weekly guest blog

 

So – Last night was one of “speak to a group about living in Appalachia” talks. It happens often; this time it was to the Appalachian Service Project (ASP), a team of young folks from various ‘airts and pairts’ in the US who have come down here to take part in a variety of practical projects.

I began by explaining where I’m from and how I came to be here. I always start that way to help them tune in to my accent. It’s not just accent, of course, it’s much more than that. Vocabulary, grammar, figures of speech – after 12 years in the country one thing I’ve discovered is that my particular form of English is far removed from the American variety, and I’ll never get it completely covered!

Once their faces began registering they could actually understand me, I explained a bit about Scotland and my earlier life there. Despite the strong awareness around the world about things that are ‘Scottish’ (kilts, whisky, golf etc.) I always find a quick geography lesson helps establish reality in the midst of Nessie stories.

From there I moved on to how I came to be here – which sums up pretty much as “I met this girl….”

Finally to the meat of the evening – Appalachia and my remit to point up the parallels that I’ve encountered between it and Scotland. The culture of course – fiddle tunes, folksongs and ballads – but more than that, the stereotyping I’ve encountered as a Scot and my Appalachian friends equally. As a Scot I’m mean, wear a kilt all the time, am red-haired, fight everyone I meet, hate the English, and on, and on – I’m a ‘Jock’ or a ‘Sweaty’ (Jock = sweaty sock). It’s very hard, I explained, when a stereotype has been long established, to counter it. Here, my Appalachian friends are often considered toothless, wear dungarees, are under-educated, and on, and on – – –

I explained what the Battle of Kings Mountain was really about – something pretty mislabeled in true history, and a real overlap between Appalachian and Scots culture.

Finally, I commended the ASP students for having the enterprise to go out and see for themselves how other folks live and how our folks might not conform to any popular image. I suggested that there are minority cultures all over the world that have their identity thrust upon them, so they shouldn’t believe everything they hear, but go and see for themselves. It was a very nice night.

 

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