Category Archives: Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Jack’s Monday Book on Wednesday

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Just to confuse everyone, Jack’s Wednesday blog post is the Monday book – –

The first thing to say before I get going is that we already knew that this book is set in the offices of the agency that handled the launching of Wendy’s best seller, ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’. Although the agency isn’t actually named in the book it’s a very open secret which New York literary agency it is. We are both, therefore, familiar with the rather old fashioned but cozy interior and the amazing collection of books lining the walls.

This is really at least two intertwining stories and I’m not sure that’s done terribly well. One is very much about the culture and characters of the agency itself, while the other is focused more on what’s going on in Rakoff’s life.

The first half of the book is mainly about her success in finding a job at what she refers to simply as ‘The Agency’, discovering how hard it is to live frugally in New York, getting to know her co-workers and being groomed by ‘The Boss’. I have to admit that I found that strand of the book unnecessarily gloomy and dark, as that’s certainly not what we experienced on or visits to the place. Something else that emerges in this early part of her book is the impression that the only famous author represented by the agency is JD Salinger, which is simply not true.

Her main job is to send form letters to fans of Salinger, who refuses to engage with them and is somewhat reclusive. She eventually strikes up something of a relationship with him on the phone and is finally on first name terms with him (Jerry and Joanna).

For me, the book really only takes off about halfway through when we begin to discover what’s going in Rakoff’s personal life. This strand is all about the self-discovery that anyone over the age of thirty will find excruciatingly familiar. It’s all about growing, maturing and making difficult decisions about what you want to do with your life.

The book ends with a jump forward to a married Rakoff with a husband and kids and a successful career as a novelist, poet and journalist.

I didn’t find this book disappointing overall, but I did find the beginning a bit heavy going.

6 out of 10 from me!

PS – it’s The Harold Ober Agency and Wendy’s agent doesn’t work there any more – – –

 

 

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Fighting Fire with Anger

Several of my friends are high flyers in professions that put them in the paths of stressed-out people. Human and animal doctors come to mind, among others.

Recently a friend (call her Suze) was lamenting that one of her favorite patients “no longer trusted her” because Suze  had delivered hard news that some pundit on the Internet swore could be overcome with homeopathy and divine intervention, not expensive medicines. When the patient died anyway, after a not-insignificant bill and a lot of tears on the part of my friend, the patient’s husband let fly with some fairly unfiltered accusations.

Listening to Suze describe how it felt to lose a patient AND get blamed for it, my mind went back to a conversation I’d held more than ten years ago. I’d been househunting, and a really lovely home was going for cheap after a fire. Both the realtor and the former owner had said with some bitterness that most of the damage was due to “water and fireman” rather than actual flames. I said as much in casual conversation not long after, and the group with which I was conversing shifted uneasily. Two of them were volunteer firefighters.

They told us what it was like to fight fires; you choose to enter a space where you know living beings are dying, and try not to join them while getting them out. You are angry, and you are afraid, and there is enough adrenaline coursing through your veins to literally kill you if it distracts from discerning every nuance of what’s happening all around you.

Intense concentration coupled with high emotion: that anger has to go somewhere. “Joe,” the younger of the firemen, described smashing a window with his axe “only because I was so mad. It has to go someplace, and you’re in what looks like Hell and you know somebody’s in there and you can’t find them. Hell, yeah, smashed windows is the least of it.”

And afterward, when the homeowner has their dog back, or not, and they survey the wreck of what their family nest became, the firefighters find a familiar pattern. “At first it’s ‘thank you thank you’ and then it’s ‘what the bleep did you do to my house?’ Just like us, their anger has to go somewhere. We know that. They yell at us because they’re scared and angry. It’s not personal. We know something about how that feels.”

It is difficult to be the person in a profession that fights literal, medical, administrative, or even social justice fires on a regular basis. It is also difficult to be the victim/person who needs that done. Cutting each other a little slack is a good idea. Suze will deal with survivor anger. Joe will continue to whack a window now and again. The people who counted on them to return their lives to normal will figure out that all the humans were on the same side, fighting a destructive force that has no feelings or plans; neither cancer nor fires are sentient beings capable of personal vendettas.

And perhaps we will try to be nicer to each other. By the way, check your smoke alarm batteries, and get screened whenever possible. Thanks.Fire

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Filed under animal rescue, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Scotch on the Rocks – – –

Breaking News – –

Wendy and I have a double cancellation for this year’s Scottish tour. The dates are Sunday June 17th – Friday June 29th. The original price was $3500 per person (excluding airfare) but is discounted to $3000 per person, with room for a total of four. That’s $2K discount if a family takes it! If you are interested full details can be found on the ‘Scottish Tour’ page at www.scottishsongandstory.co.uk . We will be visiting Skye, Lewis, the North 500 road, Orkney, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Fife. Time is short so first come first served! Space for four people in two rooms available. Price covers dinner, bed and breakfast in good mostly traditional hotels, after dinner music on some nights, ferry fares and entry to historic sites. All you need is spending money, and if you want it, lunch money. Most people find Scottish breakfasts keep them going all day.

We will visit castles and mountains, see Hielan coos, the Neolithic sites on Lewis and Orkney, stay in a hotel that used to be a Templar castle, eat the best fish n’ chips in Britain and meander the fishing villages of Fife. With luck at least one of our ferry voyages will have porpoise accompaniment and of course there will be haggis aplenty!

11-Skara-Brae

Skara Brae on Orkney

The maximum number that I set for the group is ten as that fits easily in the minivan we use and the reason I don’t include airfare is because folk tend to come from various parts of the US and some want to use specific airlines. Although the tour starts at Edinburgh on the morning of Sunday June 17th I always advise folk to arrive a day before just in case of delays or missed connections. We deliver everyone back to one of the Edinburgh airport hotels ready to depart on the morning of Friday June 29th.

We are happy to answer any questions you have – jbeck69087@aol.com or 276-523-5097.

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

Jeanne Powers’ Monday Book

 

041389b2caf661540eb4ebe445ddcf5dd96a288dThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent by his firm to a rather secluded English village in order to tie up the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow, a recently deceased elderly client. The villagers don’t seem inclined to discuss Mrs. Drablow, or anything else for that matter, though they do make Arthur welcome. At the funeral service, Arthur catches a glimpse of a woman in black lurking around the churchyard, but his inquiries are brushed aside. Resolutely, he prepares to go to Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow’s residence, which is in a marshy area accessible only at certain times due to the tides. Once there, he will be cut off from the outside world until such a time as the pony cart can cross the causeway to fetch him.

He’s going to wish he had taken a tide chart with him.

The subtitle of the book is “A Ghost Story” and that’s exactly what this is, in the best sense of the phrase. The old fashioned setting, the formal narration, even the nature of the story itself harkens back to those wonderful early ghost tales where the chills and thrills came from the mind and not blood spatter. Hill has perfectly captured the flavor of these Victorian tales . It’s beautifully written; Arthur, the narrator, is looking back at an event which shaped his life and he tells his tale without hyperbole or exaggeration. It has the ring of authenticity.

The book is just so wonderfully atmospheric. I could practically smell the sea air and shivered a bit in the dampness. While there were definitely warning signs, the book wasn’t over laden with signs and portents. The villagers may not have been over communicative, but there was nary a pitchfork nor cackling crone in sight. Arthur enjoys a hearty meal at the inn, a warm fire and a comfortable bed. The skies are blue and largely clear but cold. No air of menace hangs overhead.

The haunted aspects come later.

The ending is abrupt and I was taken aback at first, but it is the perfect ending. He has told his tale; there’s no analyzing or rationalization that this might have been just his imagination. This is what happened and, like the villagers, he has no wish to discuss it further.

There is a theatrical production of the book and there has been at least two movie versions but I don’t think either could ever capture the book, especially not the ending.

 

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Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

Mea Culpa – – –

Well – I finally got back to doing a Wednesday post on a Wednesday – –

We all do bad things from time to time. Sometimes by accident and occasionally deliberately (because we have the light and the dark in all of us). We even do bad things for the best of intentions and that’s what I did on Monday!

We learn from these things of course and I’d hoped that, at the age of 76, I had maybe mostly sorted it out.

The story really starts with the death of our beloved black Lab Zora. I had to take her to be sent ‘over the rainbow bridge’ about six months ago which left our terrier Bert as our only dog. They had been best pals most of their lives and poor Bert has been very different since then. They used to run around the yard together all day long but he now spends most of his time in the bookstore at my feet.

bert in chair

But Bert is also getting on a bit (95 in human years) and is showing definite signs of arthritis in his back legs. Our Vet, the ‘Sainted Beth’, has him on a sensible regime of doggie painkillers and that mostly seems to work and we have hopes he can keep going for a bit yet.

But just last Sunday a medical doctor friend was here with his wife for our monthly Quaker meeting and we all saw Bert limping. A general discussion about arthritis resulted in him making a passing comment about Ibuprofen being effective. After everyone had gone I remembered that I had some left over from when I had a bout of sciatica earlier in the year and that’s when it all went wrong!

Of course our doctor friend hadn’t suggested Ibuprofen for Bert – that was just me adding two and two and getting five.

I think why I feel particularly bad about this is because our pets trust us and Bert is no exception. He happily scoffs down pills as long as they’re hidden in a spoonful of peanut butter and I’m sure he never imagines I’d do anything to hurt him. But I gave him an Ibuprofen yesterday morning and another one last evening. Around 11 pm as we were settling down to sleep with Bert between us he stood up, arched his back and spewed his supper all over the bed. We got up and removed the top sheet before anything soaked through and he went out through the dog flap. This went on for the rest of the night until we were reduced to the last couple of blankets and poor Bert was exhausted!

Wendy took him up for an emergency consultation this morning with St. Beth and it looks like he will survive, but I feel very guilty. So what have I learned? Well, obviously – never make any uninformed decisions about medications for your pet, and never assume that what works for humans will work for pets. NEVER give Ibuprofen to your pet!!

I will be going up to collect Bert at the end of the working day at Powell Valley Animal Hospital. The Sainted Beth is smaller than me but I’m scared stiff at what she’s going to do to me!

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

The Sweater

I came to Charlottesville for the VA Festival of the Book and enjoyed my day out, eating excellent foods from distinctive cooking traditions and haunting yarn shops. Yesterday I listened to three writers in two panels discuss their work and how it comes together, and it was good info. My panel is this morning, talking about Appalachia as stereotype and reality in economics, foster care, and history.

IMG_3588But I have been these last ten weeks in Fayetteville, West Virginia, a town with a different ethos. This is what I wore in Fayetteville quite a bit, and people would stop me and say, “I love that t-shirt, and your sweater is beautiful. Did you make it yourself?” I saw one woman cross the street to come talk to me, and the first thing she did was fondle my sweater.

Here in Charlottesville, the city of wealth, people are not lame or demeaning. Don’t get that idea. But they look at my sweater and avoid making eye contact. The night I pulled into the hotel at 11:30 pm, lugging my worldly goods in a laundry basket (didn’t have any luggage with me at the writing residency) the desk clerk said, “May I help you?” When I said “Welch,” she looked at me for a moment, then blinked.

“Oh, you have a reservation.” And her fingers flew. So it was only a second there that she wondered why this road-haggard woman with the dandelion fluff hair and the fuzzy sweater carrying a laundry basket was standing at the counter.

Friday, I went out with my sweater to see the world, Charlottesville style. On the Pedestrian Mall (socks $25, earrings $30) people glanced at my sweater and looked away again. I know what they were thinking, “Gee, I wish I had a sweater that pretty.”

:]

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Here, There and Everywhere

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post is a day late –

I continue to be somewhat amazed at how small the world has become, and it’s not just the number of people from far afield who visit our wee bookstore in rural Appalachia – even this week when it was snowing.

Just yesterday I had an email conversation with a gentleman in Rome, Italy called Massimo. It started first thing in the morning with a request for the words of a song I recorded with my old group Heritage on our second album back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued and in a subsequent message he explained he was a big fan and had spent years collecting all the available recordings that I and the group had made over the years. As of this morning there are two CDs he didn’t know about winging their way to him via the USPS and Poste Italiane!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the presenter of a folk music show that airs on a radio station based in SW Scotland and we have begun to exchange programs. The ones I’m sending him are mostly digitized copies of cassettes that were made of a live show that I did back in the 1990s on a different (and now defunct) station in Scotland. But these cassettes were stored here at WETS which is the station where ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ is based, because back then I sent them over to be re-broadcast here. So a show that originally went out live to rural Perthshire has gone through a series of different technologies, traveled the Atlantic twice and is being heard by listeners of Folk n’ Stuff over the internet in (among other places) Tallahassee where there are, apparently, a loyal group of fans!

Sticking with the radio theme, I had the great pleasure of interviewing a lovely Irishman called Liam at the WETS studios on Monday morning, who is a visiting professor at ETSU just now, and made a good friend in the process. We concentrated on two themes that are part of his research focus and will also be the subjects of presentations he will make here. One was the importance of the culture of small geographical areas and the other was the challenge of Brexit for Ireland (North and South).

On Tuesday Wendy and I had our guest blog post for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum published and that also has a transatlantic theme.

https://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/follow-ballad-scotlands-lord-gregory-carter-familys-storms-ocean/

Meanwhile I continue to fine tune the arrangements for my annual small group tour of Scotland at the end of June, which also entails a fair amount of international communication.

It’s all a mad gay whirl I tell you – – –

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