Category Archives: Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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The Unsung Bookstore Heroes!

Jack makes it over the bar with the Wednesday guest post – –

This place is BIG! The odd thing is that it’s gotten bigger over the last fourteen years, as we’ve made less livable spaces more so –

It takes a bit of looking after and keeping clean, and we’ve tried various strategies to deal with that over the years. To begin with we tried to keep on top of things ourselves but later we realized that wasn’t too practicable. So we had a couple of good friends who stepped up to help. The first was Heather, who can be seen in this video jokingly using our cat Owen Meanie as a duster. Heather was an awesome cleaner, thorough, efficient, and with a wicked sense of humor.

But she moved to Colorado so then we had Anne, who not only cleaned but brought posters and knick knacks and little colored baskets to make the shop more cheerful. Eventually health issues meant she had to retire (she’s also in the video as ‘Becky’ in the needlework group). Both of them were painstaking and highly skilled and we missed them—even more as we tried others with mixed results and also went back to trying to handle things ourselves. It was clear that we needed to find someone to take the place on –

Enter Judy!

She already cleaned for our vet friend, the sainted Beth and we had heard some stories that seemed pretty far-fetched. For instance, we were told she only would agree to clean for folk she approved of, and also she did all sorts of stuff that wouldn’t normally be considered ‘cleaning’. Seemed a bit odd, but we sent out a feeler to see if she was interested.

We’re not sure how she assessed our suitability but apparently we passed the test!

Judy is absolutely amazing – she has taken us on as her extended family. She really DOES do far more than we’d expected. Just recently I asked her to mop the front porch deck – she turned up with a power washer and did the deck, the railings and the furniture! Then there was the time she dug up an overgrown bush in the back yard and then brought here truck into the yard and hauled the roots out with a chain. She loves the cats as Heather and Anne did before her, and she once used her mop to physically repel a man trying to dump kittens in the bookstore.

Do not mess with Judy. She is the stuff of which mountain families are made. Also, don’t leave your coffee cup on untreated wood without a coaster. She’ll take you out.

 

 

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

The Monday Book: THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie Ten Boom

hiding placeI thought about blogging this book in the wake of the Tree of Life Synagogue shootings, but wanted to wait a week.

Aside from the easy tease that tomorrow is a mid-term election and we’re all tired of politics and looking for a place to hide from it, this book is no joke. It is intense yet accessible.

For those unfamiliar, it is about sisters in a watch-repairing Dutch family, happy people with a strong Christian ethic. When WWII breaks out, they hide Jewish people. This brings them close to The Resistance–which they don’t work with, other than hiding and moving Jewish people as best they can. There is a poignant scene when Corrie is asked to pass along intelligence that she realizes will get a German officer killed, and refuses to do so. The young Resistance worker in her kitchen is gobsmacked and furious. They become suspect–despite considerable sacrifices.

The scene has come to me again and again in these turbulent times where no one can be neutral and expect to be left alone. If you’re not for, you’re against. You can’t stand in your kitchen and refuse to condemn one man to death while saving six more people in a closet upstairs. Both sides would kill you.

The Hiding Place also asks ethical questions about what it means to be light in a dark place. The family is eventually betrayed, and while the Jewish people they are hiding escape, Corrie, her father and sister do not. The latter two eventually die in a concentration (prison) camp. The women are in their fifties when the Nazis round them up. Betsy is not in excellent health. Yet she insists on standing at the edge of morning roll call, taking the brunt of the cold wind, so she can protect younger women. This infuriates Corrie. When a woman is beaten to death in front of them, Betsy and Corrie have very different reactions.

Corrie also talks about two Somali Jewish women who distrust everyone else in the hospital where she is meant to be a patient, but instead winds up bringing bedpans to others. When she attempts to help the women, who are isolated in language and race, they throw their gangrenous bandages at her. Corrie has to come to terms with what help means, when, and how.

I loved this book as a child too young to understand some of it subtleties. I loved it as a college student enough to write about it for a literacy project, igniting an interesting argument with a professor. I love it now because, in a storm of words bent on winning, it tells the story of a family that redefined what “winning” meant on their own terms. They paid for it, but they also left a legacy that allows Quakers and moderates, and quiet bunny rabbit peaceniks to find a place to stand when people all around scream “If you stand there you’re ______ (insert bad thing here).”

On Christ the solid rock I stand, best as I can interpret him in the whelming flood, alongside the Ten Boom Family, who did an amazing job of not being on anyone’s side while helping everyone they could.

 

 

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Old Soldiers Never Die – – –

It’s Wednesday so it’s Jack’s turn again, but a painful one – –

It’s always sad when a dedicated customer passes away. Bill Peace was one of our beloved regulars. Those of you who have read The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap would find him in its pages as the guy with the bearlike shuffle and precision military corners.

Bill and Brenda

He was a true supporter of the bookstore from its earliest days and it was always a pleasure to see him. Early on he would come striding up the steps in front, then later he needed to use the ramp at the side. Either way, once in the front door he would very slowly traverse every corner of every room. His reading tastes were wide and included everything from US history to mystery novels. He never missed a shelf.

He never said very much, either, but it was clear that he valued having a bookstore in the town. Some customers chat while browsing, but not Bill. He kept his thoughts contained inside the omnipresent ex-military cap he wore, the emblem of his unit decorating its dark red. Mostly he would just ask if we had anything on ‘such and such’ or by ‘so and so’.

Eventually his health deteriorated and it was harder for him to get here. His devoted wife Brenda would drive him over to the side of the building and help him up the ramp. When that got to be too much, we’d get phone calls from him asking about particular authors or books, and organize pick-up from Brenda or his son David.

We knew that things were getting to be more serious from reports by David and his wife Felicia (another staunch pair of bookshop supports) who’d come to collect the books Bill had ordered over the phone.

Back when we started ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ thirteen years ago we needed the support of established locals and we are very grateful to the ones who stepped up and showed their public support. Bill Peace was one of them and he helped enormously to make us feel part of the community.

RIP Bill – we will never forget you!

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Cole Tells it Like it Is

cole 1Yo. My name’s Cole. Yeah, black cat, people think it’s C-O-A-L but it’s Cole after Cole Porter. ‘Cause I sing as good as he did. Yeah, like that.

So I’m here at this bookstore with some other cats. Didn’t know any of them before we got here, but I recognize some from that shelter. It was crowded, man, and people were saying things like “cull” and “today.” Made me nervous.

Anyway, in walks this bald guy and then I’m in a carrier, and there’s a vet, which was unpleasant but not awful, couple of sharps and I had to swallow something bitter, and then it all got kinda woozy there for awhile, and I woke up unable to father children.

This doesn’t bother me. Never cared about getting sued for palimony and all that jazz. Now I can tomcat around all I want. There’s a door in the basement here where we can go out in the backyard. Sometimes I sits out on the rail of the porch back there, and thinks about my life so far. It ain’t been bad, but I think it’s on the upswing. Meals regular, plenty of jingle balls and soft surfaces, couple nice cat trees positioned well to see out the window. A guy could get used to spoiling, y’know?

cole 3The people here tell me I’m waiting for my “furrever home.” Cute, the way they spell that. They asked me what I wanted, and I had to think a little bit. Don’t know that I’ve expected much so far, but if I was designing the purrfect—er sorry, perfect—cathouse, it would have places to sit and look out the window. There’d just be a few of us, me and one or two other friendly cats. I like cats that like me. Maybe a kitten to raise, y’know, teach the kid to play ball and stuff. That’d be fun.

Regular meals. That’s a given. And when I want to jump in your lap, you’re okay with that. I’m not the biggest carry-me guy in the world, but I does like a lap snuggle couple times a day. I keep it hidden, had to all that time on the streets, but there’s a sensitive side to me.

Yeah, that’d do it. Nothing fancy. Just a home with the basics and a few frills. That’d do me just fine.

The people here say I might get adopted by Christmas. They talk about this holiday called Halloween and how regular punters out there are scared of black cats. Never heard anything so crazy in my whole life. I was on death row after a year on the streets dodging crazy people trying to hurt me, and YOU are scared of ME? Get real! What’m I gonna do, cuddle you to death?

cole 2Uh yeah, forgot to mention, at night, I like to sleep on the bed with you, if you don’t mind. Like above your head, or in that curve behind your knees. I ain’t fussy. And I promise not to smother you while you sleep. Sheesh. Who’d work the canopener? People got no common sense these days.

Anyway, come down and visit the bookstore and say hi. We can talk, have a cup of milk, maybe play a round of cards, see how we like each other’s company. Ask me nice and I’ll even sing for ya.

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The Monday Book

Jack gets to write the Monday Book post – so it’s a day late – –

Bringing Columbia Home – Michael D. Leinbach, Johnathan H. Ward

columbia

I stumbled upon this book in Greensboro NC where Wendy was doing a promotional event in a bookstore. Being a bit of an air and space freak I couldn’t resist it.

This is the whole story of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle disaster, and Leinbach is probably the best person who could have written this book as he was at the center of the mission.

The book chronicles the whole tragic story from the first contradictory clues and suspicions all the way to the gathering of wreckage and crew remains. Along the way we encounter the interactions between rural Texans, Federal agencies, State organizations, NASA professionals, fellow astronauts and the family members of the doomed crew.

The things that stood out for me were –

The very sensitive handling of everything to do with the crew, their families and the inevitable evidence relating to their last minutes. The amazing ‘ownership’ by locals of responsibility for laborious searches for the tiniest fragments in pretty terrible conditions. Then the equally laborious technical work to try to establish what caused the catastrophe.

The book doesn’t shirk placing blame where needed but also lays bare the sheer risks that inevitably accompany space travel. I have visited the air and space museum in DC a number of times and always marvel when I look at the Apollo capsules. How anyone could sit in that atop a rocket and be blasted into space is completely beyond my comprehension!

Just last week I wrote about my memories of the PanAm 103 bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland and I couldn’t help drawing some parallels with the Columbia disaster. I suppose the biggest difference is that the crews of the space shuttles knew the risks involved!

Finally – it was shown after the cause of the crash was established that there would have been no way to rescue the crew even if the damage to the wing had been known. So, as they were carrying out their scientific work they were already doomed.

The book is written for the layman, is easy to read and I found it completely gripping from start to finish.

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Hands, Knees and Boomps – a- Daisy

This time Jack meets the deadline – –

I suffer from Nail Patella Syndrome (NPS) but didn’t even know what it was until I was into my fifties. It’s hereditary and can affect people very differently. For me it’s quite mild – my elbows won’t straighten and my knee caps swivel to the side; also my thumb nails and toe nails twist and split. The worst, when I was a child and teenager, was my teeth. NPS means your teeth are soft, with twisted roots and very subject to cavities. So you can probably imagine what dentist visits were like for me in the 1950s and 60s! I still have nightmares about that now – – – but no teeth I’m happy to say!

In other words, for me it is mainly a skeletal thing – bones, joints and suchlike.

IMG_3602

Knees, elbows and Owen!

But I’m lucky compared to other members of my extended family. NPS can, in its more severe forms, affect your kidneys and liver which I’m glad to say it never has for me.

One of the first people in the US to be officially approved to use cannabis as a medical treatment was a man suffering from a severe case of NPS. So we’re trailblazers too!

I’ve always wondered, though, if various health episodes during my life had any connection to NPS? There haven’t been all that many, but you can’t help wondering. My tonsils were removed when I was three years old, an ingrowing toenail was cut out when I was six. Much, much later my small intestine (hah!) tied itself in a double knot, I almost died and it took a year to recover.

About eighteen years ago a doctor from Liverpool in England was doing her post-doctoral research on the condition and I was honored to receive a copy of her final thesis – there I could immediately see pictures of my knee and toenails and descriptions of my family members (all anonymous of course).

But let’s get to the point of all this –

If you suspect that you or someone you know may suffer from this condition here are a couple of useful links – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nail%E2%80%93patella_syndrome

http://www.npsw.org/

 

 

 

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