Category Archives: publishing

Rewrite a Classic Title Game

DSCN0018Some friends and I on a bookstore owner list were playing with classic titles, rewriting them to reflect the realities of running a bookshop. Here are a few we came up with:

Oh the Places You’ll Dust

Farewell my Harlequins (please!)

The Old Man and the C Shelf

Bonfire of the Vanity Presses

The Optimist’s Slaughter

Go Set a Watch (for those unfamiliar, timing the moment your front door can close so you can go to a party/go to bed early is one of the big joys of small business ownership)

How to Make Friends and Influence People’s Reading Habits

And we actually found a few titles that needed no alteration:

The Hunger Games

The Friendly Persuasion

Odd Hours

Yeah, you kind of have to be a literary snob, or worked retail, to get some of them. Please add your titles in comments. It’s kind of addictive once you get started….

Think and Grow Poor

The Thorn Books (those by authors whose star has faded; think about it)

The Cuckoo Flew Over One’s Nest (because you do kinda have to be crazy to do this)

To Kill a Mocking Teen

The Devil Wears Too Much Perfume (for all who’ve ever been choked by a customer)

Along Came a Spiderweb

Two Years before I went Bankrupt

The Battle of the Bookshelf Labyrinth

A Farewell to Free Time

A Prayer for All the Meanies (if you’ve ever worked retail….)

Come on, you know you want to make up a few…

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The Monday Book: SEE NO EVIL by Robert Baer

spiesWhen I teach Cultural Geography, I sometimes assign the film Syriana as an extra credit option. Inevitably, all but the brightest students turn in something along the lines of “I couldn’t figure out who the good guys and the bad guys were in this movie because everything was so twisted up.”

Yeah. Welcome to the Middle East spy network.

Baer is the “Bob” who inspired the film, and who (spoiler alert) dies in the airstrike he tries to prevent. And if you think Syriana is convulted, try reading this memoir of Baer’s life in the CIA. On the one hand, it is chronological of the guy’s life experiences. On the other, it describes in bland prose some of the most amazing twists and turns. It would be a great spy novel if you didn’t know people had died because of it.

As an example of how Baer lays out the frustration and confusion, he goes to a small Kurdish-held village on the Iranian border to see what the Iraqi official he’s working with has done: one person says he attacked the village; he swears he didn’t. After a four-hour trip in a Toyota truck mounted with gun turrets (which means he pretty much looked like the Taliban, this American CIA operative) they arrive to find the village has been shelled. He calls his Iraqi contact and says “I know what you did.”

As Baer writes, ” ‘You betrayed me,’ was his only response….. only in the Middle East could you betray someone by refusing to accept the lie he had told you in the first place.”

The book is dated as current history, but as a story of why systems continue to fail because of human personality, it’s pretty much timeless. If you’ve ever read The Prince of the Marshes, by British author Rory Stewart, Baer’s is pretty much the American equivalent.

The funny thing is, Baer makes things very clear even though he really can’t write for beans. His prose is flat, sometimes his verbs are suspect, and he never waxes poetic or gets on a soapbox. Perhaps that helps, in a memoir delivering so many mixed messages while trying to hold onto its own main theme: We’re screwed.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch

It’s the Great Cat Reunion of 2015!

Jack and I have wanted to have a cat reunion for ages, but in the present economy travel money is tricky for people.

Plus some people think having a cat reunion is a crazy notion, and although they love the cat they got from us, they’re not going to travel to show it.

And you have to admit, having a bunch of cats in one place and time like that would be like, well, herding cats.

So our friend Elissa came up with a great idea, and created the BOOKSTORE CATS ADOPTION REUNION on Facebook. If you’ve adopted a cat from us (or placed a cat with us) we want to hear your stories, see your videos and pictures, and find out how things are going.

Send us your favorites, and let us do what the Internet was created for: ooh and over cats.

As an incentive, here’s our big boy Mal, who was adopted by David and Susan in North Carolina. Mal had a cleft palate and looked like he was ten minutes from dying. With a serious operation and a lot of TLC afterward, he gained health and vitality – plus weight. Pity he never gained brain cells, but that’s a separate story. mal 1And now, five pictures of Mal showing the transformation love and a little luck can bring. (They go in reverse order, from Mal on David and Susan’s couch to the Sunday afternoon we found him on our bookstore lawn and stashed him in the garage until we could get him to the vet.)

mal 2mal3

mal 4mal 5

 

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The Monday Book: TURNING STONES by Marc Parent

“Mastering the art of good casework is a little like staring into the shuttering eyes of a rabid canine and saying “nice doggie” until you find a shotgun.”

parentSo says Marc Parent, a Wisconsin transplant who got hired by the Department of Social Services as a case worker in child protection in New York City, because he was from Wisconsin. They had a whole unit of Midwesterners.

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, and it’s very like watching a reality TV show about social work in Brooklyn. The prologue of the book has a wonderful section about people who might read such a dysfunctional childhood book as voyeurs hoping to find out about sex scandals. I’ve never seen a guy deal so well with so few words with such an ugly element of human nature.

And then he dives into the job, including the fact that while he’s saving children’s lives he’s calculating his overtime, fussing about missing supper, and trying not to get stabbed with a kitchen knife. The book is fascinating, nicely paced between “scared to death gotta do this” and bored, paperworked to death “why am I doing this?”

The on-off-humor, the rush and relax nature of the book, make it feel like you’re really there. You can smell the mildew in “The Nursery,” the area where children taken from their parents are looked after until placements can be found. And fed bologna-and-mustard sandwiches by large women who keep themselves separate from the rest of the crew, and tie the kids’ shoelaces.

Parent’s writing is so descriptive with such word economy, you wonder how many times he has had to talk himself out of a corner. (And for the record, I disagree completely with him and with his fellow worker on the issue of pit bulls.)

The only chapter dealing with a sexually assaulted child is handled so beautifully, describing the interactions between police, nurses, the social workers, the child, and an anatomical doll. He writes with great sensitivity, but also great passion, about the night he could not help the little girl caught in trauma.

Parent also has a lovely comment about kids who “slip between the cracks,” saying they don’t; they slip between people’s fingers, because the entire system is made up of people who do their jobs well, or badly, or make mistakes, or go the extra distance. As he writes of one of his first phone calls with a child experiencing a psychotic episode, “Sean may have had his problems, but he was a smart kid – the day’s lesson was not lost on him, I’m certain. It wasn’t lost on me: It doesn’t matter how good you are at flag signals if no one is watching – the distress call is only as good as the person looking out for it.”

Parent ends the book talking about the day he contributed to the death of a child, the follow-up investigation, and his subsequent decisions about his career with great honesty. Blunt honesty that is somehow poetic.

That’s actually a good summation for this book: blunt honesty that is somehow poetic.

 

 

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

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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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book repair, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing