Category Archives: reading

Day One: Frankfort to Farmington

MaryAfter ensuring Charles and Mary-the-Storyteller had enough AirBorne to save them from our creeping crud, we set off, a-tired and lighthearted to take to the open road. (Sorry, Walt)

Today held a “get some miles behind us” plan because I had to teach an online writing class that required pulling in at our Farmington B&B no later than 5:30 to set up. No sweat. With Barbara and Jack tucked into the back seat making “stay on your own side” noises, Oliver and I would defy speed limits and sound medical advice (this was his worst of the three-day misery plague this bug seems to give most people; I was on the mend and Barbara was almost back to normal) to play “who’s got enough funding to staff the highways” with assorted state patrols.

We blitzed Kentucky and made our way across Indiana and Illinois into Iowa, a happy chain of I-states that left Barbara and Oliver exclaiming over landscapes  and roadside attractions. We hit on the scheme of looking up “10 Interesting facts about [state name]” which was fun, but we had to work quickly in Illinois, given how fast Oliver was driving.

Did you know that gas pumps were invented in Indiana? And that the world’s largest ball of paint is there? Now you do.

We also invented a car game. Since all four of us have musical careers of some variety, any comment touched on song lyrics meant someone would start singing them. The person who could get the most lyrics out without getting shouted down by the others wins–or perhaps loses. No one is sure yet. Since we are all but Jack sick with a virus affecting the throat at this point, keys were declared optional. My rendition of “Downtown” was a personal low note.

We reached Farmington in good time and said hello to Elizabeth and David, owners of Porch Time Bed and Breakfast. It may tell you something of Farmington’s charms to know that drinks at the American Legion Bar are $3, and the bartender is the mayor. She has a list on the front door of people who have been barred, some for a month, some for life. Be warned, Farmington Visitors: do not mess with Mary.David and Elizabeth

We were there because Elizabeth and David had walked into our bookstore a year or so before, out of the blue, and told us how much they enjoyed Little Bookstore. “It’s so like our town, how people reinvent themselves and make things stick when others say it won’t work,” Elizabeth enthused. “If you come visit us, I’ll show you around. You’ll see. You kind of wrote our story, or at least what we’ve been trying to say with our lives, too.”

Elizabeth had escaped a cult life after 38 years, losing a family member in the process but gaining a real life for which she shows more appreciation than most people. She and her husband married later in life and moved to Iowa to start together in a neutral place. As a graphic artist, he was portable, and she soon found steady demand as a substitute English teacher. They became integral parts of Farmington, this quirky little town holding its own by the side of the Des Moines river, offering artistic refuge and tourism options for equestrians, canoeists, and hikers. There is an artists’ co-op there, and an art festival, and about eight painters, several songwriters, a writing group that feeds out from Iowa’s Famous Writers Workshop, and a general feeling that everyone in Farmington is walking around with some level of masterpiece working its way out of them with less angst than enjoyment. These are nice people.Porch Time

The 1860s carriage house renovated into an upstairs flat and downstairs studio, which David and Elizabeth’s friend Anne created, is but one example. Never let anyone tell you what you want to do can’t be done; they did all the work themselves without a mortgage and that building is magnificent. (No photos because dusk was falling as Elizabeth toured me around.)

swimholeThe river offered a local swimming hole away from the tourism end which Oliver and I availed ourselves of the next morning – there is nothing like swimming in live water. Already at 9 am the shallow river was bath-water-warm, portent of the heat to come as we headed across Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And made an interesting discovery we will tell you about tomorrow.

 

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Filed under between books, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

The Bookstore is Quiet

The bookstore has just passed out of the Eye of Calm between school letting out and the Return of the Natives. Big Stone reserves its biggest tourism influx for Fall, when the mountains explode with color. Right now, we have The Grandchildren. Families who moved away in search of work return (or send the kids) to their roots. It is a time-honored cycle: come back to see Mom and Dad, leave the kids a week or five and go get some work done or have a vacation.

You can see the Grandparents parading their newly acquired temporary children proudly through the grocery store, dressed in clothing that would put Toddlers and Tiaras to shame, little girls who will not hurt themselves if they fall because the skirts will cushion them. Boys dressed as exact copies of grandpa, work boots, denim overalls, and cap.

It is adorable.

The bookstore’s part in all this is to clean the children’s room every day after the cyclone is over. We sell more kids’ books mid-May to mid-July than we do the rest of the year combined. Because the bookstore is where Grampa and Gramma go when they’ve Had It.

Exhausted elderly couples arrive on our porch, the children clambering up the stairs, over the railings, around our reading animal statues. Grandparents haul themselves up the railing of the side ramp, waving the kids: go on, go on, we’ll catch up.

If they can reach the handle, the children work in teams to haul open our heavy screen door – it takes two kindergartners to move – and break for the nearest kittens. The smarter kittens scatter.

Grandpa will plunk himself on our front porch and light up a pipe or cigarette. He sits, looking off into the distance at the cool green and blue layers of the mountains, as Grandma either heaves herself into the bookstore with a sigh, or plunks down next to him and says, “Gimme one.”

We think this means cigarette…..

The children destroy the place, hunting hiding kittens. Occasionally they actually hunt books themselves, but usually this waits until Gran has her soul restored and hears the thudding books and shrieking children. We usually have the front porch window open. I have found that, should other sounds fail, recalcitrant summer guardians can be motivated by saying “Yes, dear, you can have that kitten” quite loudly just behind Grandmother’s head.

It’s summer: the kinder garden blooms. We love it. We clean up after they leave. We wink at the grandparents. We sell a lot of children’s books to straining budget people who are relieved to find they’re getting five books for $3.15.

mother-child-reading-1941526And we love the two most repeated requests the grandparents make: “Could you sell me the biggest chapter book you have? He likes to read and I need him quiet this afternoon for my nap.” Or “She can’t read so have you got one with enough pictures to keep her occupied for five minutes?”

There’s nothing quite like the rhythms of a bookstore.

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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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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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Kate Belt’s Monday Book

51YTWanqMVL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Monday Book – My Abandonment

My Abandonment, a novel by Peter Rock, was inspired by a local news story about a Vietnam war veteran and his 13 year-old daughter living off the grid in Forest Park, a huge municipal nature reserve in Portland, Oregon.  Anyone who has hiked this 5,100 acre, 7 mile long park will find the story credible.

When discovered by authorities after off-trail hikers report suspicious traces of the makeshift home, the daughter was found to be highly intelligent, adequately nourished, well-educated having been home schooled, and in good health. She had not been neglected nor abused in any way. After the two are discovered and captured by police, the story turns into an emotional page -turner wondering how it will end. Will child protective services leave the family together? Can they? What will happen to the dad? Will the girl end up in foster care?

This novel is fast paced and heart tugging. All of the characters are engaging and evoke empathy, with everyone doing the best they can and rooting for the best possible outcome for this family.

Last year a movie based on the novel was filmed in Portland, under the title Leave No Trace. After premiering at Sundance a few weeks ago, it has been purchased by both national and international movie studios, so hopefully will be in theaters soon.

Reviewed by Kate Belt

 

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Things I Learned during Writing Residency

19226005_10154761056583505_1735351353313373426_nThings I have learned (some about myself, others about writing) during this residency:

Crocheting is as important as writing. Find your BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT thing and do it. You don’t need any more reason than that, so long as it’s not killing the household budget. If what you like is expensive or takes time your family can’t give you, see if you can pull a little dangling thread somewhere to get a small marked bit of time and space. You need it in life even more than writing.

The value of silence: it is tempting to tune into online TV during crochet time, the radio while we drive. Do without every so often. Sit and listen to what you’re thinking about, and be surprised at the connections that form because of the silence.

Don’t lose sight of places you like to be. Until I got to Fayetteville, I had forgotten how soothing, how inspiring, being in the woods is. Church, ball game, bathtub: wherever you go to get your writer on, don’t let anyone keep you from it.

Do new stuff because it’s new. This could be writing, finding a new place to hike, visiting a different town, cooking something weird, trying an intense craft pattern. Bust out of your comfort zone.

Know what you believe. I believe in Jesus. After that I’m listening. Right now polarities are oppositional in politics, religion, even how to cook lasagna. Every idea space is full of debates and hurricanes. Listening is good. Keeping one’s mouth shut is good. Usually people don’t want to know what you think; they want to tell you what they think. Let them; it’s grist for the writing mill, and not difficult to shake off what they will enjoy as a power move. It makes GREAT character study. Don’t get excited; get a notebook.

Draft fast; edit slow. My latest manuscript of 65K words drafted in three weeks. It was crap but had great bones. I set it aside for three weeks, then edited, sent to readers, edited again. The polished draft is with NYC’s publishing deities. Time plus chair plus keyboard makes drafts; fallow time plus finessing makes books.

Work with other writers in a bordered capacity. I’m fortunate to teach for Memory2Memoir and mentor writing educators with American NewMedia Foundation. What other people struggle with, how other people choose to tell stories, invigorates your writing. That said, offer too many consults and your time will disappear. When I sat down to do “other writer stuff” besides drafting or editing my manuscript, how much “other writer stuff” there was startled me.

Enter contests carefully. Writers can spend their lives looking for and finding them at $25 entry fee per. Like a plot itself, getting sidetracked to tell a wonderful story about some minor character may be fun, the writing great, but it doesn’t advance the overarching narrative. Entering contests because you don’t know what to write about yet? Awesome, keep going. Entering contests as avoidance to writing your book? Nope.

Have simple foods on hand. Peanut butter and apples were my staples, plus Trader Joe’s frozen polenta for hot meals. When you’re knee-deep in plot yet hungry, you can keep going.

Hope these are useful to you. I’ve loved my time at Lafayette Flats.

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GINA DUNCAN’S MONDAY BOOK

“The Secret to Hummingbird Cake” by Celeste Fletcher McHale

 

26893373For over two years, I have been reading mostly historical fiction and suspense/thriller mystery books.  Not wanting to get “burned out” or “stuck” on the same types of books, I thought I’d try reading a contemporary Christian or southern women’s fiction book.  By making a change in my reading genres, I discovered a new author and her first book. (As an avid reader, I am open to reading new or “new to me” authors’ books.)  Celeste Fletcher McHale’s book “Secret to Hummingbird Cake” was such a wonderful change for me.

In case you didn’t know, the South is not only famous for good manners, great football, juicy gossip, but also delicious food. Most of the time food and maybe the recipe is shared with extended family and/or true friends. Since Hummingbird Cake is one of my favorite cakes and one that I make for my family’s dinner every Christmas Eve, I was drawn to this book by its title and the cover of the book, a Hummingbird Cake.
It’s been a long time that I’ve read such an emotional book which made me laugh and cry, sometimes close together or maybe simultaneously. (And yes, women can cry and laugh at the same time!) While reading “Secrets to Hummingbird Cake,” there were times when I wanted to even scream out loud and shake some sense into the characters. But when three truly devoted, life-long friends with such different personalities get together, you never know what can happen. Sure, I didn’t agree with some of the language or choices made, but this book is a wonderful story about friendship, forgiveness, and faithfulness.

I won’t spoil the ending of this book.  But I can’t remember reading a book that kept me so enthralled that I not only read it in one sitting, but I also stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it.  “Secrets to Hummingbird Cake,” is one of my all-time favorite books, and I am looking forward to reading more books by Ms. Hale.

 

Gina Duncan

 

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