Category Archives: small town USA

Happy Families

Jack’s weekly guest blog is on a happy subject this week: family reunions!

vickiMy niece Vicki and her daughter Elle are here for a week’s vacation from Aberdeenshire in Scotland, continuing in the footsteps of Scottish friends who have availed themselves of our guest-room over the last few years.

 

It’s always good fun introducing them to our friends, to the town and to the area. This time is a bit different, though because it’s family! When you are separated by thousands of miles from your family, then a visit like this is very special (when I do my annual Scotland tour I rarely have time for family visits).

vickiSince they’re only here for a week it’s been hard to decide what try to fit in, but we are definitely including a visit to a local drive-in movie theater and the famous tour of the coal camps and mining areas conducted by our good friend Gary. Last night we took them along the riverside greenbelt walkway as far as Johnny’s enigmatic carved faces in the trees bordering his camp ground. Right now they’re out discovering the magnificent Victorian mansions on Poplar Hill and the quirkiness of ‘Vintage on Main’ (our favorite local store).

There’s something very special about re-connecting with family and especially in these circumstances. Facebook is no competition with sharing the same space!

But the highlight of their visit will probably be Saturday night when some of our closest (and craziest) friends will gather for a ‘games night’ to play Cards against Humanity. These nights are always outstandingly funny and a great way to cut across cultural boundaries.

Unsurprisingly, Vicki had read ‘The Little Bookstore’ and said yesterday that one of the stories in it had particularly grabbed her. I thought she was going to talk about one of the stories of our odder customers but I’d forgotten about a family story in there. She meant the story about the death of my mother (her Grandmother). She was unprepared for it and found it very affecting.

So the bookstore, its story and the stories of the customers and friends who support it is now joined in the most concrete way possible to my family.

 

I couldn’t be happier!

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

The Monday Book: Hot Cripple by Hogan Gorman

This book is hysterical. It’s a righteous indictment of today’s fragmented health care system AND our “buy your way out of justice” justice system. But it’s also so very, very funny.

Hogan Gorman is a model who get hit by a car. And her life goes to hell in a handbasket. And she pretty much swears her way through it. One of my favorite parts was when she lists the best eight swear phrases to deal with excruciating pain, in descending order.

Not for the faint of heart, and not a “happy ending” book, if foul language bothers you, don’t read it. But this book is so very, very funny, and her crises are so very normal that you can’t help but feel like you’re there with her as she realizes she can’t get off the toilet, is going to eat nothing but rice and ketchup for three days, and meets a succession of civic employees ranging mostly from bad to worse.

This book is hysterical. An enthusiastic two crutches up.

1 Comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Did you Rescue Bob Yet?

Jack’s weekly guest blog on the merry chaos of the bookshop….

grandpaThere’s absolutely no telling, when we wake up in the morning what the day in the bookstore holds in store (ha!).

Once we’d dealt with the obligatory phone call at 8 am from the guy who stumbled across a stray kitten while walking his dog, things seemed calm – until – – –

Regular customer Bob and his grandson came in to exchange books and use up some of his credit. Since he always heads for the ‘mystery room’ and the kids’ room lies beyond it, I warned them to close the mystery room door as we have a couple of older foster cats in there and we didn’t want our bookstore moggies messing with them.

They were in there a long time and I’d actually forgotten about them when the phone rang. It was Bob, whose grandson had managed to lock Bob in the kids’ room while remaining unsupervised in the mystery room. Both spent some time shouting to each other through the locked door trying to get the door unlocked, but to no avail. And the wee lad couldn’t manage to open our mystery room door and toddle out for help from me. Although he had his cell phone, Bob couldn’t remember the bookstore number, so he phoned his wife to get it, then phoned me to come and let him out.

Meanwhile his wife put out a plea on FaceBook to get her husband rescued. She messaged Wendy: “Did you rescue Bob yet?” Wendy saw the message and thought Bob was a kitten that needed fostering, so sent back, “Which one is he? We adopted out four Bobs this year.”

Thus began a completely different and erroneous wild goose chase, as Sylvia is allergic to cats and couldn’t figure why Wendy was trying to foist one on her when she needed her husband out of the kids’ room! While that was going on I rescued Bob and everyone had a good laugh–including the couple from Buffalo NY who made the trip down to get Wendy’s signature in their copy of ‘The Little Bookstore’.

Hey ho. another day, another adventure.

Leave a comment

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel

wolf hallThis book caused quite a stir when it came out, and has recently been made into a Masterpiece Theater mini-series, so probably most of you have already heard of it. I’m a sucker for historic fiction, but too often that means a thinly veiled bodice ripper in the hands of lesser artists.

Not here. This is a tough, sardonic, wickedly funny underneath and terrifyingly brutal on the top portrayal of one of the most confusing and dangerous times in political history. You weren’t going to get killed in the breakdown of government, but BY the crazy, inhumane government itself.

Hmm, maybe that’s why we in the early 2000s are so fascinated by King Henry’s court, when two almost equally powerful factions were smashing into each other trying to reign, with the end result that no one knew at any time what was right and wrong to be doing in the eyes of the law, or whether they were going to go to work tomorrow.

This book uses sarcastic wit, historic accuracy, and the filling in of a few personalities, to present a novel without heroes, from a time period that might have been the same. Everyone believed in something, but nobody believed in the same thing–unless the king wanted them to, in which case they either did believe it, or died in some horrible way. Ho hum…. The genius of the writing is how well Mantel makes then feel like now: the animals are going extinct; modern times are too fast to keep up with, now the printing press has been invented; the rulers are fickle; the parliament can’t get anything done. Etc.

Mantel’s good at description, and I’m not such a fan of dense descriptive books when it comes to room settings or wooded copses, but she does make you feel as though you are there. And when she gets to describing the tensions in the room at any given meeting, suddenly less is more. She conveys so much through dialogue, you wonder how she manages to write up settings so descriptively well. Usually a writer is better at one than the other, but she’s great at both.

Two hats in the air for WOLF HALL. If you like historic fiction, you’ll love it. If you like politics, you’ll love it. It’s kind of a THRONE OF CARDS game. :] (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Fun with Philly Bookstores

I went to Philadelphia wearing my college hat, talking about rural health infrastructure and entrepreneurial activity. But of course there were a few spare minutes here and there, so I got to visit four bookstores. :]

chaucerThe first was the Quaker-run Book Corner, just beyond the Free Library of Philadelphia. THEY HAVE STAFF CATS! Catticus Finch declined to have his picture taken, but this is Chaucer. Book Corner supports the nearby library, which is how they wound up acquiring the cats. The two boys were trying to get into the library last winter, and it was cold, so the Quakers did as Quakers do, and now they have staff cats.

The boys weren’t all that interested in talking to me about Hadley et al; apparently they are sophisticats. But the lady who staffed the bookstore was very friendly, and at $3 per hardback, $2 per trade paperback, I had a grand old time!

book trader 1 book trader 2Then it was off to the Book Trader (shown above) across from historic Christ Church – a place of looming shelves and sideways books and a cheerfully curmudgeonly shopkeeper. When you think “used books store” this is the place you think of. Also, he proved cover color theory – just look at his display of Chick Lit books!chick lit

 

The conference started so no time for excursions again until today, when I got to catch up with old friends Ann and Adam. Ann owns The Spiral Bookcase in nearby Manayunk, and had just come from a photoshoot featuring her store. (She’s a brilliant marketer and a tireless community organizer!)ann and adam

Since our schedules wouldn’t permit meeting at her shop, she trained over, her husband Adam walked down from his office, and we had a late lunch at an upscale, trendy wine bar. “The kind of lifestyle one aspires to,” we agreed, nibbling on cheese that had been described on the menu as having a “fluffy personality.” (Yes, it kinda did.)

curtisRealizing we were near another bookshop owned by a mutual friend, we walked over to Neighborhood Books, run by Curtis. It’s so much fun to talk shop with fellow bookslingers: “What do you do with your old romances? Do you sell much sports? How often do you cull? When’s your biggest tourism season? How do you brace shelves that curve? Etc. etc. ad infinitium. Bookslingers can talk strategy all day long, and then move on to the great themes of literature over dinner.

Unfortunately, our schedules wouldn’t allow dinner either, so we said goodbye and headed back to our respective places in life. Walking back through Phillly, my head was buzzing with good ideas from the conference and good ideas from fellow bookshop owners.

There’s gonna be some work to do when I get home. Heh heh heh…….

4 Comments

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

Bizarre Bookstore Days

kangarooIt’s been an odd, OCD kind of week here at the bookstore.

On Tuesday, we had an entire day where people used credit from our big blue ledger. No cash purchases were made, no books brought in. (The ledger stays in the bookstore and regular customers have a page where we keep an updated tally.) Since we don’t have the ledger computerized, we’d have to look at the dates on each page to know how much trade credit was used, and neither of us cared at the end of Tuesday, because we were tired of looking in the ledger.

On Wednesday, every single customer bought books for cash, and we outdid our previous sales record for best day ever by $41. We were slammed and it was fun, but when the day was over, we fell without grace or ceremony into chairs and stared at the ceiling awhile.

At some point I said, “You want supper?”

He said, “No. You?”

I said, “Can’t be bothered.”

He said, “All right, then.”

We went to bed.

On Thursday, from every corner of the world, it seemed, people brought in books to trade. Bags of books, boxes of books, miles and miles and piles of books! I was actually away Thursday, and came home to a carpet of them. Jack held up his hands as if to beg for mercy.

“They came too fast; I couldn’t keep up.”

We spent that evening shelving books, gnawing on some cheese and tomatoes between stacks.

On Friday, two kangaroos and an elephant came in. The elephant was pregnant and the roos were giving her a gift certificate to our children’s room. Nice folk.

And so it goes…. people ask us about “patterns in book retail.” There’s only one pattern: expect every day to be different from the one before it, and you will always be right.

7 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized

Black Jack’s Legacy

Elissa and BJOur friends Elissa and Joe lost their beloved elder-dachshund Black Jack today. Black Jack was the patriarch of a herd of ten at the Powers-Lewis home, some fosters, some permanent, all members of the family.

In the same way that Valkyttie (now of blessed memory) was the icon for our bookstore, Black Jack was the poster dog for the work Elissa did with In His Hands Small Animal Rescue. A protective dog, BJ fiercely guarded his Mama from ladybugs, falling leaves, and sometimes other rescues. If Black Jack said a foster wasn’t staying, well, best not be in town when the sun went down.

Rescuers love all animals, and we all love our animals, so it’s doubly sad when a grandfather figure like Black Jack passes – not that BJ was EVER a grandfather, I hasten to add. Despite his good looks and impeccable pedigree as a Black-and-Tan, he was neutered at a young age, and barked often and passionately at dachshund gatherings about the importance of spays and neuters. An advocate against backyard breeders as well as for responsible dachshund ownership, BJ leaves a legacy better than any litter: he and his family can be proud of their part in keeping Southwest Virginia aware that, no matter how “special” the breed, dogs should not be gotten from breeders, but rescues.

BJ IIIThe Rainbow Bridge is happy for the pet who leaves, returning to health and vitality as he sheds years to bound across, but oh so very hard for those of us left behind. We miss them; how could we not? And yet, when we have made the most agonizing decision a responsible pet owner can make, and cradled our loved ones into a new world with no pain, we know we have done right by them. Joe and Elissa did right by their Elder Wiener, and continue to do right by their herd of sausage dogs, despite the sadness that floods the pack tonight.

So we say goodbye to Black Jack, aged 16 years and one month, who probably did not bound over the bridge with ears and tail flopping today. No, we think Black Jack would have made the crossing in a teak sedan chair borne by four Maine Coon cats, with a chi-corgi mix doing back flips and juggling ahead of him. I picture his faux-fur robes of purple trimmed with silver glitter, and his scepter would be a rawhide bone – lightly chewed, of course. You’ve heard of three-dog nights? Black Jack was a three-breakfast dog.

You go, BJ! You were loved and will be missed. But go knowing your story of being a black-and-tan neuter with so much more to give than puppies will be told again and again, amid laughter and tears.

BJ

3 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch