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What’s a Husband to Do?

house husbandJack’s weekly guest blog, flying solo!

Wendy has been away in Philadelphia since the beginning of the week and won’t be back until Saturday.

How strange the place is without her! It’s quiet professor – too quiet!

– and I have to feed the felines and doggies, handle all the bookstore stuff, liaise with the cafe, think about upcoming events, keep the place clean, feed myself and keep up with the needs of a 111 year old building.

– then on Sunday we head off together to Florida for a week where Wendy will be presenting on rural health issues at a conference.

– but that means a ‘shop-sitter’ and they arrive on Saturday and need an orientation to get up to speed.

– but that means the guest room has to be ready, and the ‘bookstore manual’ has to be re-written to be up to date.

– uh, oh – the dogs are barking and I think I hear a cat fight, and someone just phoned to see if we can take in five kittens!

Did I say it was quiet? QUIET??

I love you dear – please come home – – – –

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The Monday Book: PLAYING WITH STORIES by Kevin Cordi

Kevin sent this book to be reviewed; he and Wendy were in graduate school together, at the ETSU storytelling program. Jack wrote the review.

playing-storiesWendy asked me to review this book because she knows the author personally. I’m pleased about that as I found it fascinating!

This is a book about storytelling; specifically it’s about the combination of storytelling and play (in the many senses of that word). In the opening section of the book, Cordi talks of his introduction to stories as a young child in a family setting.

My own introduction to storytelling as an integral part of traditional culture happened in the 1960s when I was honing my skills as a singer of ballads and folk-songs in my homeland of Scotland. I visited with the Stewart family in their home in Blairgowrie and was immediately immersed in a wonderful mish-mash of tunes, ballads, songs, stories and riddles. It was only later, when I met Wendy, that I realized that storytelling was an art-form that could stand on its own two feet and wasn’t just what you did between songs. Later we became friends with Duncan Williamson and through him many other wonderful ‘traveler’ storytellers.

So I was interested in the idea that stories don’t live apart from other activities. In my case they live alongside music and songs. In Cordi’s book they are aligned with play.

Cordi makes important arguments for the use of storytelling and creative play as a counter to the culture of standardized testing and ‘league tables’ in the education system. In other words, he uses stories and play as ways to open up minds and encourage real learning.

He also uses ‘play’ in many different senses – having fun, playing with words and language, setting old stories in modern settings etc.

As someone who worked as a professor in a Scottish college for more than twenty years I can completely sympathize

Going back to my own experiences –

Some years ago I was staying over the weekend of the Auchtermuchty Traditional Music Festival with Duncan Williamson. Also there were some of the Stewarts and another iconic traveler storyteller, Betsy Whyte. As the night wore on the stories and songs gave way to riddles and finally homed in on riddles about death. The next morning we discovered that Betsy had died in her sleep in her trailer parked in the yard outside.

I don’t know if Kevin Cordi knows that story, but it certainly reinforces his opinion on the strength of connecting stories with real life!

If you want to visit Kevin’s website, it’s http://www.kevincordi.com/

 

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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.

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

Barn Raising, Bookshop Sitting, Oddball Friends, and All!

Jack’s weekly guest blog has a familiar musical refrain…..

i_get_by_with_a_little_help_from_my_friendsFriends and Neighbors –

We come from a region of the mountains known for its community spirit; think barn raising. And we have occasion to know that barn raisings are not dead, just mutated into other ways of helping each other. Our friend Witold, three blocks away, called Jack when he wanted to take down a tree. Elizabeth brought the baby goats over to be goatsitted for a weekend (and regular blog readers will remember the fun that produced).

Back when we started the bookstore we relied on our local oddball friends and champions to ‘mind the store’ on the odd times we had to be away. But that was usually only for a day or maybe two at any time.

That was also before ‘the Little Bookstore’ was published and turned our lives upside down. Almost immediately we had to find someone to look after the place for a month, and so the great ‘bookstore-sitter’ project began. To our great surprise it went viral – all over the internet as well as National newspapers, magazines and NPR. The wonderful Andrew Whalen was chosen out of nearly 200 applicants and was feted and fed by the aforementioned oddball friends and champions.

Since then we have continued to have occasions of being away for extended period, and continued numbers of equally wonderful and interesting folk staying in our guest room. They fall in love with our animals, our oddball friends and our town of Big Stone Gap. We look forward to Lisa Heins Vincent and her husband minding shop for a week in late April, and dissertation-writing Emily visiting this summer.

The trouble is that, amidst publicity and hoopla and longer visits from our much -appreciated longer shopsitters, the oddball friends and champions who live in town and give us a day here, a day there, tend to get overshadowed in their contribution to how this place runs.

Just yesterday our friend James spent a day looking after the bookstore, fielding phone calls, cash sales, credit card sales, book swaps for credit, inquiries about the cafe menu, etc., etc. In return he got lunch and the right to take any books he wanted off the shelf and go home with them. As I said to him “James – you know there’s no such thing as a – – – -”

So my day-late guest blog post this week (I couldn’t ask James to do that too) finishes with a belated toast: Please raise a glass to all our crazy, oddball, dedicated local friends and champions who have done even just one day’s duty in the bookstore – cheers, saludos, slainte etc. THANK YOU! When we talk about community spirit, we mean you.

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The Monday Book: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

dogwoosI like flower language, and I’m deeply embroiled in a storytelling project involving fostered and adopted children in SW VA right now, so finding this book on clearance at a used books store in Knoxville, Tennessee, it was a no-brainer purchase.

It was easy to get into, but perhaps hard to stay with; this literary novel has a weird dichotomy running through its middle. On the one hand, it is about tough, stupid, needy, intelligent Victoria, a child who ages out of foster care and lands hard/soft/hard/soft as the book progresses. She’s hard to love, but everybody around her does. And the only way this tough, I-don’t-care girl can communicate well is by flowers. She uses their Victorian meanings to say what’s on her mind.

So does her 20-something suitor. And her foster mom and FM’s estranged sister. It’s kinda hard to buy. But what was it Isaac Asimov said – that every writer gets one free pass at an unbelievable premise built into his or her story? Diffenbaugh got hers in early on.

Still, as bad as the flowers strewn along this bed of thorns tale of dysfunction are, her characterization of Victoria is compelling. Just Victoria, though: the other characters all kind of serve her, appearing as extensions of what she needs.

This is not a character-driven novel. The flowers are running the show. And if you’re willing to believe that could happen, it’s a good read – compelling forward motion, an underdog to root (ha) for, and some very believable circumstances for the foster kid.

On the other hand, perhaps too much perfume, not enough manure, for the growth the characters show. A mixed review, but I can say that I enjoyed reading it, and only began to think “Hey wait a minute” afterward. It was good escapism, and a pretty good depiction of the inner chaos of a foster child who ages out. Just don’t confuse the elegant narration of this fiction with anything like journalism, and we’ll be okay. Ain’t no foster kids in SW VA giving each other flowers, jobs, or free passes.

(If you would like to see the blog on ADOPTION IN APPALACHIA, it is adoptioninappalachia.com. Go take a look at some real stories and advice on the subject.)

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

The Monday Book: THE GRACE THAT KEEPS THIS WORLD by Tom Bailey

It’s set in the mountains, it’s about a rural family living close to poverty, and it involves dysfunctional quiet love. What’s not to like about this novel (which came out in 2005)?

And yet, when I opened it and saw that the author used the first person narratives of several different people to tell the story, my first thought was Oh no. Most people can’t keep characterization well enough to pull that off successfully. The people don’t sound different, don’t want different things, don’t act as though they are, as Stephen King more or less put it, the stars of their own lives.

Bailey not only pulled off this technique, of all things, he did it by means of a weird kind of failure. His writing is pretty, ornate, descriptive to the point that I admit to sometimes skimming because I’m not that kind of reader. I don’t like long descriptions of wooded areas. (I accept this as a failing in me as a reader, and insert it here so you know whether to trust me as a reviewer.)

But I love, love, love when a writer gets inside the heads of others and makes the writing sound like them. And Bailey’s success at failing is that he did this not by changing the dialect or lexicon, but by changing what they want to talk about and how they want to talk about it intellectually. All Bailey’s characters – the father, the two sons, the mom, the girlfriends and the neighbors–have similar vocabulary. Yet they have very different points of aim to their lives and conversation. I liked this approach.

The building sense of tragedy, the inevitable moment that’s foreshadowed in the mom’s opening volley, lying in bed listening to her three men take off for their hunt, keeps the whole book’s plot humming with a kind of relentless bass thrum; you aren’t so much watching a train wreck as a ballet dancer fall. It’s a graceful tragedy, bittersweet in its one-step-removed sense of what it means for the family left behind.

In this novel, tragedy is masked in beauty and quietness. Even the hardcore parts about logging and shooting and men hitting each other are written in that once-removed elegance that must have frustrated the tar out of some readers. I like bittersweet, so I loved Grace. I’m now looking for Bailey’s other novel (Cotton Song, I think) to hit the bookshop at some point.

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Cooking the Books

 

Jack’s weekly guest post continues the Indian theme and re-visits the problem of which books he puts in the store

 

Regular readers probably know, by now, that I’m a devotee of Indian food – curries, papadums, somosas and badjhies (we don’t need no stinking badjhies, as Bogart’s Mexican adversary famously said in ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’).

 

So when Wendy produced my five Indian cookbooks yesterday and asked me innocently if it was time for them to go into the shop I was momentarily flummoxed. Should they? They have been my pride and joy for years!

 

But had I ever actually used them in a practical way? Had I propped them open and followed their every word?

 

Well, actually, no! What I had done is gathered a lot of experience over many years and ended up making two or three regular things.

 

1) Fry finely chopped onions in vegetable oil until just browned; push them aside and fry three tablespoons of Mike Ward’s famous curry powder mix in the same oil; dump in a jar of plain tomato pasta sauce and all the vegetables (peppers, golden raisins and mushrooms, usually); add a similar amount of plain yoghurt bit by bit; simmer for a few hours.

 

2) Exactly the same as 1) except miss out Mike’s FCP and add three tablespoons of Patak’s hot curry paste at the end.

 

I also sometimes do a prawn/shrimp or chicken tikka. Make up a mix of onion, yoghurt and tandoori spice mix and marinade the shrimp or chicken overnight in the fridge. Next day remove the shrimp or chicken and clean most of the marinade off. Grill until crisp, then serve with the heated marinade on the side.

 

I shouldn’t forget Wendy’s home-made chutney made from our own fruit and vegetables – but that’s her closely guarded personal recipe!

 

I’m delighted to say that our local supermarket now carries a very good selection of Indian spices, sauces, papadums and naan breads, so it’s now easier to come up with the goods.

 

The five books? You’ll find them in the cook-books section, proudly displayed together.

 

(But I did enjoy reading them and imagining all the dishes – every one of them!).

 

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