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SHELVING: THE FORGOTTEN ART

Our shopsitter Emily guest blogs on her shelving experiences

EmilyI like to organize. So in a bookstore where there’s always books coming in and out, daily, I feel these urges to put all the shelves in perfect order – alphabetical, by genre, all in a line, etc. Which has led me to stand in front of the shelves for a few days in a row now, head slightly tilted, sometimes just staring, sometimes repeating the alphabet out loud to myself, looking like a weirdo, trying to figure out what all these words on the spine mean and each bound object relates to each other.

I’ve discovered who Grace Livingston Hill is and that “inspirational romance” is quite popular (I’m going to have to try one, it sounds quite nice). I’ve seen parenting books that start with dealing with your own mommy issues and work through just about every month of the next twenty years of your life. There’s more gender in books than I’d ever realized before – clearly, some books are ladies’ books and some books are gents’ books. I’ve spent most of my time so far among the fiction books, and I’m totally impressed by the number of stories there are to tell in the world.

But one of the coolest parts has been realizing that all (or at least most) of these used books have come from someone else’s home, where they were sitting on someone else’s bookshelves or nightstand or closet floor. They probably all have a story to tell about the home they used to live in and how they got that slightly crooked spine. In my time here, the books on these shelves have already witnessed dozens of friendly faces, new and familiar, a rowdy game night, four cats who got adopted, and a strange lady who keeps staring at them, planning a master plan about how best to move them shelf to shelf to shelf just so they can get adopted, too. If only books could speak, right?

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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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Getting Away from It All…..

Jack’s guest blog covers the dark side of nature…..

Wendy and I have a log cabin about two hours away that is very isolated, with no telephone, TV, internet or cell phone reception. It’s normally very restful and relaxing to hide away there for a few days. Wendy can get writing done there without distractions. The dogs love it because they can go off and wander to their hearts’ delight and there’s a pond for them to swim in.

And me? I can deal with the repairs and maintenance that are always needed there in our holiday dream home…..

But this time it was hot and thundery – VERY hot and thundery! With no breeze and no air conditioning I found myself becoming more and more lethargic. The dogs hardly moved except to dive into the pond and the only one to expend any energy was our ‘special’ kittie Hadley, who we’d taken as well as a treat.

Despite all that languid pressing heat, I still managed to deal with wasps’ nests, wood-boring bees, a ginormous wolf spider clinging to (Wendy says “carrying off”) a Mason jar in the sink, and get some weed-whacking done. Wendy got writing aplenty done and the dogs got so smelly in the pond they needed a bath this morning when we returned home. So all in all it was a success–at least for everyone but the spider.

Sometimes it’s good to get away. And sometimes, it’s better to get back to air conditioning – – –

 

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kings mtnJack’s weekly guest blog

 

So – Last night was one of “speak to a group about living in Appalachia” talks. It happens often; this time it was to the Appalachian Service Project (ASP), a team of young folks from various ‘airts and pairts’ in the US who have come down here to take part in a variety of practical projects.

I began by explaining where I’m from and how I came to be here. I always start that way to help them tune in to my accent. It’s not just accent, of course, it’s much more than that. Vocabulary, grammar, figures of speech – after 12 years in the country one thing I’ve discovered is that my particular form of English is far removed from the American variety, and I’ll never get it completely covered!

Once their faces began registering they could actually understand me, I explained a bit about Scotland and my earlier life there. Despite the strong awareness around the world about things that are ‘Scottish’ (kilts, whisky, golf etc.) I always find a quick geography lesson helps establish reality in the midst of Nessie stories.

From there I moved on to how I came to be here – which sums up pretty much as “I met this girl….”

Finally to the meat of the evening – Appalachia and my remit to point up the parallels that I’ve encountered between it and Scotland. The culture of course – fiddle tunes, folksongs and ballads – but more than that, the stereotyping I’ve encountered as a Scot and my Appalachian friends equally. As a Scot I’m mean, wear a kilt all the time, am red-haired, fight everyone I meet, hate the English, and on, and on – I’m a ‘Jock’ or a ‘Sweaty’ (Jock = sweaty sock). It’s very hard, I explained, when a stereotype has been long established, to counter it. Here, my Appalachian friends are often considered toothless, wear dungarees, are under-educated, and on, and on – – –

I explained what the Battle of Kings Mountain was really about – something pretty mislabeled in true history, and a real overlap between Appalachian and Scots culture.

Finally, I commended the ASP students for having the enterprise to go out and see for themselves how other folks live and how our folks might not conform to any popular image. I suggested that there are minority cultures all over the world that have their identity thrust upon them, so they shouldn’t believe everything they hear, but go and see for themselves. It was a very nice night.

 

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Here We Go Again – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just sneaks past the marriage counselor –

We’ve lived in five different houses in the seventeen years we’ve been married and, despite their very different ages and styles, there’s one thing they all have in common – – the length of time it takes us to work out where things should be located and which rooms should be for what (usually anything from two to five years). The process involves setting things up one way, then completely changing them on an annual basis!

This habit has, of course, continued into our current location and now seems to be co-incidental with my yearly Scottish tour. Most years the bookshelves get shifted around while I’m away and I have to re-learn where everything is as well as help with any remaining outstanding moves.

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But this year was a bit different. Wendy had spent my absence not so much moving things as planning how we would together move things upon my return. The focus would be the ‘Mystery Room’ (the room that houses the mystery and detective novels). This also just happens to be the room that houses the littlest foster kittens. Did I mention that there are always more kittens when I return than when I left? We agreed a maximum of six at any one time, so naturally I came back to nine, and I have no idea how many there were while I was away.

Down the center of the mystery room were the two biggest, heaviest and most solid bookcases in the shop. They took up more space than was needed and cut down on the natural light from the windows. So the plan was to move them to the garage where the current narrower shelves had been passed along to our good friends David and Felicia. Then we would re-position some ‘Jack-builts’ in place of the heavyweights while afixing a couple of cheap store-bought shelf units against the walls (still with me?).

Of course this had to be done immediately I returned, was still seriously jet-lagged and re-adjusting to temperatures around 25 degrees higher than Scotland. There’s no half measures with Wendy and once you start there’s no going back or stopping until it’s done!

As we were fixing the last wall mounted shelf unit in place she said “do you think this works”? “Why of course dear – it’s a great improvement” I responded (I sure as h*ll wasn’t going to say anything else)!

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But the kittens thought the whole exercise was great fun – particularly helping to identify all the new places they could get trapped or just hide from us!

“Welcome home, Honey”

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The Monday Book: THE POOR HAD NO LAWYERS by Andy Wightman

poorEvery year when I run my small group tour of Scotland I try to find a book for the times it’s my turn to guard the luggage on the bus while the group are visiting an attraction or having lunch. Of course, having a continuing interest in Scottish politics, I often seek out books about such matters.

This year my choice was ‘The Poor had no Lawyers’ by Andy Wightman.

 

This fascinating and very well researched book traces the scandalous story of what can only be described as blatant theft, all the way from the Reformation to the present day. It tells the story of land-owning Lords sitting in the non-elected upper chamber of the UK parliament deliberately sabotaging any attempt to modernize the law; of plucky crofters and islanders taking them on and winning; of the recently re-constituted Scottish parliament finally having the time and inclination to make changes that the House of Lords can’t block.

 

What I should also make clear is that the book mainly deals with the ownership of very large areas by a very few people with often highly dubious legal claims.

 

In case this sounds terribly serious and parochial, there’s a great deal of humor and not just from Wightman. Some of the official reports produced down the years by serious minded researchers are hilarious in places! There is also much comparison with land ownership in other parts of the world – particularly de-colonized countries in Africa and Asia.

 

What really sticks out is that the separate legal professions in England and Scotland are both tied tightly into the ruling (and land-owning) establishment and, rather than offering a means to redress the obvious injustices, tend to ‘circle the wagons’ and protect their own interests.

 

I found this book completely absorbing, eye-opening and revelatory. For anyone with even a passing interest in Scottish social history or politics this is a ‘must read’!

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FRIENDS OLD AND NEW

Jack’s weekly guest blog comes from Scotland this time, as Jack finishes leading his annual tour of Scotland and Ireland.

doune-castleIt’s always interesting to be in Scotland with my annual tour group. The group almost always includes new folk, folk I already know, and ‘returnees’ from previous tours. This year is no exception – David and Susan are both old friends and returnees, while our newish friend Joe came with his fiancee Amy (who I hadn’t met and is delightful). The newbies in every sense are Phil and Wanda, who heard about the tour from my radio show.

The tour started strong, as what might have been a disaster was averted by our new booking agent. We found that there was going to be a ferry strike on the day we were booked to sail to Mull, where were booked to spend the night in Tobermory. At very late notice the redoubtable Irene, travel agent genius, got us booked into a hotel in Oban and our ferry booking moved to the next morning; all was well!

The weather proved kind and we had hardly any rain, even quite a few bright sunny days. We were able to see Castle Stalker and Doune Castle – both settings for ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (Doune is also the setting for ‘Outlander’) and then retire to fabulous hotel food at night.

I was able to find most of the requested items to bring back with me for friends back home, ranging from whisky to flat caps. My old friends Liz Weir and Pete Clark did us proud representing the music and story culture of Ireland and Scotland. As I write this another old friend, Doli McLennan, is preparing to welcome us to her home in Edinburgh on our last night, and waxing lyrically on Facebook about the prospect.

For logistical reasons, I had more opportunity to catch up with friends and relations before the tour started this year, about a week longer than usual. That was great, but I ended up feeling a bit homesick for Big Stone for the first time. Very strange!

But it’s great to see my homeland through other people’s eyes each year and be reminded what a beautiful and remarkable country I came from.

For information on Jack’s annual tours, contact him via jbeck69087@aol.com. Pictures from this year will be available later at a site yet to be named.

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