Category Archives: VA

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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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

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

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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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

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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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

TWO WRITING SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE

December folder 047Every year we hold WRITES COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, a one-day workshop focused on narrative writing (fiction or non). We talk about the mindset of making time for writing, techniques for getting the ideas formed, writing until the draft is done, editing, editing, editing, editing, editing – and tips for editing. And we have a great time.

The workshop is limited to five people, and this year as always scholarships are available from the American NewMedia Education Foundation, courtesy of their president Debra Lee Hallock’s generosity.

However, this year, two people who were taking the scholarships were teachers from Wisconsin, where I had done author visits last year. All set to come share the fun, one of the women discovered she was in stage 4 breast cancer. Her best friend wants to stay and help her through the next few months. Our prayers go out to them.

This means two scholarships are still available if you want to join the day. You need to be in the education field. If you’d like to talk to someone who has attended these in past years, Jim Wardell, Angelic Towe, Lizbeth Phillips, or Vicky Marcum Evans (all on Facebook) would be happy to describe their experiences.

It all happens Saturday, July 25. The morning is a bit of discussion, then writing exercises, half an hour for lunch (bring your own or eat at Our Good Chef Kelley’s Second Story Cafe and an afternoon of feedback, discussion on experiences and writing “issues” personal to the attendees, a little brainstorming, and some final discussion.

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS works well for those who have an idea or a page or two down on what they want to write about, or as a kick-starter for those who “are gonna get to it someday.” If you have any questions, drop me an email at jbeck69087@aol.com; people who are not teachers, the day is $100. We start at 9 and finish at 4:30.

And there are kittens. :]

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

Do I have a Secret Admirer??!!!

Strange days here in the bookstore – stranger than usual, I mean.

Yesterday I opened my microwave and a wee box from Blackbird Bakery sat there. Inside I discovered the Mother of all Pink Cupcakes – tall icing, silver sugar sprinkles, wee flowers, the kind of thing Our Hadley would have picked out if she’d been taken to the bakery, shown the cakes, and told she could have any one she wanted.

tshirts 014It made a lovely breakfast. That’s how things go around here – you find a cupcake in the microwave still in the box, you check to see if it’s anyone else’s, and then you eat it. Delicious.

So  now the mystery remains to be digested: who left it there?

Was it the same person who, about four days before, left a bar of peppermint goat milk soap on the paranormal romances?

Ohhhh, the plot thickens, just like my waistline after eating the Pink Cupcake.

(I regret NOTHING.)

Anyway, if it was you, thank you. It’s lifted my spirits while Jack’s been away, and I smell of peppermint. Actually, I’m taking the soap back to the writing cabin this weekend to put in my sweater drawer, where it will keep mice away, plus counteract the hard water of northeast Tennessee.

So, random chaos abounds in a good way here at the bookstore. It could be elves, one supposes – but don’t they more often frequent shoe shops?

No, it’s probably a human or two. My friend Elissa guffawed when I said, “Yes, but only a few people have access to the microwave.”

“Everyone in Big Stone knows where the key is kept, plus half of Facebook, and you’re narrowing suspects by access? Stick to memoir writing; you have no future in crime novels.”

She has a point.

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