Category Archives: VA

We Won the Inaugural International Cat Day at Bookstores Award!

In case anyone missed it, Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness did his column on us this past week. Here’s the article and the link. And we LOVED seeing Valkyttie’s picture going national. :]

 

Robert Gray: International Cat Day Bookstore Prize

In case you missed it, last Saturday was International Cat Day, during which “felines take over the internet (even more than usual),” the Telegraph noted. As news-gathering organizations go, our bookstore cat coverage is pretty comprehensive, so we can testify to the clickbait potential inherent in any hyperlink that includes the words “Bookstore Cats.”

See, you just went there instinctively, didn’t you? Welcome back.

Today, I have the honor of both inventing and announcing the inaugural International Cat Day Bookstore Prize winner. From a long list of worthy contenders, the judges (well, me) unanimously selected Tales of the Lonesome Pine, Big Stone Gap, Va., which is currently hosting a Bookstore Cat Adoption Reunion on Facebook to celebrate all of the “forever homes” they have found for their temporary bookstore kitty interns.

“We started in June 2009, and in May of this year we adopted out our 200th cat (named Reepicheep),” said co-owner Wendy Welch. “The bookstore is a great place to get adoptions going because it acts kind of like a pet store window; people interact with the cats, pick them up and carry them, have fun with them. The tactile experience of being around them has increased adoptions, I think. We still have ‘impulse’ adoptions, although we are careful of those. More often now that we’re established we have people contact us after viewing our Facebook photos.”

Tales of the Lonesome Pine has three cat adoption rules, Welch noted: “Let the cat choose the person–they never miss; give the cats timely literary names (we named a group Harper Lee, Scout, and Boo Radley when Go Set a Watchman came out); and write about their purrsonailities on Facebook. After a cat’s been with us long enough to know them, I usually do a ‘if this cat were a woman/girl’ post and for some reason everybody loves these. I also write a lot of ‘cat voice‘ blogs as if the cat were writing it about his experiences at the shop. These get lots of hits and comments.”

Visitors to the bookstore occasionally donate money (“a kitty for the kitties,” as her husband, Jack, describes it), but Welch said, “We don’t have a jar out and in our troubled economic region I would flat not ask people for money; there are people struggling to feed their families here, literally. We’re not interested in taking their cash. In fact, that’s who we rescue for. Some families would love a pet, be good to it, have enough to feed and care for it, if they didn’t have to pay for spaying and neutering. I have friends who can sometimes be called on to ‘sponsor’ a family if they need it, and we let those ‘kitty’ donations add up to spays as well.”

She also crochets for the cause: “It’s a hobby I’ve had since childhood; I’m fast, and if I do say so myself, I’m really good at it. I can make all sorts of fun stuff; in 2013 it was the Spay & Neuter Afghan–a free online pattern called ‘Rows of Cats.’ I put it online with a note that said ‘This is what you get if you don’t spay and neuter: rows and rows of cats.’ And those things sold like hotcakes; I sold them for the price of a neuter. In 2014 I must have sold 400 of these cool little trivets shaped like penguins and chicks and roosters. This year it is animal scarves and hoodies, and mermaid tail lap blankets. People buy these a lot, and they donate yarn so I can sell them at prices everyone can afford, and still make money for the kitties’ kitty.”

Since the 2012 publication of her book The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Welch said many readers “from outside the area have been quick to assist us, or to assist their local cat shelters in our honor. That’s very cool. The farthest away we have adopted cats is Kansas and Massachusetts. Someone agreed to meet the adopter halfway, and off our babies went to life in the big city–or the American plains. Whichever. We adopted a girl recently to a family in Arlington who came to see the shop because they’d read my book and wanted to see it for themselves. And they came with the idea of getting a cat in mind. We love it when this happens.”

Tales of The Lonesome Pine’s official bookshop cat philosophy is summed up nicely in her book: “The whole establishment catered in design and policy to every whim of the two permanent staff cats and the myriad fosters who have found forever homes via the bookstore.”

Sometimes people ask why they do all this. “We do it for the same reason we run a bookstore: because it’s fun, because it’s important, and because it’s compassionate,” Welch observed. “Animals can’t speak for themselves, tell their own story. They need advocates, and when they get them, they reciprocate by being way more fun to watch than Netflix–plus more engaging.” —Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

“Can I work at your Bookstore?”

easy teen jobsJack and I have hired our fair share of students at the bookstore. And I cannot help but make an observation. (Yes, I’m turning into one of Those Adults.)

Lots of kids enter college wanting to be important, expecting to graduate into a cool job where they wear a suit and have Big Responsibilities. Except they kinda don’t get what that means, so they’re not planning well.

You can see it written on their foreheads when they show up at our door because they need a little spending money, or think a bookstore will look cool on their resume, or – God Forbid – their guidance counselor called and asked us to call them for an interview (for a job they haven’t applied to).

They’re thinking, What I do now doesn’t matter because I’m waiting for my life to start. I don’t have to care about this, because it isn’t related to my REAL life plans.

Helpful life hint: the bosses looking for people who can handle Big Responsibilities are not looking at the people who already do the job they want done; they’re looking for those one level below, hungry to get into the next layer of hierarchy. If you want big things to do, show you’re good at the small ones.

Putting books on a shelf may seem annoying and mindless to you, particularly if you roll your eyes. It isn’t, and if you also dust and straighten as you alphabetize, believe me, the boss notices. You have proved you understand the correlation between good looking product and sales. You get it; you problem-solve; you’re not an automaton.You also have the emotional intelligence to understand that insulting a job your boss does daily is unhelpful to your career advancement. That’s not just smart; it’s wise.

Wasting energy on small stuff can feel counterproductive to you at your young age, but it marks you as a good hire. Do it right, do it well, do it thoroughly, and you won’t be doing it long.

Case in point: I love the story a school librarian told about a kid she had in middle school, who was kinda ADHD and annoying other kids in the class because he got his work done early and then became disruptive. He got sent to the library to help out.

The librarian, recognizing bored intelligence when she saw it, asked him to alphabetize the early readers – a task equivalent to Sisyphus and his famous rock. But the kid started in, slowed by the fact that he kept going back to the first shelf every day and repairing the damage before moving on. Two months in, he was 3/4 done.

And then his family moved and he changed schools. So the librarian was astonished, about a week later, to see him after school. He’d asked for and received permission to ride his bike over “and finish those shelves. I can’t leave that undone. It will bug me.”

Call it ADHD/OCD gone wild; call it a work ethic; call it charming. The librarian called it when she saw it: this kid is gonna make something of himself someday.

And he did. The only reason we know about this episode from Bill Gates’s middle school career is because he went on to do a lot of other good work.

Pay attention to the jobs in front of you, kids. Other people are paying attention to how well you do them.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

It’s the Great Cat Reunion of 2015!

Jack and I have wanted to have a cat reunion for ages, but in the present economy travel money is tricky for people.

Plus some people think having a cat reunion is a crazy notion, and although they love the cat they got from us, they’re not going to travel to show it.

And you have to admit, having a bunch of cats in one place and time like that would be like, well, herding cats.

So our friend Elissa came up with a great idea, and created the BOOKSTORE CATS ADOPTION REUNION on Facebook. If you’ve adopted a cat from us (or placed a cat with us) we want to hear your stories, see your videos and pictures, and find out how things are going.

Send us your favorites, and let us do what the Internet was created for: ooh and over cats.

As an incentive, here’s our big boy Mal, who was adopted by David and Susan in North Carolina. Mal had a cleft palate and looked like he was ten minutes from dying. With a serious operation and a lot of TLC afterward, he gained health and vitality – plus weight. Pity he never gained brain cells, but that’s a separate story. mal 1And now, five pictures of Mal showing the transformation love and a little luck can bring. (They go in reverse order, from Mal on David and Susan’s couch to the Sunday afternoon we found him on our bookstore lawn and stashed him in the garage until we could get him to the vet.)

mal 2mal3

mal 4mal 5

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, Scotland, shopsitting, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: TURNING STONES by Marc Parent

“Mastering the art of good casework is a little like staring into the shuttering eyes of a rabid canine and saying “nice doggie” until you find a shotgun.”

parentSo says Marc Parent, a Wisconsin transplant who got hired by the Department of Social Services as a case worker in child protection in New York City, because he was from Wisconsin. They had a whole unit of Midwesterners.

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, and it’s very like watching a reality TV show about social work in Brooklyn. The prologue of the book has a wonderful section about people who might read such a dysfunctional childhood book as voyeurs hoping to find out about sex scandals. I’ve never seen a guy deal so well with so few words with such an ugly element of human nature.

And then he dives into the job, including the fact that while he’s saving children’s lives he’s calculating his overtime, fussing about missing supper, and trying not to get stabbed with a kitchen knife. The book is fascinating, nicely paced between “scared to death gotta do this” and bored, paperworked to death “why am I doing this?”

The on-off-humor, the rush and relax nature of the book, make it feel like you’re really there. You can smell the mildew in “The Nursery,” the area where children taken from their parents are looked after until placements can be found. And fed bologna-and-mustard sandwiches by large women who keep themselves separate from the rest of the crew, and tie the kids’ shoelaces.

Parent’s writing is so descriptive with such word economy, you wonder how many times he has had to talk himself out of a corner. (And for the record, I disagree completely with him and with his fellow worker on the issue of pit bulls.)

The only chapter dealing with a sexually assaulted child is handled so beautifully, describing the interactions between police, nurses, the social workers, the child, and an anatomical doll. He writes with great sensitivity, but also great passion, about the night he could not help the little girl caught in trauma.

Parent also has a lovely comment about kids who “slip between the cracks,” saying they don’t; they slip between people’s fingers, because the entire system is made up of people who do their jobs well, or badly, or make mistakes, or go the extra distance. As he writes of one of his first phone calls with a child experiencing a psychotic episode, “Sean may have had his problems, but he was a smart kid – the day’s lesson was not lost on him, I’m certain. It wasn’t lost on me: It doesn’t matter how good you are at flag signals if no one is watching – the distress call is only as good as the person looking out for it.”

Parent ends the book talking about the day he contributed to the death of a child, the follow-up investigation, and his subsequent decisions about his career with great honesty. Blunt honesty that is somehow poetic.

That’s actually a good summation for this book: blunt honesty that is somehow poetic.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

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