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!

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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.

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Date a Girl who Reads by Rosemarie Urquico

Things have been a little pushed by deadlines this week, so I offer for the Friday blog (on this Sunday morning) some of my favorite words of wisdom by Rosemarie Urquico

girl who readsDate a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.
Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.
She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.
Buy her another cup of coffee.
Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.
It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.
She has to give it a shot somehow.
Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.
Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.
Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilightseries.
If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.
You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.
You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.
Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.
Or better yet, date a girl who writes.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, 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.

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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: NO I DON’T WANT TO JOIN A BOOK CLUB by Virginia Ironside

I found this at one of the Philly bookstores I visited and loved the title. The novel is about a woman turning sixty with some enthusiasm, dealing with all the things that turning sixty entails.

She is a sassy curmudgeon, the protagonist, with a lot of common sense and a few blind spots. I always say character drives plot, so this book has a great plot. It is written in diary form, which is not my favorite kind of book but does let the writer get in all sorts of silliness for extra laughs.

It’s a gentle read, kind of  haha-ouch stuff if you’re someone headed toward those years, probably a haha, I remember that if it’s behind you. There’s something affirming about finding you’re not alone in the things that happen to us all, yes?

This isn’t a book for everyone; it’s a gentle, light-hearted story, kind of “aga saga for the senior set” or for those who just love character-driven books. Because Marie (the diary writer) really is a character. If this book were food, it would be pudding in a cloud, vitamin-fortified, because there are just enough “stop and think” moments in the fun romp to add savory to the sweetness.


Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Food, Fiction, Felines, and Farewells

This blog post comes from Bob and Lisa (the last one came from Lisa and Bob):

It’s been a delicious week. My voracious appetites for both food and fiction have been satiated, thanks to the Second-Story Cafe and Little Bookstore, respectively.  I’ve read a dozen short-stories and half-finishedowen two novels, including Wendy’s. I’ve enjoyed Kelley’s feijoada and Anne’s sangria. Like a much-loved cousin home on holiday, I’ve received more more social invites in the last four days than in the four years prior.  Lisa and I have fallen in love with the bookstore, the people, and most especially, the animals. I’ll miss Owen’s sudden glares through the picture window, firmly tapping “let me in.”  I’ll miss watching Hadders’ spirited battles with Lisa’s fallen hair-tie.  I’ll miss Ritchie’s rumbly-purr, Zora’s mournful stare, Bert’s barking, and Beulah’s regal poise.cats

The hair, care, and feeding — not so much. As Lisa wistfully described to Elizabeth her dream of owning such a bookstore one day, I leaned over and interjected, “I recommend that we either run a bookstore or foster strays, but not both at the same time.”  Not unless I discover the same fountain of youth that Jack has.

He and Wendy are returning tonight, and I find myself both excited and saddened.  The adventure is nearly over; now the farewells begin.  Or, I should say “Until we meet again.”  After all, we’re family now.

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Greets, Gates, and Goats

Today’s blog post comes from our newest shop-sitters, Lisa and Bob Vincent:

“Let’s drive seven hours to run a bookstore for a week,” she said.  “A once in a lifetime experience,” she said. “It’ll be fun,” she said.  I can’t be certain, but I’m sure those closely approximate the thoughts that were running through my husband, Bob’s mind as he tumbled down the top flight of stairs last Sunday night, damaging both the Kitty gate and his big toe in the process.  By Monday morning we discovered we’d confused the identity of several of the bookstore foster cats, and their respective living areas.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say hell hath no smell like a kitty confused.  After the messes had been dealt with and I’d had time to gather my own thoughts, I couldn’t help wonder what the sentences might actually be for destruction of property (the gate leading to the Second Story Cafe), accomplice to murder (the tomato plants) and contributing to the delinquency of a feline (Charlaine, the runaway).  Though I felt confident a judge would let our guilty conscience be punishment enough, I prayed Wendy and Jack would agree.

Of course, being the patient and ever-so-gracious folks they are, Wendy and her support network talked and texted us through the crisis, and some semblance of okay-ness was restored by mid-morning. gate We took advantage of having Monday free by visiting Mountain Rose Vineyard, and getting acquainted with the layout of the store. We accepted Elizabeth’s invitation to visit her house and farm.  I milked my first nanny-goat while Bob fed an adorable kid. Very cool. This Tuesday morning, while Bob finished up some last minute repairs to the gate; we had a Charlaine sighting! The bookstore will open in nine minutes.  The real adventure soon begins, and I can’t wait.

I confess that I didn’t ask Bob before responding to Wendy’s shop-sitting feeler.  I hit the message button and began this adventure knowing (hoping) he’d be on board.  Because when it comes to books, and writing, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, I jump.  I jumped when signed up for my first fiction class after years of writing research papers and contracts.  I jumped with my two business partners when we launched our literary magazine, The Quotable.  I jumped with Bob when I accepted his proposal after two months of dating.  And I’ve never regretted any of it.

I didn’t send that message with dreams of sipping on coffee and reading in an overstuffed chair all day, though I wouldn’t mind a *few* such luxurious moments. But jumping is risky, and it rarely occurs without bumps and bruises. That’s all part of the experience.  We are thankful to Wendy and Jack for allowing us to spend a week in their wonderful little bookstore in the charming country town of Big Stone Gap. Now if we could just revive the tomatoes…

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