The Monday Book: RISE- how a house built a family by Cara Brookins

houseI heard about this house on Facebook long before the book came floating through our shop. Tiny houses and self-built places fascinate me, so I pulled it to read. It’s a quick read, not heavy on building details.

Cara was married to a succession of abusive men after being born into poverty and pretty much having a miserable time in school. She got herself into college and a good job, and began writing teen books, and things were looking up – except for the guys. It didn’t go well and she wound up married to someone who was certifiably insane in a kind of “could kill somebody” way.

So part of the book is about the safety needs of her four children, three of them old enough to participate in building a house, one of them a toddler. Part of the book is about her becoming a competent and confident enough woman to stride into a bank and come out with a builder’s loan–and then do the building. Part of it is about watching her children rise to the challenge.

I’m not sure this book would please everyone. I got bored with the parts about guided meditation and the places where she glossed over things — her childhood being so poor, she ate one meal a day, why her mom and dad are divorced, whether the abuse she accepted in marriage started at home, for instance. There are stories here she’s not telling.

For all that, I loved reading about how she kept the kids entertained and safe and fed while they were toting and lifting and literally bleeding their life’s blood into making a house. Two nails up for RISE

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

A Notable Occasion!

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post appears on Wednesday again – amazing!
Wendy and I have been so busy with other stuff the last couple of years that we haven’t been running as many events in the bookstore as we used to. But we still do from time to time and usually at the instigation of someone else who just thinks it’s a cool place to stage something.
Which is how we ended up with an amazing and wonderful house-concert on Sunday evening.
But this story really starts about seven years ago when I was contacted by a woman in North Carolina, who’s daughter had just won the junior section of the US Scottish fiddling championships. She asked if I’d like to interview her on my weekly Celtic music radio show – so I did. The daughter, Maura Shawn Scanlin, was fifteen years old and quite shy, until she started playing!
A couple of years later her mother again contacted me as Maura Shawn had now won the senior championship. So, once again she was in the studios of WETS in Johnson City and was now a much more confident young woman. The next thing, she was invited to compete in the Glenfiddich World Championships in Scotland – which she won! Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/YL0GCNsuEJE
Finally, a couple of months ago Maura Shawn, who now lives and studies music in Boston, herself emailed me to say she’d be in the area and would we be able to host a concert in the bookstore. The only problem was that it would have to be on a Sunday, which isn’t a normal day for us to run events. But we decided to take a chance and I also decided to record the concert for a future radio show.
I now record my shows at the home studio of a very expert friend who lives close by, so Dirk was up for giving it a go. Except he was short of some essential mics and stands, which is where another couple of friends, Mark and Alan, stepped in.
Maura Shawn, like most professional musicians can only survive financially by playing in various bands and line-ups and for this she would be half of a duo with a guitarist called Connor Hearn, who I’d never heard or heard of. I was a little nervous but shouldn’t have been! I was also very nervous whether we’d get an audience at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon!!
Maura Connor
I set out fifteen chairs, then added a couple more – and more, as they all started arriving until we were completely full.
The concert was wonderful, with a tremendous rapport between Maura Shawn and Connor, who’s guitar playing was magnificent. Everyone who attended was completely enthralled (including our dog Bert who was surprisingly well behaved). The next day Dirk sent me a recording of one of the music sets and it was also magnificent!
So maybe we should get back to doing more of this sort of thing! It felt very soul-restoring.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Strollin’ down the Highway – –

It’s funny the dreams we have. One of my more colorful ones concerns hitch-hiking.

Back when I was a carefree and somewhat trusting teenager hitch-hiking was much more common than it is now and I did a lot of it.

My older sister was living in Yorkshire in the 1960s and I frequently thumbed a ride down there for a visit. Truck drivers were very accommodating and wanted company so I rarely had any problem getting rides.

There was the time I hitched to Lanark racecourse in the west of Scotland for a model plane competition, though. A truck stopped to pick me up and could take me all the way to my destination. I climbed aboard and slammed the door shut – on my thumb! There’s a good Scots word – beelin’ – (throbbing) which is what my thumb did all day long. I remember going to the family doctor a few days later when he drilled a hole in my thumbnail to relieve the pressure!

But the most memorable journey was all the way from my hometown of Dunfermline to the exotica of Paris. Yes – Paris, France. I traveled with a friend and my guitar, because we were determined to busk on the Champs Elysees. A very illustrious Scottish folksinger called Alex Campbell gave me a slip of paper with a name and phone number (which I found many years later to be completely false) that sealed the deal. He had blazed a trail all around Europe before anyone else did and was my hero!

My friend and I got down to the midlands of England fairly easily but then got stuck. As it was getting dark we pitched our wee tent beside a hedge in a field and settled down for the night. We were wakened early next morning by sounds of machinery and found we were in the middle of roadworks. We packed up, started thumbing and were picked up by a very elderly truck. It had no air-conditioning, the sun was bright and the engine was under our feet. Every time I dozed off the driver elbowed me in the ribs and demanded I talk to keep him awake, but somehow we got to Dover and the ferry to France.

When we arrived in Calais we got a ride from an English salesman heading to Paris in his ‘Deux Chevaux’ Citreon which almost rolled over on every corner. He finally got to the infamous roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe and we went round it in ever decreasing circles until he found a way out and dropped us off. From there we headed to the Boise de Boulogne and pitched our trusty tent again.

deux chevaux

Un Deux Chevaux avec deux chevaux! Quatre chevaux?

Next morning we walked to the Champs Elysees with my guitar and prepared to live our dream. Before I could hit the first chord a hand descended on my shoulder. “You can’t start here” our assailant said, “you start in the suburbs and work your way in to here”. So I never ever busked in Paris, although we did eat well and I learned a lot!

I have a friend who has lived all his life in a mining village in Fife and who restores motorbikes as well as writing hilarious poetry. One of his most famous poems is entitled ‘What’s a Laddie frae Kelty daein in a place like St Tropez?’, which is all about his memorable journey by motorbike to his particular dream.

Ah – dreams. Which takes me to the Everly Brothers, but that’s another story – – –

 

6 Comments

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

An Intense Week for All the Wrong Reasons

I'm fed upHi Y’all – It’s been an intense week. Many things have made me busy and most of them have been driven around opioids and healthcare needs in SW VA. I don’t want to talk about most of them.

For those of you unaware, April 8 JD Vance (HILLBILLY ELEGY) and I went head-to-head in a discussion of “Are We Losing a Generation?” about opioids and KinCare. The fallout from this panel has been about whether the venue that invited us (Appalachian Studies Association) should have invited him. None of it has been about the topic of the debate. Moral: when asked to participate in a debate with a famous figure, be sure of the trap that’s being set before you enter it, and decide if the platform to get a message out is worth the lunacy of the fallout. I’m not sure it was. I’m knee-deep in people who want to talk about Elegy, not opioids. Screw that.

So here, in heart-breaking simplicity, is the reality of what drugs do to sweet, kind, smart people who are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. The message that was meant to be part of that debate. Please be warned, if you are tender-hearted, don’t watch this five-minute cartoon in a public place.

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUngLgGRJpo

And perhaps next week will be better. Or at least more honest.

9 Comments

Filed under Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Jack’s Monday Book on Wednesday

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Just to confuse everyone, Jack’s Wednesday blog post is the Monday book – –

The first thing to say before I get going is that we already knew that this book is set in the offices of the agency that handled the launching of Wendy’s best seller, ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’. Although the agency isn’t actually named in the book it’s a very open secret which New York literary agency it is. We are both, therefore, familiar with the rather old fashioned but cozy interior and the amazing collection of books lining the walls.

This is really at least two intertwining stories and I’m not sure that’s done terribly well. One is very much about the culture and characters of the agency itself, while the other is focused more on what’s going on in Rakoff’s life.

The first half of the book is mainly about her success in finding a job at what she refers to simply as ‘The Agency’, discovering how hard it is to live frugally in New York, getting to know her co-workers and being groomed by ‘The Boss’. I have to admit that I found that strand of the book unnecessarily gloomy and dark, as that’s certainly not what we experienced on or visits to the place. Something else that emerges in this early part of her book is the impression that the only famous author represented by the agency is JD Salinger, which is simply not true.

Her main job is to send form letters to fans of Salinger, who refuses to engage with them and is somewhat reclusive. She eventually strikes up something of a relationship with him on the phone and is finally on first name terms with him (Jerry and Joanna).

For me, the book really only takes off about halfway through when we begin to discover what’s going in Rakoff’s personal life. This strand is all about the self-discovery that anyone over the age of thirty will find excruciatingly familiar. It’s all about growing, maturing and making difficult decisions about what you want to do with your life.

The book ends with a jump forward to a married Rakoff with a husband and kids and a successful career as a novelist, poet and journalist.

I didn’t find this book disappointing overall, but I did find the beginning a bit heavy going.

6 out of 10 from me!

PS – it’s The Harold Ober Agency and Wendy’s agent doesn’t work there any more – – –

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

PAUL GARRETT’S MONDAY BOOK

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

maryIt is one of the most iconic photos in American history. You’ve seen it, I’m sure: The black and white image puts the figures in stark relief; A mother holds a baby who is barely visible, bundled in a thick blanket against the wind.  Two of her other children, half Cherokee on their mother’s side, hide their faces as if, like some Native Americans in the 19th century, they are afraid the camera would steal their souls. Their hair shows the results of what was once called a “bowl cut,” wherein the vessel is placed upside down on the head and the hair trimmed to fit the rim.

And there is the mother, exhibiting what approaches the “thousand-yard stare;” the look that appears on the faces of soldiers after long periods of intense combat.

Look closer: See the torn fabric of her threadbare dress? Closer again: Notice the dirt caked around her fingernails? What the photo doesn’t show, can’t show, except for the after effects manifested on her face, are the conditions of her squalid life. She has been in close combat with that immutable enemy, starvation. She is sitting at a “pea camp,” where she came to eke out a few cents a day picking peas. But there are no peas to pick.  A freezing rain wiped out the crop the night before she arrived. They have been surviving by gleaning produce from the ruined fields and eating what birds her children can kill.

She has just sold the tires off her car to buy food.

In her book, Mary Coin (Penguin Group, 2014) Marisa Silver takes a very close look at this woman, whose real name was Florence Owens Thompson, and also Vera Duerr (Dorthea Lang), the woman who took the photo while working in FDR’s New Deal. The photo was colorized for the book cover.

Vera is handicapped, as was Dorthea, with a limp due to a bout of polio as a child. Mary is handicapped by being poorly educated, widowed, pregnant with her sixth child, and left to follow the crops as a migrant worker across the West.

The picture and its provenance form the heart of the story, which closely tracks the real lives of the two women. Not much is made about how their paths crossed. In the book as in life it was more-or-less accidental, or, one might say, providential.

After a somewhat confusing start the story picks up speed in the middle and races to the end with a surprising and somewhat disquieting plot twist.

The book poses questions about what constitutes one’s identity in a technological world, and what a mother may sacrifice for the sake of her children.

Neither Dorothea nor Florence were ever remunerated for the photo. Since Dorthea was working for the government, the picture is in the public domain. When Florence, who spent her life doing menial labor, had a stroke in 1983, her children tried to use her notoriety to solicit contributions to help pay her medical bills. They garnered $35,000. Florence died the same year.

Mary Coin, in the end, is left to contemplate who she is, what she has lost, and what her future holds.

###

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Uncategorized

Fighting Fire with Anger

Several of my friends are high flyers in professions that put them in the paths of stressed-out people. Human and animal doctors come to mind, among others.

Recently a friend (call her Suze) was lamenting that one of her favorite patients “no longer trusted her” because Suze  had delivered hard news that some pundit on the Internet swore could be overcome with homeopathy and divine intervention, not expensive medicines. When the patient died anyway, after a not-insignificant bill and a lot of tears on the part of my friend, the patient’s husband let fly with some fairly unfiltered accusations.

Listening to Suze describe how it felt to lose a patient AND get blamed for it, my mind went back to a conversation I’d held more than ten years ago. I’d been househunting, and a really lovely home was going for cheap after a fire. Both the realtor and the former owner had said with some bitterness that most of the damage was due to “water and fireman” rather than actual flames. I said as much in casual conversation not long after, and the group with which I was conversing shifted uneasily. Two of them were volunteer firefighters.

They told us what it was like to fight fires; you choose to enter a space where you know living beings are dying, and try not to join them while getting them out. You are angry, and you are afraid, and there is enough adrenaline coursing through your veins to literally kill you if it distracts from discerning every nuance of what’s happening all around you.

Intense concentration coupled with high emotion: that anger has to go somewhere. “Joe,” the younger of the firemen, described smashing a window with his axe “only because I was so mad. It has to go someplace, and you’re in what looks like Hell and you know somebody’s in there and you can’t find them. Hell, yeah, smashed windows is the least of it.”

And afterward, when the homeowner has their dog back, or not, and they survey the wreck of what their family nest became, the firefighters find a familiar pattern. “At first it’s ‘thank you thank you’ and then it’s ‘what the bleep did you do to my house?’ Just like us, their anger has to go somewhere. We know that. They yell at us because they’re scared and angry. It’s not personal. We know something about how that feels.”

It is difficult to be the person in a profession that fights literal, medical, administrative, or even social justice fires on a regular basis. It is also difficult to be the victim/person who needs that done. Cutting each other a little slack is a good idea. Suze will deal with survivor anger. Joe will continue to whack a window now and again. The people who counted on them to return their lives to normal will figure out that all the humans were on the same side, fighting a destructive force that has no feelings or plans; neither cancer nor fires are sentient beings capable of personal vendettas.

And perhaps we will try to be nicer to each other. By the way, check your smoke alarm batteries, and get screened whenever possible. Thanks.Fire

5 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch