The Monday Book: THE ODD SEA by Frederick Reiken

This was an odd little book – little in that it is short. Odd in that it is about a disappearance that remains unsolved. Rather than taking the thriller resolution or the Doris Day film happy reunion ending, it just…. stops.

Philip’s older brother Ethan disappears, on a random day doing some normal activities. And the rest of the book is about piecing together what the rest of the family can of their lives. And there’s a lot of Catcher in the Rye coming of age bits about sex, too. Ethan was having sex with his girlfriend and a local artist, and both of these things figure prominently in his diary–which his oldest sister, Amy the Angry, finds. She keeps it from the police and press, but Philip traces his brother’s footsteps–almost literally, as he kind of falls for the one girl and is fallen for by the other.

The book explores the darkness inside all of us, but across the surface. It’s more about how Philip deals with all the things he can’t explain around him–including his brother’s disappearance and his emerging manhood.

And the title is one of the best parts; it comes from the youngest daughter demanding that the father distract them all by telling stories to the family on the porch. And he tells them the adventures of the Beaver King and Queen and their son, all through the long hot summer. It isn’t until years later that Philip realizes his dad has beaverized The Odyssey – and done a good job of it. And he begins to think of their lives and Ethan’s disappearance as The Odd Sea.

This is a quiet book, a gentle one, not given to tension so much as exploration. It’s the kind of novel adults like to read about high school times. Two beaver tails up.

Leave a comment

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

Me an’ My Brother Got No Fixed Plans

ray and richieHi – I’m Raymond. (I’m the one lyin’ down in the picture here.) People here call me Ray-Ray, an’ I’m down with that. I’m down with anything so long as we get to stay in a warm, friendly place!

Richie and me – that’s my twin brother – we were just mindin’ our own business with our sister one day, an’ all of a sudden our humans put everythin’ in boxes, pushed us out the door, an’ drove off. We waited under the trailer awhile, but they never came back, so we huddled together tryin’ ta stay warm. But we got hungry. And then, I dunno, maybe two, three days later, we tried hunting. Didn’t go so well. Sis went out inta the road an’ there was a car coming, an’ we yelled, but…. well, may she rest in peace.

So Richie an’ me, we were cold and scared ’cause we’d been inside cats, an’ then these people from up the end of the road came an’ the guy spoke real nice an’ soft, an’ he came back awhile later an’ brought us FOOD! From a bag, like we were useta gettin’. Well, we just about tore his hands off in gratitude, rubbing against him an’ all.Raymond and Richie

So he kept coming an’ we weren’t so scared of starvin’ any more, but it got REALLY REALLY cold. An’ then he came with a lady one day an’ he asked us to get inta this box with wire sides. Richie wasn’t all that excited about it, but I just said, “Hey, remember what happened to Sissy?” an’ he followed me. We trusted this guy.

The guy’s wife took us to this place called an Animal Hospital, an’ she left us. At first I thought maybe I’d made a big mistake, ’cause they gave us shots an’ then we got sleepy an’, well, I’ve heard stories about places like that. But when we woke up we could have all the food we wanted an’ there were all these pretty girls workin’ there an’ they were cuddlin’ us an’ callin’ us brave an’ everything. That was nice.

That’s how we got our names. One of ‘em named us Raymond and Richie Martin, after some guy who wrote a book humans go nuts over called Game of Thrones?

Richie an’ me, we prefer games with jingle balls. Not long after we had Third Lunch, another lady came with another one of those wire boxes an’ she took us ta this nice place FULL of books – an’ other cats. The other cats told us we’d be safe there, an’ we’d get adopted. An’ the guy cat asked if we were a little sore down there, like -yeah, now you mention it, we were….

Again, Richie got worried ’cause we’ve always been together, an’ I can’t imagine settin’ up house without him, but the lady who runs this place brought us Second Breakfast this mornin’, an’ she promised not ta split us up. She said we should rest an’ eat an’ let people see us, an’ she’d work on gettin’ us a place together.

I sure hope she can. Richie, he’s a nice guy, but without me, he’d fall apart. That’s Richie on the chair. His fur is a lot darker than mine, plus he’s smaller. I look out for him.Raymond

So that’s our story, an’ we’re just waitin’ to see what life brings. I’d like to thank that family who brought us to the hospital, an’ all the people who helped us there, an’ the bookstore people here. Me an’ Richie, we intend to pull our weight, y’know? We’re good mousers, an’ we can help keep the dogs in line- not scared of ‘em, knew some nice ones back there at the trailer park. Plus we’re good cuddlers. If I do say so myself, I’ve got really soft fur, an’ Richie is a big purr kinda guy. Fur therapy? We can deliver.

So maybe you need some mouse protection, or just a coupla bachelor brother cats to liven things up around your place. We’re not interested in girls – not since that hospital visit anyway – so we’d be real happy to just hang at your place an’ watch pro wrestling. Or Masterpiece Theatre. We ain’t fussy.

Come visit, an’ let’s have a beer an’ talk things over.

8 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Jack’s guest post today -

Regular readers may recall that I tend to favor non-fiction and particularly histories of one kind or another. So our recent visit to colonial Williamsburg suited me down to the ground. As a ‘New American’ myself it was fascinating to be immersed in the life of those other newcomers of the mid 1700s.

UJ

 

 

 

The first thing to catch my attention were all the union flags dotted around, but it took me a little while to work out why they seemed a bit strange. There was no red saltire! Just the white one signifying Scotland. Then it dawned on me – the red saltire is for Ireland and it was a colony as well then, so wasn’t part of Great Britain/The United Kingdom.

Williamsburg is a small compact town containing some eighty original houses and many other reconstructed ones, all laid out between the Governor’s Palace at one end and the Capitol at the other. in between is a mixture of domestic homes, taverns and shops where re-enactors play out the everyday life of the 1760s through the 1780s. I was continually reminded that there was no ‘United States’ at the start – just a collection of individual colonies that started as English and then became British (the last Governor was a Scot).

Something I was very aware of as we explored the town over a couple of days was how different this part of Virginia would have been compared to where we live here in Big Stone Gap. Williamsburg would have been the epitome of sophisticated living with fine furnishings and modern amenities for the day, whereas SW Virginia would have been the outer reaches of the frontier (hhmmm – let me just think about that again – – -)

marquis

At various times each day there were specific little scenes played out by specially knowledgeable actors taking the part of prominent citizens of the time. The members of the audience at these events were invited to ask questions and play a part as the tableaux unfolded. My favorite one involved a young man playing the part of the Marquis de Lafayette. He was himself half French and half American and his knowledge of the history of the time was very impressive. As soon as he heard my accent he showed his understanding of the complicated relationship betwixt Scotland, England and France as a backdrop to the American War of Independence. Remembering that we had to stay in the correct time-frame, I asked him if he thought the American Revolution would have a ‘knock-on effect’ in France and his reply was very interesting. He said he favored a constitutional monarchy! But he feared that, unless Louis paid attention to what was happening, there could be a real and bloody revolution – – –

 

Other events were equally enlightening, but my highlight was still the Marquis.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Of Thunder Boxes and the White Man’s Burden

Jack guest posts the Monday Book Review

It it was in the 1970s, or maybe even earlier, that I remember watching a TV adaptation of ‘Sword of Honor’ by Evelyn Waugh. It starred Edward Woodward and my sides were sore laughing at it. In fact I was motivated to buy the book, which is how I fell completely for Waugh’s writing.

His style is a combination of high humor and biting satire combined with truly engaging stories that won’t let you stop reading until the last word and full stop.

Since then I have read his other great works – ‘Scoop’ and ‘Black Mischief’ and found them equally hilarious and thought provoking. Of course his world-view is of his time and within the setting of the books – mostly the 1930s and 40s and the British Empire. He pokes fun in every direction and no one escapes his eagle eye. Sadly he is sometimes, nowadays, regarded as a bit ‘non P-C’ which is very unfortunate!

One reviewer of ‘Black Mischief’ described it as “Joseph Conrad meets Monty Python” and that’s a wonderfully apt description. The reviewer goes on – “’Black Mischief’ is not a safe book; it delves into racial and political divides as wide now as then and lets you know its author isn’t aboard for any of that 21st-century sensitivity rot. Despite or perhaps because of this it is a good book, perhaps a great book, and worthy of your time.”

One of the things I love about Waugh is that he lampoons everyone equally, including himself through his ‘white man’ leading characters. The absurdity of human nature and particularly of white colonials is laid bare here.

I haven’t read all of Waugh’s books and that means I still have further delights ahead of me.

I hope I have persuaded you to give him a try as well!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Think Pretty Maids how you Court Young Men

Jack and I swung past Colonial Williamsburg on our way home from DC, as neither of us had visited before. And guess what… they were having a Southern Textiles display!

Poor Jack – it was his birthday and all, but he passed a pleasant hour in the mental hospital exhibit while I went, stitch by stitch, through the museum with the curator, who was delighted to have someone who liked needlework with which to discuss its intricacies.

But there was one piece Jack and I could both enjoy before he left – this quilt from the early 1800s, done by a lady with eleven children. Three of her quilts, all gifts to her kids when they got married, hung in the exhibit. After viewing this one, all I can say is, she must not have liked her daughter’s chosen husband.

pretty maids courtingThat girl definitely looks dubious, and if Jack had courted me hunched over and grabby like that, things would have turned out different.

Come all you fair and tender ladies

Take warning how you court young men…….

It’s a ballad Jack and I sing often when teaching Transatlantic balladry, as versions are found in the British Isles and the Appalachian Mountains. And it definitely applies to this poor child. The exhibit never told how those marriages ended, but I was reminded of the short story A Jury of her Peers. This is the piece in the literature textbook that every school child in America remembers as “that quilt story about the murder.”

Two women come to the house of a third who may or may not have murdered her husband, and as their husbands tramp about looking for clues, they discover via her quilting that she did it, because her husband killed her beloved pet. And they hide the fact from their husbands, who have been condescending to them about their wanting to take the piece work to the jailed woman, so she’d have something to do. It’s like that other great short story Lamb to the Slaughter, where the cops eat the evidence (woman kills her adulterous husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooks it up for the investigators) because they can’t expect a woman to 1) kill and 2) be smart enough to cover it up.

I love textiles. And one of the best parts of the visit was talking to the guide about the division between samplers that had religious poems–of which there were many–versus nature scenes in them. I speculated that the girls who did animals may have been of a slightly rebellious nature, tomboys, and she shot me a shrewd look.

sampler“I actually speculate that it was the other way ’round and the roughest girls were set pieces with the strictest verses,” she said. “Look at this one.” She pointed out a sampler about devotion and piety, very badly stitched. “This kid was pretty much sabotaging her own work, more power to her.”

Attagirl, girls. I love the power of women in subtle things – since the 1600s, when life hands us needles, we jab them into that which annoy us. :]

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, crafting, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, VA, Wendy Welch

The Rare “Bookstore Owner Abroad” Opportunity

That's the full moon, top right. We've been having such busy days, I keep forgetting to take photos!

That’s the full moon, top right. We’ve been having such busy days, I keep forgetting to take photos!

Jack and I don’t get out much. Owning a bookstore is very like having a 4,000-lb. two-year-old in your life. It requires constant care, feeding, and anticipation of its future needs in order to maintain a happy home.

But we are in DC this week because, wearing my other hat for the college and Southwest Virginia, I’m educating our elected officials on the need for graduate medical education (doctors who TRAIN in Coalfields Appalachia, and then practice here). It’s a wonderful thing to be involved in, and being a woman who owns a business in a small community adds a certain heft to my voice. Politicians like women who own businesses in rural areas. We’re photogenic.

Good thing I’m not cynical, eh?

But I digress. Jack’s birthday is TODAY (thank you, on behalf of Jack) and we are going to visit Williamsburg this weekend in celebration. (Yes, the next blog will be about our impressions of the place, since we’ve never been before.)

The point is, it really doesn’t matter where we go or what we do; the fact that we’re doing it outside the bookstore for a week is its own holiday. Don’t get the wrong impression. We LOVE LOVE LOVE being bookslingers. We love our work, our community, and our lifestyle.

But a change is as good as a rest, and we’re loving the days in DC. It’s a great place to visit (although, yes, the cliche is true – living here, not so much.)

There is an odd element to being out of the shop, though. Without getting TOO personal – this is a family-friendly blog – usually when I feel something moving in the bed, I assume it’s a cat, be it foster or staff. That’s never true in a hotel room.

That’s the full moon, top right. We’ve been having such busy days, I keep forgetting to take photos!

6 Comments

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book – A YEAR IN THE MERDE by Stephen Clarke

Jack offers the Monday Book review this week!

I’m not sure which used book store we bought this in but I’m sure glad we did!

Stephen Clarke’s hero, Paul West, is an Englishman working on contract in Paris for a company planning to open a chain of tea-rooms in France. The interlingual puns and description of the absurd cultural clashes are hilarious.

I admit to being an enormous Francophile myself, having toured there many times with my old buddies in ‘Heritage’ and would cheerfully live there if necessary with no difficulty. But Paris is another thing – in many ways it is just like any other enormous city! So my preference would be the rural South.

The parts of Clarke’s book that depict him trying to speak French while his employers try to use English are hysterical, full of the verbal equivalent of slapstick.

Having said that, I once hitch-hiked from Scotland to Paris with a friend (back when hitch-hiking was still legal). We camped in the Bois de Boulogne and enjoyed breakfasts of paine chocolat and enormous bowls of coffee in sidewalk cafes.

Getting back to the book – I am a big fan of Peter Mayle and his series of books about an Englishman in France. Clarke takes things into another dimension and mixes corporate mischief, questionable morals, advice for tourists and a mischievous take on French chauvinism into a very worthy addition to the genre created by Mayle.I heartily recommend it to anyone who has visited, or is planning to visit Paris.

If I were a Parisian and read this book, I’d find it funny. If I were a Frenchman, I just might be insulted. This is a cheeky, irreverent look at a city people are used to treating with dignity; Clarke dances on thin ice and stops just short of blowing a rude gesture at the French.

I loved it. :]

Leave a comment

Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing