The Monday Book: GNOMELAND by Margaret Egleton

Many thanks to Jeanne Powers for this review!

gnomelandGnomeland:  An Introduction to the Little People

 

First off, this is not a sequel to Gnomes by Wil Huygen, the marvelous and charming “natural history” of the shy Holland gnomes.  No, this is a book about garden gnomes.

 

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, garden gnomes seem to pop up everywhere.  Travelocity even has a spokesgnome, possibly inspired by a rash of gnome-nappings a few years back, in which a person or persons would swipe a garden gnome and take photos of it in various settings, sometimes sending postcards back to the owner from the gnome to illustrate its travels.

Egleton devotes the first few pages of the book to a very brief overview of gnomes in general, noting that there are several variations and tracing the origin both gnomes and their appearance. Then she delves specifically into the evolution of the classic garden gnome.

The earliest statues of the “classic” garden gnome apparently were created in the late 19th century when a large ceramic industry met an enthusiasm for garden decoration. The early figures were more of the bearded and wizened little old man variety before morphing into bright and merry little figures, which Egleton attributes to Disney’s cute little dwarf characters from Snow White.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was about the early creators of garden gnomes. Philipp Griebel added the figure to his factory shortly after opening in 1874, causing Grafenroda, Germany to lay claim to being the birthplace of the modern gnome, though there are those who would challenge this.  August Heissner apparently began creating hand-painted clay gnomes for sale around 1870.

But all of this pales beside the glorious photos of gnomes of all sorts. There are bathing beauties, politicians (there are several versions of George W. Bush), athletes, naughty gnomes, and smoking and drinking gnomes.  “Mobile Joe” is a gnome with a cell phone who crashed the Chelsea Flower Show, despite the “no gnomes” rule.  There are some astounding photos of “gnome gardens” with large collections.  One woman took inspiration from George Harrison, who had posed with the Friar Park gnomes for two albums, and created a gnome garden in tribute to the Beatle.

Gnomes are a world-wide phenomenon: they can be found all over Europe, North and South America, and even Antarctica.  Australia seems to be particularly fond of gnomes, harboring several large gnome gardens and organizations dedicated to preservation and proliferation of gnomes. “Gnomesville” in Australia has become quite the tourist attraction, despite a lack of parking and toilets.

Even if you think gnomes are tackiness personified (the book says they’ve “been restored to their rightful place of kitsch honor”) you’ll smile at some of the creative ways people have used gnomes.  It may just inspire you to add a gnome or two to your own garden. Or not.

 

Note:  this review is written by a person who has pink flamingos in the garden

 

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To See Your Husband Honored

lockerbieLast week Jack and I went to catch the final performance of The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort. Central High School’s One Act team selected the play this year as their performance piece. Jan Thompson and Elaine Sheldon, director and choreographer, called in Jack to coach the team on Scots dialect and word choices.

Normally high school directors will let dialect go, Jan says, but since Jack was around….

It was love at first sight, between Jack and the students. The play is intense, set seven years after the crash when the investigations and recriminations are over, but the women in Lockerbie still find their lives in pieces from the trauma of that time. The women describe in graphic detail picking up body parts, seeing the sky on fire, having nowhere to put the grief of Americans who come seeking solace, or their own blame for America shooting down the Iranian airliner that led to Lockerbie as revenge.

The play is based on the true story of Lockerbie’s women petitioning to have 11,000 pieces of clothing, gathered from the crash sites and investigations, turned over to them to launder and return to the families of those on the flight. Families who never received bodies, because of the nature of the bomb and crash. They wanted to bring closure to a terrible time, but they also wanted to bring healing, mother to mother, woman to woman.

That part of the play, subtle though it might have been, was not lost on the high school students. Each time the play ended, the actors were still crying. The terrible sense of loss it carries, the recognition that we are sharing a world where we might have to suffer bad things because of others’ decisions, and the bittersweet win of the women being given the clothes of the crash victims, these are heavy things. The kids carried them so well.

What people may not recognize, unless they’re married to someone from Somewhere Else, is how much everyday life revolves around not bringing up the differences between life Here and There. Or the ways in which nationalities (or nationalism) divide us.

The affirmation of the high school students to my husband, shrieking and clapping and yelling his name, each time he was recognized as their dialogue coach, heals what others have said: he was a dirty foreigner who wouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance; he didn’t deserve to vote, let alone run for office; he didn’t have to pay taxes because he was using foreign money laundering. Silly stuff in a hatemongering world. Small politics we dismissed from our minds. Emphasis on small.

But these kids, they embraced Jack as they embraced a play about world sadnesses and cracks in the walls of our defenses, airplanes that fly over them, feelings that one cannot find a way to wash away. Except by affirming kindness.

I loved seeing Jack honored by the younger generation, who don’t play the games the older ones might want to teach them. I am sorry for high school students in this era who are inheriting a nation divided, a cowardly new world to have such leaders in it, but I’m so proud of them for not letting hate have the last word.

It wasn’t just a play. It was an affirmation that the future has some bright spots–as well as some bright young minds–in it. Go forth and be kind, kids. The world needs what you’re bringing it.

lockerbie playAnd: thanks for making my husband feel good about what he contributed. He is a man of many gifts, and I’m so glad he got to use some of them with and for you.

 

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The Monday Book: WALKING ON MY GRAVE by Carolyn Hart

50065987_583494335446320_9215025291901009920_nThis week’s Monday book comes from Martha Evans Wiley, a fellow cat rescuer and margarita drinker. Here’s her review of Walking on My Grave by Carolyn Hart (actually a look at the whole series).

2017 Berkley Prime Crime

One of my great guilty pleasures is hunkering down with a new Carolyn Hart book, more specifically one in her Death on Demand series.  Hart’s written 26 cozies in this series, almost half of the more than 60 novels she has penned in her long career.

What I find most charming about this series is Hart’s gift for establishing a sense of place; set on Broward’s Rock, a wonderful island off the coast of South Carolina, each new book feels like coming home. Hart’s two protagonists, Annie and Max Darling, are transplants to the island having moved there when Annie inherited her uncle’s bookstore upon his mysterious death. Annie is compassionate to a fault –  her endless capacity to believe in the good in people balances well with her husband’s proclivity to be a little cynical. Her wonderful bookstore, the eponymous Death on Demand – “the finest mystery bookstore east of Atlanta” – gives Hart plenty of opportunity to show off her mystery knowledge, throwing loads of references to authors and their work, both past and present.

The latest installment, Walking on My Grave, follows much of the same successful formula that Hart has stuck with over the years. She is a master of the red herring, and it’s always fun to watch an enthusiastic Annie go head-long into impulsive schemes while Max tries to keep up with her. This time the story revolves around a rich older woman whose many heirs all have reasons to kill her – not the most original plot, but again, it’s the characters and setting that makes Hart’s work so much fun to read. She always includes a very handy guide to who’s who in the beginning, and often sprinkles sketches in the narrative to ensure that the reader isn’t left behind.

It’s not necessary to read  the series in order to enjoy it, but if you want to start at the very beginning, pick up “Death on Demand,” which sets up the setting and main characters. If you want to read just one, I recommend “The Christie Caper,” a heftier read than most of the others and a real treat for any Agatha Christie fan, or “Southern Ghost,” set in Beaufort, SC,  a wonderful trip to the old south with its dripping Spanish moss and antebellum houses.

As with any long-running series, there are some tropes – for a small island, there’s no end of people being introduced who are then murdered. Annie, Max and the gang don’t age at all, and they are curiously unaffected by any hurricanes or other weather events. But reality isn’t something I search for in a mystery, and I’m never disappointed in the adventures of Annie and Max. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the island of Broward’s Rock.

50065987_583494335446320_9215025291901009920_n

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GUY HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

guy 3Guy has left the building. And he did it his way—by falling off the bed in his sleep, resulting in a dizzying wake-up lurching motion that sent his mama racing to the emergency clinic, Guy in her lap.

Turned out, Guy was telling his people something with that fall. He was gravely ill with a silent killer and entering the doggie equivalent of dementia.

Let me tell you, if love could protect a dog from harm, Guy would still be with us now. Because love saved him from active harm in the first place. He arrived at Joe and Elissa’s house a bundle of bones and needs, neglected to near-death by owners who had no business claiming ownership of anything with a heartbeat. His name, Guy, came from Joe calling him “a cheerful little guy for all he’s been through.”

That was our Guy: whatever you did, whatever was happening, however it turned out, it was all good, man. Here, rub mah belleh and you’ll feel better. Just, chill, dude. That was Guy’s philosophy of life.

While you were chilling, though, Guy could get his nose down your waistband faster than any dog—human or canine—I’d ever met. Little fuzzy Guy was something of a predator when it came to women’s clothing. He pushed in, and you just didn’t have the heart to push back, because what could one little Guy do? Until his nose was in your crotch, inside your trousers. Far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but Guy, you were pushing it big time, buddy. I think you left some lawsuits behind.

guy 2Guy crossed the Rainbow Bridge this morning. More correctly, Guy left the building, but whether he’s crossed the Bridge by now, well… you had to know our Guy. He could turn a two-minute walk into a twenty-minute discovery adventure. He never met a turtle he wouldn’t race. Never saw a puddle he didn’t want to splash in. Nor a pillow he didn’t want to test for softness, and then you could come back later…

So Guy is probably about halfway across the Bridge by now, meandering with a sniff here, a lifted leg there, perhaps a nap in one of the sunbeams before proceeding. He will pause several times to admire his reflection in the water. Guy had eyelashes that supermodels would kill for, this baby, fringing molten pools of liquid black gold. Little plump thing could melt you with his eyes.

And if there are humans on the Bridge, he will be leaning against their legs, giving them the limpid black eyes treatment, and, when they bend to say “What a sweet little guy,” he will be ramming his needle nose down their trousers. It was a practiced move and he will see no reason to stop now he’s in Doggie Heaven. Heck, that IS his Doggie Heaven.

When he finally reaches the far shore, Guy will be greeted by his foster brother Black Jack, who will try to entice him to use the trampoline, go to the steak luau, maybe even watch the movie (you wouldn’t have heard of it. They have their own canine producers across The Bridge). And Black Jack will, in the end, and with a sigh, show Guy to the soft plush pillows near the Heat Vents, and Guy will settle in, with a happy sigh, and dream of turtles.

guy

 

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A River runs through it – –

As we continue with our house move, Jack writes – –

Every now and then a strange and magical figure enters your life. Such was the case when River came down here from New York State to live with her brother Mark Cooperstein and his wife Elizabeth a couple of years ago.

river

River wasn’t her birth name, of course. She adopted the name River Lightwomoon many years ago, and if I tell you that she also lived in Woodstock then I think you probably begin to get the picture.

She was the archetypal hippy and also a wonderful musician, specializing in percussion, and any adjacent surface was a drum for her.

She told me the amazing story of how she was already beginning to play drums and went to a club where the world-famous Jack DeJohnette was appearing. At some point one of his drum sticks ended up at her foot and she returned it to him. She met him some time later and asked about lessons, but they were going to be far too expensive her. However he remembered her and the returned stick, they got chatting and he found out she was expert at tax forms. So, in return for handling his tax stuff she got her lessons!

I was intrigued by the complex rhythms she’d set up whenever she drummed and she explained that she had worked with a mainly female group that played South American influenced original music. A short bit of on-line research and there she was listed on a number of albums!

When our good friend and wonderful singer Barbara Dickson came here to perform, she was completely entranced by River and they shared many a musical moment. But more than that – Barbara also experienced what I had – a very rare and special connection!

RIP River – you will definitely be remembered.

 

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Quart into a Pint Pot

We apologize for the sparse amount of blog posts but we are in the process of moving to Wytheville and haven’t sorted our internet service there yet.

Moving house is a fraught business which I have always hated and since we are down-sizing it’s doubly challenging. We have been running up and down the road with our car and truck loaded up with boxes and crates. The odd thing is that we still visited numerous thrift stores to pick up various items of furniture despite going to a smaller house, because the bookstore needed so little furniture.

550 tazewell

Why are we moving?

Two reasons really – the bookstore is becoming just to big for us to look after, and Wendy’s job at GMEC is expanding geographically and will require much driving up and down I-81.

What of the bookstore?

We have very good reason to believe that it will continue under new ownership. We spent the last thirteen years taking it from nothing to being a ‘go to’ place for visitors from around the country and even from abroad. It has contributed to the economy and community spirit of Big Stone Gap and we have high hopes it will continue to be the cheerful, welcoming gathering place it became.

What of us?

Our new house in Wytheville is actually older than the bookstore and has the original 1866 log cabin county jail in the backyard. Wendy has claimed this for her writing studio. She says it’s ironic since thought is freeing. Yes,dear….

It’s very close to the interstate for Wendy’s work and I will be able to continue with my radio show. It has a music room that can handle house concerts and a couple of guest rooms for visitors. We’ll be just two hours from our friends in Wise County, so not too far away. In other words, we’ll be just fine and look forward to the next chapter in our life together. Come join us for a ceilidh night!

Normal blogging will resume from January 7th 2019.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: NEWS OF OUR LOVED ONES by Abigail DeWitt

newsI met Abigail at this year’s Festival of the Book, where we were both featured authors. She sent me a review copy on request for the Journal of Appalachian Studies, since she’s an author from NC, part of our jurisdiction. I’m the book editor for the Journal, although I am relinquishing the position in 2019. (If you’re a member of ASA and interested, please contact the Journal editor!)

Before passing the book on for review, I gave it a read myself. A novel in the form of multiple short stories among characters tied together by war experiences in France and in America after World War II, Loved Ones tends to focus on the family women. The first story is intense and even violent, not in keeping with the gentler, more measured and internally-exploring tones of the rest. Altogether, they trace from the loss of the family home to why the granddaughter raised in America continues to fixate on tragic events from family history.

Witt uses some lovely poetic language, but it is her women, from a small child to a grandmother, who bring to life the experiences of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. A gentle, breezy quality suffuses her descriptions with a one-step-removed sense of what horrors the stories may encompass or even hide between the lines.

In Mathilde, for instance, a girl is as much in love with the mother of her lad gone for a soldier as she is the boy himself, perhaps even more as the mother notices and returns affection, accompanied by advice in beauty tips and attracting men. Witt’s description of Mathilde as is lovely in itself, the kind of woman almost translucent in her paleness, made of steel beneath the skin.

I enjoyed News of our Loved Ones as a set of short stories, telling the story of one family and its scattered members, primarily because of Witt’s light touch on a dark time in human history.

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