Monday Book Review

Jack’s guest Monday book review –

Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone (Ballantine; 2015)

Well – my guilty secret was bound to come out eventually! I am an aviation nut, from my teenage years building flying models for competition, through a wonderfully memorable gliding vacation in Yorkshire, and on up to re-discovering the delights of model building in my retirement.

I have a particular love of planes from the early days of aviation – the glorified box-kites, with barely enough power to sustain them flown by intrepid heroes who learned through trial and (often fatal) error.

I really thought I had a good handle on the history of those times, but Goldstone reveals a story of rivalry and pig-headedness that almost defies belief!

Everyone knows, of course, that the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were the first men to design and fly successfully a heavier than air flying machine with the means of controlling its path through the air. What most folk don’t necessarily know, however, is how much they owed to other contemporary pioneers. They communicated regularly with Octave Chanute and Samuel Langley among others, incorporating many of their ideas into the design of their ‘Flyers’. Finally, they had the work of the German designer Otto Lilienthal to draw on – particularly with regard to weight distribution and the curved airfoil needed to generate lift.

1909_Model_A_Flying_in_France

A Wright Flyer in France frightening the horses.

Sadly, the Wrights came to believe that because they were the first to successfully demonstrate flight by a heavier than air machine, they were entitled to royalty payments on every other machine made by anyone after that. It didn’t matter to them if the designs were radically different from theirs – the mere fact that it could fly meant to them that the principles they pioneered were being unfairly utilized.

The pursuit of an ever growing number of law suits against other plane manufacturers quickly began to consume all their energies, and meant that they didn’t have any left to spend improving and developing their designs. The most famous dispute was with the other great American aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and this one probably contributed to Wilbur’s early death. Worn out by all the court appearances he succumbed to typhoid. Orville lasted longer but didn’t have the same drive as his brother, either to improve the planes or to pursue the litigation.

H-8 1916 r r

The Curtiss H8 in a 1916 demonstration.

Goldstone, in this book, argues that because of all the disputes and court cases the fledgling aircraft industry in the US fell behind those in other countries – particularly France, Britain and Germany. He maintains that it wasn’t until some years after the end of WW1 that America began to catch up with the others.

For anyone with an interest in early aviation and ‘those magnificent men in their flying machines’ this is a must read. At least five thumbs up!

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Filed under book reviews, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

To Caffeine or not to Caffeine? That is the question.

bean memeSo most of you know I turned in the manuscript to Fall or Fly, my journalism-storytelling book about foster care in the Coalfields, and then got sick. For a week I was down, during which I basically didn’t eat or drink much.

Two weeks later, down I went again with something viral. With the end result that no coffee has been in my body for almost a month. Nor iced tea, nor hot tea, nor other caffeinated beverages.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been monitoring how that changes anything – do I sleep better (possibly, jury is still out) feel better (the same) see any other advantages (I get out of bed ready to go as opposed to needing 30 minutes with the mug) or disadvantages (there really isn’t anything to order at a hotel for breakfast except expensive “juices” that don’t taste like real juice).

So, those of you who have kicked the habit, or who haven’t, any words of wisdom? Booksellers who don’t drink coffee are not unheard of. Booksellers who don’t drink coffee OR hot tea (Earl Gray, hot) are a bit more unusual. What will I drink at the salons? What about when out with girlfriend booksellers? Or just girlfriend posse members? There’s a whole social aspect to coffee, as there is with cigarettes. Will I miss the rituals? Will I miss the camaraderie?

Send thoughts. Send chocolate (I do still partake of that caffeine source). And thanks!

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

Memory Lane

In Jack’s guest post he re-visits his earlier profession –

In the dim and distant past, when I left high school, I began serving my five-year long apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. I went on to work in that trade for many years, eventually teaching the skills in the local college where I had attended part-time as an apprentice. I look back on those days with fond memories and I’m still occasionally reminded of the satisfaction to be had from practicing a set of specialist skills competently.

So to this past weekend; after almost ten years, it was time to re-decorate what had been our upstairs sitting room and is now the main café area. The cozy and warm chestnut colored wallpaper that suited our life-style really didn’t work for a café and the woodwork was getting grubby and worn.

As I proceeded to strip the old wallpaper and prepare everything the memories came flooding back. When it came time to paint the ceiling and woodwork I remembered teaching the students a whole variety of brush skills – knowing what made a good brush, learning to work left or right handed, knowing just how heavily to load the brush with paint, applying the paint without any spattering or misses or runs etc. All this makes it easier, very satisfying and truly rewarding!

Hanging wallpaper is a different kind of challenge and not helped by the almost universal availability of the ‘ready-pasted’ kind. I really, really hate ready-pasted papers with a vengeance. If you use them as directed, you end up with water all over the floor and there’s never enough ‘slip’ to position the paper to match the pattern. So I just paste them anyway! But now it’s hard to find regular common or garden paste any more. So, for the first time in over fifty years I mixed a bucket of flour paste and got it right first time (something I took a while to learn as an apprentice).

As I only had a two-day window of time to complete the work, our good friend David drove over from NC and once again stepped into the breach and became my ‘apprentice’ for the weekend.

Our ‘best-of-the-best’ café manager and chef, Kelley, had popped in from time to time as the work progressed and her broad smile again brought back memories of satisfied customers. I finally made a point of checking with her customers as they sat down to lunch yesterday and they looked up just long enough from the best home-cooking in Wise County to give universal approval!

Enjoy the pictures and tell me what you think –

DSCN2212DSCN2222      DSCN2216DSCN2220

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

The Monday Book: A GONE PECAN by Dusty Thompson

Okay, so this book is full of typos. And it’s more about being funny and enjoying the moment than pulling a plot together.

So?

It was such a fun read. The characters are so Southern-believable. I first encountered Thompson because of a Virginia Young Leaders speech her gave that is viewable online. I often used it in my speech classes. And one day I looked online to see if he’d speechified anything else, and whaddaya know, Thompson had written a book!

So I contacted him and said I reviewed them, and if he cared to send one…. which he did… about six months later with an apologetic note.

And that’s kind of how the writing goes – fun, not necessarily fast, no necessarily aiming for a goal. Just fun.

Maybe that’s why I liked it so much. Who cares whodunit or why? Just enjoy the ride. These people are so believably over the top. Southerners may get more out of this mystery than other readers, but the humor stretches wider than regional. It’s just, some of these people, well, I worked with them in college….

 

Please remember: there are more places to get self-published books than that A-word. Try Powell’s.

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

1/3 Piece of Dry Toast

sick dogI ate 1/3 of a piece of dry toast today. I might have eaten more, but our foster cat Butterscotch – the one who leads the charges and plots all the mischief – hopped up on the chair arm next to me as I sat in the bookstore with my meal. He spied the toast, gave me a bright smile of thanks, snatched it up in his mouth, and instigated a game of hockey with his foster brothers, Justin, Edgar, and Alfie. There was some complicated scoring mechanism by which they took bites at certain times, so the remaining toast was soon gone.

But it had done its work; it settled in and stayed put in my stomach, a place I had come to think of as similar to the Bad Marshes of Middle-Earth: gases everywhere, unsure footing leading to likely death; and an explosion could happen at any moment.

So I’m on the mend from the Virus of Voiding that seems to be making the rounds these days. Three nights of simultaneous toilet-and-sink hugging, my cheeks resting at each end on cold porcelain, hadn’t left much inside to expunge.

I am now determined to change my diet if I ever get back to eating real food. Our Good Chef Kelley has promised me vegan falafals. I may never touch caffeine again, after the withdrawal headache that exacerbated the first night of misery.

Who am I kidding? A life without Pal’s Tea wouldn’t be worth living. But speaking of misery upon misery, I really think it ought to be a law that one should not have to deal with poison ivy at the same time as the Voiding Virus. The cats have been going out in this warm weather, and apparently the favored spot of My Archenemy beneath our apple trees is going strong. I have poison ivy on my chin and neck, from where they gave me cat scans during my comatose illness state.

All the same, I’m on the mend. I am actually thinking about the future in a hopeful way: bookshelves to sort, pages to write, cats to foster. I may manage a whole piece of toast by supper–assuming I can hide it from Butters, of course. And someday soon, I will sip a cup of hot tea.

Soon. For now, though, I shall return to my bed and a book, and try to keep the cats from sleeping on my neck.

Slainte

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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, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: NIGHT GARDEN by Carrie Mullins

carrie mullinsI bought this book at the recent Appalachian Studies Association Conference, after a mutual friend introduced me to Carrie and announced it was her publication day. I’m glad I did, as I enjoyed Carrie’s writing. Very descriptive, which is not usually my thing, but the characters are well-drawn, which is.

The protagonist is a teen girl with a dead brother, difficult parents, and a teacher who helps her score substances. So it’s only natural that soon after she should have a boyfriend who edges toward emotionally abusive, and women around her who urge her to understand. The dysfunction here is told in third person but primarily from her point of view as she struggles to believe that Bobo (her boyfriend) loves her, that being pregnant isn’t so bad, that she has a good life. That she can get out.

It’s a story with a lot of detail in how the people live, and a building sense of emotional dread mixed with resignation and strength. You’re not really sure how it’s going to end, and I’m not putting any spoilers in here. If you like Appalachian dysfunction, delicate touches on tough subjects, or descriptive novels, NIGHT GARDEN is for you.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Alfie Ruminates on Life, Love, and the Joys of Clean Feet

003 adoptables 033 Alfalfa 020 Alfalfa 022Hello there – I’m Alfie. I like having this name. The nice nurses at the hospital gave it to me, and some of them were REALLY cute. But it hides something that’s sad, and a little bit embarrassing. I’m only sharing here because I think it might help people understand something important about shelter cats.

I went to the shelter with a lot of sores on my feet and my tongue. I had what’s called an autoimmune disease, which really means my body was so stressed out, it couldn’t fight off something simple. Like when you get a cold, but you just had an appendectomy, so you get wind up in bed with pneumonia.

So when I showed up at the shelter, well, there’s no nice way to put this: I smelled bad. Like rotten hay. Because the sores on my feet and in my mouth had gotten infected. And those nice nurses, they took one look at me, and they knew what to do, and they fixed me right up. Plus gave me my name: Alfalfa.

Let’s face it, what chance does a cat who smells bad have in a shelter? Zippo, nada, none. That’s why I’m very grateful to the pretty nurses who got me all set with those salves and that shot (which hurt, but given the alternative I don’t mind).

I’m not gonna need any more medicine, because now that I’m not scared and hungry all the time, my body has taken care of the problem. I just needed a chance, y’know? A chance to rest up and not worry about anything and put some weight on. And I want you to know, if you had anything to do with helping me, or any cats with a little bit of damage like me, we’re very grateful. Cats aren’t famous for saying thank you, but when there are so many of us, sometimes people think they should give up on the ones with something wrong. I’m living proof that, if you’re willing to take five minutes to help us fix the problem, we will make it worth your while with a lifetime of love.

Now that I don’t smell bad, people like to hold me, and that’s my favorite thing in the world. I remember what it was like when they backed away with their faces all wrinkled, so I make sure the people know how much I’m loving being cuddled.

Oh yeah, I’m adoptable. I have fur that everybody says is really unusual and pretty – look at it one way and it’s stripes, but from the other way it’s spots. And it’s silver, changeable like mercury. So if you want to adopt me, I’m hanging out at the bookstore with some other cats who got a second chance. We’re none of us babies –  I think Izzy is the youngest, and she’s five months old. Real brat, too, if you ask me – but we’re all great purrsonalities. So come visit the bookstore and while you’re there be sure we get in a cuddle, okay? ‘Cause I wanna say thanks.

 

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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, Uncategorized, VA