Tag Archives: bibliophiles

The Monday Book – The Romance of the Match – Herbert Manchester (The Diamond Match Co. 1926)

Jack’s unusual guest book review – if you want a copy we have one for sale – – –

“How many thousand or hundred thousand years man lived on earth before learning to use fire is unknown.”

How could anyone resist such an opening sentence as that? Well, I certainly couldn’t!

This booklet was published in the era of art deco and Agatha Christie’s introduction of Hercule Poirot. Its amazing cover is a product of those times. Inside one finds a mixture of 1920’s writing style and world-view. This non-fiction book is unashamedly a corporate promotion for the Diamond Match Company, and yet it tells a fascinating story of the use of fire over millennia and the evolvement of the match industry, including many terrible health hazards along the way. It rather surprisingly doesn’t shy away from the economic pressures on the match industry to continue with dangerous chemicals and chemical processes when others were available, despite the toll on the workers.


Once it has covered the history of the use and harnessing of fire and the development of the match, however, it becomes much more of an outright promotion of the company and a panegyric for the founder W. A. Fairburn.

I found this booklet a complete delight, particularly for its amazingly bizarre mixture of history, art deco design, choice of font and the final page, comprised of a series of statements by the founder of the company, Mr. W. A. Fairburn, including what I assure you is a complete sentence –

“Diamond men have for years led the world in the art of match making; today they lead in the science of progressive invention, in the art of efficient production and distribution, in the inestimable virtues of brotherhood, equity and undying good fellowship, and in the courage and energy that knows no failure and acknowledges no defeat.”

Please note the semi-colon and the Oxford comma.


Filed under book reviews

The Monday Book Review

The Monday book guest review by Jack

Although I do read the occasional novel, my preference leans towards biography or history. So today’s book is Total War by Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint.

You might wonder what a Quaker is doing reading books about war, but it’s really to try to understand why these terrible things happen.

This is a weighty book in a number of senses. It deals with the 2nd World War, but starts from well before with historical background around the world. It examines the political pressures and options, not just in the main protagonist countries, but also in places that aren’t usually given much attention – such as China, India and The Balkans etc.

I quite like the fact the book has a good deal of opinion in it as well as straightforward facts. I’ve always held to the frequently expressed phrase “history is written by the winners” and most other books I’ve read about WW2 pretty much exemplify that (maybe because most were written shortly afterwards). So it was refreshing to find detailed accounts of the attitudes, points of view and shifting pressures, not only in Britain, The US, France and Germany, but also in Japan, China, India, Poland, Hungary and The Balkans.

While there is personal opinion here, it didn’t strike me as polemical or partisan. For instance I was pretty much unaware that for many Asian and Pacific countries the war really became a choice between which empires to be part of and where there was an emerging independence movement where their best option lay. Even in Europe there were groups and recently established countries that had the same difficult choices to make.

This is a big book, but highly readable . I learned a lot from it!


Filed under book reviews, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading

A Shopsitter’s Christmas



As I’m spending Christmas in a bookstore this year, I thought I might share a few of my favorite Christmas tales with all of you. What’s more festive that curling up in front of a roaring Fireplace for your Home, popping open a box of wine, and diving in to a jolly holiday classic? Nothing as far as I know. While there are dozens, I’ve selected a few that have special meaning for me. Here goes.

The Cat Who Came for Christmas, by Cleveland Amory. My grandmother introduced me to this wonderful memoir many years ago. A self-described curmudgeon finds an abandoned cat on Christmas eve. Heartwarming human/feline bonding ensues. Especially poignant for me this year, because I’ve found my very own Christmas kitty. See photo.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The quintessential Christmas classic. A story of faith, forgiveness, and redemption. All the biggies. Ebenezer Scrooge mends his evil ways with the help of three Christmas spirits. Little ghoul that I am, I probably liked this story most because of the ghosties.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie. For those that might enjoy a little murder with their mistletoe. The eccentric Belgium detective finds himself spending Christmas at a country estate, where one of the guest proves to be a cold blooded killer. It’s festive. Honest. 

The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot. Another kitty arriving just in time for the holidays. I have a vague, but persistent notion that this one made me cry. You’ve been warned.

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket. While my own Jewish heritage provided me little more than the ability to kvetch in Yiddish, I do love a good latke. This story is about a potato latke that, well, can’t stop screaming, but it’s also about being true to yourself and your beliefs. A good message for whatever holiday you celebrate.

Not a comprehensive list, but a fun exercise nonetheless. I must now go finish putting coal in the kitten’s stockings. They’ve been naughty, as all proper kittens are wont to be.









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Too Many Books


“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning


I’m depressed.

OK, maybe depressed is the wrong word. I’m here in Big Stone Gap, knee deep in kittens, good food, and friendly people. I’m happy, I’m content. What’s better than living in a bookstore? It’s kind of a dream come true, right? So why am I…wistful?

I believe it’s the unavoidable realization that I will never be able to read as many books as I would like. This may not seem like a big deal. I mean, there are plenty of things I’ll never get to do in my lifetime, that’s what the Travel Channel is for. In the normal course of things, I can accept that my life will contain the pleasure of reading only a small, finite number of books. There are times, however, when I feel the weight of all those unread words. This feeling is strong when I visit libraries, and naturally, bookstores.

When I first arrived at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, the shelves bursting with books whispered possibility as only bookshelves can. The knowledge that I had all month to peruse left me giddy. Who knew? Maybe I’d take a gander at the romance section; I’m not proud. Or the Westerns. I’ve never read a Western! The craft section! The gardening section!!! THE MYSTERY ROOM!!!! It was all at my disposal. I imagined tiptoeing through the shelves at midnight, as The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy played softly in the background.

Two weeks in, I’m feeling a little less giddy. Maybe it’s because I’ve only finished two books since I arrived. Maybe it’s because I can’t decide what to read next. Maybe it’s because, with only two weeks left in December, the dream of endless reading possibility has been effectively cut in half.

I can take books home. As many as I want. But that doesn’t alter the fact that I will never read all the books on my ever-shifting list. Maybe this is OK. The ultimate Zen lesson. A reading life can never be fully satisfied. But why would you want it to be? Imagine the tragedy of actually, literally, having nothing to read. When I die, I will not have read the vast majority of the books my fellow humans have produced. Dreary thought? Perhaps, but I will certainly have enjoyed the time I spent trying.




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What type of Type is your Type?

The other day I walked through the bookstore carrying–of all things–a book, and Jack said, “That looks your sort of thing.”

“Eh?”  I responded, blinking.

“That’s your type of book. I saw it when it came in and figured you’d find it before long.”

Gentle reader, I have never before considered that I have a “type of book,” believing myself more the cereal box variety of bibliophile. Granted, I avoid horror, romance and paperbacks bedecked with sword-wielding bikini-clad blonds, but that doesn’t mean I have a “type.” Of type.

Does it?

In the warm light of Jack’s “Sometimes the person on the other side of the bed sees things you don’t” smile, I assessed my reading habits. Gosh darn it, he’s right. Here are five things guaranteed to make me like a book:

1) It features a road trip. I don’t care where they’re going or what they do when they get there; if  the protagonists are driving, flying, walking, or boating across a big space, I’m in. Queen of the Road, The Great Typo Hunt, A Walk Across America, A Walk in the Woods, even The Long Walk (an escape book from the Gulag years). Heck, one of my all-time favorite pieces of music is Brendan’s Voyage, in which Shawn Davey scored the adventures of two modern guys replicating a monk’s coracle voyage from Ireland to Newfoundland. If the main characters are moving, it’s good enough for me.

2) It’s a fictitious story of a child growing up without recognizing what’s going on around her. I love stories that involve children’s innocence protecting them. Trezza Azzopardi’s Remember Me. The Murderer’s Daughters. Girlchild (a bit less innocent, perhaps). But it has to be fiction; A Child Called It left me cold. Sure, a psychiatrist could help me understand why, but I’ll stick with enjoying the never-ending stream of fiction traffic clogging dysfunction junction.

3) It’s a true story of simple living told with humor. Sweaterwise: My Year of Knitting Dangerously. The $64 Tomato. Farewell, My Subaru.  How Many Hills to Hillsboro. Mud Season. Heart in the Right Place. American Shaolin (although that’s maybe not so simple; the guy moved to Asia and enrolled in a monastery). One can get tired of yuppies run amok among the greener grasses on the fence’s other side, total life changes, or even strange gimmicky publicity stunts akin to reality television for the memoir market. (How low can one go to get a book deal? Don’t answer that.) The “at home” memoirs still delight me.

4) Any book with that gilt foil paint stuff on its cover. The Rose of Sebastopol wasn’t a favorite, but I read it because of its gilt flower frame. The Reluctant Fundamentalist sported foil letters. I even enjoy The Royal Diaries series for girls. Put gold on the cover, and you had me at hello.

This makes me shallow, right? I accept that.

5) Historic fiction with strong female leads. Yes, Philippa Gregory has a lot to answer for; I don’t even like the way Robin Maxwell writes; but if it’s about an ordinary woman caught in extraordinary times (Tudor dynasty, Spanish Diaspora, Druidic and Christian worldviews clashing) color me there. Caveat: the books in this camp range from brain bubblegum to intensely well-researched dissertations-as-narrative; choose wisely. I did once throw Katie Hickman across the room in exasperation.

So now you know: left to my own devices, these are the books I gravitate toward. What’s your type of type?


Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Scotland, writing


So my Twitter friend Erica Susan Jones – she loves books and cats, so it was pretty much friendship at first tweet – has started a blog. About bookshops. ‘Nuff said.

Here it is, copied from her site, which is http://thebookshoparoundthecorner.blogspot.co.uk/

Books are my addiction.

If I see a bookshop I have to go inside, and walking inside means I inevitably leave with at least one book, generally two or three. From fiction to cookery, classics to sci fi, crime to chick lit, I love them all.

But it’s not just about the subject, a book is a true sensory experience. Reading the story, savouring the words, hearing the pages turn, the scent of the paper and ink and feeling its weight in my hands. Each one is unique, with its creases and imperfections, markings in the margin or name inside the cover – recording the journey the book has taken with each individual reader, a memory that no e-reader can mimic.

And the bookshop it comes from is just as important a part of the reading process. Row upon row of books lining the shelves, with central tables drawing our attention to key themes or authors as we browse, looking for inspiration, or perhaps moving with purpose on the quest for something specific.

Then there are the booksellers. Readers themselves, they can be a great source to tap when looking for your next big read – or struggling to find a gift for your Dad/friend/boss. These people help bring the personal touch that very few websites are able to claim.

But all is not well, the bookshop is in decline.

I’m not about to go into facts and figures about how many have closed and when, as I’d probably find it too depressing and that’s not what this blog is about. Instead I’m going to – mostly – ignore the e-reader and internet shopping and focus on the positives.

Just a brief search of the internet reveals a wealth of bookshops to be enjoyed by the discerning reader, all with their own character and charm, all crying out to me to visit. And so we come to the purpose of my writing.

This blog is to be a celebration of the bookshop.

Every entry will be about a bookshop of some kind or another. Generally I plan to visit the bookshops (independent or part of a chain, so long as they’re real I’ll visit) to tell you what’s special about them, or why I want to visit them, but given that time, money and geography will limit me somewhat I’m sure the odd (real) fictional bookshop will sneak in to ensure regular writing.

I hope you enjoy exploring the bookshops with me and maybe feel inspired to visit a few more yourself. Also, if anyone has a bookshop they want to recommend (preferably in the UK unless you want to pay for my travel) I’d love to hear about it with a view to hopefully visiting sometime.

Thanks for reading,

You can leave a comment for Erica here, or go directly to her blog!

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Filed under book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, publishing, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Full-Circle Pleasantness

The day before Thanksgiving, a woman called to ask if we’d be open on Black Friday.

Well, yes. “Oh good,” she said. “I’m from Memphis, and my husband and I will be in Kingsport for Thanksgiving with his parents. And I just read this book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap and loved it so I wanted to come up and see the shop. Will the owners be in?”

I laughed and told her that Jack and I would be spending the morning of Black Friday signing books and greeting customers outside Glen Moody’s charming shop “I Love Books” in Kingsport Mall.

“That’s a great store and my in-laws are familiar with it, but we want to come up and see Tales of the Lonesome Pine,” she said, hesitantly.

“You’ll be as welcome as Spring rain,” I replied.

We enjoyed our time at Glen and Deb’s shop in Kingsport–it’s always nice to talk trade with fellow bookslingers–then headed back to home, sweet bookstore. During our chat, Glen said something that stuck with me. “Time was that bookstores as close to each other as yours and mine are would be competitors. But not now. We’re allies.”

Yes, we are.

We’d not been back twenty minutes when the door opened and Debby came in with her mother-in-law. They were delighted to see the bookstore, and Jack was delighted to show them around. Debby had bought my book at Booksellers at Laurelwood, one of our favorite bookshops ever (Hi, Nicole!). There’s just something very full-circle-pleasant about a woman from Memphis making a casual purchase in her hometown bookstore–one that has fought hard to stay independent in its community, I might add–then visiting relatives near our store and driving up to us while we were down in her in-laws’ town, signing at a friend’s bookshop.

Jack and I have much to be thankful for this season, including a circle of new reader and bookslinger friends. Here’s to all the fun, interesting people who read Little Bookstore and searched us out on Facebook to leave nice comments, and to the new friends in the bookslinging world that this week has brought–particularly to Peregrine Books that just opened, and to ReBook out in Utah. We hope your Black Friday has been as fun and filled with full-circle pleasantness.

Wendy will be signing at Fountain Books in Richmond, VA this Monday from noon-2 pm.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, VA