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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 – – –

 

 

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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

Scotch on the Rocks – – –

Breaking News – –

Wendy and I have a double cancellation for this year’s Scottish tour. The dates are Sunday June 17th – Friday June 29th. The original price was $3500 per person (excluding airfare) but is discounted to $3000 per person, with room for a total of four. That’s $2K discount if a family takes it! If you are interested full details can be found on the ‘Scottish Tour’ page at www.scottishsongandstory.co.uk . We will be visiting Skye, Lewis, the North 500 road, Orkney, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Fife. Time is short so first come first served! Space for four people in two rooms available. Price covers dinner, bed and breakfast in good mostly traditional hotels, after dinner music on some nights, ferry fares and entry to historic sites. All you need is spending money, and if you want it, lunch money. Most people find Scottish breakfasts keep them going all day.

We will visit castles and mountains, see Hielan coos, the Neolithic sites on Lewis and Orkney, stay in a hotel that used to be a Templar castle, eat the best fish n’ chips in Britain and meander the fishing villages of Fife. With luck at least one of our ferry voyages will have porpoise accompaniment and of course there will be haggis aplenty!

11-Skara-Brae

Skara Brae on Orkney

The maximum number that I set for the group is ten as that fits easily in the minivan we use and the reason I don’t include airfare is because folk tend to come from various parts of the US and some want to use specific airlines. Although the tour starts at Edinburgh on the morning of Sunday June 17th I always advise folk to arrive a day before just in case of delays or missed connections. We deliver everyone back to one of the Edinburgh airport hotels ready to depart on the morning of Friday June 29th.

We are happy to answer any questions you have – jbeck69087@aol.com or 276-523-5097.

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Mea Culpa – – –

Well – I finally got back to doing a Wednesday post on a Wednesday – –

We all do bad things from time to time. Sometimes by accident and occasionally deliberately (because we have the light and the dark in all of us). We even do bad things for the best of intentions and that’s what I did on Monday!

We learn from these things of course and I’d hoped that, at the age of 76, I had maybe mostly sorted it out.

The story really starts with the death of our beloved black Lab Zora. I had to take her to be sent ‘over the rainbow bridge’ about six months ago which left our terrier Bert as our only dog. They had been best pals most of their lives and poor Bert has been very different since then. They used to run around the yard together all day long but he now spends most of his time in the bookstore at my feet.

bert in chair

But Bert is also getting on a bit (95 in human years) and is showing definite signs of arthritis in his back legs. Our Vet, the ‘Sainted Beth’, has him on a sensible regime of doggie painkillers and that mostly seems to work and we have hopes he can keep going for a bit yet.

But just last Sunday a medical doctor friend was here with his wife for our monthly Quaker meeting and we all saw Bert limping. A general discussion about arthritis resulted in him making a passing comment about Ibuprofen being effective. After everyone had gone I remembered that I had some left over from when I had a bout of sciatica earlier in the year and that’s when it all went wrong!

Of course our doctor friend hadn’t suggested Ibuprofen for Bert – that was just me adding two and two and getting five.

I think why I feel particularly bad about this is because our pets trust us and Bert is no exception. He happily scoffs down pills as long as they’re hidden in a spoonful of peanut butter and I’m sure he never imagines I’d do anything to hurt him. But I gave him an Ibuprofen yesterday morning and another one last evening. Around 11 pm as we were settling down to sleep with Bert between us he stood up, arched his back and spewed his supper all over the bed. We got up and removed the top sheet before anything soaked through and he went out through the dog flap. This went on for the rest of the night until we were reduced to the last couple of blankets and poor Bert was exhausted!

Wendy took him up for an emergency consultation this morning with St. Beth and it looks like he will survive, but I feel very guilty. So what have I learned? Well, obviously – never make any uninformed decisions about medications for your pet, and never assume that what works for humans will work for pets. NEVER give Ibuprofen to your pet!!

I will be going up to collect Bert at the end of the working day at Powell Valley Animal Hospital. The Sainted Beth is smaller than me but I’m scared stiff at what she’s going to do to me!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Here, There and Everywhere

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post is a day late –

I continue to be somewhat amazed at how small the world has become, and it’s not just the number of people from far afield who visit our wee bookstore in rural Appalachia – even this week when it was snowing.

Just yesterday I had an email conversation with a gentleman in Rome, Italy called Massimo. It started first thing in the morning with a request for the words of a song I recorded with my old group Heritage on our second album back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued and in a subsequent message he explained he was a big fan and had spent years collecting all the available recordings that I and the group had made over the years. As of this morning there are two CDs he didn’t know about winging their way to him via the USPS and Poste Italiane!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the presenter of a folk music show that airs on a radio station based in SW Scotland and we have begun to exchange programs. The ones I’m sending him are mostly digitized copies of cassettes that were made of a live show that I did back in the 1990s on a different (and now defunct) station in Scotland. But these cassettes were stored here at WETS which is the station where ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ is based, because back then I sent them over to be re-broadcast here. So a show that originally went out live to rural Perthshire has gone through a series of different technologies, traveled the Atlantic twice and is being heard by listeners of Folk n’ Stuff over the internet in (among other places) Tallahassee where there are, apparently, a loyal group of fans!

Sticking with the radio theme, I had the great pleasure of interviewing a lovely Irishman called Liam at the WETS studios on Monday morning, who is a visiting professor at ETSU just now, and made a good friend in the process. We concentrated on two themes that are part of his research focus and will also be the subjects of presentations he will make here. One was the importance of the culture of small geographical areas and the other was the challenge of Brexit for Ireland (North and South).

On Tuesday Wendy and I had our guest blog post for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum published and that also has a transatlantic theme.

https://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/follow-ballad-scotlands-lord-gregory-carter-familys-storms-ocean/

Meanwhile I continue to fine tune the arrangements for my annual small group tour of Scotland at the end of June, which also entails a fair amount of international communication.

It’s all a mad gay whirl I tell you – – –

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

Bookstores – What are they Like?

A guest post from Jack on Friday because Wendy has more urgent requirements –

It’s time for me to talk about bookstores for a change!

This is traditionally our quietest time of the year, but not this time for some unfathomable reason. We’ve had the usual mixture of old stalwarts and out-of-towners despite the cold, rainy or snowy weather. Maybe Spring is close because we’ve also had lots of donations and traded books as well, which means a lot of pricing and shelving of course.

A couple of months ago our good friend David helped me to do a very deep clean of most of the front shop and that resulted in a significant culling of duplicates, battered and ‘never sell in a million years’ books. That freed up some space so now we have some shelf space (as well as half a garage full of boxes of duplicates and ‘never sells – -‘).

In between all this I’ve been checking emails and FaceBook where I’ve been seeing lots of reports of bookstores closing and others opening up – so the scene continues to be pretty dynamic. I haven’t had any time to try to analyze what’s going on but it would certainly be interesting. I’ve heard many reports of retirees buying existing bookstores as a kind of fun thing to do as a source of extra income (although there are only really certain ways of doing that – mainly – sell used books and live on the premises!).

Just to put the top hat on things, Wendy sent me the manuscript of one of the books she’s been working on while she’s been on her writing residency in WV and, lo and behold, there’s a mythical bookstore in it that seems strangely familiar! It’s quite disturbing to read a novel (yes, a novel) with so many recognizable places and characters in it. Being a novel, she allowed herself to mess with the characters as well as the bookstore which makes it even more odd. Our bookstore has had many adventures and strange happenings associated with it but none quite like this!

To finish – as I was writing this a tall and exceptionally beautiful woman came into the store and asked if we had any Dostoevskys – I directed her to the classics room and she volunteered that she was just waiting for her car to be serviced round the corner. “Where are you from” I ventured – “Michigan” she replied.

Wendy was born in Michigan – – –

 

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Avanti o Popolo, Alla Riscossa.

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to tradition and appears on Thursday –

OK – I’m going to dive in!

As an ex-teacher I’ve obviously been following the battle waged by my WV colleagues and it reminded me very much of the situation in Scotland at the height of Maggie Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister.

The Scottish teachers were the only group to actually win a strike against her and it was partly through the same solidarity that the brave and solidly united teachers of WV have shown.

But something else I’ve begun to see – that’s the young folk all over this country who are emerging and aren’t intimidated. Right now it’s about gun control but that’s sure to lead to other things. I wonder if there’s just the possibility that we might see a revival of the movements of the 60s and 70s that would bring about some change?

It’s so tiring and frustrating to be continuing all the time to fight back and it mostly means going out there either on the street or into hostile territory. Many people have paid a terrible price for doing that and many more likely will!

But here’s the really scary thing. In the US and the UK there’s effectively a two party system and that makes it so easy for the vested interests and the big corporations to simply pay them both off. That seems to be exactly what’s happening. Of course the argument is always to get elected on a party ticket and then change things from within. All I can say is that there are hardly any examples of full-time professional politicians that I see who haven’t been bought – either with brown envelopes or ermine cloaks – or both.

Things appear to work better in those European countries that use voting systems that promote multi-party coalitions but I don’t see any likelihood of the folk benefiting from the existing system ever agreeing to that.

So, for now, there doesn’t seem to be much alternative than to be inspired by the WV teachers and the young folk around the country! Of course you can also visit your local bookstore and find lots of great books about community activism – such as Randy Shaw’s excellent ‘The Activist’s Handbook’!

activism

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We don’t Need no Thought Control

Jack manages to get his Wednesday guest post up here on a Wednesday –

There’s a meme going around Facebook just now about the trade-off between corporate life and a happy life that starts with a quote from the Dalai Lama about suits and ties and it got me thinking –

I started my working life as, first an apprentice house and sign painter and decorative painter, and then wound up running my own business doing that. So fairly laid back and relaxed although always at the demands of clients and customers. Eventually I graduated to teaching these skills in the local community college.

That was when my suit and tie days began and so it continued until I retired in 2002. Even after that as a training and education consultant I continued for a number of years to work ‘business hours’ and still in a suit and tie.

It’s very tempting, of course, to buy into the notion of a regular day job existence ‘stealing’ your independence and freedom but I don’t really agree with that I’m afraid. All the time I was attending to customers’ needs and running a college department I had an escape hatch into the world of traditional folk music. So there was a parallel world that I could inhabit whenever I wanted to.

What this meant was that when I finally did retire I had a number of different pensions that kicked in as well as a substantial ‘lump sum’, and I still had the parallel world. That really did give me independence and freedom and I think that’s a perfectly good trade-off. Mind you, I was brought up in the cradle of ‘the protestant work ethic’ so maybe I’m programed in that direction.

It’s possible, I’m sure, to live a satisfying life without the need for a 9 to 5 job that involves a suit and tie and it may be that the US is a country where that is more practicable. I have no doubt there are particular corporate world jobs that provide little satisfaction and are even grindingly boring. So maybe I was just lucky. I certainly always used to describe myself to my favorite college boss as a ‘lucky painter’, although she eventually got tired of me saying that!

All I can say in conclusion is that I have no problem whatsoever with my particular trade-off. But I rarely wear a suit and tie these days – –

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