Tag Archives: books

Here We Go Again – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post just sneaks past the marriage counselor –

We’ve lived in five different houses in the seventeen years we’ve been married and, despite their very different ages and styles, there’s one thing they all have in common – – the length of time it takes us to work out where things should be located and which rooms should be for what (usually anything from two to five years). The process involves setting things up one way, then completely changing them on an annual basis!

This habit has, of course, continued into our current location and now seems to be co-incidental with my yearly Scottish tour. Most years the bookshelves get shifted around while I’m away and I have to re-learn where everything is as well as help with any remaining outstanding moves.

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But this year was a bit different. Wendy had spent my absence not so much moving things as planning how we would together move things upon my return. The focus would be the ‘Mystery Room’ (the room that houses the mystery and detective novels). This also just happens to be the room that houses the littlest foster kittens. Did I mention that there are always more kittens when I return than when I left? We agreed a maximum of six at any one time, so naturally I came back to nine, and I have no idea how many there were while I was away.

Down the center of the mystery room were the two biggest, heaviest and most solid bookcases in the shop. They took up more space than was needed and cut down on the natural light from the windows. So the plan was to move them to the garage where the current narrower shelves had been passed along to our good friends David and Felicia. Then we would re-position some ‘Jack-builts’ in place of the heavyweights while afixing a couple of cheap store-bought shelf units against the walls (still with me?).

Of course this had to be done immediately I returned, was still seriously jet-lagged and re-adjusting to temperatures around 25 degrees higher than Scotland. There’s no half measures with Wendy and once you start there’s no going back or stopping until it’s done!

As we were fixing the last wall mounted shelf unit in place she said “do you think this works”? “Why of course dear – it’s a great improvement” I responded (I sure as h*ll wasn’t going to say anything else)!

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But the kittens thought the whole exercise was great fun – particularly helping to identify all the new places they could get trapped or just hide from us!

“Welcome home, Honey”

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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!

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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!

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A Quiet and Human Place

Kelly Saderholm’s guest blog about her and her daughter’s recent stint as shopsitters in the Little Bookstore –

“Oh, wow, I just LOVE it here!” The customer said as she handed me money for her purchases. “I could LIVE in a bookstore!”

“I am living here,” I said, happily, as I gave her a receipt and explained how I was shop-sitting while Wendy and Jack were away in Scotland.

“That’s really COOL,” she said. And she was right.

My daughter Rachel and I agreed to shop-sit and look after the two dogs and ever-changing number of foster cats; in exchange, we could pick out whatever books we wanted, and have the experience of tending a bookstore. For so many of us hard-core reader types, this is a secret fantasy. In the age of disappearing brick and mortar stores (of any kind but especially bookstores) I had often wondered how that fantasy would stack up against the real thing. In this case, the reality fared pretty well!

I was fortunate not to have bad days, crank customers, or disasters. The worse thing that happened was that Bert, one of the dogs, got upset by the Fourth of July firecrackers and chewed up a basement step.

The best thing? There were so many “best things” it is hard to choose. Of course the books, surrounded by books, ahhhhh. I loved chatting with customers. With a high school class reunion and the holiday weekend, people from all over were visiting family and friends. Most had either read Wendy’s book or heard about the bookstore from friends and family. It was interesting talking to people from different regions, discovering their connection to the area.

Even more interesting were the people living here. Rachel and I fell in love with the place. I realized that our temporary home was not just a used bookstore, but Big Stone Gap’s Bookstore, catering to the needs and wants of the community. In the introduction to one of my favorite books, Laural’s Kitchen, one of the authors, Carol Flinders, talks about “a sense of place.” Jack and Wendy’s shop is very much a nurturing “Place” with capital letters, where people feel a connection to each other, to the town, the region, the culture.

Speaking of cooking and food and place- Kelley’s Second Story Cafe (on the bookstore’s second floor) is another very special place, with delicious food. She kept us well-fed during our stay!

Kelley’s food nurtured our bodies, the books nurtured our minds, but a third, intangible element of the bookstore nurtured our souls. A strong sense of Quiet pervades the bookstore. That feeling was re-enforced as Rachel and I took our leave last Sunday just as the Friends Meeting started upstairs. But the whole week there was a gentle, quiet feeling throughout the place. Several customers remarked on it. All week people came in just to browse and enjoy the quiet. One guy stayed for two hours.

If one is looking for a business to make fast, easy money, a used bookstore is not it. But, if one is a bibliophile interested in a satisfying, rewarding business–not in a profit sense but in a people sense– one could do worse than to run a used bookstore.

The first Foxfire book has a chapter titled, “A Quilt is Something Human.” It makes me happy that with so many chain retail stores selling mass-produced consumer goods, Jack and Wendy’s bookstore is indeed Some Place Human.

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“Is That the Bookstore?”

crazy bookstoreMaybe it’s that blood moon. Maybe it’s the pollen count making us all high on Sudafed. Or maybe I just happened to catch the best moments, but this week has produced some absolute classics in “funniest things ever said in a bookstore.” Here are three of my recent favorites:

*phone rings*

“Hello, is that the bookstore? I am downsizing and have a truckload of books for you.”
“Oh, lovely…” Oh, sh———
“These are all that’s left. I’ve burned about as many as are still here, but I can’t burn fast enough. Would you come and get these?”

 

*door opens, two women enter*
First woman: “We heard you could tell us how to market a book.”

Me: “Pardon?”
First woman: “We wrote a book. It’s a mystery, set ’round here. We’ve sold a lot to our family and friends, people that know us, but we want to sell it to more people.”

Second woman (to first): “Maybe she could sell it in here.”

First woman (looking around, shakes head): “Nah. Too many books in here, it’d get lost. (to me) Can you give us any ideas on how to sell it?”

 

*phone rings*

“Is that the bookstore that has the book about it?”

Me (bracing for impact): “Yes?”

Person: “I’ve written a book. Would you sell it?”

Me: “Sure! We like to promote books by local authors, but we can’t do any specific special promo because we don’t have the space. We have a shelf first thing when you come into the store, and we will put it there with the others. If you want to put a sign up on top of the shelf or hang it from the ceiling, we do that for the first six months your book is out.”

Person: “Well, my book is only available on Amazon. Could you put up a sign telling people to buy it there?”

Y’all come on down. We’re here, bricks, mortar, books, sense of humor and all.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Hello, is that Wendy?

book manJack’s guest blog will be Friday this week, due to internal Welch-Beck household circumstances involving a burst pipe.

See this guy made of books? That’s the profile picture of my Facebook friend Wendy Welch. She lives in Nevada, and she’s the one who found eight Wendy Welches and hooked us all together via a secret FB group.

But then, we couldn’t figure out which one of us was typing at any point, so we gave that up and emerged on the Internet–to the consternation of friends and relations. Navigating ‘twixt so many Wendys is tricky.

In addition to Wendy, who started the whole thing, there’s Wendy the graphic artist hippie in Tennessee, and of course Wendy the eye technician, and retired Wendy, and then Wendy runs a homesteading farm in New England. Not forgetting Wendy who lives in Northern Virginia; she and I are the only ones sharing a state, that we know of.

So far, confusion has been abated by our differing locations and jobs, but poor Wendy’s mother-in-law in Nevada is having a time of it. She keeps leaving the sweetest notes on my timeline, telling me she loves me and is so glad I married her son.

This makes Jack nervous.

It’s intriguing to meet other people with your name, especially when you find out you like them. Graphics Wendy has a wicked fun sense of humor. The other day she talked about invading her son’s room for laundry pick-up he’d forgotten to gather, saying, “I’ve never seen so many ironic t-shirts in one place in my life.” Homesteading Wendy lost her husband to cancer two years ago, and moves bravely forward creating a sustainable lifestyle with her dogs and chickens–who get along with each other, so she must be doing it right. Nevada Wendy’s approach to life is playful. We’re considering ganging up on our husbands online.

As a kid, riding in a car I couldn’t steer to destinations I hadn’t chosen, I’d look out the window and play a game. Pick a house, imagine what it would be like to be a completely different person, living in there. Neat, messy, full of extended family, isolated and empty? In high school, books with “start life over” plots fascinated me: new identities, yuppies who upped stakes to become desert ranchers, that kind of thing.

Perhaps this winding circle of namesakes is the grown-up version of these, but I feel my life has been enriched by the embrace of so many strong, sweet, funny Wendy Welches within it.

A battering of Wendys…. look out world, here we come.

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Hidden Pleasures in the Night

One of the coolest things about running a bookstore is the nighttime raids. On any given evening, when the shop is closed and Jack and I head downstairs to our bedroom den, one of us might say, “Oh, I finished my book.” Thus begins a pleasant twenty minutes of discovery.

Jack and I take turns minding the store, so while we each have a really good idea of inventory, things are likely to come in on the other’s watch that we don’t yet know about. Trolling the shelves brings happy surprises. “Oh, I didn’t know we had the latest Sarah Allen!” Or “Hmm, a book about building fake ship docks and air bases during World War II.”

The little gems sit on our shelves waiting for us to traverse a section, not straightening, not searching, just browsing. It is such a pleasure to browse one’s own bookstore. And that “you can’t judge a book by its cover” thing? Hah. Yes you can. You can tell what’s targeting women – hello gorgeous ballgowns or period dresses with the wearer’s head not shown on the cover–and what’s marketed toward lit lite readers, covers edged in a dignified gilt frame, or photos of faraway cities and characters splashed behind a new author’s name.

A gorgeous photo, the judicious use of color, a drawing where a second glance reveals a second meaning: these are guaranteed to make me flip the book and read the blurb. If I’m not hooked by then, I do the random test taught me by a browsing customer years ago. Open to page 123 and read it. If the author’s writing is personally appealing, take the book downstairs. If not, there are 35,ooo more to browse.

I don’t think this would work if we didn’t live here, as we’re too absent-minded to remember to bring the books back once we’ve read them. And of course, if someone wants something, we have to bring it up from the den. I once sold a book Jack was reading from right off the nightstand, removing his bookmark and swearing later I didn’t remember seeing it. (Don’t tell him; he still doesn’t know I did that.)

Yeah, it’s a business. But when the main lights go out, and the relaxed evening hunt for something to read begins, it’s pure hedonistic happiness to live in a bookstore.

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