Tag Archives: books

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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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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The Monday Book

I Should Have Stayed Home: The Worst Trips of the Great Writers – Roger Rapoport

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Jack is doing the Monday book this week (Wendy will do the Wednesday post)

I hardly read novels these days, much preferring history, biography or memoirs. This collection of short stories by fifty well known authors, most of them travel writers, falls into the memoir category I suppose.

I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced a ‘journey from hell’ at some point. Rapoport was able to persuade these well-known authors to contribute their particular ones. Some are funny and others are truly scary!

The idea originated with a student essay competition run in conjunction with a travel writers’ conference and the winning entry is included here.

Among the more famous contributors are Paul Theroux and Barbara Kingsolver and this brings me to the only problem I really have with the collection. Obviously there are great many different writing styles and some appealed to me more than others.

There are stories that focus on the sheer discomfort of certain modes of transport such as a hair-raising ride through the Egyptian desert in an ancient bus with an even more ancient driver. Others are more about culture clash and these tend to be more poignant and reflective.

Perhaps my favorite was about a stay in a supposed hotel that turned out to be a collection of huts that were infested – first of all with cockroaches and then with lizards that ate the cockroaches.

The book held my attention all the way through, though, and I can definitely recommend it as a good bed-time read that can be dipped into a few stories at a time over succeeding nights.

Maybe 4 stars out of 5.

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Nothin’ scary ’bout the Bookstore – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post beats the deadline!

One of our favorite times here in the bookstore is Halloween when the shops in town provide treats to the kids. We’re a bit different because our treat is a free book! This sometimes comes as a bit of a shock for a couple of reasons. First of all we invite the kids to come in and choose a book from the ‘kids’ room’, and secondly, they occasionally  expect something of a more candy-ish nature. I discovered years ago that inviting kids into the shop is considered a bit scary around here (they usually expect to just stand at the door and get a ‘treat’). For us it’s a treat to see upwards of a hundred kids with their parents traipsing in and out clutching a book and the costumes are usually amazing.

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trunk 3

trunk 1   trunk 2

 

 

 

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Contact – Chocks Away!

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually something of a book review –

The History of The Pound (Rhonda Robertson, Nancy Clark Brown)

Pound is a small town to the north of Big Stone Gap and is sometimes referred to as ‘The Pound’. It’s believed to have gotten its name from one of the surveyors who first mapped the area.

We often receive donations of books into Tales of the Lonesome Pine and this book came in one such box. As I gave it a cursory glance through I realized that it was not only very well written and researched for a privately published book, but it covered a wider area than just the town of Pound.

As I began to check it out more thoroughly I came to a section called ‘aviation in Wise County’. As many of you will know, I’m a sucker for anything to do with airplanes so I was mightily intrigued!

I already knew that one of the streets here in Big Stone Gap is called aviation road and had heard rumors of an airstrip out that way at one time. Here finally was the whole story, and it really is a fascinating one!

The first flight was on 4th July 1913 but the pilot failed to clear trees at the end of the ball park being used and the plane was damaged beyond repair. The first completely successful flight was on June 21st 1915 and was followed by more a week or so later. These also took place at the ball park. It was 1920 before there were more demonstration flights – first at the ball park and then from a farm near East Stone Gap.

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Curtiss Jenny

It was in 1923 that a dedicated permanent airfield was finally established at Big Stone Gap across the river from the ball park, which is exactly where aviation road is today. Once the airfield was operational quite few local people purchased planes – mostly war-surplus ‘Curtiss Jennies’ and British ‘Avros’. Among these owners were some based in the town of Appalachia and they established ‘Cumberland Airways Inc’, buying and refurbishing Jennies and Avros and then re-selling them after testing at the Big Stone Gap airfield. It seems that following this burst of activity the use of the field tapered off and it fell into disrepair and finally was bought by a gentleman who lived close by and didn’t want planes near his house. He required anyone wishing to fly there to get permission from him and there’s no evidence he ever gave it.

In 1938 a completely new airfield called The Powell Valley Airport was built at Crackers Neck just outside Big Stone Gap and a flying school was established there, closing in 1942 and re-opening in 1945. Following a fire in 1948 it closed for good and flying in the area moved to the town of Wise with the establishment of Lonesome Pine Airport which continues to operate successfully up to the present day.

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I wonder if there any traces of the three Big Stone Gap airfields still to be found – – –

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King’s Mountain?

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is, OF COURSE, late again –

A Dance called America – James Hunter

This isn’t really a book review, but I thought I’d better head this post that way, as much of what will come next is from my reading of this excellent and informative book.

The Battle of King’s Mountain is seen in this area and taught in US schools as a pivotal event in the American War of Independence. While that is certainly true, there is another way of seeing it that has a lot to do with centuries of Scottish history.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the ‘Scotch Irish’ and their settling in Southern Appalachia. These were the children of lowland Scots who themselves had moved to the north of Ireland and established plantations there. These children grew up to find they were unpopular in Ireland and with little economic prospects. So they moved to the ‘New World’ and specifically to Appalachia.

However Gaelic speaking highlanders from Scotland had already emigrated to the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia earlier. These were relatively wealthy ‘tack men’ very high in the clan pecking order and just below the level of clan chief. Once in the Americas they established cotton and tobacco plantations (which is why Glasgow and Paisley became the tobacco and cotton ‘capitals’ of Europe).

The forces that met at King’s Mountain in 1780 comprised a loyalist army led by a professional British soldier – Major Patrick Ferguson, who was a Scots highlander, and a contingent of patriots who were mostly drawn from the Scotch-Irish immigrant population. On the British side, apart from Ferguson, the army was all volunteer, and they were mainly Gaelic speaking highlanders from the coast. The patriots were all volunteers and their leaders included many with Scots names.

Patrick_Ferguson

Patrick Ferguson

It should be noted here that back in Scotland there had been centuries of clashes between the northern clans and the southern folk – a fault line between two distinctly different cultures!

I could never understand, however, why two lots of Scots that had been, effectively, forced out of Scotland would end up on opposing sides in what was at that time pretty much an English colony. It seemed odd to me.

But, as Hunter points out, the highlanders considered themselves ‘upper class’ and aristocratic before all else and saw the patriots as lower-class peasants who needed to be put in their place. So they aligned themselves with their ‘peers’ in London rather than their fellow countrymen. In doing so they inadvertently simply continued a long tradition of Scottish history – albeit in a foreign land.

Footnotes –

When the war ended with victory for the patriots, a great many of the highlanders who had been captured didn’t return to the Carolinas and Georgia. Instead they made new lives in Canada. At the present time there are more native Gaelic speakers in Canada than in Scotland.

The last native Gaelic speaker in North Carolina died in the late 1800s. He was a Presbyterian Pastor and an African-American!

Shortly after these events the highlands of Scotland suffered ‘The Clearances’, and this resulted in a much stronger feeling of solidarity between the Gaelic and Scots cultures, which has continued to strengthen down to the present.

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Jack of All Trades and – – –

Jack just scrapes in under the wire – –

I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, so here goes again, Probably – –

Not too long before I retired from a twenty-year career in the community college in my home town I was ‘persuaded’ by my Principal (Chancellor) at the third time of asking, to embark on a MBA. I had been teaching management programs and so I suppose that made sense. I had free choice about which program and didn’t know that there was a ‘pecking order’ out there in terms of difficulty and/or credibility in the wider world. So, I opted for Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. I chose it simply because of proximity and the flexibility of the timetable. I didn’t know it was notoriously rigorous, difficult and high in the pecking order!

I quickly found that there two clearly different groups of subjects – half were ‘soft skills’ – team dynamics, leadership, marketing – that sort of thing. I loved that, understood it and found it very self-affirming. Then there were the math focused ones – finance, statistics etc. I hated them because I’m completely useless at math. But I struggled through and finally got there!

What on earth has this to do with a bookstore in a small Southern town?

One of the things I clearly remember from my studies and research was this. The most loyal customers any business can have are the ones that have a problem that you manage to fix.

Yesterday morning a young lady came into our store to see if a book she had ordered had arrived. I didn’t recognize her and asked if I’d done the ordering. “No” she said – I think it was your wife and it was a couple of weeks ago. I searched through all the email confirmations of the orders we’d done and there was no trace of it. As panic set in I phoned Wendy.

It turned out that she had made the order at the exact moment that E-Bay shut down their Half Dot Com subsidiary. She honestly thought she’d ordered the book but it hadn’t gone through. I’m absolutely certain we aren’t the only ones to have gotten caught by this.

The customer was most understanding when I explained what had happened, but she needed it for a class starting on Monday and needed to read it before then. I immediately went to an alternative site and found a seller that could get it to me overnight.

It came in today, I phoned her and she got it with four days to spare. It cost her just the $6 she’d paid when ordered and us another $6 to get it for her, so we made nothing – but – I’m completely certain that she will sing our praises much, much more than if it had just come when it was expected.

The lesson?

You don’t need an MBA to make a customer happy – – –

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