Tag Archives: bookshops

Should Auld Aquaintance – – –

A guest post from Jack on a special occasion –

It’s just a year since our beloved Valkyttie passed over the rainbow bridge and we can begin now to celebrate her more memorable escapades without breaking into tears.

Val-Kyttie surveys her domain...

Val-Kyttie surveys her domain…

For newer readers Val was our venerable bookstore cat/manager and was age 19 when she died. She began her life as a tiny abandoned kitten in the Leith cat and dog home in Scotland and we adopted her as soon as Wendy arrived in my homeland (as promised; I bribed her to marry me with early promises of kittens).

Val got her name because she was feisty (the valkyries were warrior princesses), but I wanted to be able to call her ‘Kittie’ for short. She displayed her bravery starting in her sixth week of life, by seeing off a local tom (ten times her size) who tried to use our yard as a shortcut. A seasoned traveler she moved effortlessly from Fife to Lancashire, then across the Atlantic to the US. Everywhere she lived, she established as her undisputed domain and took full charge.

When ‘The Little Bookstore’ was published we insisted she appear on the cover and the artist, a cat lover, obliged; she is sitting on the roof of our front porch. When the publishers of the large print edition asked for a photo for that front cover, we gave them a picture our friend Elissa took of Our Matriarch in full managerial mode, surrounded by bookshelves. Whether by accident or design, the Polish, Portuguese and Korean editions all have her hiding somewhere on their covers. Of course that means she garnered many new friends all over the world, while many of her less distant fans asked specially to meet her when they visited the bookstore.

During the last couple of years of her life, she had to put up with a continual stream of foster kittens. She could be quite stern with them, yet displayed grandmotherly traits with the more wayward ones.

Just yesterday our good chef Kelley made bacon and eggs for my breakfast and I found myself automatically moving to a less accessible corner to eat it. I realized that I was remembering that Valkyttie always noisily insisted on her share of the bacon.

When we lived in the tiny rural village of New Gilston in Fife she would always accompany us when we walked along our favorite woodland trail. In January I was in Scotland for the funeral of a friend and scattered Val’s ashes among those same trees.

That’s when I shed my tears. Now we just think of the happy times. Every cat is special, but once in awhile, a special x ten cat comes along. Valkyttie was special x 100.

And now she lives on; a friend of Wendy’s got ‘hold of another cracker of a photo Elissa took, and Valkyttie’s message will never die.

Valkyttie antiquated bookstores meme valkyttie bookstore meme Valkyttie meme

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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.

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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.

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The Green Green Grass of Home – – –

In Jack’s weekly guest post he continues to complain – whit’s he like?

One of the things I’ve never really got used to living here, is the rate that everything suddenly starts growing once the temperature rises and the summer thunderstorms hit. I mean grass, weeds and things that might or might not be weeds. One of our regular customers paused to admire some mint that’s taking over part of the front yard and asked if she could volunteer her daughters to ‘tidy up’. Please, please I said!

Between running the bookstore, an annual tour of Scotland, an annual Celtic festival, a weekly radio show and trying to keep on top of the upkeep of a 1903 building, there’s little time left for gardening.

The irony, of course, is that even if we had the time and inclination, we are actually completely useless gardeners. We grow tomato plants from seed and then plant them out where they quickly die – same with most other things – potatoes, peas, brussel sprouts, peppers – – -. We rarely even keep house-plants going for any time.

Meanwhile that pesky grass needs mowing, and the weeds need whacking – assuming I don’t expire trying to get the mower and weed-whacker started!

But wait! “What light through yonder window breaks – – – -”

So yes – Sunshine is good and so is the lack of snow, not to mention longer days and tee-shirt temperatures. I’ll fly into Edinburgh this Monday morning and will be reminded of that quite forcibly I suspect! So I can’t complain can I?

“Sumer is icumen in – – – -“

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Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Jack’s guest post today –

Regular readers may recall that I tend to favor non-fiction and particularly histories of one kind or another. So our recent visit to colonial Williamsburg suited me down to the ground. As a ‘New American’ myself it was fascinating to be immersed in the life of those other newcomers of the mid 1700s.

UJ

 

 

 

The first thing to catch my attention were all the union flags dotted around, but it took me a little while to work out why they seemed a bit strange. There was no red saltire! Just the white one signifying Scotland. Then it dawned on me – the red saltire is for Ireland and it was a colony as well then, so wasn’t part of Great Britain/The United Kingdom.

Williamsburg is a small compact town containing some eighty original houses and many other reconstructed ones, all laid out between the Governor’s Palace at one end and the Capitol at the other. in between is a mixture of domestic homes, taverns and shops where re-enactors play out the everyday life of the 1760s through the 1780s. I was continually reminded that there was no ‘United States’ at the start – just a collection of individual colonies that started as English and then became British (the last Governor was a Scot).

Something I was very aware of as we explored the town over a couple of days was how different this part of Virginia would have been compared to where we live here in Big Stone Gap. Williamsburg would have been the epitome of sophisticated living with fine furnishings and modern amenities for the day, whereas SW Virginia would have been the outer reaches of the frontier (hhmmm – let me just think about that again – – -)

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At various times each day there were specific little scenes played out by specially knowledgeable actors taking the part of prominent citizens of the time. The members of the audience at these events were invited to ask questions and play a part as the tableaux unfolded. My favorite one involved a young man playing the part of the Marquis de Lafayette. He was himself half French and half American and his knowledge of the history of the time was very impressive. As soon as he heard my accent he showed his understanding of the complicated relationship betwixt Scotland, England and France as a backdrop to the American War of Independence. Remembering that we had to stay in the correct time-frame, I asked him if he thought the American Revolution would have a ‘knock-on effect’ in France and his reply was very interesting. He said he favored a constitutional monarchy! But he feared that, unless Louis paid attention to what was happening, there could be a real and bloody revolution – – –

 

Other events were equally enlightening, but my highlight was still the Marquis.

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A Shopsitter’s Christmas

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Henry

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

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“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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I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts!

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Boo!

That’s a lie. I totally am.

I’m not saying I actually believe in ghosts, but I’ve been blessed, or cursed, depending on your perspective, with a vivid imagination. I also made the mistake of watching The Changeling with George C. Scott, when I was in the fourth grade. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it…IF YOU WANT TO BE SCARED OF THE DARK FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! 

But I digress.

Not only is my imagination more active than most, I am also inexplicably drawn to the macabre. I enjoyed graveyard tours when I was in grade school. Still do, in fact. I’m one of those wide-eyed nuts that asks, always with the benefit of broad daylight, “Is it haunted?!”  I’m eager to hear all the stories. I want ALL THE DETAILS.  And then I need to sleep with the lights on.

When I arrived at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, I was delighted. It was exactly what I had expected. A wonderful old house, certainly with an interesting history, stuffed full of kittens and books. My two favorite things!

I met wonderful people. I played with the cats. I learned to crochet.

And then I did it. I asked the question that was sure to leave me sleepless for the rest of my stay.

“Is it haunted?!?!”

“Only a little”, I was told.

“Just the kitchen”, Kelley said.

“It’s a friendly ghost”, Erin assured me.

“Nothing to worry about”, they both agreed.

And I wasn’t worried. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, after all.

Now it’s night. Everyone has gone home, and I am getting ready for bed. I’m not scared. I don’t believe in ghosts. I walk quietly about my room. NOT nervously, I can tell you. NOT listening for every little house settling sound. No way. Not me. But then I hear it. A sound that does not sound like an ordinary house sound. A small cry. A small mournful cry. A small mournful GHOST cry! It’s the Kitchen Ghost! It’s coming for me! It’s…it’s…it’s a loose floorboard. I step back and forth a few times listening to the small squeal that now sounds perfectly innocent. I get into bed. As I drift off, my last thoughts are how happy I am to be here. How much I love the bookstore, and the town…and didn’t I close that closet door?

 

 

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