Tag Archives: bookstore sitter

Invasion of the Life Swappers (NYC style)

I happen to know, based on very good intelligence, that Jack and Wendy are even now walking the streets of New York City. I can only assume their goal is to replace me and live out my life as I live out theirs. It’s like Freaky Friday, but less Jodie Foster, Barbara Harris, Lindsay Lohan, and Jamie Lee Curtises.

Luckily, I thought ahead and laid a few traps:

– I let all the other New Yorkers know to be really gruff and short-tempered. I only heard back from the cab-drivers, police officers, and subway employees… hopefully that’ll be enough.

– I pumped a lot of hot dog stink into the air and let all my pet rats go in the subway.

– That top lock to my apartment is super sticky. You’ll never get it undone.

– I told the exterminator not to bother with his monthly visit (Hint: the floor in my apartment doesn’t usually crunch like that).

But just in case this freaky Friday (not sure when this will be posted, but I wrote it on Friday!) never ends and I live out my life in Big Stone Gap while Jack and Wendy chill on my couch in Brooklyn, I’ll be making some changes around here.

– I’m now telling people that there’s a typo in Wendy’s book: “Yeah, they made a printing error. It’s supposed to say Andrew Whalen on the cover, but they misspelled it.”

– I renamed the store. You don’t want to know what it’s called now.

– All your friends? Stole ‘em.

– My proposal to rename the town Big Stone gAndrew hasn’t gained traction yet. I’m still optimistic.

But seriously, Jack and Wendy, have a nice time. And don’t eat all the pizza! I might want some later.

Editorial note from Wendy: Andrew doesn’t know that we looked up Ali Fisher, his girlfriend, and told her a few things. We praised Andrew’s increase of our 18-25 female demographic; we rarely had college girls in the shop before he came, but there’s been a veritable stream of them since his arrival. She seemed intrigued.

We also mentioned all the maternal types in town who have been dropping off stews, soups and casseroles since Andrew arrived, and how he’d gotten used to living large in a small town, his every whim catered. We suggested she bone up on a couple of “Cooking with Campbell’s Soups” recipe books we offered to send her.

If you call her tonight, Andrew, you just might be able to repair the damage….


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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Whuffling Through the Social Sciences

IN THIS EPISODE: Shopsitter Andrew Whalen gets more than he bargained for while trying to impose a little order on life’s chaos….

Things got a little too real today when I tore apart the “-Ology” bookshelf and set out to rebuild it. This shelf contains folklore, sociology, anthropology, self-help, career advice and research best practices.

At first reorganizing was fun. In a confusing world it can be comforting to establish hierarchies and draw borders. This is the appeal of the low-stakes nerd debate. Does it matter if Kirk or Picard were the better starship captain? No, but it feels good to put things in order (this one always seemed easy to me: one survived the reign of Kodos the Executioner, has the middle name Tiberius, passed the Kobayashi Maru test, and defeated conqueror-of-all-Asia Khan Noonien Singh… the other is Picard).

But some chaos cannot be cornered, tagged and boxed. Some chaos can only be whuffled, which is the word I made up to describe the sensation and action of bottling various fogs. Or the word I thought I had made up until I typed it into a search engine and found it used to describe sniffling, gentle affection and thankless online forum moderation. If we’re going by my definition (not endorsed by the Internet) it’s a feeling that accompanies so much of what we try to set in place. And the more I stared down the “-Ology” shelf, the more I begin to think the whole world is made of whuffle.

Yes, whuffle is verb, adjective and noun. It’s very versatile.

Before the “-Ology” shelf this uncertainty seemed very abstract to me. It came up primarily when considering genre. Is it fantasy just because there are swords? Is it sci-fi just because there are spaceships? Read Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and get back to me. Welcome back. See what I mean? And that’s before we get into odd-balls like Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Thomas Pynchon, and Margaret Atwood. No wonder people just gave up and invented the term speculative fiction.

The “-Ology” shelf was supposed to be different. It represents entirely separate realms of human knowledge! It’s like a UN of social sciences, each field a tiny nation-state with its own territories and agendas.

But my distinct borders kept getting knocked down. What to do with Typetalk, which purports to be a study of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, but has self-help cover language promising to aid in determining how you “live, love and work”? Things only blurred more from there. When is a study on families anthropology and when is it sociology? Are Coping with Difficult People and Coping with Difficult Bosses really so different that they should be three shelves apart, one in sociology, the other in career guidance? ARGH.

So I started fresh, with a new theory. I could arrange the shelf like a continuity. There was a spectrum at play, beginning with psychology: the individual opening up onto the family, expanding into the society, then reaching out to other societies and forms of governance before finally drilling back down into the individual stories each society treasures. Brain to Folklore, with all of human experience in between. Made total sense for like two seconds. But things just got worse. And by the end I had almost convinced myself that Life-Span Developmental Psychology and Normative Life Crises was interchangeable with Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads.

I look at the shelf now and see nothing but whuffle. No matter how hard we try (I’m looking at you, Dewey, with all your decimals) nothing exists entirely separate and apart. Categories are cool, but they are never definite. All things interlock and nothing is simple. But as maddening and confusing as that can get for the bookshelf organizer, it probably makes for a more interesting world.


Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Uncategorized, VA

Criminals with Cold Noses

Jack and Wendy will spend today driving and look forward to blogging about their latest bookshop stop tomorrow. Meanwhile, Shopsitter Andrew Whalen bravely staffs the bookstore back in Big Stone Gap despite several obstacles – most of them fuzzy….

I’m not sure that dogs love pizza. But I can say for certain that any box that shows up at the door and smells like food is cause for great excitement in the bookstore. After eating as much as I could stomach I thought to bestow my generosity upon the crazed beasts. A few bits of crust and they seemed content.

The reality was a bit different. Like royalty hurling bread-crumbs to peasants with one hand while biting into a turkey leg clutched in the other, my generosity was a stingy and unpleasant thing to witness. The cats weren’t too interested in pizza, but cats are always interested in passing judgment. And under the disapproving eyes of Beulah, I felt a little bad.

Still, a king has his divine right. And I had my slices. My sweet, sweet breakfast slices. Too bad I also have deep-seated beliefs about the proper treatment of old pizza. You see, I don’t think pizza should ever be treated like left-overs. It’s not legitimate food to be dutifully filed away in tupperware. It should be left out to congeal and get a little gross. Pepperoni is best curled up and dry at the edges. Grease tastes better in slimy pools. Cheese should be allowed to form flavor-rubber. If you’re not risking minor food poisoning when eating your cold pizza, then where’s the fun? So I left my pizza out on the countertop.

The next morning I awoke to a scene of horror. Cardboard was strewn everywhere. Nothing remained and I know there can be no justice. The guilty parties will trot about, unpunished. Even the coupon sheet was missing, no doubt so the dogs can take advantage of MY deals. I can see them now, as I write these words, relaxing together on a chair, blissful in their feigned innocence.

Criminal Masterminds of the Cold-Nose Gang

So now, even after gorging myself the night before, I feel less than content. But don’t worry. I have a plan:

Pizza King is the best pizza ever. It’s doughy hand-tossed style crust and fresh toppings make for a slice good enough to be called an experience. See Pizza King? Endorsements are the future. I’ve got this blog platform primed and ready for Pizza King tie-ins. I can see it now:

“If Heathcliff had tried Pizza King’s new boneless chicken bites Wuthering Heights would have been a whole lot happier!” 

“Sure Mark Twain’s great, but why read The Prince and the Pauper when you can order from the king of the pizza until midnight (or 1 am on weekends)?” 

“With Pizza King’s house-made sauce you’ll be seeing 50 Shades of Flavor!”

Oh, you don’t take blog endorsements in exchange for pizza? Ok then, your loss. Enjoy your fiat currency. We’ll see how far that gets you.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

The Bookshelf Con

(Jack and Wendy have headed off to the first book-signing today, leaving Andrew Whalen, shopsitter, extraordinaire in charge. Here’s Andrew’s guest blog for this weekend.)

I have a big secret:

I’m keeping a little list on the side, like a mob bookie running numbers outside of The Family. The list contains books I’ve found on the shelves here at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and desire… AND I WILL HAVE THEM.

I wrote earlier about the perils of alphabetizing, and I’ve continued to  tackle a shelf a day. It makes me look dutiful and pragmatic. Section by section I can be sure that the shop is in an order I can navigate. It even helps me get to know the stock more, so I can help customers.



You see, I was actually running a long con. Alphabetizing is just the excuse for eye-balling books that I super want to filch. Books that I want to transform from books into possessions.

The thing is, I could probably just hide them. But that would be unsportsmanlike. And the classic gentleman con-man values honor above all else. He also dresses really dapper. Still working on that one. Okay, no I’m not, that’s a lie… or a CON. So I’ve left them in place, visible and perfectly alphabetized. It is up to the whims of the bookstore to determine whether they get sold or not.

At first I figured that my tastes ran weird enough that I was safe. I would not hoard gold, like a dragon, but leave it out for all to see, and still I would win the day and walk away with my reward. But then, justhours after placing one of my beloveds, in comes a customer. He pulled MY book off the shelf. If he had seen me stroking the cover and purring, “YES MY SWEET YES YOU WILL BE MINE,” less than an hour earlier, well, he may have been too grossed out to touch it. But no, he flopped it onto the table and handed over his filthy lucre. “Going to use this for toilet paper… for my incontinent iguana,” he said, in my mind, where I imagined him being an awful person.

So the game’s afoot. The books are out on the shelves. I’m not going to tell you what any of them are, but there are several in the Sci-Fi section, one in General Fiction, and one in History. OR THIS IS A DOUBLE BLUFF.

And now, with this blog post, I’m definitely spilling the beans. The jig is up. Unless this blog post is all part of my elaborate ruse…


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

Did Andrew Survive Day One?

I’m here to write about Tales of the Lonesome Pine, a bookstore that has drawn me to Big Stone Gap, Virginia from Brooklyn, New York, but I’d like to start by writing about an entirely different bookstore. Sorry Wendy.

My grandparents lived in Michigan, in a small town that once had features I wouldn’t realize were treasures until I was much older: a classic overhanging movie theater marquee, weeping willows sagging into brown lake water, and a used bookstore.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it wasn’t exactly a good bookstore, more a bizarre New Age repository. Half “holistic health”, half used books, I’m pretty sure that all the mysterious vials and bottles were little more than snake oil. The books and the pills were divided by a DMZ of occult tomes that both bridged and barricaded the two from each other. I only investigated this shelf in furtive passes, never lingering. The ability to channel my chi, contact gods, unleash the power of my mind and harness my transdimensional submatrix to pick stocks… it was all just too dangerous and mystifying.

The rest of the book section was just three short shelves: one action, one sci-fi, and one western. My grandfather picked over the western, so I never touched it. But the sci-fi and the action, that was my introduction to the cheap page turner. And while I still love to pick up something that burns up under my fingertips as I blast through, there’s only so much Mack Bolan one summer can take. I mean, the guy must kill 300 people per book. My parents tore A Clockwork Orange out of my hands in absolute horror, but little did they know that their sweet 13-year old was rampaging through twelve Die Hard trilogy equivalents a night.

I tried to go back this summer and found it shuttered. I read it as a sign of the end for bookstores. But now here I am, sitting at the main table in Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and I know it will endure, and I know it’s something special. I’ll tell you why.

As you may have heard, Wendy has a book coming out. I cheated and read an early copy on my long Greyhound ride down here. One concept in the book that I was quite taken with is the idea of a “third space.” It’s not work, full of in-fighting and politics. It’s not home, with chores and all those children, pets and relatives who really would like to be fed and sheltered, thank you very much (whiners!). It’s a place to be both who you are and who you would like to be. It’s escapist and comforting. I felt it like a blast of hot air when I first set foot in Tales of the Lonesome Pine. My first day working here only confirmed it. It was a feeling I knew, because I had felt it in that holistic shop when I was young.

But there’s one crucial difference: Tales of the Lonesome Pine is also a fantastic book store. There are actually books here! Books that people might actually want to read! This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s not just a feeling, but the actual tangible presence. Where the Michigan bookstore was a rattling table in a Victorian con-artist’s seance, this place is full on Poltergeist (I really hope this is just a metaphor, but Wendy did allude to a haunted bathtub). Just glancing over the shelves has me impatient to finish my current read (Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep), even though I’m really into it. There’s just more, more, more. More than even Mack Bolan’s machine gun could chew through.

In the coming weeks I hope to write more about the store, but also about Big Stone Gap itself. But for now I’ll leave you with an early anecdote. Jack took me to the local diner and introduced me to one of his friends, saying, “This is Andrew… from New York City.” The man replied, “Well, that’s his problem.” As a midwesterner long skeptical of New York it was the right thing to say. I’ll be back at the diner for breakfast tomorrow. Maybe with some luck I’ll have a suitable rejoinder. And I’ll definitely be trying the biscuits with white gravy, which came highly recommended.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized

Poor, Poor Andrew….

After a lot of unexpected interest, an NPR interview, two articles in the LA Times, a mild amount of controversy, and several thousand reprints and reblogs, our shopsitter position is filled.

Andrew Whalen, a nice lad from Gahanna, Ohio (no jokes, thank you) is a member of the film industry workforce in NYC. From a pool of more than 100, whittled down to 3 finalists, we picked him. Poor kid.

Because when we posted this on Facebook:

After much discussion and a prayer, we have asked Andrew Whalen, an Ohio native working in NYC’s film industry, to shopsit while we’re out trying to make every English-reading person in America like Wendy’s book. Big Stone Gappers please make him welcome! (And please do not take him to High Knob for a snipe hunt. Thank you.)
This is what happened:


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA