Tag Archives: community

Shopsitter Janelle says Farewell

We’re running a bit behind on timing because of the author humiliation contest – more entries posted Friday! This is our first shopsitter of the summer’s farewell post, and Kelly, our second shopsitter will be sending a post next week. (BTW, if you’re interested in shopsitting, we are looking for a week in October and a couple of weeks in December.)

Sadly, our shopsitting visit is soon coming to an end already.

We are excited about the potential of our final day sitting the shop, and we are tickled to have company coming for lunch tomorrow, too…folks that moved from our home area near Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Chuckey, Tennessee, several years ago. We just now realized how near to them we are while here.

To be honest, this shopsitting gig has been far more like a vacation than work. We have come to feel far more like family than “hired” help. And we have done more reading and relaxing than we have work. The latter I understand, I think. If I were home I’d find plenty to do (I’m pretty sure I have weeds waiting for me in my yard, taller than I am) but no matter how much work I invent for myself to do here (like re-organizing book stacks or putting sections of books back into alphabetical order or sweeping the front porch or doing dishes or laundry) I’ve still been getting to read and visit with guests (and Facebook) more than I would if I were at home this week.

And as for relaxing vacation, I’m not completely sure what to make of that, but I think it’s the Wendy factor. She has told her local people to make us feel welcome, and they sure have. We have been included in invitations to dinner and swim aerobics and church and told where the local walking/running trail is numerous times…and been included in pretty much all else that has gone on while we have been here. We have eaten nearly every meal offered (that will need to be addressed when we get home, too!) and, when I think about it, taken up very few of the exercise offers presented us. But Wendy threw out on Facebook that we wanted to do some local hiking, and after all sorts of suggestions for where we should/could go, kind friend Destiny simply said she would come and lead us, and she and her son Jack did!

I learned a lot while we were here; there is no question. I go home no less eager to one day have my own bookstore, no less eager to have Natalie bake and maybe cook for me like Kelley does in the Second Story Cafe here. Wendy and Kelley make that all look like a very easy, symbiotic relationship, not a “tough” job at all.

Wendy does, indeed, make it all look enjoyable and easy…although I do fear that I’d find in my own shop lots to do instead of this relaxed “I could do that” style. We prevented Wendy’s work from getting done sometimes with plenty of conversations, several good meals, a mutual glass of wine or bottle of beer here or there. Sometimes I really wanted her to go “make stuff,” assured that we could manage things here, and when she did, that’s when I felt I was contributing the most.

Otherwise, let’s be honest: I’d far prefer to hear her conversation with a guest to the shop–the exchange of local chit-chat, or updates on pet adoptions or procedures, or discussion of a new book, or valuing of books brought in for trade. If she wasn’t really “gone” from the shop, it was too easy for her to step in and do those things, and I seized the opportunities, then, to learn from the master.

I’ve very much enjoyed this adventure with my two youngest daughters, watching them melt kitten hearts and make new friends, devour books (Natalie stayed up until 2:40AM Saturday night…err, Sunday morning… finishing Water For Elephants, which she had started only the night before. It’s one of my all-time favorite books! How can I be upset with that activity?!) And I loved us getting to see, together, parts of the country we had not previously visited. Delaney’s determination to be THE one to get to “do the Square” any time a customer paid with a card or to be the one to take their cash, for that matter, showed me she has those super original cashier skills, communicating clearly and doing math in her head to make change (rather than NEED a cash register to do it for her). We go home with a new bond of mutual adventure and with many memories to share.

It’s like reading a book with someone, only better. The girls and I have shared a tremendous adventure, and I can only imagine how soon we’ll all talk about coming back! I imagine it will come up in the thirteen-hour ride home.Janelle on porch
Thanks for your hospitality, all. We have had a great time!


1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

A Little Help from our Friends

gutted buildingEvery year in September Jack and I trot happily off to emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Tennessee. This year the chaos of getting away from a busy time at the shop and in my new book prep had us flying out the door Friday at 5 pm, shouting “and don’t forget to give Bert his pill” to Thom, the poor lad we’d sucked in at 10 that morning to shopsit the rest of the day. Since we’d be back Sunday and the animals have feeders and water jugs, and the yard is fenced, we weren’t worried. We got to our luxury hotel, bounced on the king sized sleigh bed a few times, and went out to grab an Indian meal.burning 2

When we awoke next morning to Facebook postings from home about the building downtown that had burned, you can imagine the luxuriated, lazy blood in my veins turning to jelly.

The building was a block away; no one was in it; all is as well as it can be. But I panicked, thinking about our three staff cats (one of whom resides by choice outside) two staff dogs (Bert the Terrier is terrified of loud noises) and three foster cats, sojourning with us until their forever families find them. Would Bert have dug under the fence to get away from an event so reminiscent of the dreaded thunderstorm? Would Beulah (outside greeter) be run over in the chaos of downtown fire traffic? Ernest Hemingway, our newest foster, landed with us Friday morning. He’d never even spent a night in our house; we took him straight from the shelter to have his balls cut off, thence home to abandon him for two days, and the firetrucks came. burning 1

(“Call this a rescue?” I could hear Ernie thinking. “Take me back to the shelter! I’ll take my chances!”)

So I did what any modern American woman panicking does: got on Facebook and begged our Saturday shopsitters Wes and Rachael to let me know as soon as they got there if everything was okay. And here’s what happened


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Everyone’s Special Space

Our bookstore could not do without its cleaning lady, Heather. Heather has three important functions: keep long-term grime from accumulating; remove and regroup immediate clutter; and intimidate us into general tidiness that won’t slip below a certain level.

She performs each of these with dignity, grace, and humor. And the cats love her.

Heather and her husband David have two boys. Reese, their older son, is autistic. The family lives about four doors down the street, and once when David brought him in for a minute, Reese started one of those fits that all parents of special needs children dread. The one that looks like a tantrum but is a natural part of how this child is hardwired. The one that looks like bad parenting to people who can’t hear the music the family is dancing to.

Having spent a lot of my storytelling career working with special needs kids, I told David then, “Look, if you’re worried he’ll hurt himself or unlearn behavior you’ve been working on, that’s one thing. But if you’re afraid he’ll upset us, don’t worry.” That was years ago, but it’s created a space for Reese ever since.

reeseSo when the family got ready to lobby in DC for the March of Dimes campaign this year, Reese came to the bookstore to “practice” public etiquette. He was asked to ask before he touched knick-knacks, to stay away from the fridge and microwave–his two favorite bookstore items–and to sit down for a minute at a time. All of which he did well.

It’s hard for the Reeses of this world to get space for practicing, let alone just being. If you want to read a great article about “public space” and the autistic angle on “separate but equal,” Heather reposted one from the March 16 http://www.slate.com: “Where Should Special Needs Kids be Special? Tricky Questions about how to share Public Spaces.”

Meanwhile, Reese and the family are welcome anytime at our bookstore–and at Malaprop’s in Asheville, where the family surprised us by coming to a book talk I gave there. Reese did his signature bird tweets for most of the talk, and nobody in the audience minded a bit, because they’d been told ahead of time who Heather was and what Reese was likely to do.

It’s just one more reason to be proud of–and support–small independent bookstores, because we (as in community bookshops) get what the article author Amy Lutz said, “But what I keep coming back to is that community, by definition, is inclusive. Ideally, our public spaces should accommodate everyone.”

Amen, sister.


Filed under bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, small town USA, Uncategorized

Events, Dear Boy, Events (Harold MacMillan)

Jack is guest blogging today and tomorrow because Wendy is holed up in our cabin under strict instructions from her agent Pamela to produce another best-seller by Monday.


As regular readers will be aware we run lots of events here in the bookstore – writers’ group, yarn spinners, movie night, gourmet night among others. Last night was our monthly discussion group, known as ‘Let’s Talk’ – the brain-child of our good friend and Pastor Tony. He wanted to hold regular non-confrontational discussions of whatever topics folk wanted to suggest and on ‘neutral territory’.

This has become a highlight event and a runaway success and the topics have ranged from the nature of evil to nose-picking in public (this was suggested, with a completely straight face, by our erstwhile shop-sitter Andrew).

Last night our subject was ‘Education’, suggested by Wendy and, in her absence, led off by me. We addressed a range of issues, including ‘what do we mean by education?’, ‘who are the clients that educators are responsible to?’, and ‘what is the role of the state in education?’

So – what were the most significant conclusions we came to?

1)      Learning doesn’t just happen during formal classes and continues your whole life.

2)      Teachers should be of the highest caliber and paid accordingly (interestingly, the highest rated education system in the world is in Finland where all teachers must be educated to Masters level, are well paid and teach small classes. Despite this the cost per student is a third less than the US system.)

3)      The state does have an interest, since it uses tax money to pay for the system, however this often results in simplistic and frequent testing that usually disrupts learning. (Again – in Finland students are only tested once between ages 7 and 16).

Along the way, as usual, we wandered off down fascinating byways and our Moderator Tony had to use his lasso to get us back on the main road.

So – what does ‘Let’s Talk’ signify for me? Actually many things: the place of our bookstore in the community, the proof that learning is a lifelong activity, the ability of a disparate group of folk to discuss often contentious subjects without coming to blows and how, even in a small rural community, weighty subjects can be discussed knowledgeably.

Much thanks to Wes for pulling up the Finnish information on his tablet as the discussion progressed.


Filed under Uncategorized

Guest Blog from Jack – Storytelling in the bookstore

Last Friday saw us back in storytelling territory when our friend the eminent and highly regarded teller Mary Hamilton visited the bookstore to promote her book Kentucky Folktales. We last met up with Mary and her husband Charles when we were ‘booking down the road’ back in January and stayed with them in their home in Frankfort KY.

Many of you will know that Wendy plied her trade as a professional storyteller for many years in the US, Canada, Scotland and England, and is a past member of the boards of the National Storytelling Network here in the US and the Scottish Storytelling Forum. So Wendy’s and Mary’s paths have intersected a fair few times over the years and it was a delight to welcome her to our bookstore.

How wonderful it was again to be part of an intimate gathering of folk sharing the joy of the spoken word and living stories that have been passed down from generation to generation including at least one that had ‘crossed the pond’ from Europe. In the Q&A session following the readings and tellings we had a fascinating discussion about the difference between those things and the challenges for a teller in writing down stories and then reading those stories that she had originally told orally.

There’s a big opportunity for bookstores to host storytellers, and not just for kids’ events. We always have storytelling for Valentine’s Day and Halloween in our store, with the first half hour for kids and the remaining time very definitely NOT for them. It’s another great way to connect with your community and that community has lots of stories to share.


Filed under Uncategorized

Malaprop’s Sweet Malaprop’s

One of the fun things about running around touring a book is all the great bookslingers you meet in shops you’ve not seen before: Ann at Spiral Bookcase, Ruth of Book People.

Then there are the old familiars, like Malaprop’s.

I’ve been going to Malaprop’s since college, when I discovered the South’s San Francisco in Asheville, North Carolina. For those who haven’t been, Asheville is a city full of hats, dogs and same sex couples. It’s one of the best places to eat for 400 miles. And it’s got Malaprop’s.

Thirty years old this year, Malaprop’s is one of those Dr. Who bookstores that’s bigger inside than out. It’s got a cafe that serves things with long names ending in “o” made by guys who take their work waaaay too seriously. It’s got floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves in old dark wood, and cool staff. You can buy just about any snarky magnet or bumper sticker you ever imagined.

It’s got style.

Malaprop’s was a book talk I really looked forward to giving, and it did not disappoint–not even when I arrived to find myself advertised (next to Barbara Kingsolver and Ron Rash) for NOVEMBER 28th. See the woman between Jack and me? That’s Elizabeth. She runs events at Malaprop’s. That’s why she’s grinning like that.

Elizabeth was lovely, and that one piece of card had the only errant date. Their copious mailing list, the flyers on the windows, even the one on the back of the toilet stall door, gave the correct date, and I am pleased to say we had a capacity crowd: a new author whose book debuts in February, an Atlanta businessman retiring to the mountains, two couples from the town, some bookstore lovers, and–wonder of wonders–our dear friends the Volks from Big Stone Gap! They’d decided to surprise us and make a weekend of it in Asheville.

Jack and I talked about the world we live in now, full of convenience over community, one-click shopping and easy choices whose consequences lay buried behind time and media messages. I repeated my mantra that I don’t object to Amazon wanting to be the biggest, but to their wanting to be the only. We talked about Malaprop’s online service–one click, but still part of the big picture, not its whole. And we reminded ourselves, as an audience in the Q&A afterward, that what Malaprop’s and the other independents offer is a sense of place, an anchor for the place to go and enjoy oneself on a Saturday. Take away Malaprop’s and the yarn store next door, the chocolate shop across the street, the Himalayan Imports store will lose business, and wither. Malaprop’s is big and strong. It pulls customers up the street past other enticing store windows, creating commerce: commerce that sustains the heart of a downtown community.

Convenience is nice, the assembly agreed, but it’s a commodity, not a virtue. It behooves us as American bibliophiles to remember that.

Thanks, Malaprop’s (and Elizabeth) for having me there, and for being there.


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

Why I am a Bookshoptimist

We hear a lot these days about how bricks and mortar bookstores are closing, the big ones often taken down by Amazonians shooting fiery economic spread sheets. But below the radar, humming along in strip malls and back corners and converted garages, people are still selling books: like Debbie out in Buffalo, Missouri, who took $800 from her life’s savings, bought a dormer and set it on a concrete slab, then called her friends to bring their cast-offs. That’s how she opened. She’s still there.

So is Ann in Philadelphia, who just celebrated her second anniversary as a new-and-used store AND just adopted Amelia, the first shop staff-cat. And Joe in Tupelo, who went down to his Barnes and Noble with flyers announcing the opening hours and trade credit policies of his independent used bookstore, and stuck them to the windshields of the cars parked there.

Over Christmas 2011 Jack and I visited 42 independent bookstores in 10 states; the trip is in my book, but the day-by-day visits make up the BOOKING DOWN THE ROAD TRIP section of this blog site. Some incredible, resilient people out there are running bookshops.

They know, as Jack and I do, that bookstores are so much more than retail concerns: intellectual pubs, the place where people find someone to talk to; quiet places in which to catch your breath for fifteen browsing minutes; where you can find the books that will never be made into movies, never make landfall on a top ten list, but whose gentle stories deserve notice; the watering hole of human spirits that may not even be all that like-minded, but unite in believing that commercial viability isn’t the sole criterion for ranking an idea’s importance.

Plus, bookstores are part of that diminishing “third space” network made up of neighborhood diners, family greenhouses, little yarn shops, and the other places not run from a national office or housed in a box store–those “third spaces” where we are not part of the office staff, nor fulfilling a designated role in a family, but being ourselves. Just ourselves.

Remember when farmers markets made a comeback? A backlash erupted against the fast food lifestyle: too much sodium, too little quality. I think American consumers are beginning to feel the same about bookstores. Readers have returned to awareness of how much more fun it is to shop with real people than online. Realization is dawning that—like breaded, fried fast food versus a slow-cooked home supper—faster and cheaper is not always better (and that the price difference might not be as high as one might think, either).

A growing number of customers eschew the “savings” of buying online, recognizing that “bargain” hides costs too dear to pay–losing a lifestyle of strolling to the corner shop and talking to other bibliophiles browsing the shelves, severing human connections. It makes us happy to know that Flossie (Union Ave), Cheryl (Burke’s), Jennifer (Wise Old Owl) and the rest are out there offering access, ambiance and advice. I’ll pay more to keep them there, because what they do for us is priceless. I think other people will, too.

Just call us bookshoptimists.


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