Tag Archives: female friendships

The Monday Book: THE SUPREMES AT EARL’S ALL YOU CAN EAT by Edward Kelsey Moore

earl'sI read this book while at the On the Same Page Literary Festival in West Jefferson, NC. Five of us were featured alongside Edward Kelsey Moore as festival headliner, and he was FUNNYYYY!!!! His talk Thursday night not only held good writing advice, but a very humanitarian approach to life.

Which shows in his novel. Men rarely write such sure-voiced women, but he’s got the sassy, the scared, the secure and insecure down. His book is the kind of funny where you’re laughing until you’re crying, but then maybe you’re crying because you know the feeling the characters (Odette, Barbara Jean, and Clarice) are experiencing.

The voices of these best friends are so accurate, both in gender and in dialect. Take this little gem: “Something Mama liked to say: “I love Jesus, but some of his representatives sure make my ass tired.”

Yeah, this book is irreverent. As the women struggle with Big Issues like cancer, infidelity, and a few other lesser details, they clean up, lay down laws, and pretty much rock and rule. And come out with some humdingers along the way, like when Odette clear-headedly assesses why she’s cooking herself into a lather:

“Our annual January get-together was a long-running tradition, going back to the first year of our marriage. The truth, even though he denies this, is that the first party was an attempt by James to prove to his friends that I wasn’t as bad a choice of a mate as I seemed. Richmond and Ramsey—and others, most likely—had warned James that a big-mouthed, hot-tempered woman like me could never be properly tamed. But James was determined to show them that I could, on occasion, be as domestic and wifely as any other woman. I suspect he’s still trying to convince them.”

Knowing I’d be reviewing it, the phrase that kept asserting itself as I read was “life-affirming.” Or maybe that’s just a hyphenated word. Anyway, it’s an accurate description of what on the surface might be considered “latte lit” yet runs so much deeper than its genre. Like the author Lorna Landvik and a few others, Moore is a careful consumer of humanity (it was fun watching him watch people at the funder’s breakfast) with a kind-hearted approach to how the world works. It shows in his writing.

Two enthusiastic coffee mugs up for this sweet, fun, thoughtful read.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The People that we Meet (and the Shortbread that they Eat)

IMG_4239Since the weather turned this Spring, Jack and I have been enjoying a fairly steady stream of visitors from book clubs. The one on the right, with Jack holding court, is from Christiansburg, with Pamela Hale (in the green dress) at the helm.

Book clubs (as well as posses of gal pals) have discovered we’re a good day out, that, as one visitor put it “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is accessible in every sense of the word!” Clubs from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky have visited this past month – not to mention the closer gang of Upward Bound kids from right here in the county.

It’s fun, playing host, answering questions about the book or the bookstore, and running our cafe. We have always served soups and sandwiches, but since the rise of the book clubs we’ve expanded our menu to include more British delicacies; cold cucumber soup remains a “never had this before” favorite for many visitors.)IMG_3637

We’ve also had several book clubs from farther away (Illinois and California, lately) email to ask questions or make observations from their discussions. One group that recently got in touch does that cool book club thing where they theme their refreshments to the books they’re reading.  Barbara, the host next month for Little Bookstore, emailed and asked ever so politely if Jack shared his shortbread recipe, as she’d serve that with cups of tea.

IMG_3636Cups of tea, as those of you who have read it know, is a recurring theme in Little Bookstore, and along with the story of Wee Willie and some comments about the cats, it’s what most readers mention most often, and sometimes first.  Jack and I hear “I’ll put the kettle on” often from people when talking about the book.

So, if you’re in the neighborhood and fancy a drive, we’ll put the kettle on for you. And if you’re too far away, but fancy some Scottish shortbread, here’s Jack’s mum’s recipe:

Sugar 3 ounces (1/3 cup); Flour 8 ounces (2 cups); Butter 6 ounces (1 and a half sticks)

(all weights are dry – NOT fluid ounces)

Sift flour and sugar into a bowl. After butter has softened at room temperature work it by hand into the mixed flour and sugar until it has become a fairly stiff dough (this will take a few minutes – be patient!).

Dust your work-surface with flour and roll out the dough to about ½ inch thick. Cut rectangles about 7 inches by 3 inches and use a flat spatula to transfer them to a buttered baking tray. Use a fork to prick the surface of the dough rectangles all over. Place the tray in the oven preheated to 3750 .

Keep checking until the edges of the rectangles are beginning to slightly brown (usually about 15 – 20 minutes). Remove from the oven and set the tray aside to cool. While the baked rectangles are still warm, carefully cut them into strips 3 inches by 1 inch (Jack uses a circular pizza cutter), then let them completely cool. Enjoy them with afternoon tea or coffee!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Come All Ye Hagglers Near and Far, A Warning Take from Me

Two or three years ago now, a pair of women who said they were visiting the area from out of state were browsing cookbooks and crafts. When the time came for check-out, one stepped forward with four books in her hand.

“I want these,” she said, indicating three of them, “but I don’t want to pay $6 for this one.” She held up a local cuisine cookbook in pristine condition. “That’s too high.”

Her manner being somewhat brusque, I swallowed my rising hackles and said, “Tell you what; I’ll look it up online and see if I can come down a bit.”

I looked it up. The cheapest price was $9.

Now, had I had a better cup of coffee that morning, been less annoyed by her assertion that I was trying to cheat her, or otherwise not found myself suddenly holding the upper hand, I might have just shown her the screen and said, “Do you want it for $6 now?”

Instead, I said, “Well, whadda ya know?! It was priced wrong!” Then I crossed out $6 and wrote in $9, smiled less sweetly than saccharine-like at the woman, and showed her the online price range.

“I am assuming you don’t want it any more?” My voice probably sounded like honey dripping off a razor blade.

Her friend laughed out loud. “Caught in your own trap!” she crowed, which I suspect did not make the poor embarrassed woman feel any better. She paid for her other books, her friend paid for hers (without haggling) and off they went.

Looking back on the moment, I suppose I should have been grateful she was buying inside a bookstore at all. But used bookstore owners, antique store owners, handmade craft sellers and other people who hear on an hourly basis that their prices are too high, that they’re dealing dishonestly–well, we have been known to snap. You want honesty? We can give you honesty….

So hagglers take warning: when you ask “Would you take less?” you might get more than you bargained for.

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Filed under bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Don’t Look a Gift Potato in the Eye

I was gardening out front of the shop when one of our favorite customers pulled up. IMG_4190

“H’lo, dear!” Ms. X waved a hank of fuzzy cloth. “I was yard sale-ing and found this jacket and said, ‘This looks like Wendy.'”

Hence the favorite thing. Not only does she do nice stuff like this all the time, she’s always right. I liked the pretty jacket instantly. Cost her 50 cents, which she did not want back.

Ms. X is one of many people around here who takes life by the horns that tried to gore her, and headbutts it. She and her son, both chronically ill, have no insurance; he has a crappy job. They live carefully in a house that labels them legally homeless, frugal to a fault with secondhand sales, day old baked goods, and the daily, considered creativity of what’s for supper. They don’t fish or garden for fun. But they have fun fishing and gardening.

“They’s sweet potatoes in Appalachia,” Ms. X winked as she departed, a couple of value paperbacks under one arm.

That’s not some mysterious Southern code. About every six months, in a little town two miles over, some person or persons unknown dumps produce under an abandoned gas station’s awning. Word of mouth goes out, and those as want it, go get it. Often it’s sweet potatoes, sometimes bananas. (When that happens, banana bread becomes currency and Huddle House runs a month-long “banana breakfast biscuit” special.) Rumor says once “the dump” was Hershey bars.

quick get in!I’d never availed myself of “the dump” before but my friend Elissa’s dogs LOVE sweet potato treats. Knowing she was busy helping another friend run a yard sale, in a fit of mischievous humor I grabbed a tea cozy, the back scratcher we use to turn off the kitchen light, and a role of tp. Racing to the sale field, I leaped from my car and shouted to Elissa, “QUICK, GET IN! I’LL EXPLAIN AS WE DRIVE!”

I probably should have remembered that Elissa is a news photographer. While everyone else stared, dumbfounded, with a swift flick of the wrist she held up her cell phone and snapped. And now I’m a meme on the Internet.

At the dump we got two bags for Elissa’s rescue dachshunds–who will waddle through this week in plump yam repleteness–and a bag each for friends we knew were busy. I asked Elissa, born and raised here, about the dump’s origins and she said rumor suggested some wealthy individual who’d made good elsewhere did it for his hometown. No one knows who, or why. And no one really questions. Why look a gift potato in the eye?

I imagine sweet Ms. X and her son sitting down to buttered baked yams, she saying, “…and for breakfast tomorrow there’ll be fresh sweet potato muffins.” On the counter sits a steaming potato casserole she’ll be taking to the church social.

Go by, mad world.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Stephen King’s Basement?

crime scene 003Stephen King says that writers have trap doors in their minds, and most ideas occur above them. Below the door is a basement full of sludge, hiding alligators; the secret of good horror and crime writing is to keep the gators fed, or they will break out and take over, and the world will become a real mess.

Imagine what went through my mind last night, then, when I arrived home to find these scenes in my little basement writing nook.

crime scene 010While Jack and I had a “yeah, we’re famous” three-day fun run through book festivals (Thank you, VA Festival of the Book, Clifton Forge, and Mountain Empire Community College!) the bookshop was left in the capable and devious hands of a few friends. Witness their creative touches. I may have to make that “Shining” salute my new FB profile pic.

And Bob enjoyed investigating the “blood.”

crime scene 012

The Russell Crowe poster references his unfortunate soul-searching solo at the edge of the bridge as Javert in Les Mis, six minutes so painful that, sitting alongside these same friends in the theatre, I heard myself yell at the screen, “For the love of God, somebody push him!”crime scene 015

(The guy can’t sing, and he’s really not convincing as someone who could ever doubt himself, either.)

So, keep the gators fed? Yeah, man. But keep your friends close–or you never know what they’ll do with a little cornstarch, some free time, and unfettered access to your basement.crime scene 016

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Filed under bookstore management, humor, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized

Jennifer’s Guest Blog

Today’s blog is by bookseller Jennifer Gough, an organic gardener who staffs Ebenezer Books in Fairfax, Vermont. Jennifer read my book and emailed me; we became friends, so I asked her to write a guest blog for sometime in September. I didn’t know she was going to write about her favorite five books about books, or include me in that, but I sure like that she did! (And no, I didn’t pay her, but I do intend to buy her dinner next time I’m in Vermont….) Enjoy, and if you’re headed NE, look up her organic farming business. Jennifer, maybe you could put your contact details in a comment, since I forgot to ask you to include them here? :}

And now….. JENNIFER!

As a bookseller and confirmed bibliophile, I’ve, natch, read a lot of books in my life. I’ve read books about circus freaks and snails; housekeepers and elephants. I like mysteries and memoirs; fiction and non. I read bestsellers and secret gems. I’ve been known to read a romance, but only if it’s, ahem, a very literary romance. There’s nothing I appreciate more than the diverse bookcase, but there is one subject that I can’t ever resist…books about books! Give me a title containing B-O-O-K and I’m sold. I love books about book writers, book sellers, librarians and readers, and I love books about where books live; libraries, bookshops, under the covers on dark, stormy nights. It’s not that unexpected, I live there too. I know my way around. Of course it helps that the landscape’s usually alphabetized.

So here, in alphabetical order by author, are five of my favorite books about books, and the people who love them:

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

For anyone who’s ever wanted to dive into their favorite book…literally. As Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time, the idea of jumping into Thornfield and palling around with Jane and the Edward had me in convulsions.

Parnassus on Wheels, Christopher Morley

Christopher Morley insisted his early writing was “received with absurd overpraise.” While I wouldn’t dream of overpraising anyone, I love this tale of coming of (middle) age in a traveling bookshop.

Running the Books, Avi Steinberg

I often daydream about becoming a librarian. Of being surrounded all day by enthusiastic patrons, stacks of books and…convicts?! Excellent memoir of an accidental prison librarian.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Wendy Welch

Three cheers for Wendy Welch! Keeper of Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookshop and this blog, on which she has so graciously allowed me to spread a little book love. This memoir is a new favorite of mine. Wendy pulls no punches writing of the bookselling life, but somehow still makes us all want to live it.

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

While this book left me a touch despondent for a few days, it introduces one of my favorite places in all of book-on-book lit, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. A collection of books, dangerous and rare, known only to a whispering few? Sign me up!

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