Tag Archives: happiness

The Randomness of Joy, the Joy of Randomness

I awoke this morning determined to get our “caretaker’s flat” in order. After almost three straight weeks of travel and deadlines, the place looked something between a laundromat and a pet grooming facility, both at closing time. Fur, cloth, yarn: not a surface had been spared the clutter. Even the cats had given up trying to find spaces to sleep down there.

Fortified with three cups of coffee and a leftover peanut butter chocolate chip crumb cake from the cafe, I prepared to do battle for our next-to-Godliness souls.

And the bookstore door opened.

In came four people who had driven from South Carolina, clutching copies of Little Bookstore they wanted signed. And one of them had brought us a present.

“I’m downsizing my library, and thought you might like to have a few of my old quilting books,” she said. Four boxes later, they scooped up kittens, scoured the mystery room for Cadfaels, and then went upstairs (sans kittens) to have Our Good Chef Kelley’s amazing tomato bisque with grilled pimento cheese.

And I began categorizing “a few quilt books.” Two hundred of them. It took me most of the morning, but hey, needs must. There were so many, we had to find a new place to display them, reorganizing a little bit of the shop, cleaning a few things on the way. It turned into one of those “tidy as you go” operations.

Jack says I like to sneak in cleaning in those moments. Whatever.

So my morning tidy of our flat went away, but I had such a good time talking to the couples, learning about their lives in South Carolina and Montreal, looking at the books, and generally being a bookshop owner hand-selling good books and enjoying her customers.

Go by, mad world. The dust and clutter will be there tomorrow, when I may or may not have time to attend to it. Joy is random, and sometimes, randomness is joy.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

ARE THESE INTERESTING QUESTIONS?

Finally, I have done as my wise (and patient) agent Pamela suggested, and written “Questions for book group discussions of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” Since many minds make smooth sentences, if you have any suggestions, please send them along. I’d particularly like to add a couple on bookshop management, if any other store owners out there have ideas. I kinda hit a blank wall, writing stuff that was too esoteric. Thanks!

1. Have you ever tried to fit into a place you weren’t from or familiar with? What did you find were the joys, the barriers, the unexpected curve balls of doing so?

2. Is there a snake pit in your life? Do you agree with Wendy’s assessment that almost all of us face such job situations at some point?

3. Cats: what place do they have in the lives of bookstores? Have you seen the newest cats and fosters at Tales of the Lonesome Pine (online via Wendy’s blog)? What do you think about the overpopulation problem of companion animals in the United States? What responsibilities, if any, do humans have toward animals?

4. Of all the stories in Little Bookstore, the two that seem to resonate most with people are of Wee Willie, and the Kiwanis letter. People run the gamut, don’t they, from being unpleasant to one another, to being generous beyond imagination. Why do you think these two stories have been the most mentioned by readers? Do you have circumstances in your own life where you experienced something similar?

5. Fire victims replacing childhood books is a poignant expression of loss, love, and memory. What do you think this priority says about us as humans?

6. Reading Little Bookstore, do you see places where people misunderstood each other, misrepresented each other, yet overcame these miscommunications to understand each other? Do these moments have echoes in your life?

7. If you could suddenly change your life tomorrow, start a business, leave your residence or job, whatever…would you? If so, what would you do? If not, why not?

8. What’s the difference between luck and learning fast to adapt? Where did you see these differences in how Jack and Wendy survived their inept start at being bookstore owners?

9. Wendy talks a fair bit about happiness and contentment. She quotes several other authors and how they describe happiness. Does happiness disappear when you look it square in the face, or elude us when actively pursued? Is it true, as Garrison Keillor (an author not quoted in the book) says, that the realization of happiness comes moments after whatever has made us happy ends? Or can we recognize contentedness when we have it?

10. Discuss the role independent bookstores play in reading satisfaction. Is the process of acquiring the book part of the story it tells, or is cheap, fast, and easy what we want in our shopping experiences nowadays? Is it worth paying more to visit a real bookstore (and do you really pay more)?

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Filed under animal rescue, bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, what's on your bedside table, writing

Hidden Pleasures in the Night

One of the coolest things about running a bookstore is the nighttime raids. On any given evening, when the shop is closed and Jack and I head downstairs to our bedroom den, one of us might say, “Oh, I finished my book.” Thus begins a pleasant twenty minutes of discovery.

Jack and I take turns minding the store, so while we each have a really good idea of inventory, things are likely to come in on the other’s watch that we don’t yet know about. Trolling the shelves brings happy surprises. “Oh, I didn’t know we had the latest Sarah Allen!” Or “Hmm, a book about building fake ship docks and air bases during World War II.”

The little gems sit on our shelves waiting for us to traverse a section, not straightening, not searching, just browsing. It is such a pleasure to browse one’s own bookstore. And that “you can’t judge a book by its cover” thing? Hah. Yes you can. You can tell what’s targeting women – hello gorgeous ballgowns or period dresses with the wearer’s head not shown on the cover–and what’s marketed toward lit lite readers, covers edged in a dignified gilt frame, or photos of faraway cities and characters splashed behind a new author’s name.

A gorgeous photo, the judicious use of color, a drawing where a second glance reveals a second meaning: these are guaranteed to make me flip the book and read the blurb. If I’m not hooked by then, I do the random test taught me by a browsing customer years ago. Open to page 123 and read it. If the author’s writing is personally appealing, take the book downstairs. If not, there are 35,ooo more to browse.

I don’t think this would work if we didn’t live here, as we’re too absent-minded to remember to bring the books back once we’ve read them. And of course, if someone wants something, we have to bring it up from the den. I once sold a book Jack was reading from right off the nightstand, removing his bookmark and swearing later I didn’t remember seeing it. (Don’t tell him; he still doesn’t know I did that.)

Yeah, it’s a business. But when the main lights go out, and the relaxed evening hunt for something to read begins, it’s pure hedonistic happiness to live in a bookstore.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

♪ Sometimes People can be Mean ♪

The Health Department came for their 30-days-after-opening inspection yesterday. The gentleman who conducts these visits is a true gentleman, supportive, honest, forthcoming with answers to questions and with information newbies might not even know they need to ask for.

During the course of the visit, he told our chef Kelley there had been “a complaint” that our facility did not have the capacity to undertake all it was doing.

Huh – you’d think we’d have noticed if we were incompetent. Yet even as my dander began to rise, a customer eating in the cafe smiled and said, “Being translated, someone’s pissed off that this place has been such a success from the word go.” Everyone laughed.

And that was that. The health department gentleman investigated and found groundless the “you’re not smart enough to do what you’re doing” complaint, and business went on as usual.

But it really got to Kelley: “Why would someone want to mess with someone else’s livelihood without rhyme or reason? Why would they complain about ‘capacity,’ or are they just being mean? Don’t they understand the consequences for others?”

That’s a good question, and I’m not asking it specifically about us, but about that human proclivity overall to interfere with each other in a negative way–often involving lawyers and state agencies, but also gossip, fists, and sometimes churches. Do people take such negative approaches because they see a need to “protect” others? Because they feel a sense of power they want to exert, or because they feel powerless and want to get to feel powerful? Or just pure flying sparks of human meanness and not enough impulse control?

No one will ever know. I’m reminded of the episode of the old TV sitcom Murphy Brown, some 20 years ago, when she was invited as a guest onto a children’s television program “Mulberry Lane” (yes, it was a send-up of Sesame Street). Her visit went horribly wrong, resulting in the puppets singing a song about mean people, and how you should just get on with your lives and leave them to their sadness.

I sang it for Kelley: Sometimes people can be mean, ’cause they’re jealous or mad or excited. And then we went back to work, living our lives, running the cafe and bookstore, being happy people with successful businesses upstairs and down.

Sometimes people can be mean ♪ Just close your ears and walk away ♪

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

CALLING ALL CREATIVE PEOPLE: Christmas Titles Needed

destiny finishOK, team, my friend Destiny and I need your help. That’s her on the left, crossing the finish line on the Veteran’s Day 5K charity run, about a month after she donated a kidney to a guy who was dying. Yeah, you read that right. Some of the A-listers from the Big Stone Gap movie filming here ran as well, but I don’t think anyone could have been as brave as Destiny.

Destiny is making me some Christmas ornaments, and later a couple of throw pillows. They are all book-shaped. We got her the pattern off Craftsy (if you wanna go look for it) so she could cover us in these adorable things, and also sell them for herself in the store.christmas books book pillowsThe fabric she’s got for the Christmas ones is on the left, and those are the pillows on the right.

So now we need some cool, made-up titles for her to use on the ornaments. Think “GREAT CHRISTMAS TITLES THAT SHOULD BE.”

So far we have two titles we like: Rudolph the Well-Read Reindeer, and Hat Trick: the unauthorized biography of Frosty the Snowman. But we need more. So comment here with some great titles for Destiny’s little puffy books? Thanks! We know we can count on the collective wisdom of the bibliophilic community and we look forward to reading them.

destinyThis is Destiny with her mom, who passed away a year ago. She was one of our most fun customers. Destiny donating the kidney was part of her doing 50 random acts of kindness (big and small) in honor of her mom’s life. I think I’m going to talk Destiny into writing a book.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

Bollards of Big Stone

Note: Jack and Wendy are headed to NYC today, so the blog may be a little off timing the next couple of days as the two country mice adjust. Meanwhile, here’s the fun doings in Big Stone Gap!

The movie being filmed in town right now is causing all sorts of reactions among the locals–mostly enthusiastic FB posts showing them hugging long-suffering Hollywood A-listers. (A big shout of thanks to Ms. Elfman for helping us adopt out 3 PAWS cats within a week by photo-cuddling them.)max and jenna

The movie buzz is good for the town – economically and intellectually. Someone asked me the other day if the movie had made locals proud, and before I could open my mouth a bookstore customer said, “We’ve always been proud of our town. We know who we are. Now we’re proud that other people are hearing about us.”

Jack and I are happy to watch the hoopla and enjoy the buzz, but it got side-splitting silly over the weekend. The movie company set up on Wood Ave (the main street through town) on Friday night. Trust us; we know from experience how hard it is to get a 15-minute parade permit for closing that street, let alone 2 whole days, so we watched with enthusiasm. 

Saturday morning bright and early some police arrived and set up cones across the road that comes off Wood toward our shop. The only one way left to thread through town went right past our bookstore, so we got a front row seat for the high jinks. (And we locked up our indoor/outdoor cats for the day, plying them with kitty candy whenever they yowled to go outside. I think they gained 10 pounds on Saturday alone.)

The  closed block-long section of Fourth Avenue holds the liquor store and post office, so when they put up the bollards (those orange cones) they blocked in some people who’d made an early start to acquisitions (of post office box mail, of course). These folk came out, glanced at the cones, and drove around them–over curbs, through a parking lot, no matter. They waved at the cops and the cops waved back.

But then people watching them drive out started using the same technique to drive in; the cops had gone by now, leaving one little “ROAD CLOSED” sign to do the dirty work. Someone knocked it down, going around it.

The cops came back about an hour later, and put up more roadblock signs, stretched across where the ineffectual bollards had been. That lasted about ten minutes.

The cops returned. They left one of their own, a young woman (she might have been twenty) who was promptly ignored by those driving around her–waving–to reach the liquor store and post office. We have often sat out on our front veranda watching locals breaking every traffic law possible as they turn at that intersection right smack in front of our bookstore, but Saturday and Sunday brought a whole new level. That poor young officer spent the next two hours shouting with increasing frustration and decreasing effect at motorists who just didn’t see why they should care that she was there. We quickly broke them down into three categories:

1) “We wanna see the stars” These were innocent groups of thrill seekers trying to see the action. Road block? Don’t think so.

2) Oblivious folk who failed to see anything different; “Hmm, who put that annoying sign there?” Both drivers and walkers fell into this category, and it was hysterical to watch them head blithely for the center of action, one block away, and be tackled by people leaping in front of them just short of the post office steps. Apparently the cameras were rolling right at the corner of the post office, and I don’t know how many shots were ruined that day by people who just didn’t notice anything unusual.

3) Our personal favorites, the drivers who considered it their God-given right to park outside the post office or ABC store, just as they always did, and complete their weekend errands. “Movie? Stuff and nonsense. Let me by, sonny.” We loved watching these people literally walk past police and film crew with outstretched arms. In one case an older woman swatted at a young man in a ball cap; we could almost hear the conversation “I don’t know you, young man, but get out of my way or I’ll call the police!” (who were about four feet away, also trying to stop her).

bollards of big stoneThe crew filmed two days, and on day two, perhaps realizing less was more, they reduced the street closure to just the Wood Avenue junction, leaving unfettered access to the ABC (which opens at 1 pm on Sundays) and limited access to the post office lobby with its rows of PO boxes.

Some people fear that this movie will encourage people to make fun of “hicks and hillbillies,” and display us, the residents of Big Stone Gap, as the same. But I think the residents of Southwest Virginia have been, are, and always will be resilient people who ignore bollards and stereotypes as we go about our business. We know who we are, and when the hoopla is over, that’s who we’ll still be.

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Little Brown Jug

The weekly guest blog from Jack

Wendy has blogged more than once about the particularities of living above the bookstore and the overlap between our personal lives and our bookstore lives. To be honest we don’t see a division – the bookstore is a big part of our lives and it’s hard to imagine living any other way now.

Having someone walk in when we’ve forgotten to lock the door and we’re eating breakfast or dinner at the bookstore table is only a problem when we have to grab the dogs before they make the dash for freedom – or we’re not exactly dressed for the occasion.

But there’s coziness about all this that we haven’t really touched on before and it struck me anew just a few mornings ago in the form of our ‘the little brown jug’, or to be precise our ‘little brown sugar bowl’.

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Most mornings I wander sleepily down to the shop accompanied by dogs and cats to our little downstairs semi-kitchen to set up the coffee, switch on the lap-top and examine the breakfast options (for humans and animals). On this particular morning my eyes focused on the sugar bowl in all its familiarity and I was suddenly struck by the power of objects to give us context and comfort.

That humble brown bowl talks to me without words. It says “how did you sleep?” and “what do you have planned today?” and “we all live here together and that’s most satisfying.”

Ah – satisfying! That’s the word I was looking for. It is satisfying to wake up surrounded by a movable feast downstairs with some immovable objects in it. The little brown sugar bowl (and some of its friends) give us that.

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