Tag Archives: humor

Ho Hum – –

Jack just managed to get in under the wire this week for his Wednesday guest post –


Some days are just ‘normal’ – here’s one – –

Start with a run to the grocery store for the makings of shepherd’s pie (supper with our good friends Beth and Brandon tonight – plus a guitar lesson with Brandon).

Medicate the dogs and feed the three garage cats.

Clean out the cat litter trays.

Another good friend Teri arrives and hangs out until the shop opens.

Order six new Celtic flags for our annual festival coming up in a month’s time.

Tidy the bookstore kitchen and mop the floor.

Get the festival banners out of the shed and paint out the ‘4’ in the date ready to be re-painted as ‘3’.

A couple arrive to collect their winnings in the bookstore auction of surplus stuff.

Two elderly and very frail ladies arrive with a bag of Christian romances to exchange for more of the same. But they also spend some money on more books – they are lovely and we chat at length.

A young woman arrives for more (bulky and heavy) auction items. She is carrying an infant and is on her own. The items are upstairs.

A regular and very interesting customer comes in and browses and spends money on lots of books.

Start making the afore-mentioned shepherd’s pie.

Two folk who’ve never been before arrive and I give them a quick tour – they buy some books and come back to get Wendy’s ‘Little Bookstore’ book after they go for money. (We do take cards, btw.)

Continue preparing the shepherd’s pie.

A lady from a not-so-very-close book-club that read ‘Little Bookstore’ phones to arrange a visit next week. Sadly, on a day when Wendy will be out of town, but they will be happy to see me!

Package a book we had sold on-line and Wendy gets it over to the post office.

Get a message asking if I can guest lecture to a class at UVA Wise on Scottish-Appalachian connections in a couple of weeks’ time.

We can’t find two small hand-carved statuettes that were sold in the auction. They were hiding in Science Fiction!

Finish the shepherd’s pie.

Another couple arrive to collect auction items – from upstairs. We carry down the desk, avoiding kittens.

Medicate kittens.

Friends arriving for dinner at 6:30 to eat the shepherd’s pie.

Guitar lesson with one of the friends.

Pick apples from our apple tree so Wendy can freeze them.

Drink heavily.






Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!


This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

A Tale of Three Kitties

It’s Thursday, so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday guest blog –

This is the story of three cats – Fang, Hillary and Delight.

Fang came to us by mistake, because we don’t take in ferals (it’s a long story), and she immediately disappeared into the bowels of the bookstore. We eventually discovered her hiding under the sink unit in our bathroom, only coming out at night to eat and drink – and the other thing, which she did fastidiously in the correct place, for all her feralness.

Hillary was another mistake and even more of a hermit – we hardly ever saw her.

Delight was not a feral, but she hated people from the minute she laid eyes on one, so after adopting out her adorable brothers and sisters, we gave up.

So they all got sent out to the garage where they immediately became their own gang: The Feral Sorority.

I went out every morning with their breakfast treats of individual little bowls of wet cat food and for the longest time only ever saw Delight. After some weeks of this, to my amazement, Fang appeared looking very suspicious and hanging way back. Over the next few weeks she began to approach close enough for me to give her a head scratch. After that she would wait behind the door with Delight each morning for me to deliver breakfast.

Soon both Delight and Fang were waiting for me each morning and getting pretty enthusiastic for head scratches and back rubs. Fang was also loudly calling if I were later than she expected. But Hillary was still nowhere to be seen – – –

Until –

The morning that she appeared after many weeks of nothing, and hung back watching the usual stuff with Fang and Delight. Hhmm she thought – that looks a bit interesting.

And that was pretty much that. Now they all welcome me (or maybe just the wet cat food) and shout loudly at me each morning. They all come for head and back scratches and Fang asks, even insists, to be lifted up onto my knee.

I suppose they might stay – – – after all, they’re not doing any harm out there in the garage….


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Uncategorized

The Monday Book

Jack gets to write the Monday book review this week –

Molvanîa : A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry – Santo Cilauro et al.


This is a very funny spoof travel guide to a fictitious Eastern European country and is presented as part of a series called ‘Jetlag Travel Guides’.  Cilauro and his co-authors capture the character of the ‘Lonely Planet’ guides wonderfully and the humor mostly succeeds by sitting on top of that.

This is the kind of book that you can happily dip into wherever you want as there’s no narrative involved, however I have to admit that I eventually began to feel a bit uneasy as I did just that. Why uneasy? Well, I have visited quite a few Eastern European countries and like anywhere they all have their pros and cons. Some of the humor in this book began to come over as cruel and I wondered how I would have felt if I came from Romania or Slovakia (two places I have visited a number of times) instead of Scotland. In fact they could have easily done the ‘Jetlag Travel Guide’ of Scotland that could have been just as un-flattering.

But that’s just me and I should try to take a step back and give the book more of a chance.

The humor works best where you can see that the authors had great fun inventing the language, place names and culture as well as choosing photographs and compiling maps. There’s a very funny advert for ‘Go Touro Molv’ under 25 group travel too.

There’s obviously a lot of enjoyable work here by the folk who put it together and it’s in the detail that the funniest nuggets are to be found.

As an example let me present a paragraph from ‘Where to Eat’ –

“Lutenblag’s dining scene is vibrant and ever changing, with new establishments opening every month or so and older ones regularly being closed down by sanitation inspectors. Sadly, some restaurants, particularly the tourist oriented ones, often fall into the habit of ’embellishing’ tourists’ bills – – -”

I bought this book at ‘Downtown Books and News’ in Asheville NC – a really excellent bookstore!


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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Uncategorized

Friends and Fellow Travelers

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on Wednesday again – – –

Last night Wendy and I were the guests of an informal book group in Abingdon VA.

As we followed one of the members along the winding road to the house where they were meeting we passed more and more exceedingly imposing residencies and speculated on what might be awaiting us.

However any fears we had were quickly allayed as the rest of the members trickled in. We had forgotten that the group had visited the bookstore earlier in the year, had all bought copies of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and were very well versed in our adventures.

They all came in clutching their copies of the book – each copy with post-it notes sticking out from favorite pages and passages. We were among old friends!

We have often remarked upon how completely different these occasions tend to be. Of course there are book clubs, reading groups, friends of the library groups and writing clubs and they are each bound to have a different focus. We certainly never know exactly what to expect, which is why we tend to be a bit nervous of them. what’s interesting is that I see similarities to my singing career over the years – gigs were often like that too.

Whenever we attend an event we start off by trying to judge what folk want to hear. Will it be writing advice, getting an agent advice, finding a publisher advice, more about Big Stone Gap?

But this was close to being unique – a whole group who had already read the book and visited us in the bookstore. We proceeded to have a really great evening of personal stories, reminiscences, parallel experiences and our own continuing adventures beyond ‘the book’. Unusually, we were even able to open up a bit on some less happy things that were hinted at in ‘The Little Bookstore’ or followed on from its publication. That’s something we would definitely only do in the company of old friends!

To finish, I should say that the evening started with me as the only man in the room, but we were eventually joined by our host’s husband and his name is Moffat – and that’s also the name of a town in Scotland that I visit every two years on my group tour.

Oh – and we ended with some songs!


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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Twenty Shades of Grey

Twenty shades of grey: that about sums up the four hours we spent driving the Natchez Trace Parkway this morning, from Franklin, TN to Tupelo, MS. That and the rain pounding its merry tattoo on our car’s roof…. if you’ve ever read Ray Bradbury’s stories about Venus, you’ll understand how we were beginning to feel.

It takes a strong marriage to survive four hours on the Parkway in December during a downpour. Jack and I are still speaking to one another, and we count this as good.

But it was all worth it for the bookstores we visited in Tupelo, two charming places of very different approaches and attitude. Greatest Hits is a bookstore-cum-used movies, CDs and games outlet run by Joe. He opened the place three and a half years ago and is going strong. His store is upbeat and messy, like himself. (Frankly, if Joe doesn’t drive a VW bus, he should.)

We bounced across the street to a local diner, then made a beeline for the Wise Old Owl, a messy little paperback bookstore that’s been in business more than fifteen years. Jennifer, the woman running it now bought out her parents about two years ago. The snakes-and-ladders shelving arrangement kept dumping me back in westerns, but Jennifer was a hoot (sorry) to talk to. As with Joe, discussion quickly turned to a favorite subject of used book shop keepers: how do you keep the swap credit within genres, so all the trade-ins aren’t romances and the take-outs sci fi and fantasy?

We spent over an hour each with Joe and Jennifer, talking shop. Joe had no idea what he was getting into when he opened his shop–and like Jack and me, he’d pulled a couple of stunts to keep himself open. Like taking a stack of his flyers down to the Barnes and Noble on the bypass, and putting one on the windshield of each car. Go, Joe!!! Jennifer, having practically grown up in her parents’ shop, knew more about the business when she started. But she told us something interesting: she has no advertising budget.

More and more, I’m convinced that the things business centers tell you are essential, are really just convenient to them. 14 years later, Jennifer is still there, sans marketing plan. Jack and I started with no marketing plan, and here we are, happy, healthy and still in business five years on.

So much for experts. Perhaps experts only want to make more people who look like themselves.

Tomorrow we conquer Oxford, MS and Memphis, TN. I wonder if they’ll notice….


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Jack got a nasty shock when he tried to turn on the heat at cheap motel #1.

The opera house-to-be in McMinnville, TN's downtown

Jack (my husband) and I decided to take a small portion of my book advance and see the world – or, specifically, see a bunch of secondhand bookstores and small towns on back roads stretching between Virginia and Kansas, then back again. So we’re headed down through Tennessee to Mississippi, then back up to Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, across to Indiana and Illinois, then back down through Kentucky to home sweet home again.

We concocted this silly scheme because we wondered how many towns still have independent bookstores new or used. Looking them up on the Internet, we have plotted a course and set off in pursuit of little bookstores everywhere. And in the interest of being as local as possible, in our earnest Civic Hybrid that gets great gas mileage, we are only eating at restaurants that are not part of a chain. That’s been rather fun to keep up with; it’s amazing how challenging it is to plot one’s meals without a paper cup containing a straw…

But it can be done, and so it shall be! Stay tuned…..

DAY ONE: No sleep ’til Pikeville

We left my parents in Knoxville and headed down the way toward Athens, where our first bookstore was plotted. We found it with little difficulty; a giant “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS” banner helped. The store is giving up the ghost after a year under the new owners, who’d bought the place from someone who’d had it two years before them. Following more of a Hastings model, they also took games and DVDs et al, but it didn’t help when time came to pay the rent…. Family illness settled the matter for them, and we benefited from their 1/2 price closing sale and shared commiserations.

We’d intended to head down to Signal Mountain, but waning daylight sent us straight to Dayton, home of the infamous Scopes Trial. There Jack found a music store and disappeared for several hours, so I wandered the streets looking at the sidewalk timeline of the trial, and searching for a public restroom. I finally found a nice one in the General Store run by Tim and Janet Culver. Exiting the rest room, I was looking around the shop for something useful to purchase by way of a “thanks,” and Janet began chatting with me. Finding out we were bookstore owners on a casual mission of “know and be known,” she showed me the book she and her husband had self-published in 2000, documenting the trial. Their book quotes documents verbatim, with interpretation between to bridge the narrative gaps.

“We published this ourselves, then found out we couldn’t get distribution because we didn’t have enough clout. It would just about break even if we paid for distribution, so we’re sitting on cases of these,” Janet explained. The tourism draw they’d expected wasn’t a fast enough outlet to disseminate the books into a reading public, so she was interested in doing an event with our bookstore later. We exchanged cards and she slipped a complimentary copy of the book into my bag with my purchase.

This became a pattern we would see repeated in other towns; they might not have a bookstore, but they had a local author or authors who had self-published works specific to the area.

Although the Internet disavowed all knowledge of a bookstore in Dayton, Janet told us a new one had started up on the bypass, and we soon located The Book Barn, just three months old. The place was huge, and held few books for its size, but as the young lady working told us, its owner had finally fulfilled his lifelong dream of having a used bookstore, so what else mattered?

From Dayton we ambled across little grey map lines toward Pikeville, TN. Since the road from there to McMinnville was touted as a scenic wonderland, we pulled into a cheap motel – emphasis on cheap – and called it a night.

Here’s an observation on that whole “shop local” thing: it works great for everything except overnight lodging and gas stations. In fact, according to a book we (Jack and I) have been reading, the whole standardization movement in retail circles (The McDonaldization of Society) began with motels, in an effort to ensure uniform service and cleanliness. Well, I want to be a localvore, but I cop to liking my motels without dead things in the bathtub.

DAY TWO: Pikeville to Franklin

We snail crawled out of bed the next morning and realized we’d crossed a time border at some point the day before. Jack was up before 7 a.m. I treated him to a rousing chorus of “Oh the World Must be Coming to an End” before departing in search of coffees. (There was no machine in the room; did I mention the motel was cheap?)

I followed a shoal of pick-up trucks wallowing through town, and sure enough they led me to the only diner open at that hour. I parked my Civic Hybrid in their midst and walked through the soft morning rain into the diner, filled with men in billed caps blazoned with seed logos, all staring out the window at my poor little 52-mpg car, slouched between two huge Ford trucks.

The waitress walked past me to a local who came in behind me. I sat down at one of the red diner counter stools as if I owned the place and swung back and forth, smiling at the men in the caps, back to the counter at the waitress, back to the men in the caps. They grunted and returned to their coffee.

A second waitress appeared and did a double take at seeing me, then came over and–I am not making this up–whispered, “Do you need something?”

I whispered back, “If you do coffee to go, yes.”

“One?” she mouthed.

I held up two fingers. Oops. This looked like a peace sign. The men in the booth frowned, eyes hooded beneath their cap bills. I swiveled swiftly back to the waitress. She rolled her eyes toward heaven and poured coffee into two huge Styrofoam cups.

The coffee was cheap, piping hot, and really, really good. I departed, juggling two large cups, my wallet, and the key to my electric car. Outside, two men in seed caps stopped as they were entering the restaurant, and one stepped over.

“Here, honey, lemme get that,” he said, and held the coffees while I opened the door.

Fortified by human kindness and caffeine, we hit the road to The Book Rack in McMinnville – except that, like half of downtown McMinnville, it wasn’t there. Empty store fronts, closing down sales in two of the remaining places, and an abandoned theatre that a local told us they hoped to convert to an opera house and revitalize the downtown.

Driving in, we’d seen expensive houses, lots of healthy-looking landscape nurseries, horses grazing–plenty of evidence that McMinnville had some wealth in its citizens, if not its coffers, so its downtown dead zone puzzled me. On we drove to Murfreesboro.

I’ll always think of Murfreesboro as “the great paper chase.” We stopped at a Habitat for Humanity resale store and asked if there were any bookshops about. “Several,” the nice man working the counter said, and gave us directions to one. We misunderstood or misfollowed them, one or the other, because we wound up in the town square, where an upscale tobacco shop, a discount shoe place, and a bail bondsman sat side by disjointed side.

Okay, score one for not having planned communities. The nice man at the tobacco shop said there were no bookshops in Murf except “the ones at the mall, that Million Books place.”

Ah, thank you. But at another store, we got directions to “The Paperback Place,” which turned out to be where that sweet Habitat man had been trying to send us. It took three tries at going the right way on College Street, but we finally found “The Book Corner,” at the edge of an all-but-deserted strip mall. The owner, a thin man with three rings on one ear lobe, chatted amiably with us between keeping up with customers and escorting his young daughter from her special bookhouse room to the bathroom and back.

He’d bought the place,  a labyrinthian twist of romances, mysteries and celebrity biographies, back in May from a woman who’d been its owner 16 years. She had bought it from the original owner, who had started it some 42 years before. We told him his was the first place we’d seen where the owner was working the store, and he shared our surprise at this.

“How can they afford to do that?” we both wondered openly.

Between valuing drop-offs for credit, helping me find the rest room, reckoning up a swap deal for two customers, answering his phone and looking after his daughter, we chatted about subjects near and dear to bookstore owners’ hearts: how fast the romances piled up, whether swap deals should require 50% cash equivalency, how long it takes to break even on rent each month. Our bookstore doesn’t require rent, but his did, and this too was a pattern we would see repeated on our journey: people who have to pay rent have to paddle their little boats much faster.

We left that pleasant shop and hit the backroad highway again, headed to Franklin, which boasted the tenth largest income per household in the nation, and two independent book sellers. The Book Den, owned by Joyce, was a delight–and the most orderly book shop we’d ever seen. Her paperbacks lay sideways so the titles were easily readable, and since she only took hardbacks of current bestsellers, these rested comfortably between stacks. She’d thoughtfully tacked up series chronologies and families next to favorite authors (Lee Child, Nora Roberts, et al). She kept abreast of the latest publications, and one wall of her shop sported new books based on middle and high school reading lists and local tastes in Christian fiction.

It only took a few minutes chatting with Joyce and her employee to see how proud Joyce was of her shop, and rightly so. She radiated confidence and vitality as she explained how she’d bought it in 1995 from its previous owner, hired one of her best friends to help her, and settled in to a second career.

Joyce was the first of the shop owners to mention Kindles. She feared them. “I used to have people come in every two weeks, now they come in once every three months or so, and they tell me they’re reading on their Kindles now, so they’re just coming in for things they can’t get that way.” She shook her head. “I hope they leave me standing.” She shrugged, and showed me how she’d planned her store’s layout so men wouldn’t have to pass romances to reach westerns.

Charmed, we left Joyce’s Book Den and made a quick pop-in to Landmark Books, just a couple of miles down the road. This was more of a first edition and rare specialty books kind of place. Once we spotted Bill Frist’s Healing America on a shelf for $38 (signed first edition) we figured there wasn’t much more to see. This is one of the books the Christian Appalachian Project dumped by the boxful into Wise County some three years back. We’ve made purses, birdhouses, planters and other less useful things from them, but a couple hundred still circulate. Au revoir, Landmark Books.

Tucked into an inexpensive chain motel with a coffee machine, wireless, clean pillowcases and working heat, I luxuriated in the bathtub under the sun lamp and counted our many blessings.What a difference a $10 price differential makes…..


Filed under folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA