Tag Archives: life in the slow lane

The Monday Book: SLOW LOVE by Dominique Browning

I really like memoirs, so when Browning’s came in with the charming title, “How I lost my job, put in my pajamas, and learned to enjoy life” I packed it on a recent flight. (It is also smaller than the average trade paperback.)

Although following a predictable pattern – NYC insider gets the boot because of hard times – what I liked about the book was Browning’s meta-writing: slow, lyrical sentences to illustrate how her life slowed down, picked up on music and gentle living, and added some herbs.

Granted, Browning is wealthy. Even though she wrote about the fear of the plummeting stock market harming her retirement savings, well, she had savings. And another house to move into that she could afford to renovate. Etc. This is a yuppie memoir.

And beautifully written. Her lazy, gentle sentences don’t meander. They are densely packed with words you might have to look up every now and then. Her observations are pithy but not concise. I found myself following her for the way she told the story, not the story she was telling.  Browning is a writer’s writer.

Following my quest to find how other writers handle making the inaccessible (or at least the non-experienced) interesting to readers who don’t share the passion of the book, I read Browning to the end, and enjoyed it. If you like lyrical writing and peeking at others’ strange lives, this is a good one for those of us who don’t live, and don’t care to think about living, in Manhattan.

A full bouquet of home-grown roses for Dominique Browning’s SLOW LOVE.

 

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Little Cabin in the Wilderness

Jack’s guest blog on a place he loves

We love to head over to our log cabin in the backwoods of Tennessee whenever we get the chance. It nestles inside 12 acres of  densely wooded surrounding hills. When it rains the run-off feeds the pond in front of the cabin and keeps our tame carp and catfish happy.

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Built along with seven others, in the early 1970s at the time of the Knoxville World’s Fair, it has seen its ups and downs – particularly when we rented it out at various times to some very dubious characters. The last of these left the place in poor condition, and we called on our good friend and excellent carpenter Guy. He not only completely replaced the floor in the original half of the building, but proceeded to replace the shingles, construct a spare room in the attic, add an extra two rooms and a laundry, and install a wood-burning stove.

Over the last five years or so it has become our ‘bolt-hole’ and is the perfect antidote to the pressures of our regular lives. It has no internet, no phone, no cell-phone reception and no TV, and our dogs, Zora and Bert, can run around to their hearts’ content with no worries about traffic. Wendy gets a LOT of writing done.

We were there all last week for just that purpose, and I was intrigued (as I always am) by the complete change of pace and the time it takes to adjust to it. We fall into a new pattern of “just live, just write, just eat, just relax” so quickly.

The cabin has no TV, but contains a radio and it’s only when we’re there that I get the chance to hear my show Celtic Clanjamphry on WETSfm. The rest of my time is usually spent foraging for fallen branches and cutting them into logs for the stove (amazing how time consuming that can be) and taking care of various bits of maintenance that always seem to be needed. That and the reading I never usually have enough time for back at the bookstore (funny that).

We do let friends rent the place whenever they want and now we’ve had the driveway re-graveled it looks more inviting. (It’s a steep drive.) We have a one degree of separation rule: if we know you, and you know someone who wants to use it, that’s okay.

 

 

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Cooking the Books

 

Jack’s weekly guest post continues the Indian theme and re-visits the problem of which books he puts in the store

 

Regular readers probably know, by now, that I’m a devotee of Indian food – curries, papadums, somosas and badjhies (we don’t need no stinking badjhies, as Bogart’s Mexican adversary famously said in ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’).

 

So when Wendy produced my five Indian cookbooks yesterday and asked me innocently if it was time for them to go into the shop I was momentarily flummoxed. Should they? They have been my pride and joy for years!

 

But had I ever actually used them in a practical way? Had I propped them open and followed their every word?

 

Well, actually, no! What I had done is gathered a lot of experience over many years and ended up making two or three regular things.

 

1) Fry finely chopped onions in vegetable oil until just browned; push them aside and fry three tablespoons of Mike Ward’s famous curry powder mix in the same oil; dump in a jar of plain tomato pasta sauce and all the vegetables (peppers, golden raisins and mushrooms, usually); add a similar amount of plain yoghurt bit by bit; simmer for a few hours.

 

2) Exactly the same as 1) except miss out Mike’s FCP and add three tablespoons of Patak’s hot curry paste at the end.

 

I also sometimes do a prawn/shrimp or chicken tikka. Make up a mix of onion, yoghurt and tandoori spice mix and marinade the shrimp or chicken overnight in the fridge. Next day remove the shrimp or chicken and clean most of the marinade off. Grill until crisp, then serve with the heated marinade on the side.

 

I shouldn’t forget Wendy’s home-made chutney made from our own fruit and vegetables – but that’s her closely guarded personal recipe!

 

I’m delighted to say that our local supermarket now carries a very good selection of Indian spices, sauces, papadums and naan breads, so it’s now easier to come up with the goods.

 

The five books? You’ll find them in the cook-books section, proudly displayed together.

 

(But I did enjoy reading them and imagining all the dishes – every one of them!).

 

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Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – –

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

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The Monday Book: OFF THE GRID by Nick Rosen

Sorry about not getting a blog up over the weekend. We had a massive group from Berea College visiting because of my new (academic) book Public Health in Appalachia. We had a great time with the team and will be blogging about it later this week. And we’re more or less back on schedule now, and proud of the fact that we fed 42 people in our bookstore all at the same time – a triumph of logistics over space. :]

off the gridUsually I only do Monday Books that I’ve loved, and I admit that this one is kind of a “like.” Rosen’s book is interesting, but suffers from that thing that often happens to researchers who turn their work into a popular narrative style of writing: repetition and lack of a story line.

(Oh, did I just hear my agent giggling? Believe me, the words “narrative arc” come out of that wise woman’s mouth 12 times a day. And gosh darn it, she’s right. We want a beginning, middle, and end that look different from each other, strung together with smaller stories that flow toward a conclusion.)

Rosen writes about people who get off the power grid in the United States, for reasons ranging from dropping off one end after running out of money, to buying their way off the other end as rich, powerful, and/or famous citizens. (A lot of TV and film stars have off-the-grid hideouts.)

In between he covers off-gridders one might not think about, like truck drivers. And of course he includes survivalists and hippies and that controversial Mike Reynolds guy who “invented” earthships. I helped build an earthship in Scotland at a local sustainable farming community; that’s when I learned to make walls from bottles and shoes from tires. Neither of these have served me much in my present career as a bookseller, but I figure if A***on finally does us in one day, I can get great mileage out of my eclectic knowledge base and homemade sandals.

Thing is, Off the Grid, published in 2010, doesn’t so much talk about how to go off-grid as describe how it has turned out for a bunch of people who did, which gets repetitive after awhile, and also starts to skim across surfaces, hinting at conflicts and conspiracies and confusions that don’t get fully explored. (He did write, in 2008, a book that appears to be more how to.)

If you like storytelling in your stories, you may not like Off the Grid very much. I like reading about off-grid lifestyles, so I enjoyed this book. If you’re looking for how-to, try his 2008 book. If you’re looking for how-it-went-for-us, this is a good read. And if you’re into psychology-driven narrative, you’ll have a field day with what Rosen isn’t saying between the lines of what he is.

As a side note for those who have heard me talk about discovering St. Martin’s wanted to publish LITTLE BOOKSTORE on the same day that the last BORDERS bookstores announced their imminent closure, this is one of the two books I bought from BORDERS that day.

 

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Are we there yet?

Jack’s weekly guest post examines concepts of distance –

Whenever Wendy and I are away from home in a big city for a few days we have an arrangement – she gets to eat dinner in a Middle-Eastern restaurant one evening and I get to an Indian restaurant on another. Last night here in DC it was her turn. “How far is it to The Lebanese Kitchen?” I asked. “A mile and three quarters” she replied.

We debated various options for covering the ‘mile and three quarters’ and decided, since we had plenty of time, we’d walk. Wendy likes walking and I foolishly said, before we married, that I did too (the things we’ll say for love!). What we didn’t specify then was what each of us meant by ‘walking’. What has transpired over the years is that Wendy’s concept of distance is fundamentally different from mine. We have spent many a weary hour walking through boiling heat, freezing cold, horizontal rain, across freeways, under interstate bridges and dodging insane drivers as ‘just a mile and three quarters’ turned out to be considerably longer.

Sometimes the place we’re walking to is closed, sometimes it has gone out of business, occasionally it turns out to be just delightful. Other times we get funny looks from drivers or locals, who clearly think we’re insane or suicidal. Last night was a classic – we walked briskly through the cold, following the meanderings of Connecticut Avenue through downtown Washington DC , as the upscale embassy district gave way to equally upscale apartment blocks and then to somewhat seedier areas of broken sidewalks and finally over a very long bridge over a scary drop. Clearing the end of the bridge my heart lightened as we espied an Indian restaurant, and another – –

“Not tonight, dear” – said my beloved! Tonight is the Lebanese Kitchen and tomorrow is the Indian restaurant. “Keep walking!”

And, so, we did finally arrive. It was open, and filling up rapidly. The place was delightful, as was the food, and the service was excellent too. To Wendy’s surprise I suggested we walk back to our hotel afterwards. You see, I’ve found that returning is always quicker, or so it seems. I think it’s because I know how far it is on the way back, whereas going out there seems to be no end to it.

On a related subject, where we live in Big Stone Gap seems to be almost exactly one and a quarter hour’s drive from anywhere else you’d want to be – Bristol, Abingdon, Johnson City, Cumberland Gap, it doesn’t seem to matter – always an hour and a quarter. When our friend Mike was over from Scotland on vacation a couple of years ago and keen to explore on his own, he’d ask how far it was to these places. As he was leaving to go back home he announced that he’d dubbed any journey of that length a ‘Jack’!

So tonight we’ll be celebrating my birthday at an Indian restaurant, in the company of friends of many years whom I’ve never met face-to-face. They are choosing the place and I’m just waiting to see where the distance lies between a ‘Wendy’ and a ‘Jack’ – – –

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The Cabin without a Clock

Jack and I are fortunate to own a cabin out in the middle of the Tennessee woods. It was my home before graduate school, and the place where Jack and I had our first meal together. So it’s got a lot of history for both of us.DSCN0078

What it doesn’t have is a clock. Electricity, yes; flush toilet, check. Even a nice wood-burning stove. But no Internet access, telephone or clock. Which means once you get out there, you tell time by the sun, or the radio. It’s amazing how quickly this alters perspective. I remember a children’s book, To Walk the Sky Path, about indigenous people in Florida. The young protagonist observes his white teacher at school constantly being directed by the round thing on the wall. He offers to throw a rock at it for her, because it’s clearly bothering her, and she laughs. “How would we know when to do things without a clock?”

Jack and I use the cabin for escape time, and I use it for writing days. Free from clocks on these days, it is startling to identify the depth of their influence on our lives. At the cabin, we get up when it’s light enough to see the pond at the bottom of the hill. We go to bed when we get sleepy. And I write without deadlines of how much (or little) time I can spend on something.

The rhythm of the day rotates as gently and unobserved as the sun. You look up from a chapter and realize your stomach is rumbling, so you eat. Did you have breakfast? Is this lunch? Surprisingly enough, we eat less following this pattern.

If you’re going to take the dogs for a walk, go before dark. In the deep woods, eyes closed or open is almost the same; there literally is no difference inside the house on a dark night.

Life gets simple when you take the clocks away. Unfortunately, it only works for a few days, then you have to calculate your re-entry into society. Like as not, someone is expecting you at a numbered hour. But for those days measured by sunup and sundown, when it’s sleep, write, read, walk, cook and eat and clean up afterward, then sit on the porch watching a flock of turkeys, a herd of deer, or even (once) a bobcat shuffle up the hill on the other side of the pond, time’s measure is simpler, slower, sweeter. And oh so contented.

People have asked if Jack and I rent the cabin out; yes, if we know you or have only one degree of separation. Be warned that it is remote, and has proven too peaceful for some.

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