Tag Archives: literature

The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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Old Soldiers Never Die – – –

It’s Wednesday so it’s Jack’s turn again, but a painful one – –

It’s always sad when a dedicated customer passes away. Bill Peace was one of our beloved regulars. Those of you who have read The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap would find him in its pages as the guy with the bearlike shuffle and precision military corners.

Bill and Brenda

He was a true supporter of the bookstore from its earliest days and it was always a pleasure to see him. Early on he would come striding up the steps in front, then later he needed to use the ramp at the side. Either way, once in the front door he would very slowly traverse every corner of every room. His reading tastes were wide and included everything from US history to mystery novels. He never missed a shelf.

He never said very much, either, but it was clear that he valued having a bookstore in the town. Some customers chat while browsing, but not Bill. He kept his thoughts contained inside the omnipresent ex-military cap he wore, the emblem of his unit decorating its dark red. Mostly he would just ask if we had anything on ‘such and such’ or by ‘so and so’.

Eventually his health deteriorated and it was harder for him to get here. His devoted wife Brenda would drive him over to the side of the building and help him up the ramp. When that got to be too much, we’d get phone calls from him asking about particular authors or books, and organize pick-up from Brenda or his son David.

We knew that things were getting to be more serious from reports by David and his wife Felicia (another staunch pair of bookshop supports) who’d come to collect the books Bill had ordered over the phone.

Back when we started ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ thirteen years ago we needed the support of established locals and we are very grateful to the ones who stepped up and showed their public support. Bill Peace was one of them and he helped enormously to make us feel part of the community.

RIP Bill – we will never forget you!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book

Jack gets to write the Monday Book post – so it’s a day late – –

Bringing Columbia Home – Michael D. Leinbach, Johnathan H. Ward

columbia

I stumbled upon this book in Greensboro NC where Wendy was doing a promotional event in a bookstore. Being a bit of an air and space freak I couldn’t resist it.

This is the whole story of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle disaster, and Leinbach is probably the best person who could have written this book as he was at the center of the mission.

The book chronicles the whole tragic story from the first contradictory clues and suspicions all the way to the gathering of wreckage and crew remains. Along the way we encounter the interactions between rural Texans, Federal agencies, State organizations, NASA professionals, fellow astronauts and the family members of the doomed crew.

The things that stood out for me were –

The very sensitive handling of everything to do with the crew, their families and the inevitable evidence relating to their last minutes. The amazing ‘ownership’ by locals of responsibility for laborious searches for the tiniest fragments in pretty terrible conditions. Then the equally laborious technical work to try to establish what caused the catastrophe.

The book doesn’t shirk placing blame where needed but also lays bare the sheer risks that inevitably accompany space travel. I have visited the air and space museum in DC a number of times and always marvel when I look at the Apollo capsules. How anyone could sit in that atop a rocket and be blasted into space is completely beyond my comprehension!

Just last week I wrote about my memories of the PanAm 103 bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland and I couldn’t help drawing some parallels with the Columbia disaster. I suppose the biggest difference is that the crews of the space shuttles knew the risks involved!

Finally – it was shown after the cause of the crash was established that there would have been no way to rescue the crew even if the damage to the wing had been known. So, as they were carrying out their scientific work they were already doomed.

The book is written for the layman, is easy to read and I found it completely gripping from start to finish.

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Will ye no Come Back Again – –

Jack gets in under the wire with his Wednesday guest post –

I’ve been helping a group of local high school kids prepare for a ‘one act play’ competition, by coaching them in their Scottish accents. The play is called ‘The Women of Lockerbie’ by Deborah Brevoort, and is set in the aftermath of the downing of Pan-Am 103 on December 21st 1988, with the loss of everyone on board and a good few residents of the town too.

women of lockerbie

I decided that for our first meeting I would revisit my memories of that terrible day to give them a bit of context and also to put me back into the same space they would be occupying.

This is a bit like remembering where you were when Kennedy was shot, or on 9/11!

I remember very clearly the unrolling news during that day. In late afternoon all the TV stations were reporting what seemed to be two unrelated incidents. The first was a plane mysteriously disappearing from radar as it crossed the border from England to Scotland. The second was an explosion in Lockerbie and thought to be in a gas station. As the afternoon wore on and by the time of the 6pm news, the Lockerbie explosion was turning out be much bigger than first thought and it was obvious that the newsreaders were beginning to connect the two stories. By the time of the late evening news there were camera crews in the town and the images were horrific! I clearly remember seeing a man still strapped in his seat and fully clothed on the roof of a house – and that piece of video was never re-shown as far I know.

Thirty-five of the passengers who died were students of Syracuse University returning home for Christmas, and the mother of one of them is a main character in the play.

The play focuses on the bond that quickly became established between the women of Lockerbie and the those from the US who came to find where their sons and daughters had died. Both sets of women are feisty and willing to take on both the British and US authorities. The play finishes with the women insisting that they wash all the recovered clothing and return it to their American friends. As they wash the clothes they sing ‘Will ye no Come Back Again’ and I was close to tears by then.

I’m tremendously impressed at how these young kids have researched and got under the skin of this story – something that happened far away and long before they were born. If you get the chance to see their performance you should – Central High School in Wise VA.

As for me – I’ll never forget that day or these young folk!

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Onwards and Upwards – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to Thursday again –

It’s certainly no secret anymore that we are actively looking to pass along Tales of the Lonesome Pine to as yet unidentified new owners. The building/business should be listed very shortly.

bookstore

One of the interesting things has been producing a briefing sheet showing the financial information over the twelve years since we opened, as well as a narrative describing the things that worked/didn’t work to promote the business.

The financial report was relatively easy as we have kept careful records, could consult bank statements and sales tax returns as well as saved card sales. Of course running a bookstore in a small rural town in an economically challenged area isn’t easy. But what was obvious when I ran the figures was two things. Opening the Second Story Café had a significant impact and so did the publication of ‘The Little Bookstore’. There was a big trade-off between the bookstore and the café, and the book continues to bring folk from all over the country and even from around the world.

We wanted to pass along to any potential new owners all the insights we had gained and experiences that had ‘educated’ us. We also wanted to try to share our enthusiasm for the place – not just the business but the town and the community as well.

‘The Little Bookstore’ is almost a working manual in itself, but it’s now six years old and life moves on. Things that worked then don’t necessarily work now and lots of different opportunities have presented themselves.

Our fondest hope is that ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ will continue to operate and flourish as a bookstore and hub of this community, and doesn’t end up being sold as simply the house we stumbled on twelve years ago – but that’s in the hands of fate!

Where we, personally, end up next is anyone’s guess right now but there comes a time when you just know it’s time to move on. The world’s a much smaller place now so you never lose touch with friends and we might not be too far away anyway.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Bookstores – What are they Like?

A guest post from Jack on Friday because Wendy has more urgent requirements –

It’s time for me to talk about bookstores for a change!

This is traditionally our quietest time of the year, but not this time for some unfathomable reason. We’ve had the usual mixture of old stalwarts and out-of-towners despite the cold, rainy or snowy weather. Maybe Spring is close because we’ve also had lots of donations and traded books as well, which means a lot of pricing and shelving of course.

A couple of months ago our good friend David helped me to do a very deep clean of most of the front shop and that resulted in a significant culling of duplicates, battered and ‘never sell in a million years’ books. That freed up some space so now we have some shelf space (as well as half a garage full of boxes of duplicates and ‘never sells – -‘).

In between all this I’ve been checking emails and FaceBook where I’ve been seeing lots of reports of bookstores closing and others opening up – so the scene continues to be pretty dynamic. I haven’t had any time to try to analyze what’s going on but it would certainly be interesting. I’ve heard many reports of retirees buying existing bookstores as a kind of fun thing to do as a source of extra income (although there are only really certain ways of doing that – mainly – sell used books and live on the premises!).

Just to put the top hat on things, Wendy sent me the manuscript of one of the books she’s been working on while she’s been on her writing residency in WV and, lo and behold, there’s a mythical bookstore in it that seems strangely familiar! It’s quite disturbing to read a novel (yes, a novel) with so many recognizable places and characters in it. Being a novel, she allowed herself to mess with the characters as well as the bookstore which makes it even more odd. Our bookstore has had many adventures and strange happenings associated with it but none quite like this!

To finish – as I was writing this a tall and exceptionally beautiful woman came into the store and asked if we had any Dostoevskys – I directed her to the classics room and she volunteered that she was just waiting for her car to be serviced round the corner. “Where are you from” I ventured – “Michigan” she replied.

Wendy was born in Michigan – – –

 

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What You Wish For – – –

Jack is off the hook this week as Chelsie Dubay takes on the guest post –

I decided when I was eight years old that I was going to be a chemist. I asked for a chemistry set for Christmas that year. I hung a massive copy of the periodic table of elements on the back of my bedroom door, right next to the posters I’d ripped out of the latest Tiger Beat magazine. After about a week of trying to sift through that chemistry set I realized that sodium bi-whatever-it-was did not inspire me like I thought it would. So, I boxed up the test tubes, experiment manual, and mortar and pestle and stuffed it in the back of my closet along with all of the other hobbies I’d abandoned over the years. Then, in high school, I accepted my fate and resolved that I was destined to be a mathematician. I really don’t know why I felt so certain about that career path but I knew how to solve for X and use a graphing calculator so I accepted that math would then be my destiny.

I’m notorious for that – building unfounded dreams in the sky and then letting them sink down to the ground.

It’s taken me almost thirty-five years to discover my passion. I can remember the first day I realized what it was that I truly loved. I was an undergraduate student at UVa-Wise. College was the first time I’d ever really been around people who weren’t from my tiny town in Lee County, Virginia. We were given a writing prompt in one of my classes. We were told to write about something that we had experienced during our first few days as college students. Most people wrote about how terrible the cafeteria food was or how far away student parking was from the dorms and classroom buildings. I wrote about how surprised and fascinated I was with how students from other parts of Virginia didn’t talk like I talked and how different our worldviews were. Needless to say, my essay was a bit heavier than some of the other submissions the instructor received in class.

From that day forward I charged myself with being an advocate for the region I called home. I was flooded with emotions – mostly regret. I had taken years of amazing memories, stories, and people for granted. I wanted to rewind time so that I could go back and appreciate the days I spent at my Mamaw and Papaw’s old general store in Hubbard Springs. Instead of complaining about Mamaw and Papaw not having MTV, I should have been relishing in all of the things that made my childhood and this area great. I needed to bottle the quirky way my Mamaw refers to herself in the third person, “Lord, Chels. Don’t look at Mamaw. Mamaw’s been weedeatin’.” I wanted to record the way my Papaw, with an eighth grade education, worked out complex math problems aloud, ending each solution with, “why, hell, Chels. At’s simple math!”

I can’t go back so I choose to go forward and to be thankful for the opportunity to reflect on those memories and relive those moments I’m afforded through the cannon that is Appalachian literature.

This semester I have the distinct pleasure and honor of teaching my all-time favorite class, Appalachian Literature, for the local community college, Mountain Empire Community College. The chain of events that landed me here is as poetic as the literature my students will enjoy over the course of the semester. Together, we’ll laugh and we’ll cry but most of all, we’ll reflect. I hope to expose each of my students to the beauty of the things they, like me, may have ignored or underappreciated. My hope is that, at the end of the semester, each student will walk away inspired to go out and capture the beauty that surrounds them – through oral history collection, through participant-observation, but most of all, through just being present in the things that make this area, these people, and this body of literature great.

Won’t you join us?

This course will be a great way to expose yourself to works of and about our region, as well as to build a solid foundation in some of the significant historical movements that have impacted and continue to impact this body of work.

During this course we will read works (both fiction and non-fiction) set in or about the Appalachian region. The works will range from ballads to novels and hit almost everything in between.

This course is not exhaustive; it’s a sampling. Also sprinkled throughout the 15 weeks we’ll talk a little about history, culture, religion, and the land itself. This course is discussion heavy, which means that your participation in the discussion board, contributing to our conversation, is crucial for the course’s success.

In addition to weekly discussions, the class will require 2 major projects and 2 short essays. Remember, too, that senior residents of Virginia may be eligible to audit the class for free!

Apply here: http://www.mecc.edu/step1/

Questions? Contact Chelsie Dubay, cdubay@mecc.edu

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