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A Notable Occasion!

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post appears on Wednesday again – amazing!
Wendy and I have been so busy with other stuff the last couple of years that we haven’t been running as many events in the bookstore as we used to. But we still do from time to time and usually at the instigation of someone else who just thinks it’s a cool place to stage something.
Which is how we ended up with an amazing and wonderful house-concert on Sunday evening.
But this story really starts about seven years ago when I was contacted by a woman in North Carolina, who’s daughter had just won the junior section of the US Scottish fiddling championships. She asked if I’d like to interview her on my weekly Celtic music radio show – so I did. The daughter, Maura Shawn Scanlin, was fifteen years old and quite shy, until she started playing!
A couple of years later her mother again contacted me as Maura Shawn had now won the senior championship. So, once again she was in the studios of WETS in Johnson City and was now a much more confident young woman. The next thing, she was invited to compete in the Glenfiddich World Championships in Scotland – which she won! Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/YL0GCNsuEJE
Finally, a couple of months ago Maura Shawn, who now lives and studies music in Boston, herself emailed me to say she’d be in the area and would we be able to host a concert in the bookstore. The only problem was that it would have to be on a Sunday, which isn’t a normal day for us to run events. But we decided to take a chance and I also decided to record the concert for a future radio show.
I now record my shows at the home studio of a very expert friend who lives close by, so Dirk was up for giving it a go. Except he was short of some essential mics and stands, which is where another couple of friends, Mark and Alan, stepped in.
Maura Shawn, like most professional musicians can only survive financially by playing in various bands and line-ups and for this she would be half of a duo with a guitarist called Connor Hearn, who I’d never heard or heard of. I was a little nervous but shouldn’t have been! I was also very nervous whether we’d get an audience at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon!!
Maura Connor
I set out fifteen chairs, then added a couple more – and more, as they all started arriving until we were completely full.
The concert was wonderful, with a tremendous rapport between Maura Shawn and Connor, who’s guitar playing was magnificent. Everyone who attended was completely enthralled (including our dog Bert who was surprisingly well behaved). The next day Dirk sent me a recording of one of the music sets and it was also magnificent!
So maybe we should get back to doing more of this sort of thing! It felt very soul-restoring.

 

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

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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Nothin’ scary ’bout the Bookstore – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post beats the deadline!

One of our favorite times here in the bookstore is Halloween when the shops in town provide treats to the kids. We’re a bit different because our treat is a free book! This sometimes comes as a bit of a shock for a couple of reasons. First of all we invite the kids to come in and choose a book from the ‘kids’ room’, and secondly, they occasionally  expect something of a more candy-ish nature. I discovered years ago that inviting kids into the shop is considered a bit scary around here (they usually expect to just stand at the door and get a ‘treat’). For us it’s a treat to see upwards of a hundred kids with their parents traipsing in and out clutching a book and the costumes are usually amazing.

trunk 4

trunk 3

trunk 1   trunk 2

 

 

 

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Jack of All Trades and – – –

Jack just scrapes in under the wire – –

I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, so here goes again, Probably – –

Not too long before I retired from a twenty-year career in the community college in my home town I was ‘persuaded’ by my Principal (Chancellor) at the third time of asking, to embark on a MBA. I had been teaching management programs and so I suppose that made sense. I had free choice about which program and didn’t know that there was a ‘pecking order’ out there in terms of difficulty and/or credibility in the wider world. So, I opted for Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. I chose it simply because of proximity and the flexibility of the timetable. I didn’t know it was notoriously rigorous, difficult and high in the pecking order!

I quickly found that there two clearly different groups of subjects – half were ‘soft skills’ – team dynamics, leadership, marketing – that sort of thing. I loved that, understood it and found it very self-affirming. Then there were the math focused ones – finance, statistics etc. I hated them because I’m completely useless at math. But I struggled through and finally got there!

What on earth has this to do with a bookstore in a small Southern town?

One of the things I clearly remember from my studies and research was this. The most loyal customers any business can have are the ones that have a problem that you manage to fix.

Yesterday morning a young lady came into our store to see if a book she had ordered had arrived. I didn’t recognize her and asked if I’d done the ordering. “No” she said – I think it was your wife and it was a couple of weeks ago. I searched through all the email confirmations of the orders we’d done and there was no trace of it. As panic set in I phoned Wendy.

It turned out that she had made the order at the exact moment that E-Bay shut down their Half Dot Com subsidiary. She honestly thought she’d ordered the book but it hadn’t gone through. I’m absolutely certain we aren’t the only ones to have gotten caught by this.

The customer was most understanding when I explained what had happened, but she needed it for a class starting on Monday and needed to read it before then. I immediately went to an alternative site and found a seller that could get it to me overnight.

It came in today, I phoned her and she got it with four days to spare. It cost her just the $6 she’d paid when ordered and us another $6 to get it for her, so we made nothing – but – I’m completely certain that she will sing our praises much, much more than if it had just come when it was expected.

The lesson?

You don’t need an MBA to make a customer happy – – –

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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.

Sleep.

 

 

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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!

PtoP

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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Jesus on the Main Line

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on a Wednesday for a change –

Being an old curmudgeon and resistant to change I’ve always been averse to cell-phones. When I retired from my college job I went work as a ‘consultant’ for the Scottish Qualifications Authority and my boss, Paul, was way ahead of his time with these gadgets. He liked to be able to contact his team any time, day or night. Wendy and I had a pre-paid basic cell-phone each that we only ever used in dire emergencies and we swapped them back and forth. Paul would often phone me and usually got Wendy, who he then berated at length for not being me!

Much later when Wendy started working with the college she was supplied with a sophisticated I-Phone. Over time she has had hers replaced regularly with more and more up-to-date models that do everything except cook for you. On many shared car journeys she has handed it to me and asked me to talk to people or text them or check the route or the weather ahead. I have hated doing that as I have no idea how these things work and my fingers always hit the wrong letters or the wrong icon. She tries to talk me through it, but things like “Look for the little green phone” don’t bode well for a marriage when spoken while careening down the motorway at 70+ miles per hour.

But she now has one that seems much more forgiving – either that or I’m getting better. It’s not unlike guitar chords, really, when one thinks about it… Wendy says her directions have gotten better, but I’m going with my fumble fingers figuring things out.

Which has finally led me to agree to have one of my own again. I’ve been given a present of a redundant I-Phone 6  and all I have to do is choose a carrier and a contract.

Once again I’m clueless. Growing up in Scotland there was just one phone company and you paid whatever everyone else paid. Now I’m trying desperately to understand who gets the best coverage, the best data rates, text versus voice – and on, and on. It’s a minefield!

But I’m determined now and I will get there with the help of ‘Our Good Chef Kelley up the stairs’ (our tech savvy cafe manager), and ‘Mark along the road’ (our computer expert).

If they don’t get me there I could always try the main line, as the old song says—

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