Tag Archives: SIBA

We’re not THAT weird…. are we?

O wad some Power the giftie gie us Tae see oursels as ithers see us!–Robert Burns

Sitting in church behind a well-heeled woman, Burns noted lice in her coiffure. History doesn’t tell us how the woman felt about this immortalization–or if she recognized herself–but Jack and I are going through a similar struggle.  In preparation for our two-week Istanbul hiatus, we are writing a shop guide for Mark and Sally Smith, who are coming from Memphis to shopsit.

Mark says their friends alternate between “Oh, can I join you?” and staging interventions.

Wait until their friends hear about the shop guide. We find ourselves typing bald statements like “When Valkyttie gets angry she pees down the bathroom heat vent.”

Will they even read the rest, the tried-and-tested wisdom of our cleaning guru Heather, herself the owner of an angry kitty, plotting kitty, grrr, grrr, grrr? “Put a paper towel on the duster stick by the vent, swish-n-soak, then spray shaft with Heather’s magic elixir. Make sure it’s off first.” Or will they run in terror from a bookshop whose CEO is a pissing-mad eighteen-year-old Scottish cat clever enough to maximize effects?

Given corporate culture today, peeing down a shaft is not that bad, but having no boss is part of Mark and Sally’s fun. The place is yours: do as you will! The shop guide is assistance, not direction.

Jack and I wonder how they’ll react to the section “COLORFUL LOCAL CHARACTERS,” depicting (among others) the bald man with the spider tattoo wrapping his head. Fixated on Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker series, Spider Guy keeps saying “BEE-serk-ER,” like a French surname, despite Jack’s efforts. Six foot six, hands like banana bunches, Spider Guy picks up foster kittens and coos to them as he wanders the shop, kitty curled purring against his chest.

We have several local characters who talk without listening; we see them coming, adjust our conversation-o-meters to “stunned” and let it roll. Throw in a “yep, I can get that for you” and make them feel like royalty. All part of the job. I think of it as a computer adventure game set in real life.

But then there’s the back scratcher hanging in the kitchen. Without it, you can’t turn on the light. One night Bert got it in his mouth and Jack and I chased him through the shop, screaming, “Drop it! Don’t chew!”

Dog chases, there’s a thing. The guide tells how to recapture Bert and Zora should they slip out. [Equipment: two leashes, raisin-less breakfast bars, and a car key, kept in a Ziploc pouch at the back door.] It’s the kind of thing one doesn’t think twice about until explaining to someone else….

Really, Mark and Sally, you’re going to have a grand time. Honest!



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

A Little Help from our Friends

Jack guest blogs on the value of friendships, especially in small town shops

This weekend we are once again on our travels with book events, from the John Fox Festival here at home, through a visit to Clifton Forge Library, and then on to the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. As usual when we are away for a few days our friends rally round to staff the bookstore on rota.

Just call us The Little Book Co-op of Big Stone Gap.

These friends handle book sales, oh yes, but there are also the shop animals to care for, boxes of donated or traded in books to be valued and priced (or politely refused), mail to be collected and opened for book orders, and phone inquiries to be responded to. Although amazed that anyone would be willing to take this on, we are delighted that we have so many friends who will. They represent one aspect of the community presence of our bookstore; we really are almost a co-operative owned by its customers. Quite often a ‘regular’ will be hanging out, checking e-mails or browsing the bookshelves, when suddenly he finds himself in charge of the shop for ten minutes while I do a post office run or dash out for milk.

Occasions like this weekend require a bit more pre-planning, but, despite other calls on folks’ time, we always manage to keep the shop open. We never succumb to the erosion of hours, no matter how tempting; it’s our observation that when small businesses become careless about that, their days are numbered.

So, we pay homage to the many friends of ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ AKA ‘The little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’.  And we also salute Mark and Sally Smith of Memphis, who are coming to watch the shop for two weeks in April while we get our Christmas and birthdays 2012 and 2013/Valentine’s Day/fifteenth wedding anniversary holiday in. (We’re going to Istanbul. It’s expensive. We’ve been saving for months and we’re going to have the time of our lives.)

You’re going to love Big Stone, Mark and Sally, and they’re gonna love you. Our thanks to you all for keeping the shop while we’re running about promoting a book about bookstores. There’s a certain full-circle feel about it, don’t you think?

For more examples of how people have rallied to their community bookstores, check out the March 18 Christian Science Monitor article detailing bookstores that have been moved, staffed, or even cooked for by locals lending a hand. If you’re in Illinois (Edwardsville, to be precise) check out Afterwords Bookstore, a lovely shop with a similar story. Or ask your local bookshop about their ‘co-op’ friends. They’re guaranteed to have some.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

OK, That was FUN!

Back from the Southern Independent Booksellers Association’s three-day trade show and conference, I pause to reflect that I just did my first author signing, my first author guest panel, and my first “hanging with the tribe at the watering hole” (in this case a swimming pool the size of Big Stone Gap)–and kind of didn’t notice.

It was fun, fresh and breezy, light and airy, and comfortable as a pair of cushioned house-slippers. It felt natural to wander through a ballroom full of books people kept thrusting at me with comments like, “Here, read this, you’ll want it for your bookstore; here, read this, you’ll want to meet the author later.” It seemed completely normal to sit with three other writers and talk about the influence of bookstores on our lives, then go sit in the bar and have people walk over to say, “Now where’s your bookshop?” instead of “Hey, what’s your sign?” Conversations flowed as easily as red wine–and plenty of that flowed, believe me. Booksellers on expense accounts at a free bar equals brilliant conversations on abundant topics.

In fact, I’ve been to LOTS of artistic events in my lifetime, and seen the prima donnas play (or sing, or tell stories, or dance….) and none were as laid-back or “equinanimous” as this. Five hundred bookslingers–people who write them, people who review them, people who sell them, people who publish them–all hung together, perhaps with a growing awareness that if we don’t, we will be hung out to dry separately by the Amazonian warriors. But it felt good.

Likely blogs in the coming week will be fed by the lively conversations, cheerful friendships, and overall sense of camaraderie that came from attending this event. But for now, suffice it to say that when my husband asked, “How was it?” the word that came to mind, and still seems to sum up the experience, is “comfortable.”


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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA

Wendy, Me, Words and the Road to SIBA

Guest Blog by Cami Ostman, friend and author

I’ve known Wendy since we were 18 years old (so, in other words, for 10 years… ahem). We met in California, where we both lived for a year. In the intervening years (ok, more than ten, I’ll admit it), I haven’t moved far—just up two states to Washington—while Wendy’s moved all over the world: Tennessee, Canada, Scotland, England, and now, Big Stone Gap, Virginia (where I come to visit her at least once a year at her bookstore/house, shop downstairs, home up).

Each year, one thing I look forward to is seeing how the bookstore has changed. Who are the new creaturely additions to the family? Where has the classic literature section moved to? Is there new porch furniture? But most especially, what new friends will wander in and what will they say? What will they be looking for? What books will they choose?

As a reader and a writer—a lover of words—I’ve spent a lot of time in bookstores throughout my life. And just as much as I love savoring the sound of a well crafted sentence, I love the smell of books, the feel of them in my hands, and the way other people’s eyes light up when they caress covers and flip through pages. New or used, (and yes, paper or electronic) books give me a comfort, a sense of home and community.

When I get to Big Stone Gap, I feel the penultimate sense of home. Wendy oozes words. She facilitates words among the groups that gather in her home/shop (Tuesday night we had “needlework night,” and I can tell you there were far more chatty conversations than needles probing in and out of cloth) but most importantly, she VALUES words. And I mean this literally. She and Jack (her lovely assistant and partner in life) make their living by taking books that are brought to them and placing a monetary value on each one, all the while knowing that the value of a particular book to a particular patron has nothing to do with the penciled in amount on the first page.

It’s precisely because Wendy understands the way a certain book calls forward a different mood or memory in each person who reads it that she is such a keen observer of the way books and the individuals who love them find one another. Her observational skills are the reason she could write her savvy, warm, pithy, soon-to-come-out book about how her little shop changed her life and the lives of those who frequent it.

And it is because of Wendy’s savvy, warm, pithy, soon-to-come-out book that she’s on her way to Florida to attend the Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show and to sit on a panel there about booksellers who write books.

I’m driving with her through six sticky-warm Southern states to join her at SIBA, and we’re having a blast. With words. We talked for 8 hours yesterday as we drove, chewed the fat with Wendy’s pal Debbie when we arrived at her house to camp out for the night, and we finally drifted off to sleep exhausted, from words—sweet words.

Now we’re on for one more day of driving… and one more day of (you guessed it) WORDS. When I get home to Washington next Monday, I’ll be happily exhausted and ready for a quiet day sitting with my own creatures in my own house with a book and a cup of coffee. And I’ll be planning next year’s trip to Big Stone Gap.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA

On the Road – Again!

I’m in Hilton Head, South Carolina (for my sins) enjoying a great night catching up with old friends. Tomorrow all four of us will caravan down to SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. It’s on the beach at Naples in the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

Yeah, life’s rough….

Friday I speak on a panel, and Saturday we get to run through the great hall with a bunch of other bookslingers, snapping up free galley copies and talking trade with the tribe. I’m very much looking forward to it, and there will be a lot to say once we get to the expo, but right now we’re all full of pizza, wine, and girl talk.

So in place of any meaningful blog, let me just tell you my favorite story so far from another friend at another book expo. My friend Jade is a university librarian who travels the world searching for good books for special collections. A veteran of many book conventions, she told me this story, called ARC-gate:

ARCs are advanced reader copies; publishers make them up in droves and hand them out at conventions and trade shows and such. They are coveted by librarians on tight budgets, booksellers on tight budgets, bibliophiles who managed to sneak into the expos… you get the idea. Everybody loves a freebie.

So, although the tribe of bookslingers usually consists of polite, well-mannered people, well, as Michael Moore observed, librarians–no matter how mild they look– are not to be messed with. Especially when their budgets have been cut.

At the expo my friend described, the ARCs were not so plentiful as those who sought them, and a few displays of bad behavior erupted. The word ‘fistfight’ hovered in the background as the lucky, faster few fled with bags stuffed with goodies, while the hesitant (or more polite) stared glumly at spaces where stacks of free books had been.

But the punchline came at the end of the weekend, when one of the more aggressive librarins proudly laid her stuffed-to-the-gills-with-books bag on the scale–

–and got socked with an overweight fine of $150. Which was not reclaimable on her expense form.

As my friend Deb, in whose house we rest tonight, is fond of saying, “Karma’s a bitch.”

(Don’t forget to enter caption contest VI from the August 29 blog! and potential bookshop sitters should read the blog from Friday past for details of how to apply. Thanks!)

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, small town USA

Holding Pattern…

I’m getting ready to head to SIBA 2012 (Southern Independent Booksellers Association). It’s all very exciting because this is my first time attending SIBA. Friday around 11 I’m on a panel of “Booksellers who Write Books” and Saturday I get to run around the Expo looking at stuff and talking to other bookslingers.

As an added bonus, I get to see three old and dear friends: Cami, who is flying in from Seattle tonight to make the road trip with me; Debbie, who lives in South Carolina and is also going to SIBA with her friend Rockelle, so we’re all meeting up at Debbie’s Hilton Head home; and Sherry, a high school chum I reconnected with a few years ago when she adopted a dog from my rescue (so I get to see little Diogi as well as Sherry).

It will be great fun, but it doesn’t leave much time for blogging, so please consider this a holding pattern and enter caption contest VI. I’m reposting the picture to be captioned here, but scroll down to August 29 and you’ll find the entries already made. Please leave yours as well. St. Martin’s Press is sponsoring the caption contests, so first prize is a free copy of my book; Jack sometimes hands out the “Jack Beck Discretionary Award” if he disagrees with the judges (who are past winners). There are seven contests in all, most involving adorable kittens in the bookshop, so feel free to scroll through previous weeks to see the others.

And look for some fun posts from the Road Trip to SIBA as well as the event itself. Be blogging you! (BTW if you’re interested in the shop-sitter position scroll down through the past three posts to see specifications for the job. And don’t forget that Big Stone Celtic is Sept. 22!)

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