Tag Archives: truth

Jack’s Monday Book on Wednesday

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Just to confuse everyone, Jack’s Wednesday blog post is the Monday book – –

The first thing to say before I get going is that we already knew that this book is set in the offices of the agency that handled the launching of Wendy’s best seller, ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’. Although the agency isn’t actually named in the book it’s a very open secret which New York literary agency it is. We are both, therefore, familiar with the rather old fashioned but cozy interior and the amazing collection of books lining the walls.

This is really at least two intertwining stories and I’m not sure that’s done terribly well. One is very much about the culture and characters of the agency itself, while the other is focused more on what’s going on in Rakoff’s life.

The first half of the book is mainly about her success in finding a job at what she refers to simply as ‘The Agency’, discovering how hard it is to live frugally in New York, getting to know her co-workers and being groomed by ‘The Boss’. I have to admit that I found that strand of the book unnecessarily gloomy and dark, as that’s certainly not what we experienced on or visits to the place. Something else that emerges in this early part of her book is the impression that the only famous author represented by the agency is JD Salinger, which is simply not true.

Her main job is to send form letters to fans of Salinger, who refuses to engage with them and is somewhat reclusive. She eventually strikes up something of a relationship with him on the phone and is finally on first name terms with him (Jerry and Joanna).

For me, the book really only takes off about halfway through when we begin to discover what’s going in Rakoff’s personal life. This strand is all about the self-discovery that anyone over the age of thirty will find excruciatingly familiar. It’s all about growing, maturing and making difficult decisions about what you want to do with your life.

The book ends with a jump forward to a married Rakoff with a husband and kids and a successful career as a novelist, poet and journalist.

I didn’t find this book disappointing overall, but I did find the beginning a bit heavy going.

6 out of 10 from me!

PS – it’s The Harold Ober Agency and Wendy’s agent doesn’t work there any more – – –

 

 

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Mea Culpa – – –

Well – I finally got back to doing a Wednesday post on a Wednesday – –

We all do bad things from time to time. Sometimes by accident and occasionally deliberately (because we have the light and the dark in all of us). We even do bad things for the best of intentions and that’s what I did on Monday!

We learn from these things of course and I’d hoped that, at the age of 76, I had maybe mostly sorted it out.

The story really starts with the death of our beloved black Lab Zora. I had to take her to be sent ‘over the rainbow bridge’ about six months ago which left our terrier Bert as our only dog. They had been best pals most of their lives and poor Bert has been very different since then. They used to run around the yard together all day long but he now spends most of his time in the bookstore at my feet.

bert in chair

But Bert is also getting on a bit (95 in human years) and is showing definite signs of arthritis in his back legs. Our Vet, the ‘Sainted Beth’, has him on a sensible regime of doggie painkillers and that mostly seems to work and we have hopes he can keep going for a bit yet.

But just last Sunday a medical doctor friend was here with his wife for our monthly Quaker meeting and we all saw Bert limping. A general discussion about arthritis resulted in him making a passing comment about Ibuprofen being effective. After everyone had gone I remembered that I had some left over from when I had a bout of sciatica earlier in the year and that’s when it all went wrong!

Of course our doctor friend hadn’t suggested Ibuprofen for Bert – that was just me adding two and two and getting five.

I think why I feel particularly bad about this is because our pets trust us and Bert is no exception. He happily scoffs down pills as long as they’re hidden in a spoonful of peanut butter and I’m sure he never imagines I’d do anything to hurt him. But I gave him an Ibuprofen yesterday morning and another one last evening. Around 11 pm as we were settling down to sleep with Bert between us he stood up, arched his back and spewed his supper all over the bed. We got up and removed the top sheet before anything soaked through and he went out through the dog flap. This went on for the rest of the night until we were reduced to the last couple of blankets and poor Bert was exhausted!

Wendy took him up for an emergency consultation this morning with St. Beth and it looks like he will survive, but I feel very guilty. So what have I learned? Well, obviously – never make any uninformed decisions about medications for your pet, and never assume that what works for humans will work for pets. NEVER give Ibuprofen to your pet!!

I will be going up to collect Bert at the end of the working day at Powell Valley Animal Hospital. The Sainted Beth is smaller than me but I’m scared stiff at what she’s going to do to me!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Here, There and Everywhere

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post is a day late –

I continue to be somewhat amazed at how small the world has become, and it’s not just the number of people from far afield who visit our wee bookstore in rural Appalachia – even this week when it was snowing.

Just yesterday I had an email conversation with a gentleman in Rome, Italy called Massimo. It started first thing in the morning with a request for the words of a song I recorded with my old group Heritage on our second album back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued and in a subsequent message he explained he was a big fan and had spent years collecting all the available recordings that I and the group had made over the years. As of this morning there are two CDs he didn’t know about winging their way to him via the USPS and Poste Italiane!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the presenter of a folk music show that airs on a radio station based in SW Scotland and we have begun to exchange programs. The ones I’m sending him are mostly digitized copies of cassettes that were made of a live show that I did back in the 1990s on a different (and now defunct) station in Scotland. But these cassettes were stored here at WETS which is the station where ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ is based, because back then I sent them over to be re-broadcast here. So a show that originally went out live to rural Perthshire has gone through a series of different technologies, traveled the Atlantic twice and is being heard by listeners of Folk n’ Stuff over the internet in (among other places) Tallahassee where there are, apparently, a loyal group of fans!

Sticking with the radio theme, I had the great pleasure of interviewing a lovely Irishman called Liam at the WETS studios on Monday morning, who is a visiting professor at ETSU just now, and made a good friend in the process. We concentrated on two themes that are part of his research focus and will also be the subjects of presentations he will make here. One was the importance of the culture of small geographical areas and the other was the challenge of Brexit for Ireland (North and South).

On Tuesday Wendy and I had our guest blog post for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum published and that also has a transatlantic theme.

https://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/follow-ballad-scotlands-lord-gregory-carter-familys-storms-ocean/

Meanwhile I continue to fine tune the arrangements for my annual small group tour of Scotland at the end of June, which also entails a fair amount of international communication.

It’s all a mad gay whirl I tell you – – –

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, 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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We don’t Need no Thought Control

Jack manages to get his Wednesday guest post up here on a Wednesday –

There’s a meme going around Facebook just now about the trade-off between corporate life and a happy life that starts with a quote from the Dalai Lama about suits and ties and it got me thinking –

I started my working life as, first an apprentice house and sign painter and decorative painter, and then wound up running my own business doing that. So fairly laid back and relaxed although always at the demands of clients and customers. Eventually I graduated to teaching these skills in the local community college.

That was when my suit and tie days began and so it continued until I retired in 2002. Even after that as a training and education consultant I continued for a number of years to work ‘business hours’ and still in a suit and tie.

It’s very tempting, of course, to buy into the notion of a regular day job existence ‘stealing’ your independence and freedom but I don’t really agree with that I’m afraid. All the time I was attending to customers’ needs and running a college department I had an escape hatch into the world of traditional folk music. So there was a parallel world that I could inhabit whenever I wanted to.

What this meant was that when I finally did retire I had a number of different pensions that kicked in as well as a substantial ‘lump sum’, and I still had the parallel world. That really did give me independence and freedom and I think that’s a perfectly good trade-off. Mind you, I was brought up in the cradle of ‘the protestant work ethic’ so maybe I’m programed in that direction.

It’s possible, I’m sure, to live a satisfying life without the need for a 9 to 5 job that involves a suit and tie and it may be that the US is a country where that is more practicable. I have no doubt there are particular corporate world jobs that provide little satisfaction and are even grindingly boring. So maybe I was just lucky. I certainly always used to describe myself to my favorite college boss as a ‘lucky painter’, although she eventually got tired of me saying that!

All I can say in conclusion is that I have no problem whatsoever with my particular trade-off. But I rarely wear a suit and tie these days – –

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

Plus ça Change, Plus c’est la Même Chose

Jack gets to write on a Friday for a change –

Being a fairly laid back and ‘see the other’s point of view’ kind of guy, I tried very hard not to start anything on Facebook after the latest school shooting. But I was so utterly devastated by the stupid absurdity of the act itself, followed by the inevitable and immediate split between pro and anti-gun voices, that I felt it necessary to take a step back and try to give my point of view.

I really want to understand US gun attitudes across the spectrum but I may have to ‘unfriend’ an awful lot of people that I never thought I would. I can’t understand why folk can’t see what’s staring them in the face, but – hey – I’ve only been a Citizen for eight years and it’s not like you have to pass a test to prove you understand the constitution – – -like I did to become a Citizen.

I’m usually extremely careful about the things I post online, because I do have friends across the whole political continuum. But yesterday’s events just shook me to the core. To be clear, I’m a Quaker, a member of The Religious Society of Friends. I’m a member by convincement and not by birth and have been for 14 years. I am completely opposed to violence and armaments of any kind. I do not own a gun and never will! I can just, but only just, understand the need for a gun to perhaps hunt for food, although I’m close to vegetarian. (Curse my inability to withstand the temptations of bacon.)

All of the above is simply to make folk aware of where I stand. I’m not perfect by any means and certainly not by comparison with others of many faiths and none. But on guns I am very clear where I stand.

Those three paragraphs above are modified from Facebook posts I made yesterday.  What happened after I posted them surprised me. Two longstanding friends went to great lengths to defend the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. One took a constitutional and historical point of view (for which I have some, but limited, sympathy) and the other did the usual “vehicles and knives kill people but you don’t ban them” polemic. What disappointed me about both these responses was that both seemed to think the answer was to increase the number of guns in circulation.

Scotland had its own school shooting in the 1990s: Dunblane primary school, with 16 small children and their teacher killed. That resulted in an almost complete ban on handguns with equally almost complete support from the population, and there have been no school shootings since. Do you understand that? None. I find it incomprehensible that the United States government did not take similar action.

A friend of ours, a journalist we respect, who studies social trends, says that when the Sandy Hook school shooting took place, it was the tipping point. Once children could be killed by gun violence without laws passed in response, the numbing effect of this would permeate and prevent future advocacy.

I think she was right. I wish she hadn’t been.

dunblane

16 of these Dunblane children and their teacher were killed. No school shootings since.

 

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Just the Right Note – –

Jack doesn’t quite make it with his Wednesday guest post –

This was going to be a post about my birthday on Monday and I suppose it still can be.

Yes – it was yet another one and I had a great night in the local-ish Indian restaurant with a group of close friends. I was also amazed at how many folk felt connected enough to wish me the best via Facebook, which has its good and bad points but keeps us all in touch if we can ignore all the crazy stuff.

party

Good friends, good company and excellent curries on Monday evening

But my present to myself has been a year in the preparation. In a recent post I mentioned a guitar that was being repaired and put back in the condition (in fact better than) it was when I first bought it some years ago. So here’s the story –

I had been traveling back and forward between Scotland and the US and was very nervous about my big guitar having to travel in the hold of the planes, so I started researching ‘parlor guitars’ as they can fit in the overhead bins. I was searching online and found a guy in California who found parlor guitars at house clearances and had a whole lot for sale. I took a chance and bought one from him. A bit like folk buying a tour of Scotland from someone they’ve never met!

When it arrived it turned out to be a Lyon and Healy Lakeside. L&H still exist but haven’t made guitars for a long time. Based in Chicago they are known now for their pianos and harps. The Lakeside was their second top quality guitar – the top one was called the Washburn (the middle name of one of the partners). They sold the Washburn brand and that’s a whole other story.

DSCN4549

When my Lakeside arrived I was completely charmed and impressed. It is the only guitar I’ve seen with back and sides made from oak, and how anyone could have bent these sides is beyond me. It had a bright and punchy sound and was incredibly easy to play. These instruments were popular with mountain music groups of the 1920s and 30s because they were both cheap and could be heard alongside the banjo and fiddle. Sadly my guitar quickly began to deteriorate with a split on the top, a split in the heel of the neck and internal braces loosening.

Enter two new and good friends who made an introduction to an excellent guitar luthier in Nashville and organized transport of my beloved Lakeside to and from that wonderful craftsman. I really thought I’d get a quick response saying it was beyond help, but didn’t hear anything at all!

I had been told it would probably take a year as he had to fit it in between his own much sought after bespoke instruments and that’s exactly how long it took.

DSCN4551

This morning I finally got her back and I’m completely astonished. He deliberately didn’t try to make her look like new, but simply made everything just how it was when I first got her. But much, much better. She looks pretty much the same but sounds and plays like a dream. The big thing I found when I first got her was that the neck was narrow and had a distinct ‘D’ cross section which really suits my hand. When I sat down this afternoon to play her I knew all the trouble and expense was completely worth it!

So to all 400 of you who wished me happy birthday in various ways – I’m amazed I have that many folk who care. To those of you who made it to Sahib’s on Monday evening, I just finished my tandoori prawn tonight. To the love of my life who traveled down from WV to make sure I survived – hang on – we have a 20th anniversary approaching.

To Paul, Bill and especially Chris Bozung – thanks for giving me back the Lakeside (not to mention the anonymous original makers who’s instrument sold for the first time for $6 in 1906 in a Sears Roebuck catalogue).

 

 

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