Category Archives: book repair


  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. —Sir Francis Bacon, English author (1561 – 1626)

We’re holding our first ever EDIBLE BOOK CONTEST here at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and we’re really looking forward to it!

What is an edible book, you ask? Well, it is a clever and consumable representation of a book that you liked. For example:



humpty dumptyor

20000 leaguesor one of my personal favorites:

grapes of wrath

All of these are edible book contest entries from other places, and they’re all lovely. (I suppose Twilight was inevitable, yes?) Anyway, bring your edible book to Tales of the Lonesome Pine’s Second Story Cafe  Saturday, June 21 for 2 pm and join the fun. Judging will be done by our guest shopsitter JanelleJanelle Bailey (a staff member of the Wisconsin Book Festival and high school English teacher). Janelle and her two youngest daughters will be minding the shop for a week while Jack is in Scotland. She will be joined in judging by Second Story’s official dessert Erinbaker Erin Dalton, who is pretty much Emily Dickenson reincarnated.

Still confused about how to make an edible book? You can google the concept – there are lots of great pictures out there – and here are the rules:

  1. Everyone can participate: the young, the old, the professional and non-professional, residents and non-residents, and even groups.
  2. Entries must be book-related. Examples of this can be found online.
  3. Entries can be made out of anything, as long as it is edible.
  4. Entries must be family-friendly.
  5. Entry is free and does not require pre-registration. Just bring your edible book to the shop for display at 2 pm. (If you’re going to need to assemble it here, come earlier. We regret that you may not enter the cafe kitchen, but we can loan you some basic tools or heat something if you need us to. You’re not allowed in the kitchen. Health stuff.)
  6. Winner will receive either a free weekend trip to a mountain cabin, or a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore – winner’s choice. All entries will receive a $10 gift certificate to the bookstore.

So get cracking and make us an edible book of such tastefulness as will set Big Stone Gap talking – not that that takes much, but you get the idea. Come one, come all, and let’s have some fun.

edible book


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Caretaking the Eternal Library of Humanity

My friend Anita out in Kansas is looking to relocate the bookshop she manages, Al’s Old and New Books. She has discovered that some people think used bookshops are…. downmarket, while others prefer the term “passe.”


Jack and I have often commented that we oversee a library of ever-changing leftovers, some of which have mass appeal, some of which have esoteric appeal. But the reason we like what we do is that we’re not full of the latest bestseller, face outward on the aisle so mega-shoppers walking to the mall can be enticed by “Oh, I heard about that on Twitter!” impulse moments.

We have the long-term, hardcore stuff. The 1970s classics on Marxism, the Leif Ungers and Robert Fords and Lisa Changes. People who write well but disappeared into the well of marketing madness with nary a splash. My agent Pamela and I were talking one day about the “nebulous” position of used book stores in the publishing world. “After all, NYC doesn’t make any money from them,” she said, but then added, “but we all benefit from them. You are the caretakers of humanity’s eternal library, aren’t you? Like a benevolent dragon trying to get the gold horde out there instead of sit on it.”

Used book stores are the place where the sounds of silence outweigh the shrieks of hawkers telling you why THIS BOOK is the Next Great Thing. You can look for yourself–and thus see for yourself–in a used books shop. In a society that equates old with “has been” rather than “wisdom,” used books shops are a place for those who know when not to swallow a line.

We love running one. And this week, we’ve sold an amazing number of  what from a mainstream point of view would be “nobody’s gonna buy these” books. We sold about 20 volumes of philosophy. No, really, PHILOSOPHY! Mostly 1960s textbooks and treatises.

We sold a great wheen of French novels, both translated and in the original language. And we sold a set of plays written in the 1700s. A cheap, simple copy for someone who wanted to look at their structure. $3.20 and out the door she went.

This is part of why used book shops matter. It’s nice to have big well-lit shops with the bestsellers in them at full retail, but it’s also nice to have a dowdy little community center where you can think for yourself. That, and the $1.50 cuppa and the comfy couches and the cat option and the fact that if you come in and say, “Oh crap, I left my wallet at home,” we will say, “Fine, we’ll write it in the ledger and you can pay us next time you come.” And the customer, who only gets down from Ohio four times a year, stares at you like you’ve gone mad, and comes back two months later and pays up.

This is why it’s important for us to be here. Downmarket, my arse. Up the caretakers of the eternal library of humanity!


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, writing

Never Judge a Book by its Black Sack Covering

books It continues to be a delight to have our lives revolve around the bookstore, to meet folks almost every day who have read Wendy’s book and made a trip to see us, and to be surrounded by ‘bookstore friends’ at the regular events we put on.

But in the middle of all that fun, we deal with the more mundane–and often tedious–jobs such as pricing and shelving the donations and books that show up—usually at the busiest times of the day or week. These unforeseen arrivals often come by the truckload, and that can be a real challenge., since we no longer have hidden spaces to store books until we can find time to sort them. In some cases, we wind up checking their current value on the Internet as well as “stick-n-stash” (as we have ignobly nicknamed pricing and shelving).

A few days ago Wendy was sitting back heaving a sigh of relief, having just dealt with a slew of these incomers; they’d arrived in dribs and drabs throughout the day, and she was proud of having cleared them in a timely manner despite having a record number of customers in the shop.

And then the door opened.

In came our good friend Cyndi Newlon (you can see her in the video tour of the bookstore, playing the corpse in our mystery room).

Cyndi runs a writing center at the nearby college, and she’d asked if we wanted “some old library books.” Apparently, today was the day, and “some books” turned out to be ten large tightly knotted black sacks. Each one was seriously heavy, I discovered, as I helped get them out the back of her SUV and up onto the dry half of the porch.

I had been in the process of getting to grips with our brand new power washer, cleaning the soot of our front porch and outside chairs and tables after the recent big fire across the street. The arrival of Cyndi was a mixed blessing – respite from wrestling with the washer, but ….

We knew that the sacks couldn’t be left lying outside, so there was nothing for it but to dive in and start checking. Old library books are a mixed bag, often useless, but sometimes wonderful. We quickly turned up two or three hard-to-find William Faulkners, as well as quite a few rather attractive very old poetry and short story collections.

Our hearts beat faster. We warmed to the task. It’s not easy to explain to “normal” people, but bibliophiles will understand the excitement of digging through opaque sacks of old books, exclaiming over long-forgotten friends, discovering new titles.

And that’s just thinking of them as books. When you think of them as objects to be sold, well, usually with old worn ex-library books you’re lucky to find maybe one or two in every fifty that would worth hanging on to, but we were amazed with this collection. As we trawled through, we found many first editions, along with rare titles containing beautiful illustrations.

So we are grateful to Cyndi and Don for thinking of us and, once again, we learned to be grateful for what on first blush looks like a lot more work at a busy time. And we learned that you never know what good things might be hiding in a bulging black sack.




Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, reading, Uncategorized, VA, what's on your bedside table, writing

WTH Happened in Cookbooks?!

After a long period of neglectfulness because of Busy Life Syndrome, I moved with purpose and dusting rag yesterday afternoon toward the section of our bookstore housing Horror, Cookbooks, Hippie Interest and Crafting.

Yeah, we put ’em in the same room. Doesn’t everybody?

Anyway, it had been a good long month since any staff had touched the area, other than the quick sweep-n-mop that keeps us from drowning in doggie dander. For some reason, our black Lab Zora loves to doze evenings in the hallway between Homeopathic Health and Cookbooks. Maybe to a dog’s sensitive nose those books smell pleasantly of herbs and bacon. I don’t know.

The scene that met me was worse than anticipated: VC Andrews sat chumming it up in the knitting section. (I wonder what Debbie Macomber would say to that?) Brian Lumley was Cooking with Oprah, the hippies hanging with Stephen King. And the diabetes diet books leaned with a drunken slant against Cakes for Christmas.

A little neglect goes a long way. Over the next two hours, I bookwrangled the wild volumes into a semblance of order. I’m pretty sure Day of the Triffids snarled at me as I separated it from Wilderness Survival, but the world doesn’t need any more horror novels about plants gone bad.

The whole time I was pulling John Saul off Julia Child, that Boston Globe article about wealthy retirees buying “failed” bookstores and reopening them lay on my mind. It was a great article from a bookslinger’s perspective: how the bookstore is not only not dead, but in full-blown revival, climbing the charts of “most wanted retirement careers” to number eight from fifteen in just two short years.

But I hope those dear, sweet people understand that it’s a lot of work, and in many ways a lot of the same work over and over again. You will spend less time discussing Russian Literature than you will separating it from Amish Christian Romances.

Jack and I wish you well, you new crop of bookstore owners, and we wish you the joy that comes from co-mingled dust and ideas. You’re going to see a lot of both.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, humor, shopsitting, Uncategorized, writing


So my Twitter friend Erica Susan Jones – she loves books and cats, so it was pretty much friendship at first tweet – has started a blog. About bookshops. ‘Nuff said.

Here it is, copied from her site, which is

Books are my addiction.

If I see a bookshop I have to go inside, and walking inside means I inevitably leave with at least one book, generally two or three. From fiction to cookery, classics to sci fi, crime to chick lit, I love them all.

But it’s not just about the subject, a book is a true sensory experience. Reading the story, savouring the words, hearing the pages turn, the scent of the paper and ink and feeling its weight in my hands. Each one is unique, with its creases and imperfections, markings in the margin or name inside the cover – recording the journey the book has taken with each individual reader, a memory that no e-reader can mimic.

And the bookshop it comes from is just as important a part of the reading process. Row upon row of books lining the shelves, with central tables drawing our attention to key themes or authors as we browse, looking for inspiration, or perhaps moving with purpose on the quest for something specific.

Then there are the booksellers. Readers themselves, they can be a great source to tap when looking for your next big read – or struggling to find a gift for your Dad/friend/boss. These people help bring the personal touch that very few websites are able to claim.

But all is not well, the bookshop is in decline.

I’m not about to go into facts and figures about how many have closed and when, as I’d probably find it too depressing and that’s not what this blog is about. Instead I’m going to – mostly – ignore the e-reader and internet shopping and focus on the positives.

Just a brief search of the internet reveals a wealth of bookshops to be enjoyed by the discerning reader, all with their own character and charm, all crying out to me to visit. And so we come to the purpose of my writing.

This blog is to be a celebration of the bookshop.

Every entry will be about a bookshop of some kind or another. Generally I plan to visit the bookshops (independent or part of a chain, so long as they’re real I’ll visit) to tell you what’s special about them, or why I want to visit them, but given that time, money and geography will limit me somewhat I’m sure the odd (real) fictional bookshop will sneak in to ensure regular writing.

I hope you enjoy exploring the bookshops with me and maybe feel inspired to visit a few more yourself. Also, if anyone has a bookshop they want to recommend (preferably in the UK unless you want to pay for my travel) I’d love to hear about it with a view to hopefully visiting sometime.

Thanks for reading,

You can leave a comment for Erica here, or go directly to her blog!


Filed under book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, publishing, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Why I’m not Blogging this Weekend

Driving back from Mt. Heritage Literary Festival, where I had taught a laughter-filled and successful workshop, the sun was shining, the buffalo were out (no really, there are some on that back road) and bees were humming among the blooming hillside clover. A perfect ending to a good day.

I had decided, since I would get back to the bookshop just before closing, to blow off the evening as a responsible adult, forget the laundry and the overdue writing, and kick back with a glass of red and a few episodes of my secret vice, Say Yes to the Dress. Then I’d write a nice cheery blog about my time at Mt. Heritage, take a cool bath with some scented talc, and pile into bed (while it was still daylight, maybe!) with a novel.

Pulling up in front of the bookstore, I watched a man exit and walk to a large pick-up, parked backwards so the bed faced the shop stairs. He scooped a he-man-sized stack into his arms and headed back up the stairs–just as my shopsitter exited the shop and went to the truck, where he performed the same actions.

A small sinking sensation gathered in my chest and worked its way down to my liver.

You guessed it: some 600 books, mostly hardbacks, had to be triaged, and quickly, as the shop’s front room floor had disappeared under the deluge. I began sorting and stacking, while faithful shopsitters Wes and Rachael trotted back and forth to the romance shed, the free book bin, and the bargain basement. I am proud to say that we got through this first round of sort-n-sift in about ten minutes, clearing some 200 books from the floor, but by then it was closing time, when Wes and Rach resume their normal lives.

No no, don’t worry about me, go on, I’ll be fine. Nothing planned this evening anyway.

book stacksGood thing. Fortunately, I’ll still have help.

Owen helps with books large book stacks It’s gonna be a long night…..


Filed under animal rescue, book repair, bookstore management, humor, publishing, shopsitting, Uncategorized

When Books Attack

Running a bookstore is dangerous. Books can become downright murderous–especially during shelving season. Revealed here are the top six book assassin techniques. Be aware!

The Center Shoot: You push a mass of shelved books to one side to insert something in alphabetical order, and a book sticks, causing those headed toward it to strike hard, and those on the other side to shoot forward with 0-60 velocity. It’s not unlike the physics behind popping a pimple. This is an equal opportunity accident, occurring with tall, short, paperback and hardcover tomes with no preference. It doesn’t matter for the victim; it hurts when books slam into your tum.

The Side Slide: A stack of pocket paperbacks (the little ones) are lying sideways on the shelf. The one you want is 2/3 down the stack. You know your physics, and tilt the stack up, so page edges lean against the shelf’s back. And then the gremlins come: the stack you are holding diagonally up, tilted AWAY from you, moves without rhyme or reason–but with considerable force–toward your breasts, where they strike without mercy.  The Side Slide can happen in any genre but only at specific heights: to the female bookslinger breasts, non-gender-specific to the bridge of the nose, and male bookslingers considerably lower.

The Fiction Faux Stack: Popular with trade- or pocket-sized fiction. You lift a stack of these miscreants, maneuvering them in your arms backwards to brace against your stomach–but one wobbles and the whole thing explodes like a firework. For some reason, most booksellers attempting this lift are barefoot; hardbacks unfailingly strike the arches and ankles. For extra points, smaller books may flip upward and come down after the first layer have fallen, prolonging the effect.

The Soloist: When working above one’s head, it is not uncommon to place a book in a tightly-packed shelf, only to have it leap from its assigned position in a goodbye-cruel-world way–usually onto the shelver’s upturned nose. For some reason, larger books from the history section do this more often. Perhaps they cannot bear to be reminded of the company they keep for all eternity.

Cookbook Crumble: Nicer cookbooks are often printed on heavy paper to absorb color photographs. A stack of cookbooks weighs double what other, similar sized books might punch. Hence the unsuspecting newbie’s surprise when, attempting to shelve a cookbook with one hand, she braces the others between her arm and the shelf. Think very heavy, unstable see-saw. If the bone does not break outright, pain will cause the shelver to flex, sending books to the floor, where–you guessed it–the barefoot toes receive the brunt of the sharp-hardcover-corner action.

The Top Shelf Textbook Stacking Fail: You raise a small stack of large volumes, usually textbooks, to the level of a shelf higher than your shoulders, but the edge of the final book catches on the shelf’s bottom as your arms struggle for that last centimeter. This book slides into your face as the rest fall behind the shelf–if you’re lucky. Otherwise the whole stack drop onto your head.

Books are insidious and have many ways to torment their keepers. These are just a few – but Jack says they are proof that a disorderly shop is safer. Or maybe he said justification….


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