Tag Archives: book clubs

Triple Play Weekend

Jack’s guest blog on our unusually busy bookstore weekend

harrellIt was a triple play weekend here at the Little Bookstore. Friday night we had an excellent and well attended house-concert with Michael Reno Harrell, whose stories and songs were absolutely first class.You can see a video of him on our bookstore facebook page Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC.

cards-against1Then on Saturday night we had our bi-monthly ‘Cards against Humanity’ game night, also well attended and as hilarious as ever. The play of the night came when, using a blank card, Wendy asked “How did Susan persuade David to take in their latest adopted cat?” Several cards appeared–including the one no one would admit playing, “That Ass,”–but the winning card was “Abstinence.”

Played by David.

I had no idea Susan’s face could turn as red as her hair.

And then Sunday night was an event that I set up: a special movie night featuring ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, preceded by a documentary with Terry Jones and Michael Palin visiting the Scottish castles they used in the film. I aimed it at local folk who had been on my annual Scottish tour (and had, therefore seen at least one of the castles). That was another good night with lots of laughs and a lovely feel of reunion among those who’ve gone to Scotland with me.

This weekend Wendy and I emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Elizabethton (TN). And then at the end of the month, our own Big Stone Celtic festival is upon us here in town!

And, just as I thought I was finished writing this, a couple arrived all the way from Nashville who had read Wendy’s book, used to own a bookstore, and are now planning to do it again. At the same time, the mailman delivered a lovely thank-you card from the 17 members of a Johnson City book club who visited us a couple of weeks ago (and ate lunch in our cafe).

Just in case this sounds too idyllic, our old and rickety building still tests my less than professional carpentry and plumbing skills. I loathe and detest sink drains and stairs, but that’s what I’m doing between bouts of nerves over the upcoming Big Stone Celtic.

So – just another typical week. If it’s Wednesday, it must be time to check on our international superstar coming from Scotland. And then I’ll tighten the u-joint in the bathroom. Hey ho…..


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch


Finally, I have done as my wise (and patient) agent Pamela suggested, and written “Questions for book group discussions of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” Since many minds make smooth sentences, if you have any suggestions, please send them along. I’d particularly like to add a couple on bookshop management, if any other store owners out there have ideas. I kinda hit a blank wall, writing stuff that was too esoteric. Thanks!

1. Have you ever tried to fit into a place you weren’t from or familiar with? What did you find were the joys, the barriers, the unexpected curve balls of doing so?

2. Is there a snake pit in your life? Do you agree with Wendy’s assessment that almost all of us face such job situations at some point?

3. Cats: what place do they have in the lives of bookstores? Have you seen the newest cats and fosters at Tales of the Lonesome Pine (online via Wendy’s blog)? What do you think about the overpopulation problem of companion animals in the United States? What responsibilities, if any, do humans have toward animals?

4. Of all the stories in Little Bookstore, the two that seem to resonate most with people are of Wee Willie, and the Kiwanis letter. People run the gamut, don’t they, from being unpleasant to one another, to being generous beyond imagination. Why do you think these two stories have been the most mentioned by readers? Do you have circumstances in your own life where you experienced something similar?

5. Fire victims replacing childhood books is a poignant expression of loss, love, and memory. What do you think this priority says about us as humans?

6. Reading Little Bookstore, do you see places where people misunderstood each other, misrepresented each other, yet overcame these miscommunications to understand each other? Do these moments have echoes in your life?

7. If you could suddenly change your life tomorrow, start a business, leave your residence or job, whatever…would you? If so, what would you do? If not, why not?

8. What’s the difference between luck and learning fast to adapt? Where did you see these differences in how Jack and Wendy survived their inept start at being bookstore owners?

9. Wendy talks a fair bit about happiness and contentment. She quotes several other authors and how they describe happiness. Does happiness disappear when you look it square in the face, or elude us when actively pursued? Is it true, as Garrison Keillor (an author not quoted in the book) says, that the realization of happiness comes moments after whatever has made us happy ends? Or can we recognize contentedness when we have it?

10. Discuss the role independent bookstores play in reading satisfaction. Is the process of acquiring the book part of the story it tells, or is cheap, fast, and easy what we want in our shopping experiences nowadays? Is it worth paying more to visit a real bookstore (and do you really pay more)?

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Filed under animal rescue, bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, what's on your bedside table, writing

Not Like Radio

When I used to tell stories for a living, I dreaded radio gigs. Telling a story on the radio was like being in a black box; you knew there were people out there but you couldn’t see or hear their reactions to what you were doing, be guided by them in how you told the story.

You could only say what you had to say and hope for the best.

Writing Little Bookstore reminded me a lot of telling stories on the radio. Just say what you mean, mean what you say, and make your deadlines with the editor.

So one of the delights of being a bookstore owner who wrote a book about her bookstore is having people who’ve read the book show up at the bookstore and tell you about their experience reading it.

Wednesday saw 21 readers of LB wander through our place. 18 were from two book clubs run out of Pike County Public Library in Kentucky. The others were a solo traveler and a girlfriend team. The book club asked questions about Scottish history and compared notes on small town life from the book to their life experiences.

The solo traveler was an 81-year-old lady named Virginia from a small town two hours up the road, whose children had forbade her to visit us alone. “But I could come today and I knew you were in today–last time I came you two were away–so I just ignored them and came anyway.”

Sorry, Virginia’s family, but we really enjoyed your mom. She is a hoot, and so intelligent and well-read. She asked us lots of insightful questions about biography writers and epochs of American history. When she left about 5, we thought the day just couldn’t get better.

In walked The Lady From Bristol. She had read Little Bookstore and loved it, had several questions to ask Jack (I was out running an errand) and told some stories of her own about setting up business in a small town. She bought two whacking great stacks of books, refused help carrying them to the car, then came back inside with an armful of bakery boxes.

“Here,” she said. “From one small town success story to another.” She had a dozen doughnuts, several decorated shortbread cookies, and a Key Lime Bar from Blackbird Bakery, in Bristol. (Bristol is a town half in Virginia, half in Tennessee; I don’t know which side of the street Blackbird is on, but it’s well known for its confections. With good reason.)

“Thank you for opening a bookshop, and for writing this book,” she said, set the baked goods down on the counter, and walked out at 6:02.

It’s sweet to be given baked goods. It’s lovely to entertain intelligent conversationalists in the shop. And it’s flat out wonderful to hear directly from people how your book touched them, and why.

Black box begone. Life is good. *munches doughnut*


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, Life reflections, publishing, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

The People that we Meet (and the Shortbread that they Eat)

IMG_4239Since the weather turned this Spring, Jack and I have been enjoying a fairly steady stream of visitors from book clubs. The one on the right, with Jack holding court, is from Christiansburg, with Pamela Hale (in the green dress) at the helm.

Book clubs (as well as posses of gal pals) have discovered we’re a good day out, that, as one visitor put it “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is accessible in every sense of the word!” Clubs from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky have visited this past month – not to mention the closer gang of Upward Bound kids from right here in the county.

It’s fun, playing host, answering questions about the book or the bookstore, and running our cafe. We have always served soups and sandwiches, but since the rise of the book clubs we’ve expanded our menu to include more British delicacies; cold cucumber soup remains a “never had this before” favorite for many visitors.)IMG_3637

We’ve also had several book clubs from farther away (Illinois and California, lately) email to ask questions or make observations from their discussions. One group that recently got in touch does that cool book club thing where they theme their refreshments to the books they’re reading.  Barbara, the host next month for Little Bookstore, emailed and asked ever so politely if Jack shared his shortbread recipe, as she’d serve that with cups of tea.

IMG_3636Cups of tea, as those of you who have read it know, is a recurring theme in Little Bookstore, and along with the story of Wee Willie and some comments about the cats, it’s what most readers mention most often, and sometimes first.  Jack and I hear “I’ll put the kettle on” often from people when talking about the book.

So, if you’re in the neighborhood and fancy a drive, we’ll put the kettle on for you. And if you’re too far away, but fancy some Scottish shortbread, here’s Jack’s mum’s recipe:

Sugar 3 ounces (1/3 cup); Flour 8 ounces (2 cups); Butter 6 ounces (1 and a half sticks)

(all weights are dry – NOT fluid ounces)

Sift flour and sugar into a bowl. After butter has softened at room temperature work it by hand into the mixed flour and sugar until it has become a fairly stiff dough (this will take a few minutes – be patient!).

Dust your work-surface with flour and roll out the dough to about ½ inch thick. Cut rectangles about 7 inches by 3 inches and use a flat spatula to transfer them to a buttered baking tray. Use a fork to prick the surface of the dough rectangles all over. Place the tray in the oven preheated to 3750 .

Keep checking until the edges of the rectangles are beginning to slightly brown (usually about 15 – 20 minutes). Remove from the oven and set the tray aside to cool. While the baked rectangles are still warm, carefully cut them into strips 3 inches by 1 inch (Jack uses a circular pizza cutter), then let them completely cool. Enjoy them with afternoon tea or coffee!


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

A Real Person

Last week Jack and I headed off to do a book club event. Carolyn got in touch via Facebook, and asked if we would visit two in combination near Wintergreen Resort (a high end retreat in Northern Virginia)

Since we were driving up on a beautiful Spring day and had “all the time in the world” Jack and I did what fools do: turned off our GPS and started back-roading. At 8 pm, twenty miles off target, we left the Blue Ridge Parkway via a dirt road I am pretty sure was an irrigation service track for someone’s cow pasture. (We rehooked the gate after we went through.)

Carolyn and her husband live in a community of DC refugees. The book club’s women were either retired from work in Fairfax or Richmond, or keeping gracious, spacious homes open for men still making the daily commute. Those of you who do author events will recognize the underlying intimidation factor: that gig where, as you stand to speak, you realize the people sitting in the front row could pool their changepurse contents and buy your car.

But they asked such insightful questions amid repeated offers of “Would you like a cup of coffee/tea/juice/wine” so often, we had a great time. One of the attending clubs was called “Needs and Deeds.” They support causes they feel need quiet yet swift attention, donating their own discretionary income but also holding fundraisers, often involving books or handmade items.

The night before the club meeting, we took to our hostess Carolyn right away; she’s the kind of woman who opens her arms and the world walks into them. She cooks and makes things better, maintains graciousness with an effortless grace. She has magnolia-blossom white hair and blue eyes that, when you look in, are just looking for ways to make your day better.

Here’s the kicker, though: as Carolyn was making us a breakfast of fresh ground coffee, cheddar scrambled eggs, homemade bread and jam, and fresh raspberries, we started talking about a book idea I’d been kicking around: “Invisible? the lives of American women after 5o.”

I didn’t bring it up, though; Carolyn did. She was trying to write her family history for the publishing market, and thinking of going back to school. Among other things, she said, she wanted her three daughters to be “proud of her,” to feel that she had “done something with her life.”

I looked at the spacious home full of grandchild spaces, the tended garden, the bread, the dogs – one of whom was a Hurricane Katrina rescue. “Done something?” I repeated.

“Well, I mean, yes, I used to work in a bookstore,” Carolyn said, bunching eggs with her spatula. “In your book, you talk about dreams, living a real life. And my life…”

“Your book club is called ‘Needs and Deeds,’ right?” I asked, blinking.

She smiled. “I know. But I want my daughters to know I was a real person.”

We talked a long time that morning about what a “real person” meant for women with white hair in America, swapping stories, and having some good laughs near tear territory.

And Carolyn, if ever there were a real person, hands and ears and eyes tuned to what’s going on around them, it is you. Whether the outside forces of American society see it or not, you are not invisible, but radiantly transparent. Different thing. God Bless You for it.


Filed under animal rescue, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA