Tag Archives: books

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Jack fails to make it in time – again – – –

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Well the latest big surprise yesterday was an email telling me that ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ was voted one of the top three bookstores in SW Virginia by readers of a Virginia wide tourism magazine.

I thought to begin with that it was some kind of scam, but after exchanging a series of emails with a nice lady it became clear that it was genuine.

This immediately raised a few questions –

The bookstore closed over a year ago and the building is now a private dwelling again, and the new owners probably wouldn’t want hordes of folk knocking on the door or even just walking straight in.

There again – who voted and how did they not know we’d closed?

To be clear, we had the best time running that bookstore for fourteen years and made it into a real community hub. We made many friends along the way. The only reasons we sold up and moved was that Wendy’s job could be handled more easily from where we are now in Wytheville, it felt like time to move on and the building needed more TLC than a seventy-eight-year-old guy could contemplate.

I tried to find out whether we would have been first, second or third, but for understandable reasons we couldn’t be told. I also asked if our votes could be transferred to our good friends at Oracle Books in Wytheville but no dice there either.

 wendy-welch.com/2012/08/28/a-virtual-tour-of-tales-of-the-lonesome-pine-used-books/

Sometimes life is just weird – – –

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Home is where the Heartspace is – –

Jack gets a guest post on a Saturday – what next?

Wendy and I have ended up in lots of great places so she could get some peace for writing. We thought Fayetteville in West Virginia was the best, when she was offered three months as Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. That was a lovely time, but the best was yet to come!

blue house

When we moved to Wytheville from Big Stone Gap, we couldn’t have imagined that among our first new friends would be Randy and Lisa who own Oracle Books down on Main Street. During our first year here we’ve helped them run events at the store and they’ve introduced us to many new friends, as well as supplying us with wonderful eggs from the farm where they live. Lisa raises goats for their fleece and I do believe the ladies have done some trades the hubbies are not privy to, as well.

But here’s the rub – Wendy found herself suddenly hit with two book deadlines. Her contracted book is due to McFarland Press in mid-February. Wendy’s been working almost non-stop at editing this volume, tentatively titled High Hopes: Appalachian prescribers and therapists take on the substance abuse crisis. It has some fifteen or so contributors, and all I know is my darling comes around the corner in our house from time to time, tears streaming down her face, or laughing, and says, “Listen to this.”

The second deadline is not specific, but Wendy feels driven. For years she wanted to publish a book about our cat rescue work, but her agent (a wonderful woman we both respect) didn’t feel it would work. Out of the blue, the editor Wendy works with at McFarland messaged to ask, hadn’t Wendy been working on a cat book at some point? Could she see that when Wendy had a chance?

It can be hard to concentrate at home sometimes—chores, cats and (dare I say) the husband can call my wife’s focus away. Randy’s sister Linda came to the rescue with the offer of her gorgeous 1900 house tucked off the beaten track. It doesn’t have cell-phone coverage but does have internet – perfect. So a bookstore is helping an author to get a couple of books published.

My job is to keep the wood stove going (oh bliss), walk Bruce our dog, and run out for provisions when necessary. In other words it is to guard Wendy’s head space so she can do what she does best – write. That’s what I guess all marriages are about, in a larger sense: guarding each other’s heads, if not hearts as well. You support each other. It’s always a negotiation as she supports my musical stuff and I do my best to support her writing. On the other hand, she’s also musical, becoming among other things a very good harp player, and I am writing a blog post at this moment. So perhaps as much as guarding each other’s space, it is making space for each other in our own?

 

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The Monday Book: The Story of the Tweed

Jack gets to do the book review this week –

The Story Of the Tweed by Herbert Maxwell

I’m not usually all that keen on travel books, but this one intrigued me as it’s about a part of Scotland with which I’m familiar. In fact I was there in June this year with my tour group, as I have been every other year for the last fourteen.

This is a facsimile reprint of a book first published in 1909, but it holds up well and could easily have been written more recently.

Maxwell traces the journey of the river Tweed from its source near Moffat to the North Sea at Berwick. But he takes a good few side turnings to explore the countryside, adjacent towns and other smaller rivers that feed into the Tweed.

river_tweed

The Tweed with the Eildon Hills in the background

Of course this is ‘ballad country’, and Maxwell was clearly well acquainted with many of them – many are quoted, including ‘The Dowie Dens o Yarrow’, ‘True Thomas’, ‘Johnnie Armstrong’ and more. Walter Scott’s famous ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ is the definitive collection and it would seem Maxwell had his own copy!

The writing is excellent, descriptive and humorous. Much of Scotland’s history was played out in this ‘debatable land’ covering the much disputed border with England. Again the author proves himself well up to the task of dissecting and explaining the history as he leads us along. Like most of my generation my schooling included very little Scottish history so it’s through books like this that I’ve had to re-educate myself.

Maxwell is clearly a big fan of Walter Scott, who lived the last part of his life in his mansion beside the Tweed. It’s clear also that he, like Scott was a big supporter of the union of Scotland and England. However I think the reason was more to do with the ending of cross border raids and the establishment of peace than for the economic reasons Scott espoused.

If you can find a copy then I highly recommend this to anyone with connections to the area or with an interest in Scottish history and balladry. Fans of Outlander will also recognize some familiar themes!

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Monday Book – The Rituals of Dinner – Margaret Visser

Jack gets to review the Monday book this week –

dinner

This book is both fascinating and frustrating.

Visser chose a strange way to progress her story, not chronologically as might be expected, but by topics. This results in a good deal of repetition – revisiting the Greeks, Romans, medieval Europeans etc in every chapter. Other reviewers have suggested the book could have been a good deal shorter and more readable and I’m inclined to agree.

On the other hand I found it hard to put down because of all the really interesting stuff scattered throughout. Although her specialty is literature, she is clearly a fine anthropologist as well. There are a good few references to folk motifs that I’m familiar with and was a bit surprised to find in a book about table manners. In fact, although the title suggests a fairly narrow focus, Visser ranges pretty widely around the central subject.

You could be forgiven for expecting this book to be about table manners and how to behave at the dinner table. It actually starts with cannibalism, goes through the development of tables and chairs, covers the invention of forks and spoons, deals with social attitudes in different cultures and a host of other loosely food related matters.

I think what was perhaps a bit startling for me was recognizing familiar dinner table and restaurant situations and for the first time understanding what lay behind them – everything from the placing of a knife (blade towards you and not your neighbor) to signaling the time to change courses.

The final chapter examines present day mores including the fast food culture – reflecting another book – ‘The MacDonaldization of Society’ by George Ritzer, but that’s another story – –

I have some reservations about Visser’s book, but if you don’t mind skimming here and there, it’s still fascinating stuff!

 

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The Monday Book: The Last Days of the Sioux Nation.

Jack gets to do the book review this week –

The Last Days of the Sioux Nation – Robert M. Utley

sioux nation

My interest in this subject was sparked by a song. My old singing friend John Watt and I, both from the same small town in Scotland, knew that Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show had played there during its final European tour. He was intrigued enough to do a lot of research and wrote the song.

He discovered that among the performers was a group of Sioux who had been ‘paroled’ from a South Dakota reservation by Cody. I started singing the song a few years ago and when Wendy and I decided to plan a road trip we wanted to include the Black Hills and the Badlands. On that trip we also took in Wounded Knee and the Crazy Horse monument.

More recently we repeated the journey with a couple of Scottish friends and this time added in a visit to Little Big Horn. Along the way, on both trips, we naturally picked up a good few books that filled out our knowledge. In addition, I found an excellent book by the Scottish writer James Hunter called Glencoe and the Indians that added another layer of fascinating hidden history.

Utley’s book is probably the best I’ve come across covering this whole sad period. The period he covers is about ten years around 1890 and takes us from Little Big Horn to after Wounded Knee. His excellent research describes the tensions within the different Sioux sub-divisions as well as the rivalries between the US army and the Department of the Interior. The Sioux were reeling from the many broken promises, particularly around their sacred Black Hills and Badlands. Their final attempt to revive their lost way of life was to embrace the ‘Ghost Dance’ and this was grossly misunderstood by the Federal authorities and particularly the army.

Utley includes a collection of photographs from the period including the main actors as well as notable places such as Wounded Knee creek.

In Hunter’s book he points up the similarities between the experiences of the Sioux and those of the Highlanders who were cleared off their Scottish land. The real irony is that some of those Scots ended up in America and took a leading part in the Sioux clearances!

There’s a well known story that a few of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Sioux left his show in Glasgow and settled there. What we do know is that a popular Glasgow museum recently returned a ghost shirt to the US that they had had in their collection for over one hundred years.

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in this dreadfully sorry period in US history – five stars!

 

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Monday Book – The Rush to German Unity

Jack does this week’s review –

The Rush to German Unity – Konrad H. Jarausch

german

Back in the mid-1990s I was managing a series of European funded education projects focusing on environmental issues. We had partners all over Europe including at the University of Dresden where I attended a couple of conferences presenting papers on our work. My contact there was a science professor and he described very graphically his family’s experiences when ‘the wall’ opened up on a fateful Friday evening, as well as comparing life before and after German unification. He was old enough  to be able to say there were advantages and disadvantages following unification, whereas his kids had no memory of life before.

While my colleague described things from a very individual and personal point of view, Jarausch’s book takes a much wider view of that same period.

I found this book immensely fascinating and readable. While it certainly touches on the experiences and viewpoints of particular groups of people on both sides of the wall, it also spends a lot of time examining the political groupings that came out of the shadows in the east and jockeyed for position as the Soviet Union’s grip loosened.

I hadn’t realized how strong the push was in the DDR to continue as a separate state but socialist rather than communist. The collapsing economy put paid to that, as did the general population’s increasing desire to share in the FDR’s perceived opulence.

There’s a geo-political cauldron here and it could very easily have gone very wrong. The book makes clear that one of the reasons it didn’t was because this wasn’t really a coming together so much as a takeover of the east by the west. What also helped was a realistic pragmatism on the Soviet side led by Gorbachev, although his generals weren’t happy.

All in all I found this a fascinating read and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in this crucial period in 20th Century history.

 

 

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Monday Book – My Song is my Weapon

My Song is my Weapon – Robbie Lieberman (1995)

Reviewed by Jack Beck

Once upon a time (actually about eighteen years ago) Wendy and I were booked to perform at the Orkney Folk Festival off the north coast of Scotland. The festival took place in various venues in Stromness and we were accommodated in a lovely old hotel overlooking the harbor. Not surprisingly the hotel bar was a favorite gathering place late at night after the official concerts and ceilidhs were finished.

stromness-hotel

One night we found ourselves chatting to a young American lassie who said she had published a book we might find interesting! I immediately bought a copy and have now read it for maybe the fifth time –

As a young man in the late 1950s and early 1960s I was developing my left of center political views as well as a strong interest in folk songs. So I was well aware of Pete Seeger, the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, the connections to Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson.

What I didn’t know was what had preceded this in the US and where all these people had in their turn served their apprenticeship, both politically and musically.

my song is

Lieberman’s book was a revelation to me in many ways –

First of all I had no idea how large and popular the US Communist Party was in the 1930s and how well accepted that generally was. Then again, I knew nothing about the ‘popular front’ and was fascinated to see how that had helped generate the ‘folk revival’ of the 1950s and 1960s.

There was much that was familiar too – the ‘redscare’, McCarthyism, the blacklist and so on.

I have to admit that on first reading I found the book pretty dense and hard going. However each time I’ve re-read it I’ve found it not just easier but more enlightening. Each time I find more gems I’d missed before!

I can thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in 1930s US politics, the roots and routes of the 1950s folk revival or all three!

 

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