Tag Archives: booksellers

The Monday Book – The Romance of the Match – Herbert Manchester (The Diamond Match Co. 1926)

Jack’s unusual guest book review – if you want a copy we have one for sale – – –

“How many thousand or hundred thousand years man lived on earth before learning to use fire is unknown.”

How could anyone resist such an opening sentence as that? Well, I certainly couldn’t!

This booklet was published in the era of art deco and Agatha Christie’s introduction of Hercule Poirot. Its amazing cover is a product of those times. Inside one finds a mixture of 1920’s writing style and world-view. This non-fiction book is unashamedly a corporate promotion for the Diamond Match Company, and yet it tells a fascinating story of the use of fire over millennia and the evolvement of the match industry, including many terrible health hazards along the way. It rather surprisingly doesn’t shy away from the economic pressures on the match industry to continue with dangerous chemicals and chemical processes when others were available, despite the toll on the workers.


Once it has covered the history of the use and harnessing of fire and the development of the match, however, it becomes much more of an outright promotion of the company and a panegyric for the founder W. A. Fairburn.

I found this booklet a complete delight, particularly for its amazingly bizarre mixture of history, art deco design, choice of font and the final page, comprised of a series of statements by the founder of the company, Mr. W. A. Fairburn, including what I assure you is a complete sentence –

“Diamond men have for years led the world in the art of match making; today they lead in the science of progressive invention, in the art of efficient production and distribution, in the inestimable virtues of brotherhood, equity and undying good fellowship, and in the courage and energy that knows no failure and acknowledges no defeat.”

Please note the semi-colon and the Oxford comma.


Filed under book reviews

Look What They’re Doing in Portugal!

On Saturday Jack and I got a message from a bookseller in Portugal:

Dear Wendy Welch and dear Jack Beck,
My name is Inês and I’m from Portugal. I stumbled upon your book 2 days ago and I’m already in love with your little bookshop. I’m in the middle of the book and already I have cried and laughed, and had goose bumps… it’s so nice to see that you are doing so well in there! I’m so proud of you and I haven’t met you (yet!!!… ’cause I’m telling you, one day I’ll visit you! I need to see you with my own eyes! hahaha)
I too work at a little bookshop at a little town called Sines, I don’t own the bookshop, but my boss is a dear friend of mine. I’m always trying to come up with ideias to bring new customers here…
Read Wendy’s words has given me strenght and hope! We can do this! And I’m writing this simple message (with my bad english) just to thank you guys, for inspiring people, there, and obviously, like me… all around the world where the book has been sold.
Best wishes and a warm hug, Inês Espada

So of course now we’re in love with Ines, and in short order her boss; another bookseller named Luis, an activist from another town; the bookshop she works in; and her mom became Facebook friends of Jack and me and had liked our store (as we did theirs). But the cool thing, aside from just being happy to meet booksellers from another country, is to find that in Portugal indie bookstores have banded together in ways that really create a supportive community between them. Here’s some additional info Ines sent Sunday:

Luis is a dear friend of mine! he’s a book seller, and a great fighter of our cause. He’s always sharing information about bookstores and he created an event every year at the last sunday of march we have a booksellers meeting where we can discuss all the things that are happening around our book world. And now we have created a diploma to honor the great booksellers we have. With the big online shops selling books, it’s been difficult to us to combat the low prices that they have… It has been a struggle for some little bookstores, many have closed… but we have our motto, something like this: “Isto não fica assim!” The translation must be something like “we can do it” or “this will not end here!”



    I was looking at our blog, the blog we use for the anual meeting, and I really want to show you, but it’s all in portuguese, you can try to read some of the things using google translate, but I’m gonna propose we do an english version. the diploma is called “Livreiros da Esperança” – Booksellers of Hope for booksellers that never stopped believing in books! Just like you! this year the diploma goes to a couple that have a bookstore at Setúbal for more than 40 years. You can see them in the photos at the blog http://encontrolivreiro.blogspot.pt/


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

Questions and Answers (you will never hear in a bookstore)

We apologize for the delay in this weekend’s blog. Wendy was away writing, and Jack forgot!

Questions bookstore customers ask and the answers bookslingers long to give, but never do.

“Where do you get your books from?”

The book fairy brings them. At night. And we also get together with other bookstore owners and dance naked around the book conjuring cauldron on James Patterson’s birthday.

Gullible people like you who don’t know there are hundreds of pennies to be made on the sale of each and every hardback work of fiction ever published.

Oh, we just go to the library and search the dumpster.

Yard sales. And then we mark them up 400%. And spray them with Lysol if they smell like cat pee. What can I help you find today?

“So have you read all these books? Heh heh heh.”

Duh. You think I’d sell a book I hadn’t read?

Just the red ones. Heh heh heh.

Who, me? I’m sorry; I thought you were asking the shop cat. Yes, she has.

“Do you sell books?”

No. This is a drug front. Say the password so I know you’re not an undercover cop.

Only if we can’t talk you into a Nook or Kindle.

Sometimes, if we’re very lucky.

“So how’s this work, like a library, you borrow the books and bring them back?”

No. You buy the books and bring them back. Then if we like you we’ll sell them to you for another two weeks.

Yes, that’s how it works, but you have to give us your Social Security Number so we can sign you up.

Oh, is THAT how a library works?! I’ve always been afraid to try one, since I saw that HBO film as a child, where the librarian looks all sweet and kindly but is actually a soul-sucking demon from Hell.

“Is this the adult bookstore?”

That depends on how you’re using the word “adult.”

Get out. And wash that raincoat.

Why? Can you read?


Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, publishing, Uncategorized

The Bookselling Lexicon of handy if mildly impolite Terms

If a person who likes to read books is a bibliophile, then perhaps …

Someone who reads a lot of trashy books is a biblio-philistine.

A student who likes to read but recently finished his dissertation, law school, or other massive text-driven project is bibliofull.

The owner of a used bookstore who buys bulk lots of books from estate sales, private libraries, etc. is a bidliophile.

The customer who enters the store and really, really wants to buy a book but can’t remember the name of it, just the picture from the cover, experiences bibliofail.

A person who likes to browse bookshops is a bibliofly (as in butterfly, not the pesky kind you swat. This one needs crowdsourcing: Letterfly? Bibterfly? Help, you wordsmiths out there!)

The first-meeting suspicion of the shop cat toward a customer who turn outs to be a creep: bibliofelinia

The first-meeting twining of the shop cat about the ankles of a customer who becomes a pleasant regular: appurrrrval

Someone who uses online sites to find books she wants to read, then buys them from her local bookshop is a bibliotech (and a saint).

And if the owner of a bookshop is a bookseller, then….

The person who consistently argues at a used bookstore that he didn’t get enough credit for his books is a booksulker.

A person who reads across genres with equal interest: booksailor

A used bookstore that is out of room for its stock has a bookcellar (and if you can get in there, you will die happy).

A self-published writer who brings you a complimentary copy of her latest book and asks you to read it, “and if you like it perhaps we can make a consignment arrangement” is a booksalter.

A self-published writer who brings you ten of his latest book that REALLY needed one more copy edit and demands that you stock it because he’s “local,” and you don’t want to force him to bad-mouth you to the regional writing community, of which he is the very core, and anyway it will sell out in a couple of weeks so he’ll be back to bring you more and collect the money, and you can thank him later: an annoying bastard

A customer leaning against a shelf asking about a book she can’t find, but which is in fact sitting near her left ear, is bookblind.

A book that turns up everywhere, mis-shelved and omnipresent, in the shop, but disappears  the moment a customer wants it: a bookslider

That odor coming from a book, indefinable and not part of the overall pleasantness of used book smells: scentipage

And, my personal favorite: a person who believes in the importance and future of bricks-and-mortar bookstores is a bookshoptimist.
Please enjoy our “50 Shades of Grey” spoof on youtube! 



Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Uncategorized

Sailing on the ARC

Well, my ARCs have landed. These are the advanced reader copies that publishers make to get your book into the hands of reviewers, other authors, and anyone else likely to like what you wrote–and in a position to say so to a few thousand people.

They are pretty. I LOVE the cover of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. I didn’t have a thing to do with designing it; the amazing Nichole and Laura at St. Martin’s Press sent a first draft of the drawing, and Jack and I were smitten (although we did ask David, the artist, to add a cat anyplace he fancied. His second draft became the cover.)

What’s fun is, that’s what our house-cum-bookstore looks like, right down to the chairs on the porch. And while we don’t normally dance in the front yard, we have been known to take a twirl around the front room now and again.

So these arcs with the beautiful covers have wended their way to bookshops across America, and notes are trickling in from the people reading. Just simple stuff: “enjoying it”; “love the part about the guerrilla bargainers”; “I laughed out loud over the policeman!”

Affirmation, I think that’s called. So far no one has written to say, “Who told you this was interesting, you moron?!” Which makes me happy.

But what makes me happiest is the booksellers who say “Oh, this happened to me, too!” Tribal siblings finding one another. Bookslinging is a hard way of life, but boy it’s a good one. One worth fighting (a lawsuit against the Department of Justice) for, one worth braving even the jungles of Amazon to preserve. Booksellers don’t just sell books; we know who wrote them, when, yet also why, and what happened because of their publication. We not only preserve the past, but predict the future.

We’re like nuns and monks, only not so much.

Of course it’s lovely to be told someone’s enjoying my work; everybody likes appreciation of what you’ve created, be it basket, baby, or book. And of course St. Martin’s Press sent the arcs to garner interest and comments; it’s all part of the ever-chugging marketing engine, and we need have no illusions or “playing the daft blue-eyed laddie” as they say in Scotland. But I do the happy dance when a fellow bookslinger messages on one of the myriad electronic pathways by which we can so easily find one another now, to affirm the human connections our work brings. It makes Jack and me feel like part of a big, hidden team.

We love our shop in and of itself, but knowing it’s got cousins and grandparents out there makes us sweep the steps with a little more vigor in the morning. We have a lot to live up to. Thanks, y’all!

(For anyone interested in winning a copy of The Little Bookstore, Caption Contest III closes July 20. Scroll down to July 8’s posting to see the photo and enter. It’s fun, and the existing entries are side-splittingly funny.)


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

We Happy Few, We Band of Booksellers

Sometimes the little guy does win. Or at least holds her own.

I’m not quite sure what’s happening with bookstores these days – small, independently owned bookstores, I mean; we can all see what’s happening to the giants; Amazon is closing them. But what I begin to suspect (okay, hope for and daydream about) is that we’re gaining ground.

Bookstores are magic places, but I don’t have to tell you that. The watering holes of like-minded souls, the gathering spot for the tribe, they come pretty close to sacred. And it seems to me that, like farmers markets ten years ago, small bookstores are entering a period of rejuvenation and revitalization, even as people decry their loss.  Readers have begun noticing how much more fun it is to shop with real people than online. Realization is dawning that—like breaded, fried fast food versus a slow-cooked home supper—faster and cheaper is not always better (and that the price difference might not be as high as one might think, either).

That’s why I wrote The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: to celebrate this way of life that some proclaim dead or dying.  And that’s why I cried in the middle of Ann Patchett’s acceptance speech for “Most Engaging Author” at BookExpo America, when she recited the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V while all these pictures of people who run bookstores flashed on the screen. Sweet people. People standing behind messy counters, in front of orderly shelves, hippies in scarves and skirts standing next to well-coiffed people in tailored suits, people who dress and think completely different from one another, arms entwined and smiling.

God love us, we are the ones who keep the barbarians from the gates. We keep a stall in the marketplace for stuff that lets people think for themselves. We take the financial risks of hand-selling things we think are good, even if they’re not commercially viable. We take trade-ins; we make staff pick shelves; we listen, listen, listen to our customers, and offer suggestions based on what they said, rather than who paid us for  a pop-up ad.

We can’t be bought, but boy-o can we sell.

I cried the whole time those pictures flashed. We are the little guys, the reeds still standing in the wind because we’re flexible, smart, and fast. What we do is so important: we help people think; we help them express themselves. And when they express themselves in particularly charming, compelling ways, we give other people a chance to hear those words that never will get made into movies.

What Ann Patchett and William Shakespeare say is true; sometimes the little guys win. Here’s tae us!


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