Tag Archives: bookslingers

The Quagmire Quandary

At least once a year, Jack and I discuss whether we should have a LGBT section in the bookstore. We also debate the pros and cons of an African Interest shelf.

See, once you open this can, the worms just explode in all directions. Why do we need an African section? Alice Walker and Toni Morrision are just fine in Classics, thanks. But what about the annual publication from a contest of short stories by African American writers? The biography of Sojourner Truth? The ethnographic classic “Why are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” That obscure text that often gets misrepresented, “White Men on Race?” If they were shelved together, people could find them easily, instead of having to know they existed and search the appropriate category.

But, if we put “black” books together, where does the color line stop? Where would we put that horrible nasty book about how Afri-centrism is wrong and should be expelled from Academia? Does Maya Angelou have to leave Classics? Would romance novels featuring people with black skins on their covers relocate from the Luv Shack?

What about same-sex partner books? We can differentiate between Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries and her social commentary, no bother, but what do we do about Lisa Alther’s Five Minutes in Heaven? Dina McGreevey’s memoir Silent Partner? And is anyone going to bring up the word “ghettoization” or get mad because we even HAVE a LG-et al. section?

We don’t know what to do. Our default is to do nothing. There are lots of wonderful books in the shop that particular people—not just people with black skin or same sex partner preferences, but people who like to cook vegetarian, people who love dogs, etc.—would like if they knew they were here. Categorization is a sticky wicket at the best of times, and we’re not even good at simpler divisions, like separating Southern from General Fiction. (We keep arguing the toss on Florida.)

Divvying up intense categories based on concepts over which people have literally been killed throughout history? Heh. We want to do the right thing. And we haven’t got a blooming clue what that is.


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

Happy to be Here

We pulled into BOOKSELLERS AT LAURELWOOD just after lunch on Friday. It’s a dignified, orderly store of honey-colored wood and pretty displays.

Don’t let the exterior fool you. Like the class clown in a prom dress, this bookshop’s personality can’t help but shine through.

For the full story of what BaL has endured to stay standing, visit their website or google their press coverage from last year, but the nutshell version is “regional chain liquidation from Davis Kidd, nasty games with head financial officers, corporate shenanigans involving rights to use their name, and the hero of the piece–Neil–hiring back the existing staff when they re-opened as BaL.”

Those who work in animal rescue will understand instantly what I’m going to say next, and I hope the rest of you find it a non-derogatory, non-odd comparison. If you’ve ever fostered a dog rescued from a shelter at the last possible moment, or a momma cat and her kittens sprung on euthanize day, you know that animals–even cats!– show gratitude. Those who came closest to complete loss never forget, and express appreciation even as they revel in snow and grass and water and life; they just plain lick your nose or purr more often, and they’ll do anything for you.

Permit me this metaphor among those who have not shared this experience, because every time I walk into Booksellers at Laurelwood, their joy in being there shines through. Liquidation was 3 days away, and they got rescued. Since then, they’ve been rescuing their community every day.

One of the people who’s worked there longest is Nicole. A more cheerful person you will not meet. The petite blond was described to me by another staff member, JoAnne, as “an artery for this store.” If you’ve read my book, Nicole was the person who stood in the children’s department on Dec. 24, 2011 chatting with us as the place filled up around her, turning amiably to say “top shelf at the back, next to the dragon” or “I’m so sorry; I sold the last copy Monday” as customer asked questions. She is a poster child for why bookshops must remain, because her orderly department is brimfull of happy kids whose parents are buying them the books they read as children, and she knows which ones are for what personalities and ages. The woman is a walking encyclopedia of Curious George trivia; she can tell you things about Pippi Longstocking you didn’t know you didn’t know.

As we stood chatting once again last night before our book talk at BaL, a little girl came whizzing past to play at the cars and roads table behind us. Nicole turned and looked at this child in her bright pink and green dress, a bow the size of a magnolia blossom behind her ear, and smiled.

“See?” she said, indicating the oblivious toddler with an unobtrusive shoulder roll. “Even on bad days, how bad can it be? Look what I get to do for the next generation, surrounded by all that energy and cuteness.”

Go, Nicole – and Carley and Chad and JoAnne and Scott (these last two get their own blog post later this week) and the rest. Bring back the joy in bricks-and-mortar bookshops!


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