Tag Archives: colorful local characters

The Monday Book: WHERE TROUBLE SLEEPS by Clyde Edgerton

Edgerton’s books tend to circle a few themes; think of them as small circles that actually go down into the core of human beings. On the surface it looks like a simple, small concept, but the roots go into the fabric of what makes us tick.

Like when “rootless amorality meets deep-rooted morality” as he puts it – drifters come through, they do wrong, they’ve been doing wrong, they meet people who do right, and don’t you forget it. Little old ladies who sing in choirs. Churchgoers whose idea of sin is fishing in Sundays. And then this guy shows up driving a stolen car….

It’s kind of adorable, and symbol of Edgerton’s genius, that the Gypsy Man driving the stolen car takes a cabin at the Settle Inn.

It all kinda goes from there, in hilarious yet poignant directions. Gypsy man, the call to repent, the church goers, and life in small-town North Carolina in the 1950s. You laugh until you cry. E

Especially at the ending, which I won’t give away, but suffice it to say, never miss with a church-going little old lady who isn’t as old or as little as you think.



Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

“Yeah, That’s a Toilet”: the bookstore’s front yard, explained

There are things in life I don’t understand. Folding underwear and landscaping are two of them. The return on time invested just seems …. small.IMG_4242

Jack and I decided last year that we’d had it with lawn care. We scavenged a bunch of old bricks from friends,  bought some ironwork statues, and when that didn’t cover the whole space, we paid a student who needed some grad school money to dig up the rest of the grass.

Voila: our place in the annals of Colorful Local Characters was secured.

Locals observing the bricks-and-statues procession described the work as “interesting” in a tone that implied this was not a compliment. When we ripped up the yard, “kooky” came into play–mostly whispered as doors closed behind us at social gatherings.IMG_4240

Bare earth offends? I’m not the world’s greatest conformist, but I bought three packages of “Perennials” –having first ascertained that, yes, these are the ones that come up every year and take care of themselves–and shook the packets out on the ground sometime late last summer.

Gosh darn if they didn’t come up this year and make the nicest collection of flowers and leaves and stuff. Amazing thing, this gardening trick.

I come from a long line of brown thumb women. I once managed to kill a spider plant. Still, lazy landscaping has its rewards. Last year when friends and I made book planters from some old tomes here, we had a few plants leftover I couldn’t figure out what to do with. I took them outside and set them down in a rainstorm (so I wouldn’t have to water them) and kinda forgot they were out there. Next time I looked, well, I thought they were dead, so just left them there for cruel winter to wipe out the remains.

IMG_4241Now they’re growing like the weeds they aren’t, studding the yard with gorgeous deep purple.

We let the clover and the other natural ground covers grow alongside the hostas we transplanted from the back on the advice of a friend (“Line your sidewalk with them and they look spiffy without care”) and the lilac and the azalea someone gave me for my birthday, all stuck out there in various nooks and crannies where we figured they’d cover our mowing sins. My idea of gardening is less cultivation that containment: mint, chives, sorrel, ivy. Let it grow. I’d rather hack than weed.

And as Jack and I sit on our front porch, sipping summer concoctions while listening to the drone of mower motors in the distance, we clink glasses and sip.


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

The Parade of Characters

On Wednesday of our great book extravaganza, we made our way to Winchester. The sum total of my knowledge about Winchester, VA prior to this was its historic architecture, cool pedestrian mall, and sweet little bookshop in the corner: Winchester Book Gallery.

I wandered into the Book Gallery last year during a break in some very fun ethnographic interviewing I did as a subcontractor. Sometimes I serve as a hired gun for conducting interviews about rural living in Appalachia for various universities. It’s great work if you can get it, bopping across the state staying in small motels, seeing stuff you’d never otherwise see, meeting the most incredible people and getting them to tell you interesting things about how they do business.

That’s how I discovered Winchester. And in its Book Gallery, already utterly charmed by the downtown district, I found shop owner Christine to be charming in and of herself. Such a put-you-at-your-ease type was she, when she asked, “What brings you to the bookstore?” I blurted out, “I wrote a book about bookstores and I love to visit them” while continuing my wide-eyed stare at her carefully curated collection.

“What’s your name?” she asked. When I told her, she astounded me by saying, “Oh, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” It turns out that Christine is not only vivacious and charming, but on the ball. She has a google search feed that keeps up with news items about small bookshops in the States. We decided to have a book signing there once the book was launched, and that day came Wednesday past.

At 5 pm I was ensconced at a big desk covered—absolutely covered—with copies of Little Bookstore, while Jack sat beside me strumming guitar. This wasn’t a planned event, but a “come by and meet the author” kind of night. Thus began what Jack and I now call The Parade of Characters:

An older man who was—of course—an ex-pat Big Stone Gapper. He regaled us with stories of what had been done in the judge’s hunting cabin in their youth, and other tales of Old Family laundry, not laundered. We were splitting our sides laughing—and you note that I’m not using names here. This guy knows a lot. I’m surprised he’s still alive, and delighted that he comes back every August for a big ol’ party—to which we have now been invited. That will be a hoot. But I probably won’t be allowed to write about it.

Two round women, slow of speech, soft of voice. “Special needs” is a label that imposes assumptions, so let’s just say they were hoping to open a bookstore up in Maryland. They had, in fact, traveled down expressely to talk to me about this. Oh dear sweet lambs, do not go gently to the slaughter. I wanted to bundle them up in warm coats (the day was cold and they were wearing only sweatshirts) and warn them off their intended trajectory. But I also didn’t want to crush anything that was making them happy, so we chatted amiably about start-up costs and how to shelve books until their driver came to collect them. Be well, dear children, and don’t let anyone lead you astray. I still feel protective of those two.

An Alec Baldwin look-alike entered with his wife, she making a bee-line for the upstairs mystery section, he clearly killing time. When he realized an author was sitting there hawking her book, he tried politely to avoid eye contact with me. But my husband had a copy of the People Magazine article (Oct. 22 issue!) that included Little Bookstore as a “great read.” Alec saw that, picked up a book, and said, “My sister is hard to buy for. But she likes these things.” (I think he meant books.) Whatever; I sold him one.

A man walking three Labradors. (Winchester Book Gallery is dog-friendly.) “I saw the sign,” he said. “Big Stone Gap, in SW VA?” I assured him yes, and he said, “We were just there, at the June Tolliver house and the open air theatre.” A few moments more of conversation, dogs straining at the leash–apparently they had decided en masse they wanted to buy the latest J.K. Rowling–and we realized that not only had this man and his wife visited our street last month, they had parked outside the bookstore–but not come in.

“Hmmph,” I said, and the man, probably out of guilt, bought one of my books. The dogs never got their Rowling.

A lady with dreadlocks. She fell into the shop, towed by a dog that looked like a cross between a Newfoundlander and an Irish wolfhound, in a word: big. The dog came straight for Christine, who bent and wrapped her arms around it. I hoped it was a hug rather than a last resort.

“This is XNVOUFER,” she said, her head buried in his fur. “He comes in every day to get socialized to become a service dog.” XNVOUFER (I swear that’s what it sounded like) licked Christine on the head, then trotted over to browse the history section.

Last through the door came a woman wearing a puffy green jacket, followed by a man wearing a puffy black jacket and a small child of indeterminate gender wearing a puffy pink jacket (social norms suggest but do not verify, and by this point in the evening I was taking nothing for granted). They wandered around, avoiding me, until the woman accidentally bumped the table.

“Oh,” she said, finding herself cheek to cheek with an author. “What’s your book about?”

I launched into my elevator speech description: my husband and I opened a used books store and the book described that in particular but life in general, discussing how to rebuild dreams and live to the fullest without letting anyone else dictate what will work and what won’t.

“Mmm.” She stared at me a moment, then asked, “So your bookstore, it’s still operating?”


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

The Really Fun Parts of Bookslinging

Running a used books store hovers around #12 on the list of second careers retirees dream about, which begs the question: what is it in this “doomed” (according to the media; we say “Hmmph”) profession that appeals so? Jack and I sat down to make a list of the top 5 perks:

1) The customers. You’ll never meet sweeter, kookier, nicer people than those who frequent bookshops. I am tempted to add, particularly in a small town, but maybe it’s universal. Our customers tell us stories, bring us brownies, ask us to look at their rashes, suggest colors to paint our walls… They’re like a big extended family of near-and-far cousins.

2) Sorting the trade-ins. This is kind of bittersweet; we see SOOOOO many Pattersons, Cornwalls, Grishams. A grey twilight is threatening to eclipse our paranormal romance section. And yet, amidst the flood of oh-so-popular stuff, boxes come in with unique offerings; you lift the Reader’s Digest How To Manuals and find a slew of unknown titles–and your heartbeat accelerates.

I’d never heard of Prayers and Lies, but  liked this debut novel about dysfunctional families. It was just lying there in a stack of Nicholas Sparks, humming a little tune to itself, waiting patiently to be discovered. That happens often enough to keep us excited.

3) Quips. Customers say the darndest things! They toss off comments that completely startle you with their wisdom. The other day as I bemoaned the economy an elderly customer shrugged. “I ain’t eatin’ cat food and the sun is shinin’,” he said. “Good’nuff fer today.”

4) Peacefulness. We don’t know why. Our personal lives are NOT peaceful at this time (though they are fun). And this peace thing is true of other bookshops we have visited. Books lining walls make a noise buffer? We don’t know, but bookshops are magically calm, and we can tell you that it’s not our influence as owners making it so. It just is.

5) The juxtaposition of predictability and unpredictability. This morning Jack said, “It’s Friday. Mr. L will be on the porch at 9:30, waiting for his Steinbecks.” Mr. L discovered Steinbeck late in life (his seventies) and has since been buying one per week. I asked Jack if finances held Mr. L back from getting a slew at once, and Jack doubled over with laughter. “I actually offered a deal on all we had, and Mr. L said, ‘Nah. What if I die ‘afore next weekend? Nobody else in my house’d read ’em.'”

Nancy comes Thursdays and gets Dragonlance books. Wendy (a customer, not me) buys True Crime every two weeks, on payday. Pitted against this, on any given day someone could waltz in and demand “everything you’ve got on Hawaii,” or take out his fiddle and play a tune–as a young lad did last week for Jack, without preamble. When he’d finished (to a round of applause from other shoppers) he asked, “You wanna stock my CD?” (Jack did.)

Being a bookslinger won’t make you rich, but it will make you happy.

(Don’t forget to scroll back to Aug. 14th and enter Caption Contest V. It’s fun, and you could win a free book!)


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