Tag Archives: discussion groups

Getting the Last Word in First

As Wendy wraps up a busy semester’s end, Jack writes the weekend guest blog.

“Let’s Talk” is our monthly discussion group (first Thursday each month) and any participant can nominate a subject to discuss, which must be just one or two words. Our good friend Tony, the local Presbyterian Minister, came up with the idea of the event  and is our fair and impartial moderator. We generally have between eight and twelve regular attendees and the only rule is that everyone’s views must be given respect. Subjects have ranged from ‘citizenship’ to ‘karma’ and even included–thanks to shop-sitter Andrew–“nose picking” (which led to a surprisingly insightful discussion on social taboos).

It’s fascinating to watch how the regulars position themselves at this. Um, that’s not a reference to nose picking.

Those who have read Wendy’s book may be surprised to learn that, while I delight in discussion and am likely to be found at the center of the debate, jousting merrily with my rhetorical lance, Wendy sits, small and quiet, crocheting in an armchair, just taking it all in. She says she isn’t much of a debater. Hmmm….

We’re not the only ones who stick to a pattern. Among our regulars are two village elders; let’s call them George and Gina. George is the archetypal curmudgeon. He has perfected opening his mouth exactly 20 minutes before the group’s 8:30 pm finish, lobbing his always-controversial views with maximum incendiary effect.  By contrast, Gina is our classic local grand-dame: quiet but determined, she is also known for waiting until late-on to offer her sensible, well-reasoned input.

Watching the interplay between these great characters is always an evening highlight. How does one get in the last word without getting left out entirely? Perhaps this explains why lately they have been vying with each other to get their thoughts in first–they want to be behind everyone else, yet ahead of each other.

The results are … hysterical. Gina clears her throat, and George starts talking. Gina waits, looking smug, as George, realizing he’s been tricked into starting early, winds to a disgruntled halt–and Gina gets in the last word. Next month, George will clear his throat, Gina waits, thinking she knows this trick. But then George not only says his piece, but filibusters, and just as he ends, the clock strikes time. Tony, a popular preacher in town because he knows the value of clock-watching, gets as much a kick out of the proceedings as we do, but he doesn’t let things drag on.

When people ask me what I like best about the bookstore I usually answer “the customers”. George and Gina, bless them (not their hearts, them!) are two reasons why.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized

Events, Dear Boy, Events (Harold MacMillan)

Jack is guest blogging today and tomorrow because Wendy is holed up in our cabin under strict instructions from her agent Pamela to produce another best-seller by Monday.


As regular readers will be aware we run lots of events here in the bookstore – writers’ group, yarn spinners, movie night, gourmet night among others. Last night was our monthly discussion group, known as ‘Let’s Talk’ – the brain-child of our good friend and Pastor Tony. He wanted to hold regular non-confrontational discussions of whatever topics folk wanted to suggest and on ‘neutral territory’.

This has become a highlight event and a runaway success and the topics have ranged from the nature of evil to nose-picking in public (this was suggested, with a completely straight face, by our erstwhile shop-sitter Andrew).

Last night our subject was ‘Education’, suggested by Wendy and, in her absence, led off by me. We addressed a range of issues, including ‘what do we mean by education?’, ‘who are the clients that educators are responsible to?’, and ‘what is the role of the state in education?’

So – what were the most significant conclusions we came to?

1)      Learning doesn’t just happen during formal classes and continues your whole life.

2)      Teachers should be of the highest caliber and paid accordingly (interestingly, the highest rated education system in the world is in Finland where all teachers must be educated to Masters level, are well paid and teach small classes. Despite this the cost per student is a third less than the US system.)

3)      The state does have an interest, since it uses tax money to pay for the system, however this often results in simplistic and frequent testing that usually disrupts learning. (Again – in Finland students are only tested once between ages 7 and 16).

Along the way, as usual, we wandered off down fascinating byways and our Moderator Tony had to use his lasso to get us back on the main road.

So – what does ‘Let’s Talk’ signify for me? Actually many things: the place of our bookstore in the community, the proof that learning is a lifelong activity, the ability of a disparate group of folk to discuss often contentious subjects without coming to blows and how, even in a small rural community, weighty subjects can be discussed knowledgeably.

Much thanks to Wes for pulling up the Finnish information on his tablet as the discussion progressed.


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