Tag Archives: Pamela Malpas

The Monday Book: OFF THE GRID by Nick Rosen

Sorry about not getting a blog up over the weekend. We had a massive group from Berea College visiting because of my new (academic) book Public Health in Appalachia. We had a great time with the team and will be blogging about it later this week. And we’re more or less back on schedule now, and proud of the fact that we fed 42 people in our bookstore all at the same time – a triumph of logistics over space. :]

off the gridUsually I only do Monday Books that I’ve loved, and I admit that this one is kind of a “like.” Rosen’s book is interesting, but suffers from that thing that often happens to researchers who turn their work into a popular narrative style of writing: repetition and lack of a story line.

(Oh, did I just hear my agent giggling? Believe me, the words “narrative arc” come out of that wise woman’s mouth 12 times a day. And gosh darn it, she’s right. We want a beginning, middle, and end that look different from each other, strung together with smaller stories that flow toward a conclusion.)

Rosen writes about people who get off the power grid in the United States, for reasons ranging from dropping off one end after running out of money, to buying their way off the other end as rich, powerful, and/or famous citizens. (A lot of TV and film stars have off-the-grid hideouts.)

In between he covers off-gridders one might not think about, like truck drivers. And of course he includes survivalists and hippies and that controversial Mike Reynolds guy who “invented” earthships. I helped build an earthship in Scotland at a local sustainable farming community; that’s when I learned to make walls from bottles and shoes from tires. Neither of these have served me much in my present career as a bookseller, but I figure if A***on finally does us in one day, I can get great mileage out of my eclectic knowledge base and homemade sandals.

Thing is, Off the Grid, published in 2010, doesn’t so much talk about how to go off-grid as describe how it has turned out for a bunch of people who did, which gets repetitive after awhile, and also starts to skim across surfaces, hinting at conflicts and conspiracies and confusions that don’t get fully explored. (He did write, in 2008, a book that appears to be more how to.)

If you like storytelling in your stories, you may not like Off the Grid very much. I like reading about off-grid lifestyles, so I enjoyed this book. If you’re looking for how-to, try his 2008 book. If you’re looking for how-it-went-for-us, this is a good read. And if you’re into psychology-driven narrative, you’ll have a field day with what Rosen isn’t saying between the lines of what he is.

As a side note for those who have heard me talk about discovering St. Martin’s wanted to publish LITTLE BOOKSTORE on the same day that the last BORDERS bookstores announced their imminent closure, this is one of the two books I bought from BORDERS that day.

 

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ARE THESE INTERESTING QUESTIONS?

Finally, I have done as my wise (and patient) agent Pamela suggested, and written “Questions for book group discussions of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” Since many minds make smooth sentences, if you have any suggestions, please send them along. I’d particularly like to add a couple on bookshop management, if any other store owners out there have ideas. I kinda hit a blank wall, writing stuff that was too esoteric. Thanks!

1. Have you ever tried to fit into a place you weren’t from or familiar with? What did you find were the joys, the barriers, the unexpected curve balls of doing so?

2. Is there a snake pit in your life? Do you agree with Wendy’s assessment that almost all of us face such job situations at some point?

3. Cats: what place do they have in the lives of bookstores? Have you seen the newest cats and fosters at Tales of the Lonesome Pine (online via Wendy’s blog)? What do you think about the overpopulation problem of companion animals in the United States? What responsibilities, if any, do humans have toward animals?

4. Of all the stories in Little Bookstore, the two that seem to resonate most with people are of Wee Willie, and the Kiwanis letter. People run the gamut, don’t they, from being unpleasant to one another, to being generous beyond imagination. Why do you think these two stories have been the most mentioned by readers? Do you have circumstances in your own life where you experienced something similar?

5. Fire victims replacing childhood books is a poignant expression of loss, love, and memory. What do you think this priority says about us as humans?

6. Reading Little Bookstore, do you see places where people misunderstood each other, misrepresented each other, yet overcame these miscommunications to understand each other? Do these moments have echoes in your life?

7. If you could suddenly change your life tomorrow, start a business, leave your residence or job, whatever…would you? If so, what would you do? If not, why not?

8. What’s the difference between luck and learning fast to adapt? Where did you see these differences in how Jack and Wendy survived their inept start at being bookstore owners?

9. Wendy talks a fair bit about happiness and contentment. She quotes several other authors and how they describe happiness. Does happiness disappear when you look it square in the face, or elude us when actively pursued? Is it true, as Garrison Keillor (an author not quoted in the book) says, that the realization of happiness comes moments after whatever has made us happy ends? Or can we recognize contentedness when we have it?

10. Discuss the role independent bookstores play in reading satisfaction. Is the process of acquiring the book part of the story it tells, or is cheap, fast, and easy what we want in our shopping experiences nowadays? Is it worth paying more to visit a real bookstore (and do you really pay more)?

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