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The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book

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The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book

évaluations:
4/5 (18 évaluations)
Longueur:
309 pages
4 heures
Sortie:
Oct 2, 2012
ISBN:
9781250010643
Format:
Livre

Description

An inspiring true story about losing your place, finding your purpose, and building a community one book at a time.

Wendy Welch and her husband had always dreamed of owning a bookstore, so when they left their high-octane jobs for a simpler life in an Appalachian coal town, they seized an unexpected opportunity to pursue thier dream. The only problems? A declining U.S. economy, a small town with no industry, and the advent of the e-book. They also had no idea how to run a bookstore. Against all odds, but with optimism, the help of their Virginian mountain community, and an abiding love for books, they succeeded in establishing more than a thriving business - they built a community.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is the little bookstore that could: how two people, two cats, two dogs, and thirty-eight thousand books helped a small town find its heart. It is a story about people and books, and how together they create community.

Sortie:
Oct 2, 2012
ISBN:
9781250010643
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Wendy Welch is a bookseller, ethnographer, and journalist. The author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap and editor of Public Health in Appalachia, she divides her time between writing up observations of Appalachia, and working to make it a more just and verdant place.

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The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap - Wendy Welch

Bookshop

Prologue

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

Where the race of men go by—

The men who are good and the men who are bad,

As good and as bad as I.

I would not sit in the scorner’s seat

Nor hurl the cynic’s ban—

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

—Sam Foss, The House by the Side of the Road, from Dreams in Homespun

THREE AM. SLEEP WAS GONE. My mind whirled with boxes to unpack, items to find.

Sliding from under the cat curled on my chest—she opened one eye and indicated displeasure—I crept toward the stairs. From behind came a soft whump as our Labrador gained the mattress, made peace with the cat, and claimed the sleep that eluded me.

Downstairs, an electric kettle sat next to the tea chest on an otherwise empty counter, testament to my Scottish husband’s priorities. I made a mug of raspberry tea and wandered into the large front room. The cavernous house, walls lined with empty bookshelves, stretched into dark nothingness, waiting. In the middle of the room my laptop rested on an old mission table, the only other furniture. Both looked dwarfed and out of place.

I could relate. Since arriving in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, Jack and I had been living as gracefully as fish astride mopeds. On something dangerously close to a whim, we became the broke and terrified owners of a five-bedroom, three-bath-with-one-working Edwardian mansion, complete with squeaky hardwood floors and a leaking roof. Under the influence of salsa and sangria, we’d decided to turn this house into a used book store, or die trying.

Probably the latter, I thought, watching the Internet fire up against the blue-gray darkness. What are we doing here, anyway? This is the kind of town you see in true crime documentaries, where the bodies are never found because the locals don’t tell.

Jack had just yesterday erected a gigantic sign in four-hundred-point type, announcing USED BOOK STORE OPENING SOON. That pretty much cemented our status as those new weirdos in the old Meade house. Passersby who stopped to read the sign made encouraging comments along the lines of, A bookstore? You’re nuts!

For which were we nuts, I wanted to ask: For pretending we’d never heard of iPads, e-books, and Kindles? For thinking a town coping with its own dying coal industry would support a new business? Believing the downturned economy would swing upward soon? Hoping that the old guard in a notoriously insular region might welcome new kids onto the block? Or, our worst nightmare, for all of the above?

Headlights swung in a wide arc outside, startling me from doom-laden reverie. A siren emitted a single whoop amid a sudden blue flash. Must be pulling over a drunk driver, I thought. Our would-be bookstore sat along the top of a T-intersection. A police SUV hovered in its junction as a spotlight lit the front room. Curtainless floor-to-ceiling windows left us naked to outside eyes, but why were the police investigating at three in the morning?

The Bronco drove around the corner and tried to enter a grass driveway at the side yard. The chain-link fence—a priority because of our born-to-ramble dogs—had gone up as soon as we moved in, closing off that drive. Now the SUV stopped inches from the mesh; if a vehicle could look frustrated, this one did. It turned and chugged back around the corner, pulling up at our curb. The driver’s door opened. Running a hand over my tangled mass of red hair, I belted Jack’s bathrobe tighter and opened the front door.

Or tried to. It was original to this 1903 monstrosity we now owned, so I managed to turn the brass lock, but the warped wooden frame stuck. A keyhole sat below the knob, looking smug. Was the door locked? Where was that key? Had we found it yet? I tugged again. Nothing.

A short, squat shadow came striding up the stairs. This is how people get shot! I thought, envisioning the officer’s view from the other side—a dark body mass struggling with an object just out of sight. I waved in an I come in peace sort of way.

The policeman put a hand to his holster.

Hang on! I called through the glass. The door won’t open! I gave a mighty tug and the knob fell into my hand as the door flew wide, throwing me off balance; raspberry tea sloshed onto the floor and the bathrobe belt slackened. Slipping the doorknob into a pocket, tightening my grip on the mug, and tossing hair from my eyes, I stepped barefoot onto the porch to say, Good morning, Officer.

His eyes swept over hair, robe, mug, feet. Do you live here?

No, I’m a burglar; the tea is for cover. Tempting though it was, commonsense pistons fired in time, and instead I replied, Yes, sir.

Mmm. He pushed his gun, hovering an alarming two inches from its holster, back into place.

My husband and I just bought this house.

What for?

Because we’re nuts. We’re opening a bookstore.

A bookstore? You’re nuts! He slapped his thigh in gleeful emphasis.

So I believe. Were you pulling someone over for drunk driving? Why are we having this conversation in the middle of the night?

The officer stared as if I truly were insane. What? This is an official safety check. I figured burglars since I saw movement and light.

And they put up signs and erected a chain-link fence? Aloud I replied, Nope, just harmless little Jack and Wendy. I had insomnia and came down to use the computer. But I saw you in the intersection when your siren … um, blipped.

The officer averted his gaze, rocking on the balls of his feet. Oh. Yeah. I hit the wrong button.

Okay, that was endearing, so we stood on the porch and talked into the dark. Grundy, as he introduced himself, planned to retire in six months. His brother, a successful surgeon, owned a place in the Florida Keys, a palatial home of seven bedrooms, cathedral ceilings, and a sauna, to which Grundy had yet to be invited. Grundy attended church every Sunday, was a member of the Kiwanis club, voted in all civic elections, but it was his brother who had millions, and if you asked Grundy it was down to insurance fraud.

Ain’t that the way of it? my new friend lamented. Me in public service, him getting rich.

Grundy knew the elderly women who’d shared the house before us. Looked in on ’em from time to time, he said, eyebrows wiggling in a way it seemed wise not to explore. After the former owner went to a nursing home, her friend had been evicted without ceremony. Got the lawyer’s letter at noon, she was out on the street by four.

I emitted a sympathetic noise.

"Don’t feel sorry for her. Con artist of the first water. Probably owes money to everybody from here to the state line."

Oh, I said.

Since they left, I usually drive up in the yard, check the house, make sure everything’s all right. Couldn’t do that tonight. Fence in the way. He squinted at me in an accusing manner.

We have a black Lab, Zora. She’s a good watchdog. Asleep, upstairs. And Bert, our terrier, is a total yipster. Barks at everything. Also sound asleep.

He nodded, apparently relieved that his duties had passed to qualified personnel.

By the time Grundy shook my hand farewell, dawn had slipped its early promises into the sky. He started for the steps, then looked back. Y’know, it’s great y’all are putting in a bookstore. Not a lot to do around here. I’ll come see you after I retire. I like Westerns.

It felt good, that tossed-off tacit approval. Like being given the key to the city. Town. Village. Front door.

As I turned toward the house, a brief whoop sounded and a blue flash lit the intersection. Grundy rolled down his window. Gol durn it! he called with a smiling shrug, then lifted his hat in salute and drove into the sunrise.

The front door wouldn’t lock, but so what? Grundy watched over us as we slept.

Upstairs, my husband opened one dozy eye and watched me trick our Labrador off the mattress with the doorknob. Is that from the front door? Jack asked as Zora, realizing she’d been had, dropped the brass ball with a sarcastic clunk and padded into the hallway, followed by a sleepy Bert.

We now know someone in this town. I gave him a brief rundown of meeting Grundy.

Jack shook his head, eyes closed. We’re going to fit right in here, he said, and pushed his face into the pillow.

Dear Lord, I hope so, I prayed silently into the graying light.

CHAPTER 1

How to Be Attacked by Your Heart’s Desire

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.

—Hafiz of Persia

PEOPLE TALK ABOUT FOLLOWING THEIR bliss, but if you’re stubborn, unobservant sods like Jack and me, your bliss pretty much has to beat you over the head until you see things in a new light. By the time Jack and I met, some twelve years before the bookstore in Big Stone Gap entered our lives, we had between us lived in eight countries and visited more than forty; the first five years of our marriage were spent in Jack’s native Scotland as cheerful workaholics with pretensions to vagabond artistry. His salary as a college department head and mine for directing an arts nonprofit afforded us fulfilling lives of music, story, friends, and travel throughout the British Isles and the States.

Since we’d married late in Jack’s life, the second time for him and the first for me, an awareness of our age difference (twenty years) kept an easy balance going. The undertow of time’s river reminded us to be happy with each other while we had the chance. With this in mind, we slid our day jobs between hop-away weekends performing stories and songs at festivals, fairs, and conferences. At first, Jack sang and I told stories, but as the years rolled by, his song introductions got longer and I sang more ballads until we were pretty much both doing both.

Driving home from these road trips tired and happy, Jack and I often engaged in casual banter about what we’d do someday when we gave up the weekend warrior routine. Such conversations revolved around a recurring theme:

Someday we’ll give up this madness, settle down, and run a nice bookstore, I’d say.

A used book store, with a café that serves locally grown food, he’d agree.

It will have incredibly beautiful hardwood floors that squeak when you walk across them.

Lots of big windows to let in the sunlight, as it will of course face south.

In a town with tree-lined streets, where there’s lots of foot traffic so people walk in on impulse. Everyone will love us as colorful local characters. You can wear a baggy Mr. Rogers sweater and push your glasses up your nose and talk about Scotland, and I can teach at the nearby university and write the great American novel.

It will have high ceilings with old-fashioned wooden fans. Jack liked to stick to physical descriptions.

And a unicorn in the garden. Two can play at that game.

Of course! It will keep the elephants company. My husband is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy.

Mile after road-weary mile, we created castle-in-the-clouds daydreams about the used book store we would run someday. When the five-thousand-square-foot personification of this idle pastime appeared without warning at a most inconvenient moment, it didn’t so much enter as take over our lives.

We didn’t arrive in Big Stone intending to run a used book store, and in fact we almost passed up the chance when presented with it. Two years before we moved to Virginia, we had left the United Kingdom for the States so I could take a position in the Snake Pit. (That’s not its real name, in case you were wondering.) That move landed me in a high-power game of snakes and ladders in a government agency—except we played with all snakes and no ladders. In this bite or be bitten ethos, it really didn’t matter what was true; it mattered whether you could bite harder than you were bitten—and that you never questioned why biting was the preferred method of communication.

Freedom might be another word for nothing left to lose, or the moment when common sense blossoms through the mud. One fine day I woke up seeing clearly for the first time in two years. A willing entrant into the Snake Pit—because the job looked exciting and as though it offered chances to do good in the world—I’d become instead just another biter. No, thank you; life is not about who gets the biggest chunk of someone else’s flesh.

Unless you’re a zombie.

I talked to a lawyer, gave two weeks’ notice, and walked away. Almost everyone has experienced a Snake Pit at some point in their lives—more’s the pity. Bad as our Pit was, Jack and I were fortunate. We owned our house and don’t eat much, so we could call it quits. That’s a luxury many people stuck in horrible situations—from minimum wage to white collar—don’t share. Sensitive humans doing a job they hate to keep food on the family table or a kid in school deserve major honor. If you’re in that position, kudos for sticking it out. God grant you an exit ramp soon, and forbearance until it appears.

For Jack and me, exiting Pitsville seemed like a bad cliché: midlife crisis meets crisis of conscience. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama expressed sympathy for anyone who lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived. C. S. Lewis said almost the same thing in The Screwtape Letters, that people who suddenly wake up in the middle of some important activity and ask themselves, am I enjoying this? rarely answer yes, yet spend their lives doing the same things anyway.

Living in a world with no moral center had thrown us into an off-kilter limbo. We longed to return to a gentle life with friendly people who had less to prove and more honesty in how they proved it. So when I was offered a low-profile job running educational programs in the tiny southwestern Virginia town of Big Stone Gap, we packed our bags and shook the venom from our shoes.

Big Stone (as the locals call it) is nestled in the mountains of central Appalachia, in what locals call the Coalfields. The town had been on its way to becoming the Chicago of the South in the early 1900s, until the coal boom went bust. Now it was just another dot on the map, full of coal miners and retirees, with an embattled downtown and a Walmart up by the four-lane. Football games and high school reunions were the biggest local events.

A nice gentle job in The Gap (its other nickname) seemed a good situation in a pleasant place; we could hang out for a year enjoying life in the slow lane without getting too attached. I’m from central Appalachia, Jack from Scotland. Mountains and rural living are some of the ties that bind us.

While helping us look for housing cheap enough to be realistic yet cozy enough to be comfortable, Debbie, the affable local realtor, discovered we liked old houses. Her company had just acquired one she hadn’t yet seen, so we stopped and explored it together, just to take a break.

That’s how the Bookstore ensnared us. Edith Schaeffer, who with her husband cofounded a Christian commune called L’Abri, once wrote, The thing about real life is that important events don’t announce themselves. Trumpets don’t blow … Usually something that is going to change your whole life is a memory before you can stop and be impressed about it.

That about sums it up.

The five-bedroom 1903 Edwardian sat near two intersections, and edged a neighborhood of sturdy brick homes and leafy bungalows. Parking spaces dotted the front curb. The place felt snug and cozy the moment we walked in, despite its voluminous size.

Squeaky floors, my husband said with a frown, rubbing one rubber sole across the scarred hardwood.

The pocket doors stick, Debbie observed, sneezing as she wrestled oak panels from their hiding places amid a shower of dust.

That’s a lot of windows for somebody to wash. I pointed at the floor-to-ceiling panes adorning three open-plan rooms, stretched across the southern-facing house front.

Rickety wooden fans hung from high ceilings, wires exposed. The second-floor parlor, with its peeling wallpaper, overlooked the town’s tree-lined ancillary street one block from where it intersected the main road. The ghost of cat pee wafted from the oak staircase, which boasted exquisite copper corner pieces dulled by neglect. My husband and I stared at each other with lust in our eyes, thanked Debbie-the-Realtor for the impromptu visit, and left her making notes of things to fix before the house could be put on the market.

From the Edwardian mansion, Jack and I headed to Little Mexico, a signature Big Stone Gap restaurant. Little Mexico sits at the top of a hill next to Walmart, and the parking lot offers magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. The season’s flowering power—rhododendron pink, mountain laurel white, cornflower purple—displayed its full glory in the midday sun. Inside, we dipped tortilla chips into fiery salsa and eyed each other through sangria glasses.

We had no money. We’d bought a house in the Snake Pit with cash when we first came over from Scotland, but the economy had just tanked while the housing market crashed amid escalating horror stories; no way would we be able to sell that house quickly. Thus we couldn’t afford to buy without getting a mortgage, and given the nose-diving economy and the limited appeal my esoteric PhD in ethnography had in the job market, that didn’t seem wise. We needed to just park ourselves quietly for a year and regroup. It was madness to even think along unicorn-in-the-garden lines. No, the word bookstore would not come out of my mouth.

Jack crunched a corn chip. That big white house would have made a perfect bookstore, had it been in a bigger town.

I knew it! Oh, did you think so?

My husband of ten years smiled. I knew that’s what you were thinking. Debbie said the population is 5,400. That’s not enough people to support a bookstore, and anyway we won’t be here that long.

Yep, I agreed. Stupid to get entangled in something like that now, when we’re so tired and, you know, off balance.

Aye. Not to mention, we don’t have enough money.

Or energy. Pity to see something so nice and not be able to take advantage of it, but the timing is so wrong. We need a sure thing. I’ll handle this job for a year or two, and you can find some relaxing retirement project.

Jack waited a beat, then said thoughtfully, But if we were to stay a wee while longer, there is a college nearby where you might teach … well, not that we’re thinking of long-term plans now.

My heartbeat accelerated. No, not that we’re thinking long-term.

We’ll set up a bookstore someday.

Mhmm. Someday.

We crunched in silence, and then Jack drew his sword and slew the dragon. What if someday is today?

Not even a gentle pop resounded as the cork flew from our bottled-up lives. But the waitstaff seemed startled when I leaned across the table, stomach grazing the chip basket, and kissed my best friend long and hard on the lips.

CHAPTER 2

No Longer Renting the Space Inside My Skin

Oh the water is wide, I can’t cross o’er.

Neither have I wings to fly.

Build me a boat that will carry two,

And both shall row, my love and I.

—Scottish folk song

THE INK WASN’T DRY ON my signature before I regretted the impulsive, made-with-the-heart-not-the-head decision to buy that house at the side of the road. Sure, we’ve all heard the Dr. Phil chatter: follow your bliss and the money will follow.

Yeah, right. Anybody out there still unaware that life does not always resemble a Hallmark commercial? Bank accounts are amazing reality checks—no pun intended.

The Edwardian wanted structural fixing, while our minuscule savings needed cash injections, not drainage. Buying that big white elephant would be driving on the wrong side of the money highway. A house back at the Snake Pit waited to be sold in the tanking real estate market. The word recession loomed in nightly news stories. The quiet little position I’d come to town for was not PhD level, and a couple of staff members already wondered openly what I was doing there. (The job was with the same type of state organization as the toxic one I’d fled had been, which those with the foresight God gave mayflies might call a dumb move. We would call it that, and many other things besides, in the coming months.) I had defended my doctoral dissertation just as the economy—along with university hiring—was drying up. The possible safety net of something opening at one of the two area colleges, should my day job go away, was not a strong bet. A safety net that lacks enough strength to catch you really isn’t much of a safety net, is it?

Stacked against all that, we had two very important things going for us: we believed in ourselves and each other, and we were desperate. We craved returning to a sweet, happy, slow life. A lot of money wasn’t important—just enough to eat, sleep, and stay warm through the winter. All we asked was to contribute something to a community and derive pleasure from doing so—plus health

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18 évaluations / 27 Avis
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  • (5/5)
    A wonderful surprise. As a librarian in the region, I am expected to wade through "local writing" that is varying degrees of horrendous, but the writing in this book is a delight. The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is about much more than starting and maintaining a bookstore, and the fascinations of the bluestocking life in general. It's about making new friends in small towns where outsiders might normally be unwelcome, about how to adapt to and even contribute to a unique culture, and about how--having done the family thing right--to craft a life for your family that fits, even if that life is in a tiny town in the mountains of Virginia. Making a life that answers the cries of our souls is something that few of us are privileged to do.

    I have visited the bookstore personally and it is an astonishingly quirky little browser's paradise--like walking into a place you have seen often in your dreams. If you see the bookstore first, the book will seem familiar, and if you read the book first, you'll feel you've already been in the little bookstore.
  • (3/5)
    Wendy Welch and Scottish folk singer husband Jack Beck purchase an old house in the small town of Big Stone Gap in Virginia and turn the first floor into a used bookstore. Recovering from a toxic work environment and low on funds, Wendy scours garage sales for stock and the couple cull their own collection of books. Classed as 'outsiders' in the small town, nobody believes they will last long. With time and a lot of work they eventually integrate themselves into the local community. Each chapter covers different aspects of what it's really like to own a bookshop (and live upstairs!). The couple are Quakers and the book is a bit religious in places, also the stories, whilst entertaining, do ramble on somewhat. The first half was better than the second.
  • (3/5)
    Single sentence review: I would prefer to visit the bookstore than read about it.Longer review: Wendy Welch and her husband Jack decide to open a used bookstore in a small Virginia town. Everyone thinks they are nuts. No one expects it to last. Their resources were few. At first they mostly relied on their own books and yard sale books. When they open, they also begin receiving books for trade. She recounts their difficulties. My favorite chapter in the book gave details on a multi-state bookstore tour they made. She gave high praise to Square Books and to the town of Oxford, Mississippi, which made me very happy since it is in my home state and is a place I enjoy visiting when I'm in Oxford. The book bogs down a bit in the details of owning and operating a bookstore, but I suspect it might be attractive to someone considering going into the used book business. One chapter is a list of recommended reads. I questioned some of the choices and agreed with others. Ultimately I would rather be browsing the shelves of the bookstore while petting one of those adorable foster kittens in their online virtual tour than reading about it. Fortunately it's not that long of a drive, so I may actually be able to visit.
  • (4/5)
    Fun, light read that was fun and engaging and made me want to both visit the author and the bookstore.
  • (4/5)
    True story of a husband and wife who open a "used book" bookstore in a small town in the Appalachians. Wendy chronicles the ups and downs of starting anew in a town neither knew before and where no one knows them. There is suspicion and distrust to overcome. Some of the best pieces are about the things they did to get people into the store. Well written, interesting and I'm glad I read it.
  • (3/5)
    I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book. However, after Welch reveals that she received a book contract, I thought the story deteriorated. The last third felt like filler. Early parts of the book were charming but overall it was a rather light read.
  • (5/5)
    Fans of Adriana Trigiani will surely know the name Big Stone Gap and will enjoy this opportunity to learn more about this Appalachian town. Author Wendy Welch and her husband decided to move there and open a used book store on the first floor of an old house. Trigiani attended their grand opening, and a display of her books is featured in their store. The book also details some parts of Trigiani's books that are "real", like the Mutual Pharmacy. But mostly, it's the story of how "people not from here" went about building a business and becoming local. As someone who deals with donations of used books on a regular basis, I found much of the book very familiar. It's really not so much a story about books as it is one about relationships. A great read for anyone who enjoys reading, in whatever format.
  • (4/5)
    So here's a deep, dark secret: I would love to own a bookstore someday. I have this bookstore planned out in my mind almost to the last detail, although I sometimes fluctuate between whether to go all-inclusive or specialise in mystery fiction and also between all new books or a combination new/used. All of this to say that when Nothing Better than a Good Book mentioned this memoir of a couple starting a used bookstore in a small Virginia town, I had to go out and immediately order it. This was a great opportunity to read about someone else's experience trying to do the same thing I daydream about doing myself someday . I found a lot of good stuff in here. A lot of things I knew, being the child of a shop (flower) owner and the wife of a business owner, but a lot of stuff too that I never took into account, like the amount of emotional baggage that can often accompany a crateful of used books or just how much a bookshop can become a community center. There's also a fair amount of philosophising most of which was interesting and some of it a little bit defensive but all of it mostly spot-on. Most of her defensiveness comes up when talking about ebooks and really, any bookseller would get defensive on this topic because people insist on viewing 'ebooks vs. paper' as a competition instead of what it is: a choice, an option. I understand where she's coming from, but she protested just a bit too much. This is solidly a memoir about starting a bookshop and it's on the meatier side of the spectrum; it wasn't a slog at all but it wasn't a quick read either. I had sort of expected her to veer off topic once in awhile but the focus remained tightly on starting the bookshop and the first five years of keeping it running. I found it highly informative and interesting. Now if I can just get my husband to read it....
  • (3/5)
    Wendy Welch, the author, and her Scottish mate, Beck, decided one day to walk out of their corporate lives and open a bookstore. They are peace-loving, people-loving, pet-loving highly educated Quakers who manage to succeed in a business that is fading from the landscape.

    This book gets a little preachy at times, but she's a really good story-teller. Sometimes you'll laugh, sometimes you'll get a catch in your throat.
  • (5/5)
    A memoir about the experiences of the author and her husband opening and running a used bookstore in a small town in the Appalachians. She talks about pretty much everything you can imagine a small-town bookstore owner might have to talk about: the struggles it took to get the business off the ground, the headaches of small-town politics and the warmth of small-town community, the day-to-day details of a bookseller's life, thoughts on books and bookselling and the role of used books and print books in today's world, personal anecdotes and stories (some amusing, some heart-warming, some sad) about customers who come to the shop to buy and trade or just to talk. And probably a lot more stuff that I'm forgetting, too.Through it all, Welch comes across as both warm-hearted and level-headed (even if she cheerfully admits that jumping headfirst into this particular business venture was both crazy and naive), and she clearly loves the life she's living and the people she's living it with. I'm really, really easy for books about bookstores, so I may be biased, but I enjoyed it a lot. Like many (possibly most?) bibliophiles, I've entertained the occasional idle daydream about running a bookstore. Unlike Welch and her husband, I have far too much common sense (and am aware that I have far too little business sense) to ever for a minute consider actually doing it. But living that dream vicariously for a little while through these fine folks -- while they, of course, do all the real-world work! -- was a pleasant experience, and one that's left me smiling.
  • (5/5)
    The improbable story of a married couple who buy a charming old house in a small Appalachian town, opening a used bookstore on the first floor, is it fact or fiction? Two outsiders with no bookstore experience, in a very small, close knit community in a supposedly uneducated region, surprisingly it is the author's account of their true experience. Full of anecdotes about the customers, the convoluted journey to learning the book business, and the community they eventually became a part of, this is a delightful book. You'll be tempted to make a road trip to Big Stone Gap Virginia to experience the little bookshop and meet Jack and Wendy.
  • (4/5)
    Lots of great insights, lots of funny and heartwarming stories, as one would expect from an ethnographer cataloguing her experience setting up shop in an insular Southern mountain town.
    Around the Reading Rekindled chapter though, it seemed to drag a bit and thereafter started swooping in and out of pontificating and actual information. Could've been my frame of mind though, too, as I was suffering from allergies and looking for something to distract me from that, while on a moving train, so... About 75% a perfect read, so very worth it!
  • (5/5)
    A wonderful surprise. As a librarian in the region, I am expected to wade through "local writing" that is varying degrees of horrendous, but the writing in this book is a delight. The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is about much more than starting and maintaining a bookstore, and the fascinations of the bluestocking life in general. It's about making new friends in small towns where outsiders might normally be unwelcome, about how to adapt to and even contribute to a unique culture, and about how--having done the family thing right--to craft a life for your family that fits, even if that life is in a tiny town in the mountains of Virginia. Making a life that answers the cries of our souls is something that few of us are privileged to do.

    I have visited the bookstore personally and it is an astonishingly quirky little browser's paradise--like walking into a place you have seen often in your dreams. If you see the bookstore first, the book will seem familiar, and if you read the book first, you'll feel you've already been in the little bookstore.
  • (4/5)
    The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch

    ★ ★ ★ ★

    I have been on quite the book slump the last couple months. I am happy to say that I have finally found a book to help me get out of this slump!

    Wendy and her husband, Jack, decided to start a used bookstore with no business experience, in a time where e-books start showing their popularity, and in a small town with 5000 people residing in it. They weren’t sure they would make it nor did many of its residents but they did and what an adventure it was.

    I received this ARC book and was excited by the title alone. A story about a used bookstore (one of my favorite places)? I’m there! And it did not disappoint. From the beginning I absolutely adored the author, Wendy, and her Scottish husband. I wanted to rush to Virginia to visit their bookstore and meet these people. I feel like I could relate to these people and I can imagine spending my day in their shop while having tea and finding some great books to read. The couple quickly learned that their job was more than selling books but being an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. They would become more than the “new people” who moved into a small town but a part of a family and community. Not only did I enjoy the memoir quite a bit but I love the books that the author mentions. As if I needed more book recommendations, she had a lot of great ones that I am eager to get to!

    This may not be a high action memoir but definitely a favorite for me. A delightful surprise and worth the read. This book will be released in October 2012. I know many people that would enjoy this gem.
  • (4/5)
    Lots of great insights, lots of funny and heartwarming stories, as one would expect from an ethnographer cataloguing her experience setting up shop in an insular Southern mountain town.
    Around the Reading Rekindled chapter though, it seemed to drag a bit and thereafter started swooping in and out of pontificating and actual information. Could've been my frame of mind though, too, as I was suffering from allergies and looking for something to distract me from that, while on a moving train, so... About 75% a perfect read, so very worth it!
  • (4/5)
    A pleasant memoir about starting a used bookstore during "the death of the book." Some nice anecdotes, a few head-nodding moments about reading and books, and a handful of laugh-out-loud passages. Enjoyable, but somehow I never settled into the book as much as I would have liked. In the best memoirs of this sort, I start to feel a real kinship with the narrator and become deeply invested in their story. I never did that here, though I'm not entirely sure why, as nothing about the narrator's voice is irritating or off-putting. Recommended (despite my wee reservation) to anyone who thinks bookstores are pretty darn neat and would like to see them stick around.
  • (4/5)
    Engaging account of experiences starting and running a used book store. The thematic treatment is at times uneven: at points it is about the bookstore, at others the community in which the bookstore happened to exist. Granting an interrelationship, viewing the bookstore through the community is a different story than viewing the community through the bookstore, and these separate threads were not consistently distinguished.We're told of financial challenges, but not many details (e.g., the author had outside employment, but we're not told doing what or how much that paid), so it was difficult to follow along on the path toward the store's solvency, and thus empathize with the author's concerns. We hear nothing, for example, about the food aspect of the bookstore's operations, other than that it exists. I could have done without the last chapter when she lists books she likes and dislikes, which came off as a bit self-indulgent. If she wanted to give a "personal touch," it would perhaps have made better sense to give the oft-mentioned shortbread recipe! But despite these shortcomings, the overall impression is very pleasant.
  • (5/5)
    Really liked the way it made you feel like you were right there.
  • (3/5)
    "We read books & tell stories to find each other" Wendy Welch. This is a definite find for lovers of people, books, bookstores and communities where people know and care about each other.
  • (3/5)
    An engaging and enjoyable memoir, one that will especially appeal to bibliophiles and lovers of bookstores like myself. I found the author's style occasionally annoying. Her obvious attempts to be clever grated on my nerves as was her need to remind readers of her advanced education. After seeing A Prayer for Owen Meaney on her "Top Ten Classics That Shouldn't Be" list, I wouldn't trust her judgement enough to ask for a recommendation.
  • (4/5)
    Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through First Reads. All opinions are my own.

    This was an enjoyable, easy read. It made me want to run down to my own local used bookstore and buy a huge pile of books. (Nevermind the piles I already have to read.) The stories of their customers both cracked me up (small town people seem to be the same no matter the state) and broke my heart a little (I cried more than once). I especially enjoyed one of the final chapters, wherein the author lists her favorite--and least favorite!--books. It was like sitting down for a chat with an old friend.

    The book was really just a delight. It made me want to pack my bags and take a trip to Virginia, purely to stop at their shop, pet their cats, and join them on Needlework Night.

    I think any book-lover will enjoy this. It's the perfect cheer-you-up-on-a-rainy-weekend read.
  • (5/5)
    If you're a bibliophile you most likely thought about it yourself. Your very own bookstore. In The Little Bookstore Of Big Stone Gap Wendy Welch and her husband make that dream come true. In a spur of the moment decision they buy an old Edwardian home to open their own used bookstore. Of course it's a long way from a dream to a working business, especially if you have no business plan.This is a quaint and wholesome story about a small town bookstore and its people. Putting their hearts, as much as part of their personal library onto those empty shelves, this venture proved to be a real page turner for me. Yet I'll be the first to admit that you should love books, otherwise this book might not captivate you as much as it pulled me in.Both warmhearted and fun Wendy sure managed to put a smile on my face from the first page on. Not only can you feel the love for books between the lines, she is also a wonderful writer, not just bringing her experiences and observations to paper, but making them come alive in the reader's mind. I could literally see myself browsing those shelves, catching glimpses of the cats (and dogs) of the house, and mingling with the regulars. I'm in love with this place already!Too bad the book doesn't include pictures of the shop which would have really rounded off the picture.In short: A bookishly charming memoir!
  • (3/5)
    If you love books, at some point in your life, you've probably entertained, seriously or not, the idea of owning a bookstore or working in a library. I mean, if you love books, truly love books, what could sound like a bigger road to bliss than working surrounded by them all day every day? But daydreams don't include the reality of actually doing it, being responsible for running a business and making a living amongst books. And if you do go ahead and do it, it's not as easy or idyllic as it would seem. Not that it's without its joys and benefits, certainly, but it is a business (and generally a small business at that) and comes with the attendant worries of all businesses plus some specifically tailored to the book business. Even so, Wendy Welch and her husband Jack Beck decided to follow their hearts and open up a small new and used bookstore in Big Stone Gap, Virginia without knowing exactly what they were in for. In this memoir of their adventure, Welch has chronicled the ups and downs, lessons learned, friendships made, and the ways in which they not only succeeded but found happiness living and working among books every day.Welch worked in a soul sucking job in Washington, D.C. when she and Beck realized that she wanted nothing more than to get out of the snake pit in which she was spending her days. When the job became untenable, they upped stakes and moved to the carefully chosen Big Stone Gap with the idea of starting a bookstore there. They were complete bookstore newbies without any experience behind them that could have prepared them for all they experienced as they prepared to open the Tales of the Lonesome Pine Book Store on the first floor of their charming old Victorian home. They made mistakes, ill-conceived as well as serendipitous. They struggled and succeeded and learned a lot along the way. There was a steep, financially taxing learning curve to owning their own bookstore and even now, they don't make much but they are comfortable and content and that is more than enough.From the genesis of the bookstore idea through to its actual functioning existence, this memoir takes readers each step of the way. The chapters, roughly chronological, each revolve around different aspects of owning and running an independent bookstore. Welch details their attempts at marketing the store on a shoestring and the ways in which their chosen location of a small town gave them both gifts and stumbling blocks as they strove for acceptance in a community that was not always too open to outsiders. There are sweet anecdotes and the brief introduction of bookstore regulars and other characters who wander into the store and contribute to the ongoing story of Tales of the Lonesome Pine Book Store. Welch talks about taking a trip to visit other independent bookstores to see how they ran their businesses and the ways in which that vacation changed and enriched their small store. Written very conversationally, as if Welch is talking to a customer or friend (or both), the book definitely has charm. It is, however, also a bit thin for its length and somewhat repetitious as well. Having worked at an independent bookstore, I was already familiar with much of what Welch recounted and many of her stories were stories I've already lived. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt but I found several patches of the tale dull and disappointing. Despite this, the book was a nice read but perhaps not of great interest outside of the small world of book fanatics.
  • (3/5)
    I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book. However, after Welch reveals that she received a book contract, I thought the story deteriorated. The last third felt like filler. Early parts of the book were charming but overall it was a rather light read.
  • (5/5)
    Fans of Adriana Trigiani will surely know the name Big Stone Gap and will enjoy this opportunity to learn more about this Appalachian town. Author Wendy Welch and her husband decided to move there and open a used book store on the first floor of an old house. Trigiani attended their grand opening, and a display of her books is featured in their store. The book also details some parts of Trigiani's books that are "real", like the Mutual Pharmacy. But mostly, it's the story of how "people not from here" went about building a business and becoming local. As someone who deals with donations of used books on a regular basis, I found much of the book very familiar. It's really not so much a story about books as it is one about relationships. A great read for anyone who enjoys reading, in whatever format.
  • (4/5)
    This book, frankly, was a surprise for me. I picked it up and agreed to review it mostly because I am a sucker for books about books and bookish people. What I didn’t expect was that it would actually be so well written, solidly edited, funny, heart-warming, and informative.Wendy Welch and her Scottish husband, Jack Beck, bought a charming, huge Victorian home in the town of Big Stone Gap, West Virginia, with the sole intent of transforming it into a used bookstore. Unfortunately, they had a couple of things working against them. Big Stone Gap is not exactly an area that welcomes strangers into its midst and its economically depressed state does not make it a prime zone in which to open a business. However, the Beck-Welch team was undaunted and Wendy, in her breezy, humorous style carries her readers through their many experiences as they built their inventory of books and friendships.Perhaps what sets this book above others of its kind is the added insight that Wendy gives into some of the lesser know aspects of owning a bookstore. I love the stories she tells about the more emotional aspects, such as those people who bring in book collections of those loved ones who have passed away, and what it is like to be the store owner who must on the one hand transact the business of divesting the bereaved of the books, but on the other hand be sensitive to the fact that this is a part of a loved one that the person is letting go of. There are many, many such personal stories in this book, each of them singular and touching and showing a different aspect of their lives not only as owners of the bookstore, but as members of their unique community. I mistakenly assumed that life in a small town bookstore would become routine and expected the book might get a bit soporific at times, but Wendy showed me that their life is full of rich relationships and lessons learned, and I enjoyed the chance to experience Big Stone Gap and their book store right along side them. Wendy and her husband also use their bookstore to host many other types of activities that enriched their community, and her sharing these events adds a good deal of interest to the book. In addition, Jack and Wendy went on a tour of other indie bookstores, the narrative of which makes for some good reading. Finally, she shares lots of reviews of her favorite books to recommend, as you might expect from someone who spends her days surrounded by and selling books.This is a solid read about a couple with a dream, how their marriage weathers the making of their business, life in a small town, friendship, selling books, and a few life lessons learned along the way. Wendy’s lovely writing will touch your heart and your funny bone in turns, making this a read for many moods. I definitely recommend this one.
  • (5/5)
    Following their hearts, Wendy and Jack Welch leave life in the fast lane to move to small town Appalachia. With no idea how they were going to do it, they proceed to buy an old house and open a bookstore. In this day of electronic books, computers and technology, against all odds, their little dream was becoming a reality.What follows is that the community embraces Wendy, Jack, their cats and dogs, and the little bookstore. This is a very special memoir about special people coming together as a community, epitomizing community spirit and faith.Wendy Welch writes with heart, soul, and humour. She not only loves books but is a wonderful storyteller, as well. This heartfelt book is for all bibliophiles, cat (and dog) lovers, dreamers and believers.