Jan 27, 2014

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: a memoir of friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book by Wendy Welch

My rating: 4 stars

Overview from Goodreads: Wendy Welch and her husband had always dreamed of owning a bookstore. When the opportunity to escape a toxic work environment and run to a struggling Virginia coal mining town presented itself, they took it. And took the plunge into starting their dream as well. They chose to ignore the “death of the book,” the closing of bookstores across the nation, and the difficult economic environment, and six years later they have carved a bookstore—and a life—out of an Appalachian mountain community.

A story of beating bad odds with grace, ingenuity, good books, and single malt, this memoir chronicles two bibliophiles discovering unlikely ways in which daily living and literature intertwine. Their customers—"Bob the Mad Irishman," "Wee Willie," and "The Lady Who Liked Romances," to name a few—come to the shop looking for the kind of interactive wisdom Kindles don't spark, and they find friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book in good company.


For me, this is the best kind of non-fiction. This is a story about a couple who started a used bookstore in a town that wouldn't exactly be the ideal location for a used bookstore; it's a story of triumph, community, love, and of course, a story about books.

The chapters are relatively short and it's easy to pick up and put down without losing the thread of what's going on. Wendy's writing is fun and engaging and I flagged so many sentences throughout, I couldn't possibly share them all. (I will of course share some of my favorites!)

Love expressed through a thoughtfully chosen book lingers, along with the memory of its imparted wisdom. (pg 28)

Still, we never forget that books are more than the words on the page. They mark the important moments in our life journeys. (pg 121)

Something that really stuck with me throughout this story was the idea of a bookstore being a "third place."

Third places are those needed spaces, neither home nor work, where we are known by our names and valued for being whatever we decide to be - the clown, the intellectual, the quiet person. (pg 151)

This is so true for me. When I'm upset or dealing with something, bookstores are my safe haven. Walking into a bookstore helps me breathe easier. Wendy and Jack get that.

...that's what makes people breathe slower in the bookstore; without knowing it, they adjust their rhythm to the gentle pulsing of the books. (pg 188)

This book came to me at just the right time. There was an overarching story about Wendy and Jack of course, but there was so much about this atmosphere they created, I found myself nodding along. Bookstores are more then just selling books - its where I go for peace, and healing. Wendy and Jack get that too.

In all honesty, the scariest, hardest, saddest, most important stories found in a bookshop aren't in the books; they're in the customers. (pg 141)

I mean, when someone recognizes that a bookstore is more than where books are sold, I need to know more. This book renewed my faith in used bookstores - and I'm determined to frequent the one close to me more often.

Store owners - at least until they can be replicated online - are why I think small bookstores will be around even when the last leviathan disappears, harpooned by an e-reader. Physical brick-and-mortar bookshops are watering holes for human intellects and spirits. E-readers and books bought online don't let you tell the story of why you wanted to buy them. Amazon neither knows nor cares that you want a red-hot romance to distract your friend during chemo; that the book of wedding cake designs you seek is because you're going to make one for your daughter-in-law-to-be since her parents can't afford to put on the wedding, but you've never made such a thing before and you're scared to death. Small and independent shop owners care. We're good listeners. (pg 176)

When we listen to each other, we validate each other. As near as I can tell, everyone in the world wants and needs validation. Mom-and-pop booksellers are different from the box stores and the computers; because we're not just selling to be selling; we're selling to keep the connections between storytellers, storied lives, and story readers active. (pg 177)

I loved this book. LOVED it. (I now follow their blog and like them on Facebook as well!) In fact, I'm already looking at our calendar for when we can visit. I want to see this bookstore, support them, and meet Wendy, Jack, and all their animals. (Oh, and did I mention Jack is Scottish? Scottish. YOU GUYS.)

Jack says watching a customer meet the right book is like seeing a child who thinks she's lost on the playground spot her mother. (pg 250)

Yes. Just. YES.

Have you read this book? If not get thee to a bookstore stat! Are you a frequenter of used bookstores? Are they a "third place" for you as well?

5 comments:

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I will have to check this out as it sounds really good and so intriguing. Book stores are my happy place, too, and I love the little independent ones that have so much character. I don't buy a lot of used books, but I don't buy a lot of books in general these days... I think when I have more room and another book shelf, I will resume buying books, though, as I do like having them around so I can pass them onto friends and family!

Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

I really want to read this book! I love bookstores too, and it's not really about the owners as much as I just look browsing and looking through real books. Eric and I have started to visit local bookstores everywhere we go because I just find them all so unique and again, I just love to browse through all the books!

Nora said...

I definitely will add this to my list; I love the Big Stone Gap books that were written by Trigiani so I think this would be a great read most definitely. Thanks for sharing.

And yes, I love bookstores. Used, new, whatever kind, they are one of my favorite places ever.

Amber said...

First, you do the best book reviews! I always enjoy reading them.

Second, I think this book looks so awesome. I also LOVE bookstores. I don't visit small local ones enough though (sadly they are a dying breed in my community) but I really should make a point of doing it more. I can definitely spend hours in the bookstore!

Novelista Barista said...

This book sounds really good !

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