The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friends, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book
October 2, 2012
Beck dreamt of opening a bookstore…someday. That opportunity appeared sooner than Welch and Beck thought, so they followed their bliss and bought a 1903 mansion in Big Stone Gap, Va.
Welch, a native of the region, writes a warm memoir of the ups and downs of how the couple found their way in an insular coalfield community, living on second floor of The Lonesome Pine Used Bookstore. Every chapter demonstrates the bookstore’s ability to charm its way into the heart of the town, despite the region’s depressed economy, reputation for illiteracy, and the trend of online book selling. “Living in a shrinking community meant every customer had to be wooed, feted, and treated like a precious commodity. They needed to believe in us, but the very fact that we’d chosen to settle in their town negated trust in our prowess,” Welch writes. The community seemed to ask why, if the brightest of Appalachia left the region, would anyone in their right mind move to a diminishing town to establish a business?
Each time adversity rears its head, Welch and Beck rally with surprisingly effective problem solving that saves the day and keeps the bookstore functioning. Welch waxes eloquent about the bookstore’s role as a community center. She and Beck provide a third space for residents to escape the pressures of the world. Readers and browsers alike relax with a cup of tea or coffee and a bite of Beck’s shortbread. They arrange ceilidhs, and other events at the store.
Undoubtedly this book will appeal to people who love books, reading, and bookstores. It’s a testament to the power of good will, care, and community building in the twenty-first century, and how those simple values are at the heart of doing good business. Learning about the people whose lives the bookstore has touched makes the book exceptional reading, and the bookstores itself a destination.
Polar bear parable explores issues
Books transport readers from the routine business of the day to another place. Zac Unger’s Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye is set in Churchill, Manitoba, a place most will never travel to—it’s 600 miles north of Winnepeg, and one doesn’t find oneself there accidentally or cheaply; however, it is the polar bear capital of the world. As the darlings of the global warming movement, polar bears are included in the Endangered Species Act, and Unger sought to interview scientists studying the polar bears’ habitats.
Spending a week in Manitoba in the off-season, when the temperatures are 90 degrees and mosquitoes devour humans, is a miserable experience as Unger describes it; nonetheless, a week in Churchill wasn’t enough, so Unger moved his wife and three young children there to learn as much as possible about the polar bears and the people who study them, promote them, and make a living from them. The town of less than 1,000 swells with 10,000 tourists in October and November to see the bears.
While the title might cause someone to pick up the book, once begun, Unger’s brisk, delightful, and often irreverent writing and the pure crash course about ursus maritumus will suck you down the rabbit hole. Unger presents a divisive topic—global warming and the possible extinction of polar bears—in a balanced way. Unger’s book is filled with fascinating tidbits such as studying bear scat to determine their eating habits, what to do in the event of a bear attack, stories about the people, history and culture of Hudson Bay. Sure, he admits his bias as someone wanting “to be a hero of the environmental movement,” but his story underscores the complexity of biology, science, nature, people, and our symbiosis.