Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

I vaguely remember thinking I wanted to read Wendy Welch's book when it came out in 2012, but that was the year I was applying for jobs and getting ready to move from Arizona. However, I follow Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC on Facebook, and that reminded me of the book. Welch's book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is "A memoir of friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book", the story of the used bookstore owned by Welch and her husband, Scottish folksinger Jack Beck.

Welch and Beck really had no idea how to run a bookstore. Welch had just left a soul-stealing job in academia, and she found what turned out to be, unfortunately, a similar job. But, in moving, they stumbled upon an old house that appeared to be perfect for the used bookstore they wanted to own. Unfortunately, their money was tied up in the house in a previous town. They were opening a bookstore in a town that was coping with a dying coal industry, and had a dying downtown. It was the  recession, and Big Stone Gap, Virginia was a "notoriously insular region". Would they welcome new people? And, Wendy and Jack had no business plan, no experience, and were totally unprepared to run a business in a small town. But, they opened Tales of the Lonesome Pine, and set out to win over the hearts and minds of the community.

The book covers all the mistakes the couple made, all the reasons not to open a bookstore, while making those of us who love books and bookstores fall in love all over again. Welch doesn't gloss over their problems, or the hardships of running a bookstore. At the same time, it was what she and Beck wanted. "Our dream: a peaceful and fun life full of books in a community that we appreciated, and that appreciated us." The community grew to appreciate them, their cats, their music, the books and events they share. But, it took Stephen Igo in the Kingsport Times-News to sum up their existence, and bring people to the bookstore. His article was about "What goes on in a bookstore operated on the principles of imagination and love of life."

Welch's book is about community, people, books. It's funny at times, slightly sad when she tells about people donating books from loved ones who have died. And, tea and shortbread cookies help with the difficult moments.

I could spend a great deal of time summarizing this charming book. However, you really need to read Wendy Welch's own words about Tales of the Lonesome Pine, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. She sums of the feelings of so many of us who just love books. "Deep in our hearts Jack and I simply could not imagine a life without books and words and the smell of paper."

Wendy Welch's website is or you can find them on Facebook at Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch. St. Martin's Press. 2012. ISBN 9781250010636 (hardcover), 291p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Jeffrey Meyerson said...

OK, you sold me. I wish I knew about the place last year because we were fairly close to it after leaving Asheville (after the Bouchercon in Raleigh) and could have made a detour on the way north.

Kaye Barley said...

oh, this sounds lovely. Adding to my list, Lesa. Thank you!

Lesa said...

Jeff, I'm sorry I didn't know about it earlier to tell you. (smile)

Lesa said...

This one is just meant for you, Kaye - the combination of music, crafts from the region, and books. It can't be beat. And, the book is wonderful!

BPL Ref said...

Love both the book and the bookstore! I've only been there a couple of times but it's a wonderful place. I read the book first, then made the trip. The book is a delight, and it's fun to follow them on FB too. Wendy & Jack are my kind of people.