Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

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.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your candour in this review. My wish list has many more titles than I have time left in this life, so I need to winnow. This helped me do just that!


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