The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap
by Wendy Welch

St. Martin's Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-250-01063-6.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 01/13/2013
Review of the Month, February 2013

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

Readers are fey creatures. They particularly gravitate toward used bookstores, always hoping to find a new author or that old favorite, unthought-of of for years. Wendy Welch, in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, has zoned in on this love of books perfectly.

A bookstore, of any kind, creates community. Nowhere is that more obvious than in a used bookstore. This reviewer once owned a used bookstore, so the trials and tribulations of getting a store off the ground, the interesting and bizarre customers, and the struggles to create a viable business are all familiar. As Wendy says, "...the sense of perspective that a bookstore imposes is life-altering." Friendships are formed, a sense of community and integral connection to the town are on-going and essential.

Welch's writing style is casual and personable, much as one imagines her store to be. Her husband, Jack Beck, and her cats (and later, dogs) wander in and out of the tale, enhancing the reader's amusement and the sense of being in the middle of the store, watching the goings-on. Yet the story is not just of the creation of a bookstore in a community without one, but a story of marriage, and how the Welch-Beck duo got to the point of wanting to craft a bookstore from their past experiences and present dreams. Snidely clever remarks about the corporate world and intimate narratives of a new life-in-the-making create interesting reading!

It isn't all sunshine and lollipops, though. There is much skepticism from the town and vocal naysayers who believe the small town cannot support a bookstore. Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books is a salmon, fighting to swim upstream against a tide of people who believe that anything new is questionable, and anything that bucks the system may be dangerous. In the twenty-seven chapters of this book, Welch discusses it all. She discourses on being created, as well as creating, community. She laughs at her mistakes and groans over such new struggle: how to get stock, how to tempt customers in, and the love of books and sisterhood that the Yarn Goddesses bring to Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books. Each step of the way, she is frank, funny, and full of fighting spirit.

Since the purpose of a bookstore with a sense of community is to provide an openly-spirited forum for conversation, and intellectual pursuit, the ability to laugh at oneself becomes paramount. Welch does this beautifully, while bringing to life a real struggle to accomplish what she and Beck set out to do. They will never become rich jet-setters, or wealthy trendsetters. And that is okay, for their dream is ever-evolving; constantly learning, growing, changing and bringing new life and interests. The book is inspirational for those looking for their own dreams and connectivity, as well as being an entertaining and laid-back look at one couple's journey into making a dream come true.

Wendy has a Ph.D. in ethnography, believes in fostering animals, encourages her husband Jeff Beck's musical career, and teaches college courses on a wide range of topics—from public health to culture. Visit her blog.

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