I picked up a fairly mild but annoying cold on Christmas Eve, and although it’s hampered my attempts to have a Christmas dinner and get some running and yoga in, it has allowed me to get a good way into my reading. So here’s a review of a book I finished yesterday, and tomorrow we’ll have a book I finished today, with any luck. Also read on for some pre-Christmas acquisitions I made, fairly safe in the knowledge no one would have got them for me for Christmas (and I was correct in that assumption: phew!).

Wendy Welch – “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap”

(25 December 2017 from my LibraryThing Virago Group Not so Secret Santa, Lisa)

I was attracted by the Big Stone Gap in the title of this book as I loved Adriana Trigiani’s novels set in this small town, but more than that, this turned out to be one of my top reads of 2018 (the reason why I save my Best Of list until 1 Jan: a really good book often creeps into Twixmas).

American Wendy and her Scottish husband Jack decide, on a bit of a whim, to buy a rambling Edwardian house in a small town and set up a bookshop. They cheerfully admit they know nothing and they have no budget and are determined not to get into debt – while carefully checking their privilege as they go and reminding themselves and us that by no means everyone is as fortunate as they are in being able to make these choices – so they have a lovely DIY attitude and rely on their own skills and on slotting into their community (making sure the support flows both ways), easier said than done and with some mistakes and setbacks along the way.

I love the way Welch explains exactly how they went about it (once they’d worked it out for themselves!) including such details as pricing books, arranging swap credits for donations before they’d even opened and working out what to do with bestseller hardbacks that dip in attractiveness almost immediately. She also explains that salient point that you have to love people almost more than you love books (something that some other booksellers approach from a different angle (see, Shaun Bythell’s “Diary of a Bookseller“; I have to say I prefer their attitude) as they, perhaps more than most, become a meeting point for the community and a listening ear for bereaved and hurting people who come in looking for or selling on books.

The sense of community is lovely, from Adriana Trigiani opening the store for them to the day a man comes in needing help and they tap into their network and find it for him almost immediately. They give back to their community of booksellers by touring local states and establishing a network of second-hand bookshops, and there are many thoughtful words about the value of reading and bookstores. Talking of words, there’s a delightful strand running through the book explaining various British words and phrases which is very amusing.

Much consideration is also shown to the town and area they live in. While it’s hard to get a way in sometimes, and local cliques can dominate, they understand the attitude of this poor region which often seems left behind in terms of funding initiatives and has a self-deprecating air: if you’re good and you’re here then you can’t be that good because you’re here, and also anyone who comes in and tries to start something will be treated with suspicion that they’re not in it for the long haul, and is likely to be talked about. They negotiate these issues with care and are honest about their mistakes, and this gives a depth to the book that adds to its bookshop opening genre.

There are lovely animals which are not harmed in the telling of this book – always a worry; in fact, when there’s peril for one creature, it’s actually multiplied rather than lost! An excellent read.

And so to two books bought from Any Amount of Books’ ever-reliable outside racks when I was in London with Emma earlier in the month. Laura Thompson’s “The Last Landlady” is a memoir about an English pub and the loss of such institutions, and by N.D. Isaacs and Rose Abdelnour Zimbardo‘s “Tolkien and the Critics” is a collected volume from 1970 that was hard to resist. I do try not to buy books near to the Christmas-Birthday season but it proved OK.