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. 304 pages. $25.
By Ralph Berrier Jr.
For a small town in far Southwest Virginia’s coal country, Big Stone Gap sure has an outsized place on the literary landscape.
Novelist John Fox wrote numerous books when he lived there in the early 1900s, including the best-seller “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.” That novel inspired the long-running outdoor drama that is performed in town every summer, a play that likewise inspired Adriana Trigiani’s best-selling novel “Big Stone Gap” and other novels.
Big Stone Gap once again finds itself in a book title from a major publisher with the arrival of “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap,” a memoir written by town resident Wendy Welch, who tells the story of the used bookstore she and her Scottish-born husband, Jack Beck, opened in the Wise County town (pop.: 5,600).
In a series of breezy chapters, Welch tells what at first seems like a familiar, fish-out-of-water story: married couple chucks the bright lights of the big city for the simple life in a small town, where they must navigate the unfamiliar local customs and rules in an effort to earn the trust of the local folks and fit in.
The couple follow their bliss and open the bookshop in a large Victorian house, a shop they named Tales of the Lonesome Pine, in tribute to the local literary tradition. Many folks are thrilled to have a bookstore in town, although many are secretly — and some not so secretly — betting that the shop won’t make it a year.
Compounding the normal struggles of running a small business, the owners had the unfortunate timing of opening a bookstore just as the economy tanked and just when the rise of e-books began to threaten the existence of the printed page. The townfolks’ hunches about the store’s dim future appeared to be coming true.
Thanks to an article in a good old-fashioned newspaper, the store finally gained the public’s attention and local folks began supporting the shop and the couple. The bookshop, and ultimately Welch’s book itself, becomes populated with characters who want to swap books, wheel and deal and help secure the shop as a local gathering spot.
Welch’s witty writing style enlivens the simple story of a married couple, books, cats, music and life in a small new town. The book evolves into a winning manifesto on the importance of the printed word, bookshops and a shared sense of community. Read more »