Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.
Bookshop labor of love
By Drew Gallagher
For The Free Lance-Star
PERHAPS the biggest takeaway from Wendy Welch’s memoir, “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap,” is the edifying reminder that downtown Fredericksburg is blessed with three bookstores that the author would most certainly approve of. While not a mecca for bibliophiles, Fredericksburg is well-represented in the few feet of sidewalk that separate Griffin Bookstore from Riverby Books on Caroline Street, with Read All Over not far away.
A second takeaway from Welch’s book is that we must be careful in not taking these community pillars and safe havens for granted, because in the world of Amazon and e–readers their existence is that much more precious and perilous.
Big Stone Gap is a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. As Welch readily admits, it was a strange jumping off point for her and her Scottish husband and was only supposed to serve as a temporary stop while they tried to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.
Stranger still was the impulsive purchase of a large, old house and the immediate determination to make the lower level of the large house into
a used bookstore while they lived above. Most of the well-meaning residents of Big Stone gave the bookshop a year at most, but through perseverance the Welches were able to not only make the bookstore profitable but also make it something that the community embraced and needed.
This book is the account of how they turned their dreams, first hatched on the motorways of Scotland, of a used bookstore into a reality in old Virginia coal country, and ultimately forged a nearly sacred bond between bookstore and community.
As stated in the book, “Helping to keep a community cohesive is part of what a bricks-and-mortar bookstore does; what computer could handle the day-to-day doings of a bookshop with half as much dignity, grace, or humor? Or course, a computer probably would be too logical to get into such precarious positions in the first place.”
Soon after Riverby Books opened downtown, filling a void in the local landscape, I was perusing the stacks while the owner was nearby putting titles on a shelf. We started a dialogue and he confided that when he opened the store he had no idea how much of a civic duty he was apparently being tasked with, based upon the number of people who had come into his shop to thank him for simply opening the bookstore. Bookstores still fill that civic need, and it is incumbent upon us, as readers and lovers of books, to help them continue to do so.
Drew Gallagher is a freelance reviewer in Spotsylvania County.
THE LITTLE BOOKSTORE OF BIG STONE GAP
By Wendy Welch
(St. Martin’s, $24.99, 304 pp.)
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