This book, frankly, was a surprise for me. I picked it up and agreed to review it mostly because I am a sucker for books about books and bookish people. What I didn’t expect was that it would actually be so well written, solidly edited, funny, heart-warming, and informative.
Wendy Welch and her Scottish husband, Jack Beck, bought a charming, huge Victorian home in the town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, with the sole intent of transforming it into a used bookstore. Unfortunately, they had a couple of things working against them. Big Stone Gap is not exactly an area that welcomes strangers into its midst and its economically depressed state does not make it a prime zone in which to open a business. However, the Beck-Welch team was undaunted and Wendy, in her breezy, humorous style carries her readers through their many experiences as they built their inventory of books and friendships.
Perhaps what sets this book above others of its kind is the added insight that Wendy gives into some of the lesser know aspects of owning a bookstore. I love the stories she tells about the more emotional aspects, such as those people who bring in book collections of those loved ones who have passed away, and what it is like to be the store owner who must on the one hand transact the business of divesting the bereaved of the books, but on the other hand be sensitive to the fact that this is a part of a loved one that the person is letting go of. There are many, many such personal stories in this book, each of them singular and touching and showing a different aspect of their lives not only as owners of the bookstore, but as members of their unique community. I mistakenly assumed that life in a small town bookstore would become routine and expected the book might get a bit soporific at times, but Wendy showed me that their life is full of rich relationships and lessons learned, and I enjoyed the chance to experience Big Stone Gap and their book store right along side them.
Wendy and her husband also use their bookstore to host many other types of activities that enriched their community, and her sharing these events adds a good deal of interest to the book. In addition, Jack and Wendy went on a tour of other indie bookstores, the narrative of which makes for some good reading. Finally, she shares lots of reviews of her favorite books to recommend, as you might expect from someone who spends her days surrounded by and selling books.
This is a solid read about a couple with a dream, how their marriage weathers the making of their business, life in a small town, friendship, selling books, and a few life lessons learned along the way. Wendy’s lovely writing will touch your heart and your funny bone in turns, making this a read for many moods. I definitely recommend this one.