Don’t tell that to Wendy Welch, author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. When Welch and her husband, Jack, took the unlikely gamble of opening an independent bookstore in the first floor of a 1903 Edwardian mansion in a tiny, overlooked Appalachian coal town, most folks gave them a year.
Contrary to expectations, however, they have thrived, and Welch’s book is a celebration of their success. Although success, in this case, doesn’t mean high finance. “The shop makes enough money for us to live with frugal grace,” Welch writes. More important to Wendy and Jack – in addition to the chance to “follow our bliss” – is the role they play in the life of the community.
“People stop into our store daily, saying, ‘A few minutes to kill so I thought I’d look around,’ ” Welch writes. “They’re not going to buy anything. They just want to pull some peaceful, book-scented air through their lungs.”
Welch’s memoir manages to be both cozy and witty at the same time and paints a picture of small-town life that we all want to believe is possible. And her belief that books are an essential part of any life worth living is pretty much irresistible as well.
Multiply the miracle of the Welches’ store by 80 and you’ve got My Bookstore, a compendium of essays by writers each celebrating his or her favorite independent bookstore. Isabel Allende extols Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif.; Rick Bragg dotes on the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, Ala.; and Henry Louis Gates Jr. praises Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass.