“The Road to Little Dribbling” Reviewed by Ellen Campbell

billbrysonbook

The Road to Little Dribbling:  Adventures of an American in Britain

Author:  Bill Bryson

Reviewed by:  Ellen Campbell

I have read the new Bill Bryson book from our library and enjoyed it very much.

The name of it is The Road to Little Dribbling and it’s largely a travelog of his tour the length of England with sorties into Wales and Scotland. He walked a significant part of it and described places the average tourist would not see.

It was very interesting and I learned about many wonderful places. Also, I found myself giggling a lot. He finds humor in almost everything he sees.

I just have to mention a small section where he comments on British food, which is often disrespected by people. First he states there are many delightful dishes that originated there, including Yorkshire pudding, hot cross buns, plum pudding, toasted teacakes, mince pies and many others such as wonderful cheeses. Then he states that a lot of British foods don’t sound very attractive, among them toad-in-the-hole, bubble and squeak, bangers and mash, faggots in gravy, gooseberry fool and clotted cream.

A few pages later, when he’s in Scotland on a train to the northern-most tip of Britain, Cape Wrath, he tells of going tothe lounge car for a drink and something to eat. When he looked at the menu, the dinner options featured a plate of haggis and also neeps & tatties, and such snacks as Tunnock’s teacake, haggis-flavored potato chips, and Mrs. Tilly’s Scottish tablet which sounded to him not at all like a food, but more like something you’d put into a tub of warm water to soak sore feet in.

He sums that up by commenting “I couldn’t help wondering if Scottish nationalism hasn’t gone a little too far now. I mean these poor people aredenying themselves simple pleasures like Kit-Kats and Cornish pasties and instead are eating neeps and foot medications on the grounds of patriotism. Seems a bit unnecessary to me.”

The library has other Bill Bryson books as well. If he is a new-to-you author, I highly recommend that you try his books.

 

“The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap” Reviewed by Ellen Campbell

 

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone GapTHE LITTLE BOOKSTORE OF BIG STONE GAP

Author: Wendy Welch

Reviewed by Ellen Campbell

I’m often drawn to books reviewed on Public Radio’s “All About Books”, a 10-minute program on Thursdays during the noon hour. Such was the case of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

I requested it at our library and was pleased when it was ordered. I was not disappointed.

This is the true story of Wendy Welch and her Scottish husband Jack who had talked for years about some day owning a book store. When they moved to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, for Wendy’s new job, they saw this large old house and unexpectedly became the broke and terrified owners of the five-bedroom, three-bath-with-one-working Edwardian mansion. Here was where their bookstore would be.

There was much work to be done before they made the upstairs their living quarters and the downstairs a used book store. It was not easy the first two years. People didn’t expect them to stay in business. Town folks and even their own relatives would make comments like “A bookstore? You’re nuts.” They had no working capital until their former home was sold, and no starter stock except from their own extensive book collections. Jack made all the shelves himself, and Wendy went to garage sales to purchase cheap books. Later, people gave them large quantities of books. The couple soon learned which ones would never sell, and placed those in a free box on the porch.

 

They served tea and Jack’s delicious scones from the outset, and began running special events at the store, some of which were completely madcap but enjoyed by those who attended, and others such as book discussions and craft sessions for special interest groups.

Publicity had to be mostly by word-of-mouth and flyers placed around town. The two cats who roamed the store attracted certain customers, and others came to see what was going on after hearing about the store from friends. Jack applied for membership in the Kiwanis club in hope of making contacts there but, as luck would have it, Wendy’s bitter former employer was the Kiwanis president. Jack received a pointed rejection letter which Wendy promptly framed and posted on the wall. The notoriety of that letter drew visitors who came especially to see it but ended up buying books.

The book is full of such humorous episodes as well as some touching moments when people share their problems with Wendy over a cup of tea in the same way they do with their hair dressers or bar tenders. After about five years, the bookstore was a definite success, and is still owned and operated by Wendy and Jack.

Anyone who likes books will enjoy this one, as Wendy writes of their trials and triumphs. If you decide to at least leaf through the book, be sure to read Chapter 20, starting on page 197. Though I loved the entire book, this chapter was my favorite.

 

 

Library Patron Ellen Campbell’s Review of the Book “The Great Bridge” by David McCullough

BOOK REVIEW

By Ellen Campbell

I’ve just finished reading a book that I found so intensely interesting and well-written that I felt led to recommend it to others.

It is one of author David McCullough’s excellent books, The Great Bridge. Thinking it was McCullough’s newest after reading a newspaper review, I requested it at our library. Instead, I found it was copyrighted in 1972, but has been republished in 2012 with some additional notes. I believe I’ve read every one of his other books, but missed this one the first time around. His books are all documentaries, thoroughly researched, but they read like novels.

The Great Bridge is the story of engineer John Roebling who had the vision for this bridge (the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time) spanning the East River between Brooklyn and New York City. He drew the original plans and conceived of ways to do the job, but met with a freak fatal accident when the work was barely begun. His son, engineer Washington Roebling, took over the building of the bridge, which took fourteen years to construct, 1869 to 1883. If it had not been for the son’s skill and courage as well as his wife’s dedication, the bridge would never have been built. It met with opposition from some politicians and newspaper editors from the outset, and there were many delays.

One of the very worst problems was in the early stages of building the caissons that had to be sunk clear down to bedrock many feet below the surface. The mysterious disorder called “the bends” sickened a number of employees who had to descend to the bottom to work. No one was familiar with it at the time, though deep-sea divers encountered the same phenomenon later.

Chief Engineer Washington Roebling himself succumbed to it and remained in ill health the rest of his life. For the last few years of construction he didn’t even appear at the worksite. Instead, he sat in an upper window of his nearby house watching the proceedings through a telescope. Amazingly, from that remote supervision, when the sub-engineers brought problems to him he was able to figure out exactly how to solve them.

There are many interesting side issues mentioned in the book, including interaction with the infamous Tweed Gang. I was intrigued with it all, even the engineering diagrams. The book holds one’s interest through all the criticisms of the bridge, the outright skullduggery, accidents, wire fraud, and the fascinating description of spinning the suspension cables.  My own emotions included fear and apprehension, then pure joy and exhilaration when the bridge was finished.

There was a huge celebration when the great bridge was dedicated on May 24, 1883 with special guests President Chester Arthur and Governor Grover Cleveland. Now, each time I catch a glimpse of the Brooklyn Bridge on a New York TV show or in a photograph, I recognize it and have a feeling of pride and ownership.