For the inimitable Lee Smith, place is paramount. For forty-five years, her fiction has lived and breathed with the rhythms and people of the Appalachian South. But never before has she written her own story.
Set deep in the mountains of Virginia, the Grundy of Lee Smith’s youth was a place of coal miners, tent revivals, mountain music, drive-in theaters, and her daddy’s dimestore. It was in that dimestore--listening to customers and inventing adventures for the store’s dolls--that she became a storyteller. Even when she was sent off to college to earn some “culture,” she understood that perhaps the richest culture she might ever know was the one she was driving away from--and it’s a place that she never left behind.
Dimestore’s fifteen essays are crushingly honest, wise and perceptive, and superbly entertaining. Smith has created both a moving personal portrait and a testament to embracing one’s heritage. It’s also an inspiring story of the birth of a writer and a poignant look at a way of life that has all but vanished.
Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing--and selling, for a nickel apiece--stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." Since 1968, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories, and has received many writing awards.
The sense of place infusing her novels reveals her insight into and empathy for the people and culture of Appalachia. Lee Smith was born in 1944 in Grundy, Virginia, a small coal-mining town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, not 10 miles from the Kentucky border. The Smith home sat on Main Street, and the Levisa River ran just behind it. Her mother, Virginia, was a college graduate who had come to Grundy to teach school.
Her father, Ernest, a native of the area, operated a dime store. And it was in that store that Smith's training as a writer began. Through a peephole in the ceiling of the store, Smith would watch and listen to the shoppers, paying close attention to the details of how they talked and dressed and what they said.
"I didn't know any writers," Smith says, "[but] I grew up in the midst of people just talking and talking and talking and telling these stories. My Uncle Vern, who was in the legislature, was a famous storyteller, as were others, including my dad. It was very local. I mean, my mother could make a story out of anything; she'd go to the grocery store and come home with a story."
Smith describes herself as a "deeply weird" child. She was an insatiable reader. When she was 9 or 10, she wrote her first story, about Adlai Stevenson and Jane Russell heading out west together to become Mormons--and embodying the very same themes, Smith says, that concern her even today. "You know, religion and flight, staying in one place or not staying, containment or flight--and religion." From Lee Smith's official website.
Growing up in Grundy, Virginia a coal town and spending much of her life in Chapel Hill, Lee Smith is Southern to the core. I am sure that those raised in the South will identify with much that I didn't, phrases, foods, manners and traditions. But, I loved this memoir, love this author and her books and you don't have to be Southern to mourn the changes in your home town, or in my case neighborhood, the stores that are gone, places that meant much in your youth no longer there. Family and the importance of traditions no matter what they are. Mental illness and the effects of such on family as well as the people themselves. A Mother's grief, universal I believe. Divorce and dysfunctional families.
Dimestores, her father owned the local Ben Franklin, we had Woolworths but much sounds the same. The places and ideas formed her writing and what writing means to her. New authors discovered, books added. A wonderful little amusing anecdote about Eudora Welty. So much in this little book. Was blown away by her honesty, her willingness to share so much with readers, told in an unsentimental voice in a series of essays. A nostalgic read whether Southern or not.
“Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction, journaling or writing for publication, writing itself is an inherently therapeutic activity. Simply to line up words one after another upon a page is to create some order where it did not exist, to give a recognizable shape to the chaos of our lives.”
My exposure to this particular part of Southwestern Virginia, where Lee Smith grew up, is limited mostly to the years my brother went to college close by, but I’ve been there before and since. I was there two years ago, and while some parts have changed significantly, others still sometimes have me feeling as though I’ve momentarily stepped into a time warp.
This memoir gets its name from the five and dime her father owned, which later became a Ben Franklin store. Now, of course, the town has changed even more, but you’ll see it through her younger eyes, and if you grew up in an era like this, you might recognize your town in these pages, too. It offers a peek at Appalachian life in the 1950s to 1960s, but it’s more than that, and it tackles many topics, mental health, family, loss, tradition. There are stories. Stories about family. Stories about friends, about writing. Stories about “becoming a lady.” There’s one story that stood out for me, that I loved, about an experience she had hearing Eudora Welty that was priceless. So many stories, I felt at the end as though I’d been sitting on her front porch side by side in rocking chairs, listening to her weave her magic.
Why 4.5 stars instead of five? I didn’t really enjoy the beginning of this book as much, but the rest more than made up for it. Once she started sharing her life stories, I was riveted.
“Certainly, the linear, beginning-middle-end form doesn’t fit the lives of any women I know. For life has turned out to be wild and various, full of the unexpected, and it’s a monstrous big river out here.”
Lee Smith begins her collection of fifteen autobiographical essays this way:
“I was born in a rugged ring of mountains in southwest Virginia – mountains so high, so straight up and down, that the sun didn’t even hit our yard until about eleven o’clock.”
I certainly wasn’t born into that world. Just a few miles from my birth place in the middle of the country the elevation is only 230 feet above sea level. The landscape is so flat that the most useless thing in the world is a vehicle’s emergency brake. It serves no purpose.
In the beginning essays I was quite envious of her childhood. She was an only child for one thing. I was an only child, too -- for eighteen months. Then my sister took over and we were followed by two more sisters and five brothers. Being the oldest child of a large family and growing up on a farm, and not in town the way Smith did, I did not experience anything near the seemingly carefree childhood that she describes in her book.
Furthermore, her family was the most prominent in the small, isolated coal town of Grundy. Her father owned the dimestore that serves as the title of the book. Her grandfather was the county treasurer and an uncle was Superintendent of Schools. Furthermore, her relatives owned and/or operated the Rexall drugstore, the movie theater, the Ford Agency, an insurance agency, and a lumber yard. What could be left in a community of a couple of thousand people?
The early essays had so many saccharine elements that I felt myself experiencing a sugar high, which is ironic since I ordinarily suffer from the opposite condition. I wasn’t finding the story of this modern day Tom Sawyer all that interesting and I continued to read only because a couple of GR friends had been glowing in their praise of the book.
Then something happened that I didn’t see coming. The story turned dark.
After reading this I was a little more than ashamed of myself. I had been envious of her and now I was thankful that I had lived a different kind of life. It isn’t the first time that I have been forced to count my blessings.
There is much to like in these essays. In this her first foray into nonfiction, Smith applies her talents as a novelist to describe what it was like to grow up in a southern Appalachian coal town and the changes that the area has undergone during her lifetime. I haven’t read any of her fiction, but I plan to rectify that soon.
Thanks Diane and Julia for guiding me to this book.
Finally, here is something that Lee Smith and I have shared in our lives. She writes:
“I’m 70, an age that has brought no wisdom. When I was young, I always thought the geezers knew some things I didn’t; the sad little secret is, we don’t.”
When I was young I not only didn’t know much, I didn’t even suspect much. Today, I still don’t know much, but I suspect more than I used to.
I have never read anything before by Lee Smith, but this book, due to its title, struck my interest, so now I will try her other books.
The title “Dimestore” reminded me of the dime stores where I grew up in Paso Robles, CA. And the above quote made me think of how my own town had changed, and of how I hate those changes.
The first change to Paso Robles that I remember was when I was in 8th grade. The high school burned down. The kids cheered, and perhaps I had as fwell. But it was a beautiful high school with its ivy covered bricks. The first year in high school was spent in temporary buildings while the new, ugly building was being built. Sure, the architecture was the same, but it no longer had the bricks and the beautiful ivy.
Lee Smith went on and on about the changes in her home town. She had met an old friend who had made that quote above. And last spring when my husband and I went to Paso Robles, I felt that same thing, only I had left Paso, even though I had returned over the years, once to move back but I living in Creston, CA instead, 20 miles east of Paso.
Paso changed more after my parents had passed away in the early 2000s. First, an earthquake destroyed the Park Pharmacy building, the Clock Tower Building, as it is called. The pharmacy was where my mother had once worked in order to feed us kids and way before that it was Wilson’s restaurant, then the Blue Moon, and just before the pharmacy it was Johnny’s bar.
My younger sister Karen got us all a brick from the fallen building. My mom had died in November of 2003, and the earthquake had hit a month later. My brick holds the screen door open, unless the winds push it aside, slamming the door.
At a much earlier date, the town had grown across the Salinas River. Farm land was taken away to build track homes. A new Wal-Mart came in across the bridge over the Salinas River, just as it had in Smith’s hometown. Pharmacies downtown closed, as had the dime stores and a hardwood sto4re. I loved the dime stores, especially, the one I had wrote about in another review, The Jew Store, a book written by a Jewish woman who had owned what people used to call, A Jew Store. It, too, was a Jew Store, but we never called it that.
I hated all the changes. When I was a kid, I used to take a canteen filled with water and ride my bike across the river on Creston Road, the road heading out to the small town of Creston, population 200. I road until I was tired, just to have to turn around and ride back home. This year when we returned, my husband and I drove to Creston to see our old farmhouse that had first been bought by a couple that destroyed my herb garden. They also had put in small rooster houses, and we figured that they were raising roosters to fight. “Isn’t that illegal?” we asked each other.
They had even remodeled the house. Gone were all my stenciling on the walls in every room, gone was the wainscoting in the livi9ng room. Gone was the porch my husband had built, where we had slept in the summer while listening to the rain or to the coyotes. I cried.
This time there was no house. Grape vineyards had taken their place. At least that was better than all the roosters. Still, the vineyards are taking up all the water, and now they are having court battles.
My husband and I had met at The Loading Chute in Creston. We even got our first dog there, so my husband used to tell people that he met his girls at The Loading Chute. We had met at a July 4th dance and picnic held there. Well, The Loading Chute had burned down, but at least, when we had moved, we had asked the owner for the tin Corona sign, and he had given it to us. The new Chute was too modern for us, and everyone we knew in town was gone, all new faces.
The old brick library in downtown Paso is still there, but now it is a museum. I have never wanted to go inside. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, every room in that old library, and I know where all the books were located that I loved to read when I was young.
I remember when I moved back to Paso I had found an oak card catalog that the library had owned. Maybe they were selling it. I bought it, but then because we began moving around, I gave it away. I could kick myself. Now, downtown has been gentrified. The bars are all gone, but most were an eyesore. There are many new restaurants, and I admit, I like those, but I miss what it was and always will. At least the Paso Robles Inn remains, as does the Hot Springs Building. I am not sure about others because my poor vision has prevented me from seeing everything clearly.
When I was a kid my friend Mary and I went into the Mercantile. We were trying on men’s hats when the one of the male salesclerks came over to ask if he could be of help. I think he asked for our dad’s size, but we didn’t have it. He knew better than to believe us, but he didn’t chase us out of the store. The Mercantile is now gone. I believe they may have saved the coin chute that the store had, where they would put your money and receipt into a container and it would go through a tube and be wisked upstairs to the cashier.
And gone was the old newsstand and the soda fountain next door, which my sister reminded me was actually a liquor store. I used to buy Little Lulu and Archie comic books at the newsstand before I discovered real reading. And when in high school my friend Mary and I stopped by the soda fountain on the way home from school.
I remember the old man in the park, the groundskeeper. He showed me the name tags on the trees and then showed me a pond near Spring Street. It was hidden I the trees, and I had never seen it before. He showed me the mosquito fish that were in it, and allowed me to take some home for my own aquarium. He also showed me how you can get pine nuts from pine cones. He should have been a teacher.
And then Lee talked about her mom’s cooking, naming her recipes but not giving out recipes. I can’t say much about my mom’s cooking, as I didn’t like it, but her potato salad was out of this world, and while we all have her recipe, it has never tasted the same, probably because she used Miracle Whip and I use mayonnaise, plus the ingredients are guessed at just as she had done. I added it to my review of Pulling Your Own Strings on here.
Next, Lee began talking about her dad’s depression, which in turn caused her mom to be depressed and anxious. I began to feel that this book was not much of a happy childhood memory book, or at least not the kind I wanted to read. I never talk about my dad in my reviews, of the divorce. It was not pleasant, and I had heard the stories all my life as my mother never could get over her years with him. I was blessed with having a great second husband, as was she. I will not make my mother’s mistakes of repeating. I was just glad that she left him when I was 8 years old.
Lee’s later chapters were much more interesting to me. She gave lists of her favorite childhood and adult books, and I was able to download some of them onto my kindle. She talked about some famous writers that she had known, and I especially liked the writer Lou V. Crabtree, but you can only buy her books on hardcover or paperback.
I felt sad about her own son’s mental illness and his death, and then the death of her second husband. But I had fallen to sleep while listening to this chapter, and when I awoke, I didn’t wish to go back and listen to all the sadness.
Lee Smith was born and raised in Grundy, Virginia, a very small town in Appalachian Virginia. Her dad owned the dimestore which had one-way glass windows in the upstairs office. As a child she spent time watching what was going on below and thus learned “the position of an omniscient narrator who sees and records everything, yet is invisible.” Small town life was ideal for a budding author. 25 cents for the movies brought the outside world to a kid who “formed notions of bravery, of glamour, of danger and sophistication, of faraway places and people we had (never) seen.” Movies taught place, action, plot, beginning, middle and end. Smith lived in a town and family of storytellers which was very useful for a writer.
Smith goes on to tell about her college years spent in a small Virginia school. There she learned about writing, especially how not to use subjects you knew nothing about such as stewardesses in the south of France grade D. Eudora Welty spoke there and was another revelation about regional writing. One high point of college was her trip with friends recreating Huckleberry Finn’s raft trip down the Mississippi. Later she was able to turn that experience into a fiction (The Last Girls) where the now much older women cruise down the Mississippi on The Belle of Natchez and reminisce as well as mull over their different lives.
Dimestore goes on to discuss her writer’s life as she grows up and grows older. If you read her novels you might guess she always has stories to tell—often hilarious. She says “the main thing that has not changed about the South, in my opinion—that will never change. We Southerners love a story, and we will tell you anything.”
The book is a beautiful picture of the 1950s and 1960s Appalachia. It doesn’t matter if you’re not from that place and time. It is clearly relatable anyway. Dimestore’s second great theme is writing, Smith’s own and her appreciation and encouragement of others.
One reason I hold Lee Smith dear is that she obviously travels up Hwy. 421 in the next county from me. She took two highway exit names that I have always loved and incorporated them into The Last Girls. She stuck them in Mississippi but they are actually in North Carolina. Shacktown Road exit and Dinkins Bottom exit. It shows a little about how writer’s work. Me, I see the Dinkins Bottom sign and visualize an old man sitting in the cafe, bottom in overalls.
It's always a joy to get a glimpse inside a favorite author's life and thoughts. Lee Smith has been a writer that I follow, reading and loving her fiction for many years. This small book of essays takes us to Grundy, VA, a small coal mining mountain town, where Lee was a much loved only child, running wild with friends and cousins, surrounded by relatives and a community who took care of one another. Of course, she also received "lady lessons" from an Aunt. "The South runs on denial. We learn denial in the cradle and carry it to the grave. It is absolutely essential to being a lady, for instance. My Aunt Gay Gay's two specialties were Rising To The Occasion and Rising Above It."
A wonderful childhood, so it would seem. Yet we learn that both parents suffered from debilitating depression and mental illness, spending prolonged periods in the hospital. There's also a later chapter about her son's battle with a form of schizophrenia. She loses him when he is 33, and is brutally honest about her rage and grief. She is handed a prescription pad by her doctor: "Write 2 hours every day." She had been writing since the age of 9, her writing had gotten her through many hard periods in her life, had enabled her to support herself and her two children after her divorce, and now it helped her manage her grief.
She lets us in on her writing habits, the hows and whys and wheres and whens. Her life in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough with her second husband, her teaching career, her favorite books, all the minutiae that fans love to know. She writes of her life with humor and common sense. Here's a sample: "I'm seventy, an age that has brought no wisdom. When I was young, I always thought the geezers knew some things I didn't; the sad little secret is, we don't. I don't understand anything anymore, though I'm still in there, still trying like crazy."
What a gift Lee Smith has given her fans with this book. Long may she continue.
The Autobiography of Lee Smith, author of Fair and Tender Ladies, On Agate Hill, and The Last Girls, is so beautifully written and heartfelt that you feel she is a neighbor or a friend, or at the least a person you would feel comfortable sharing a coke and hotdog with.
Born in 1944 in Grundy, Virginia, Lee infuses her writing with a sense of place and persons who have all but vanished from the face of the earth. This is Appalachia at its core, coal-mining country, where family live across the street and over the holler and the other side of the mountain, and you cannot go anywhere without being recognized and cared for.
I particularly enjoyed this part of these essays, but it was also interesting to see how she took this beginning and lived a full life in other places and environments without losing this sense of who she was. Having always been interested in how others write, and why, it was enlightening to hear her stories of how she progressed from scribbling bits of imaginings to tapping into the depths of her soul for characters that resonated, like Fair and Tender Ladies’ Ivy Rowe.
She shares some of her heartbreaks, some of her loves, other authors she has admired, people who have influenced her, and the intimacies of the family she came from and the ones that she built with her two husbands. She seems to have scaled some heights without developing any feeling of superiority to others. She would confess to being privileged and yet admits to a life that has been less than perfection. There is much to be admired in both the writing the woman.
4.5 stars. This is a wonderful collection of autobiographical essays by the queen of Appalachian fiction, Lee Smith. If you want to experience the soul of the region, and of Smith’s life, consider this book. Smith grew up in the coal mining town of Grundy located in southwest Virginia near the Kentucky border, the only child of older parents (her father owned the town’s Ben Franklin dimestore and her mother was a former teacher) who were both “kindly nervous,” each being hospitalized for severe depression multiple times throughout her childhood. But Smith read voraciously and wrote, selling her handwritten “newspaper” at age nine for a nickel a piece, and she played outside until dark every day with all the other neighborhood kids. She rode a handmade raft with fifteen other college classmates 950 miles down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Kentucky to New Orleans. She was a newspaper reporter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She was divorced by her first husband and father of her two children, but later found happiness with journalist and essayist Hal Crowther. She lost a son to schizophrenia/bipolar disorder. She is a lifelong fan of the “National Enquirer,” and her favorite childhood literary characters were saints and horses. A full, heartbreaking and interesting life.
Smith moved away from Grundy after graduating from Hollins College and has spent most of her adult life living, teaching and writing in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough in North Carolina, my own home state. Her descriptions of the places and people of Chapel Hill, where I lived for six years, brought back many personal memories: James Taylor, Crook’s Corner, Breadman’s, Cat’s Cradle, The Cave, Franklin Street, Algonquin Books, Mama Dips, Doris Betts, the UNC campus. Reading this book felt like sitting down in person with Lee in comfy rockers on a shady porch - her voice is honest and Southern and welcoming. There is nothing contrived or self-promoting about this fine author. I highly recommend ‘Dimestore’ to anyone who appreciates Smith’s fiction or to anybody who loves the South or to anyone seeking a glimpse into a professional writer’s life:
“Writing is also my addiction, for the moment when I am writing fiction is that moment when I am most intensely alive . . . I feel a dangerous, exhilarating sense that anything can happen.”
May we all experience that feeling in some corner of our lives.
3.5 rounded down. The longest lasting book on my TBR shelf. I put it there after I read The Christmas Letters The title comes from Smith's father owning the local dimestore.
Lots of Southern reminisces here! Remember jello salads and receipe boxes? Once I realized the only handwriting I have from my mother and mother-in-law is from receipes. You feel sorry for the newer generations that never were "free range" and just played outside for hours and hours. Wasn't "Evening in Paris" just the worst smelling perfume ever? But such a pretty blue bottle.
As a writer, she says there's only two plots--traveling somewhere, such as The Odyssey or "a stranger comes to town." I don't know about that. I recently read A Children's Bible so that would be a trip; but where would The Kitchen Front or Spoon River Anthology fit in when no one's traveling? (especially when everyone's dead in a cemetery)
“Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction, journaling or writing for publication, writing itself is an inherently therapeutic activity. Simply to line up words one after another upon a page is to create some order where it did not exist, to give a recognizable shape to the chaos of our lives.” (Kindle Locations 1933-1935)
I quite enjoyed reading Lee Smith’s autobiographical essays in Dimestore: A Writer’s Life. She offers a close-up and very personal look at Appalachian life in the 1950s/60s.
My personal experience in Appalachia, in the coal mining hills of Southeast Kentucky, was all too brief—for only the first eight months of 1957—but left lasting and loving impressions of the place, of the people, of the culture, and of the hardscrabble life. Lee Smith’s essays bring back precious memories.
Recommendation: Absolutely and highly.
“I’m seventy, an age that has brought no wisdom. When I was young, I always thought the geezers knew some things I didn’t; the sad little secret is, we don’t.” (Kindle Locations 1995-1996).
Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith, author of Oral History, Fair and Tender Ladies, and On Agate Hill s a beautiful memoir consisting of essays on aspects of her life.
Lee paints a warm and nostalgic portrait of growing up in a loving, supportive, yet dysfunctional family in Gundy, Virginia. Her father ran the dimestore in town. A later visit to the city reveals the changes that occurred over the years. Grundy, on the flood plain, had been literally moved to high ground. Wal-Mart was invited in, and was followed by other chains. Her beloved mountain where she ran wild as a girl had been top-mined, now a naked mesa with a city park.
The essays are far ranging, from her mother's recipe box, which included Pine Bark Stew and Cooter Pie, to her father's bipolar illness and mother's recurring depression and anxiety, learning to be a 'lady' at her aunt's city home, love life, and teaching career. Lee tells about hearing Eudora Welty read A Worn Path, then reading all her works until "a lightbulb clicked" about writing what you knew. I was enchanted to meet Lou, an eccentric but gifted writer who showed up at a writing workshop,
I was especially moved when she wrote about her son, a brilliant musician who developed a mental disorder that required medication to keep him stabilized for a diminished life, but still one that mattered.
Lee writes about books and reading, writing and teaching, love and the end of love. It was a lovely read. I read it each night before bed, drawing out my pleasure.
I received a free book in a giveaway from David Abram's blog The Quivering Pen.
Perhaps you need to be of a certain age (boomer) and have lived in the South to truly appreciate how wonderful Lee Smith's fifteen essays that comprise "Dimestore - A Writer's Life". Lyrical storytelling with familiar nuggets sprinkled throughout made for a lovely afternoon totally immersed in her life. How excited I was to find that we shared the love of many of the same titles. All families have their own particular dysfunctions, thus her honesty about hers gave the book a depth that I appreciated. I have never read a Lee Smith book (I know..gasp..thinking of you KW) but will remedy that when I get to the library. Interestingly, I have followed her husband, Hal Crowther's writing from The Buffalo News, The Orange County Register and various publications in NC...plus own 2 of his books....so now I need to catch up with Lee Smith's novels.
Lee Smith mentored me when I was first learning how to write fiction. With DIMESTORE she is mentoring me still, showing me how to live as a writer. Smith recognizes story when she hears it, be it in an MFA program or coming from a woman wearing a man's hat and dropping papers and pens all over the place when she enters class late.
Once I'd successfully written a novel, I became in the public's eye, a writer. It can actually be a heavy mantle to carry, and difficult to navigate. With wit and charm and the hugest heart of anyone I know, Smith not only navigates it but shows us how it's done.
I loved this book. I will return to it again and again. I am not just saying this. I mean it.
There’s something about Appalachia that brings out tales. Lee Smith grew up in a mining town in the Appalachian Mountains in southwest Virginia where she says a lie was called a “story” with little distinction between them. That idea traveled south along the ridges of those mountains right down to where I grew up in its foothills in north Mississippi. I, too, heard when the possibility arose that I might be in trouble, “Now, don’t you be telling me a story.”
Dimestore, Lee’s book recommended by a friend with the advance reading copy furnished by Net Galley, begins, “I was born in a rugged ring of mountains in southwest Virginia – mountains so high, so straight up and down, that the sun didn’t hit our yard until about eleven o’clock.” The language of the first chapter had me tripping merrily with her back in time with rural places and people. I settled in for a cheerful return to the stories told on porches on long summer afternoons. My first impression lasted through her eavesdropping on adult conversations sprinkled with, “never been quite right,” “bless her heart,” or “kindly nervous” – a euphemism for mental illness. I’d heard them all in my own eavesdropping years. I knew the dimestores like her father’s where these conversations might take place.
The cheer never quite leaves but becomes mingled with other emotions as she describes her father’s bouts with depression, her mother’s “kindly nervous” episodes, and being taken in and cared for by other relatives when both parents’ problems occurred simultaneously.
I’ll not spoil your reading with the rest of the story, but the emotional journey told in the style of the porch stories includes laughter, heartbreak, hope, disappointment, and love. If I had to choose a theme, I would cite this quote from the book, “Writing cannot bring our loved ones back, but it can sometimes fix them in our fleeting memories as they were in life, and it can always help us make it through the night.”
My best advice? Don’t delay. Rush right out to reserve a copy at your local independent book store or click your account to have it delivered to your reading device when it goes on sale March 22.
I started this book this morning as we drove away from Gulf Shores and by the time we got home at one pm, I had finished it. I rarely give books five stars but this was really a four and a half. I have always enjoyed reading Lee Smith's novels and her book, Dimestore, gives the reader a glimpse of her life growing up in Grundy, Virginia and how it influenced her writing. She also shares the sadness of the loss of her son, Josh to a family demon, mental illness. She wrote Agate Hill as therapy for herself after Josh's death. Now I want to go back and re read Ms Smith's novels! I read some of them many years ago so it might be like reading a new book with the knowledge of the author's background. By turns funny and heart breaking, Dimestore took me back to my childhood. I have to say that Lee used a word in one chapter of Dimestore that took me back in my own memories. If you grew up in Appalachia in the 50s and 60s it was not uncommon for you to refer to your toys as play pretties. Another reminder of a vanishing culture and the changing of the South.
I feel that I was deceived and lead to this book under false pretenses. Lured by reviews that said this book was about her childhood and her father's dimestore...NOT. I can count on probably one hand the teeny tidbits about the store.
Is this book a case of a published author capitalizing on her publishability? I tend to think so. These chapters are, unless I miss my guess, a re-packaging of essays, excerpts, and columns this author has written on a variety of very loosely related topics.
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. I think some of my favorite essays were the ones that centered on writing, but they were all good, poignant, and wise.
In many ways Smith had one of those idyllic childhoods with two doting parents, but they both had their issues, which meant that Smith had to stay with other relatives from time to time. Her mother was "kindly nervous," and her father suffered mental illness.
Despite its brevity, Smith packs a ton of entertaining tidbits into this book about her life in Grundy, VA and beyond. She was hilarious in parts (like when she thought she'd run out of material to write) and equally riveting when she told of her son's mental illness.
If you love Smith's fiction, this gives you the key to her thoughts, what makes her tic, and the honesty of her heart. Highly recommend!
As all of my book borrowing friends will readily attest I’m an unrepentant page crimper - I simply fold over the top corner of a page that holds something I want to reread. Needless to say my copy of Dimestore by Lee Smith is probably the most page crimped book to be found. It is a treasure filled with warmth, honesty, understanding and humor.
In this her first work of nonfiction Smith tells us of growing up in the small coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia. It was a place where everyone knew everyone, and immediately helped a neighbor if assistance was needed. Her father owned the Ben Franklin dime store where he knew all the customers by name and sported a red bow tie at Christmas. Smith loved to help out at the store where the fluffed the dolls’ skirts and combed their hair as she made up stories about them filled with thoughts about where they came from and where they would go once they left the dime store. She grew up shadowed by mountains that she was free to explore and were so high that the sun didn’t hit her yard until almost noon.
Her mother was a “real lady” who tried to show Smith a way of life other than the rural community in which she lived. She was sent off to get some culture - to Hollins College. Her dream had always been to be a writer, but when her professors told her to write about what she knew she swore she’d never write about Grundy. Thank goodness she did!
She wrote beautifully about the Appalachian culture that she has come to appreciate, thus showing us people and a way of life that most of us never knew. Smith does not disguise the mental illness that was part of her family’s history and took her son’s life. Both of her parents suffered from a condition that was then called “kindly nervous” and often required hospitalization. She introduces us to relatives and local characters who changed her life, all described with love, respect and humor.
Dimestore is so much more than a moving personal account, it is a gift to all of us to be returned to again and again.
Lee Smith's memoir DIMESTORE is a delight that anyone would enjoy. I've had the pleasure of knowing Lee as a friend and a role model for many years, and I knew quite a bit about her childhood and life and had heard some of these stories before, but the telling here is so much more complete and detailed, still in that wonderful Lee voice that I can hear in my head whenever I read her work.
I loved the sections about growing up in the coal town of Grundy, VA the best; they brought a flood of nostalgia and memories galore. But I also appreciated so much the chapters that dealt with the very difficult, painful history that Lee and her family endured with mental health issues. I had no idea that both her parents struggled with depression that required hospitalization. I knew a little about the worst imaginable tragedy that come into Lee's life--the loss of her son--but had no idea how the whole long, sad story played out, and how bravely she had fought through that experience to a place of such peace and strength.
To all of the millions of fans of her fiction and to those who know nothing of her work, DIMESTORE is a must read. Lee Smith is one of the mountains' great treasures--one of our very best storytellers and teachers. I learned in this book that she is also a wise and graceful soul, the kind of person we all hope to be.
A wonderful collection of autobiographical essays, mostly related to being a writer. There were only two that fell a bit flat for me (“On Lou's Porch” and “Lightning Storm”), but they were short ones, and the rest ranged from “good” to “excellent” (generally improving as the book went along). Part of my enjoyment derived from the fact that Smith is writing about the part of the south where I've lived for the past ten years now – I knew just what she was talking about when she told about how at little local festivals old people and children – anyone, really – gets up and starts clogging to the bluegrass music (though, unlike Smith, having not been born in this little community, I'll always be an outsider), and we've visited Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, where she lives now. Anyone, though, who is interested in how a writer's life affects their writing, will enjoy Smith's tales of how her experiences and her writing have become so intertwined that they seem impossible to separate. Her stories have grown out of her life, and her life, or, at least, her sanity, has been saved by her writing. While there's plenty of suffering here (I cried while reading one of the essays, and I'm not a crier), there's also humor and courage and delight. A short but memorable book. 4 stars.
Okay, I'll admit it. An autobiography gets an automatic ten points from me just because. However, this one earned it. I had a quiet appreciation as Lee Smith spoke in that honest, mature voice that expresses real life in a way that says, "This is it; live; don't waste it..." At least, that's what I heard.
Writing was integral from the beginning. Her path of self-discovery included childhood reading and stories, and later, college; but it was teaching and witnessing the passionate, unorthodox writing of her students that seemed to add even more depth to her own journey and success.
All of this was intertwined with her fascinating and detailed Appalachian upbringing that had some happy times and some sad times (didn't we all), and an adulthood that can be described the same. By the way, her parents were pretty, dysfunctionally, cool.
Difficult to put down, Dimestore pulled me in immediately and plopped me next to Lee Smith's childhood. Beautifully written, Ms. Smith made me feel as if I were her oldest and dearest friend, trading childhood stories over a cup of tea at a cabin on the coast of Maine one moment; while the next chapter had me feeling as though I was a devoted student sitting attentively in the front row of one of her writing workshops.
Being familiar with the area and culture described in this book, I found it interesting to think about how things have changed since Smith's childhood and how they have stayed the same. Her stories of growing up in a small Virginia coal-mining town are spot-on to the way of life that is still prevalent in many of those places. Through life's ups and downs, she has hung on to the lessons learned all those years ago, and they have helped her become the writer she is today.
I don't know why this came across by TBR list, but I'm bummed that it took up space for a few days because I could not connect. I didn't enjoy the writing, the name dropping, or the stories themselves though I would be interested in the setting and the time period, just not the narrator unfortunately. I didn't even want to stick with it and skim it.
This is a collection of essays on writing. In one of the essays, Lee Smith recommends a book by Katharine Butler Hathaway, saying it is a book every writer should read. I think Dimestore: A Writer's Life is a book every writer should read. It's fascinating and inspiring.
I have read all of Lee Smith's novels. I am fascinated with the ways in which she tells a story. "Dimestore: A Writer's Life" is her memoir, and in it she does a beautiful job of telling how she became a writer. I couldn't put it down until I'd finished, and then I was sad when I did. I absolutely love books where the central character becomes my new best friend, and that is what Lee has done here.