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Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith

Dimestore: A Writer's Life

by Lee Smith

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Writers can spring from anywhere, even a seemingly nothing town like Grundy, Va. Although she grew up reading books and telling stories in Grundy, it took Lee Smith several years for this realization to hit her. Until then she had wondered what the daughter of a Ben Franklin store manager living deep in coal-mining country might possibly have to write about. Now in her 70s, the author of more than a dozen novels lives in North Carolina but keeps returning to those western Virginia mountains in her mind. That place and those people, she discovered, are virtually all she has to write about, and they are more than enough.

Smith tells her story in disjointed fashion in "Dimestore: A Writer's Life," mostly a collection of magazine and newspaper articles published over the past 20 years. She describes growing up in Grundy and how, at the time at least, it seemed like paradise. She tells of being her father's "doll consultant" every year at Christmas. As a child she wanted to become a saint, or at least an angel in the Christmas pageant. Neither happened. Both of her parents suffered from bouts of severe depression, and she admits her own fears of this condition. She tells of romances, marriages, children and the tragic loss of one of those children. Mostly, however, she writes about writing and, as she puts it, "the therapeutic power of language." After the death of her son, in fact, a psychiatrist wrote a prescription for her. It said only, "Write fiction every day." It was just the therapy she needed

In one of her better essays, one called "On Lou's Front Porch," she gives one of the better definitions of writing you will find. Writing, she says, "is not about fame, or even publication. It is not about exalted language, abstract themes, or the escapades of glamorous people. It is about our own real world and our own real lives and understanding what happens to us day by day, it is about playing with children and listening to old people." ( )
  hardlyhardy | May 22, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Well-known Appalachian author Lee Smith provides insights into her early years in Appalachia as well as the path she's taken since then. She shows the importance literature played in her life. She discusses when she first truly knew what it meant to write from your personal experiences. Her family had a history of psychological illnesses, and she discussed these as well. Her father owned the dimestore of the book's title although there was another manager and extended family members who ran things when he was hospitalized, which was fairly often. The author's autobiographical writings are very readable and offer insight into the world about which she wrote. Highly recommended. ( )
  thornton37814 | May 19, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Lee Smith shares childhood memories of growing up in the Appalachians in Virginia. Her memories will spark images of childhood for many readers. This suggests that there is something universal in the thoughts and experiences that the author shares.

The autobiography is laced with southern culture and charm. Lee's mother dressed in a button-down dress, heels, and an apron while preparing meals is reminiscent of the time period.

Much of her story takes place in the Dimestore that was run by her father. Lee observed shoplifters, lovebirds, and fights from her dad's office window overlooking the store. This led to her eavesdropping with friends through neighbors' windows and to watching her parents jitterbugging and slow-dancing one night when they thought she was fast asleep. These observations as an "investigative reporter" became fodder for Smith's writing later in life. She was a writer-in-training at a young age earning a nickel per story.

The decline of Lee Smith's home-town of Grundy is so similar to the downfall of many cities across our country whose economies are dependent upon the rise and fall of industries such as mining. Main Street stores close or are demolished. A super store replaces the hometown feel of personal service. Flooding was also an issue that contributed to the decline in Grundy.

Success, obstacles, and change are issues that Lee Smith addresses in her personal observations of family, friends, and strangers. These contribute to her performance as a writer.

If you enjoy reading memoirs and are attracted to the southern lifestyle, Dimestore: A Writer's Life should be an enjoyable read. Those who aspire to writing will also find the book appealing. For many, the book will bring back memories of a simpler time that was really much more complex than we realized. Dimestore would be a fantastic book club selection because readers will identify and respond to it with a variety of feelings about experiences that are common to all. ( )
  Winnemucca | May 13, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As I read about Grundy, Virginia, I was transported to the small Appalachian town in West Virginia where my husband grew up. I found myself reading joyfully about that small town, even looking it up on the internet for pictures. I also enjoyed reading about Smith's life after her childhood; I have read several of her novels, and I found the pieces in this book even more interesting as I considered them in the light of different novels. Even if you aren't a reader of Lee Smith's novels, this book gives some insight into the mind and life of a writer. If you have ever had the pleasure of going into a small town dimestore with the worn wooden floors and distinctive smell of oil and popcorn and new material, then you will find yourself right back there again. ( )
  hobbitprincess | May 9, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Lee Smith is primarily familiar to me through her novels but now I am little more acquainted through this book of essays.

Smith looks back on her rural childhood in Grundy, Virginia but doesn't go too deep in an autobiographical sense. She tells us a little about her family, which has its share of problems just like any other, but she doesn't wax overly nostalgic which I was afraid was going to happen after the first essay.

She also explains a little about how she grew as a writer and how she has used those skills to help other people tell their stories. I liked the essays that were more about writing as a craft.

If you are looking for a traditional memoir about growing up in the South this one provides just a taste. However those tastes are rich enough to set a scene so she can ease you into the rest of her story. ( )
  minacee | May 2, 2017 |
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For my grandchildren, Lucy, Spencer, Ellery, and Baker
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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.
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