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Dimestore: A Writer's Life Hardcover – March 22, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of March 2016: “What is it about Appalachia that so captures the mind, echoes in the ear, and lodges in the heart?” Lee Smith’s memoir metes out the answer to that question, touching on the elusive substance of Southern culture which so fascinates those of us outside of it and has inspired an entire subgenre of writing. Some of her essays ring with the raucous sounds of bluegrass, others with the sweet smells of home cooking passed down through generations--but Smith also bucks small town propriety by exposing the mental illness that plagued her family and by describing her sometimes fraught journey to becoming a beloved novelist. Dimestore is a love letter to the people and places that made a writer out of a small town Southern girl, and to the love, heartbreak, and power of creating her own stories that came after. --Seira Wilson
—People (Book of the Week)
“Smith delivers a memoir that shines with a bright spirit, a generous heart and an entertaining knack for celebrating absurdity. Although Dimestore is constructed as a series of personal essays, it presents as full a sense of a life as any traditional narrative.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“…heartwarming… Dimestore shares the habits that may have saved Smith from her own tendency to get too “wrought up,” one of which was to approach storytelling “the way other people write in their journals,” in order to make it through the night. Fiction became her lifelong outlet, a means of sustaining and reaffirming the connection to her work, as well as a way to preserve the rich mountain culture she so loved as a child.”
“Dimestore may prove to be a work that connects wildly with readers. Because truth is often more powerful than fiction, and because the tale she has actually lived so far to tell is rendered keenly, irrepressibly and without self-pity. Lee Smith, the person, emerges as one of nonfiction’s great protagonists.”
—Raleigh News & Observer
“Now, at last, we have Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, a seasoned, open-hearted memoir, taking us from her youth in the coal-mining town of Grundy, Va., through her education at private schools in Richmond and Roanoke, Va., to her life since 1974, first in Chapel Hill married to the poet James Seay, and since 1985, to columnist and literary critic Hal Crowther. Throughout, the memoir shows Smith’s spunk and spirit…. Yes, Lee Smith is a writer, and without that, we probably would not have this engrossing memoir. But at heart, Lee Smith is a woman – openhearted, spirited, humble – and it is those qualities especially that inspire and make us glad as we read.”
“…profoundly readable… Like her novels, Smith’s memoir is intimate, as though writer and reader are sitting together on a front-porch swing. She writes in the rich vernacular of her youth. Smith’s details are so piercingly remembered, so vividly set on the page, that I felt wrapped in a great blanket of familiarity. Her memoir is a warm, poignant read about a lost time and place, a love of books and a celebration of the quirks and oddities of home.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Lee Smith’s memoir, Dimestore, is both a gorgeous remembrance of an Appalachian girlhood and an engrossing look at the makings of a writer. Her recollections Saturday-evening bluegrass, molded pink salad, small-town community before the age of Wi-Fi and the electrifying childhood thrill of finding a good book invite us to revisit our vanishing past.”
“This memoir is Smith at her finest. There is not one false note in the book. This wonderful memoir—filled with tenderness, compassion, love, and humor—is highly recommended for fans of Smith’s fiction, lovers of Southern writing, and readers who are interested in the changes in small-town America.”
—Library Journal, starred
“Candid and unsentimental, Smith's book sheds light on her beginnings as writer while revealing her resilience and personal transformations over the course of a remarkable lifetime. A warm, poignant memoir from a reliably smooth voice.”
“Dimestore…is a testament to the power of place. The author of thirteen novels and multiple short story collections, Smith has long brought Appalachia to life for readers, and the book chronicles her own childhood in the coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia, where she worked as a young girl in her father’s five-and dime, and her path to becoming a writer.”
—Garden & Gun
“Reading Dimestore: A Writer’s Life is like sitting a spell on the front porch swing with novelist Lee Smith, hearing all about the kinfolk who nurtured her in the mountain “holler” town of Grundy, Virginia. In this collection of 14 essays, Smith’s voice sings out like the mountain music she was raised on, skillfully weaving together nostalgic melodies with modern insight.”
“Smith is a world-class storyteller, so it’s no surprise that she packs this book with a gracious plenty. Her distinctive voice sounds out from every page. Her fans will not be disappointed. In fact, they’ll be thrilled to discover how she learned to tell stories…[a] wonderful book.”
—Richmond Times Dispatch
“It is fair to say Virginians and North Carolinians will want to read this book. …I am going to venture the notion – with absolute conviction – that everybody else who has grown up in America – or beyond it – will recognize something crucial of themselves here, and that tough, intense universality of spirit will touch men and women alike.”
“This memoir is so rich in insights, both hard-won and instant, that it might be handy to take it along to whatever waiting rooms we might be stranded in. This little book also evokes a little fruitcake a Southern gentleman gave us a few years ago that sat in the fridge forever. When I finally tasted it, it revealed the multiple times said Southern gent had basted it with rum, making the cake an outstanding holiday accompaniment. Dimestore is on the short side, but as rich as any rum-drenched confection could be. And no hangover, either.”
“Thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining, this short read is satisfying for the soul. It’s highly recommended for adult and mature readers and all book clubs. Anyone who loves small-town America, the South and Appalachia will love this book.”
—El Paso Times
“Trust Lee Smith to write a memoir in essays that’s as entertaining, original, quirky, fun to read and wise as any of her works of fiction. For nearly 50 years now…Smith has been blessing readers with glimpses into her life, heart and soul through her stories about other people — people she created with her lively imagination. Now she gives us a fuller picture of her most fascinating character of all, Lee Smith, and she tells us some of the ways her life influenced and plays out in her fiction. With refreshing and understated honesty, she also tells us how writing has helped her make it through some rough times in her own life. In Dimestore, she gives us a delightful and insightful look at what she’s learned about writing, reading and, most of all, life.”
—Greensboro News & Record
“With a shelf of distinguished novels…Hillsborough resident Lee Smith has established herself as one of North Carolina's most talented and best-loved writers. Like her best fiction, [Dimestore] is fresh, funny, often heartbreaking, with a pitch-perfect ear for human speech.”
—Wilmington Star News
“…a revue of memorable episodes, enlivened with sensory details, curious characters, evocative scenes and lurking insights.”
—Asheville Citizen Times
“Why hadn’t I heard about this incredible writer? Seventeen works of fiction make her the best kept secret of the literate South. This memoir is a masterpiece of stories and remembrances.”
—Manhattan Book Review
“You know how in Lee Smith’s fiction there’s always something so fresh, crazy, and loving? In Dimestore is the essence of Lee.”
—Roy Blount Jr., author of Alphabetter Juice: or, The Joy of Text
"We have Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, and now we have Lee Smith’s Dimestore. These two great American writers have in common an immense gift for characterization, a humorous sense of the absurd in daily life, and a precise, evocative prose style. In both their memoirs, I relish their restrained and perfectly rendered stories of their own lives. Lee Smith is, of course, a national treasure, and this subtle and moving memoir enlarges my sense of the origins of her deep, wide work. Thousands have fallen in love with every word Lee Smith writes, and Dimestore will bring them new joy."
—Frances Mayes, author of the bestselling Under the Tuscan Sun and Under Magnolia
"Here's Lee Smith at her best. Dimestore is personal nonfiction, where her brilliance shines. Her wide warmth blesses everything funny about life and--here especially--everything moving and deep."
“In her first work of nonfiction, novelist Smith explores how deep her Appalachian roots go, in this entertaining and poignant collection of Southern memories.”
“In this candid, wistful, appreciative, and beguiling memoir, Smith offers a distinctive and intimate look at one writer’s beginnings.”
“In Lee Smith’s memoir, Dimestore, readers will gladly join her, finding her writing with the same lively spirit that has always informed her fiction. She never turns away from her Appalachian roots, revealing that remote region with discerning affection.”
—Elizabeth Spencer, author of Starting Over
“Lee Smith is an American master. In Dimestore, she continues to grow and shapeshift, bringing her massive fictional gifts to a memoir-in-essays that reads like a novel, with a deeply realized sense of place and character development--the central character here, a deeply winning one, is Smith herself. She has her finger on the social pulse of an America uneasily transitioning from the 20th into the 21st century. Once I began, I couldn’t put it down.”
—David Payne, author of Barefoot to Avalon
“Dimestore is the memoir fans of Lee Smith’s fiction have been waiting decades for. It’s a pitch-perfect mining of the memories, desires, and imagination fueling one of the South’s — no, one of America’s — master storytellers. Smith gives us a dappled reality where little girls spy the world from behind a one-way piece of glass, parents are ‘kindly nervous,’ and eccentric aging poets deal with wintertime rejection by shedding their clothes and rolling in the snow. Dimestore leaves you seeing the world a little bit Smith-skewed — by which I mean through a cleverer, more grounded, and ultimately more open-hearted lens.”
—Beth Macy, author of the bestselling Factory Man
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Top Customer Reviews
Ms. Smith’s latest gift to the world DIMESTORE: A WRITER’S LIFE was just what I had hoped for, having read many of his books and heard her read on several occasions. She is as authentic and beautiful as those blue Virginia mountains she loves so much. Her story will make you laugh, and parts of it will make you cry if you are alive. She is as adroit at telling her own life story as she is at writing about any of her fictional characters. Born in Grundy, Virginia to parents who obviously adored her, she spent many happy times in her father’s dimestore from which the book gets its name. Her mother was ever the lady and tried hard to make one out of Ms. Smith who describes herself as a tomboy but someone who fell in love with reading at an early age. “I was a reader long before I became a writer.” But she began her life as a writer by adding on to her favorite books sometimes with a character named “Lee Smith.” While Ms. Smith was a student at Hollins College, Louis D. Rubin, Jr. introduced her to Southern literature. She says she had to go to the college infirmary for a tranquilizer after reading William Styron’s LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS. Her account of the she-thinks-now-graduate student who asks the visiting Eudora Welty a question about the symbolism of the marble cake in one of her stories as the union of yin and yang, blah, blah, blah—these types show up at every reading I have ever attended and always ask long convoluted pretentious questions—is priceless. Miss Welty responded in that beautiful lilting voice: “’Well, it’s a lovely cake and a recipe that has been in my family for years.’” I still remember Miss Welty's response to an eager young woman at an event in Jacksonville, Florida way back in 1971 I think. The young woman wanted to know if Miss Welty thought being a woman affected her writing. This gentle woman's answer: "I certainly hope so."
I would love to have met Lou Crabtree, although Ms. Smith makes her come alive. She was a student in one of her creative writing classes in 1980. Ms. Smith describes her as “this old woman in a man’s hat and fuzzy bedroom shoes.” She thought Ms. Crabtree was a “nutty old lady” until she asked her to read the first line of her short story. “’Old Rellar had thirteen miscarriages and named every one of them.’” Ms. Smith says, “I sat up. ‘Would you read that line again?’ I asked.” The women became fast friends.
While Ms. Smith talks much about the good life she has as a child in Grundy, she does not shy away from telling the truth about her family: “Wasn’t my childhood wonderful? Yes and no. . . In the parlance of today, our family was dysfunctional (is any family not?) I would certainly agree.
I should have read DIMESTORE straight through but didn’t. I read the first chapter “Dimestore” first, then “On Lou’s Porch” and skipped around—not a good reading plan since the last chapter I read was “Good-bye to the Sunset Man.” I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It is this lovely woman’s account of going with her husband Hal Crowther to strew part of the ashes of her beloved son Josh off the coast of Key West. (I defy anyone to read this chapter with dry eyes.) “Josh loved James Taylor, especially his song ‘Fire and Rain.’ But we were too conservative, or too chickens—t, or something, to put it on his tombstone, the same way we were ‘not cool enough’ as Josh put it, to walk down the aisle to ‘Purple Rain’ (his idea) while he played the piano on the day we got married in 1985.” Then Ms. Smith quotes part of the song to her husband as the light fades in Key West. “But I always thought that I’d see you again. Well I won’t. I know this. But what a privilege it was to live on this earth with him, what a privilege it was to be his mother. . . Yet to have children—or simply to experience great love for any person at all—is to throw yourself wide open to the possibility of pain at any moment. But I would not choose otherwise. Not now, not ever."
DIMESTORE is as good as anything Ms. Smith has written.
Lee goes into detail as to where her culture came from on that Levisa River...from cousins across the road (not street..it was a road) to her winning the Miss Grundy pageant, to her days lovingly taking care of the dimestore dolls. Her caretaking never ended as she aged, had a family, wrote her awesome fiction and nurtured those Grundy roots. This is all told so vividly written, you will swear you are riding in your car through the area. I was right back on her neighbors' porch hearing her talk..accent and all. As her words openly discussed mental illness and divorce and death and being seventy.
You are gonna' fall in love with Lee Smith AND her DIMESTORE book. She is as she presents in her writings and this is not fiction.
My book came from Amazon onto my Kindle..please get you a delicious read with Lee Smith.