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My weak spots are trains, westerns and mysteries, so I was compelled to pick up the new Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson. I flipped through the first few pages and tried to feign disinterest--as a brooding Western lawman would do--but I failed spectacularly and found myself riding alongside Sheriff Walt Longmire, back to his early days as a Wyoming deputy. His efforts to stay alive then serve as the backdrop for his current challenge to confront his darkest enemy. The gun- and book-toting Longmire, and the cast of unique characters on the Western Star kept me guessing as I rode the rails with them for miles through the Wyoming wilderness.
The Western Star by Craig Johnson ($28.00*, Viking), recommended by Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC.
*Reflects list price. Local store price may vary.>>MORE EAD THIS!
|THE LATEST FROM LADY BANKS COMMONPLACE BOOK...|
In which Mr. Jeff Klinenberg risks giving journalism a good name, Mr. Daren Wang finds a printing press in his basement, and her ladyship, the editor takes a working vacation and gloats more than a little bit.
|THE NEWEST CROP OF FRESH OKRA PICKS...|
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|THE 2017 SOUTHERN BOOK PRIZE WINNERS...|
It’s 1939, and the federal government has sent USDA agent Virginia Furman into the North Carolina mountains to instruct families on modernizing their homes and farms. There she meets farm wife Irenie Lambey, who is immediately drawn to the lady agent’s self-possession. Already, cracks are emerging in Irenie’s fragile marriage to Brodis, an ex-logger turned fundamentalist preacher: She has taken to night ramblings through the woods to escape her husband’s bed, storing strange keepsakes in a mountain cavern. To Brodis, these are all the signs that Irenie—tiptoeing through the dark in her billowing white nightshirt—is practicing black magic.
When Irenie slips back into bed with a kind of supernatural stealth, Brodis senses that a certain evil has entered his life, linked to the lady agent, or perhaps to other, more sinister forces.
Working in the stylistic terrain of Amy Greene and Bonnie Jo Campbell, this mesmerizing debut by Julia Franks is the story of a woman intrigued by the possibility of change, escape, and reproductive choice—stalked by a Bible-haunted man who fears his government and stakes his integrity upon an older way of life. As Brodis chases his demons, he brings about a final act of violence that shakes the entire valley. In this spellbinding Southern story, Franks bares the myths and mysteries that modernity can’t quite dispel.
FICTION: Literary | Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks (Hub City Press, 9781938235214) | BUY FROM AN INDIE
|SOUTHERN BOOKS | AUTHORS | LITERARY NEWS...|
As the winner of the inaugural Conroy Legacy Award, it's not surprising to learn that even as a two-year-old, Kwame Alexander intimidated others with his words. When a pre-school classmate knocked over his carefully constructed tower of blocks, Alexander expressed his understandable anger not with shoves, but with rhymes repurposed from Dr. Seuss's Fox in Socks.
Now the poet/novelist/speaker draws on a lifetime reading and writing books and poetry not to intimidate with his words, but to connect, encourage, and inspire. In a thoughtful interview at the #SIBA17 Discovery Show in New Orleans with Erica Merrell, SIBA board member and owner of Wild Iris Books in Gainesville, Alexander shared his love of literature, the power of poetry to tame the rowdy tween, the importance of family, and his deep admiration of Pat Conroy. And like Conroy, or any true master of words, he wove each strand into a compelling whole.
Growing up in a book centered family--his parents wrote, taught, sold books--Alexander had to be lovingly persuaded to share his parents' enthusiasm. "I hated books. I hated them because I was immersed in them," he said.
However, early encounters with activism and social justice led him to discover the power of his own voice. When his father took him to march on the Brooklyn Bridge to protest police violence, Alexander felt his initial fear subside as his connection to the crowd and its message grew. "I began to find my voice. I began to raise my voice. I'm an activist, because I'm a human being."
When asked about the impact Pat Conroy had on his writing and life, Alexander recalls reading Conroy's cookbook and feeling drawn to the author's expansive, inclusive view of friends, family, and the writing community. "I want to live that life," he said, laughing. "I want to make shrimp and grits for my friends."
Alexander also noted Conroy's tireless work on behalf of other writers, and commitment to building the literary community. But perhaps most of all, Alexander valued Conroy's bone-deep authenticity, and the way his voice informed all of his writing. After quoting passages from the poet Pablo Neruda, Alexander commented about both the poet and Conroy, "You cannot read either writer and how they make the words dance on the page, and not know them."
In his book-centered family, he found plenty to read that fired his imagination and focused his voice, particulary in poetry. As a student at Virginia Tech University, Alexander studied with Nikki Giovanni. Though he wryly described their relationship as complex, Giovanni deeply informed his work, first as a challenging teacher and then powerful mentor, and finally as a friend. In his youthful quest to follow in Langston Hughes's footsteps after the publication of The Weary Blues in 1926, Alexander self-published his own poetry collection and criss-crossed the country to read and sell his work.
But soon, Alexander's poetry expanded into prose, and just as he found his voice when lifting it in protest, his work found new purpose as it spoke directly to young people--especially young people whose own voices and experiences were often ignored or rejected. Since the publication of his Newbery award-winning novel, The Crossover, in 2014, Alexander has made hundreds of school appearances. Follow-up books for children, middle-grade readers, and young adults (his novel-in-verse Solo came out August 2017) embody his belief that the best way to connect to and inspire young people is with literature, especially those who seem the hardest to reach.
"Find a way to keep them in the room," he said. "Books are doing the work to reach them--find kids where they are, make literature available." When asked how to reach young boys in particular, Alexander immediately recommended poetry. "It's concise, it's action oriented, it's easy to connect to excitement."
Alexander was also quick to highlight the role of independent bookstores in creating and sustaining an accessible community of writers, readers, young people, and adults. "Bookstores bridge the gap between community and commerce," he said. "Bookstores mean community and home--the spirit of community and home."
Family, home, community, books, and making the words dance on the page: the things that Kwame Alexander brings to his work and his world.
Kwame Alexander, the Virginia-based poet, educator, and New York Times bestselling author, has been selected as the first recipient of the Conroy Legacy Award.
Created in honor of the example set by the beloved Southern author Pat Conroy, the Conroy Legacy Award was established in 2017 to recognize writers who have achieved a lasting impact on their literary community, demonstrating support for independent bookstores, both in their own communities and in general, writing that focuses significantly on their home place, and support of other writers, especially new and emerging authors.
"I met Pat once," said Alexander on being informed of his selection, "He was witty, connected, caring, and a brilliant storyteller–as much in person as he was on the page. He was all the things a writer should want to be. All the things I've wanted to be. I am filled with wonderment and humbled deeply to be honored in his remembrance."
Kwame Alexander was chosen to be the first Conroy Legacy Award winner by a jury of Southern independent booksellers. Alexander is the author of 24 books, including The Crossover, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Paterson Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages and believes poetry can change the world.
"Kwame Alexander is at the forefront when it comes to mentoring the next generation of writers, not just in the US but worldwide," says Hillary Barrineau, of Hooray 4 Books in Alexandria, Virginia. "He won a Newbery Award , which means not only The Crossover but also many of his other 23 books [essays, collections, poetry, and novels] are in every school and library in the US. Notably, they are set in Virginia, where he was born and raised, but clearly resonate with readers everywhere."
"When he visits schools across the country," she continued, "he makes a point of coordinating when possible with the local indie bookstores to provide the books at his events. The year he won the Newbery, he attended our bookstore's "Grand Expansion Party," driving here directly from his daughter's wedding earlier that day." Alexander also spearheads the Page to Stage Writing Workshop, which has created more than 3,000 student authors in nearly 70 schools in the US, Canada, and Caribbean, and he recently led a delegation of 20 writers and activists to Ghana, where they built and stocked a library and trained 300 teachers to promote literacy in that country.
"We are thrilled to have Kwame Alexander as our first Conroy Legacy Award recipient," said SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell. "He is exactly the kind of writer the award seeks to honor. Our booksellers love his books, his support of independent bookstores is well known, his commitment to his own community and to fostering a love of writing and literature–especially among young people–is legendary. I think Pat Conroy would be very pleased."
Both a donation to the Pat Conroy Literary Center and a donation to a literary entity close to the heart of the writer will be made in the name of the Legacy Award recipient.
Lady Banks Interview
PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY:
Our books are both intergenerational — your important characters range from about 19 to 91. Or preschool, if we count George. Meanwhile, I have a pubescent niece and two grammas who are 89 and 90.
Since my narrator has fetched up pregnant after accidentally tumbling into bed with anonymous Batman at a Comics Book convention, I even have a fetus — we have to count my Future Baby Digby if we count your George.
Also, these are books about women with agency. Women who act instead of being acted upon or simply reacting to circumstances. This, of course, gets them into worlds of trouble, but isn't that what makes them fun?
PCH: Southern small towns have always played an integral part in your family stories, but in THE ALMOST SISTERS, the town is a living, breathing soul. Birchville is a thumping and conflicted heart, beating smack dab in the middle of this family and this story. Tell me about the inspiration behind this town, and the Birch family who live there.
JJ: It's meant to be an Everytown. I did map it over the landscape and history of a real small town, Dadeville, AL. It sits about where Birchville is, and it too was founded by a wealthy family just after the civil war on the bones of a burned out Alabama town. I didn't want to call it Dadeville or use real Dadeville streets or businesses. Dadeville isn't like Paris. Everyone has seen Paris! Maybe not in person, but definitely via books and movies and pictures. So when you write Paris, you have to invoke actual Paris — or at least pieces of it — because it is so familiar to us all.
Not everyone has been to Dadeville. But a lot of folks, citified me included, grew up in the small town South and still have beloved relatives there. I wanted to Birchville to feel like home to anyone who grew up the way I did, and, and also be real enough to give city people and northern people and western people a genuine feel for our patch of country: the strong sense of community, the unspoken rules we all know, the pervasive interest in everybody's everything, and, most of all, the way that one person's secret, when it rises, touches every life around it.
PCH: When I met Violet and Violence (the comic book characters written by your protagonist, Leia Birch) I was blown away. The graphic novel character, Violence, is so vivid and so powerful. Have you ever wanted to write a comic book? Have you been an artist? Where did this idea come from?
JJ: Oh Lord, I can't draw a lick. It came from a couple of places — first, my brother is a nerd-artist. He makes his living sculpting the models that gamers use to play role playing and strategy games. He's very well-known; he was one of the first miniature artists to have their name on their pieces. I grew up basking in his dork-shadow, playing D and D and Info-Com games and reading pulp fiction and comic books, and so this is a shout-out to my fellow dorks. Plus, if you have a favorite Dr. Who, or if you watched Buffy — there are little Easter Eggs hidden here and there. Don't worry, if you aren't a geek, they won't stand out and bother you.
Lastly, if you have been reading me for a bit, you know I like a story-within-a-story structure. V in V acts like a fairy tale or a story out of mythology — I use its images to light up what is happening thematically in the world of the book.
PCH: The theme of an "Origin Story" is a thread that binds this novel together. Not only do we want to understand the origin of Violence (in the comic book) but also of everyone else in the novel. It prodded me to ask what I believed of my own origins. If something begins badly, must it stay so? Did you intend to delve into this subject or was it an outgrowth of the story?
JJ: That's very astute; I am so glad this shines out — yes, it was very deliberate. In fact, my working title was Origin Story, which is a comic book industry term that means "How a superhero comes to have his or her powers." Wonder Woman is secretly an Amazon Princess, The Hulk was exposed to Gamma Radiation, etc.
I still love that title, because it is about more than comic books, of course. It invokes a world view where our beginnings are alive in our present. While I wouldn't say that a bad start means a bad end, history echoes, for good or ill. If we don't understand where we come from, we can't understand ourselves. We are living inside history, in both the wreckage of ancient bad choices and the palaces that long-spent kindness built. THE ALMOST SISTERS is about how that plays out in one small town with a lot of bad history.
PCH: In this story, you often touch on the idea of a "Second South" and what that will and does mean for Leia's unborn child. Do you see a "Second South"? Did you see one growing up all over the South and if so, did it influence your life?
JJ: I wish I had been all baby-woke and a prodigy so I could nod wisely here, but the truth is? No. No, I didn't. It's hard to see when you are young, and you grew up soaking in it. I did not write about the south at all when I lived in it. I think I became aware when I moved to Chicago for grad school.
Being outside my homeland gave me a different view. I was able to see our flaws and strengths, our beauties and our horrors, more clearly. I realized how weird we are.
Part of what I do is try to capture this culture, because I love it. If I seem critical of us at times, I get to be. Because I am us. I am in it and of it, and I love it. When you are invested in an us, you want that us to be good, and noble, and better.
PCH: Grandma Birch is suffering with Lewey Bodies, and these are then written into Leia's graphic novel. I do believe that we often alchemize parts of our lives in our fiction. But this is your character alchemizing her life into art. Do you believe we (sometimes subconsciously) work our life into our art?
JJ: Exactly. I always say, none of my characters are me, but they are all mine. I have to go way down into the salty undermarshes of my own mental illness to find the best stories. I went deep on this one...
PCH: This line kicked the breath right out of me. "You can't go around holding the worst thing you ever did in your hand, staring at it. You gotta cook supper, put gas in the car. You gotta plant more zinnias." Wow! Exactly. Tell me about how this line zapped out of you like this, and how it relates to the rest of the story.
JJ: Birchie's best friend from childhood, Wattie Price, says it, and "zapped out" is a great description. Sometimes, when I am writing—on the best days — it feels like there is something external happening. Like it isn't coming from me, it is coming from someplace Other. Those words landed as if Wattie had said them on her own recognizance. I was surprised to see the words appear. I heard her say them, in my head, as I read what I had written. It echoed, internally, in a way that has happened before, but not often.
I stopped writing and just sat and stared into space for a long time, then opened a new file and jotted four paragraphs down. Someone new, named Amy, talking to someone I have known a long time, named Roux.
Basically, Wattie's speech started a whole 'nother book in my head. I couldn't get to it then, because I was so deeply invested in THE ALMOST SISTERS, but it's the book I am writing right now.
JOSHILYN JACKSON: PCH, when I realized we had the same release date, I was excited about planning launch parties together because we have been friends for so long, I read your books for pleasure, and you are more fun than a bucket of puppies. Then I read THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END and I became a different kind of excited – I think these books ping off each other in a multitude of ways. Do you see any intersections?
PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY: Oh, Joshilyn! I too was so thrilled we had simultaneous release dates—we've supported each other's work for almost fifteen years now. Yes, I saw so many intersections, even while our stories appear to be completely different in tone and subject matter. We both chose small towns and ancestral homes to ground our stories in the past as well as the present. We both wrote about women who are "sisters" with someone who isn't quite a sister; we delved into the heartache of first loves and that transformational power (for the good and the bad); and we both enriched the story with the power of a woman's calling to not only her family but also her career. This is the power of creativity and story—we touched on the same subjects and wrote two entirely different novels. What wonder writing can be!
JJ: THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END strikes me as intergenerational—I love the fact that women from 19 to 90 have a voice. At the same time, this is a book that is very much about urgency of purpose, which I think is sometimes (wrongfully) seen as a male storyline. The female need to find or retain purpose feels universal in this world—do you think that's true at every life stage? How is it different for lost Piper as the youngest and Bonnie and Lainey, in their middle years? Do you think the eldest, Mimi, is at peace with purpose? Is it possible at any stage?
PCH: Oh, I believe purpose and vitality are integral to our wellbeing and our soul's growth at every stage of life. It was fascinating to write about this from the angle of a 19 year old and a much older woman and in between. What is our purpose? Do we have a calling? These are questions we must all ask ourselves, but sometimes avoid. For Piper, as the youngest, it is about learning not to react to life but engage in it with the Truth of what she wants and who she is. For Bonny and Lainey, it is a re-evaluation, asking what does this purpose mean for us now, in this stage of life? Do we shift or do we enrich? Answering these questions is an internal journey everyone must take. And lastly, for Mimi, the eldest among them, she still works at her bookstore and realizes that her purpose never ends. I'm not sure we can ever be at peace with that driven purpose, or with our calling, but maybe that discontent continually drives us forward to new adventures!
JJ: A lot of key scenes take place in a bookstore, and I know you have a long, deeply invested relationship with Indies. Did bits of any real bookstores make it into your fictional one?
PCH: Indeed! This bookstore in Watersend, South Carolina is an amalgamation of all my favorite Indies, places where I have found not only community but also the just-right-book when I needed it. I took a piece of this, a slice of that and built my very own bookstore at the river's edge. Of course we can't discount my deep and abiding love for the Indies as this is where my career began – with their support for my stories!
JJ: I always say that none of my characters are me, but they are all mine. Can you locate yourself in this book? I think of Bonny as the main character, because she is the hub where all the storylines connect, and she is also where I most easily locate you. Probably because Bonny feels a calling to be a doctor, and I know you began your professional life as a nurse—did you feel that calling? Are all professions a calling? Are you called to be a writer?
PCH: I always say my characters aren't me but they are from me. I only have my compost pile to dig through, although empathy and imagination for my characters are an integral part of the process. I love that you can locate some of me in Bonny because I just loved writing about her, or to be more precise, writing for her. Yes, the way Bonny felt about becoming a doctor was exactly the way I felt about becoming a Pediatric nurse, and how I still feel about the medical vocation (although I've left it for writing). So, I absolutely believe that some professions are "callings" (my dad is a preacher, so callings are a norm when talking about life). I don't know if all professions are callings but I do believe that the careers we are the most passionate about, the ones that demand all of who we are being put on the line, are most definitely callings.
JJ: Bonny and her best friend make underwater wishes as children, and these wishes have come true, in some form or another, by the time the book begins. But not in a tidy or easy way—in fact, for one of your narrators, the urgency and longing for these wishes and the ways in which she may lose them are among the largest conflicts in the book. So for me, this is a book about the gap between what we desire and what we get. Can you talk a little bit about that gap?
PCH: The gap between what we desire and what we get—what a lovely way to sum up the conundrum my characters find themselves in. And not only the gap, but also the way in which we "get" what we believe we want. There will be things and people that we will want, and yet some of those things and people will not be ours to have, and "letting go" is imperative to our happiness. This truth is played out in this novel over and over – whether it is a job or a person or a situation or an answer. Who we become depends in large part in how we react or adjust to this gap.
JJ: I want to ask you about Mimi, possibly my favorite character. She was in THE STORIES WE TELL. I loved her in that book, and I was delighted to run into her again here. Is this the first time a character has stayed with you for multiple books? Why did she stick? Will she be back?
PCH: In twelve novels, this is the first time I've carried a character forward into the next novel (albeit there have been a few cameos). It is because of readers like you that I brought Mimi with me across the great bridge from one book to the next. Over and over I heard how well loved she was in the last novel. And honestly, she had more to say; I had to quiet her so many times in the last book, so this time I let her have her say! I'm not sure she'll be back, but my best guess is yes J
JJ: My favorite quote from this book had me weeping, but I can't share it here. It contains a spoiler! People will have to find their own way to that glorious moment. (It is worth the trip, y'all.) But early in the book, Bonny says something that speaks to your whole body of work—one of the things that makes a book recognizable as yours. She says, Landscape was memory or maybe memory was landscaper. . . Our three childhood summers in Watersend had been more than sun-soaked ellipses between school years, more than vacation. Those days held the making of me. Can you talk a little about this very PCH truth that place/nature shapes us and how this has expressed itself in your body of work?
PCH: Joshilyn! I love that you notice that theme in all my work. Yes! It is often said that setting is a character, and maybe that's true, but for me it is more than a character, it is the essence of the story. The story could not take place anywhere other than where it does or it would be a different story altogether. The setting, the landscape must not only be external but also influence the internal journey of my characters (my people). This has also been true for me in real life, over and over again, the geography of a place becomes part of who I am and what I resonate with and what I desire. I want the same for my novels.
Celebrate Independents! Announcing the 2017 Southern Book Prize Winners
Southern indie booksellers once again demonstrate their independence of mind by choosing an excitingly eclectic collection of books for the 2017 Southern Book Prize.
2017 Southern Book Prize Winners
Mystery & Detective
Southern Stories & Stories by Southerners
Biography, Autobiography, & Memoir
For more information about the Southern Book Prize, visit http://www.authorsroundthesouth.com/read-this/siba-book-awards
The 2017 Summer Okra Picks have been selected: a flavor-filled collection of new Southern books hand-picked by Southern indie booksellers–people with impeccable taste in books...
All Summer Okra picks have a strong Southern focus and publish between July and September, and all have fans among Southern indie booksellers: the people who are always looking out for the next great writer to fill your reading plate. So the next time you visit your local Southern indie bookstore and someone says, "You've got to read this!" and hands you one of these tasty titles, dig in and ask for a second helping. Great books are always good for you!
The Devil's Muse by Bill Loehfelm
The Bookshop at Water's End by Patti Callahan Henry
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Shadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann
Blight by Alexandra Duncan
If the Creek Don't Rise by Leah Weiss
A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams
The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang
Sing , Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
The American Library Association (ALA) officially launched Book Club Central with the unveiling of its website and Honorary Chair Sarah Jessica Parker’s inaugural book selection, No One Is Coming to Save Us, by Stephanie Powell Watts, published by Ecco/an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
A present-day reimagining of The Great Gatsby set in a small North Carolina town, Powell's novel is the arresting and powerful story of an extended African American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream. In evocative prose, Stephanie Powell Watts has crafted a full and stunning portrait that combines a universally resonant story with an intimate glimpse into the hearts of one family.
In an on-stage panel discussion held to announce the book's selection, the author talked about her work. “I knew my story was about loss, and the loss of industry, ghosts, the air of Jim Crow,” said Watts. “The things that bring us back home, which are love and prospect of love.”
Much of the book is inspired by Watts’s own upbringing in North Carolina, and moving to “lots of little towns” after her parents divorced. “My mom was a single mom and she would take us to the library. I mean, where else in the world could you go and be welcomed with these five little kids?”
Parker praised Watts’s writing style. “You take these very complicated issues and themes, you pull us through with such ease,” she said.
Book Club Central, a brand-new initiative of the ALA, was designed in consultation with expert librarians to provide the public with the very best in reading. The online resource is a one-stop shop for engaging content and helpful information for book clubs and readers of all types, including author interviews, book recommendations and reviews, as well as discussion questions and information on how to start and moderate a book club.
No One Is Coming to Save Us is also a Spring 2017 Okra Pick.
Richard Hugo wrote: "I forget the names of towns without rivers." I feel the same way about towns without bookstores. So it was with some trepidation that I accepted a job offer with Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, in April 2016. I had visited. I knew the town, loved the town—the restaurants and bars and miles of trails that thread the area. But, so far as I could tell, there was no independent bookstore.
We crossed our fingers and moved anyway.
We got lucky. Actually, it was more than luck. I like to think that larger forces, good forces—because that is what animates bookstores, and Lord knows we need good forces right now—were working on our behalf. In May, just after my visit, Mary Prewitt had opened Foggy Pine Books in the heart of Boone. I immediately took my children, Silas and Merritt, ages eight and five. They are book people; if you're reading this, you are probably a book person yourself. They love books; they love to handle books, to read them, to take them to bed at night. But also, did I mention they are eight and five?
I have two tests for bookstores. The first is whether or not they stock "serious fiction." By serious fiction I mean, of course, do they stock the writers I love? Stepping into Foggy Pine, I breathed a sigh of relief and sent up a little thank-you to the Indie Gods. What was immediately evident was that Mary's bookstore was beautifully and lovingly curated.
My second test is a bit more—what would be the expression? Is "hands-on" too literal? If you've ever taken book-loving children into a bookstore, you know the way your joy at seeing them thrilled over printed words and pictures mixes with fear as they (sometimes roughly) handle those printed words and pictures. So I always look to the owner, to the clerk, to catch his or her eyes and see if they are wincing. I try to do this sneakily, all peripheral vision, but when I saw the look of cheerful acceptance on the face of Mary Prewitt, I knew I had found my bookstore. Which is a good thing, because, to paraphrase Richard Hugo, the bookstore is there to forgive the town. It's also there to bless it, to enlighten it, to unite it. If you find yourself in the mountains of Boone—and you most definitely should—find your way to Foggy Pine Books. Good forces are at work there.
The Book behind the Book: Don Delillo's Players
There is a line early in Don DeLillo's fifth novel, Players, that I have spent a substantial and, likely, unhealthy amount of time considering. An airliner is lifting off, and within the first class cabin, an aeronautical paradise that disappeared at least a generation ago, a movie is playing. Men are golfing, when out of the trees comes a band of…of what? Murderers? Terrorists? Anarchists in "threadbare paisley vest[s]"? Whatever or whoever they are, they slaughter the tweed golfers in a spasm of violence as inexplicable as it is irrevocable. There is no logic to the act, except, perhaps, the pervasive logic of death. The passengers watch the film in silence. This is the faraway, the imagined. It is also the very real. "This," we are told, "is a lesson in the intimacy of distance." Since the September 11 attacks, we Americans have become thoroughly schooled in "the intimacy of distance." Yet until I read how DeLillo articulated it, I was never quite aware of what it was that I had felt so very near me—because it is very much a presence—while simultaneously so very far away.
Players is the story of Pammy and Lyle, a New York couple, bored and restless and then, suddenly, almost inexplicably, drifting into worlds parallel to their own. Lyle is Wall Street; Brooks Brothers suits and Thomas Pink shirts. A man versed in the "occult theology of money." After a man is shot on the trading floor, Lyle becomes entangled in a group of would-be terrorists. Pammy runs off to Maine to Jack and Ethan, a friendly couple steadily becoming less friendly, until they aren't a couple at all.
Both have crossed borders into worlds not their own. Yet, as DeLillo reminds us, "the sky [is] everywhere," and there is no other world, only parts of our own, poorly or never considered. This was what came home to me that Tuesday morning in September, twenty-four years old and realizing for the first time that the terror embedded in terrorism referred not to the rare acts of physical carnage but to the psychic fear that is the air we breathe.
DeLillo knew this three decades ago, of course. It is yet another reason he is as close to a minor prophet as American literature has given us. Players is a largely forgotten book; even fans of DeLillo often have never heard of it. But if it's unknown, it is only because its harsh lessons now animate our lives. The sky really is everywhere, and the distant is too often more intimate than we might ever have dreamed.
(photo by Alan Jenkins)
There's something special about Southern storytelling, and North Carolina writer Kim Wright's latest novel, Last Ride to Graceland, is a modern classic following that long tradition. Chosen as a Spring 2016 Okra Pick, Wright's elegiac tale of memory, music, and self-discovery was just awarded the prestigious Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction.
Named in honor of the acclaimed Southern writer and editor,Willie Morris, the award recognizes a novel that reflects the spirit of Morris’s work, and stands out for the quality of its prose, its originality, its sense of place and period, and the appeal of its characters. Reba Williams, co-sponsor of the award with her husband Dave, was inspired to recognize and spotlight works set in one or more Southern states by Southern writers that embody, in Morris's words, “hope for belonging, for belief in a people’s better nature, for steadfastness against all that is hollow or crass or rootless or destructive.”
On learning that Last Ride to Graceland had been selected, Kim Wright responded, “I am incredibly honored, especially when I consider the other writers who have been chosen in the past. I’ve wondered if the uniquely Southern voice is in danger of dying out, with so many people moving in and out of the region. What does "Southern" really mean today? Then I read certain books and remember—it's that strong storytelling style, born out of an oral tradition, a tale which might be either funny or sad, raucous or subtle, but which always ends on a note of redemptive lift."
Publishers and booksellers are invited to submit books for consideration. Jill Hendrix, proprietor of Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC, proposed Last Ride to Graceland. “When I realized Kim’s book met all the criteria for the Willie Morris Award, I was happy to nominate it, and thrilled when I learned it had won,” said Hendrix.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual prize. Past recipients include Mindy Friddle, Stephen Wetta, Terry Roberts, and Katherine Clark, last year’s honoree for The Headmaster’s Darlings. The winning book is selected by a panel of academics and writers, including some previous winners of the award.