When I try to explain to people outside the South that Mississippi has some of the best bookshops in America, if not the world, I usually hear a “huh” noise that reminds me of a puzzled dog tilting its head. As a bookhound who moved to Mississippi from New York City, and grew up in London, England, it was a surprise to me too.
Oxford was my gateway drug to the rest of Mississippi, and Oxford is unimaginable without Square Books at its geographical and cultural heart. I linger there for the atmosphere and conversation as much as anything, but the store also pries my wallet open with remarkable ease. Enthusiasm for books spreads like a gentle contagion among the staff and the customers, and I invariably buy more books than I was intending, and feel refreshed for doing so.
When I bought an old house in the Mississippi Delta, near the tiny farm settlement of Pluto, my cultural lifeline was Turnrow Books in Greenwood. I would make the 50-mile drive there at least twice a week. It’s a marvel that such a first-rate bookstore can exist in such a modest-sized town. Turnrow has become a hub for the community, a lunch spot and meeting place, a venue for musical and literary events, a bastion of civilization in the old crumbling cotton town.
Now I live in Jackson, within walking distance of the Lemuria Book Store, yet another Mississippi independent that rivals anything in London and New York, and outmatches it for charm, hospitality and comfort. Down on the Gulf Coast in Pass Christian, Pass Books is another state treasure, and chooses its coffee beans with the same care and good taste as its books. All these independent bookstores add so much to the pleasure of living here. They do what the big chain bookstores were never able to do, and that is to make you fall in love with them.
WHAT I’M READING NOW
The Transformation of the World, by Jurgen Ostenhammel. Lately I start my days at 5am and read this massive, dense, intellectually dazzling history of the 19th century for an hour. In this way, I strike a small blow against the internet, and the damage it’s doing to my powers of concentration. 9780691169804
The Bloody Shirt, by Stephen Budiansky. A blistering indictment of Southern racial violence and terrorism after the Civil War, and a necessary corrective to Southern mythology about Reconstruction. 9780452290167
Barkskins, by Annie Proulx. I’ve just finished this epic saga about the ransacking of the world’s forests. Exhaustively researched and brilliantly told, it requires Proulx to kill off dozens of characters over the centuries, which she does with perverse glee. At 80 years old, she seems at the height of her powers. 9780743288781
Life Is Meals, by James and Kay Salter. This delicious collection of bite-sized vignettes about food and drink is best enjoyed in bed at night, and preferably read out loud by your bedmate. 9780375711398
- Published: 08 July 2016
The best in southern literature, from the people who would know . . . Southern Independent (and independently minded!) Booksellers
(Columbia, SC) Southern indie booksellers once again demonstrate their independence of mind by choosing an excitingly eclectic collection of books for the 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize.
"What a delicious gumbo of literary works--salty, spicy, bittersweet, and sour. I loved all of these books for the sole reason that they tell the world in colorful, rich and diverse language just what it so special and, yes, crazy about the American South." – Hub City Bookshop, Spartanburg, SC
Formerly the “SIBA Book Award,” the newly reborn Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize features an expanded list of categories, inspired by the tastes and inclinations of Southern readers. Nominated by booksellers and their customers, vetted by bookstores and selected by a jury of Southern booksellers, these are the Southern books that Southern bookstores were most passionate about, and inspired the most “you’ve got to read this” moments and “hand sell” moments in stores across the South. The nine winners chosen from a field of nearly forty finalists. Together, they represent the best of Southern literature, from the people who would know—Southern indie booksellers.
The Great Santini Fiction Prize Winner:
My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
“This debut author spins a tale that will grab you from the first page and keep you turning pages until the last.”– Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
The Prince of Tides Literary Prize Winner:
Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash (Ecco Press)
“Beautiful language, I could not put this book down. Read it in one day.” – Garden District Bookshop, New Orleans, LA
The Beach Music Mystery Prize Winner:
Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
“ Reads like a twisty, dark TV series you can't help but binge-watch.” – Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
The Lords of Discipline Thriller Prize Winner:
The Bone Tree by Greg Isles (William Morrow & Company)
“Iles has written an intense, tightly plotted narrative with more than one shocking turn of events that will have readers racing to finish, but then pining away for the third installment of this massive and electrifying trilogy.” – Square Books, Oxford, MS
The Pat Conroy Cookbook Prize Winner:
Soul Food Love by Alice Randall (Clarkson Potter Publishers)
“ I really appreciate the goal of this cookbook - to make Soul food quick, inexpensive, tasty and healthy! The family history part of the cookbook was very interesting and I appreciated the honesty of the authors. I loved the pictures of the family & the finished product of the recipes.” – Joe’s Place, Greenville, SC
The Death of Santini NonFiction Prize Winner:
Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant (Simon & Schuster)
"In Dispatches From Pluto, Richard Grant brings clarity, insight, and wit through his outsider's observations of a small and forgotten community in the Mississippi Delta. The situations he writes of and the people he comes to know as friends are brought warmly and enrichingly to life as he settles his family in a rotting and dilapidated plantation home in Pluto, Mississippi." – Pass Books, Pass Christian, MS
The Water is Wide History & Life Stories Prize Winner:
Jacksonland by Steve Inskeep (Penguin Press
“Great history! Loved the book, very well written” – Books Unlimited, Franklin, NC
Poppy's Pants Young Adult Prize Winner:
Mosquitoland by David Arnold (Viking Books for Young Readers)
“Mim's voice in this amazing amalgam of a love story, a road trip novel, and a coming-of-age story, will stay with you long after you finish .” – Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
Poppy's Pants Youngster's Prize Winner:
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty (Disney-Hyperion)
“A wonderfully thrilling mystery for young readers that is as much a celebration of being "different" as it is pitch-perfect creepiness.” – Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
Nine great books for your Southern reading list. But remember that they come from a "gumbo of literary works--salty, spicy, bittersweet, and sour" to quote one Southern bookseller. To round out your literary diet, be sure to look at the full list of Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize Finalists.
For more information on the SIBA Book Awards please visit SIBA’s website for Southern literature, http://www.authorsroundthesouth.com/read-this/siba-book-awards
- Published: 04 July 2016
(Columbia, SC) – The heat is on and Southern Indie booksellers are cooking up a sizzling plate of summer Okra Picks! The 2016 Summer Okra Picks have just been selected–a hearty helping of great summer reading that will make your beach book bag look a little more nutritious. They're a baker’s dozen of great books representing the best in forthcoming southern lit, according to the people who would know–Southern independent booksellers.
All the picks have a strong Southern focus and are publishing between July and September 2016, and all have fans among Southern booksellers: the people always on the lookout for the next great writer who belongs in your to-be-read stack. So on your next Southern Indie bookstore visit, expect to hear “You’ve got to read this!” and find one of these titles in your hands. Great books are always good for you!
The 2016 Summer Okra Picks
The Cantaloupe Thief
by Deb Richardson-Moore
Lion Fiction, July 2016
The Promise of Jesse Woods
by Chris Fabry
Tyndale House Publishers, July 2016
by Ben Winters
Mulholland Books, July 2016
Let the Devil Out: A Maureen Coughlin Novel
by Bill Loehfelm
Sarah Crichton Books, July 2016
Lowcountry Book Club
by Susan M. Boyer
Henery Press, July 2016
Ninety-Nine Stories of God
by Joy Williams
Tin House Books, July 2016
The Heavenly Table
by Donald Ray Pollock
Doubleday Books, July 2016
by Paul Heald
Yucca Publishing, July 2016
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race
by Jesmyn Ward
Scribner Book Company, August 2016
by Ron Rash
Ecco Press, September 2016
by Robert Olen Butler
Atlantic Monthly Press, September 2016
by Jane Alison
Catapult, September 2016
by Thomas Mullen
Atria, September 2016
Okra Picks are chosen every season by Southern Independent Bookstores. For more information visit authorsroundthesouth.com/okra.
- Published: 01 July 2016
Katherine Clark’s The Headmaster’s Darlings Wins
The 2015 Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction
Sarah Addison Allen Given Special Recognition
The 2015 Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction has been won by Katherine Clark for her The Headmaster’s Darlings. The novel, Clark’s first, is the initial installment of a quartet of books set in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Reba White Williams, sponsor of the award, praised The Headmaster’s Darlings for “its originality, Southerness, and uplifting message, all requisite qualities for the Willie Morris Award.”
Sarah Addison Allen was recognized for her six novels published over the past eight years, beginning with Garden Spells (2007) and more recently First Frost (2015). Allen’s novels are noted for their appealing characters, some appearing in more than one book, and the magical realism that infuses people, places and things. Allen sums up her style as “Southern-fried magic realism.” Her Special Recognition is the first-ever for the Willie Morris Award.
The Headmaster’s Darlings is the ninth Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction, which is given annually. For more information, see https://williemorrisaward.org/.
- Published: 13 June 2016
We had three books at home when I was growing up: The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Betty Crocker Cookbook and The Thorn Birds. Not exactly great options for a curious kid. Luckily, Mom took my sister and me to the public library, where she allowed us to choose our own books.
I fell in love with Mr. Popper’s Penguins -- a fun story that was a desperately needed window to a fantasy world so different from my impoverished, lonely childhood.
I devoured The Hundred Dresses because I needed a mirror of my own life – a creative girl who was made fun of for wearing the same thing to school day after day.
Those two books provided me essential windows and mirrors.
As an adult, I made up for my lack of childhood books in the house by filling the bookshelves in our home to overflowing. Hubby and I plan our vacations around indie bookstores. Asheville meant a visit to Malaprops. New Orleans found us poking around Octavia’s dark wood shelves. And when we hit Nashville on our next trip, we’ll be purchasing books from Parnassus.
It pretty much takes the Jaws of Life to extract us from indie bookstores.
So, it’s no surprise that when we moved to South Florida twenty years ago, we found our way to all our indies – Classic Bookshop in Palm Beach, Vero Beach Book Center and Books and Books in Coral Gables.
As an author of books for young people, I create stories that offer both mirrors and windows, heart and humor. This is truest in my new novel, Lily and Dunkin -- a dual narrative of a big-hearted, word-nerd transgender girl and a boy who harbors a huge secret and deals with bipolar disorder. Two important topics deserving light shined on them to promote a deep understanding and prevent stigma.
It’s my hope that Lily and Dunkin creates pathways from heart to heart -- pathways of understanding, empathy and kindness. We could all use a little more of that in this world.
And Lily and Dunkin is also my love letter to the luscious landscape that is my South Florida home. So, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include flamingoes. Yes, there’s a pink, plastic lawn flamingo mystery throughout the book, because even the most serious of topics deserve a sprinkling of humor and fun. Every book deserves its penguin (or flamingo).
Because you never know when a young reader will desperately need them.
So, thank you wonderful indie bookseller for putting Lily and Dunkin into the hands of young readers and those young at heart and contributing to making this world a kinder, gentler, more accepting place . . . one beautiful book at a time.
Donna Gephart’s award-winning novels are packed with humor and heart. They include Death by Toilet Paper; Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen; How to Survive Middle-School; and As if Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President! Donna is a popular speaker at schools, conferences, and book festivals. For reading guides, resources, writing tips, and more, visit donnagephart.com.
- Published: 22 May 2016
History. Community. Family. Place. Memory. The thousand other fragile threads connecting us all.
Each is a strand woven throughout Lexington, Kentucky writer Crystal Wilkinson's work--both as a writer and as an independent bookstore owner. The striking cover of her latest book, The Birds of Opulence, published by the University Press of Kentucky in March 2016, features an image of the sankofa symbol.
In the Twi language of Ghana, "sankofa" translates to "go back and get it." The Asante Adinkra sankofa symbol of a bird with its head turned to take an egg from its back carries the same meaning, and is often associated with a proverb translated to mean "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." Designed and created by the artist Ron Davis (also Wilkinson's life and business partner) the sankofa bird on the novel's cover is an apt symbol for Wilkinson's creative and connected work as a writer and business owner.
Crystal Wilkinson was born in Ohio, but Kentucky became home when, as an infant, she went to live with her grandparents on their seventy-acre farm in Casey County. Her grandfather, a tobacco farmer, and her grandmother, the first writer she knew, provided the freedom and encouragement to foster her artistic talent. The love and regard she carries for the people as well as the land of Appalachia is evident throughout her work. Her childhood and upbringing pervade her previous story collections, Blackberries, Blackberries, winner of the 2002 Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature, and Water Street, a finalist for both the UK’s Orange Prize for Fiction and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. The Birds of Opulence is her first novel. Wilkinson has served on the faculty of several writing programs, and is on the faculty and was recently the Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Berea College. She was the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Kentucky Arts Council, the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the recipient of the 2008 Denny Plattner Award in Poetry from Appalachian Heritage, and the Sallie Bingham Award from the Kentucky Foundation for Women for the promotion of feminist artist expression.
Wilkinson has also joined with fellow regional writers and poets to adopt the term "Affrilachian." Coined by Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker in the early 1990s, the term highlights the prevalent yet under-represented presence of those of African descent throughout the mountain South. The Birds of Opulence focuses on generations of the Goode/Brown family, founders of an African-American community in the Kentucky mountains. As stories of family and community intertwine and connect over decades, Wilkinson presents deeply imagined characters and an expansive, yet intimate setting. Like the sankofa bird on the novel's cover, her characters constantly return to the past to bring meaning to the present and future.
- Published: 05 May 2016
I don’t like being channeled—which is what happens to us in the digitized age. Our past behavior channels the new information we’re exposed to. Online booksellers have got this down to a science. All those nifty algorithms that tell us “If we liked this, then we’ll like that,” are channeling us. Sometimes I imagine these rutted grooves in cyberspace, worn deeper and deeper and funneling us more and more into the paths we’ve already taken. (I’ll resist the urge to quote Robert Frost here.). And it’s not just buying books. It’s news too. If you tend to look at news sites featuring women’s issues, then your browsers and your advertisers will give you more of the same.
This is the way lots of retail works too, of course. If you’ve ever bought, say, clogs online, well guess what? Here come more advertisements for more clogs. And large bookstores work the same way. If stories about teens dying of cancer were popular last year, then let’s buy lots and lots more of them. As a purveyor of school kids’ literature, I’m constantly befuddled by the number of series books about, say, dragons, repeating the same basic story over and over again.
And of course our brains work in “channels” too. We tend to reinforce the same neuro-pathways we’ve already created. We tend to notice information that fits with what we already believe. Data that doesn’t fit easily into our neural pathways often doesn’t even register. (Again, I’m resisting the urge to quote Frost.)
But my sense—my hope—is that indie bookstores are countering this trend. They’re not using the same data analytics. Instead you have real live people reading real live books and making real live decisions about them. Walk into an indie bookstore and you’ll see shelves populated with books based upon judgment calls and personal taste. I’m lucky enough to have three in my Atlanta neighborhood. One, A Capella, is going to be stacked chest-high with glossy literary hardbacks that I’ll pick up and heft in my hand and wish I’d written. Down the street, Charis, is going to offer lots of titles that empower women. And if I want someone to recommend to me the hottest kids books, I’m going to head to the Little Shop of Stories.
None have an algorithm to tell you in advance what you will like. You have to go inside. You have to pick up the books, hold them in your hands and riffle through the pages. You might find a different road. It may not make all the difference, but it will make some.
JULIA FRANKS has roots in the Appalachian Mountains and has spent years kayaking the rivers and creeks of Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia. She lives in Atlanta, where she teaches literature and runs loosecanon.com, a web service that fosters free-choice reading in the classroom. Her novel, Among the Plain Houses (Hub City Press) was released in May, 2016 and is a SIBA Spring Okra Pick.
- Published: 02 May 2016
April 14, 2016
To The Honorable Governor Pat McCrory and members of the North Carolina General Assembly,
As the owners and managers of independent bookstores, part of our mission is to provide that “third place”, an additional public space other than home or work where folks can gather to discuss issues important to our community. Ray Oldenburg, in his book, The Great Good Place, “argues that "third places… are the heart of a community's social vitality and the grassroots of democracy.” As independent bookstores providing that third place in communities across our state, we believe it is essential to be non-discriminatory, inclusive and tolerant, to promote freedom of speech and equality, and to guard against censorship and unfair treatment.
Another part of our mission is to be profitable; to allow ourselves and our employees to earn a respectable living. What both of these mission statements share is the need for people to visit our stores and become customers. Authors have already started to cancel appearances at North Carolina bookstores over what the ACLU describes
as “the most extreme anti-LGBT measure in the country.” This can and will have a real negative impact on our businesses. It doesn’t make sense, financially or otherwise, to choose discrimination over inclusion. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what lawmakers have done by passing HB2.
Company after company is withdrawing from doing business in NC until this legislation is repealed. Retailers and others are already feeling the economic impact of this legislation and we are sure, because of the momentum behind more businesses, conferences, artists, rock stars, authors, and ordinary citizens choosing places other than North Carolina to spend their vacations, the worst financial impact is yet to come.
Small Business Majority’s polling found 67 percent of North Carolina’s entrepreneurs believe North Carolina should have a law prohibiting employment discrimination against LGBT people. Nationally, two-thirds of small businesses say business owners shouldn’t be able to deny goods or services to LGBT individuals. (more info on this polling is here:http://smallbusinessmajority.com/small-business-research/non-discrimination/index.php)
For North Carolina, the choice between small businesses and discrimination should be clear. We hope our lawmakers make the right decision and repeal HB2.
All Booked Up, Apex
Blue Ridge Books, Waynesville
Books to be Red, Ocracoke
Books Unlimited, Fayetteville
Buxton Village Books, Buxton
C. Clayton Thompson – Booksellers, Boone
City Lights Bookstore, Sylva
Downtown Books, Manteo
Ducks Cottage Coffee & Books, Duck
Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill
Letters Bookshop, Durham
Malaprop's Bookstore & Cafe, Asheville
McIntyre's Fine Books, Pittsboro
Novels & Novelties Bookstore, Hendersonville
Page 158 Books, Wake Forest
Pomegranate Books, Wilmington
Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh
Quarter Moon Bookstore, Topsail Beach
Regulator Bookshop, Durham
Scuppernong Books, Greensboro
Scuttlebutt Nautical Books & Bounty, Beaufort
Spellbound Children's Bookshop, Asheville
Sunrise Books, High Point
The Book Shelf, Tryon
The Coffeehound Bookshop, Louisburg
The Dollar Book Exchange, Raleigh
The Island Bookstore, Corolla
The Island Bookstore, Duck
The Island Bookstore, Kitty Hawk
The Red Door, Saxapahaw
Uprising Coffee and Books, Eden
Algonquin Books, a division of Workman Publishing, Chapel Hill & NYC
Eno Publishers, Hillsborough
John F. Blair Publisher, Winston-Salem
- Published: 15 April 2016