Lady Banks' Commonplace Book is a blog for people interested in Southern literature, sponsored by booksellers who are members of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) and featuring the latest literary news and events around the South from Her Ladyship, the Editor.




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March 24, 2020

Books are essential.
In which her ladyship, the editor, deems books to be an "essential" service, and is happy to report that a crisis brings out the best in people, including school children.
Dearest Readers

In the week since her ladyship's last missive, the world has continued to change in frightening ways. More and more of us find ourselves "sheltering in place" -- that word, "shelter," which is supposed to evoke feelings of safety and security, now seems to suggest uncertainty. We look out of our doors at empty halls and streets and wonder about the future.

And yet, a crisis brings more than fear. It also shows us at our very best. Her ladyship's news-feed and social media streams are awash with stories of people doing beautiful and kind things. In her own neighborhood, Emily and Ally co-opted her ladyship's Little Free Library to donate some of their toys to other children.


Emily and Ally aren't in school anymore. Schools have been closed until May, at least, and their parents are having to set up lessons at home. In her ladyship's neighborhood, many a home dining room table has become an ad hoc classroom, filled with laptops, notepaper, pens and pencils, and books.

Books, which the powers the be inexplicably deem "non-essential" are suddenly very necessary indeed. Cut off from the library, her ladyship's friends and neighbors find themselves buying books so their children can keep up with their interrupted education. And because they are her friends and neighbors, they are calling the local bookstores first.

Her ladyship hopes that other parents who find themselves in the same situation will do the same. Your bookstore's front doors may be shut while this crisis continues, but their back rooms are still running and they are dedicated to getting people the books they need.

But those stores need you, too. Together, we can come through this crisis. Now, more than ever, shop local.

Read independently, and shop local.

her ladyship, the editor

Lady Banks Pick of the Week

Lady Banks Commonplace Book

Lady Banks Commonplace Book

Excerpted noteworthy poetry and prose from her ladyship's bedside reading stack.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
Buy it here

An upscale new house in a simple old neighborhood. A girl on a chaise beside a swimming pool, who wants to be left alone. We begin our story here, in the minutes before the small event that will change everything. A Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them. Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly about who’s to blame. They’ll challenge attendees to say on-camera whose side they’re on.

For the record: we never wanted to take sides.

* * *
Juniper Whitman, the poolside girl, was seventeen. A difficult age, no question, even if you have everything going for you—which it seemed to us she did. It’s trite to say appearances can be deceiving, so we won’t say that. We’ll say no one can be known by only what’s visible. We’ll say most of us hide what troubles and confuses us, displaying instead the facets we hope others will approve of, the parts we hope others will like. Juniper was hiding something, and she didn’t know whether to be ashamed or angry or just exactly what.

This new home’s yard was much smaller than Juniper’s old one—not even a third of an acre, when before she’d had three. Where was she supposed to go when she needed to get away but wasn’t allowed to leave? There was hardly any space here that was not taken up by the house and the pool, and what space there was had no cover. There was no privacy at all. At her previous address, Juniper had liked to sit among the tall longleaf pines at the back of the property, far enough from the house that she felt like she could breathe and think. She liked to be amid the biota, as the scientists call it. It made her feel better. Always had.

St. Martin's Press, March, 2020

Read This!

Reviewed by Booksellers

Books with Street Cred, Reviewed by Southern Booksellers

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin, 3/24/2020
Reviewed by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL
Buy it here

Like Neil Gaiman writing fan fiction of 100 Years of Solitude but about New York City. Powerful and exquisite. I loved it

And Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian, 3/24/2020
Reviewed by Erin Cox, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN
Buy it here

This novel sucks you in like a story that relative of yours would tell. An uncle, maybe, who doesn’t bother telling it exactly like it happened. Still, you can’t stop listening. And eventually, you realize the stories are about something else entirely. This book is like that, if your uncle is Iranian, tells stories like Joseph Heller, and has some harrowing things to say about the power of the state on the soul.

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker, 4/7/2020
Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA
Buy it here

Chronicling the lives of the Galvin family, Kolker tells the stories of their 12 children born from 1945 to 1965, six of whom suffered from debilitating, and in some cases fatal, schizophrenia. By revealing the almost unbelievable misery of this one family, he is also illustrating the many faces of psychiatry and mental health treatment over history from relatively benign, if ineffective, treatments to what we would now consider torture. He also exposes the psychiatric drug industry for the greedy, uncaring, opportunistic practices that have been the standard for decades. This look at schizophrenia and its effect on individuals, families, and societies is inspiring as it is disturbing and I hope its publication helps to accelerate change in the mental health industry and the hearts and minds of the public at large.

The Okra Picks

Okra Picks

Great new Southern books, picked by Southern booksellers.

I can’t put into words the emotions I feel after reading this book, but I what I can say is that Therese Anne Fowler has written a masterpiece. This powerful story is about the Whitmans, a white family, who have just moved next door to a black family, the Alston-Holts. Juniper Whitman and Xavier Alston-Holt are teenagers who fall in love with each other, but tension arises after Xavier’s mother Valerie files a lawsuit against Juniper’s stepdad Brad. Fowler’s writing from the African American perspective and experience was done beautifully and right. I want everyone to read this book! – Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square, McDonough, GA

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
Buy it here

"A feast of a read... I finished A Good Neighborhood in a single sitting. Yes, it's that good." —Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son, Xavier, who's headed to college in the fall. All is well until the Whitmans—an apparently traditional family with new money and a secretly troubled teen-aged daughter—raze the house and trees next door to build themselves a showplace.

With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie's yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today—what does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don't see eye to eye?—as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending love in a story that's as provocative as it is powerful.

St. Martin's Press | 9781250237279 | March 10, 2020

More Okra Picks

The Southern Independent Bestseller List

southern bestseller list

For the week ending March 14, 2020


1. The Mirror & the Light Hilary Mantel, Holt, $30, 9780805096606
2. The Dutch House Ann Patchett, Harper, $27.99, 9780062963673
3. American Dirt Jeanine Cummins, Flatiron Books, $27.99, 9781250209764
4. A Long Petal of the Sea Isabel Allende, Ballantine, $28, 9781984820150
5. Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens, Putnam, $26, 9780735219090


1. The Splendid and the Vile Erik Larson, Crown, $32, 9780385348713
2. Untamed Glennon Doyle, The Dial Press, $28, 9781984801258
3. Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir Rebecca Solnit, Viking, $26, 9780593083338
4. Educated Tara Westover, Random House, $28, 9780399590504
5. Talking to Strangers Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, $30, 9780316478526

See what's special to the Southern List!

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Lady Banks is sponsored by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, in support of independent bookstores in the South | SIBA | 51 Pleasant Ridge Drive | Asheville, NC 28805

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