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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February 16, 2020

The economy according to Wendell Berry.
In which a community throws Ms. Alice Walker a birthday party, Southern readers choose their favorite books of the year, and Mr. Wendell Berry gives us what for on the American economy. We'd best sit up and pay attention.
Dearest Readers
Southern Book Prize Winner

The 2020 Southern Book Prize Winners were announced on Valentine's Day, a kind of "We Love You" message from booksellers and readers to writers of best in Southern literature, from the people who would know . . . Southern Independent Booksellers and their independently minded customers. Designed to honor great Southern voices, The Southern Book Prize is awarded to books published in the previous year that are Southern in nature – either by a Southern author, or set in the South, or both.

Nominated by booksellers and selected via popular vote by Southern booksellers and their customers, the 2020 Southern Book Prize Winners were selected from a list of finalists from ballots submitted by over 1000 Southern readers, representing over 150 Southern independent bookstores. The chosen books represent the indie answer to the question “What was the best Southern book of the year?”

2020 Southern Book Prize Winners


The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler
Hub City Press, 9781938235481
“A grand, dark, mysterious historical novel filled with dark power and ambivalence, The Magnetic Girl captures a time and place, not only in the life of a teenage girl but in our country as well. Filled with the shifting longings of adolescence against a vaudeville backdrop, Handler's novel explores the dangerous journey from childhood to adulthood when our budding powers both enthrall and terrify us.” – Brian Lampkin, Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, NC


Tell Me A Story: My Life with Pat Conroy by Cassandra King Conroy
William Morrow, 9780062905628

“Cassandra King Conroy tells a compelling story of her courtship and marriage to Pat Conroy. As you can imagine, being with him was never boring, and Cassandra has the stories to prove it. Filled with laughter as well as tears, you will be carried through the ups and downs of Pat's life like the tidal current of Pat's beloved Battery Creek outside his Beaufort home. As hard as it is to read about Pat's sickness and death, Cassandra writes about it with compassion and love. Her words from the heart are truly beautiful.” – Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC


The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Wednesday Books, 9781250144546

“Chokshi's dazzling world of alchemy and occult is unforgettable and I will dream of golden bees and gilded ballrooms until the sequel comes out. Astonishingly beautiful and fantastically imagined.” – Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, MS

For more information about the Southern Book Prize:

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.

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
Buy it here

It starts with a road, a two-lane blacktop called West Virginia Route 219 that spines its way through Pocahontas County and serves, depending on the stretch, as main street and back street, freeway and byway, sidewalk and catwalk.

It is June 25, 1980, just after the summer solstice, and a young man named Tim is driving home for the night. He had driven to Lewisburg, the big town almost an hour away, and is coming back now, with fresh laundry and groceries.

The road is made of black tar with a healthy gravel shoulder that gives way to dirt and then forest on both sides except when it climbs up or down a mountain, which is often. On those stretches, the ditches are replaced by tight metal guardrails with reflective yellow arrows that point drivers around the hairpin turns, some nearly one hundred and eighty degrees-a true switchback. To drive this road requires skill, to know when to tap the brake and when to press the gas. Tim is new in town and still learning.

Hachette Books | 9780316449236 | January 21, 2020

Read This!

Reviewed by Booksellers

Books with Street Cred, Reviewed by Southern Booksellers

The Lucky Star by William T. Vollman, 2/18/2020
Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
Buy it here

This is a Whitman's sampler of characters and their varying slow burn relationships with Neva, a magical Christ-like figure cursed/blessed with the power to dispense seemingly endless love. But this is delicious, vulgar, beautiful, sick Vollmann. One chump's polished turd is another's oxygenated jewelry. Some sulk in the moonlight as others bask in surplus sunlight bouncing off of a big space rock. However, all of us are users, abusers and addicts of love. I walked away from this book with a much higher awareness of the worth of everyone around me. The stars, the understudies, the chorus, the backstage crew, the audience, the ticket takers, the folks in the alley behind the theater.

Firewatching by Russ Thomas, 2/25/2020
Reviewed by Michelle Petersen, Sunrise Books, Highpoint, NC
Buy it here

A cold case detective is brought in on a case that could get him back in the spotlight. A missing financier's skeleton is found bricked into the walls of his crumbling mansion. His (now adult) son, Oscar, is being seriously looked at as the murderer...but it seems there are other members of this community who may have had reasons to have committed this crime. The plot twists around, and around...tighter and tighter, snaring community members in its wake. The final "who-done-it" was a total surprise to me! I LIKE being taken totally happens infrequently!!

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, 3/3/2020
Reviewed by Lauren Watts, M. Judson, Booksellers and Storytellers, Greenville, SC
Buy it here

The history of Black Americans from two people who get it. But this isn't just a history book: it's a recount of why America is the way that it is today, why we have people who think they way they do, and why we have a racist in the White House. Jason Reynolds melodic voice comes through in audio and on the pages. Seriously, read this one today. It's a quick read, you're guaranteed to learn something new (no matter how learned or woke you are), and it's a good one.

More bookseller reviews

The Okra Picks

Okra Picks

Great new Southern books, picked by Southern booksellers.

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
Buy it here

"You cannot treat women only for a disease of which men are the main carriers. Nor, I knew, could you punish every man who fell ill." Emma Copley Eisenberg THE THIRD RAINBOW GIRL is part true crime, part memoir, and fully compelling. On the frame of the unsolved Rainbow Murders Eisenberg hangs a discussion of Appalachian life and the complicated history its people have with one another, their history, and the rest of the nation. Traditional true crime reads may find the structure off-putting at first, but the alternating of past and present day events give a richer picture of a community defined by the murder of outsiders. Content warning for discussions of violence, bigotry, alcohol and drug use, and sexual assault. – Faith Park-Dodge, Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC

A stunningly written investigation of the murder of two young women--showing how a violent crime casts a shadow over an entire community.

In the early evening of June 25, 1980 in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, two middle-class outsiders named Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, were murdered in an isolated clearing. They were hitchhiking to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering but never arrived; they traveled with a third woman however, who lived. For thirteen years, no one was prosecuted for the "Rainbow Murders," though deep suspicion was cast on a succession of local residents in the community, depicted as poor, dangerous, and backward. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted, only to be released when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility. With the passage of time, as the truth seemed to slip away, the investigation itself caused its own traumas--turning neighbor against neighbor and confirming a fear of the violence outsiders have done to this region for centuries.

Emma Copley Eisenberg spent years living in Pocahontas and re-investigating these brutal acts. Using the past and the present, she shows how this mysterious act of violence has loomed over all those affected for generations, shaping their fears, fates, and the stories they tell about themselves. In The Third Rainbow Girl, Eisenberg follows the threads of this crime through the complex history of Appalachia, forming a searing and wide-ranging portrait of America--its divisions of gender and class, and of its violence.

Hachette Books | 9780316449236 | January 21, 2020

More Okra Picks

Front Porch Gossip

Front Porch Gossip

News of interest across the literary South...

Happy Birthday Alice Walker

Whether you agree or disagree with her, Walker continuously blows off the shell of secrecy and opens up the room for debate and dialogue that she, Walker, hopes will lead to universal healing. The more Walker dares herself to tell the truth, to be the person she was meant to be—regardless of local or racial barriers—the more the world around her is forced to expand past its comforts. Perhaps in no place is that more true than in her hometown of Eatonton.  

Keep reading...

Wendell Berry is still ahead of us

Here, in Kentucky, he has seen industry — coal, for example, once one of the state’s biggest employers — fleece the land and the people, sowing resentment. “The idea that rural and urban America describe two economies, one thriving and the other failing, is preposterous,” he tells me. “We’re joined by one economy. And it’s a one-way economy — the sucking and the digging is out here. The delivery is in the city. They’re prospering because they’re plundering their own country.”

Keep reading...

Wild Fig Books & Coffee, Kentucky's Only African-American Owned Bookstore, to close

We no longer want to give further community effort into a space we can no longer be present in. We would rather take that time energy and effort into finding a space that we can be long-term present in.

Keep reading...

The Southern Independent Bestseller List

southern bestseller list

For the week ending 9/2/2020


1. American Dirt Jeanine Cummins, Flatiron Books, $27.99, 9781250209764
2. Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens, Putnam, $26, 9780735219090
3. The Dutch House Ann Patchett, Harper, $27.99, 9780062963673
4. A Long Petal of the Sea Isabel Allende, Ballantine, $28, 9781984820150
5. The Giver of Stars Jojo Moyes, Pamela Dorman Books, $28, 9780399562488


1. A Very Stable Genius Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig, Penguin Press, $30, 9781984877499
2. The Body Bill Bryson, Doubleday, $30, 9780385539302
3. Talking to Strangers Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, $30, 9780316478526
4. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse Charlie Mackesy, HarperOne, $22.99, 9780062976581
5. Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy David Zucchino, Atlantic Monthly Press, $28, 9780802128386

See what's special to the Southern List!



What's happening at Southern indies across the South?
Find the full Events calendar here...

Obama White House Photogapher Lawrence Jackson at the Black History Museum
Tue Feb 18th 6:00pm - 7:00pm | Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA

When Lawrence Jackson took the job as White House photographer in early 2009, he knew he'd have a front row seat to history. What he didn't expect was the deep personal connection he would feel, as a fellow African American, with the President of the United States.

Yes We Did is filled with Lawrence's intimate photographs and reflections, as well as first-person recollections from President Obama, everyday citizens, and notable personalities including Bono, Stephen Curry, Valerie Jarrett, Admiral Mike Mullen, and others. The book is a celebration of the most inclusive and representative White House in history - where in between momentous and pivotal decisions, the President and First Lady opened the doors of the People's House to school kids, athletes, senior citizens, hip-hop artists, and more.

Keep reading... | More events at Fountain Bookstore

Rashad Jennings presents The Coin Slot Chronicles Arcade And The Fiery Metal Tester
Wed Feb 19th 6:00pm - 7:00pm | Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach, FL

In no time flat, Arcade is tested like never before to use the Triple T token’s powerful ways to outsmart a bully, find a place for his best friend to live, and spy on some pesky villains from the 1900s. Meanwhile, sister Zoe thinks controlling the token is nothing but a path to disaster.

One thing’s for sure, the token continues its flashing and pulsing. And elevator doors continue to transport Arcade, Zoe, and their friends to meet different people in strange locations—people who will challenge them, teach them, and inspire them to grow in patience and compassion.

And just as a trip through a fiery furnace is necessary to purify gold, the token leads Arcade through superheated situations to test the purity of his heart.

Read as part of the series or as a stand-alone novel! Arcade and the Fiery Metal Tester is the third book in the humorous and imaginative Coin Slot Chronicles series by New York Times bestselling author, former NFL running back, and Dancing with the Stars champion Rashad Jennings.

Great for reluctant readers

Keep reading... | More events at Vero Beach Book Center

Kimmery Martin Author of The Antidote for Everything
Fri Feb 21st 11:00am - 1:00pm | Litchfield Books, Murrells Inlet, SC and
Sat Feb 22nd 7:00pm - 8:00pm | Thank You Books, Birmingham, AL

Kimmery Martin is an emergency medicine doctor-turned novelist whose works of medical fiction have been praised by The Harvard Crimson, Southern Living, The Charlotte Observer and The New York Times, among others. A lifelong literary nerd, she promotes reading, interviews authors, and teaches writing seminars. She’s a frequent speaker at libraries, conferences, and bookstores around the United States. Kimmery completed her medical training at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. She lives with her husband and three children in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her next novel, THE ANTIDOTE FOR EVERYTHING, releases February 18, 2020.

Keep reading... | More events at Litchfield Books | More events at Thank You Books

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