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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The year was 1966. Agnes Miller was nineteen, a majorette in her first year at Buckner County College. She wore a powder-blue shirtdress and a bubbly bouffant in the fashion of Diana Ross and the Supremes. To be a majorette, you had to have nice legs, Agnes's legs were so long they could skip across the Nile. Her hemline was modest. She worked part-time in the college library. Whenever anyone asked Agnes what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would tell him or her automatically that she wanted to be a teacher. It did not matter of Agnes liked the profession. The answer was suitable and pleasing.
"I happen to have a busy schedule." Agnes smiled at the dark brown, well-dressed man sitting on the opposite end of the counter at Kress Five & Dime. Really, she had no place to go but home and nothing to do but homework.
Watching the events and lives of one family intertwined come together so beautifully in one novel is an absolute treat, and Regina Porter does not disappoint. "The Travelers" builds and weaves the story of family, strife, love, and frustration and encapsulates what it means to become and to remain a family. This story is absolutely gorgeous as it moves through time and experience and leaves its reader feeling like a part of the family rather than just an observer. --Delany Holcomb, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC
--Regina Porter, The Travelers, (Hogarth, 2019) 9780525576198
- Published: 19 June 2019 19 June 2019
"Passages from books are part of my passages across ocean and land, moving me, tying me into a culture and place, into friendships distant and close." -- Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The Ravenous Muse
Like many avid readers, her ladyship, the editor has a particular attraction to books about books. Indeed, there is an entire section in her library that might be labeled "bibliophilia" -- books about other books, about book people, about the worlds-within-worlds of the book-mad.
And, like many of those book-mad people, her ladyship's own book obsession is not limited to accounts of other people's book-hoarding. Like them, she also finds it impossible to resist stories about books, real or imagined. They don't exist on the bibliophilia shelf, but nevertheless, her ladyship can, at any given moment, put her hands on at least a dozen novels wherein the theme is most definitely books. The Shadow of the Wind, The Name of the Rose, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The 351 Books of Irma Acuri, The Bookman's Promise, The Eyre Affair, Fahrenheit 451, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, The Thirteenth Tale, Alif the Unseen...the list goes on.
And on, and on. Here are some bookish stories for summer:
"This novel combines history and fabulous storytelling to convey the history of the Kentucky Pack Horse Librarians and the blue people of the same state. Cussy and her family have skin that is tainted blue. They sharply feel the prejudice of the people in their community of Troublesome Creek. Cussy's job is taking books on loan to the people in the isolated mountains. Through reading, these people start to find purpose to their lives, and Cussy starts to learn that even she can be loved." -- Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
"I loved this wonderful story about Cussy Mary, a pack horse librarian in eastern Kentucky in the 1930's and one of the last of the blue-skinned people of that area. As Cussy faces pressure to marry and difficulties maintaining her arduous book route through the twisty and dangerous mountain passes, she earns the respect of the mountain people she serves to faithfully. Beautifully written and heartbreaking at times, this is a story I will never forget." --Mary Patterson, The Little Bookshop, Midlothian, VA
"A sweet and lovely story about books, love, and family. The perfect summer read!" -- Faith Park-Dodge, Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC
"Nina Hill is an all-too-organized, overscheduled bookseller who loves routines and doesn't accept change with the greatest of ease. She loves her friends, her job, her planner, and her trivia team, but when she inherits an unknown family at the same time a romantic interest appears in her life (a trivia competitor nonetheless!), life becomes frazzled and messy for Nina. The end result is a super fun read about adapting to change, accepting people for who they are, and learning to love yourself. I want Nina Hill to be my new friend!" -- Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC
"If an inanimate object has to talk, books are a great choice. The story takes place in Dove Pond and centers around Grace, a woman who has to leave a well-paying job in Charlotte to become the caregiver for both her thirteen-year-old niece and her foster mother, Mama G who is suffering from Dementia. Grace brings her small family to Dove Pond because the little town is where Mama G grew up. The story is also about Sarah Dove who is the town librarian and is also the person books talk to. This is a charming & whimsical story and is a great read if you are looking for something on the light side." --Pam Craw, Bookmiser, Rosewell, GA
"I adored this book. It is so charming and the characters are people you wish you met. From the magical Dove family to still recovering foster children the aspects of the story are so vivid you feel you are watching events unfold. Sarah Dove is trying to save her town, she believes that is her destiny. So what if she is a little quirky, who is not? Grace has more sudden responsibility than a driven and controlling loner could imagine. Only adding to the challenge is that the responsibility is for a parentless eight-year-old and her aging foster Mother who has Alzheimer's. How can they possibly unite for the greater good? Read this book, enjoy every minute and hope for a sequel." -- Jackie Willey, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
- Published: 17 June 2019 17 June 2019
Last week, several Georgia Booksellers got together to create a kind of "ultimate summer reading list" -- fiction, nonfiction, new books, hidden gems, cookbooks (of course!). Her ladyship, the editor's attention was caught by the very last category on this list, the "Essential Summer Reading," lead of course by that epitome of a summer book, Mr. Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Frog & Toad books by Arnold Lobel
Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Anything written by Charles Portis
The Paperboy by Pete Dexter
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
It is an admirable list as such lists go, particularly for the inclusion of "anything by Charles Portis" and the stories of Frog and Toad. It did set her ladyship wondering what her own "essential" summer reading list would look like. Is it books that one reads in the summer? Books that evoke the season? Stories that allow one to escape? Or those which move in that languid pace one associates with the heat and the feeling that nothing is really so important it demands rushing about?
Without any clear answer, here is her ladyship's attempt at her own private essential summer reading list:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Love and Summer by William Trevor
Summer Will Show by Vita-Sackville West
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray
Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andrei Makine
Neveryona by Samuel Delany
The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
The Garden Party & Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir
Pentimento by Lillian Helmann
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
...and perhaps she had best stop there. Like all booklists, her ladyship has found that the longer she thinks about it, the longer they become. But summer, alas, does not lengthen correspondingly. For all of its sense of slow, languid days, it passes all too quickly.
- Published: 11 June 2019 11 June 2019
The South lost one of it's quietly beloved voices last week with the passing of Charles F. Price: journalist, teacher, historian, and a writer dedicated to honoring the heritage of his native Western North Carolina. He is best known for his historical fiction, most notably, The Hiwassee Trilogy.
Mr. Price has written about his childhood as the son of a Methodist preacher, an unexpectedly nomadic life as his father went from parish to parish at the behest of his Western North Carolina Conference. The cherished memories of the many communities the family served were strangley at odds with the impermanence and rootlessness of the life.
Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that Price left his native high country as a young man, nor that it took him twenty-five years to return, at last, to write:
"I think we shouldn’t try to understand too well why we write, for the source of art is not corporeal; it is, at last, a mystery. But I know a few things for certain. Coming back to the mountains was a rediscovery of a fact I had come near losing: The mountains are in me. They always have been; they were in me even when I refused to recognize them. They are why I write."
- Published: 03 June 2019 03 June 2019
"Even aimless journeys have a purpose." --Tony Horwitz
Like anyone else who admired his work, her ladyship, the editor was profoundly shocked to hear of the sudden and unexpected death this week of Tony Horwitz -- one of this era's most beloved historians and journalists. It is perhaps no good testament to the times we live in that when she first saw the notice her ladyship immediately checked the hoax websites, so incomprehensible and unbelievable was the news. Alas, it was no hoax.
Although Mr. Horwitz already enjoyed a laudable reputation for his journalism -- he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his Wall Street Journal series on working conditions for low wage workers -- he first came to her ladyship's attention, along with everybody else's, with the release of his runaway bestseller, Confederates in the Attic, over twenty years ago. It has the distinction of being one of the first books her ladyship sent to her mother unsolicited, just because she wanted her to read it, and thus started a tradition wherein they traded book recommendations back and forth that has continued to this day.
It is also, her ladyship admits with some shame, the book that began their habit of calling each other weekly to talk about books when her ladyship interrupted her mother's impressions to ask "did you get to the part where they pee on their buttons?"
Despite this somewhat inauspicious demonstration of her ladyship's critical thinking skills, the conversation continued on for the better part of an hour, as both she and her mother declaimed over Mr. Horwitz's eye for detail, empathy for his subjects, and general even-handed manner in situations that would have tried less hardy souls. Or, has her ladyship put it less coherently to her mother on the day of that first phone call -- "Boy, he will talk to ANYONE."
More to the point, he wanted to talk to everyone. In a recent piece he wrote for the New York Times on the occasion of the publication of his latest book, Spying on the South, he wrote about the travels he made through the rural South, following the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmsted from dive bar to local watering hole:
"I’ve been met affably, by drinkers open about their views and curious to know mine, as a visiting writer from 'Taxachusetts.' Often I hear opinions I don’t expect, like self-described right-wingers dissenting from Trumpian orthodoxy on health care or a border wall."
He writes of his concern over the divisive rhetoric that passes for political discourse in our current culture, unable to see people as "red" or "blue": "I conjure instead the three-dimensional individuals I drank and debated with in factory towns, Gulf Coast oil fields and distressed rural crossroads," he notes, "And I hope they occasionally remember me. Not as a Fox-induced boogeyman on the bar TV, one of those “coastal elites” dripping with contempt and condescension toward Middle America. But rather, as that guy from “up north” who appeared on the next bar stool one Friday after work, asked about their job and life and hopes for the future, and thought what they said was important enough to write down."
Read independently, and shop local.
- Published: 31 May 2019 31 May 2019