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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Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp DoctorExcerpted noteworthy poetry and prose from her ladyship's bedside reading stack.

The old lady was a shrewd, active dame, kindhearted and long-tongued, benevolent and impartial, making her coffee as strong for the poor pedestrian with his all upon his back as the broadcloth sojourner with his "up-country pacer." She was a member of the church, as well as the daughter of a man who had once owned a race horse; and these circumstances gave her an indisputable right, she thought, to "let on all she knew" when religion or horseflesh was the theme. At one moment she would be heard discussing whether the new "circus rider" (as she always called him) was as affecting in Timothy as the old one was pathetic in Paul, and anon (not anonymous, for the old lady did everything above board, except rubbing her corns at supper) protecting dad's horse from the invidious comparisons of some visitor who having heard, perhaps, that such horses as Fashion and Boston existed, thought himself qualified to doubt the old lady's assertion that her father's horse "Shumach" had run a mile on one particular occasion. "Don't tell me," was her never failing replay to their doubts, "Don't tell me 'bout Fashun or Bosting or any other beating 'Shumach' a fair race, for the thing was unfeasible: didn't he run a mile a minute by Squire Dim's watch, which always stopt 'zactly at twelve, and didn't he start a minute afore and git out, jes as the long hand war givin' its last quiver on ketchin' the short leg of the watch?" 

--Henry Clay Lewis, in Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp Doctor, edited by Edwin T. Arnold (Louisiana State University Press, 1997) 9780807121672

The books you see on the the bookstore shelves may have just been published, but the booksellers who put them there probably read them months ago. Read, reviewed, and talked about with their bookseller friends and colleagues. Below are some of the books coming out in May and June they are really looking forward to. You won't find them on the shelves just yet, but pre-orders are always welcome.

The Night Before The Night Before 5/14/2019

"Look up page-turner in the dictionary and you will find The Night Before. Every theory I had was proved wrong. What a delightful reading experience that makes! I want more from Wendy Walker!" -- Amanda, Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC 

Riots I Have Known Riots I Have Known 5/21/2019

"Ryan Chapman’s debut takes very little time to grab the reader and refuse to let go. The story’s unnamed narrator weaves a tale so brutal, narcissistic, and often funny, the book flies by. A bizarre love letter to literature set in a New York penitentiary. Chapman is an author to watch." -- James, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, NC

GiveGive, a Novel 6/1/2019

"I met Erica at a conference and after hearing her speak, I couldn't wait to read her book - I was not disappointed. Jessie and Emma are the product of a broken marriage between Len and Laurel. Laurel was absent and at times a danger to the girls and Emma no longer wants to spend summers with her the way Jessie does. This novel tells of the trials and tribulations of loyalty to their two moms as well as their dad and the struggles of life in general. It's a lovely coming of age story that shows an honest portrait of a family that loves each other but may not always know the best ways to show it. " -- Andrea, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA

Grace Will Lead Us HomeGrace Will Lead Us Home 6/4/2019

"Hawes writes a well-researched and sobering account of the Charleston Church Massacre. Her access to survivors, relatives of the dead, police, and city officials gives her a unique view of what happened that day in Charleston in 2015. She also presents an unbiased portrait of Dylann Roof, giving glimpses into his life that could have contributed to the shooter's mindset. At times intense, other times reflective, this is an account you don't won't to miss if you want to know more about this tragic shooting." -- Linda, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC

The Body in Question The Body in Question 6/11/2019

"I picked this up at work, read one chapter and took it home to finish that night. Then brought it back to work and made my boss read it. It was absorbing, dangerous, morally challenging in the best way and I loved it all. Between C-2 and F-17's relationship, one twin who set her brother on fire, another twin who may have manipulated a murder, and a dying husband, I left his book questioning where the line between right and wrong could even be drawn. There was so much packed into this little novel, but what a large impact it has after reading it. I hope I can get this book into as many hands as possible. It is a must read." -- Olivia, The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan The Body Lies 6/18/2019

"When I read a book like THE BODY LIES I am reminded of WHY I read in the first place. The beauty and structure of Baker's language, the way she decided to tell this particular story, the suspense (is it real? is it imagined?) all combine to make my reading of this book an emotional and thought-provoking one. It has stayed in my head for days and I am still thinking through some of the deep questions she asks. Is my reading of this book different because I am a woman and a mother of a small child? Maybe. Should male readers also read this book? Absolutely. This is a headwrecker of a book, in the best possible way." -- Jamie, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

This week Southern indie booksellers announced their 2019 Spring Okra Picks -- a kind of "best Southern books to look forward to" list for April, May, and June. Her ladyship, the editor, has been told that the list's name is a Southerner's play on "Oprah Picks" and aspires to the same sense of enthusiasm and excitement for great books that made Ms. Winfrey a force of nature in the book industry.

In point of fact, the name "Okra Pick" makes her ladyship think of county fairs and food festivals and all the lucky girls who get chosen to wear the "Miss Strawberry Festival" sash or the "Sweet Potato Queen" crown. So the phrase "Okra Picks" has happy associations: New books! New books with pretty jackets that deserve to be queens of the spring book festivals.

New April books that book people are really excited about:

I Miss You When I BlinkI Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott

I couldn't put this collection of vulnerable, hilarious, touching essays down. By the end of it, you feel the satisfaction of a perfect night with a fun, honest friend who makes you laugh, cry, and think. This book is more than time well-spent, each passage is a perfectly executed tug on your own heartstrings, both of which are success points for Philpott, in her own words. Just right.
- Liza Jones, Turnrow Books Greenwood, MS

The GulfThe Gulf by Belle Boggs

The Gulf asks lots of questions. Can creative writing be taught? What's a sellout? Can there be form without content? Is it okay to sort of just sort of fall into your life instead of making it do what you always thought it would do? Reading The Gulf is like work-shopping your best friend's choices, her habits, her hopes and mistakes. This'll be an easy sell: anyone with aspirations to write will enjoy this novel.
Erica Eisdorfer, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

Caterpillar SummerCaterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Caterpillar Summer is a heartwarming novel about a brother, Chicken, who has special needs and a sister, Cat, who tries too hard to protect him. Cat's and Chicken's mom works long hours since their dad died. Although Cat is just in fifth grade, she tries to fill in as a part-time mom for Chicken. An unexpected visit with their grandparents, whom they have never met, teaches Cat a lot about being a kid and reveals a lot about her mom that she never knew before. A wonderful debut novel!
- Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction, Spartanburg, SC

Magnetic GirlThe Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler

Very enjoyable and beautifully written. Lulu is a compelling character. She grows through the course of the book into a young woman who is ready to take charge of her own destiny. Her magnetism isn't the only mystery in the book: Is her power "real?" Will she fail or be exposed, and just what is her father up to? Readers who like historical fiction, family drama, and strong female protagonists will enjoy this book.
- Angela Schroeder, Sunrise Books, High Point, NC

Southern Lady CodeSouthern Lady Code: Essays by Helen Ellis

This snappy little collection of essays by American Housewife author Helen Ellis is the perfect pairing for a bath and a bottle of wine after a long day. Bright, bubbly, charming, and just the right amount of naughty, Helen Ellis is a beaming Southern sun above the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
- Megan Bell, Underground Books, Carrollton, GA

Like LionsLike Lions by Brian Panowich

Like the writing of David Joy or Taylor Brown? Then you'll want to check out Brian Panowich. // Panowich's southern crime fiction is so very entertaining. Despite being Sheriff, Clayton Burroughs is also the last living son of the Bull Mountain crime family which means everyone wants a piece of him. You'll find yourself rooting for the good guys who may actually be bad guys. Don't let Panowich's epilogue sneak up on you in this one. It's mind-blowing.
- Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

Read independently, and shop local.

Mothers and StrangersMama

My good friend Samia Serageldin took me out to lunch in Chapel Hill, shortly after the death of her powerful and aristocractic Eygptian mother, along with another friend, Margaret Rich, whose own mother, a strong-willed southern matriarch, had just died at the age of one hundred in Greenville, South Carolina. "I have an idea," Samia said in her charming, lilting way. "Let's write a book about our mothers." Immediately we were in. We told other friends the idea, and they were in, too. We were all in. Because somehow we have come to that time in our lives when all the parents are gone, leaving us motherless, or fatherless, or, often now, orphans--suddenly out in the world alone, with nothing to stand between us and well, what? What? It is a time of reckoning. And who was she, that one who gave us birth, surely the most intimate of all physical relationships? Hers was the first face we say, the first voice we heard...surely this is especially important for a writer, how wer first experience language....Who was she to us, or we to her? Who are we now, without her?

 

--Lee Smith, in Mothers and Strangers, edited by Samia Serageldin and Lee Smith (UNC Press, 2019) 9781469651675

When the warm sun, that brings
Seed-time and harvest, has returned again,
'T is sweet to visit the still wood, where springs
The first flower of the plain.

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "An April Day"

Thalia

April is one of her ladyship, the editor's very favorite months. Her garden has begun to shake off winter and her ladyship's online friends have had to endure an endless series of posts of the daffodils she planted last fall, now in full and glorious bloom.

April is also the one time of year when her ladyship can talk about poetry without apology or compunction. Not that she is wont to do either at other times of the year, but in April, at least, "National Poetry Month" provides an excellent excuse to be blatant about it.

And the South, it must be said, is as fertile ground for poetry as it is for daffodils. Here is a little "tour" of the South via its poets laureate:

Little Wanderer From Darkening Porches To Start With, Feel Fortunate Sabbath Creek
Alabama | Jennifer Horne Arkansas | Jo McDougall Florida | Peter Meinke Georgia | Judson Mitcham
The Bounteous World No Brother, This Storm Heating and Cooling Breath of Song
Kentucky | Frederick Smock Louisiana | Jack Bedell Mississippi |Beth Ann Fennelly North Carolina | Jaki Shelton Green
The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle Gentle Scholar James Dickey Reader  
South Carolina | Marjory Heath Wentworth Tennessee | Margaret Britton Vaughn Virginia | Henry Hart