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Lady Banks Pick of the Week

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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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 WineFrog and ToadThe Paperboy

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:

Moomin Summer MadnessFried Green TomatoesEcology of a Cracker Childhood

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.

Charles Fred PriceThe 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."

"Even aimless journeys have a purpose." --Tony Horwitz


Confederates in the AtticLike 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."

Spying on the SouthMore 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.

The Book Woman of Troublesome CreekThe Santos women never go to the sea.

Once upon a lifetime ago a pregnant woman escaped Cuba with her husband by climbing into a boat he had built in secret with nothing but scrap and desperate hope. They left an entire life in the dead of night. They were still too late. The storm was sudden and violent, and the baby could not wait. As he fought a raging sea, she screamed into the angry winds and pulled her wailing daughter from her body.

When Milagro Santos reached the other side, it was only with her newborn baby.

My mom grew up in a new land and despite warnings, dared to love a boy who loved the sea. But the day before her eighteenth birthday, a spring storm formed out in open waters and shattered another dream. My father’s boat was found but never his body. Mom waited at the dock, her screams etched into the town’s memories as she clutched her middle, me growing inside.

That was the sea for us.

Don't Date Rosa Santos, (Disney-Hyperion, 2019) 9781368039703

"One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by." --Jeannette Walls

It is officially summer at her ladyship's house on the North Carolina coast. She knows this not because her sugar snap peas have died back, not because her sunflowers have started to bloom. Not even because Memorial Day weekend looms and the evenings are filled with the crashes and bangs of over-eager neighbors too impatient to wait to set off the truckload of fireworks they purchased for the occasion.

No it is summer because of one indisputable sign: her ladyship, the editor, was at last driven to turn on the air conditioning in the house.

It is a step she defers as long as possible, preferring instead to have open windows and ocean breezes. But when the temperatures climb towards the 90s she caves to the resigned drooping looks of her dogs and cats and her own insufficiency of fans, and thus she closes the screens and the windows, shuts the back door propped open to let the four-footed residents of the house come and go, and flips the thermostat from "Off" to "Cool." "Cool" being something in the mid-70s.

Book PileThe flipping of the thermostat switch has an unlooked-for and curious effect upon her ladyship's reading. Her "reading spots" have changed. No longer able to endure the heat of the sunny back deck (even under the deck umbrella), she has been forced indoors. But her usual reading chairs -- situated by windows to take advantage of cross breezes, are no longer as inviting. The closed windows offer no breezes and the windows themselves, her ladyship freely admits, could do with a wash and are not at the moment very nice to gaze through dreamily in between chapters.

Instead her ladyship finds herself settling to read in parts of the house she tends to avoid because they lack sunlight and windows. Her large library table is once again stacked with books she has been meaning to get to. The living room couch, normally of use only for watching television and providing the dogs a soft place to sleep, is now a place to stretch out and read in the evenings, as it happens to be the room with the thermostat, and thus the coolest room in the house. The dogs are not unduly put out by this new habit, as they are as perfectly willing to sleep on her ladyship's legs as the couch itself.

All this shuffling around of reading spots has also resulted in several new stacks of "books to read" in new locations -- interestingly enough more nonfiction on the library table, whereas the coffee table by the couch has piles of novels. Books piled by former reading chairs have remained where they are, waiting for the day her ladyship can turn off the air and open the windows again. Sometime in October, most likely.