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.




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"


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