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.
Like every thinking, feeling person in this country, her ladyship, the editor has spent the last week becoming more and more horrified by the violence that has erupted across the country. "The violence," she writes, as if it were some sort of natural disaster, like a hurricane, when in truth it is OUR violence. The burning cars, destroyed shops, bleeding protesters. These things are not the fault of a virus racing through the population. These are the terrible acts of violence people have committed upon each other. There is no escaping the reality of that.
Her ladyship was left reeling between grief and anger, each so entangled with the other it was sometimes hard to know which emotion she we feeling. It seems to her there should be some other word which encompasses both.
As she has done her entire life when troubled or in turmoil, her ladyship, the editor, revisited the books that have helped her to understand and make sense of a senseless world. This past weekend, she re-read every book she owned by James Baldwin. In particular an interview he had with Studs Terkel in 1961:
"I'm not mad at this country anymore: I am very worried about it. I'm not worried about the Negroes in the country even, so much as I am about the country. The country doesn't know what it has done to Negroes. And the country has no notion whatever--and this is disastrous--of what it has done to itself. North and South have yet to assess the price they pay for keeping the Negro in his place; and, to my point of view, it shows in every single level of our lives, from the most public to the most private."
--James Baldwin to Studs Terkel, 1961
Of course in a crisis book people turn to books. Our faith that books can change our lives for the better and build bridges between people remains a core belief. "Books are good. Books help. We believe that." posted Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, SC after their windows were broken. "What's the last book that shifted your worldview?" asked Michelle Cavalier of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana in the store newsletter this morning. Hers was Born a Crime by Trevor Noah:
Read about our world -- Cavalier House Books, Denham Springs, GA
An Antiracist Reading List -- Ibram X. Kendi
Black Lives Matter -- The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, MN
Read independently, and shop local now so you can shop local later.
- Published: 01 June 2020 01 June 2020
In 2107 Lisa Wingate published Before We Were Yours, a novel based on a true story about a Memphis-based adoption organization that kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families in 2017. One of the people who read the book was Diane Plauche, who found much of the story achingly familiar.
Plauche is a volunteer with the Historic New Orleans Collection museum. In 2015, she began assisting the museum in creating a database of historical Lost Friends advertisements, through which formerly enslaved people desperately tried to find their lost families in the decades following emancipation. To date, Diane has entered over 2500 unique ads, and tens of thousands of names in the museum's database, preserving the histories of thousands of families. Plauche wrote to Wingate about the project, saying "There is a story in each one of these ads."
Wingate agreed. Her new novel, The Book of Lost Friends, was just released last month.
On Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm the Reader Meet Writer Author Series will host a special online event with Lisa Wingate and Diane Plauche, in conversation with the author Kristy Woodson Harvey. They will be discussion Wingate's new novel, and the little-known facet of American life that inspired it.
Tickets are available at the following bookstores:
Righton Books, St. Simons Island, GA
The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
Duck's Cottage, Manteo, NC
Malaprops Bookstore, Asheville, NC
Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC
Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC
Read Books, Virginia Beach, VA
- Published: 24 May 2020 24 May 2020
What is it like to release a new book in the middle of a pandemic? Last week Susan Beckham Zurenda wrote a little about what she was doing at home instead of touring for her book, Bells of Eli. One of the most common questions from audiences at the Reader Meet Writer Author series is "has the coronavirus crisis affected your writing?" "Yes," they all say, "yes, yes, of course. How could it not?" faces reflecting the blue-tinged light of a computer screen as they try to channel across a video chat at least some of the energy and enthusiam that happens by magic when they are in a room full of avid readers.
Renea Winchester, a dear friend of her ladyship, the editor and (she likes to think) a gardening soul sister, has taken a slightly different route.
Her ladyship, the editor, and Ms. Winchester bonded over seeds. One spring day many years ago her ladyship found in her mailbox an envelope with a handful of rosy pink kernels of corn. "This is dent corn from my Granddaddy Lum," said the short note tucked into the envelope, "it's been grown in the family for generations." The seeds were from Ms. Winchester, who had sent them after reading a post from her ladyship about her inability to grow corn.
That generous impulse is typical of Renea Winchester. She is all about doing things for others, whether it is donating books to libraries, saving daffodils in danger from a bulldozer, campaigning for the protection of the Tuckasegee River, or delivering elderberry syrup to local health care workers. She bribes road works crews with cookies to get them to spare wildflower patches. She is one of those people who manages to fit two hours worth of work into one.
So when her new novel, Outbound Train, was published just as most of the country was told to stay at home, Renea didn't let that stop her. She has donned her mask and visited local indie bookshops to sign stock. She donated copies to assisted living centers, because one of her friends said her 88 year old aunt had read and loved the story. She has also -- and this is no surprise -- been tireless in supporting the work of other writers in the same situation: Jim Hamilton, Claire Fullerton, Beth Kephart.
Outbound Train, set in her hometown of Bryson City, North Carolina, is the story of the iron-willed women of a local textile plant. There is a beautiful interview with the author about the book at the Advance Reading Copy blog that will make you want to buy a book for every woman in your family you've ever looked up to.
- Published: 02 May 2020 02 May 2020
Reader, meet writer! When the country shut down last month in response to the COVID-19 crisis, one group of people left high and dry were authors with new books just published. Overnight, appearences were canceled and tours put on hold. The confusion and dismay was overwhelming.
The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, which represents independent bookstores in the South, literally leapt into the fray and created the Reader Meet Writer Author Series -- a series of virtual author appearances accessible via Southern indie bookstores. Ask your local bookseller how to tune in.
Steven Wright's appearance on Reader Meet Writer is now available to watch on video. A piercing portrait of our fragile democracy and one man's unraveling, The Coyotes of Carthage paints a disturbingly real portrait of the American experiment in action.
A blistering and thrilling debut—a biting exploration of American politics, set in a small South Carolina town, about a political operative running a dark money campaign for his corporate clients.
"Dark humor and dark money make for a compelling combination and Dre Ross may be the most sympathetic villain around. A cautionary tale for our times full of heart and dire warnings of how politics can go wrong."
~ Jan Blodgett, Main Street Books, Davidson, NC
Steven Wright is a clinical associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, where he codirects the Wisconsin Innocence Project. From 2007 to 2012 he served as a trial attorney in the Voting Section of the United States Department of Justice. He has written numerous essays about race, criminal justice, and election law for the New York Review of Books.
- Published: 30 April 2020 30 April 2020
Her ladyship, the editor, and, she ventures, anybody who has been a child at some point during the last forty years, lost one of the most beloved voices of that childhood when Betsy Byars passed away last week at the age of 91.
Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mrs. Byars made her home in Seneca, South Carolina, where she was a mentor to writers, a tireless advocate for literacy, a dog lover, and -- something her ladyship did not know -- a pilot. She also wrote over 65 novels for children including The Summer of the Swans, which won a Newberry.
The books we read and love as children are perhaps the ones that find the deepest, most secure place in our hearts. Years later, when favorite novels have come and gone as our lives change and evolve, those early stories are still with us still at the foundation of how we read, how we learned to see the world. We might forget about the book we read last year, but we never forget the one we read twenty or thirty years ago.
It puts the task of the children's writer into perspective does it not? What a daunting responsibility, to write for readers who, if you do it well, will remember what you wrote for the rest of their lives.
The stories that her ladyship knows were the ones from the 70s -- Midnight Fox, Summer of the Swans, After the Goat Man, The TV Kid, The Pinballs. Plus her personal favorite, Trouble River.
But Betsy Byars wrote stories for over forty years. There are readers who hear her name and think of an entirely different set of stores. The Cybil War, The Glory Girl, Cracker Jackson if they were children in the 80s. The Joy Boys, Tornado, the Golly Sisters, and Mud Blossom if they grew up in the 90s.
How many generations hold her books in their hearts?
Read independently, and shop local.
- Published: 08 March 2020 08 March 2020