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|THE 2017 SOUTHERN BOOK PRIZE FINALISTS...|
|SOUTHERN BOOKS | AUTHORS | LITERARY NEWS...|
The votes are in! Southern indie booksellers have chosen the finalists for Southern Book Prize. Formerly known as the SIBA Book Award, the Southern Book Prize features an expanded list of categories – including seven different fiction and three nonfiction categories. Finalists were chosen by Southern independent booksellers from the long list ballot. The finalist titles will be sent to juried panels of booksellers, who will then decide on the winners in each category. Winners will be announced on July 4, “Independents Day.”
2017 Southern Book Prize Finalists
Coming of Age
Mystery & Detective
Southern Stories & Stories by Southerners
Biography, Autobiography, & Memoir
The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, (SIBA), is pleased to announce the 2017 Southern Book Prize Long List, featuring all the eligible titles that have been nominated for the Southern Book Prize (formerly the SIBA Book Award). Nominated titles must be Southern in nature or by a Southern author (or both!) and have been published in 2016. Over 140 great Southern books were nominated by Southern Indie booksellers, making the Long List one of the most comprehensive and exciting reading lists of new Southern literature.
Continuing with a tradition established last year, the Long List features an expanded collection of prize categories. “Our goal is to have the nominations drive the categories rather than forcing all nominations into a category they might not fit. Rather than being married to a certain set of categories like ‘fiction,’ ‘nonfiction,’ ‘children’s,’ we can open the award up to new categories driven by the nominations,” explained SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell. She noted that SIBA used the BISAC designations of nominated books to help determine the award categories for the year. This year, ‘Fiction’ has been expanded into seven categories, and ‘Nonfiction’ into three separate categories.
SIBA member booksellers will vote on the Long List over the next few weeks. Finalists for each category in the 2017 Southern Book Prize will be announced April 15, 2017. From there, Finalists will be sent to a jury of booksellers in each category, who will then choose the winning book for their category. Winners will be announced on July 4, “Independents Day.”
THE 2017 SOUTHERN BOOK PRIZE LONG LIST
Coming of Age
Mystery & Detective
Southern Stories & Stories by Southerners
Biography, Autobiography, & Memoir
The 2017 Spring Okra Picks have been selected: a flavor-filled collection of new Southern books hand-picked by Southern indie booksellers–people with impeccable taste in books...
All Spring Okra picks have a strong Southern focus and publish between April and June, and all have fans among Southern indie booksellers: the people who are always looking out for the next great writer to fill your reading plate. So the next time you visit your local Southern indie bookstore and someone says, "You've got to read this!" and hands you one of these tasty titles, dig in and ask for a second helping. Great books are always good for you!
Skin Again by bell hooks, Chris Raschka (illus)
Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Flight Path A Search for Roots Beneath the World's Busiest Airport by Hannah Palmer
No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
Extraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace
Gradle Bird by J.C. Sasser
He Calls Me by Lightning The Life of Caliph Washington and the Forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty by S. Jonathan Bass
Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin
GINA KOLATA (M.A.) is a writer and medical reporter for The New York Times. She has previously written several books, including Flu, and edited collections of popular science writing. Ms. Kolata lives with her husband in Princeton, New Jersey.
The independent bookstore is more than a place—it’s a people. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first year as a published novelist, it’s that indie booksellers are quite possibly the best people in the world. They are warm and smart and well-read; they are excited not only about books, but about what we learn from books. They can tell you about the history of corn whiskey and the basics of falconry; they know about French cigarettes and the love lives of our literary heroes. Belly up to the bar at a bookseller’s conference, as I have done, and tell a group of booksellers that you are writing a story about tigers. The recommendations will begin bounding from their tongues: The Tiger by John Vaillant, Dersu the Trapper by V.K. Arseniev, Tigers in the Snow by Peter Matthiessen. Now tell the same group that you have a broken heart, and watch the books come flocking to your aid.
In the summer of 2015, The New Yorker ran a piece entitled “Can Reading Make You Happier?” The crux of the piece was something called bibliotherapy—the practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. At London’s School of Life, trained bibliotherapists provide reading prescriptions that “help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence.” To me, indie booksellers are bibliotherapists nonpareil. Go to a big box store and ask for books that deal with heartbreak. Chances are you will be led to the Self-Help section and left to peruse the hundred strange spines by yourself. Now ask the same at any good indie. Nine times out of ten, you will be given specific book recommendations, many of them novels and short story collections, which are underrated in their power to sustain, educate, and heal us.
What’s more, there is more to bibliotherapy than the act of reading. In my experience, books and the stores that sell them have healing powers themselves. Who has not sidled through those cozy shelves, each lined with gleaming spines, with voices of such terror and majesty, and not felt comforted, even swaddled in the language of our species? There is a sacred atmosphere to the bookstore—not unlike that of libraries and museums and cathedrals—but so much cozier, so much more familiar and accessible. One of my favorite stories of all time is Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” If you want to find such a place in nearly any town in this country, all you have to do is find the local indie bookstore. At certain periods in life, the value of such places cannot be underestimated, nor can the people who run them.
Books are, and always have been, objects of great power. They wound us and heal us; they take us on long journeys into other countries, eras, and souls—and into the deeper chambers of our own hearts. They are the seeds of our great religions and cataclysms. The indie bookstore is the storehouse of this power, and the indie bookseller, well-journeyed on these literary roads, is our guide into the farther reaches of ourselves and others. So next time you find yourself struggling with the “challenges of existence,” hit your nearest indie and let the bibliotherapy begin.
About the Author:
TAYLOR BROWN grew up on the Georgia coast. He has lived in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and the mountains of Western North Carolina. His fiction has appeared in more than twenty publications, he is the recipient of the Montana Prize in Fiction, and he has been a finalist in both the Machigonne Fiction Contest and the Doris Betts Fiction Prize. Fallen Land (2016) was his first novel; The River of Kings is his second. Both were chosen as Okra Picks by Southern Independent Booksellers. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.
It’s 2027, or 2035. Independent bookstores are now extinct. Everything is purchased online, with free wrapping, same-day shipping, and “points” to be used toward a trip to Dollywood or the purchase of another 3DTV. Your local indie bookstore closed in September, the last of its kind, and in its place there’s a franchise computer-repair shop with weird hours. In times past, you’d go to the bookstore when you needed a few quiet moments of sanity and find out from book-minded humans what new books were of particular interest and what old ones might suit your fancy. If you weren’t sure what you wanted to read next, you could consult a bookseller, who would literally put a book in your hands that you might come to know and love. “So you like Douglas Adams, Charlotte Brontë, and metafiction, eh? No, that’s not unusual at all. Trust me. Have you ever read Jasper Fforde? No?—(Smiles knowingly.)—Let me show you where to find it.”
In 2027, these days are long gone. Now, from the comfort of your home office—you tell yourself that you enjoy the isolation and close interior quarters—you log-in to www.colossus.com, type in “books” in the search field, and wait eagerly for the sales algorithms put in place by Colossus’s IT team to spotlight certain popular titles for you to consider. A flashing pop-up window anticipates your likes based on your purchase history: “If you like Charlotte Brontë,” it says, “you might like Danielle Steel. Here are 2,420,300 new and used options to choose from.” This sounds promising! Lots of choices. But which edition to select, you wonder. You muse darkly on the days of old when, at the local bookstore, you could actually find cool editions of cool books without having to scroll through bazillions of new and used copies with no real way to know what you’d be getting. Glancing at your bookcase, you see the awesome Edgar Allan Poe hardcover (the one with that sweet raven on the cover) that you had only ever seen at your hometown bookstore and which you never would have come across online. Oh, well. Times change. The used paperback of Heart of Darkness you got from Colossus that had been extremely well-annotated by a series of 10th-grade boys was cool, too, in its own way. If only you could get that gummy USED sticker off the spine. If only you’d had a bookseller to help you.
End thought experiment. The big point here is that a world without indie bookstores would be a world without booksellers, and the disappearance of booksellers would be followed by a great whooshing literacy vacuum that would have unconsidered consequences. Here’s the thing: Booksellers love books. They love to read. They know more about books than you could possibly imagine. When books are shipped to the store from publishers, booksellers are the first to see them. They pull the books out of boxes, examine them, learn about them, and decide which of the new books they’re going to excitedly purchase with their employee discount. At any given time, a bookseller at an indie bookstore maintains a mental Rolodex of thousands upon thousands of books. One might think this is an exaggeration, but it’s not. They know kids’ books. They know what’s in cooking, fantasy, mystery, and games. They can tell you the classics like the backs of their respective hands, and can divine, by some mystifying internal calculus, whether a given child might be more suited to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. My entire life has been shaped by the recommendations of booksellers, and yours probably has, too.
When I was in college, I worked in an indie bookstore in Durham (which, sadly, has now closed). Joe was one of the booksellers. He was a tall guy with disobedient hair, wool-knit ties that didn’t quite reach his belt, and a shirttail that frequently came untucked. Joe knew the contents of the entire store, but his real specialty was sci-fi, with a sub-specialty of cyberpunk. I came into the store being more of a classics guy, with a focus on the Romantics and southern American lit. One Saturday during the midday lull when I was shelving and alphabetizing in “Regional” and Joe was across the aisle in “True Crime,” he told me I should check out William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash had just come out, and Joe foolishly lent me his copy (which I still have; if you’re out there, Joe, my apologies). This recommendation opened up a whole new universe of books for me. I think of all the books I read afterward because of this recommendation, and how my life changed as a result. This has happened to me over and over again. Long before Joe, when I was a boy and then a young man, booksellers in independent bookstores across the south shared with me their love of literature and I came to love the written word and all that might be contained within the covers of a book. Would I be a writer were it not for bookstores and booksellers?
Today I can stand in front of my bookshelves and point to the books that were recommended to me—books that I now count among my favorite, and which also happen to be among my most meaningful life experiences. I read those books and loved them. I’ll keep them on my shelves, and one day, hopefully, I’ll read them to my children. This is what booksellers do. For those of us who love books, they have the power to shape and enrich our lives, one book at a time. This is the importance of indie bookstores.
What I'm Reading Now: A Tour of the Lewis House in Books
Downstairs in the sill of the window to the dining room you’ll find a crisp copy of Tinkers by Paul Harding. Even though it’s a comparatively short book, it’s taken me a while to get through it because the writing is gorgeous and it needs to be read slowly and savored from page to page. You could only read one paragraph of Tinkers per day and if you love finely wrought prose, that would be enough to sustain you.
Sitting beneath Tinkers and matching its snow-white color is Schubert’s Winter Journey by Ian Bostridge, an exploration of the extraordinary “Winterreise” 24-song cycle that Schubert worked on right up until his unseasonable death in 1828 from syphilis or mercury poisoning or both (times were tough). This book is compact and heavy as a brick, and, from the looks of it, quite academic. I’ll read it once I finish the marvelous Tinkers. Also in this stack is a paperback of Tender is the Night by Mr. Fitzgerald, which I read at least once every two years.
Climbing the stairs to the aforementioned alcove—which I also call the “writer’s stable,” because it’s where I do most of my writing, and I enjoy horse puns—you will discover a big stack of books on my desk next to the typewriter, the top-most of which is Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, Book 1 of The Baroque Cycle. It’s a big, sprawling book in a big, sprawling series, and I’m approaching it in much the same way I approached Infinite Jest and Europe Central when I tackled those, which is that you pretty much need to be all-in, as they say. It’s not a lazy read, and you enjoy it more when you allow yourself a little time outside the reading to research the historical characters and places that play such important roles in the book. I expect it will take me a good nine months to read all three books in the proper way.
Beneath Quicksilver is Jenni Fagan’s The Sunlight Pilgrims, which I can’t wait to read. The Panopticon absolutely blew me away. Also on the desk in the queue to be read are Leningrad: Siege and Symphony: The Story of the Great City Terrorized by Stalin, Starved by Hitler, Immortalized by Shostakovich by Brian Moynahan and Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, both of which I will reach in time.
From the writer’s stable, down the hallway to the bedroom we go. A chunky paperback copy of Andrew Hodges’s Alan Turing: The Enigma straddles the arm of the couch below the window with the city view, its spine creased in a way that makes me wince a little. This has been an extraordinary book that makes you realize what kind of potential children really have if you just feed their imaginations. I’ve also got a book of James Salter short stories going, as well as The Mysterious Benedict Society. Next up: number9dream by David Mitchell and Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave.
Phillip Lewis was born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina. He now lives in Charlotte. THE BARROWFIELDS is his first novel.
Indie bookstores. What else is there? They're the heart and soul of our communities. A place of refuge, of refueling. Two specifically come to mind.
I’ll skip forward to the present, when I am no longer in TV news but have a debut novel, One Good Mama Bone, set for release on Valentine’s Day. This takes me to my hometown of Anderson, SC, where my elderly father’s health began a rapid decline in 2016, and I traveled there quite often to take care of him. One morning, after I’d fed him his breakfast and tucked him in for his morning nap, I picked up my iPhone and googled “bookstores in Anderson, SC.” Up popped Books a Million – fine, but I was hoping for an indie. And there it was, McDowell’s Emporium on Oak Street, specializing in used books and select new releases.
I headed there and found a small white clapboard house in a residential section, a “welcome” flag out front flapping in the breeze. Ahhh….yes, I was thinking. Inside, I smelled books and took that smell inside me. A woman, wearing large and black and wonderfully bookish eyeglasses, greeted me. I would come to know she was the shop’s owner, Judith McDowell. “I’m a local writer,” I told her and eyed the books in front of me, a shelf of new releases. I saw Pat Conroy and Mary Alice Monroe and Ron Rash. I put my finger between the top of Mary Alice’s first book and the book to her left and brought my flat hand down between them. I made my space. For my book. For Bren McClain’s book.
Two books changed my life, one as a writer and the other as a human being.
The first was William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I read it as a freshman at Anderson College. The first sentence took my breath away: “Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.” At that moment, all of the other books I had ever read, all blended together in a dim gray of sameness. Only by reading that book did I begin to understand the power of language and voice. It set me on a new path – as a reader and a writer.
The second book was Jon Clinch’s Finn, the retelling of Pap Finn, Huck Finn’s dad, a man, who in some ways, was a monster. But guess what? Jon Clinch made me fall in love with this monster. Made me inhabit this man, who was desperate for his father’s love and did awful things in his search. Talk about complexity of character. Soul-bearing here, I know – but I began seeing my own father differently after reading this book. My heart went out to him, and we got on an even level with each other. And thank God, because I lost my Dad this past June 29th.
I have three sons, two with special needs who are confined to wheelchairs. We moved from Austin, Texas to Asheville, North Carolina in 2005 because they were experiencing serious health problems, and the mountain air was better for their lungs. I didn’t know many people, and unsure what to do with my time, I started taking one of my special boys for a long walk downtown each day. We would always stop at the old Woolworth five-and-dime, which had been converted into an art space and had an old-fashioned soda fountain. Then I would push them up the block to Malaprops Bookstore. My son Marshall, especially, loved Malaprops. Marshall can’t talk or hold things in his hands, but he’s very bright. We would sit in that wonderful, comfortable store for hours, while I read him poetry, short stories and magazine articles, and he would tap his heels with excitement, his way of expressing joy. I’m not sure I bought anything in those first fifty or sixty visits. I can’t remember talking to anyone. I’m sure the staff would have talked with me if I had wanted them to, but somehow they sensed—even if I didn’t quite understand it myself—that I needed some space to sit, relax and adjust to my new life. I’m a regular customer now, in both senses of the word, and I often meet friends there for conversation and hot tea. Malaprops is everything a bookstore should be, from their passionately knowledgeable staff to their local author promotions and community events. There are thousands in Asheville who agree with Marshall and me that the store is the heart of our city. Asheville wouldn’t be the same without Malaprops. But it’s those first months that still stand out for me, when I was tired, unsure, and looking for a home, and I found it in the warmth and comfort of the space between the books.
What I’m Reading Now...
Darktown by Thomas Mullen. Set in 1948, this history-based mystery follows Atlanta’s first black policemen as they try to solve a murder most of their white counterparts would rather ignore. It’s easy to read, despite touching on hard truths, because it’s so well written. And such great characters! Mullen entertains, without flinching from the darker parts of our shared past.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It’s impossible to read the story of Walter McMillan, an innocent man who spent years on death row in Alabama, and not be moved. The woman in the chapter “The Stonecatcher’s Song of Sorrow” left me in tears, but the good kind that make you want to jump up, run outside and embrace life.
Pure Heart by Troy Ball. Well, you asked, so I’m taking the question literally! It was so much work getting the book ready for publication that some important things fell through the cracks without me even realizing it. Then, over the Christmas holidays, my son Marshall asked me—he “speaks” by touching letters in a board—to read the book to him. We have been sitting together every morning, as I slowly read him a chapter at a time. It is such a gift to see a story through someone else’s eyes, even when it is your own. Or maybe especially when it is your own. I love you Marshall, Coulton, Luke and Charlie. You are my wonder boys.
George Saunders's first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, has Southern indie booksellers swooning. The author of widely acclaimed story collections (Tenth of December) and essays (The Braindead Megaphone), Saunders ventures into novelistic territory with his richly imagined story of a grieving Abraham Lincoln surrounded by a vivid cast of historical and invented characters. Part historical fiction, part ghost story, part fantasy, part philosophical musing, and wholly original, Lincoln in the Bardo is by turns hilarious, terrifying, and deeply moving, and tailor-made for Southern readers.
Read what some indie booksellers have to say below, and check out the author appearance links to see if Saunders is visiting a bookstore near you.
From Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC:
Sarah: It isn't every day--OK, it's actually never happened before--that on the same day, an hour apart, two of our staff climbed the stairs to tell me they just finished the best book they have read in years and that they bawled like babies while reading it. George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House $28) went on sale yesterday and we have a limited number of signed copies available. The audio version ($35) is also extraordinary, with a 166 person cast featuring writers, actors, and musicians including David Sedaris, Lena Dunham and Don Cheadle.
Matt: Thanks to my old friend David Bowie I was familiar with the concept of the bardo, and I was already a fan of George Saunders. So I was already curious - but slightly nervous - on my approach to Lincoln in the Bardo. This novel outstrips all worries and expectations! It's a pure triumph on every level. Encompassing religious thought, actual-and-subtly-revised historical fact, horror, science fiction and magical fiction tropes, family drama, and sheer creative force of will, Lincoln in the Bardo made me consider my own life on new terms, and the experience was effortless, pleasurable, eye-opening, refreshing. Don't let the visibly odd format, similar to an oral history, put you off. Dive right in and see the wonderful world we live in. Dream of a new one. High-concept, low stress, this is a total keeper I'll read often.
Mamie: I want everyone in the world to read this book. It is the most beautiful book I’ve read in ages―ever? It took me a few pages to grasp what was going on, but once I did, the language, the characters, the historical data, and the setting all combined to keep me in my seat until I’d read every heart-wrenching page. According to Tibetan tradition, the bardo is the place where we go after our death until we are born into our next life. It is in the bardo that a chorus of characters in the Greek tradition observes Abraham Lincoln mourn the death of his son, Willie. Every book club, every high school and college student of literature, everyone who appreciates exquisite writing and deep emotion will fall in love with Lincoln in the Bardo. (The book is the March selection for the Signed First Editions Club.)
From Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC:
Erica: What a remarkable novel. One oughtn't feel the need to compare but what the hell: here is Margaret Atwood's fearlessness, Cormac McCarthy's grandeur, Allan Gurganus's joie de vivre. How is it that something this new, this startling, this BIG can also be heartmattermoving (just to riff a little on the novel--meant in the best way possible.) I'm the only human being on the planet earth who didn't swoon over Tenth of December, but I'm swooning, now, boy. This novel is one of the Great Civil War novels but I wish I hadn't written that because the basket of literary deplorables might could pigeonhole it and if they do, they're headed to the Bardo, bigtime. I finished it last night and today I'm going to read it all over again. Thanks, George Saunders.