The Blessing: A Memoir by Gregory Orr
I feel blessed having read Geoffrey Orr's memoir The Blessing. I was captivated by his opening confession that he feels blessed by a family tragedy. He avoids the usual cliches by not mythologizing the death of his brother and his struggle to regain his place in the world. The book lacks the "look at me" quality of many "overcoming adversity" memoirs and instead steps readers through the scenes building to and following the loss. His "big reveal" of how writing saved him is more of a soft landing on the far side of disaster. It carries the scars of the tragedy into a new place that is, obviously, a blessing.
The Blessing: A Memoir by Gregory Orr ($15.00*, Milkweed Editions), recommended by Book No Further, Roanoke, VA.
*List price. Store price may vary.
Recent Recommendations from Southern Indies...
10 Books That Changed My Life
10 Books That Changed My Life
by Andrea Bobotis,
author of The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt
Middlemarch by George Eliot
At heart, I’m a Victorianist. Give me a baggy nineteenth-century British novel any day. This classic taught me how to apply a sympathetic imagination to characters (and people), even the loathsome ones.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The emotional eloquence of this novel can’t be overstated. I learned how to grieve from Woolf’s masterpiece.
The Waves by Virginia Woolf
When I started to write seriously, in my twenties, I was writing poetry exclusively, but I had the itch to write fiction. Woolf’s book, with its extended and evocative descriptions of light and shadow, showed me that I didn’t have to choose between the two genres.
The Complete Poems: 1927-1979 byElizabeth Bishop
Bishop’s poems are dazzling in their range. Bishop evokes a guarded woundedness while electrifying us with her formal stamina. Her poem “The Filling Station” taught me more than most novels have about how to work with narrative voice.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This novel sparked my enduring love of first-person narration. Ishiguro masterfully employs the mechanics of first person so that the narrative itself teaches us how to read Stevens, the voice guiding us through the novel.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
For me, this novel is tied with Robinson’s Housekeeping, but my mind drifts to Gilead again and again because of its first-person narrator, Reverend John Ames. This was the first novel I read in which I fully understood that, while villains might be fascinating and instructive, there is much to be gained by following the path of a virtuous mind.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
In this book, in all her books, Strout showed me it was possible to elevate characterization to a form of grace. Her scrupulously observed details about her characters reveal her deep and abiding compassion for them.
The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London
As I child, I loved adventure tales. These two London books were childhood favorites. I wanted to live inside of them, to be those characters, human and animal alike. These books marked the first time I understood how transporting literature could be.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
About every month or so, I think about the moment when Ada Monroe scoops her two fingers into a jar of blackberry jam and dips them into her mouth. And while Frazier’s use of language is captivating and swoon-worthy (he might just be a genius with metaphor), I admire how the novel is also suspicious of its own luscious language, how words can paper over violence.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This novel has most recently changed the way I look at both fiction and the world around me. I’m still processing its brilliance, especially the reach of the book’s narrative voice, in which allegory and realism coexist and the sweep of history makes room for the intimate. Whitehead has such formal command of his novel that his gorgeous prose doesn’t mitigate the horrors of slavery, but instead sears that horror onto the page.
Andrea Bobotis was born and raised in South Carolina and received her PhD in English Literature from the University of Virginia. Her fiction has received awards from the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and her essays on Irish writers have appeared in journals such as Victorian Studies and the Irish University Review. She lives with her family in Denver, Colorado, where she teaches creative writing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is her debut novel.
The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins
New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins crafts an unforgettable story about a sleepy Southern town, two fiercely independent women, and a truly magical friendship.
Sarah Dove is no ordinary bookworm. To her, books have always been more than just objects: they live, they breathe, and sometimes they even speak. When Sarah grows up to become the librarian in her quaint Southern town of Dove Pond, her gift helps place every book in the hands of the perfect reader. Recently, however, the books have been whispering about something out of the ordinary: the arrival of a displaced city girl named Grace Wheeler.
If the books are right, Grace could be the savior that Dove Pond desperately needs. The problem is, Grace wants little to do with the town or its quirky residents—Sarah chief among them. It takes a bit of urging, and the help of an especially wise book, but Grace ultimately embraces the challenge to rescue her charmed new community. In her quest, she discovers the tantalizing promise of new love, the deep strength that comes from having a true friend, and the power of finding just the right book.
The Line that Held Us by David Joy
2019 Southern Book Prize Winner: Fiction
From critically acclaimed author David Joy comes a remarkable novel about the cover-up of an accidental death, and the dark consequences that reverberate through the lives of four people who will never be the same again.
When Darl Moody went hunting after a monster buck he's chased for years, he never expected he'd accidentally shoot a man digging ginseng. Worse yet, he's killed a Brewer, a family notorious for vengeance and violence. With nowhere to turn, Darl calls on the help of the only man he knows will answer, his best friend, Calvin Hooper. But when Dwayne Brewer comes looking for his missing brother and stumbles onto a blood trail leading straight back to Darl and Calvin, a nightmare of revenge rips apart their world.
The Line That Held Us is a story of friendship and family, a tale balanced between destruction and redemption, where the only hope is to hold on tight, clenching to those you love. What will you do for the people who mean the most, and what will you grasp to when all that you have is gone? The only certainty in a place so shredded is that no one will get away unscathed.
The Line that Held Us by David Joy (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)
2019 Summer Okra Picks
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 1, 2019
(Asheville, NC) –Southern indie booksellers have announced their 2019 Summer Okra Picks, a baker’s dozen of the titles they are most looking forward to telling their customers to try. Taken together, the Okra Picks are not your average summer reading list – each book was chosen because it is Southern in nature and has devoted fans in the Southern indie bookselling community. The Summer Okra Picks release in July, August, and September, and every book on the list has a Southern bookseller ready to put it in the hands of readers with that most exciting phrase in the English language, “You’ve got to read this!”
Southern independent bookstores – we grow good books!
Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
Milkweed Editions, July 2019
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis
Sourcebooks Landmark, July 2019
The Substitution Order by Martin Clark
Knopf, July 2019
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Doubleday, July 2019
Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow, July 2019
The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins
Gallery Books, July 2019
Sing a Song by Kelly Starling Lyons, Keith Mallett (Illus.)
Nancy Paulsen Books, August 2019
Stay by Bobbie Pyron
Katherine Tegen Books, August 2019
The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
Grove Press, August 2019
My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder
Walden Pond Press, September 2019
The Edge of America by Jon Sealy
Haywire Books, September 2019
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Riverhead Books, September 2019
No Judgments by Meg Cabot
William Morrow, September 2019
Find more information about the Okra Picks at AuthorsRoundtheSouth.com/okra
The world is upside down without a book in my hands. Whenever I am feeling out of sorts, it usually means I’ve gone too many days without reading. My mother was a stay-at-home mom for several years, but when she returned to work, she would treat me to a new book on her payday. Books have always figured prominently in my life—high fiction and low fiction. Books are like forts surrounded by moats within whose walls I can retreat, daydream, and become someone else for a while. Many of the places I would travel to as an adult were inspired by novels I’d read when I was a young and voracious reader. (Giovanni’s Room, for example, sent me in search of Baldwin’s Paris. By the time I got there, both Baldwin and his Paris were long gone.)
I have this habit of roaming the aisles of bookstores and lingering at display tables, of running my hands along the covers of books and the seams
There are a handful of independent bookstores in Savannah, Georgia now, but when I was growing up, E. Shaver Booksellers was the main bookstore in town. The little bookstore, tucked behind the imposing Desoto Hilton, is where my mom treated me to my first copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and, later, Song of Solomon. I have this habit of roaming the aisles of bookstores and lingering at display tables, of running my hands along the covers of books and the seams, of turning the books over to read the jacket before opening the book and reading the first few passages.
This ritual of browsing began as a child and it is one I’ve passed down to my daughters with whom I would later read Ferdinand and The Giving Tree and Amelia Bedelia in the children’s nook at Shavers. The Travelers bristles with the stuff of history and the stuff of fairytales: chance encounters, sudden changes of fortunes, tall tales. Savannah is a port city, a lot of people have come through, free and in chains. Much of its loveliness and complexity owes to the very issues of race and class that are part of its existence. It’s not a coincidence that two fine writers—Flannery O’Connor and James Alan McPherson—both hailed from Savannah and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. (Their works are in conversation with one another.)
“And what have you read lately?” was the question
The South has a rich literary tradition, despite the low literacy rate. And as a child, I grew up with an awareness of the importance of books. The late W.W. Law—a mailman and the President of the local branch of the NAACP—documented Savannah’s African-American history and was active in the Civil Rights Movement. He lived around the corner from our house and my family held him in high esteem. He also loved to gossip with my mother and sometimes asked after her oyster stew. Dr. Law kept a living room run amok with books that students could come and pick through to help them with their studies. “And what have you read lately?” was the question. One of my favorite books, which in some ways informed the chapter in The Travelers, “The Moving Man Stands Still”, is a picture book I found at E. Shaver Booksellers about the Civil Rights Movement in Savannah. I bought that book and read it often to my girls, delighting in the fact that I once knew this extraordinary, everyday man.
Regina Porter is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of a 2017-2018 Rae Armour West Postgraduate Scholarship. She is also a 2017 Tin House Summer Workshop Scholar. Her fiction has been published in The Harvard Review. An award-winning writer with a background in playwriting, Porter has worked with Playwrights Horizons, the Joseph Papp Theater, New York Stage and Film, the Women’s Project, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Horizon Theatre Company. She has been anthologized in Plays from Woolly Mammoth by Broadway Play Services and Heinemann’s Scenes for Women by Women. She has also been profiled in Southern Women Playwrights: New Essays in History and Criticism from the University of Alabama Press. Porter was born in Savannah, Georgia, and lives in Brooklyn.
Indie bookstores serve their people.
I didn’t have the opportunity of growing up around bookstores. The ones we had were on the two local college campuses, and because Elizabeth City isn’t a literary town, those stores carried textbooks, mostly. But once I moved to NYC and started visiting various bookstores around Brooklyn and in Manhattan, I realized how different and important Indie bookstores are. The people who work in them know so much about the books they sell. They are more than cashiers; they are book lovers.
I fell even deeper in love with the Indie bookstore when I moved to Iowa City and discovered Prairie Lights Bookstore. I knew a handful of the book specialists there because we were classmates, but I eventually learned the names of other people there, too, because I’d turned to them so many times, in search of very specific types of fiction. It’s also nice to walk into a bookstore and see more books than other merchandise. I enjoyed that about Prairie Lights. Big bookstores serve their purpose. Indie bookstores serve their people.
De’Shawn Charles Winslow was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and in 2003 moved to Brooklyn, New York. He is a 2017 graduate of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and holds a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English literature from Brooklyn College. He has received scholarships from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. De’Shawn lives in East Harlem.
Meet Nicole Yasinsky, novel. in Memphis, TN
Name: Nicole Yasinsky
Position at Store:Marketing Manager
Store and location: novel. Memphis, TN
Number of years as a bookseller: I will celebrate 21 years as a bookseller in August! Wow. Has it really been that long?
Best part about being a bookseller? Putting books in people's hands, of course! There is nothing quite like finding the perfect book at the perfect time for a person -- there are so many variables, and it seems so unlikely, but this is what indie booksellers do all day, every day. I keep an old Candlewick mug on my desk at all times that has a quote from Kate DiCamillo at the 2010 Indies Choice Awards: "We forget that the simple gesture of putting a book in someone's hands can change a life. I want to remind you that it can. I want to thank you because it did."
What book(s) are you reading? I am currently reading Slay by Brittney Morris -- and I just picked up The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom and The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates!! SO much good stuff coming out this fall!!
Favorite handsell of 2019: I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott - this is funny and witty and happy and sad and inspiring and silly -- and exactly what so many of us need to hear and read in our lives these days!
Best thing you did this year at your store: It's a little over a year since we did it -- but it's still one of my favorite things -- and something I'm hoping to do more of in the future! We were fortunate enough to host Leslie Odom, Jr. at the Orpheum Theater. This, in and of itself, was a dream come true. BUT. The coolest part was that we were able to work with organizations and sponsors to bring 150 kids to this event - for free, transportation included! -- with a ticket that included a copy of the book AND a private backstage meet-and-greet book signing. We made a lot of public school theater kids incredibly happy -- and it's going to take a lot to top this event -- but we're working on it!!
What are some ways you work with your community? Something fun we did recently was to invite members of our community -- non-profit organizations, the mayor, long-time regular customers -- to submit shelftalkers for a special table display -- Friends of Novel. This allows us to highlight not just what we are reading, but what the rest of our city loves! Everyone seemed incredibly excited and honored to be a part of this, and we want to continue to forge strong and multi-faceted relationships with people in our community. We also work with schools and organizations to help raise funds through shopping nights in-store, selling books/sharing proceeds at offsite events, featuring organizations at in-store events and giving back a percentage of proceeds, in-school book fairs. We invite non-profit organizations to gift wrap during busy holiday times for donations. It has turned out that many of these are dog rescue groups (awwww!) and not only do they need donations, but they get TONS of doggos adopted by bringing them out to the store!
Do you have any community partners you work with regularly? Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Jewish Community Center, OUTMemphis, WKNO-FM, Memphis Public Library, Arts Memphis, Memphis Reads, Indie Memphis Film Festival, Books from Birth, St, Jude Children's Research Hospital, Lyceum Circuit
Do you have passions that carry over into your bookselling life? Well, since I haven't quite found a way to work my love of musicals into my bookselling life yet (but just WAIT until I write my musical about Indies v. Amazon!), I think that my passion for my city has played a huge role in my decision to work in indie bookstores here. It was definitely key in my dedication to helping create a new bookstore, truly and finally locally-owned here in Memphis.
Top priority for 2019: This isn't a very flashy or exciting answer, but honestly, since we will only be celebrating 2 years in business, we are really just trying to focus on the numbers and make sure that we are doing everything in a way that we can ensure we will be around for many years to come. (Told you it was boring!) BUT...we do have a SUPER fun side project for 2019: We've got an old bookmobile we are in the process of fixing up, and we are hoping to get that up and running and take it to hospitals, schools, retirement homes, festivals, and anywhere else we can think of where there is a need for books!!
Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day with Jo Hackl
As Southerners, we’re known for our connection to place and independent bookstores are an enormous part of our landscape. Independent bookstores serve as the backbone of many of our communities. In every town I’ve visited this last year of touring for my book, I’ve seen indie bookstores in action, helping readers connect with the power of story and providing a place to gather, a place to learn, and a place to explore. I’ve witnessed the way indie booksellers continue to guide readers to the perfect book at the perfect time.
So it’s only natural to have a holiday celebrating the role of independent bookstores. April 27 is Independent Bookstore Day and I hope that the day will be celebrated by readers across the country with the same level of energy and creativity that independent booksellers bring to their work every day.
As for me, I’ve gathered up a few of my book-loving friends to caravan to our three local indie bookstores. We’ll volunteer to help out in any way, we’ll buy lots of books for local children in need, and we’ll deliver bookseller care kits.
I’m a big believer in the power of the outdoors to spark creativity and renewal and my book contains a family tradition called “Woods Time.” I wanted to create a custom “Woods Time” experience for my local booksellers by providing them with a Bookseller Woods Time Care Kit. The kit includes supplies for a picnic including snacks to help while away an afternoon, prompts for engaging with nature, and a notebook to record all the great ideas that time spent in nature inspires.
Every day indie booksellers are making our communities better, book by book, and reader by reader and I look forward to hearing of the ways that communities honor their independent booksellers.
Jo Watson Hackl’s debut novel, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe (Random House Children’s Books), was awarded the Southern Book Prize and named an Indie Next Pick and an Okra pick. The book combines outdoor adventure with an art mystery clue trail. Free resources for readers and educators are available at JoHackl.com.