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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Snowflakes

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?

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American Dirt

When American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins went from one of the most anticipated novels of the year to one of the most controversial, it proved a challenge for bookstores that had high expectations for the book.

A novel about a Mexican mother and her child fleeing to the United States to escape the violence that killed the rest of their family, the book was billed as "A Grapes of Wrath for our times" and a definitive book about the contemporary immigrant experience.

Once the book was published, however, it generated a rising swell of controversy and pushback, especially from the Latinx community. American Dirt was criticized for perpetuating stereotypes, and cultural appropriation. The waves have been felt at all levels of the book industry, from  independent bookstore to Oprah.

Southern booksellers, by and large, have responded to the controversy as an opportunity for discussion and raising awareness. "I have been discussing with customers the controversy of the book, and how the publishing industry has overlooked authors #OwnVoices," said Deanna Bailey of Story on the Square in McDonough, GA. "Criticism are valid, and I'm happy to listen to them," said Angel Schroeder of Sunrise Books in High Point, NC. "Any book that generates discussion and debate is welcome in the bookstore," said Laura Taylor of Oxford Exchange in Tampa, FL.

Because booksellers are a group that believes reading more about an issue can only help, many of them expanded their store displays to include other books about immigration, discrimination, and Latinx and Mexican culture, like Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC:

American Dirt Display at Scuppernong Books

Charis Books & More, the feminist bookstore in Atlanta, anticipated the controversy and posted one of the more considered statements to their social media followers after Oprah selected American Dirt for her book club, along with, naturally, a suggested reading list:

Today Oprah Winfrey chose American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins as her newest bookclub pick. Jeanine Cummins identifies as a white woman with a Puerto Rican grandmother. American Dirt, a novel about immigration and the crisis at the Mexico and U.S. border has received an enormous amount of publishing industry praise and buy-in. And a significant amount of concern, sadness, and anger from Mexican-American and Latinx authors who feel harmed by the book's broad portrayal of Mexican culture. We believe it is important to acknowledge the opportunity costs to Mexican-American writers whose works do not receive the fiscal or political support that American Dirt is receiving. #OwnVoices is a social media movement designed to focus support on authors who are writing books from within their own cultures, not because it is wrong to imagine a world outside your own experience but because when white writers are elevated for telling the stories of people of color it is writers of color who often fail to receive financial and political support to publish their own stories.

Today we invite you to explore these #OwnVoices authors whose books are currently on our shelves (along with many others). Thank you to Myriam Gurba for her leadership in this discussion. #FeministBookstore

Suggested Reading from Charis Books

1. Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez
2. Mean by Myriam Gurba
3. Una casa propia Historias de mi vida by Sandra Cisneros
4. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
6. Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester
7. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa
8. The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel by Melissa Rivero
9. Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherríe Moraga
10. Dominicana by Angie Cruz

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okra winter 2020

For immediate release: January 1, 2020

Announcing the 2020 Winter Okra Picks

(Asheville, NC) Southern independent booksellers have selected thirteen titles for their 2020 Winter Okra Picks, their seasonal list of great forthcoming Southern books. The Winter Okra Picks publish in January, February, and March and feature southern voices, southern stories, and southern writers. Each and every one of them also has a cadre of southern bookseller champions, eager to place these books into the hands of adventurous readers.

Southern independent bookstores – we grow good books!
For more information visit: https://authorsroundthesouth.com/okra


Hill Women by Cassie Chambers
Ballantine Books, January, 2020

"An honest narrative about the challenges of life in one of the poorest regions of the country while giving voices to the women who lifted up her life." –Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC


Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (Illus.)
Holiday House, January, 2020

"How James Ransome hasn't been awarded a Caldecott yet is beyond me." –Elese Stutts, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC


Wilmington's Lie by David Zucchino
Atlantic Monthly Press, January, 2020

"This is truly a book to shake your world view." –Rosemary Pugliese, Malaprop's Bookstore/Café, Asheville, NC


Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin's Press, January, 2020

"A wonderfully nuanced novel with two engrossing, engaging heroines." – Tracie Harris, The Book House, Mableton, GA


Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (Illus.)
Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, January, 2020

"Just Like a Mama is the perfect way to honor everyone who fills the gap when Mama cannot always be there." –Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC


Remembrance by Rita Woods
Forge Books, January, 2020

"Rita Woods has blended together a story that is both historically and currently relevant, told across three timelines with four different protagonists, all women of color. This is an exciting and important book!" –Carl Kranz, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA


The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
Hachette Books, January, 2020

"Strong as a traditional true-crime recounting of murder, the investigation and subsequent trial…an allegory for the on-going challenges faced in the rough [Appalachian] landscape." – Doloris Vest, Book No Further, Roanoke, VA


My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland
Tin House Books, February, 2020

"A mix of memoir and biography. Anyone can paint a broad outline of a writer's life, but Shapland reveals Carson McCullers in a fresh way." –Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN


Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell
Simon & Schuster, February, 2020

"It reads like a novel and is essential reading for southerners." –Lia Lent, Wordsworth Books, Little Rock, AR


The Boatman's Daughter by Andy Davidson
MCD x FSG Originals, February, 2020

"Like a johnboat ride through the depths and darkness of the subconscious, under the canopy of the bayou." –Stuart McCommon, novel., Memphis, TN


Bells for Eli by Susan Beckham Zurenda
Mercer University Press, March, 2020

"Like visiting with a long-lost friend over a cup of tea." – Suzanne Lucey, Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC


The Last Taxi Driver by Lee Durkee
Tin House Books, March, 2020

"A fairly thorough search for fairness and cab fare in the world that barely leaves the car or Mississippi. I laughed and (sadly) related." – Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA


A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
St. Martin's Press, March, 2020

"A blend of Romeo and Juliet with Hatfield and McCoy, set in a 'nice' contemporary American neighborhood where 'these things shouldn't happen.' A heart-breaking, eye-opening must-read!" – Cathy Graham, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL

Authors 'Round the South | www.authorsroundthesouth.com

Sponsored by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, in support of independent bookstores in the South | SIBA | 51 Pleasant Ridge Drive | Asheville, NC 28805

"Every family history includes such stories of survival, of prevailing against great suffering and despair. Perhaps these family histories, small as they might be and utterly invisible to the world, hold the key to facing our larger worries, too, and showing the way through.." —Margaret Renkl

 

"Most of my childhood memories are happy. My dad hunted. Birds mostly, so whenever we go out and quail or dove is on the menu, I immediately order it because it tastes like my childhood. That makes me feel warm and content" —Joshilyn Jackson

Her ladyship, the editor, spent the Thanksgiving holidays visiting with her parents and perhaps inadvertently launched both her mother and father on a long, bewildering, and unintended journey by helping to start a family tree on one of those online genealogy websites. Everyone concerned was immediately plunged into a wonderland-world of swirling birth records, county marriage licenses, federal census data, and reprinted obituaries from which her ladyship has only just managed to disentangle herself with great difficulty.

There is a rather delightfully addictive quality to family trees. Not that one expects to find anybody famous (highly unlikely) or "royal" (certainly not, her ladyship's antecedents were Mennonite farmers). But there is something rather fantastic in discovering that one's great-great grand uncle was a grocer in Pennsylvania, or that a great-great grandfather spent a year or so in Brooklyn as a librarian.

It is the "story" of family that is interesting. The "how did we get here for there?" that makes up the bones of every plot in every novel: why did a great aunt get on a ship in La Havre bound for New York with her six children but no husband? Why did a great great uncle enlist to fight in the Civil War if the family was pacifist? Why did a grandmother shorten her name when she started working?

Two things that made it into her ladyship's "commonplace book" last week echoed this longing for family story: Jon Mayes interviewed Joshilyn Jackson (Never Have I Ever), who spoke about growing up in a military family that moved frequently. Lacking any real memories of a specific home place from when she was a child, Jackson says she made up her own: "My memories are tied to either taste and smell or to my own obsessions. I can tell you that around seven I had created a whole cat planet with a system of government and a religion and a huge rotating cast of characters."

Margaret Renkl (Late Migrations), on the other hand, has long memories, and carries the memories of her mothers and grandmothers as well, which she writes about in a beautiful essay, "Why I Wear Five Wedding Rings." Faced with a seemingly endless book tour and a crippling burden of stage fright, she remembers, "one day it finally dawned on me that their wedding rings would make the perfect talismans against fear....it worked."

Both Never Have I Ever and Late Migrations are both finalists for the Southern Book Prize. You can vote here at www.southernbookprize.com

Outside her ladyship, the editor's library window, the season has changed. Her ladyship has watched the signs: The first hard frost has killed the late morning glories, which were lavender-blue the previous evening, and have crumpled, sodden, in the cold wet morning. The painted buntings that graced her ladyship's feeder right through a warm October have disappeared and left the field to the chickadees, cardinals, and Carolina wrens. There are apples, oranges and pomegranates in bowls on the table instead of the peaches and blueberries she is never without in the summer. There is a large pot of vegetable soup simmering on the stove and her ladyship no longer leaves her bedroom window open at night, even though she likes to listen to the owls.

Instead, she has spread her electric blanket on the couch, added to the stack of books she keeps in arm's reach and curled up with a pot of coffee to read away the dark evenings while her four cats and two dogs systematically inch their way onto the warm blanket and onto her lap. Her feet will fall asleep under the weight but her mood is one of contentment.

 

Read independently, and shop local.