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.




"We have it in our power to begin the world over again." -- Thomas Paine

Bookstores Against Borders

Independent bookstores across the country have come together under the banner of "Bookstores Against Borders" and pledged to donate a percentage of their sales from July 5- 7 to RAICES, the Texas nonprofit organization which provides low-to-no cost legal services to refugees and immigrants currently being held at the US border. 

The initiative was launched by the Madison, Wisconsin store A Room of One's Own, whose staff wanted to do something constructive for immigrant children detained in border camps with few, if any, basic necessities. After researching their options the store selected RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services as the recipient for their fundraising efforts, calling it "one of the most effective organizations" providing aid immigrants detained at the border.

A Room of One's Own launched the fundraiser with a pledge to donate at least 10% of their sales from July 5-7 and a call to their fellow bookstores to join the effort with their own fundraising campaigns. As of July 5, over 65 bookstores and publishers have joined the official fundraiser, with countless others supporting the effort in others ways.

In the South, the following stores have active fundraising efforts:

Check with your local bookshop, as many are holding independent fundraisers:

#bookstoresagainstborders | RAICES

1987 was a banner year for the residents of Brunswick Country, Virginia. After 160 years of dispute, Brunswick, Georgia at last conceded that the Virginia county was the mostly likely place of origin of that humble yet ubiquitous Southern dish known as "Brunswick Stew."

A tad ungracious in victory, the Virginia General Assembly promptly issued a proclamation and hosted a cook off at the state capital. Virginia residents claimed that the stew had been invented by an African-American camp cook named Jimmy Matthews in 1825, and the primary ingredient was squirrel. But Brunswick stew soon became a standard fare at hunting camps, church picnics, community celebrations and firehouse barbecues. "Stewmaster" became a hallowed honorific, a title that took years to earn and was rather more rigorous than training to be a sommelier. The stewmaster that served up the best Brunswick Stew on that day was volunteer fireman John Clary with his "Proclamation Stew Crew." (It did not include squirrel). They still travel serving Brunswick Stew at community gatherings all around Virginia.

One Big TableThe Proclamation Crew's Brunswick Stew -- and the attendant history of the dish --is one of the recipes included in Molly O'Neill's cookbook One Big Table, one of her ladyship, the editor's most-loved and most-used cookbooks in her kitchen. So loved and used, in fact, that the pages containing her favorite recipes have long since come loose and are now held in place by paper clips, the book itself held together with twine when not in use. Several years ago, her ladyship purchased a back up copy, just in case the originals fell to pieces beyond repair.

Molly O'Neill passed away this week, a loss her ladyship feels acutely. A food journalist and chronicler of New York City's neighborhoods and burroughs, she can hardly be called a Southern cook. But she had this in common with a Southerner's approach to food and table: it may be the food on the plate we eat, but it is the hands that serve it that are really important. Cooking is about people.

That was the inspiration behind her..."quest" does not seem too small a document the great home cooks of America in an era when fast-food and franchise restaurants suggested that Americans no longer bothered to cook.

One Big TableOne Big Table was O'Neill's ringing, definitive answer to that spurious assessment. And while it is indeed a book that travels all over the country, the South is well-represented in both historic and modern ways. Kahn Pearson's Indonesian Tuna Salad from Key West, Elizabeth Wilson's "Three-Generation Olive Salad" from New Orleans, Bubbba Frey's Famous Rooster Stew, from Frey Louisiana, Thomas Jefferson's Vanilla Ice Cream, Jill Sauceman's Appe Stack Cake from Johnsonville, Tennessee. Every recipe has its story -- some traditional, like the history of Brunswick Stew, and some personal, like Louise Etoch of Fayetteville, Arkansas, learning to cook Lebanese food for her new husband under the watchful eye of her mother in law.

Molly O'Neil was not "a cookbook writer" -- she was a chronicler of America's, well, soul.

The TravelersJust as an historian of medieval France must keep in the front of her mind that in the Middle Ages there was no France, only a smattering of feudal lands that would one day become France, so a student of Reconstruction must be cognizant that the firm racial binary Americans accept to this day is a result of Jim Crow, not a cause of it. The one-drop rule--the concept that any trace of African ancestry at all makes an American "a negro"--was not even conjured until the 1850s and was not widely accepted until the early twentieth century. It is only bcause mixed-race activists were defeated in their valiant effort to stop a regime of race-based rights that contemporary Americans view society through the racial blinders that we do. Today, decades after the dismantling of Jim Crow, Americans still see our society and ourselves in binary terms of "white" and "colored." That our racial system is second nature to us but incomprehensible to the rest of teh world--even to people from other New World societies that once practiced slavery but never instituted Jim Crow--should highlight for us how peculiar it is.

--Daniel Brook, The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction (W. W. Norton& Company, 2019)

Under the Cold Bright Lights Swipe Right for Murder The Passengers American Royals Grace Goes to Washington 

Under the Cold Bright Lights by Gary Disher (July)
"This book is like riding a roller coaster: there's a leisurely build up to the top, but once the heads start rolling it's a wild ride." -- Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL

Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman (August)
"Quirky, murdery, and fast paced!. . . Chock full of death rays, drone attacks, and Daft Punk looking assassins, Swipe Right for Murder is the definitive dark comedy of the summer!"-- Kate Townsend, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA

The Passengers by John Marrs (August)
"I would say this is absolutely one of the best books I've read in a long time. I read it so quickly that my husband wanted to read it right after." --Courtney Dziadul, Gottwals Books, Macon, GA

American Royals by Katherine McGee (September)
"A ridiculous, effervescent joyride of a novel. " -- Cristina Russell, Books & Books, Coral Gables, Florida

Grace Goes to Washington by Kelly DiPucchio (September)
"Gorgeous illustrations full of life back up an interesting story about leadership, citizenship and compassion. I'd love to see this in school libraries!!" -- Dwan Dawson-Tape, Sundog Books, Santa Rosa, FL


The Travelers"You drinking that Coca-Cola like you have to be somewhere?"

The year was 1966. Agnes Miller was nineteen, a majorette in her first year at Buckner County College. She wore a powder-blue shirtdress and a bubbly bouffant in the fashion of Diana Ross and the Supremes. To be a majorette, you had to have nice legs, Agnes's legs were so long they could skip across the Nile. Her hemline was modest. She worked part-time in the college library. Whenever anyone asked Agnes what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would tell him or her automatically that she wanted to be a teacher. It did not matter of Agnes liked the profession. The answer was suitable and pleasing.

"I happen to have a busy schedule." Agnes smiled at the dark brown, well-dressed man sitting on the opposite end of the counter at Kress Five & Dime. Really, she had no place to go but home and nothing to do but homework.


Watching the events and lives of one family intertwined come together so beautifully in one novel is an absolute treat, and Regina Porter does not disappoint. "The Travelers" builds and weaves the story of family, strife, love, and frustration and encapsulates what it means to become and to remain a family. This story is absolutely gorgeous as it moves through time and experience and leaves its reader feeling like a part of the family rather than just an observer. --Delany Holcomb, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

--Regina Porter, The Travelers, (Hogarth, 2019) 9780525576198