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Square Books' Top 100 of 2017

Thanks to loyal local support from those who attend our events, our Signed First Editions subscribers, and the many great authors connected to this area, our 2017 bestseller list is dominated by books written by those close to home, such as Ace Atkins, The Fallen (29), Erin Abbott, How to Make It (92), Alexe Van Beuren and Dixie Grimies’ perennial The BTC Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook (88), Heating & Cooling (28) by Beth Ann Fennelly, and Mary Ann Connell’s An Unforeseen Life (7), as well as those from far away who visited here, such as Joe Hagan & Sticky Fingers (72); Omar El Akkad (who got lost while trying to walk to the Square and was found by a man named Ronzo on a bicycle) and American War (15); George Saunders, a long-time SB friend, & Lincoln in the Bardo (8); Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow (24), and his Rules of Civility (66); Mark Bowden, Hue 1968 (46); Michael Connelly, Two Kinds of Truth (62); Denise Kiernan, The Last Castle (55); and Peter Heller, also an SB favorite, with Celine (98).

Jackson, Mississippi natives Jimmy Cajoleas and Angie Thomas contributed significantly with their novels for young readers, Goldeline (30), with following just behind The Hate U Give (32). We were blown away by What Can I Bring? (3) by Elizabeth Heiskell, closely followed by John Cofield’s simply fabulous Oxford, Mississippi: The Cofield Collection (4), and we’re always grateful to John Grisham for supplying us signed copies, especially when he writes two books in the same year – The Rooster Bar (2) and Camino Island (1), when he returned for an event – the first in a good, long while. Michelle Kuo returned to Mississippi for Reading with Patrick (73), and Charlene McCord and Judy Tucker, with several contributors, signed A Year in Mississippi (90).

Poetry matters! with Rupi Kaur’s Milk & Honey (22) and The Sun and Her Flowers (65); Stripper in Wonderland (76) by Derrick Harriell; and Molly Brown’s prize-winning Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (35).   

Literary Oxford’s all-time homie, Bill Faulkner, hit about par with five books on the list. Robert Hamblin’s book about Faulkner, Myself and the World (70), his bio of Evans Harrington, Living in Mississippi (79), and Ed Croom’s pretty The Land of Rowan Oak (33), all made the list. Oxford native Allen Boyer’s history of war in the South Pacific, using his father’s diary as a source, Rocky Boyer’s War (47), remains popular. Other bestseller ghosts of Christmases past include Wyatt WatersAn Oxford Sketchbook (50), plus his new winner with Robert St. John, Mississippi Palate (13). Curtis Wilkie is also a twofer with his 7-year-old The Fall of the House of Zeus (38) and this year’s book on JFK, coauthored with honorary Oxonian Tom Oliphant, The Road to Camelot (11). The queen of this multiple-hit parade is Mississippian and former John and Renee Grisham Visiting Writer Jesmyn Ward, who, with Sing, Unburied, Sing (10) became the first woman to win the National Book Award for Fiction twice and the first African American to win twice, with her Salvage the Bones (93) having won in 2011 – but not the first Mississippian to win twice, as the previously mentioned William Faulkner did that, in 1951 and ’55. Current Grisham writer-in-residence and Tupelo native Catherine Lacey made the list with The Answers (20).

Southern Foodways Alliance folks did well – nice going, John T. Edge & The Potlikker Papers (9), Sarah Camp Milam’s SFA Guide to Cocktails (16), and Jessica Harris’s memoir, My Soul Looks Back (84). John Currence continues to reside on our list with Big Bad Breakfast (21), and other chefs include Hugh Acheson, The Chef and the Slow Cooker (64); Square Table, on our list for the thirteenth straight year (28); and Gumbo Love (85) by Lucy Buffett, who visited us this year.

More writers we thank for coming here include a memorable appearance from Daniel Sharfstein with Thunder in the Mountains (82); Kevin Wilson with Perfect Little World (19); those crazy and, if not cuddly, lovable rednecks and The Liberal Redneck Manifesto (40); and that great Mississippi historian David Sansing and Mississippi Governors (59).   

Thanks to the great contributors and editors who came to our excellent event for what is definitely the year’s biggest book – 8 ½ lbs & 1,451 pp -- of 2017, The Mississippi Encyclopedia (14) – Ann Abadie, Charles Wilson, Jimmy Thomas, Ted Ownby and Odie Lindsey, as well as to David Dibenedetto, John T. Edge, Donna Levine, John Currence and Vanessa Gregory, who showed nicely by talking well about S Is for Southern (54).

Many paperbacks make the list, including Jennifer Ackerman’s marvelous The Genius of Birds (48); 2-fer Tom Franklin with his perennial Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (68) and, as editor, Mississippi Noir (37); two Greg Iles titles; Hidden Figures (69) by Margot Shetterly; Neil White’s In the Sanctuary of Outcasts (31); Dispatches from Pluto (6) by Richard Grant; Murder in the Grove (83) by Mike Henry; Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (86); The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (56); Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife (81), Anthony Doerr’s tireless All the Light We Cannot See (44), Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (75); Just Mercy (45) by Bryan Stevenson; and The Sarah Book (95) by Scott McClanahan, and we thank him for his reading here.

Biographies do well, depending on their subject or author, and winning combinations came in Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci (86); the Bush girls in Sisters First (91); and the late, great Ron Borne’s book about Jim Carmody, The Big Nasty (52). Hubert McAlexander’s From the Chickasaw Cession to Yoknapatawpha: Historical and Literary Essays on North Mississippi (50) is superb and is certain to be on this list again next year. Killers of the Flower Moon (78) by the great writer David Grann, a fascinating account of the unusual origins of the FBI, was a fall favorite, as were Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (89) by Neil Tyson and Hillbilly Elegy (34) by J. D. Vance. Not biography but still books we love: Norse Mythology (94) by Neil Gaiman maintained interest throughout the year, as did 2016 NBA winner, Colson Whitehead and The Underground Railroad (97), this book’s second year on the list here, and Joan Didion’s South & West (49).

More Mississippians: Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles (5); Mary Miller and her fine stories, Always Happy Hour (57); Jeff McManus and Growing Weeders into Leaders (39) a great event; Charlie Spillers with Confessions of an Undercover Agent (42); John Marszalek and his two co-editors of The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (64), David Nolen and Louis Gallo, who came here from Starkville and made a fabulous presentation this year; Pike County native, now living here in Oxford, Michael Farris Smith, with his searing Desperation Road (12), and whose new novel, The Fighter, will be out in March; Jim McCafferty and The Bear Hunter (60); On Being Afraid of the Dark (71) by Ken Wooten; Oxford’s Kathleen Wickham’s excellent book on the Ole Miss desegregation crisis and twelve journalists who covered it, We Believed We Were Immortal (61); The Goat Castle (67) by Karen Cox; David CrewsMississippi Book of Quotations (15); our friend, Richard Ford, and his stirring memoir of his parents, Between Them (41); and Oxford’s Julie Cantrell, whose Perennials (46) is set here.

Along with #50, 7, 15, 52, 71, 59, and #43, The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees, we express special thanks to our friends here in Oxford at Nautilus Publishing, for bringing these titles top life and for all you’ve done for your authors and for Square Books, too.

From afar but not for the first time here, thanks to Robert Olmstead and Savage Country (23) and Nathan Englander, Dinner at the Center of the Earth (25), and, here for the first time, Laura Lee Smith with The Ice House (30) and Ladee Hubbard and The Talented Ribkins (27) also. Other appreciated appearances include those by Brian Van Reet with Spoils and Lydia Peele with The Midnight Cool (99 & 100) as well as Maile Meloy and Do Not Become Alarmed (18); Hannah Tinti and her Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (17); Tim Tyson and his memorable appearance with The Blood of Emmett Till (36); Nate Blakeslee and American Wolf (77), one of our favorite books this year; special thanks to Mary Lindsay Dickinson for appearing on Thacker Mountain on behalf of her late husband and author of I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone (68), Jim Dickinson – love those Dickinsons. Finally, certainly not least, let us thank Square Books’ well known secret ingredient, Lisa Howorth, for not just yet trying out her Flying Shoes (58).   

Thanks to these books and their authors, and thousands more not named here, for giving Square Books its best year yet.    

Happy New Year, all – RH

Happy Holidays from Square Books

We're open until dusk on Christmas Eve and closed on Christmas Day. We open at 9am on December 26th. On December 31st, Square Books is open 9am - 6pm and Off Square Books & Square Books, Jr. are open 12pm - 5pm. Square Books is open on New Year's Day from 10am - 5pm and Square Books, Jr. & Off Square Books are closed.

May we recommend last minute gift ideas? Gift cards work at all three locations. We also offer a signed first subscription for fiction and nonfiction books.

Square Books to Help Honor Martin Luther King’s Birthday in Oxford with Community Reading of "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

In 2017, Square Books honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a community reading of "Letter from Birmingham Jail." The letter, composed while King was in jail on April 16, 1963, came as a forceful theological and humane response to a group of Alabama clergy members who had openly criticized King for a perceived impatience during a crucial early period of the Civil Rights movement. For the reading, more than thirty community members, including University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat, former Winter Institute Director Susan Glisson, UM Athletic Director Ross Bjork, 2nd Baptist Church Pastor Andrew Robinson, author Alysia Steele, Mayor Robyn Tannehill, Charles Tucker, Valerie and Chuck Ross, read a paragraph from the letter. It was a moving and unifying reading resulting in a sense of empowerment and solidarity. All in attendance were inspired and we resolved to repeat the reading this year.

Recognizing that the holiday celebrating the life of MLK is not only a time to reflect on the past, but a time to plan and hope for the better future he envisioned, we are encouraging the teens of our community, the embodiment of that future, to take the lead in performing the reading this year.  Everyone is encouraged to attend Saturday, January 13th at 5pm at Off Square Books, 129 Courthouse Square.

The letter is included in Reverend King's book, Why We Can't Wait. According to Square Books' Richard Howorth, "King began writing the letter in the margins of a newspaper in which the ministers' letter had appeared, and it is considered to be one of the great literary documents of American history. We are excited to help the community remember and celebrate the life of this great man." King was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace the following year, 1964.

For further information, contact Sam McAlilly at Square Books by calling 662-236-2262 or emailing sam@squarebooks.com.

Signed Gift Books Position Square Books For Brisk Holiday Sales

Led by several Mississippi-related gift books, booksellers at Square Books head into the holiday season eager to please many shoppers looking for interesting and appealing gift books.   

What Can I Bring? by Today Show regular Elizabeth Heiskell from here in Lafayette County, and Oxford's John Cofield with his marvelous Oxford, Mississippi: The Cofield Collection lead the pack, while Oxford's Sarah Camp Milam's Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails and Mississippian foodie Robert St John and artist Wyatt Waters, who have teamed up again, this time for A Mississippi Palate, are close behind, as is the instantly classic The Mississippi Encyclopedia, signed by editors Ann Abadie, Charles Wilson, Ted Ownby, and James Thomas.

Garden & Gun editor-in-chief David Dibenedetto recently visited with several other contributors to sign copies of S is for Southern, an armchair compendium of classic and obscure pieces on all the sorts of things that make us what we are, y'all. We may have a few signed copies of The Chef and the Slow Cooker, signed by the Georgia restaurateur originally from Canada, Hugh Acheson, as well as John T. Edge's Potlikker Papers

Beth Ann Fennelly's Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro Memoirs, a great literary stocking stuffer, and Perennials by Julie Cantrell, have been hot, and we have perhaps more signed titles in stock than ever, including John Grisham's latest three -- The Rooster BarCamino Island, and The Whistler; Jesmyn Ward's National Book Award winning novel, Sing, Unburied, SingThe Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, signed by its three editors -- John Marszalek, David Nolen, and Louie Gallo; plus The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; My Soul Looks Back, Jessica Harris; Joe Hagan's excellent account of Jann Wenner's Rolling StoneSticky Fingers; Kathleen Wickham's great account of twelve reporters who covered the Ole Miss desegregation crisis, We Believed We Were Immortal; and Mark Bowden's epochal account of the American war in Vietnam, Hue 1968.

Oman National Day


Danielle (far left), Richard (center), and Sarah (far right) of Square Books were surprised November 21st in the late afternoon with roses given to them by Alla and Shamsa, University of Mississippi students from Oman celebrating Oman's National Day. Sometimes this troubled world surprises us with gifts of joy and love.

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