2011 is a year that will begin "memoirably," at least here at Square Books. In the New Year's first quarter we will see at Square Books four excellent memoirs -- and, on various book-signing dates, the people who have written them. In lieu of the sort of discussion here that mere mention of the memoir genre always invites, I recommend for those who wish to ruminate on this subject the excellent January 25, 2010, New Yorker article, "But Enough About Me," by Daniel Mendelsohn, who recognizes that "memoir, for much of its modern history, has been the black sheep of the literary family," and that "confessional memoirs have been irresistible to both writers and readers for a very long time, and, pretty much from the beginning, people have been complaining about the shallowness, the opportunism, the lying, the betrayals, the narcissim." For now, just leave it that memoirs may be -- as is the case in the hard-earned, shocking, and illuminating truths of these four books -- legitimate and very welcome literary accomplishments. Here they are, in order of publication date:
Chinaberry Sidewalks, by Rodney Crowell (Knopf, January 18, 2011)
Rodney Crowell is the well-known, Grammy-winning singer and songwriter who now has written a superb account of his early life in Houston, Texas, the only child of a hard-drinking, honky-tonk father and holy-roller mom. The constants of his childhood were alcoholism, violence, dire financial straits, and music, and Crowell vividly illustrates the events and surroundings of his Jacinto City neighborhood where "scrub brush stood higher than most rooftops" and "life under these prairie skies had a settling-for-less quality that my parents found reassuring." The stories of neighborhood antics are often very funny, and Crowell's awakening to his inner musician is told in a surprising and compelling way. Crowell's hardscrabble young life often seems desperate, "Yet Crowell's love for his family," said Mary Karr, "finds humor and redemption in every riveting scene."
House of Prayer No. 2, by Mark Richard (Nan Talese, 23.95, February 15, 2011)
Richard's memoir is unusual and excellent in many ways. Stylistically, it relies on a second-person and occasionally third-person voice, initially awkward but quickly very effective. The author was born to Cajun parents and grew up in Virginia with a hip defect that required surgery and lengthy residence in charity hospitals, where he was a "special child" and at one point classified as mentally retarded. (Richard fans will recall the hospital setting from his remarkable short story, The Birds at Christmas.) Mark's youth as an only child is a struggle, then marked by a series of jobs as a disc jockey, shrimp-boat mariner, private investigator, and bartender, and he finds his calling and success as a writer early, all the while dealing with a spiritual calling, as well. Amy Hempel said that "Mark Richard says important things about finding one's way, about love in action, about being a father, and he does so with the precision and grace of an artisan from another time," adding that "this is some of the finest writing you will ever read."
Townie, by Andre Dubus III (Norton, 25.95, February, 2011)
Andre Dubus III has achieved some fame as a writer, through his books, House of Sand and Fog and The Garden of Last Days. The son and namesake of a famous writer (not to mention a cousin of James Lee Burke), one might think he grew up in the sort of intellectual and mannerly household where it would be natural, even expected, to grow up as a writer. We find in Townie, however, that young Dubus' father was in absentia, and his mother had to work and scrimp to put food on the table for her four children. They lived in an impoverished neighborhood of a Massachusetts mill town where young Andre, as the older boy of the family, soon learned that the only way to protect himself and his family was through violence. Fight after fight (some reviewer will count them specifically) are described in detail here, and gave Andre what he eventually recognizes as "a hangover of the spirit, as if all those punches and kicks had pushed you into a gray and treeless landscape where love and forgiveness were hard to find." How Andre and his family make their way into the world is a stunning and remarkable journey -- for them and for his readers.
Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi, by Dean Faulkner Wells (Crown, 25.00 March 22, 2011)
Dean Faulkner Wells is the sole surviving family member of the generation that followed that of William Faulkner, Dean's uncle who was always "Pappy" to her, as Dean's father, Dean Swift Faulkner, died in a plane crash shortly before his only child was born. There is no one in the family left to dispute or complain about or be embarrassed by what Dean Faulkner Wells might say; so, praise the Lord, she says it all. And she says it well. There have been other Faulkner family memoirs: brother John's My Brother Bill, nephew Jimmy's Across the Creek, brother Murry's The Falkners of Mississippi, stepson Malcolm's Bitterweeds; and books by friends and lovers and mere acquaintances, Ben Wasson's book, Meta Carpenter Wilde's book, Herman Taylor's book, Jim Webb and Wigfall Green's book; and even books about Faulkner's friends and family, Phil Stone of Oxford, and so on. But none of these gets the reader quite as close to what feels like the real thing as Dean Faulkner Wells, and it is due to this writer's combination of honesty and artful prose. Given Dean Wells' candor about her own life in this book, her insight into the lives of others has great verity. We get a credible glimpse of the lives of Jill, Vicki, and Cho Cho; of Dean's mother and father and stepfather; of other family members, friends, and, indeed, Faulkner's lovers; and, of course, of Pappy. Because what Dean Wells writes is so well crafted and fascinating, in one sense you don't really care who these people are, or whether they were famous or important. Every Day by the Sun provides a beautiful rendition a girl's coming of age among an unusual family, and is highly entertaining and interesting, a must for Faulknerphiles, for Oxonians, and for readers everywhere who enjoy fine books.
We will add book-signing dates to this web site as they are confirmed, and are now taking orders for signed books. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800 648 4001. Click the titles above to order a copy online.
We're really excited about all the buzz for Barry Hannah's new collection of stories, Long, Last, Happy. Grove Press has put together a great trailer for the book featuring some of our favorite writers and friends of Square Books. Watch it below. You can also read some great reviews of the collection at The New York Observer, The Wallstreet Journal, and the new issue of Bookforum.
Here's a bit from the press release on the partnership between Google and the American Booksellers Association, which Square Books is a member of:
A Google eBook is a new form of cloud-based digital book that allows readers to access their libraries on almost any device from one single repository, regardless of where the e-book was purchased. ABA has partnered with Google because of its open and accessible platform, which allows ABA member bookstores to provide an easy way for their customers to discover, read, and buy e-books at competitive prices. Google is offering hundreds of thousands of titles for sale, ranging from new releases and bestsellers in every category to classics in the public domain. With today’s launch, the complete e-book catalogs of five publishers that have adopted agency plans – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and John Wiley – are now available via IndieCommerce websites, and it is expected that Penguin e-books will be available soon.
“There is unmistakable evidence that an increasing number of consumers want to read books in digital form, as is shown by the almost doubling of e-book sales in the last year,” said ABA Chief Operating Officer Len Vlahos. “Google eBooks allow our members to serve those customers how, when, and where they want to be served and allows customers to continue to take advantage of the unique services of local retailers. This is a very exciting day for independent bookselling.”
“Our partnership with the American Booksellers Association is helping to bring e-books technology to independent booksellers and their customers nationwide,” said Chris Palma, manager of strategic partner development for Google Books. “This is just the beginning for us.”
This year's catalog features Barry Hannah on the cover to celebrate the release of his final story collection, Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories. Inside you will find a wide variety of books that will make the perfect gift for everyone on your shopping list. You may even see something for yourself.
Over the last several years of the life of Barry Hannah, indisputably one of the great writers of our time, the author tried to work on a novel as he also struggled with illness. At one point he realized that this work was molding to the form by which his career was largely characterized, the short story. By his death on March 1 of this year, he had completed four stories, which, combined with a choice sampling from his previous story collections, make up Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories. Another largely unknown piece is a story Hannah wrote when he was around twenty years old, Trek, that, until now, has not appeared in book form. Published by Grove Atlantic, this volume becomes the essential Hannah story collection, with nine stories from Airships and the best from Captain Maximus, Bats Out of Hell, and High Lonesome, carefully selected by his editor at Grove, Amy Hundley. The book is dedicated to Barry and his late wife, Susan, and, by the care and quality of its issuance and its design, may be said to be a loving gift, from Morgan Entrekin and all the staff at Grove Atlantic in honor of the writer they so admired, to us, his devoted readers. Design motifs refer to Airships, with flying jets, a frequent Hannah thematic element, adorning the cream-colored cover with text in red and blue print and an iconic black-and-white photograph of the author. The navy endpapers are beautifully designed, and a couple of ink cartoons by the author appear as end matter lagniappe. With a back cover that carries eleven unassailable blurbs from Amy Hempel, Wells Tower, William Styron, Larry McMurtry, Cynthia Ozick, John Grisham, Sam Lipsyte, Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Charles Frazier, and Thomas McGuane, we happily believe that Long, Last, Happy is a book that will last a very long time. RH
Click here to purchase a copy of Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories.