Sara Foster, the owner of Foster's Market, the acclaimed gourmet stores for pick-up or eat-in in North Carolina, came to Square Books a week ago to promote her fourth (and I think best) cookbook. Sara wanted to have samples of her recipes and graciously offered to prepare them if I could find a kitchen for her. That is how I ended up cooking alongside a famous chef. As Sara's pound cake from her first book has become our family standard, I thought I'd try her Buttermilk Pound Cake with Tangy Buttermilk Glaze (p 316), while Sara and her sister effortlessly whipped up Deviled Ham Salad (p 11), Carmelized Red Onion Tarts (p 14) and Rosemary Cheese Crackers (p 8). We brought all these tasty treats to the store for the event that afternoon and enjoyed them with an Edward Sellers' Paso Robles Rhone. All was delicious and quickly gone. The Rosemary Cheese Crackers were great plain or with a little brie and a dab of pepper jelly. I wish Sara & Judy were still in my kitchen, but will think of them as I prepare Roasted Asparagus with Country Ham, Red-Eye Gravy and Poached Eggs (p 84) for Easter brunch.
As he began his reading with the first sentences – “Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances….” –Joe donned his plastic horns and flipped on the illumination button. “The horns accessorize with anything,” he said, turning them off. Reading on, he would turn on the horns as a caution device anytime he came to a passage that was grotesque, racy, or scary. As he got a bit deeper into the story and its characters, the horns went off and on several times.
“You can’t have a good book without the devil,” he explained at the beginning of the Q & A session, which was, as these things go, excellent. When asked he mentioned some of his favorite books and writers, Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, Neil Gaiman, comic books in general and Brian K. Vaughn in particular, David Mitchell (“the most talented writer of his generation”), and Townie, by Andre Dubus, who was here just a week ago.
He kindly answered the question he surely gets everywhere – what’s it like to have famous writer parents? (Joe’s ‘rents are Tabitha and Stephen King), and gave a lovely response about how fortunate he had been to grow up in a house where all he knew, really, was “books, writing, and stories.” Joe said he’d been wanting to come to the South, with an expectation of some kind of Southern Gothic experience for which our literature is famous, but finding instead, almost disappointingly, that “everyone here is really so nice,” then adding, “well, almost nice like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.”
He signed the rest of the books, then was off for catfish at Ajax, where he sat at a front table next to the open windows as pedestrians and a puppy paraded by in the fading daylight savings time. “I could be happy here,” he said, “right at this window, reading books, having a beer, watching people go by.” We hope to see him again in Oxford. RH
The Harvard Glee Club stopped by the bookstore on Saturday, March 19 to hang out and get some coffee before their performance at the Ford Center.
From left: Adam Gann, Josh Baiel, Daniel Rogers, Michael Mellas, Kyle Randall, and Joshua Chi
Poet, Claude Wilkinson and novelist, essayist and short story writer, William Gay will exhibit their work at Southside Gallery during the month of March. An artists’ reception is scheduled for Friday, March 25 from 6:30 – 8:30 PM. For more information please contact Southside Gallery, 662.234.9090.
William Gay is best known for his novels, The Long Home (1999), Provinces of Night (2000), and Twilight (2006), and his short story collection, I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down (2002). The Hohenwald, Tennessee native has signed and read his books at Square Books in Oxford many times before, but this will be the first time he has shown his landscape paintings at Southside Gallery. Mr Gay is the recipient of the 1999 William Peden Award, the 1999 James A. Michener Memorial Prize and a 2002 Guggenheim Fellowship.
“William’s paintings have a stark and austere quality,” said Cook. “These landscapes really grabbed hold of me emotionally the first time I saw them. There is a mystery to them that is engaging and curious. One can’t walk away from them unresponsive. I feel that fans of William’s literary work will not be surprised to see that he is also a fine painter.”
Claude Wilkinson, of Nesbit, Mississippi, will feature his landscape paintings and pastels for the first time at Southside Gallery. Mr Wilkinson has won critical acclaim for his poems and art, and has had both featured in numerous literary and art journals. His landscapes have been exhibited both regionally and nationally, as far west as California and as far east as Vermont. He has published two volumes of poetry, Reading the Earth (1998) and Joy in the Morning (2004), and is the recipient of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, the Whiting Writer’s Award and the Walker E. Dakin Fellowship in Poetry. Mr Wilkinson was the visiting writer-in-residence at Ole Miss from 2000 – 2001.
“This is an exciting exhibit for the gallery, and I really believe the community will share our enthusiasm,” said Southside Gallery’s Wil Cook. “Claude’s work offers a refreshing take on the landscape of northwest Mississippi. He has captured the essence of his home with these pastels and paintings, and I believe they compliment his poetry quite nicely.”
One of the Barksdale Honors College classes is reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi this semester, and when it was announced the author planned to visit Square Books on March 9, we immediately received a request from the class professors asking whether he might meet with the class. Through the good offices of Spiegel and Grau, the publishers of Martel’s new paperback edition of Beatrice and Virgil, which brought him to Oxford, the meeting was arranged. At 3 p.m. close to 50 students convened at Off Square Books to hear what the 2002 Man Booker Prize winner had to say. An initial question about Life of Pi led to a lengthy discussion about faith as the book’s major construct, why Hinduism was used as a particular vehicle (it’s a monotheistic religion that may be expressed and accessed in a variety of ways), and some of the writer’s own ideas about religion and philosophy -- all fascinating. At the end of the discussion Martel was presented a personally inscribed copy of I Beat the Odds, by former Ole Miss football player Michael Oher, who, while the discussion took place, had been in the back room signing copies for the ongoing demand at Square Books.
Mr. Martel took a break, walking around the Oxford square for a while, and returned for another session with a different group of readers from the community. He spoke mainly of Beatrice and Virgil, and of the inspiration, challenges, and uses of writing in the form of a novel about the Holocaust. In the Q & A session a visitor from the Quebec Province of the author’s home nation, Canada, asked why the writer, who grew up in a French speaking family, chose to write in English – because, while it is true, he said, that he was raised speaking French, he was educated in English-speaking schools, and because English has a much broader lexicon than most other languages.
We very much appreciate Mr. Martel’s visit, his third, to Oxford. He came here in 2007 with the artist of the illustrated edition of Life of Pi, Tomislav Torjanac, and again in 2001, when Yann Martel had his very first book signing in the United States, at – we’re proud to say -- Off Square Books, back when we were in the old Denton store building. RH