The Southern Imaginary in American Cinema and a film festival weekend

This past weekend Oxford played host to the 2011 Oxford Film Festival, which was a huge success. Be sure to check out the film fest website here.

As a sidebar to the film festival schedule Square Books hosted four of the University of Mississippi's best scholars and professors for a panel discussion on their new book American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary (University of Georgia Press). After a brief introduction by Richard Howorth, the panelist--Katie McKee, Deborah Barker, Leigh Anne Duck and Jay Watson--signed books and discussed several topics covered in the book.

The book "examines aspects of the southern imaginary in American cinema and offers fresh insight into the evolving field of southern film studies. In their introduction, Deborah Barker and Kathryn McKee argue that the southern imaginary in film is not contained by the boundaries of geography and genre; it is not an offshoot or subgenre of mainstream American film but is integral to the history and the development of American cinema."

Be sure to check out the book and all the films shown this weekend.

Click through for photos from the event. 



photos by Ivo Kamps (seated from left: Deborah Barker, Katie McKee, Jay Watson and Leigh Anne Duck)

Happy Valentine's Day from Square Books

We've selected some books from all three Square Books locations to help you out in shopping for your Valentine. Click here to download the flyer and call us or stop by Square Books, Off Square Books, or Square Books, Jr. We'll also wrap it up in true Valentine style.

Winter 2011 Dear Reader is now available for download


Click here to download the new issue of our Dear Reader newsletter. This issue features a round up of our top sellers of 2010 plus reviews of tons of great books including memoirs by Michael Oher, Rodney Crowell, Mark Richard, and Andre Dubus III. Reviews of new novels by Joseph O'Connor, Kevin Brockmeier, Mark Childress, Justin Taylor, and more are also featured. Be sure to check out our list of upcoming author events and mark your calendars for John Bemelmans Marciano at Square Books, Jr. on Friday, February 18 at 11 a.m. He'll be signing copies of Madeline at the White House. The print copies will be available in the store soon so swing by and pick one up, but for now just click to download here.

Richard Ford joins the Ole Miss Creative Writing Faculty as Senior Fiction Writer

Mississippian and long-time friend of Square Books, Richard Ford, has joined the University of Mississippi's creative writing faculty as a senior fiction writer. Ford won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his novel, Independence Day. He's been to Square Books on several different occasions to sign books and read to his many fans. You can read more on the story here.

Welcome to Oxford, Kristina and Richard! 

Our 2010 Bestsellers

The Square Books Top 100 sellers of 2010 are like many other years in that a preponderance of titles or their author are connected to Oxford, or elsewhere in Mississippi.  A nice reprint of William Faulkner’s New Orleans Sketches (75) made the list, as did the pictorial book with captions from Faulkner’s work along with photographs that suggest same, Yoknapatawpha Images (77).  Several local history titles, including Oxford In the Civil War (23), Jack Mayfield’s pictorial history of Oxford and Ole Miss (15), Bill Morris’s photo book, Ole Miss at Oxford (17), Gerald Walton’s history of Ole Miss (in its third year, 99), and Anne Percy’s Early History of Oxford (94).  

Other writers or books we tend to claim as “ourn” include Ace Atkins with Infamous (41), Willie Morris and My Two Oxfords (54), Wyatt Waters’ Oxford Sketchbook (34), and Quinten Whitwell’s If By Whiskey (69).  This past year’s Grisham writer-in-residence, John Brandon, got a front page New York Times book review for his splendid second novel, which we could not quit recommending, Citrus County (13), and our number five bestseller of the year is by a writer who came here years ago as a visiting writer - and never left – Tom Franklin’s great read, Crooked Letter,  Crooked Letter (5).

Cookbooks fared well throughout the year, with perennial favorite Square Table (9), Wild Abundance (40), Martha Foose’s Screen Doors and Sweet Tea (50), and Somebody Stole the Cornbread from My Dressing (42).   But John T. Edge and the Southern Foodways Alliance Cookbook topped them all, at # 6.

Some writers managed more than one title on the list, most notably Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-dude Steig Larsson, with five different editions of his three titles falling anywhere between # 25 and # 60.   The late, great Barry Hannah had four titles on our list, led by Airships (35), Geronimo Rex (88), Ray (85), and the splendid November release that has been drawing praise from all quarters, Long, Last, Happy (56).  Neil White did the hat trick with In the Sanctuary of Outcasts in hardcover (14), paperback (21), and the coffee table book favorite for which he selected great Mississippians (8).  If husband and wife teams count as multiples, then you have to give it to the literary wonder, George Bush, and Decision Points (36) and his better half, Laura Bush, with Spoken From the Heart (60).  John Grisham had three titles on this list: his excellent suspense novel, The Confession (2); his first children’s book, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (3), and his 2009 book of stories, Ford County, of continuing interest (33).

You’re wondering what, if not Grisham, is on top.  It’s Curtis Wilkie and his Square behemoth, The Fall of the House of Zeus (1), with new Oxonian Sam Haskell and Promises I Made My Mother (4) closely following the two big Grisham titles.  The other book on the Dickie Scruggs story, Kings of Tort, by Alan Lange and Tom Dawson, which was published a year ago, was #12.


Some strong favorites whose authors visited here this year – where to begin? -- include Brady Udall and his Lonely Polygamist (28, loved it!), Lee Child and 61 Hours (47), Amy Greene and Bloodroot (65), Joseph Ellis and his brand new First Family (75), George Bishop’s Letter to My Daughter (79), Pat Conroy and My Reading Life (10, love that guy), the Tuohys, Sean and Leigh Anne, In a Heartbeat (7)was big, The Typist by Michael Knight (51 – I’ll say it again, it will make a great movie), first novelist Adam Ross, with Mr. Peanut (22), Susan White and A Soft Place to Land (52), Karl Marlantes and his great Vietnam novel, Matterhorn (16),  Mona Simpson and My Hollywood (30), and Malcolm Jones with Little Boy Blues (29).

It was great to see Brad Watson again, with a terrific book of stories, Aliens In the Prime of Their Lives (26), and to see a thing in the Australian talent of Steve Amsterdam, Things We Didn’t See Coming (30).  We saw writers we have long admired but didn’t meet ‘til ‘10, including Ian Frazier and Travels In Siberia (27), Elizabeth Kostova and her enchanting tale, The Swan Thieves (19), Howard Norman and What Is Left the Daughter (24), Nathaniel Philbrick and his Little Bighorn book, The Last Stand (63), Aimee Bender and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (49), and finally, finally, Mary Karr brought her act to Oxford with the paperback of Lit (58), also one of our hardcover bestsellers last year.   We’d like to see them all again.

IndieNext bestsellers reside on our list, too, especially paperbacks such as Let the Great World Spin (55), Eat, Pray, Love (48), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (81), Sarah's Key (76), Cutting for Stone (64), and Greg Iles is forever on our list--The Devil's Punchbowl (87).

Civil Rights and race-related books are always of interest, and some made our list this year, including Al Povall’s The Time of Eddie Noel (20), Charles Eagles’ great work on Mississippi desegregation and James Meredith, The Price of Defiance (78), One Night of Madness (67) by Stokes MacMillan, Hampton Sides’ book on James Earl Ray, Hellhound on His Trail (92), and Alex Ward’s accomplished work, The Eyes of Willie McGee (84).

More Mississippi related titles of interest were Ken Murphy and Scott Baretta’s Mississippi: State of Blues (45), Kathryn Stockett’s tireless seller, The Help (11), T. R Pearson and Langdon Clay’s special book, The Year of Our Lord (70), Mary Carol Miller’s Lost Mansions of Mississippi II (95), Christmas Memories from Mississippi, edited by Charline McCord and Judy Tucker (38), and Mary Miller’s little paperback we couldn’t keep in stock, Big World (68)
Sometimes the books you love most you find toward the end of this list (and beyond), including Larry Brown’s touchstone, Facing the Music (97) and Sandra Beasley’s winning book of poems, I was The Jukebox (100, no lie).   Other ninety-something notables included The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Stephen Hunter’s I Sniper, The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke, Steven Gubser’s The Little Book of String Theory, published by Princeton University Press, and Scott Turow’s Innocent.   

Jonathan Franzen’s great book, Freedom,  wound up at 72, in the good company of Bruce Mahart’s In the Wake of Forgiveness, Pulitzer winner Tinkers, by Paul Harding, Keith Richards’ Life, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, God Never Blinks by Regina Brett, Nevada Barr’s Burn, and The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.

Michael Lewis had two on the list, with The Big Short (44) and the Blind Side paperback (86), while funny stuff always works, with Sh*t My Dad Says (32), Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (61), Chelsea Handler (both Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea and Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang), and, as always, David Sedaris, with Squirrel Meets Chipmunk (88).

We thank them all – the writers of these books, their publishers, and those of you who read them, or bought them for gifts this season.   Many of you who saw our busy store this fall said things to me like, “Those people who keep saying books are dead ought to come here.”   We couldn’t agree more.


Four Great Memoirs

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 or call 800 648 4001. Click the titles above to order a copy online.