April is National Poetry Month and every day in April we will be posting a new poem in the front window of the store. We kicked off the month with a poem by Billy Collins from his new book Horoscopes for the Dead. You can see the new poem in the window each day by following us on twitter or just passing by the store. Be sure to come in and check out our poetry section too.
   A nice crowd appeared on a beautiful afternoon at Off Square Books to meet Joe Hill, on tour with the paperback edition of Horns.  Joe took a seat near the signing table and immediately began chatting with those who were seated for the reading, his sense of humor and conversational engagement cruising along at a fast clip.   
   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.”  

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.

Recently heralded young American writers will be featured in the 2011 Oxford Conference for the Book March 24 – 26.  Karen Russell, Téa Obreht, Kevin Brockmeier, and Justin Taylor, among others, will be here in support of their new books. 

The highly-regarded book reviewer, Janet Maslin, has called Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! a “wave-making debut novel.”  Russell’s first book—a collection of short stories titled St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves—was a huge success, landing her on most critics’ year-end lists. She came to Square Books in 2006 to read from and sign copies of the collection.  She will return to Oxford as a book conference panelist along with writers Tom Franklin and Kevin Brockmeier on Saturday, March 26 at 4 p.m. 

Téa Obreht’s first novel, The Tiger’s Wife, also received an excellent review in the New York Times, from the famously fastidious critic, Michiko Kakutani. The Tiger’s Wife is “a precocious debut…a richly textured and searing novel,” writes Kakutani, further asserting that Obreht “writes with remarkable authority and eloquence, and she demonstrates an uncommon ability to move seamlessly between the gritty realm of the real and the more primary-colored world of the fable.”  The precocious Ms. Obreht, a Serbian native who is twenty-five years old, will be joined by author Justin Taylor and moderator Lyn Roberts for a reading at the book conference on Friday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m.

In his new novel, The Illumination, Kevin Brockmeier “devotes his considerable gifts of description to the illuminated wounds of his characters” in a book that is “deeply felt and precisely observed,” according to Scott Hutchins in the New York Times.  Kevin, who lives in Arkansas and has visited Square Books previously, will join Karen Russell and Tom Franklin on Saturday, March 26 at 4 p.m.

Justin Taylor’s new novel, The Gospel of Anarchy, is the follow up to his debut collection of short stories, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, a staff favorite at Square Books.

There are many other notable authors appearing at this year’s conference, which includes the first panel on graphic novels, one that includes recent best graphic novel of the year nominee (National Cartoonist Society) Joyce Farmer, Michael Kupperman, Joe Matt, and Jack Pendarvis.   The “Comic Book Auteurs” panel will be held Saturday, March 26 at 2 p.m.

A full list of writers and participants at the conference as well as a detailed schedule can be found here.

To read the full New York Times review for Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! go here.

To read the full New York Times review for Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife go here

To read the full New York Times review for Kevin Brockmeier’s The Illumination please go here

We mourn the recent loss of Czech writer Arnost Lustig, whose stories and novels that primarily deal with the experiences of children in the Holocaust earned him broad acclaim.   Lustig had been sent to Theresienstadt in 1942 when he was 15 years old, a concentration camp that he survived and, later, Auschwitz and Buchenwald.   While being transferred to Dachau in 1945, Lustig escaped from the transport train to freedom, as his mother, father, and many other family members were killed in the Holocaust.   After the war he lived in Prague, where he worked as a journalist and became associated with a group of writers that included Vaclav Havel.  Lustig managed to escape the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that overtook the reform movement with which he had been involved, and moved to the United States in 1970, where he lived the remainder of his life, writing and teaching at American University in Washington.  
In 1996 Northwestern University Press, one of the noblest of publishers of literature in translation, received a grant to promote some of its authors.   Square Books and the Oxford community were the grateful beneficiaries of several visits from these authors, including two Holocaust survivors, Lucien Duckstein and, later, Arnost Lustig, considered by many as the greatest Holocaust novelist, author of Children of the Holocaust and Street of Lost Brothers and winner of the Jewish Book Award and acknowledgment from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.   Duckstein came to Oxford along with the translator of the book about his Holocaust experience, Lucien's Story, and reading at Square Books and meeting with two classes at Oxford High School.   Lustig gave a memorable reading at the old Off Square Books on a cold night, November 8, 1996.   He later signed to Lisa and me a copy of his novel, The Unloved -- "with thanks, and love." RH
For more info read this article in the New York Times here.
The spring Dear Reader newsletter is here and it's packed full of great books and events. Featured on the cover is one of the biggest books of the year, Dean Faulkner Wells's memoir on the Faulkners of Mississippi, Every Day by the Sun. Dean will be at the Lyric Theater on Saturday, March 19 joined by an allstar cast of writers to read from her new book. This is going to be a great event and one not to miss. Also included in this issue is more info on the 18th Oxford Conference for the Book, which is just around the corner starting on March 24 with a group signing at Off Square Books on Saturday, March 26. Karen Russell (Swamplandia) and Tea Obreht (The Tiger's Wife) are among those author's attending this year's conference featured in Dear Reader. Other great works of fiction by Francisco Goldman, Jim Shepard, who will be here on May 3, Ann Packer, Ann B. Ross and more are also reviewed.  Martha Foose follows up her James Beard award-winning Screen Doors and Sweat Tea with A Southerly Course. Also in the food writing section is the excellent Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton and Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen (she'll be here April 11). New suspense titles from authors Walter Mosley, Alexander McCall Smith, and Keith Thomson (he'll be here on March 21) among others are here too. The year of the memoir continues with a new book by Joyce Carol Oates, Jennet Conant's book on Julia and Paul Child, and Ashley Judd's All That is Bitter & Sweet. Sarah Vowell has a new book out on the Americanization of Hawaii.  There are books for all types of readers and don't forget to check out the Square Books, Jr. pages for great travel books for spring break and summer vacations as well as Easter books.  This issue is full of great titles to get you into spring and out of the snowy winter. Click here to download a digital version or come by the store and pick up a hard copy.