In a moment she was at the doorstep at Off Square Books, wriggling out of her stylish black knapsack, and greeting her readers who wasted no time approaching her. She took a seat, signed a bunch of books for people, and, interrupting the introduction several times to edit some remarks, got out in front of the podium to be closer to the crowd of eighty or so. Some stood cautiously in the back.
Wearing a sharp, haute-looking black outfit with a fitted sleeveless top and slightly poufy skirt, softened by a lace petticoat peeking out impatiently below the hem, she put on her bifocals, the old-school kind with the line showing, and read a short piece from Lit, which has just come out in paperback from Harper Collins (the publisher, incidentally, of To Kill A Mockingbird, whose 50th anniversary we've been celebrating this week). Readers will remember the part in Lit when Mary realizes, at the beauty shop on her wedding day, that her mother's fallen off the wagon. In just a few hours, her new mother in law won't be able to hide the tears that are "not--I'm guessing--of joy."
Taking questions of all sorts for about forty minutes, Mary Karr was as candid--and funny, and engaging--in life as she is in print. It was something like an audience that had a chance to interview its favorite late-night TV show host. She met for another forty-five minutes with a book group, finished signing stock, and made her way to Ajax. Going over the menu there, she kept going, "Oh. Oh. Oh, oh, oh. I want it all," and parted by saying she wanted to move here. Naturally, we wish she would.
Square Books continued its summer-time reading series an “Off Night” at Off Square Books Monday night. This time the featured authors were some of the best up-and-coming writers out there. Kevin Sampsell, Mary Miller, and Claudia Smith all took turns at the lectern to read short shorts from their latest work. Also, surprise guest John Grisham sat in to do a reading from his first young adult novel, Theodore Boone. Yes, the John Grisham. It was a great night.
After attendees sipped on bourbon with ginger ale and mingled with the authors the reading began. Claudia Smith read from her chapbook from Future Tense Press, Put Your Head in My Lap. Claudia’s stories were short yet packed an emotional punch that very few people can pull off in just a few pages. Her sentimental and very real stories are dead on. Claudia lives in Hattiesburg where she teaches at the University of Southern Mississippi. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from her in the future, much like the next writer, Mary Miller.
Mary also lives in Hattiesburg and recently finished up with the writing program there. She’s heading to Austin, TX in a few weeks so we were glad she was able to come by the bookstore for a reading before leaving Mississippi. Her book of short stories, Big World, from Hobart’s Short Flight/Long Drive imprint, has been a staff favorite at Square Books. We can’t get enough of it and are steadily trying to get everyone that comes in the store to read it. So far so good. She read the story, “Pearl,” which she is currently turning into a novel. The story is about a recently divorced girl that moves back in with her parents. She’s bored and lonely so she finds herself in a strange situation with a male colleague from work involving a casino and the awkward question of, “one bed or two?” Mary’s reading was excellent and for those who were here last week to experience Adam Ross’ reading from Mr. Peanut I think this one gave it a run for the money in the raunchy department. Mary is also a writer to be on the look out for in the future. She’s the real deal.
After a brief intermission for folks to refill their cocktails, Square Books owner Richard Howorth fronted the crowd with a surprise introduction for John Grisham. No one was expecting this. Mr. Grisham, who stopped by to sign some books, said he was happy to read with some talented, up-and-coming writers. He read the first chapter from his latest book, Theodore Boone, gave a brief thanks, and was gone.
Kevin Sampsell then took the stage joking of Grisham’s appearance, “I didn’t think he was going to come…I mean we talked on the phone before the reading.” Kevin proceeded to read a handful of short sections from his memoir, Common Pornography—recently released on Harper Perennial. Kevin’s book is extremely personal and nostalgic for everything that molded him while growing up on into his twenties. The book is hilarious, sad, emotional, and extremely well written. Jonathan Ames compared the writing to Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. It’s been garnering terrific praise all over the place and we now know why. Kevin’s reading was a perfect end to another great “Off Night" at Off Square Books. This was without a doubt the best way to spend Monday night, and we can’t wait to see what these writers do next.