Square Books's blog

From the desk of Pat Conroy

Today Cassandra King will be at Off Square Books to talk about and sign copies of her new novel, Moonrise (26.95). We recently received a message from her # 1 fan, Pat Conroy (who will be here Nov. 1, details for that event here), and thought we would share it with you.  

Hey, out there...

To write about your own wife's novel should cause shame to any serious writer, but I find that I can do it with pleasure and a strong sense of pride.
Since I met Cassandra King at the Hoover Library's Writer Conference and we decided to spend the rest of our lives together, we have both written our books on opposite sides of the house. When we got married, I discovered that Sandra had never had a room of her own to write in during her entire adult life; I promised her a room with a view and all the time she needed to do her work and craft her books. She has written five novels since we met and I believe that her new book Moonrise is the best of them. It eases my soul that I share a house with a novelist of such rare and distinctive gifts.

I know it must seem like home cooking for a husband to praise his own wife's work. But the shadow of divorce court looms over a marriage where the spouses loathe each other's work. When Sandra hands me a completed chapter or leaves it on my pillow to read, an immense joy fills me because Sandra always hands me a complete world to cast myself adrift in. In The Sunday Wife she changed the English language. I've met a hundred women around the south who've whispered to me, "I used to be a Sunday wife," or "I'm still a Sunday Wife; I'm married to the Bishop."
Nor can I read the last section of The Same Sweet Girls without breaking down at the end because I'm so touched by those amazing ties of women's friendship. I envy the tireless intimacy of women's friendship, its lastingness, and its unbendable strength. Cassandra captures all this as well as any writer producing literature today and I love it that our house is the source of its creation.

I was present at the birth of Moonrise. I took Cassandra to Highlands, North Carolina to visit my dear friend Jim Landon, who owned a lovely mountain home made holy by well-selected books and Asian art. Jim is one of those perfectly charming southern men who dresses with distinction, decorates his home with unerring taste, makes a perfect omelet and is one of the best lawyers in Atlanta. Cassandra fell in love with Jim immediately, as I had done when I met him in 1974. All life has more savor when Jim is around. He took us to parties around the mountain, introduced us to his cast of immemorial friends, and hosted elegant parties on a deck that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains have a clear call for certain people and my wife was a goner for Highlands after that first week. Her novel is the product of her love affair with the high country of the south, its natives and its "summer people."

Cassandra and I have always been devotees of Daphne du Maurier's glorious book Rebecca. Moonrise is pure homage to that novel as well as a ballad of recognition for all the strangeness and comeliness of the mountains of North Carolina. It is told in three distinct voices. It begins with an outsider, Helen, who is brought into a group of Highland summer veterans who don't like it that the recently widowed Emmet Justice has married a young dietician from Florida in unseemly haste. Helen is properly terrified of the upcoming summer, when every inch of her will be reviewed and judged by some practiced Atlanta swells.
The second voice is a mountain woman named Willa who cleans and cares for all the houses. She has watched the whole strange Atlanta tribe grow up and they have all become attached to Willa and her family. Willa adds history and perspective to her narration in the novel.
By far, my favorie voice belongs to the waspy, acid tongue of Tansy Dunwoody. I perked up whenever she took to the stage because her voice can be withering and caustic, but always hilarious and tender in the deepest part of her. 
Cassandra loops these three voices into a straglehold of tension as it becomes obvious that the legendary house of Moonrise means to bring great harm to the newcomer, Helen Honeycutt. The suspence is handled with flair and expertise and I read the book in a single reading for that most ancient of reasons...to know what happened. I couldn't go to sleep until there was a sense of resolution over the fates of characters I had come to love at a mansion I'd come to fear.

Moonrise is a fabulous novel and my damn wife wrote it and that's me up there near Highlands shouting it out to the hills.

Pat Conroy

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard with Barry Hannah in front of Square Books

(October 11, 1925 - August 20, 2013)

Elmore "Dutch" Leonard died at the age of 87 from complications due to a stroke. He had a prolific career as a writer and was working on his 46th novel when he passed away. Born in New Orleans, his family moved when he was a youth to Detroit where his father worked for GM. After college, Leonard stayed in Detroit and began to write westerns (notably Hombre and 3:10 to Yuma) while still working full time with a local advertising firm in the 1950s but switched to primarily writing crime fiction in the late 1960s. He went on to incredible success with many of his books (Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, et al) being turned into movies and tv series, most recently, the FX series Justified based on his Raylan Givens character.

Leonard influenced a generation of crime novelists including George Pelecanos, Ace Atkins, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, and Megan Abbott. To many, his quick-paced, sparse style combined with a superb ear for dialogue, gritty realism, and a mean sense of humor raised the status of crime fiction to a new level. In 2007, he published Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing which he said he wrote because he was so often asked what the secret was to his style. The book featured rules such as, "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it" and "Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip". Square Books was fortunate to host Leonard when Barry Hannah (check out the great photo of the two literary heavyweights) enlisted him to come to Ole Miss and speak to the MFA program. Leonard was his gracious self as he spent time with students and later signed books for fans and read on Thacker Mountain Radio. 

On a personal note, I started reading him when I was 15 and have been a fan ever since. I got to meet him a handful of times. The highlight being a few years ago when Dutch came to Lemuria to read and be on an MPB tv show panel which also featured his son Peter as well as George Pelecanos and Mike Connelly. I drove down from Oxford and attended the reading, and John Evans kindly invited me (and my parents) to come with them for food and drinks at the Cherokee. It was a great big group at one long table, and I was sitting right across from Leonard who had just come back from taking a smoke break when he noticed that someone poured him a bit of red wine in a water glass. He reached for the bottle, gave me a wink, and filled the glass up to the top. We stayed a while and Leonard showed no signs of slowing down as he charmed us all and told stories. He would often sign books with the tag line "Be Cool". No doubt, he was the coolest. Ask anyone that ever met him, and I bet they'll tell you that Elmore Leonard was a prince of a guy. CM

Mississippi Writers of The Times, of the Fall, With Signed Copies at Square Books

If you read the "Sunday Review" section of the August 11 edition of The New York Times you may have noticed three separate essays by writers from Mississippi, each of whom has a book coming this fall. All three of these writers are known primarily as novelists, showing that, although their fiction may not always be intended or viewed as relevant to our world today, their worldview and their skill in expressing it is.  

John Grisham, whose sequel to A Time To Kill, Sycamore Row, will be published on October 22, writes of Guantánamo injustice through the case of a wrongful eleven-year incarceration of Nabil Hadjarab. The writing here employs the same punchy, convincing prose style that his fiction fans know and appreciate.

Michael Farris Smith, who will be at Off Square on September 24 with his terrific novel, Rivers, posits in his Times essay a clever theory: what if there were were, in the writing world, the equivalent to steroids in professional baseball -- a pill that would enable him to write more, better, mega-selling books? Would he take such a pill?

Finally, Jesmyn Ward, the National Book Award-winning DeLisle, Mississippi, native whose appearance here with her powerfully meditative memoir, Men We Reaped, on September 17 we anxiously anticipate, writes of the ongoing crawl of America's racist history to its presence today.

So Long, Waldo!

Hooray for Alice, the grand prize winner of the complete box set of Waldo books.

The month of Find Waldo in Oxford! ended with a bang at the grand prize drawing party last week.

Believe it or not, there were approximately 200 names in the grand prize drawing! The prizes included Waldo tote bags, Waldo postcard books, a Waldo poster book and the ultimate supreme grand prize of the complete box set of Waldo books. Also included were donated items such as t-shirts from Square Books, Jr., Cat Daddy's and Something Southern, gift certificates and candy bags from Holli's Sweet Tooth and gift cards from YaYa's.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the hunt -- locals and out-of-towners, and to The Oxford Downtown Council's participating businesses who made the event possible. 

New Bargain Books at Off Square Books

While Off Square Books continues its inventory reduction sale -- with books for $1, $2, and $5 -- we have now received new shipments of remainders, hundreds of new bargain books. Come take a look while they last! Here are a few:


The Princess Bride
by William Goldman ($3.99)
Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolaño ($5.99)
Solar by Ian McEwan ($6.99)
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides ($9.99)
Nom de Plume by Carmela Ciuraru ($7.99)
You & Me by Padgett Powell ($7.99)
Finding Oz by Evan Schwartz ($7.99)
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan ($6.99)
Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker ($9.99)
Teachings of Buddha by Desmo Biddulph ($6.99)
Lincoln on Race & Slavery by Henry Gates ($8.99)
Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski ($8.99)


Washington A Life
by Ron Chernow ($14.99)
Fifty Favorite Fly-Fishing Tales by Chris Santella ($12.48)
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward ($12.00)
Faulkner and His Critics by John Duvall ($14.99)
Christianity: The First 3000 Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch ($19.99)
1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart ($12.99)
Cleopatra the Great by Joann Fletcher ($10.99)
The Face of Poetry by Margaretta Mitchell ($12.99)

Signed Copies Available

“This summer’s first romantic page turner.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

click for book summary

Those of us who were not aware of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, much less could pronounce its title, suddenly became aware when the fastidious New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani proclaimed it "this summer's first romantic page-turner." We doubt Ms. Kakutani has referred to any book, at least favorably, this way, but, as is often the case, she's right. The story features 15 year-old Thea Atwell, a wealthy Florida girl who, in 1930, has been sent away to a North Carolina horse riding camp after "the awful mess" she made back home. Exactly what that mess was is central to the novel's development and won't be spoiled here, but I can say that the book is suspensefully built upon moral ambiguities Thea finds too tempting not to explore, and is exceedingly well written. This is the first novel by Anton DiSclafani, who will be here July 24, so signed copies should be available. RH

"In elegant prose that evokes the cadences of a vanished epoch, DiSclafani unfolds at a leisurely pace... An unusually accomplished and nuanced coming-of-age drama."-- Kirkus Review

"In her haunting debut, Anton DiSclafani reminded me how I came to love reading as a child, the way a book can so envelop you in its unique and vibrant world that even as you race toward the end, you find yourself dreading the moment it's finished. A fierce and tender, beautiful novel." -- Aryn Kyle, author of THE GOD OF ANIMALS

In Memoriam – J. D. Mark, T Model Ford, Karl Pohrt, Will D. Campbell

We like to think that aging is a phenomenon that makes Square Books “distinguished,” maybe even “venerable,” but it also means that, increasingly, we lose old friends. Recently, two musicians, both of whom appeared on Thacker Mountain on several occasions, passed away.  J. D., or Jim, Mark, was only 43. He was a native of Flint, Michigan, but found a home here where the music was rich and he had something to give to it, playing guitar with a number of bands, most familiarly with Wiley and the Checkmates. We’ll miss his broad smile and friendly countenance, as we will the same of T Model Ford. T Model was a native of Forest, in Scott County, Mississippi. He claimed to be uncertain of his age and reportedly had six wives and 26 children.   He began playing music late but developed a unique style that was discovered by the Fat Possum label. He often played around these parts, with songs such as “Pee-Wee Get My Gun,” “Jack Daniel,” and “She Ain’t None of Your’n,” that just as easily might have been the titles of Larry Brown stories.

       Karl Pohrt died recently at 65, too young for the bright spirit that always burned in Karl, who owned Shaman Drum, a great independent in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that managed to find its identity in the midst of the town where Borders Books was based mainly by selling textbooks for profit, with very large sidelines of poetry, small press books, literary nonfiction, Buddhism, and other typically unprofitable marginalia for which Karl had immense enthusiasm. He came to Oxford a couple of times for the Book Conference, and I was able to visit his store when he and friends invited me to a confab there. Karl was a fierce champion for writers, books, and independent bookstores, a gentle soul with a twinkle in his eye that signaled his ready humor and open friendship.

     And we lost the great Will Campbell, born in Amite County, Mississippi in 1924, who became an important figure in civil rights. He was raised Southern Baptist, became a minister, and found himself unable to reconcile Christianity with the racism that permeated Southern culture of the 1950s and 60s, including in its churches, so he left the church, but not Christ, and grew to embrace desegregation and tolerance at a time when few other whites did. This experience no doubt informed the sensibilities that made him such a good writer. His unforgettable Brother to a Dragonfly was published in 1977, the year I began working in a bookstore in Washington, D. C., and the book became a kind of personal literary totem, as it was for so many other Mississippians and others, as well. We invited Will to Square Books when his first novel, The Glad River, was published, and on April 23, 1982, had our first multiple-author event – for Will; for Joan Williams, whose County Woman had just come out; for Barry Hannah, as he was relatively new to Oxford and it was his birthday; and for Willie Morris, because Willie was always game for any kind of a party.  That was 32 years ago; now, they’re all gone but their words remain. RH

*pictured top to bottom: J. D. Mark, T. Model Ford,
Karl Pohrt (3rd from left) with other great booksellers -- Rick Simonson of Elliott Bay, Paul Yamazaki of City Lights, and Sarah McNally of McNally Jackson Books, and Will Campbell