At Square Books it's not unusual to see people open the front door, stick their heads in, then turn around and leave. We know who these people are. They have seen the Fortune's Ice Cream sign on our building, come in for ice cream, then think, no, this is a bookstore. We run after them because, like we said, we know them. We quickly say, "Are you looking for ice cream?" And they say, "Yes!"
For a long time, through the ownership of four families—the Furrs, the Rolands, the Blaylocks, and another we can't quite remember—the Square Books building was a drugstore, with a soda fountain located just to the right upon enterning. At some point the drugstore bought its ice cream from Fortune's, based in Memphis, and the Fortune folks surely gave the drugstore this sign in the same way Budweiser gives its sign to bars: to sell more beer; and in Fortune's case, more ice cream. The image to the right is from Oxford, Mississippi: The Cofield Collection when the building was home to Blaylock's Drug Store.
When the Howorths bought the building in 1984, and planned to renovate it (the balcony that had been removed at one point needed to be restored and, among other things, the store needed an interior staircase), one thing was certain: the Fortune's sign wasn't going anywhere. Even then, it had been there long enough to have become iconic.
And if the sign stayed, then Square Books had better have ice cream. (Years ago, one red-faced man walked in, threw his toothpick on the floor, and said, "That sign is false advertising!") But we had ice cream the day we moved into this location, which is when the Square Books cafe opened, becoming the first place in Oxford, and for many years the only place, to serve espresso or cappuccino. Which reminds us of the visitor from Los Angeles who came to the cafe in the late 80s. He told us he was walking around the square and asked “a native,” “'Is there a place around here where I can get an espresso?' The man gazed at me,” he continued, “then said, ‘Is that a fish?’”
We digress. Who or what was Fortune? Thanks to Vance Lauderdale, who writes about "Lost Memphis" for Memphis City magazine, we know that Fortune's began with Harold Fortune, who had a drug store at Belvedere and Union Avenue in Memphis in the 1920s and, realizing his soda shop was generating more revenue than anything else, expanded his ice cream business. He first created Fortune's Jungle Garden, the "World's first drive-in restaurant and curb service," then, in the 1960s, began operating it entirely as an ice cream enterprise, distributing ice cream throughout the region, including here in Oxford.
Fortune's disappeared from the landscape when I-40 came through Memphis, and with it their ice cream. But the sign here in Oxford stayed. Chris Stead patched a large hole in the sign with some kind of voodoo epoxy in the mid-80s, which held up until a few years ago. The longer the sign has stayed the greater its legend grows. Our Fortune's T-shirt remains popular—as Oxford people and University of Mississippi students know that it means, well, Oxford.
We sold Avent's ice cream until they closed, then we got it from Luvel for a while. And today we have two kinds—Blue Bunny, and the delicious, Clarksdale-based, Sweet Magnolia Gelato Co. Their gelato is made with cream from Brown Family Dairy—a Lafayette County business owned by the son of Oxford's homegrown writer, the late Larry Brown, who wrote about the farm in his collection of essays, Billy Ray's Farm. We don’t have cones, sprinkles, etc., just ice cream in a cup with a little wooden spoon like the ones you had in elementary school.
This is a long prelude to our invitation to come upstairs sometime this summer, sit down with us, inside or on the balcony, browse a book or two, and enjoy yourself with some ice cream, ice tea, a soda, maybe with a cookie, ice coffee, or—how does this sound?—an iced coffee float!
The summer has brought not only the heat, but also a great selection of vacation reads. Check out the books below and come by the store to see what else we have.
Florida by Lauren Groff
Signed Copies Available
Storms, snakes, sinkholes, and secrets: In Lauren Groff's Florida, the hot sun shines, but a wild darkness lurks. Florida is a "superlative" book (Boston Globe), "gorgeously weird and limber" (New Yorker), "frequently funny" (San Francisco Chronicle), "brooding, inventive and often moving" (NPR Fresh Air) — as Groff is recognized as "Florida's unofficial poet laureate, as Joan Didion was for California." (Washington Post)
Good Trouble: Stories by Joseph O'Neill
A masterly collection of eleven stories about the way we live now from the best-selling author of Netherland. From bourgeois facial-hair trends to parental sleep deprivation, Joseph O'Neill closely observes the mores of his characters, whose vacillations and second thoughts expose the mysterious pettiness, underlying violence, and, sometimes, surprising beauty of ordinary life in the early twenty-first century.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
"Beautifully written and incredibly funny, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about the importance of friendship and human connection. I fell in love with Eleanor, an eccentric and regimented loner whose life beautifully unfolds after a chance encounter with a stranger; I think you will fall in love, too " — Reese Witherspoon
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward's historic second National Book Award-winner is "perfectly poised for the moment" (The New York Times)—an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. "Ward's writing throbs with life, grief, and love... this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it" (Buzzfeed).
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
Two couples take their four children ages six to eleven on a holiday cruise and all goes well until they take an ill fated day trip on the coast of Panama where the children disappear and are later discovered to have been abducted by drug runners. It sounds harrowing and it is an intense read but it's also a nuanced examination of family and what it means to be American told from multiple points of view. The result is a remarkable experience that will have you flipping pages to find out what happens and yet you'll also find that you want to slow down just to savor the writing. — CM
Shark Drunk by Morten Stroksnes
In this true story, two friends, the author and the eccentric artist Hugo Aasjord, set out onto the icy Norweigan waters surrounding the islands. Their quest: to pursue the infamous Greenland shark—a massive creature that can grow to twenty-six feet in length and more than a ton in weigh—from a tiny rubber boat. But the shark is not known for its size alone: its meat contains a toxin that, when consumed, has been known to make people drunk and hallucinatory.
Calypso by David Sedaris
(Little Brown & Co., $28.00)
Signed Copies Available
When David Sedaris buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, he envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it's impossible to take a vacation from yourself.
Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley
(MCD/Farrar Straus & Giroux, $26.00)
Signed Copies Available
From the New York Times-bestselling author Sloane Crosley comes Look Alive Out There—a brand-new collection of essays filled with her trademark hilarity, wit, and charm. The characteristic heart and punch-packing observations are back, but with a newfound coat of maturity. A thin coat. More of a blazer, really.
The Gulf: The Making of an America Sea by Jack E. Davis
No region of the American South has experienced a more diverse history than the Gulf of Mexico. This so called "American Sea" has been the sight of some of our nation's greatest triumphs while also being the source of our greatest tragedies. Davis' marvelous book chronicles every moment in prose as refreshing as a summer dip in cool, coastal waters. — AR
The Lonely Witness by William Boyle
Signed Copies Available
After a traumatizing adolescence and self-destructive young adulthood, Amy resolves to lead a quiet life helping through the simple austerity of the neighborhood Catholic Church. It's in the midst of this stewardship that she finds herself witness to an act of what seems to be random violence. Though horrified, the thrill and danger of the act draw Amy further and further back into a world of moral ambivalence, desperation, and horizons that extend beyond a few blocks in Brooklyn, where she finds herself at a crossroads between who she was, who she wishes to be, and perhaps something altogether different from either.
The Saboteur by Paul Kix
Signed Copies Available
In the tradition of Agent Zigzag comes this breathtaking biography, as fast-paced and emotionally intuitive as the very best spy thrillers, which illuminates an unsung hero of the French Resistance during World War II—Robert de La Rochefoucauld, an aristocrat turned anti-Nazi saboteur—and his daring exploits as a résistant trained by Britain’s Special Operations Executive.
On Saturday, June 23rd, we're celebrating Square Books, Jr.'s fifteenth birthday! We're having a sale for 15% off all items at Square Books, Jr. all day long. There will also be prizes, presents, and cupcakes. Read about the store's opening here.
Atticus Finch: The Biography by Joseph Crespino
(Basic Books, $27.00; signed copies available)
It has been nearly three years since the publication of Harper Lee's once long-dormant first novel, Go Set a Watchman, and its surrounding controversy in relation to its successor, To Kill a Mockingbird, the most beloved novel of modern American literature. Both books, says Crespino, "became a kind of Rorschach test for the politics of race in the period that they were published." Three years is time enough for the issue to have dissipated somewhat, and also time for historian Joseph Crespino to complete research on Harper Lee's central character, "...the orienting figure of both novels, that touchstone of decency and goodness itself, Atticus Finch," who was based on Lee's father. Crespino's previous books on Southern politics and race, combined with his discovery of much unused or unknown research material, bring tremendous scholarship and insight to our understanding of Harper Lee and Atticus Finch. — RH
The Soul of America by Jon Meacham
(Random House, $30.00; signed copies available)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment in American politics and life by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame division and fear. While the American story has not always—or even often—been heroic, we have been sustained by a belief in progress even in the gloomiest of times. In this inspiring book, Meacham reassures us, "The good news is that we have come through such darkness before," as time and again, Abraham Lincoln's better angels have found a way to prevail.
A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers
(Little Brown & Co., $26.00; signed copies available)
It's still pretty early in the year but I'm pretty confident when I say that this will be one of the best works of fiction you are likely to read in 2018. Kevin Powers announced his arrival on the literary scene with his debut Yellow Birds, a powerful novel of modern war which went on to be a finalist for the National Book Award. Now he returns with a searing story of the Civil War and its long aftermath. Spanning over one hundred years and featuring a cast of characters whose lives are interwoven seamlessly, A Shout in the Ruins is a stunning achievement. — CM
Exploded View: Essays on Fatherhood, with Diagrams by Dustin Parsons
(University of Georgia Press, $19.99; signed copies available)
In Exploded View "graphic" essays play with the conventions of telling a life story and with how illustration and text work together in print. As with a graphic novel, the story is not only in the text but also in how that text interacts with the images that accompany it. This memoir distinguishes itself from others in its "graphic" elements—the appropriated diagrams, instructions, and "exploded view" inventory images—that Parsons has used. They help guide the reader's understanding of the piece, giving them a visual anchor for the story, and add a technical aspect to the lyric essays that they hold.
The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith
(Little Brown, $26.00; signed copies available)
Michael Farris Smith has inherited the rough south of Larry Brown and created his own rugged terrain. It is a world populated by people with few choices in life, not many of them good. Violence, physical, mental and social, is prevalent and the response to it shapes lives. Jack Boucher is immersed in this world and has to enter it one final time to have his last chance at redemption. This is another spare, powerful, beautifully composed work by a writer who can probe the dark side of the American dream like no other. — BC
Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
(Simon & Schuster, $35.00; signed copies available)
Leonardo may well have been the greatest genius in history and certainly had the most inquisitive mind, the result being the creation of some of the greatest works of art known. Using the voluminous journals which he kept as a primary source, Walter Isaacson presents an engrossing portrait of the scientist, inventor, artist, supreme polymath who was also very human and enthralled with nature and the condition of life which he embraced so deeply. After reading this work, a person can easily understand what forces helped create the eternal greatness of works such as the Mona Lisa. — BC
Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces by Michael Chabon
(Harper, $19.99; signed copies available)
Michael Chabon delivers a collection of essays—heartfelt, humorous, insightful, wise—on the meaning of fatherhood. For the September 2016 issue of GQ, Michael Chabon wrote a piece about accompanying his son Abraham Chabon, then thirteen, to Paris Men’s Fashion Week. Possessed with a precocious sense of style, Abe was in his element chatting with designers he idolized and turning a critical eye to the freshest runway looks of the season; Chabon Sr., whose interest in clothing stops at “thrift-shopping for vintage western shirts or Hermès neckties,” sat idly by, staving off yawns and fighting the impulse that the whole thing was a massive waste of time. Despite his own indifference, however, what gradually emerged as Chabon ferried his son to and from fashion shows was a deep respect for his son’s passion. The piece quickly became a viral sensation. With the GQ story as its centerpiece, and featuring six additional essays plus an introduction, Pops illuminates the meaning, magic, and mysteries of fatherhood.
Country Dark by Chris Offutt
(Grove Press, $24.00; signed copies available)
Country Dark is a novel that spans 1954-1971, opening with Tucker's return from Korea, where he had special training in killing other men, to his rural Kentucky home near the Ohio border to take up his job as a driver in a bootlegging operation. He is devoted to his rural home life and to his young wife and children, and once their way of life is threatened, he understands he may have to fight to keep it together. Chris Offutt's new novel is almost impossible to stop reading, but it also must be savored for its elegant but unpretentious phrasing, and for its surprises, which we won't talk about here. — RH
The Lonely Witness by William Boyle
(Pegasus, $25.95; signed copies available)
After a traumatizing adolescence and self-destructive young adulthood, Amy resolves to lead a quiet life helping through the simple austerity of the neighborhood Catholic Church. It's in the midst of this stewardship that she finds herself witness to an act of what seems to be random violence. Though horrified, the thrill and danger of the act draw Amy further and further back into a world of moral ambivalence, desperation, and horizons that extend beyond a few blocks in Brooklyn. Faced with old lovers, estranged relatives, and an unreliable potential partner in crime, Amy finds herself at a crossroads between who she was, who she wishes to be, and perhaps something altogether different from either. Boyle's slow burn and twisty mystery delivers a clever spin on the woman-in-peril trope giving us a complicated but always sympathetic heroine and makes for an engrossing and honest read about the shaping and portrayal of self and the frightening (or is it freeing?) mutability of our destinies. — KO
All remainder books at Off Square Books are on sale for 30% off. Stop by the bargain section and see what you might find.
Claire Legrand reads her YA Fantasy novel Furyborn at Off Square Books on Tuesday, June 5th. Furyborn is an epic fantasy of otherworldly beings, antiheroes, and intricate world-building. As Rielle strives to control her elemental magic to fulfill a prophecy and win the prince she secretly loves, we also follow Elianna, an assassin known as Dread, as she struggles to protect her family and maintain her morality amidst the growing darkness in her soul. Rielle and Elianna are separated by thousands of years, but both are forces to be reckoned with as they shape the futures of the kingdoms they hold dear.
Pre-order a signed first edition of the next John Grisham novel, which releases on October 23rd.
John Grisham returns to Clanton, Mississippi, to tell the story of an unthinkable murder, the bizarre trial that follows it, and its profound and lasting effect on the people of Ford County.
Square Books, Jr. hosts scores of writers every year who sign wonderful, fun, or important books here, and often those who wish to get the book—for whatever reason—miss the opportunity. With a TEEN'S FIRST subscription, you—or, if you are purchasing this as a gift, your teen—will be guaranteed signed books and you will be forming the foundation for a life of reading and a lovely, valuable personal library, too! Starting in June 2018, a subscription gets you three signed books for this year. The first pick is Claire Legrand's Furyborn, who reads at Off Square Books on June 5th. Provide us your name, mailing address, and preferred method of billing, and we will send you a book in June, September, and November. There is no additional charge for the signing—all books are billed at list price, plus postage. For more information, please contact email@example.com or call 662-236-2207.