This week saw two articles mentioning Square Books and Oxford.  One in Smithsonian magazine "The 20 Best Small Towns in America" and the other in Canada's second largest newspaper The Globe and Mail, "The Best Bookstores in North America."  They both said really nice things about Square Books that caused us first to blush, then to worry that  we would live up to the promise, then to begin tallying all the great bookstores not mentioned.  After further reflection, we wondered if these mentions of Square Books and Oxford in the same week really coincidental?  Independent bookstores all over North America are essential, active, contributing members of their communities helping make their home, be it city or town, the best place to live.


We're delighted we are the Bookstore of the Month in McSweeny's online newsletter.  Square Book's Cody Morrison has endorsed two McSweeny's books, HOT PINK by Adam Levin, and MAGIC HOURS: ESSAYS ON CREATORS AND CREATIONS, by Tom Bissell. 

And as many of you know, Mary Marge Locker, freshman English major at Ole Miss, has a column of essays published on the McSweeny's site.  To read her work, please click here.   




Lewis Nordan
Lewis Nordan died over the weekend, on Saturday, April 14.  He was born in 1939 in Forest, Mississippi, and grew up in the Mississippi Delta in the town of Itta Bena, the model of his fictional village, Arrow Catcher, which was prominent in his work, including his first book, a short story collection entitled Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Fair that was published when Buddy (as his friends knew him) was forty-five.  When he had received his PhD at Auburn – in literature, Shakespeare – and was unable to find a teaching job, he attended the MFA writing program at Arkansas.  He once told me that his writing epiphany occurred there, in the final moments while preparing to give his first reading at a Fayetteville bar, and he realized that the strength in his story was built around its best phrasing.  He circled those sentences and phrases, crossing the rest of the material out, then simply told the story by relying on what remained.
The late Martha Lacy Hall, the Magnolia, Mississippi, native and great editor at LSU Press, discovered and published Arrow-Catcher in 1983, and a second book of stories, The All-Girl Football Team, a few years later.  Both books would later be adopted into the prestigious Vintage Contemporaries series.  Nordan’s break-out book was Music of the Swamp, published by Algonquin editor Shannon Ravenel in 1991, a roman a clef that I have no problem including in my top ten favorite novels.  This novel and later work (Wolf Whistle, The Sharpshooter Blues) included such standard Nordan features as the Mississippi Delta, magical realism, and Sugar Mecklin, the writer’s boyhood alter ego.  They were incorporated even in his memoir, Boy With Loaded Gun, which was, as he once said, “full of lies.”
Few writers had an association with Square Books as active as Buddy Nordan’s in the 1990s, beginning with the publication of Music of the Swamp in 1991, when he read, on September 16, the unforgettably great (and long) story, A Hank of Hair, A Piece of Bone.  We would see him two years later with Wolf Whistle; in 1995 with The Sharpshooter Blues; in 1996 for the Oxford Conference for the Book (a riotous reading); in 1997 for Lightning Song; and in 2000 for Boy With Loaded Gun.  The audience grew with every appearance.  Buddy Nordan’s mischievous, gentle, and warm spirit was always with him, whether here in his home state or in Pittsburg, where he taught for many years.  He said that he wanted “to write about love and death in a comic way,” and he did so, fabulously.  RH   
In the coming weeks we will post a blog in three parts of "SUGAR'S BUDDY," from the introduction by Richard Howorth to Lewis Nordan's "SUGAR AMONG THE FREAKS"


It is always entertaining to listen to the authors who appear on Thacker Mountain Radio each Thursday here at Off Square Books, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that author appearances are also intended to be educational.  In furtherance of this  educational mission  we were lucky last night to have David Rees, "the number one #2 pencil sharpener" and author of HOW TO SHARPEN PENCILS (Melville House, $19.95) give us a demonstration straight from Chapter 14 on "Sharpening Pencils for Children."  It was a fun learning experience for all and Mr. Rees made it look so easy, but remember, he is a professional and has spent years honing his craft, so it would be advisable to purchase a copy of his book (which we now have copies signed by David Rees with a pencil he sharpened himself!) 


      Mississippi’s most renowned independent book sellers will gather at Ole Miss on March 20 to discuss how they have managed to thrive in an era in which small stores are regularly gobbled up by the big chains. 
      Richard Howorth, the owner of Square Books in Oxford, John Evans of Lemuria in Jackson, Jamie Kornegay of TurnRow Book Company in Greenwood and Emily Gatlin of Gum Tree Book Store in Tupelo make up a panel that will discuss the state of the book selling trade and the ongoing national war between the big box stores and the independents. They will share their survival secrets at 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 20th at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.
      Howorth, a former Oxford mayor and a frequent host to some of the nation’s best-known authors, operates three book stores within a short stroll of each other on the town square. His Off-Square Books annex hosts the town’s popular Thacker Mountain Radio show.
      Evans started Lemuria in a small converted apartment in 1975 saw it grow into a much larger store just off I-55 in Jackson. It has since expanded, with occupying an adjacent warehouse-like space where authors can speak and customers sip beer.
      Before opening TurnRow and its popular sandwich shop in downtown Greenwood, Kornegay got his start writing for the Oxford Eagle. He got the book bug, started writing fiction and took a job at Square Books. He also found time to produce Thacker Mountain Radio.
      Emily Gatlin’s frequent book reviews and her “bookseller Barbie” blogs on the book trade have become well known to aficionados. Her book events at Gum Tree have helped the store, housed in Tupelo’s legendary Reed’s department store, become a regular on the author circuit.
      Overby Fellow Bill Rose will moderate the panel, which is free and open to the public.

For more information please visit


Square Books wants you to know that on April 11 the Lafayette County Oxford Library will sponsor The Book Lives On Art Show, with an auction of handmade books created by University of Mississippi students.  Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Friends of the Library, a group that helps make many things happen at our library.  For more information go to:

William Gay

William Gay (on the right) pictured with Richard Flanagan
William Gay
On October 28, 1999, William Gay came to read at Square Books soon after his first novel, The Long Home, had been published by MacMurray & Beck; he was then fifty-five years old.   One could say Gay was a shy man, but he easily found company among the literary and music subculture in Oxford, as well as in its many watering holes.   Oxford was a short drive from William's home in Hohenwald, Tennessee, where he had been a laborer, mostly hanging drywall, in this small town of fewer than 4,000.   He made frequent visits to Oxford, often staying many days at a time.   He was unassuming and soft-spoken, and had, in addition to his broad acquaintance with literature, an encyclopedic knowledge of music and a wry, subtle sense of humor.   We immediately took to him as one of our own.   Likely because he came to writing late in life, and for so long had been such an avid reader, his novels and stories were perhaps greater than those of many more experienced authors.   William appeared at Square Books -- and gave wonderful readings -- for all his subsequent books: Provinces of Night (2000), I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down (2002), Wittgenstein's Lolita / The Iceman, and Twilight (2006).   Hohenwald will be remembered as the place where Meriwether Lewis ended his own life, the location of The Elephant Sanctuary (the largest natural habitat area for elephants in the U. S.), and the home of William Gay, a great writer and a dear friend to many of us in Oxford.


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