Yesterday on Page 9 of the New York Times Book Review there appeared a full-page ad for a new book whose title or author is likely unfamiliar to you, Dark Monk, by Oliver Potzsch, the second in a series by the author published by Houghton Mifflin. Full-page ads in this publication, which reportedly cost north of $100,000, are not all that unusual.

But what is rare about this ad, which depicts a gothic image of monks in an old cathedral or abbey, with very little text to accompany it, is that nowhere in the ad does the name of the publisher appear. The author's name is there, with a smaller image of the book cover, the title, and a bold pitch line to readers, in red ink: IT WOULD BE A SIN TO MISS IT. Publishers always attach their brand to this sort of ad, but in this one the publisher's name is absent. Why is that?

It may be that Houghton Mifflin doesn't want its name to appear. Or it could be that the publisher of this book isn't really Houghton Mifflin. Most readers don't know that this book, and others like it, are being published through an arrangement with Amazon, the monopolist online retail giant that continues to spread its tentacles throughout the book industry (and upon government, as the company has successfully refused to pay sales tax for years and recently convinced a witless Department of Justice to file suit against six major publishers on its behalf -- but those are other stories).

The name Amazon is very hard to find on these books. It does not appear on the spine or cover. There is no Amazon logo anywhere. If you look carefully, you'll see the word Amazon in very small print on the title page, as that's required by the Library of Congress, a branch of government that apparently continues to function properly.

One must suppose that Amazon is keeping its name out of the ad and off the cover of the books it is publishing for one of two reasons. Either part of the deal with Houghton Mifflin was that it would not allow Amazon to put its name on the book, or Amazon is just being stealthily quiet about this particular aspect of the heist it is pulling on American culture and commerce.

In any event, something shameful is going on here. That much is obvious.

Richard Howorth

Square Books at BEA

Square Books owner Richard Howorth (third from left in back) and Cody Morrison (front row, left) bookstore buyer, pose at BookExpo America in New York City this week. 
Booksellers and Coffee House Press staff gathered to promote a book in which they all played a part: Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores, edited with a preface by Hans Weyandt and introduced by Ann Patchett. An ode to the art of traditional bookselling and independent bookstores, the book is a collection of top 50 lists from 25 booksellers around the country along with anecdotes and interviews about the life of being a bookseller, reader and engaged citizen. 


A Land More Kind Than Home is an Appalachian story with bad blood between families, snake-handling, faith healing and a tragic death -- while some of the expected Appalachian elements are present, this is a unique story that should not be lightly compared to others from the region. Wiley Cash is a fresh voice, a writer who has full control of this atmospheric tale that mixes Southern Gothic with literary thriller. Narrated by three characters, a boy Jess, whose mute brother dies under mysterious circumstances; the sheriff, whose past is linked with Jess’ present and future; and the local midwife, who is also the community’s moral conscience, this engaging tale is way more than a coming-of-age story, more than a rural drama. It has depth and mood and sadness and courage -- and darned good writing (“....bold, daring, graceful, and engrossing” says Bobbie Ann Mason). SLM



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