Among our 2016 bestsellers, we were glad to see on the list National Book Award winner Colson Whitehead’s #97 Underground Railroad and #100 The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, along with Calvin Trillin and #98 Jackson, 1964, a book that should continue to be regarded as one of the best books about race in America; Yaa Gyasi’s #87 Homegoing, a bookseller favorite here; Paul Kalanithi’s national bestseller, #77 When Breath Becomes Air; #74 Girls by Emma Cline; and Ta Nehisi Coates’ groundbreaking #72 Between the World and Me; and an old book made new by the film, #73 The Free State of Jones by Victoria Bynum.
Jennifer Ackerman, who has been here with several books, was unable to come with her excellent #57 The Genius of Birds, now in a tenth printing, as her husband, Karl Ackerman – who in past years has been here with his novels, The Patron Saint of Unmarried Women and Dear Will, as well as a couple of nonfiction books, and who in 1977–78 worked with Richard and Lisa Howorth in the Savile Bookshop in Washington, D. C., where Jennifer and Karl met – passed away at their home in Charlottesville. It’s important to focus on and prepare for what is ahead in 2017, but it is perhaps more important to remember and honor what and whom we have lost. Karl Ackerman was a friend to many in Charlottesville, a beast of good humor and a warrior for truth, justice, and the written word.
In addition to Karl and the irrepressible Pat Conroy, who visited here at least a half dozen times, we also lost this year Jim Harrison, who came to Oxford and Square Books well over a dozen times with his larger-than-life presence and his consistently wise, entertaining, and moving books, including novels, poetry, non-fiction, and, this year, #87 The Ancient Minstrel. We also remember with great fondness the late Ron Borne, who in recent years attended readings at Square Books more reliably than anyone in town. Because of this, he was like a member of our staff, a kind of special ambassador, a renaissance man with a wide variety of both interests and friends who always made a visiting author feel welcome and appreciated. He wrote the biography of Bill Clegg, Troutmouth, and it is our understanding that he had completed or very nearly completed a book about Jim Carmody, called The Big Nasty, that Nautilus plans to publish this year. And Richard Adams, Elie Wiesel, Katherine Dunn, C. K. Williams, Umberto Eco, Dario Fo, James Salter, W. P. Kinsella, Gloria Naylor, William Trevor, and, among others – amidst all the noise and, finally, in peace – Harper Lee.