Heavy is the utterly unvarnished story of Kiese Laymon's coming of age in Jackson, Mississippi. Its narrative is addressed "you"—you being his mother, who cautions Kiese in seventh grade to “be twice as excellent and be twice as careful from this point on,” because “Being twice as excellent as white folk will get you half of what they get. Being anything less will get you hell.” This incredible book now joins a memoir pantheon that includes North Toward Home, Black Boy, One Writer's Beginnings, All God's Dangers, Harry Crews' A Childhood, and The Men We Reaped—books that matter and will last a long, long time. It is full of drama and laughter and fear and darkness and love, and to read it is a frightening, joyful and simply awesome experience. With an ear for language as fine as any writer we've known, Laymon and Heavy, with its subtitle of An American Memoir, bring to life Willie Morris' theorem that "America is Mississippi writ large."
This first book from Paula Saunders, while a novel, follows the author's own coming of age in Rapid City, South Dakota, where she and her brother preternaturally take up dancing, encouraged by their mother, especially once a former member of the Ballet Russes moves to town and becomes their teacher. Their father, like his father, was a cattle trader who would be gone for work weeks at a time, and when he came home he was none too happy to see his son pirouetting about the house. Saunders brings forth from this household the intense degrees of love and stress, straightforwardly and compellingly, by the skill of a very gifted writer. Do not start reading The Distance Home unless you have plenty of waking hours ahead of you, because you will struggle to put it down. And, once you finish, these characters will continue to live with you as you begin to understand how far the distance home can be.
This short story ensemble gets its title from the story, “The World Has Many Butterflies” in which a man and woman play a little game they’ve invented, “You Think It, I’ll Say It,” candidly sizing up their peers whenever they get bored at the tiresome parties thrown by local grown-up friends. But it is more apt as a remark Curtis Sittenfeld (Prep
, American Wife, Eligible) poses to her readers, as she teases one’s imagination with the inner lives of her characters, people she understands we know, in their complicated, sweet, and often messy lives. Sittenfeld adroitly unfolds her tales to create drama that touches the reader’s experience, imagined or real, in a way that vividly answers the challenge of literature: to open that window that allows us to see and measure ourselves.
When Brother to a Dragonfly came out in 1977, I was working at the Savile Bookshop in Washington DC, trying to learn the business and decide whether to come home to open a bookstore here. More than anything, perhaps, it was this book, and, the following year, Barry Hannah's Airships, that made me want to hurry home and do that -- two books that, forty years later, I am still recommending to readers. Dragonfly, reissued here with an intro by John Lewis, is a Mississippian's must-read.
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.
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Beck, for Rebecca, Dorey-Stein, a Wesleyan grad in her mid-20s, unemployed and living in D. C., is going nowhere fast. In 2012 she answers a Craigslist ad for a stenographer by sending her resume. She gets a call for an interview and blows it off (what the hell is a stenographer, anyway?), and then a follow-up call telling her, oh, by the way, you might want to reschedule an interview as the position is in the White House. For the next four years she is around Barack Obama almost constantly, and when she's not with POTUS she's partying and intermittently trying to fix her wacky love life. This is a Washington memoir revealing its author's uncharacteristic candor, charm, intelligence and heart, as well as an occasionally up-close view of a president exhibiting those same qualities.
In the process of explaining how he came to decide that taking down Confederate monuments was a good idea in the city of which he was its mayor, New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu offers insights to his family and upbringing that led to this decision; an entertaining glimpse, some of it seen through the eyes of his father, Mayor Moon Landrieu, at New Orleans and Louisiana history; a disturbingly convincing chapter on the many similarities between David Duke and Donald Trump; the personal travail required and toll that taking down the monuments took on him; and the relief and reflection that the act ultimately afforded him and many others.
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This British writer has been rewarding his readers with some of the most unusual and unusually good fiction for ten books now. In his newest work, two European teenage girls meet circa World War I. Through circumstances the father of one marries the mother of the other, enabling Lucie and Suzanne to use their new sister relationship to disguise their love affair. In Paris they run with such literary bulls as Hemingway and Andre Breton, then move to the island of Jersey where they plot their part in the Nazi resistance and put their own lives in jeopardy.
In our bookstore we maintain a special section containing Wendell Berry's books because, while he writes in the categories of poetry, fiction, nature, philosophy, literary non-fiction, and economics, his work is centered around his values and beliefs rather than genre, style or approach. Here is an offering of America's great poet-philosopher, the writer who employs a gentle touch to say serious things, the Kentucky writer who should be awarded the Nobel Prize, in this generous selection of his wisdom and writings.
Rick Bragg's readers love his writing about family, and when this writer starts talking about food, and his mama's cooking, best to just get out of the way. Or his granddaddy, for that matter: "He crumbled fried cornbread into two glasses, poured in cold buttermilk, put in a dash of salt and pepper, and stuck in two blades of fresh green onion and two spoons. It was funny how such a simple thing could be so good." Rick Bragg has been coming to Square Books—thankfully—since All Over But the Shoutin', and we always leave his events happy and a bit awestruck. Don't miss him on this one, or give us a call for a signed copy.
In the citation for his Man Booker Prize, judges referred to Flanagan's prose "of extraordinary elegance and force," in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, for which the author visited here just prior to the award. The protagonist of First Person accepts a job to ghostwrite the autobiography of a notorious, egotistical, con-man celebrity, and in the process begins to lose his own identity and its mooring to his family. Clever, suspenseful, elegant writing, and a parable for our age: "You think you know him, and then find out you don't know anything. You think he's telling the truth and it turns out to be all lies. Maybe he doesn't even care about the money and it's just a game."
In Steve Yarbrough's The Unmade World we are rewarded with the highest qualities of well-written storytelling, circumstances warped by tension and humor, diverse and finely-drawn characters (Euro-thugs!), and a plot that rarely takes its foot off the gas. The total effect is a dynamite novel, one I admire and frankly had trouble putting down.
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.
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The Library of America recently has added to its now 300+ volume list two books that comprise the Complete Stories of Peter Taylor. The Tennessean whose Southern postmodernist peers—all born within ten years of Taylor (1917)—included Walker Percy, Richard Wright, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, William Styron and Flannery O'Connor. Of these, Welty, O'Connor and Taylor were the unquestioned short story masters. Edited and with an introduction by Ann Beattie, who will be here for the Book Conference to read from her own work and talk about Peter Taylor.