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Posts Tagged ‘SIBA’

As noted in a previous post, BookExpo America — the annual publishing/bookselling convention-marathon-extravaganza — is in NYC this week. I’m not there, but thanks to social networking (this blog, FB, Twitter), I have a pretty good idea what’s happening, and I’m not totally exhausted with sore feet and sensory overload.

Armchair BEA was set up especially for bloggers who can’t make it to the Big Apple, and we’re checking in from all over the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia.

When I started blogging about books in January 2010, I found myself part of a huge global community of readers and writers. I had gone out on disability from the Orlando Sentinel in 2005 after 20 years as book critic, and while I was out of the loop, publishing, bookselling and reviewing underwent dramatic changes. As print outlets dried up and/or died, many journalists turned to the Internet to communicate about books and other arts and entertainment topics that had become marginalized in print.

In the blogosphere, we found ourselves in the company of librarians, teachers, authors, publishers, booksellers and enthusiastic readers. My to-do list includes compiling a more comprehensive blog roll of the varied blogs I read on a fairly regular basis, including Ti’s Book Chatter, Sandy’s You’ve Gotta Read This (both of whom have been faithful, encouraging readers of this blog since the beginning), and so many others I’ve discovered.

When I’m not reading books, I’m reading about books at Shelf Awareness and Galley Cat and media web sites, such as the Guardian UK, Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, New Yorker, NPR. Everywhere there are links to more sites and e-newsletters, many of them aimed at special interests. I just discovered Alice Marvels for teen fiction. Many authors blog on their own at their site’s — my pal Mary Kay Andrews — or in small groups, such as Jungle Red, Lipstick Chronicles, the Naked Dead.

Most publishers now have digital marketing specialists and offer amazing blogs and newsletters. Check out Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Macmillan, John F. Blair, Random House, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins,  Melville House, you name it. Sometimes, there are contests and giveaways on publishers Facebook pages. (Thank you, Avon Books for the classic romance paperbacks!)

Oh, and there are great sites for book clubs, and great bookstore sites, such as Powell’s and SIBA (southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance). Do you know about the social network group, Goodreads? I need to update my list of books read and add new friends.

Reading and writing used to be my job. Now it’s a hobby. I loved BEA, and its predecessor, ABA, because it was the one time of year when I actually saw people with whom I talked to on the phone or had e-mail conversations. I had the chance to interview some of my favorite writers. We talked about their books and other authors’ books. How cool to discover that the late, great David Halberstam shared my enthusiasm for Alan Furst’s historical novels? To have my picture taken with Neil Gaiman. To chat with Alice Munro at a party and sit next to Russell Banks at lunch. To catch up with Laura Lippman and listen to Richard Ford read. To hear Pat Conroy and Kate DiCamillo wow audiences with heartfelt speeches. To rock out to the Rock Bottom Remainders, whose members included Stephen King, Dave Barry and Amy Tan. At the 2003 BEA in LA, I assumed my Caroline Cousins identity to sign copies of Fiddle Dee Death at the Blair booth.

Whoa. That was then. I was younger and healthier. This is now, and well, I need a nap. Thank you, Armchair BEA for offering a comfortable way to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.

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Southern belles are nothing if not resourceful. Scarlett O’Hara set the bar high when she turned those green velvet curtains into a fancy ballgown. Then there was Aunt Lucille in Mark Childress’ 1993 novel Crazy in Alabama, who came up with an unconventional use for Tupperware as she headed for Hollywood. Now, there’s Georgia Bottoms — not a place but a person — and the title character in Childress’ new Southern- fried funhouse of a tale.

A thirtysomething beauty who lives with her mother and younger brother in the old family home, Georgia  sits in the same pew at the Baptist church every Sunday and hosts a lavish ladies’ luncheon each September. She knows that keeping up appearances in Six Points, Ala., means keeping secrets. Like Little Mama is losing her mind but not her racist attitudes. Like Brother is a lovable loser who slips out for a beer after AA meetings. Like the quilts Georgia sells for a huge markup aren’t her own handiwork. That she’s living off the “gifts” of six gentlemen callers, each of whom she entertains on a strictly scheduled night of the week in the garage apartment. Not a one knows about the other. 

“It takes a special kind of woman to slip out of her own skin into a man’s fantasy, then back into herself, night after night without losing track of who she was. Sometimes she had to be the most sensitive, sharp-seeing person on earth. Other times it was better to be blind. It took Georgia years to learn this.”

Georgia is the very soul of discretion. Which is why she is aghast one Sunday morning when her Mr. Saturday Night — the preacher — stammers at the pulpit, apparently intending to confess his sins to the congregation. The wheels are about to come off Georgia’s little red wagon, her life careening out of control, unless . . . What would Scarlett do?

Georgia’s immediate and successive plans to rescue herself from scandal call on all her resources in the days to come and the years ahead.  It also provides for one laugh-aloud set piece after another as Childress, who grew up in Alabama and now lives in Key West, expertly skewers Southern manners and morals, lingering issues of class and race. 

 The town doctor experiences embarrassing side effects from the little blue pill he pops. The FBI hauls off Brother as a suspected domestic terrorist.   Little Mama’s pellet gun peppers a couple of deputy sheriffs. A lanky young black man from New Orleans with familiar good looks shows up at Georgia’s door.

Childress’ characters are comic without being cartoonish, and Georgia’s stubborn self-interest makes her more than a high-class call girl with a heart of gold. Early in the story, when the events of 9/11 derail her luncheon, her attempts to give away the party food offend a pediatrician who later runs for mayor against Georgia’s best friend, who blames her.

Georgia doesn’t pay much attention to life beyond Six Points, but Childress does, and the pay-off is an ending just so appropriate for this blithe belle that you’ll be sorry to see her in the rear-view mirror. Georgia Bottoms  is a keeper.

Open Book: I first met Mark Childress years ago when I interviewed him about his novel Tender,  about a Southern boy with a big voice and certain similarities to an icon who has left the building.  These days we keep up on Facebook. I bought the e-book version of Georgia Bottoms (Little Brown), which is a spring Okra pick from SIBA.

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I am gorging on Florida strawberries, but I am studying okra and dreaming peaches. Let me explain.

SIBA — Southeast Independent Booksellers Alliance — recently announced its dozen “Okra Picks: Good Southern Books Fresh off the Vine” for the spring season as selected by its indie members. The fiction and nonfiction look appealing, but, yum, three books for foodies and cooks are on on the list,  High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica Harris (Bloomsbury), The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes by Sheri Castle (University of North Carolina Press) and A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home by Martha Hall Foose (Crown). Harris’ history of African-American cusine culture was published in January; the other two will be released in April.

I am especially looking forward to A Southerly Course because Mississippi chef Foose wrote Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook, an all-time favorite with its surprise take on traditional Southern fare — Sweet Tea Pie, dontcha know?!

My family (namely, my mother and the Caroline Cousins) tend to forget that just because I don’t cook much anymore doesn’t mean I don’t know how. How insulting is it when your nearest and dearest ask if you remember how to make a white sauce?! But even if I don’t spend time in the kitchen, I spend lots of time reading about food, especially Southern food. Why just the other day I talked my friend Jackie out of her new Southern Living because of the pound cake recipes. She graciously handed over the magazine with a hunk of her fresh-made banana nut bread, which I ate for breakfast.

The cover of Foose’s new book instantly drew me in with its picture of peaches tumbled together in an apron. Regular readers of this blog know that peaches are my favorite food. I have a large orange cat, the Giant Peach, and when I lived in the Midwest years ago, I stirred Peach Jell-O on the stove in winter just to smell its fragrance and remember summer.

The new Okra Picks —  http://www.sibaweb.com/okra — also reminded me that I signed up for my fellow book blogger BermudaOnion’s Okra Challenge back in the fall. You moved up the food ladder by reading a certain number of books and blogging about them. Four to six, for example, and you’re a Tater. To be an Okra, you have to read nine or more. I signed up to read seven to nine so I can be a Peach, of course.

I made it because I recently sat in a bookstore and read the only cookbook on the fall list, Southern Plate: Classic Southern Food That Makes Everyone Feel Like Family by Christy Jordan (HarperCollins). A home-grown Alabama cook with a wonderful blog, www.southernplate.com, Jordan offers family recipes, many as easy as pie (or cobbler). It was sort of like thumbing through my mama’s recipe box, or going through the cousins’ collections. Macaroni and cheese. Fried okra. Frozen cranberry  salad. Coupled with the color pictures, the recipes make for a mouth-watering volume. I haven’t bought it yet because I told someone I wanted it, and I’m hoping they didn’t think I was kidding.

Just writing this has me hungry and homesick. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some okra, corn and tomatoes in the freezer, so I’ll just go put some rice on. And, no, I don’t use that minute stuff. Honest.

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Last summer, the good folks at SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, suggested that its members “get in bed with a blogger,”  which sounded kind of hot. (Remember when we were complaining about the heat?!) Actually, the idea was that indies partner with bloggers to reach more readers and let them know what was going on at their local bookstores.

Alas, my local indie, Urban Think, in downtown Orlando, had recently closed its doors, as had many of its counterparts, casualties of the economy, the chains, the online stores, the warehouse stores, the rise of e-books, etc. Seems like every week now, I hear of the demise of another longtime indie, many of which hosted Caroline Cousins and other Southern writers over the years: The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, S.C.,  Davis-Kidd in Nashville, Bay Street Trading Company in Beaufort, S.C.  They are sorely missed.

But I want you to know my home island indie, The Edisto Bookstore on Edisto Island, S.C., is hanging in there. In fact, things were right busy when I was in there last week making my farewells before heading home to Florida. Several tourists were looking at the books, new and used, and a local woman popped in for a birthday card and a gift, knowing that owner Karen Carter has the best collection of both. Another islander needed a nautical chart. Both rental desktops in the internet cafe were in use (wi-fi is free if you have your own laptop), and one woman (obviously from “off”) rather rudely asked Karen and I to move our conversation about new books to another part of the store. We complied, just as a couple came in to visit Emily Grace.

Emily Grace is the bookstore cat, a pretty girl who wandered up on the porch three years ago. She now has her own private quarters in the tiny back office, but she usually can be found near the front door greeting customers. She likes being petted and picked up — I’ve carried her around on my shoulder while perusing the shelves. She likes laps and laptop bags, and on cold days, she curls up on the wireless router between the two desktops. She makes the bookstore feel even more like home.

Business can be tough, Karen admits: “I had to diversify or die,” hence the cards and unusual trinkets for sale. But, after 20 plus years, she knows her community — the year-rounders, the vacationers, the part-timers (like me) — and she stocks a good assortment of books on the Lowcountry and by Lowcountry authors (Mary Alice Monroe, Karen White,  Sue Monk Kidd, Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons), as well as the new John Grisham, the autobiography of Mark Twain, SIBA’s “Okra Picks,” cookbooks, field guides, kids’ books.

The bookstore doesn’t have a lot of events — there’s just not room — but Karen recently had a signing for silhouette artist and author Clay Rice, and there’s a monthly book club open to all comers the second Wednesday of the month. This week, readers met at 7 p.m. to discuss Walter Mosley’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (you don’t have to have read the book).

I’ll have to let you know what the February pick is. Meanwhile, you can visit the website, http://edistobookstore.com (more pictures of Emily Grace and art by Clay Rice) or check out its Facebook page. Hit “Like.” And if you’re on Highway 174 on Edisto Island (an hour or so from Charleston off the Savannah Highway), by all means drop by the bookstore. Make yourself at home.

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When Southern booksellers and publishers were in Daytona Beach last weekend for their annual trade show (SIBA), okra was on the agenda if not the menu. SIBA recently announced its dozen “Okra picks” for the fall season as voted on by independent booksellers, and I hear the chosen authors wore bright red sashes on the convention floor.

Alas, I was in South Carolina — where next year’s convention is scheduled — but, as it turned out,  I had two okra picks with me. Both were mighty fine in completely different ways.

Beth Webb Hart’s novels are set in my favorite home territory of the South Carolina lowcountry, in and around Charleston. Her first, Grace at Low Tide, took place on Edisto Island and made me homesick as all get out. Her third, The Wedding Machine, made me happy that the Caroline Cousins wrote Marsh Madness  first so we had already put in our two cents about Southern nuptials. 

Hart writes so-called “Christian fiction,” but the preachiest thing about her new novel, Love, Charleston, is that one of the four main characters is good ol’ boy Roy Summerall, who isn’t sure why he’s been called to pastor the aristocratic faithful of the Holy City at historic, downtown St. Michael’s. A widower with a young daughter, Roy isn’t sure how he’ll fit in, despite the the support of a church matriarch. That he and bellringer Anne Brumley are destined to find one another is obvious, but their path is not nearly as interesting as the ways in which it intersects and overlaps with those of Anne’s sister Alicia and her cousin Della.

Unlike Anne, both are married with children. But Alicia, a doctor married to another doctor, finds her charmed life falling apart after depression descends like a rock following the birth of a new daughter. Meanwhile Della, a writer and teacher married to an artist, would love to have another child, but finances are too precarious. When an old flame returns to town, she wonders how her life might have  been different, maybe still could be.  Doubt and betrayal, love and faith, rocks and hard places. Hart has a light touch and an easy humor, but she doesn’t hesitate to test her characters.

Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a gritty Southern drama of race and class, past sins and present crimes. It takes its title from the way kids often learn to spell/write  Mississippi: “M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I.”  

There’s something crooked about the lives of the novel’s two main characters — not in the sense of criminal, although some suspect that, but in that they are misshaped by a sad, shared boyhood incident. For sure, boookworm Larry Ott, son of a white auto mechanic and his wife, and Silas “32” Jones, son of a poor, black single mother, were unlikely buddies from the start, but the friendship worked for them until the night Larry took Cindy Walker to the drive-in and she disappeared.

Cindy wasn’t heard from again, and Larry still lives with a cloud of suspicion hanging over him and the business he inherited from his daddy. He keeps to himself in the shotgun house he grew up in. Silas took off to play college baseball but then returned as a constable in a nearby hamlet in South Misissippi. There’s no reason for the two to meet up, but then another girl goes missing, and the law looks to Larry once more.

Franklin writes lean, no words wasted, no punches pulled. As in his collection of stories, Poachers, and novel Hell at the Breech, he knows where he’s going and takes a reader with him.

At one point, Larry thinks of Silas, “how time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from weather. But then a saw screams in and the tree topples and the circles are stricken by the sun and the sap glistens and the stump is laid open for the world to see.”

Open Book: I bought a copy of Beth Webb Hart’s Love, Charleston (Thomas Nelson) to give to Cousin Meg for her birthday. Tom Franklin’s publisher sent me an advance reading copy of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (Morrow). To see a list of the other fall okra picks, go to http://www.sibaweb.com/okra  I’ve already put Fannie Flagg’s November novel, I Still Dream About You (Random House), at the top of my wish list. Also, my fellow book blogger at http://bermudaonion.wordpress.com has started an Okra Picks challenge read. Check it out!

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Yes, you read that right. SIBA — the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance — has announced its pick of the winter/spring 2010 crop of books. Go to www. sibaweb.com to see the list. Congrats to all the authors involved. Several of these books were already on my radar — Connie May Fowler’s How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, a new collection of short stories from Ron Rash, journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s memoir Enchanted Evening Barbie and The Second Coming. The latter’s publisher, New South Books, already has sent me a galley.

But I also am now looking forward to the other tasty-sounding Southern-fried offerings. How ’bout Gullah Cuisine: By Land and Sea by Charlotte Jenkins and William Baldwin?! And my Sisters-in-Crime pal Patricia Sprinkle has a March novel, Hold Up the Sky.

I think I need a snack to tide me over. Maybe Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, which is already in stores.

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