The Southern Bookseller Review 10/3/23

The Southern Bookseller Review Newsletter for the week of October 3, 2023

View Online | Unsubscribe | SBR Archive | SUBSCRIBE TO SBR

The Southern Bookseller Review: A Book for Every Reader

facebook  twitter  instagram 

The week of October 3, 2023

Let Freedom Read

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers. -James Baldwin

Let Freedom Read

You have heard the data: The American Library Association documented 1,269 demands to censor library last year, more than any other year in the past and double the number in the previous year. 2,571 unique titles have been challenged. Of those books, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community or by and about Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

Booksellers believe in the power of literature to make a better world. They know, deeply, that reading a book can change a person’s life. This is why it is so very, very important that books stay on the shelves for people to find and read them.

Ultimately, it is the book itself that is its own best defense. Read it, and you find that you love it or hate it, but you will be able to decide that for yourself.

Here are what booksellers thought about some of the 13 most banned books of last year after they read them:


A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Can I just live in this book please? A perfect book boyfriend, lovely world building, just the right amount of spice….what more can we ask for? There is a reason it’s the most beloved book in the fantasy realm. –Kelley Dykes, Main Street Reads in Summerville, SC

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Simultaneously heartbreaking and humorous. A fictionalized tale of the author’s life as a young teen, chronicling his battle with being loyal to his home and breaking away to meet who he was destined to be. –Mallory Sutton, Bards Alley in Vienna, VA

Flamer by Mike Curato

This graphic novel is loosely based on the author’s childhood camp experiences of being the target of racism, homophobia, and his own self-loathing. Parts of it are super gross because most 14 year old boys are super gross a lot of the time. (Well, they are.) Aiden Navarro’s journey to self-acceptance is raw and realistic and beautifully illustrated by the author. –Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was a visionary. This, her first novel, was my first foray into her work, and I found it approachable, yet deep with meaning. It borrows its structure from a children’s “Dick and Jane” story, which Toni reads like a haunting incantation. — Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, KS

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Through stories about his family and personal experiences he had while growing up, Johnson tackles difficult topics like toxic masculinity, oppression, identity, gender, sexuality, agency, and healing from prolonged traumas. Though everyone could benefit from reading this book, I truly hope that it finds the readers it was intended for and helps them find strength to become who they are. –Julie Jarema, Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA

Read This Now | Read This Next | Book Buzz | The Bookseller Directory

Read This Now!

Recommended by Southern indies…

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig


Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig
Del Rey / September 2023

More Reviews from The Haunted Book Shop

Black River Orchard hit me like a combination of Stephen King and really good Magnus Archives episode, in the best of ways. For my fellow booksellers, this book is a mix of Stephen King’s IT and Faust — like if Faust was an apple farmer, and then mix up layers of horror–there’s psychological horror of domestic abuse and being trapped, of seeing people change for the worse. There’s body horror. Hooo boy, there’s body horror. And on top of all of that, I learned about apples!

Reviewed by Alex Mcleod, The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

Bookseller Buzz


Spotlight on: Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward, photo Credit Beowulf Sheehan

In each book since my second novel, there has been a wild animal presence: a dog, a snake, and a great black vulture…I like to think they are reflections of the natural world, but I also believe they are something more, that they are the manifestations of that which does not operate by human logic. They exist in a liminal space, fierce and free and mysterious. They are both ordinary and divine, and they bear proof that there is more to this world than we know.
― Jesmyn Ward, Interview, LitHub

What booksellers are saying about Let Us Descend (a Read This Next! Title)

Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward
  • This book is no mere pick of the month. This is the kind of book that comes along once in a generation. The kind of book that makes us want to open bookstores. The kind of book that will be required reading for our children and grandchildren as they go through school. The kind of book that will be filmed page by page and line by line because there is not one thing about it that needs to be changed. I can only hope that we are ready to let this book change us. This is a story that needed to be told, but couldn’t be told without a great deal of pain. For Jesmyn Ward to explore this territory and tell this story amid her own personal grief is an act of bravery. It is an act of service to American society to tell this story no matter how hard it got, and to withhold shortcuts and saviors and swooping gestures, to force us to look at the honest truth of the human toll of our history. And it is an act of love to each and every individual who we will never know but whose story this could be.
      ― Emily Liner, Friendly City Books in Columbus, MS | Buy from Friendly City Books

  • One year after her sire sold and marched her mother south, he does the same to enslaved teen Annis. In the depths of Louisiana bound in rope and destitution, Annis must use the extensive knowledge of combat and foraging imparted to her by her mother, and by her warrior grandmother before her, to transcend her squalor and claim her humanity. Let Us Descend is an often-painful story with an excellent lead character whose story is explicitly her own to wrangle. Largely, it is about one family’s generational fight so that each descendant may have a better life than the last.
      ― Sam Edge from Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews in Chapel Hill, NC | Buy from Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews

  • Let Us Descend is a novel of American slavery loosely based on Dante’s Inferno. Through many circles of hell you are led on a heart-wrenchingly powerful journey. Annis struggles through the soul-searching harrowing hellish march from the Carolinas to Louisiana, in shackles. She speaks to her mother and her African warrior grandmother, and mystical spirits of good and bad. These memories and spirits comfort and strengthen her on this journey. She finds love and loses love, and this love becomes her measure of love. All very strong women at every turn. This a powerfully magnificent novel with an absolute break-neck breath-taking end.
      ― Amy Loewy from Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans, LA | Buy from Garden District Bookshop

  • A visceral and haunting gut-punch of a novel. Annis’s journey through the hell of the American South’s antebellum era is harrowing but her spirit and tenacity will keep you turning the page with bated breath. The gorgeous writing, and magical realism of Let Us Descend will stay with you long after you finish.
      ― Chelsea Bauer from Union Ave Books in Knoxville, TN | Buy from Union Ave Books

About Jesmyn Ward

Read This Next!

Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and has received the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, the Strauss Living Prize, and the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. She is the historic winner—first woman and first Black American—of two National Book Awards for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and Salvage the Bones (2011). She is also the author of the novel Where the Line Bleeds and the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She is currently a professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi.

The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright


The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright
 W. W. Norton & Company / September 2023

More Reviews from Righton Books

Anne Enright is known for her poetic passages, but The Wren, The Wren also is full of actual poems, ostensibly written by the patriarch of the McDaragh family. Enright explores three generations of this Irish clan, and pain, abuse, neglect echo through the years… but this book also shows breathtaking beauty and hints of hope. Although the author has explored this territory before, this book is fresh and stunning, and may be her best yet.

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St Simons Island, Georgia

Against Technoableism by Ashley Shew


Against Technoableism by Ashley Shew
 W. W. Norton & Company / September 2023

More Reviews from Fountain Bookstore

If this is what we can expect from the very extensive planned series "Norton Shorts", sign me up for life! Ashley Shew is a professor of science, technology, and society at Virginia Tech and specializes in ethics in tech and disability studies. This intro to disability studies is aggressively frank, passionate, and a real wake up call for those who do not live with a disability…yet. The author’s own personal story of being a self-described "hard-of-hearing, chemo-brained amputee" challenges the medical model of physical and neurodiversity disabilities and argues for a social model based on the fact that the disabled don’t need to be "improved" to make the abled feel better. With life-expectancies lengthening, post-COVID illnesses for many, and climate related health problems, most of us can count on being part of the largest minority in the world for some portion of our lives. Essential reading!

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne by Shannon Takaoka


The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne by Shannon Takaoka
Candlewick / October 2023

More Reviews from The Country Bookshop

Gracie Byrne is a has a real way with words, so when she finds a blank journal in the drawer of her new house, of course she writes in it and the result leaves her, well, kind of speechless. The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne perfectly captures the perplexing world of high school, the complex nature of families, and the giddy delight of basorexia. I learned a few new words, grooved on the 1980’s vibe, and absolutely wish I had been in High School with Gracie Byrne.

Reviewed by Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

Dust by Dusti Bowling


Dust by Dusti Bowling
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers / August 2023

More Reviews from Main Street Books

This middle grade novel follows the life of Avalyn, an asthmatic girl who loves to spell words, read X-men comics, and spend time with friends. The bane of her existence is a group of bullies, known to her and her two friends, Nan and Dillon, as the Meanie Butt Band. Bryden, Valerie, Emma, and Carlos love to make fun of her and her friends, call them cruel names, and just be plain evil to her and the rest of the school. One regular day, a dust storm rolls in from the middle of nowhere, bringing with it a quiet boy named Adam, who may just turn out to be even bigger and scarier than he seems. The theme(s) of this book: friendship, self-acceptance, and helping people in need.

Reviewed by Eliza Fitzgerald, Main Street Books in Davidson, North Carolina

Parasocial by Alex de Campi


Parasocial by Alex de Campi
Image Comics / October 2023

More Reviews from E. Shaver, bookseller

What an interesting take on modern day parasocial relationships! I loved how it referenced modern fan lingo and even Ao3 with the kidnapping and how it just kept devolving from there. The playlist was a lovely touch as well, it really added to the experience.

Reviewed by Lana Repic, E. Shaver Bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

Decide for Yourself

Books that appear on PEN America’s list of challenged books.

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnoldl


Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold
Balzer+Bray / February 2020

More Reviews from Bookmarks

Damsel messed me up beyond all belief, so when I heard about Red Hood, I knew I needed it in my hands immediately. It did not disappoint one bit, and I can’t quite find the words to explain just how it made me feel. It made me cringe, it made me angry, and above all it had me on the tips of my toes the entire time. Arnold has this innate talent to take fairy tales and rip them apart to tell you a new one that you didn’t know you needed, one that actually puts women in a position of power. Men think we want to be queens and princesses when really we just want to be able to protect ourselves and the women that can’t protect themselves. She just gets it.

Reviewed by Caitlyn Vanorder, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Southern Bestsellers

What’s popular this week with Southern Readers.

Wellness Scattershot Mad Honey
Braiding Sweetness Dogtown

[ See the full list ]

Parting Thought

“I believe in any kid’s ability to read any book and form their own judgments. It’s the job of a parent to guide his/her child through the reading of every book imaginable. Censorship of any form punishes curiosity.”
— Sherman Alexie

Publisher: The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance /
Editor: Nicki Leone /
Advertising: Linda-Marie Barrett /
The Southern Bookseller Review is a project of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, in support of independent bookstores in the South | SIBA | 51 Pleasant Ridge Drive | Asheville, NC 28805

SIBA | 51 Pleasant Ridge Drive | Asheville, NC 28805
You have received this email because you are currently subscribed to receive The Southern Bookseller Review.
Please click @@unsubscribe_url@@ if you no longer wish to receive these communications.

Scroll to Top