The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Adult Nonfiction

Catch the Sparrow by Rachel Rear

Catch The Sparrow is a puzzle of a true crime story as Rachel Rear investigates the mysterious disappearance of her stepsister twenty years ago. Through her research, Rear finds that there are more than a couple of people in her sister’s life who could have had a motive in her murder. And as she digs deeper into the police investigation surrounding the case, she also uncovers glaring oversights and corruption within the local police department as well as the legal system in and around Rochester, NY. Every chapter pulls a new fascinating thread and eventually leads the author to the chilling truth, offering her and her family the closure that they’ve always sought.

Catch the Sparrow by Rachel Rear, (List Price: $27.00, 9781635577235, February 2022)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, .novel in Memphis, Tennessee

Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo

To many people – myself included – Bernardine Evaristo’s 2019 Booker Prize win for Girl, Woman, Other appeared to come out of the blue. But, as Manifesto reveals, her apparent overnight success was actually 40 years in the making. Recounting her life and career with the characteristic humor and insight that made Girl, Woman, Other such a success, Manifesto is a passionate paean to the power of persistence.

Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo, (List Price: $27.00, 9780802158901, January 2022)

Reviewed by Jude Burke-Lewis, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

Sea State by Tabitha Lasley

I can’t claim to be in the traditional target audience for romantic memoirs written by women in their thirties, but the cover art was so wonderful that I had to pick up Sea State. I found the story in the book to be a rather skillful balancing act in which Lasley simultaneously profiles an oil industry in crisis and chronicles her own attachments to, and impressions of, the men who work in it. She immediately becomes the mistress of a married oil rig worker, which causes her a significant deal of stress, but also offers her an unparalleled degree of access to the types of men who work on offshore oil rigs. I think she has interesting interactions with these men, treating them with respect and honesty… or whatever else they may deserve at the moment.

Sea State by Tabitha Lasley, (List Price: $27.99, $27.99, 9780063030831, December 2021)

Reviewed by Carter Adkins, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

Admissions by Kendra James

I’ve loved books about boarding schools since I was a child who romanticized the idea of living away from home with a school full of friends, but as I’ve grown older I’ve become much more interested in what’s hiding beneath the polished surface image of boarding schools. Kendra James was the first Black American legacy student at Taft, a private boarding school in Connecticut, so her perspective on privilege (including her own) was totally fascinating in its layers. I so appreciated the thoughtful and deeply candid telling of her experience at Taft.

Admissions by Kendra James, (List Price: $29.00, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538753484, January 2022)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Disorientation by Ian Williams

Disorientation is a book to be read slowly and with care. Ian Williams best-selling author of my staff favorite novel Reproduction (remember the amazing cover???). I also really loved his collection of poetry Word Problems from last year. Using his formidably flexible writing chops, Williams invites us to an urgent conversation on race and racism in this collection of essays that draw directly from his experience of life as a Black man. He covers all subjects from the merely annoying to the tragically deadly aspects of racism from a worldwide perspective having lived in Trinidad, Canada, and the U. S. This book is approachable for all readers and is intended to be a civil conversation about the ugliest of subjects. It’s illuminating, dizzying, and intensely personal. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Also, exceptional in audio: read by the author.

Disorientation by Ian Williams, (List Price: $19.95, 9781609457396, November 2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

MonsterMind: Dealing With Anxiety & Self-Doubt by Alfonso Casas

Casas’ most recent graphic novel is a wonderful, poignant dive into living with mental health issues. Creating monsters out of feelings, Casas gives a visual representation of how trauma, anxiety, fear, and other pests affect daily life, especially in the midst of a pandemic. I really appreciated the hopeful but realistic ending of this. It’s a reminder that though these things will always live with us, there are ways to fight them.

MonsterMind: Dealing With Anxiety & Self-Doubt by Alfonso Casas, (List Price: $19.99, Ablaze, 9781950912476, January 2022)

Reviewed by Grace Quinn, Foggy Pine Books in Boone, North Carolina

The Eye Test by Chris Jones

Jones looks back on a career of studying fascinating individuals for his journalism, and in doing so reveals a truth he’s learned: analytics are helpful, but human passion, experience, and imagination are the things that count in the end. A great storyteller, Jones’s subjects include doctors, sports figures, entertainers, writers, cops, scientists, businesspeople, and more. He found that effective specialists learn, watch, and then act in a way that pushes society towards being better. They use both expertise and their minds. Models and formulas help with this, but they are limited because they rely on what has happened before. Sometimes new and crazy things happen; then they’re kind of useless. My favorite quote: “We do our best work when we remember our humanity, especially when it’s hard to remember it.”

The Eye Test by Chris Jones, (List Price: $29.00, Twelve, 9781538730676, January 2022)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz

An exquisite view into the inextricable relationship among love, grief, and hope, Kathryn Schulz’s Lost & Found is a masterpiece. It’s been a while since I’ve underlined so many sentences and created marginalia—from page one, it felt as if I myself was part of Schulz’s story. Her metaphors are spot-on and stunning; her fondness for research and etymology manage to deepen our relationship to the work instead of distancing us. Five stars. I’ve already created a mile-long list of loved ones who will, like me, treasure this memoir.

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz, (List Price: 27, Random House, 9780525512462, January 2022)

Reviewed by Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia


White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad

White Tears/Brown Scars is an eye opening book for anyone like me who has not experienced racism on a daily basis. As a white woman, I felt I was the perfect audience for what Ruby Hamad had to say. While discussing race and racism is an uncomfortable topic for many people, Ruby shows us the importance of remaining calm, seeing, and hearing the concerns of our BIPOC colleagues, friends and neighbors. I truly appreciated this book.

White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad, (List Price: $16.95, Catapult, 9781948226745, October 2021)

Reviewed by Sophie Giroir, Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana

The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh

Reading The Last Nomad is like sitting with the author at a table with a cup a tea as she tells the story of her remarkable upbringing in Somalia. In candid, compelling prose, she shares her life as a nomad with her clan in the Somali desert, as a town dweller with her polygamous family and as a refugee from the civil war which tore her country apart. The lives of Somali women are the centerpieces of this engaging memoir, inviting us to understand their resilience and strength as they navigate their traditional and shifting roles in Africa and North America.

The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh, (List Price: $26.95, Algonquin Books, 9781643750675, August 2021)

Reviewed by Lia Lent, Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, Arkansas

Between the Lines by Uli Beutter Cohen

From the creator behind Subway Book Review, this is the newest Humans of New York, but for book lovers. This is a collection of short interviews Cohen conducted on the subway of New York City, documenting not only everyone’s reading list but also creating a conversation and connection. From beloved classics to niche dog-eared, worn books, this covers just about every genre you could think of. What I really love about this book is that it could’ve just as easily been a book full of tiny book reviews, but it’s something much more intimate. Cohen does a great job of telling these people’s stories all in about 400 words each. There’s representation of everyone; queer, trans, all races, all occupations. It’s raw, gorgeous and executed so flawlessly I can’t get enough of it.

Between the Lines by Uli Beutter Cohen, (List Price: $24.99, Simon & Schuster, 9781982145675, October 2021)

Reviewed by Grace Sullivan, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

The Nation on No Map by William C. Anderson

In this inviting, direct manifesto, William C. Anderson outlines the influences and differentiating points about Black anarchism, outlines its necessity, and offers rebuttals to naysayers across the political spectrum. The Nation on No Map is concise, yet powerful and perfect reading if one is looking to charter further ideological horizons.

The Nation on No Map by William C. Anderson, (List Price: $15.00, AK Press, 9781849354349, November 2021)

Reviewed by Conor Hultman, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

A Killer by Design by Ann Wolbert Burgess

You probably know the names of John Douglass and Robert Ressler, the mind hunters of the FBI. But it was Ann Burgess who helped develop a more scientific way to interview serial killers and serial rapists in order to catch future criminals. Burgess caught the eye of the FBI because of her groundbreaking research into rape offenders, and she brought her analytical mind to what is now the Behavioral Science Unit. A must read for any true crime buff, and a fascinating look into the early days of profiling.

A Killer by Design by Ann Wolbert Burgess, (List Price: $28.00, Hachette Books, 9780306924866, December 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Towery, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Cooking at Home by David Chang

This cookbook is excellent if you’re ready to level up by learning to cook without recipes (like my husband) or if you are terrible at cooking and just think it’s interesting to read about (like me). Highly recommend to cooks/eaters of all skill levels.

Cooking at Home by David Chang, (List Price: $35.00, Clarkson Potter, 9781524759247, October 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

PEN: An Illustrated History by Carles Torner

PEN International believes as I do that freedom of speech is the fundamental tool against repression, racism, and terror. I congratulate them on their 100-year anniversary! 

PEN: An Illustrated History by Carles Torner, (List Price: 59.95, Interlink Publishing Group Inc, 9781623719029, November 2021)

Reviewed by Jill Hendrix, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

I’m Dreaming of a Chris for Christmas by Robb Pearlman

Winning the award for most asked for stocking stuffer on the Fountain staff! Not just coloring Chrises, but Chris crosswords, Chris mazes, connect-the-Chrises, and more! PG-rated, this collections brings together Chrises from Hollywood, music, and sports. Obviously Hemsworth, Evans, Pine, and Pratt, but also Rock, Rinaldi, Jericho, Walken (in-a-Winter-Wonderland), and more! Seriously, I’m cracking up just looking at it.

I’m Dreaming of a Chris for Christmas by Robb Pearlman, (List Price: $14.95, Smart Pop, 9781637740200, November 2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Yes, You Can Wear That by Abby Hoy

I am forever in search of great body-positive reads and Abby Hoy nails it. This book is a perfect combination of pictures and her memoir. It is inspiring and confidence-building and I immediately followed her on social media to get more gorgeous outfit ideas and self love. Every body is a good body and yes, you CAN wear that!

Yes, You Can Wear That by Abby Hoy, (List Price: $24.99, Tiller Press, 9781982155582, November 2021)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

This Boy We Made by Taylor Harris

This Boy We Made is heart-wrenching. I couldn’t put it down. As a mother I was absolutely enveloped in the author’s journey through this incredibly difficult time in her life. At every turn I was in awe of her grace in dealing with what life continued to throw at her.

This Boy We Made by Taylor Harris, (List Price: $26.00, Catapult, 9781948226844, January 2022)

Reviewed by Rayna Nielsen, Blue Cypress Books in New Orleans, Louisiana

Booze Over Broadway by Tiller Press

Booze Over Broadway combines two of my favorite things: Broadway and fun drinks! Needless to say I was overjoyed to stumble across this book. The names of the drinks are witty, the commentary is deeply amusing, and the content of the recipes are tasty and fun! I can’t wait to buy myself a copy of this book for my cookbook collection.

Booze Over Broadway by Tiller Press, (List Price: $19.99, Tiller Press, 9781982160005, December 2021)

Reviewed by Mary Louise Callaghan, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Going There by Katie Couric

Katie Couric—her name brings to mind that fabulous smile and the many times we have all viewed her on CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, and the Today Show as well as her own show Katie. What we all knew about her skills and intelligence on air, we knew little of her personal life before this revealing book. Yes, we knew about her husband Jay and his tragic passing from cancer and her successful efforts in cancer awareness. What’s revealing in Going There is the behind-the-scenes Katie—her childhood, her eating disorders, her love life, her daughters, her wishes of what she could have done better and her accomplishments. We also relive the past forty years of news stories with her takes on history. This book is our story of the past forty years through Katie Couric’s knowledgeable view. And after reading this book, we have all spent time with a friend we may never meet personally.

Going There by Katie Couric, (List Price: $30.00, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316535861, October 2021)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia

Like Crazy by Dan Mathews

I don’t know whether to call this an ‘end of life’ story…or a memoir…or a roomie rom-com…or a family saga.. but I do know I couldn’t wait to see what happened next in Perry & Dan’s Great Adventure/Social Experiment. Such wide ranging appeal I’m not sure if it will go in our non-fiction section…or our Pride shelves.. or the memoir table…humor…maybe all of them!! Zaniest, craziest true story of a boy and his momma…and yes, it will bring you to tears—of laughter, joy and a wee bit of sadness.

Like Crazy by Dan Mathews, (List Price: $27.00, Atria Books, 9781501199981, August 2020)

Reviewed by Jamie Anderson, Downtown Books in Manteo, North Carolina

There Are Trans People Here by H. Melt

H Melt’s poetry collection talks about pivotal moments in trans and queer history and honors those who came before them. Beautiful and touching, this collection shows another side to the struggles trans people continue to face.

There Are Trans People Here by H. Melt, (List Price: $16.00, Haymarket Books, 9781642595727, November 2021)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes

I really enjoyed this mashup of travel writing, musings on Greek mythology, and thoughts about climate change and its effect on our natural environment. On the surface, this combination of things shouldn’t work, but it really does. Peter Fiennes drew me in with his study of Lord Byron and from there I was happy to pop in on his travels through Greece, all the more poignant due to his trips taking place during the pandemic.

A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes, (List Price: $27.95, Oneworld Publications, 9780861540617, November 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The Churchill Sisters by Rachel Trethewey

A fascinating look at the lives of Winston Churchill’s daughters. Diana, Sarah, and Mary each lived very different lives but had a unique bond with their father. Despite their daughters’ difficulties that included divorce, alcoholism, and mental issues, Winston and his wife Clementine remained supportive and loving until their final years. The girls reveled in their father’s triumphs and were by his side through difficult times. Trethewey’s book provides great insight into the family life of a magnificent statesman.

The Churchill Sisters by Rachel Trethewey, (List Price: $29.99, St. Martin’s Press, 9781250272393, November 2021)

Reviewed by Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

Dear William by David Magee

David Magee’s profoundly personal memoir grabbed my attention from the first page and wouldn’t let go. Dear William is part Southern story, part family story, and it opened my eyes to a crisis I didn’t know enough about. My heart broke into a million pieces while reading it, but I’m so glad I did.

Dear William by David Magee, (List Price: $28.00, Matt Holt, 9781953295682, November 2021)

Reviewed by Annie Jones, The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia

Refractive Africa by Will Alexander

These odes to African intellectuals by Will Alexander are so rich in imagery and sound that every line has something you’ve never read before. I’m not kidding! Refractive Africa is of the highest caliber of poetry on offer in these times.

Refractive Africa by Will Alexander, (List Price: $16.95, New Directions, 9780811230278, November 2021)

Reviewed by Conor Hultman, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones

The 1619 Project from Nikole Hannah-Jones asserts that to truly understand America today – politically, socially, culturally- and to begin to make repairs, you must move the timeline back to 1619, when the first enslaved people from Africa arrived in Jamestown. In this book – which is 50% more material than the original New York Times project – we hear from all the people who should have been included when initially taught American history and social studies. Herein lies a star-studded collection of thinkers, writers, poets and artists and an attempt to fully understand America’s origin story. Required reading for all who care to create a more just America.

The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, (List Price: $38.00, One World, 9780593230572, November 2021)

Reviewed by Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina


My Body by Emily Ratajkowski

As a society, we have become wired to see women – especially those in the spotlight – as objects to use to our satisfaction to the point that it is difficult for women to see how we are being used. Emily Ratajkowski has experienced this time and time again as a model and actress – used for her body and being made to feel as though she does not own herself. Throughout these stories, readers are shown how Emily Ratajkowski was and still is treated. This book feels like catching up with an old friend and letting it all out. Ratajkowski discusses important topics that will force you to restructure the way you think of the women who “entertain” you.

My Body by Emily Ratajkowski, (List Price: $26.00, Metropolitan Books, 9781250817860, November 2021)

Reviewed by Stephanie Carrion, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida


The Boys by Ron Howard

The Boys is the best memoir I’ve read in 2021. Ron and Clint Howard’s story of their show business childhoods is mesmerizing. The brothers share in alternating sections about their work with legends such as Henry Fonda, John Wayne, and George Lucas, as well as their zany antics on set. But the real stars of the book are their parents, whose calm guidance and strong example led the boys to find fulfilling lives. A great holiday gift for the classic TV and movie lover in your life.

The Boys by Ron Howard, (List Price: $28.99, William Morrow, 9780063065246, October 2021)

Reviewed by Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

Some Things I Still Can’t Tell You by Misha Collins

I loved this collection. Collins lets his reader know that he is writing for himself, fully knowing he is not an established poet. I normally do not read poetry, and I felt relaxed and ready to see what he had to say. It was a treat to see a very public person open up like this.

Some Things I Still Can’t Tell You by Misha Collins, (List Price: $14.99, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 9781524870546, October 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Taste by Stanley Tucci

This book is as delightful as you would think. Actually, scratch that, it is 10 times more delightful than you would think. Filled to the brim with Tucci’s signature charm, TASTE amazes with both its storied family recipes and the moving personal journey it takes us on. Tucci recognizes that so often food is more than just a source of basic nourishment; it is a form of self expression and an act of love. This revelation is evident in every word of the book. Read this and you’ll fall in love with the food, the stories, and of course, with Stanley Tucci himself.

Taste by Stanley Tucci, (List Price: $28.00, Gallery Books, 9781982168018, October 2021)

Reviewed by Jessica Baker, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Bittman Bread by Mark Bittman

Last winter I decided I wanted to learn to bake bread…then I learned that Mark Bittman was writing a bread cookbook and decided to wait, which was a fantastic decision. Bittman Bread is everything I need in a bread cookbook—clear instructions, plenty of pictures, and a method that seems almost fail-proof. Bittman and co-author Kerri Conan have crafted the perfect recipe for a no-knead loaf that makes whole grains the star of the show and leaves you with a sourdough starter for your next loaf. Going beyond their basic loaf, the pair explore a variety of bread variations as well as recipes to level up the bread-baking game: focaccia, baguettes, desserts, and more. And excellent guide for beginners or more advanced bakers looking for a proven method of quick baking, Bittman Bread is a must-read cookbook that comes just in time for winter baking and holiday gift giving!

Bittman Bread by Mark Bittman, (List Price: $35.00, Mariner Books, 9780358539339, 2021-11-09)

Reviewed by Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook

Cook shares her journey with Borderline Personality Disorder and how it affects her life in a funny and heartbreaking graphic novel memoir. She talks about the symptoms and diagnosis in a way that feels so sincere and touching, I had to find and follow her on social media. You will feel for her and root for her, while learning about a disorder that most people “grow out of” as they get into adulthood. This is a beautiful read to understand people that aren’t exatly like ourselves.

The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook, (List Price: 18.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142599, 2021-06-29)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Smile by Sarah Ruhl

When she is struck with Bell’s palsy after giving birth to twins and suffers from complete paralysis of the left side of her face, Sarah Ruhl realizes the importance of a smile…and the struggle to convey emotions without one. Being a playwright, she recounts her 10-year experience with this mysterious condition through beautiful words, drawing on art and literature to help make sense of her condition. Through unflagging support from her husband and many years of trying a myriad of therapies/treatments, she perseveres through this oftentimes depressing and frustrating condition and offers her readers a raw, emotional look into her story.

Smile by Sarah Ruhl, (List Price: $27, Simon & Schuster, 9781982150945, October, 2021)

Reviewed by Mary Patterson, The Little Bookshop in Midlothian, Virginia

Girly Drinks by Mallory O’Meara

What an absolute blast of a book! I love these sort of scientific/sociological looks at oft-overlooked parts of everyday life, and Girly Drinks fits the bill perfectly! The author succinctly and hilariously tells the story of how women were originally in charge of the production and distribution of alcohol. She then details how women lost that power and social cache, and ends the book on a hopeful note about modern women who are making big strides towards equality in the new era. I learned about so many interesting, powerful, influential women that I had never heard of before, but I wish I had! I also really appreciated the author’s use of correct terminology – namely, distinguishing biological sex from gender. She takes the time to specifically say that she is referencing cisgender or AFAB (assigned female at birth) women, and even mentions the contributions of trans women! I would highly recommend Girly Drinks to anyone who’s ever been even a little bit interested in the history of alcohol or the gendered constructs surrounding it. Fantastic!

Girly Drinks by Mallory O’Meara, (List Price: $27.99, Hanover Square Press, 9781335282408, October 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Wilder, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia


Shelf Life by Nadia Wassef

Blame it on naivete or my newbie bookseller status, but I did not realize that, culturally, bookselling can vary drastically from country to country, but it can and it does, and thanks to Nadia Wassef, we get to hear first hand how three women got a wildly successful independent bookstore off the ground in Cairo, Egypt, when societal norms suggested that women weren’t meant to open small businesses. A remarkable story!

Shelf Life by Nadia Wassef, (List Price: $27, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374600181, October 2021)

Reviewed by Jill Naylor, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee


Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

A Fall Read This Next! Selection

Jumping off from a mention in a 1946 essay by George Orwell about fruit trees and roses he had planted ten years earlier, Solnit begins a meandering path through a garden of antifascism, art, and the ways in which they intertwined in Orwell’s life. In the span of about 270 pages, coal mining and climate change, mass rose production in Columbia and the invisibility of capitalism’s machinations, Orwell’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, and his ancestral connection to the slave trade are all explored deftly and, in the ususal Solnit style, with lines beautifully drawn to our current condition. Whether you are deeply interested in Orwell and his milieu or just a fan of Solnit’s incisive writing, you will find this biography/essay collection bears flowers scented with hope, resistance, and pleasure.

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, (List Price: $28, Viking, 9780593083369, October 2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia


The Boys by Ron Howard

A Fall Read This Next! Selection

The Boys felt like you were listening in at an extended family reunion of the Howards as Ron and Clint held court, retelling some of their favorite family anecdotes from years gone by, occasionally interruping each other with interjections and sometimes just telling the same story from the other lens. I could not put it down, but now I have an enormous list of classics to rewatch and bit parts (and B-movies) to look up and cameos to watch for.


The Boys by Ron Howard, (List Price: $28.99, William Morrow, 9780063065246, October 2021)

Reviewed by Lisa Yee Swope, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

 

All of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk

Review courtesy of my husband, Tim! In this book, Douglas Wolk does something very few would attempt, much less complete: read literally all the marvels. At the beginning, the book seems to be presented as a tour that recaps the last 60 years and a way for new readers to jump in. I don’t think it worked. I think you need to be pretty well versed with at least the characters if not the events to enjoy this tour. But as an insightful look at the various neighborhoods of the marvelverse, it is brilliant! It provides some history for sure, but Wolk finds the heart of what makes each team, family, and character work in storytelling. The only downsides to me were the sometimes incomprehensible jumping around the timeline. Not unlike some marvel stories. And the lack of pictures to go along with his description of the artwork.

All of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk, (List Price: 28, Penguin Press, 9780735222168, October 2021)

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia


On Animals by Susan Orlean

On Animals is absolutely hilarious at times and a little heartbreaking at times, but it is mainly filled with love for animals of all kinds. It’s a collection of several of Orlean’s articles that were written for The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazine over the last few decades. She covers backyard chickens, racing pigeons, Moroccan donkeys, and even a real-life Lion Whisperer. If you enjoy animals and conservation, you’ll highly enjoy this love letter to the natural world.

On Animals by Susan Orlean, (List Price: $28, Avid Reader Press, Simon & Schuster, 9781982181536, October 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee


My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long

These poems were enchanting and brilliant, forcing you to think and interact with the stories being told. Once you sit down with this book, you won’t be able to get back up until you’ve closed it and long after, too consumed with every single word. Carefully crafted, and perfectly balanced, this book of poetry is perfect for newcomers to poetry, or those well versed in it.

My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long, (List Price: 16.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142711, September 2021)

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

Mennonite Valley Girl by Carla Funk

After reading the very first page, I knew I’d love this book. Funk’s language is poetic, and the humor is soft and subtle. I braced myself for trauma, but was so delighted to find the interior life of a young girl who wants more out of life than what she sees around her. Universal, old as time, yet fresh and gripping. I saw myself in every page.

Mennonite Valley Girl by Carla Funk, (List Price: 27.95, Greystone Books, 9781771645157, September 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

The Icepick Surgeon by Sam Kean

This is an absolutely fascinating, if sometimes harrowing, look into the history of science. Fans of Mary Roach will appreciate the unflinching look at the sometimes devastating human cost of scientific progress. The author raises several interesting questions about the use or validity of poorly performed scientific experiments. Particularly, Kean questions whether the knowledge gained from unethical experimentation is valid and what we should do with this information moving forward. I particularly enjoyed his focus on how these actions have affected marginalized communities. I also appreciated his repeated entreaties that we cannot simply wag our fingers at the mistakes of the past and pretend we are blameless and more morally pure than those who came before us. We must constantly remain vigilant and ensure that we are mindful of the ethical and long-term consequences of our actions in the present, lest we repeat our sins in the name of scientific progress.

The Icepick Surgeon by Sam Kean, (List Price: $40, Little, Brown & Company, 9780316496506, August 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Wilder, Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia

Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner

This beautifully written memoir features the intertwined lives of the author, her sister and childhood friend. Written in fresh, understated prose, the author explores how their lives diverge – in ways heartbreaking and hopeful, despairing and redemptive. Three Girls is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I hope it gets the attention and awards it deserves.

Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner, (List Price: 26.99, Simon & Schuster, 9781982107703, September 2021)

Reviewed by Lia Lent, Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, Arkansas

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

Qian Julie Wang opens her heart and bares her soul in this striking memoir about an illegal Chinese immigrant family. Wang does a fine job describing the poverty and sweatshops of Chinatown, her parents’ fear of getting deported, and her determination to make something of herself in Mei Guo, America, the beautiful country. The poverty and prejudice her family faced as well as her parents’ marital difficulties created trauma that Wang today is still determined to break through.

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang, (List Price: 28.95, Doubleday, 9780385547215, September 2021)

Reviewed by Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

An absolutely incredible, insightful, and clear-eyed look at our limited time on this earth and the ways we use it. I’m not much one for self-help books but Burkeman weaves seamlessly weaves together wisdom from philosophy, spirituality, and science to make the argument that you’ll never have time to do “everything you want or need to” and life is more about choosing what to spend your four thousand weeks on Funny and brilliantly wise, Burkeman has fundamentally shifted the way I think about my to-do list, my aspirations, my “busyness”, my guilt for not doing the things I should have done, and my brief, brief time on this planet. I cannot recommend Four Thousand Weeks highly enough.

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, (List Price: 27, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374159122, August 2021)

Reviewed by Caleb Masters, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Names for Light by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint

Names for Light is a beautiful book, astonishing and profound. Despite some of its heaviness — war, colonialism, racism, death — there is such openness and grace. Even in displacement — or perhaps through it — Myint creates a rich sense of all the places that help form the story of her family, however imperfectly. Almost like an elegant procession of prose poems, Names for Light is often at its most powerful when exploring these imperfections — the memories that cannot be reconstructed, the words that cannot be translated, the ghosts that cannot be conjured or dispelled. This book is an achievement and a gift.

Names for Light by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint, (List Price: 16, Graywolf Press, 9781644450611, August 2021)

Reviewed by Steve Haruch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Maiden Voyages by Siân Evans

Millions of women crisscrossed the Atlantic via ocean liners during the first half of the 20th century— glamorous actresses, émigrés seeking new beginnings, and female crewmembers navigating everything from outrageous passenger demands to sinking ships. This witty and engaging social history sails the reader into the golden age of transatlantic travel with portraits of the women whose journeys helped reshape society on both sides of the ocean.

Maiden Voyages by Siân Evans, (List Price: 28.99, St. Martin’s Press, 9781250246462, August 2021)

Reviewed by Erin Cox, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Made in China by Anna Qu

A young Chinese immigrant calls Child Services on her mother. Like the threads whirling through her mother and stepfather’s New York City sweatshop where she was forced to work as a girl, Anna Qu’s debut memoir is full of the fragments of a traumatic childhood and the challenges of piecing together the truth—about trauma and the generational pattern of cruelty, about immigration and identity, labor and self-worth, and ultimately, the love we deserve, awaiting us.

Made in China by Anna Qu, (List Price: 26, Catapult, 9781646220342, August 2021)

Reviewed by Megan Bell, Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker

I loved Morgan Parker’s collections There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce and Magical Negro so I was excited to go back and read her debut collection in its new re-released form. It comes with a lovely foreword by Danez Smith, whose observations enhanced my reading experience. From her other two collections, I knew I loved the way Parker combines poetry and music; I loved seeing in this collection how she brings the visual arts into her world, too.

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker, (List Price: 16.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142568, July, 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Stiff by Mary Roach

I absolutely love Mary Roach – the way she breaks down complex topics is second to none. I borrowed a copy from a friend and was done with it in two days. I love the way she can take a really complex and delicate topic, and break it down from a variety of perspectives to come to a wonderfully fascinating conclusion.

Stiff by Mary Roach, (List Price: 16.95, W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393324822, May 2004)

Reviewed by Kate Wilder, Story On the Square in McDonough, Georgia

Trejo by Danny Trejo

Having been slightly familiar with Danny Trejo as an actor and enjoying some of his films, I picked this book up as a lark and I ended up being utterly fascinated. His personal story is heart-wrenching at times, but it is filled with redemption at the highest level. Composed in a conversational tone by fellow actor Donal Logue, Trejo recounts growing up in LA during the 50’s/60’s and doing several stints in notorious prisons like Soledad, San Quentin, and Folsom. He is brutally honest about his faults, regrets, and crimes…but he also explains how it led to him being a fixture in the drug & alcohol rehabilitation community after he became sober. The actor’s newfound vocation of helping other addicts stay clean eventually led to his film career through an unforeseeable stroke of luck. Now a cultural icon for the city of LA and the Mexican American community, this book shows the reader it’s never too late to make a positive change in one’s life.

Trejo by Danny Trejo, (List Price: 27, Atria Books, 9781982150822, July 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker

I loved Morgan Parker’s collections THERE ARE MORE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAN BEYONCE and MAGICAL NEGRO so I was excited to go back and read her debut collection in its new re-released form. It comes with a lovely foreword by Danez Smith, whose observations enhanced my reading experience. From her other two collections, I knew I loved the way Parker combines poetry and music; I loved seeing in this collection how she brings the visual arts into her world, too.

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker, (List Price: 16.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142568, July 2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Seek You by Kristen Radtke

Like many other people, I’ve spent the last year questioning how we differentiate between loneliness and aloneness. Kristen Radtke’s SEEK YOU is a gorgeous fully-illustrated meditation on the often stigmatized epidemic of loneliness and an investigation into how we form bonds with others. Not since Olivia Laing’s LONELY CITY have I felt such kinship with an author. I’m so grateful that this book exists.

Seek You by Kristen Radtke, (List Price: 30, Pantheon, 9781524748067, July 2021)

Reviewed by Lindsay Lynch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Books Promiscuously Read by Heather Cass White

Because I work in the book world, sometimes I forget that not every person is a reading-obsessed nerd. This book put into words what I’ve never been able to: reading takes you to another place. Reading changes your entire world in a literal way and in figurative ways. I loved reading quotes from my favorite writers about how reading transformed their worlds.

Books Promiscuously Read by Heather Cass White, (List Price: 25, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374115265, July 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

The Cruelty Is the Point by Adam Serwer

I’ve followed Serwer’s articles in the Atlantic for several years. In this collection of his most moving pieces, he’s added a short introduction to each one with new insights and background. Bonus – Kevin Kruse blurbed it.

The Cruelty Is the Point by Adam Serwer, (List Price: 28, One World, 9780593230800, July 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis

I’m going to start a change.org petition to force Helen Ellis to write books that are 400 pages or more. Her latest collection deals with topics as wide-ranging as aging and loss to poker and garage sales with her signature wit, warmth, and southern sass. The thing about Helen Ellis is you can feel her delight in her friends, her husband, and the world at large with every sentence. Everything she writes is worth reading and Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light might be her best yet. Do yourself a favor and pick this up, but be prepared to want more when you finish!

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis, (List Price: 23, Doubleday, 9780385546157, July 2021)

Reviewed by Chelsea Bauer, Union Ave Books in Knoxville, Tennessee

The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook

When I picked up Courtney Cook’s book, I immediately read from start to finish. Cook’s personality is bright and poppy, friendly and relatable, and somehow this book maintains a level of kindness and vulnerability even when talking about the scary parts of living with Borderline personality disorder, from self-harm to crippling anxiety and depression, obsessive behavior, and more. Although there are 4 million people in the US that are diagnosed, Borderline personality disorder is still so stigmatized, even as people are starting to recognize and normalize mental illness at large. The Way She Feels is the representation of BPD–from confusing and distressing, to joyful and funny–that is needed right now.

The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook, (List Price: 18.95, Tin House Books, 9781951142599, 2021-06-29)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

Willie Nelson’s Letters to America by Willie Nelson

I didn’t want these letters to end so I read only a few pages every day. Willie Nelson shares stories of his life and his music but oh, so much more. The world would be a kinder and more loving and sensible place if we could all follow Willie’s advice on how to get through difficult times and take care of each other. Jokes and laughter fill every page and you will find yourself laughing any crying at his sage advice and hilarious life observations.

Willie Nelson’s Letters to America by Willie Nelson, (List Price: 27.99, Harper Horizon, 9780785241546, June 2021)

Reviewed by Nancy Pierce, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia

Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond

The moment I cracked this memoir, I knew I should fasten my seatbelt–what a jaw-dropping ride it was! The unconventional childhood of Cheryl Diamond took her and her family all over the world, fleeing INTERPOL from place to place, losing and gaining identities, following highly rehearsed rules to protect their cover, and never quite finding a place to belong. The pages are filled with adventure, humor, and deep sadness. Nowhere Girl is so gorgeously written and impossible to put down. It is truly a tribute to human resilience.

Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond, (List Price: 27.95, Algonquin Books, 9781616208202, June, 2021)

Reviewed by Damita Nocton, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

Dear Senthuran by Awaeke Emezi

A dazzling and devastating look into the life of one of the most unique voices of modern lit. Read to learn how an Ogbanje navigates the highs and lows of success. You may have more in common with a god than you think. (would ‘spirit’ be a better substitute for ‘god’ here? I can’t recall if they refer to themselves as ‘god’ or ‘godly’ throughout) Emezi paints their world with a set of custom brushes. No matter the angle of your view, the picture comes to life in this book. Although these letters are personal and specific, the messages relayed will resonate with a wide audience. The prose, as always, is visceral, raw, and unflinching. The words center around heartbreak and personhood, destruction and growth. A sibling book to their astounding debut, Freshwater.

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi (List Price: $27.00, Riverhead Books, 9780593329191, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Caroline Bergeron, Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans, Louisiana

Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles

As a child advocate for the family court system, I have a pretty good idea of what foster care is like. Sarah Sentilles is spot on in her memoir about her and her husband’s experience training and becoming foster parents. Sentilles accurately portrays the emotions of the parents, foster parents, social workers, and children involved. She uses examples from animals and plants to show techniques of care in the natural world. But even after they accumulate this knowledge, Sarah and her husband underestimate the pull on their heartstrings at the possibility of a child’s loss from their lives.

Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles (List Price: $28, Random House, 9780593230039, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts

One Friday in early November 1954, sixth three year-Old Annie Wilkins left Minot, Maine in with her little dachshund mix Depeche Toi, her Morgan horse Tarzan, a few dollars, and not much more than the clothes on her back. But what Annie had that no one could see was pluck. Pluck and determination and a plan, to walk with Depeche Toi and Tarzan all the way to California to fulfill the dream her mother never got to see realized. This absolutely delightful story of Annie’s journey will no doubt make readers laugh, shake their heads in disbelief, cringe with worry, and stir up a bit of both horse love and wanderlust. This is THE Feel-good book of the summer, and i can’t wait to put it in the hands of my customers.

The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts (List Price: $28, Ballantine Books, 9780525619321, 6/1/2021)

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

Finding Freedom by Erin French

Foodies rejoice!!! This sophisticated memoir will have your mouth watering to know more about this amazing author. I love the restaurant. The harder it is to get in the more determined people will be to get a reservation. Determination, grit, and talent take this book well into place as my favorite nonfiction book of the year.

Finding Freedom by Erin French (List Price: $28, Celadon Books, 9781250312341, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Jean Lewis, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

Low Country by J. Nicole Jones

I am choosing the stories from the mouths of women, some painted and some bare, and as far as I am concerned, their words are all the truer for the color. I am also putting off what I cannot bear to lose for good, and like a hurricane, I will change tack without warning.

Reading Low Country was in so many ways like coming home. The narrative follows a largely chronological path as it tracks Jones’ family history. Interwoven in her history are ghost stories and family lore, which adds a richness that cannot be rushed. Jones’ words must be savored, and are best enjoyed over time when you can watch her build a gothic, humid, wild landscape that can only be found in the American South.

Low Country by J. Nicole Jones (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781948226868, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Faith Parke-Dodge, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel

Fans of Fun Home and Are You My Mother will not be disappointed by The Secret to Superhuman Strength! While Alison Bechdel’s previous two books mix her own memories with her parents’ stories, her newest book is all her own, told through her relationship to exercise and the outdoors. It would not be a Bechdel book without bringing in philosophers; in this case, Bechdel touches on Jack Kerouac, the transcendentalists, Buddhist thinkers, and more. I was particularly drawn to the vibrancy of the coloring in this book. I tried to only read one section of this book at a time to make it last longer, but I couldn’t resist consuming it in two sittings!

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (List Price: $24, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780544387652, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford, Amy Paige Condon

Chef and sixth-generation farmer Matthew Raiford presents us with a deeply personal and refreshingly practical cookbook, with recipes rooted in his Gullah Geechee heritage and uniquely honed by his world travels and formal culinary education. Chef Raiford includes classic low-country dishes such as Shrimp and Red Gravy (served with grits, of course) and Chicken ’n’ Dumplings as well as his own takes on jerk goat, naan, and gelato. He also offers advice on hosting an oyster roast, and how to cook a whole pig for Georgia-style barbecue. Bress ’n’ Nyam (“bless and eat” in the Gullah Geechee language) finds the perfect balance between great Southern storytelling and recipes that are both accessible and mouth-watering.

Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford, Amy Paige Condon (List Price: $30, Countryman Press, 9781682686041, 5/11/2021)

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

Brat by Andrew McCarthy

As I tore through this book, I kept wondering why I couldn’t put it down, couldn’t stop thinking about it. I mean, I even met Andrew McCarthy once (at ABA, when he was releasing his middle-grades book) and wasn’t particularly star-struck. It’s very well-written, and his voice is vulnerable and likable and humble and honest. He comes across as a bit bewildered by his success, and captures his 20-something self perfectly. I wasn’t surprised that, in the acknowledgments, he admitted that he’d “almost” written the book a long time ago. I guess he captured those days when they were still fresh. But, ultimately, McCarthy himself explained why I was so caught up in it. “…in the memory of those movies exists a touchstone of youth, of when life was all ahead, when the future was a blank slate, when anything was possible.” I have no idea if this book will resonate with anyone who is not as firmly Gen X as me (class of 1985!), but I’ll stock it and give it a lot of hand-selling. Because it’s my store and I loved it.

Brat by Andrew McCarthy (List Price: $28, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538754276, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Angela Schroeder, Sunrise Books in High Point, North Carolina

Pop Song by Larissa Pham

In its best moments, Pop Song makes deeply resonant connections between works of art, the lives of artists and the author’s own experience as an extremely online person trying to find healing and community in the isolating wasteland that is late capitalism’s information economy. There were certainly times where I felt like I was too old for this book; the break-up that anchors the denouement did not feel as sharply observed to me as the relationship’s tender beginnings and what they shook loose. But overall this is a strong effort by a writer I have long admired. And if you came of age on Tumblr this book will probably feel like slipping on a glove.

Pop Song by Larissa Pham (List Price: $26, Catapult, 9781646220267, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Steve Haruch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman

What can I say about Women and Other Monsters other than READ THIS NOW!? I picked this book up with full-blown curiosity, ignited by my love of mythology and strong belief in the women’s rights movement. Jess Zimmerman uses her own life experiences, mingled with monsters of ancient myth, to bring light to the ugly truth of what it means to be a woman. We are monsters–for our individuality, determination, free spirits, desires and ambitions, and our less-than-perfect bodies. At least that’s what the world wants us to believe. I found pieces of myself in every chapter, and discovered just how much I wanted that to change. I highly recommend this book to women of all colors and ages, trans women, non-binary gentlefolk, and those looking for insight.

Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman (List Price: $25.95, Beacon Press, 9780807054932, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Sophie Giroir, Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana

Sparrow Envy by J. Drew Lanham

I found myself underlining something on nearly every page of this slim volume—Lanham’s distinctive voice sings with awe of the natural world and clear-eyed candor of the obstacles a Black man faces in engaging this awe. Here is a writer who can perfectly express the emotive effect of a wood thrush’s 3-part song, someone who finds joy the exuberance of wrens, someone who finds solace in (and solidarity with) winged beings. This is a beautiful, necessary book.

Sparrow Envy by J. Drew Lanham (List Price: $16, Hub City Press, 9781938235818, 4/13/2021)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was my introduction to Kate Summerscale’s irresistible recounting of fascinating events often lost to history. In The Haunting of Alma Fielding she weaves the true story of a London housewife whose experiences of the supernatural capture the imagination of pre-WWII London, and of the ghost hunter who investigates the poltergeist and discovers a stranger, darker tale. Surrounding Alma, we get a vivid picture of a public captivated by the allure of the supernatural and simultaneously filled with growing anxiety over the prospect of a global conflict. A masterful combination of fact, propulsive storytelling, and atmosphere.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale (List Price: $28, Penguin Press, 9780525557920, 4/27/2021)

Reviewed by Clara Boza, Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

With Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner has established herself as not just a musical talent but as an astounding writer to be reckoned with. In her beautifully realized and heartbreakingly open memoir, she recounts her mother’s battle with cancer and her death while looking keenly at her Korean heritage, the way food plays a role in her identity, and the loss of cultural connection that can come with the death of an immigrant parent. All of this adds up to a wonderfully rich ode of a memoir, a tribute to Zauner’s mother, a celebration of Korean food, and one of the best books of 2021.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (List Price: $26.95, Knopf, 9780525657743, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Caleb Masters, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren

These are the true stories of the friendships, frustrations, successes, struggles, identity, and reinventions of the women made is possible for today’s women to shatter the glass ceiling! When my now 86 year old mother moved from her tiny hometown in Kentucky to a bigger town in South Carolina for her first job as a professional young lady she lived at the YWCA with other professional young ladies beginning their careers. She always refers to it as “my version of the Barbizon Hotel” so I felt a connection to this book immediately. Like my mother moving to the big city to become a “career girl”, young ladies from across the country moved to New York and lived at the Barbizon to do the same thing. The rules for young, white, well off ladies were clear. Behave, have fun, and become successful. The Barbizon provided a safe living arrangement for ladies who went on the become famous, like Sylvia Plath, Grace Kelly, Ali McGraw and others who weren’t so famous.The book traces the history of the hotel, focusing on the relationship with Mademoiselle magazine. Combining excellent research with a fun side of gossipy sleep over energy. The Barbizon is a great read that captures and time and place in the professional lives of women and their place in a changing society.

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren (List Price: $27, Simon & Schuster, 9781982123895, 3/2/2021)

Reviewed by Susan Williams, M Judson, Booksellers and Storytellers in Greenville, South Carolina

House of Sticks by Ly Tran

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

House of Sticks by Ly Tran
Scribner, June

With a delicate simplicity to her poetic prose, Ly Tran has crafted a spellbinding memoir perfect for fans of Tara Westover, Celeste Ng, and Jeanette Walls. Ly Tran’s story reached into the depths of my heart and soul, and filled me with overwhelming hope. I can’t wait for readers to be introduced to the singular beauty of her vivid voice. 

– Gennifer Eccles from Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Knopf, May

Being Korean American and already a fan of Michelle Zauner’s music under the Japanese Breakfast moniker, I was predisposed to love this book. Having read the title essay in the New Yorker I was predisposed to love this book. Even so, I was struck by just how much I loved it. I’m so grateful for this book — for how it walks through grief not as a way to leave it behind, but as a way to remember its exact shape. I’m grateful for its funny, self-deprecating and wise observations, and for its difficult beauty.

– Steve Haruch from Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib

A Spring 2021 Read This Next! Title

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
Random House, April

Anything new by Hanif Abdurraqib is something to celebrate. He’s quickly become one of my favorite writers. This book, which highlights some of the many, many black performers in American history, is my favorite so far. It made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me think, and it made me look up old clips from Soul Train on YouTube. I am grateful that his book made me do all of those things. Hanif Abdurraqib is a writer I feel evangelical about. I cannot wait to press a copy of this into people’s hands.

– Chelsea Bauer, Union Ave Books in Knoxville, TN

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane

Admittedly, I am a robot-fearing Luddite human who tried to buy a flip phone last year. This book quelled my fears about any imminent robot revolution, while also informing me of a different set of fears I should have regarding AI. Through this humorous and accessible book, research scientist Janelle Shane presents the weird experiments humans create and even weirder solutions robots find with pure nerdy enthusiasm that made me laugh many times. While being entertaining and informative, this book also critically points out the harm in programming AI and beliefs surrounding its capabilities. When your robot isn’t falling over or doing the can-can, perhaps you can program it to read this book to you (but you’ll probably still have to turn the pages yourself).

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane (List Price: $17.99, Voracious, 9780316525220, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Julie Jarema, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald

Alabama — not to mention the South at large — is a complicated place with a complicated history, so we’re grateful for the likes of John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s chosen to stay in his home state and shine the light on dark secrets many would prefer to avoid. His new book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, turns the beam on his own family, particularly his father, a third-generation Methodist minister who held prominent pulpits in Birmingham and other large Alabama churches for decades. This is a deeply personal memoir, and Archibald’s love and respect for his dad is clear. He was a man of moral authority who taught right from wrong, a minister who emphasized grace and compassion, and an engaged dad who encouraged his kids to leave every campsite better than they found it. But, his youngest son wonders, did his father do enough to leave his community better off than he found it? In examining his father’s sermons at key moments in local history — just after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, for example — Archibald sets out to determine whether Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was right in claiming that “the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South . . . have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” Why, Archibald wonders, did his father largely remain silent on the matters that mattered most? Why do other religious leaders, then and now, not say more, do more? John Archibald is an incredible writer who lures you in with stories about fishing and family gatherings, but by the end he has us all asking ourselves, why do we not also say more, do more?

Shaking the Gates of Hell by John Archibald (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780525658115, 3/9/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown by Brandon Jew, Tienlon Ho

This very readable cookbook details the history of Chinese food in the United States, and weaves fascinating stories about the author’s lifetime experiences in San Francisco’s Chinatown around authentic, and often accessible, Chinese and Chinese-American recipes.

Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown by Brandon Jew, Tienlon Ho (List Price: $40, Ten Speed Press, 9781984856500, 3/9/2021)

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

Prison by Any Other Name by Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar

When I read Prison By Any Other Name, I knew that it was one of the most important books of 2020. In fact, if you read only one work of nonfiction this year, please consider this brilliant exploration of “alternatives” to policing and incarceration! It’s a meticulously researched exploration of popular reforms that centers the stories of real people to craft a highly readable but utterly devastating critique. Importantly, it also offers transformative, community-based solutions.

Prison by Any Other Name by Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar (List Price: $26.99, New Press, 9781620973103, 7/20/2020)

Reviewed by Libertie Valance, Firestorm Books & Coffee in Asheville, North Carolina

What’s the Difference? by Brette Warshaw

Many culinary items are similar, but do you know their differences? Such as what is the difference between corned beef and pastrami, or grits and hominy? Told in short chapters, this is a book you can put down and pick back up over and over, and a perfect gift for the foodie in your life.

What’s the Difference? by Brette Warshaw (List Price: $27.99, HarperWave, 9780062996190, June 2021)

Reviewed by Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo

Lovers of early Diane Ackerman, Michael Pollan, and possibly Ruth Reichl will enjoy this collection of alphabetically saluted fruits! Essayist, poet, and pie lady Kate Lebo expertly blends the culinary, medical, and personal in a book of essays, accompanied by recipes that you will probably never use but are fascinating to read! Lebo’s chops both literary and gustatory are fully exercised in this fascinating collection. It’s full of surprises! One page you’ll be drooling and the next will make you nauseous, even fearful for our intrepid explorer of all things fruit. Much of the book is personal and shares some common ground with Cheryl Strayed. Great gift for a young chef, plant lover, or poet!

The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo (List Price: $28, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374110321, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith

I listened to this on audio (from libro.fm/avidbookshop) and really loved it. I’m a longtime lover of being outdoors, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I started growing potted plants on my own in earnest. This book highlights the ways in which gardening, in all its forms, has a demonstrably positive impact on your mind, your body, your relationships, and the world. Just a lovely tome no matter if you’re never planning to take care of plants or if you’re a master gardener.

The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith (List Price: $28, Scribner, 9781476794464, 7/7/2020)

Reviewed by Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Jobb

Jobb captures the hypocrisy, class differences, and gender inequality of the times in an extensively researched non-fiction telling of the forgotten nineteenth century serial killer Dr. Thomas Neill Cream. Jobb takes his research of Dr. Cream’s life, court appearances, and death and turns it into an account that reads like a crime novel that is both grim and hard to put down.

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Jobb (List Price: $27.95, Algonquin Books, 9781616206895, June 2021)

Reviewed by Ashley Bohinc, Main Street Reads, in Summerville, South Carolina

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Being Korean American and already a fan of Michelle Zauner’s music under the Japanese Breakfast moniker, I was predisposed to love this book. Having read the title essay in the New Yorker I was predisposed to love this book. Even so, I was struck by just how much I loved it. I’m so grateful for this book — for how it walks through grief not as a way to leave it behind, but as a way to remember its exact shape. I’m grateful for its funny, self-deprecating and wise observations, and for its difficult beauty.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (List Price: $26.95, Knopf, 9780525657743, 4/20/2021)

Reviewed by Steve Haruch, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib’s exploration of Black performance in America is a cultural keystone that is chillingly relevant. Whether discussing the fact that a knowing look or advice on a route from a cashier is a form of a living Green Book that still exists because there are places Black people are not safe, to the origin of the card game spades or the difference between showing out or showing off, at the heart A Little Devil in America circles back to the fact that Black Americans have been forced to survive in places they were not welcome. The section on Black funerals pierced my heart. This book needs to be read, taught, underlined and discussed.

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib (List Price: $27, Random House, 9781984801197, 3/30/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

2021 Southern Book Prize Winner!

Incredible. Stunning. Poetic. Shattering. Frightening. Beautiful. I cannot imagine how painful it must have been for Natasha Trethewey to tell this complicated story.

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey (List Price: $27.99, Ecco, 9780062248572, July 2020)

Reviewed by Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

2021 Southern Book Prize Winner!

Heartfelt and vulnerable memoir of a daughter searching for meaning in her mother’s life that was cut too short. Trethewey is looking for closure and trying to piece together her memories as she looks back through the years at a difficult and transient childhood, at abuse and the many ways it can manifest itself, and trying to heal. It’s a beautiful story of love.

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey (List Price: $27.99, Ecco, 9780062248572, July 2020)

Reviewed by Jamie Southern, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Jenny Lawson is a genius. She can make me sob uncontrollably from both laughter and the heartbreakingly honest way she talks about mental illness. She takes the worst things in life and finds a way to laugh through them. Her ability to bring people together in a celebration of human awkwardness is just beautiful. This book provided much needed relief and escape from the divisiveness of the world.

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson (List Price: $27.99, Henry Holt and Co., 9781250077035, 4/6/2021)

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz

I know Annalee Newitz from their excellent work in speculative fiction and have been a fan for ages. They now take to the page with this delightful work of nonfiction exploring the deaths of four historic civilizations. If you enjoy the works of the late Tony Horowitz, Eric Larson, and Karen Abbott, you will love this book! Traveling to the ruins of these lost urban mega-cities, Newitz explores how they were founded, how they developed and what caused their demise. From Pompeii to Cahokia, located near present-day Saint Louis, we see how every day people lived and died and what caused their civilizations to collapse. The tone of the book is light and anecdotal with a touch of whimsy without shying away from the darker aspects of ancient history. Ultimately hopeful, the author shows us what we can learn from the lessons of the past to avoid making the same mistakes as these doomed urban peoples without being preachy or sounding superior. Even if you don’t read much history, I can highly recommend this book as just a fabulous read!

Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz (List Price: $26.95, W.W. Norton & Company, 9780393652666, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Good Apple by Elizabeth Passarella

This warm, wonderful memoir in essays by Southern writer Elizabeth Passarella comes on the scene just when we need it most. In a series of funny, honest, personal stories, she breaks down stereotypes and misconceptions about Southerners, New Yorkers, Christians, Democrats, parents, and more in a way that will appeal to pretty much everyone, whether you fit into one of those groups or not. In reading about her ice maker, her child’s crib in the closet, her belief in thank-you notes, or her memories of her late father, I bet you’ll absolutely relate to Elizabeth Passarella’s stories about what it really means to find a home in the world.

Good Apple by Elizabeth Passarella (List Price: $25.99, Thomas Nelson, 9781400218578, 1/19/2021)

Reviewed by Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Nadia Owusu was born to a Ghanaian father and an Armenian-American mother who abandoned her when she was two. Growing up in parts of Africa as well as Europe before moving to the United States, she has spent much of her life feeling without a mother, home, nationality or racial identity only to be overwhelmed by the abundance of these things she possesses at other times. Part memoir and part cultural history, Owusu has crafted an incredibly powerful force of a book, one that I have learned more from than any other in a long time.

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu (List Price: $26, Simon & Schuster, 9781982111229, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Carl Kranz, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

This One Wild and Precious Life by Sarah Wilson

Part memoir, part philosophical reflection, Sarah Wilson delves deep into the global issues that have caused a sense of general unease that has encroached on us as of late. With her open and approachable voice, she takes a conversational approach to topics–climate change, capitalism, and social consciousness & activism, to name a few–that sometimes seem to serious and daunting to talk about, especially when we are constantly reminded of the circumstances that have created these “unprecedented times”. For readers of Glennon Doyle’s Untamed and Katherine May’s Wintering, this is yet another reflective and encouraging guide to a life that right now seems so uncertain.

This One Wild and Precious Life by Sarah Wilson (List Price: $26.99, Dey Street Books, 9780062962973, 12/29/2020)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

To Be Honest by Michael Leviton

Michael Leviton grew up in what he describes as an “honesty cult.” His parents had little patience for half-truths, believing that absolutely nothing should be omitted, especially the details that make most people uncomfortable. As a consequence, Michael struggled to make friends, hold a job, or feel welcomed by others for most of his life. Eventually, heartbreak led him to question his honesty policy, and he began to explore what it would feel like to prioritize others’ feelings over the painful truth. Here, Michael narrates his story with humor, self-awareness, and–of course–honesty.

To Be Honest by Michael Leviton (List Price: $26, Abrams Press, 9781419743054, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Talia Smart, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The Friendly Vegan Cookbook by Michelle Cehn & Toni Okamoto

The Friendly Vegan is far and away my favorite cookbook of 2020! The recipes combine easy-to-find ingredients with simple instructions for page after page of go-to recipes every vegan should have in their kitchen repertoire. I have been making tofu scramble for years, and this morning tried The Friendly Vegan recipe, and my husband immediately recognized the elevated flavor combinations. I can’t wait to cook my way through this cookbook!

The Friendly Vegan by Michelle Cehn & Toni Okamoto (List Price: $22.95, BenBella Books, 9781950665365, October, 2020)

Reviewed by Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Communication is a key ingredient to our daily life. Even choosing to avoid it says multiple somethings about us. Be the relationship cave painter and archaeologist or mother and son, down to the nanosecond most of us (speaker and auditor) repeatedly fudge it up. In that last sentence, for example, the subject choices and use of the word “fudge” paint both a true-ish and false-like picture of this reviewer. But this isn’t about me (or is it?). [Ahem] Through a panoply of pitch-perfect analogies, George Saunders puts the writer/reader at the reader/writer’s La-Z-Boy/typewriter. With hang-out-sesh tonality, he weighs the beauty in misunderstanding against how utterly frustrating it can be to simply get what you’re being told. Fans of Understanding Comics or How to Read Nancy might enjoy placing turn-of-the-century Russian masterpieces under the microscope. It’s been over a week since I finished A Swim… (“not about me,” eh, me?) and like a kid home from camp, not a day has gone by without a few thoughts of this deep moment or that fond element. All that’s missing from that analogy is me repeatedly checking the mailbox to see if George wrote me a postcard, but that would be a downer of an ending to this wonderful book’s review (not to be confused with a wonderful book review), so it’ll surely be edited out.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (List Price: $28, Random House, 9781984856029, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine, Marc Zvi Brettler

Scholarly and insightful, these esteemed professors break down how Jews and Christians can look at the same texts and come to wildly different conclusions. It’s often a matter of linguistic translation, theological emphasis, traditional interpretation. By showing how “polemic can be turned to possibility,” they’ve penned a bold thesis for understanding and empathy between Jews and Christians, as well as those of any faith and culture.

The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine, Marc Zvi Brettler (List Price: $34.99, HarperOne, 9780062560155, 10/27/2020)

Reviewed by Ben Groner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

Wow. It is easy to understand how Becky Cooper became enthralled with Jane Britton’s story, as this book continues to linger in my mind long after I have finished it. If you are a student, a teacher, a staff member, a mentor, or a parent: this is an absolute must-read. Please read this book in honor of all of the aspiring young women you impact. In her immersive, personal investigation, Cooper gave a voice to the fears I experienced as an undergraduate student and continue to feel and see around me as I enter graduate school. The story of Jane and her murder is fascinating alone, but the ability to relate to Jane, Cooper, and every other woman affected by this story kept me reading late into the night. Women can no longer be silenced in academia when brilliant voices like Becky Cooper’s are rising from the ashes of their broken systems. This is beyond a great true crime. This is the perfect non-fiction book.

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper (List Price: $29.00, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538746837, November, 2020)

Reviewed by Karyn Cumming, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Black, White, and The Grey by Mashama Bailey & John O. Morisano

Living in Savannah and being a huge fan of The Grey, I was really excited for this book. I’m so glad its presented with both Mashama and John O.’s perspectives. I found Mashama’s parts especially to be very reflective and an important contribution to the discussion of race in this country and, specifically, in the south. The recipes are an excellent addition.

Black, White, and The Grey by Mashama Bailey & John O. Morisano (List Price: $28.00, Lorena Jones Books, 9781984856203, January, 2021)

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne

Walking With Ghosts is unlike any other memoir I’ve read. All of the typical biographical points are in there: place of birth, parental history, childhood experiences, and anything/everything you need to know about Gabriel Byrne’s origin. However, the exceptional writing style and the language he uses makes this book stand out from the standard celebrity tell-all. Byrne uses a stream of consciousness to connect his adult experiences to growing up in Ireland. And no one is left out: his first childhood crush, the town alcoholics, the prevalence of organized religion, and even the local artists/musicians who struggle with anxiety and depression (long before those things were discussed openly or understood on a social level). He writes as if you’re with him experiencing everything in real time. Extreme traumas are revealed, but he expresses sentimentality in several of his memories. Aside from his personal life, his career is a highway that starts with stage theatre and moves to working with the actors of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood before it arrives to the modern era of filmmaking. The mark of a good memoir is that it’s a great book even if you have no idea of the author’s work or fame. This is that book. I recommend this as an incredible piece of nonfiction…it’s not just another celebrity bio.

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802157126, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

Diamond Doris by Doris Payne

Doris was a badass and she knew it. You’re a fly on the wall as she cases and steals from the most luxurious jewelry retailers in the world using social cues and expectations to her advantage. Part Pam Grier, part 007, she led an unbelievably brazen life of crime and writes about it very well. A real page-turner. And a great audiobook as well!

Diamond Doris by Doris Payne (List Price: $16.99, Amistad, 9780062918000, 10/6/2020)

Reviewed by Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

No Surrender by Christopher Edmonds

Chris Edmonds tells the story of his father Roddie who served in WWII and spent time as a POW in Germany. Standing up to his German captors, Roddie saved the lives of 200 Jewish American POWs and almost 1,300 total American POWs. This is a powerful story of a man who chose to do the right thing and changed the lives of countless others.

No Surrender by Christopher Edmonds, Douglas Century (List Price: $17.99, HarperOne, 9780062905024, 10/20/2020)

Reviewed by Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose by Nikki Giovanni

A Read This Next! Fall 2020 Title

I would not call myself a poetry reader, but there is something about Nikki Giovanni’s poetry that speaks to me so deeply. Sentimental and comforting, Make Me Rain covers a wide range of topics from quilts and rising bread to the social change we so desperately need in our world. Giovanni’s wisdom and understanding once again prove why she is such a poetic powerhouse – and leave the reader wanting to explore her past work again, too.

Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose by Nikki Giovanni (List price: $24.99, William Morrow, 9780062995285, October 2020), recommended by Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne

Walking With Ghosts is unlike any other memoir I’ve read. All of the typical biographical points are in there: place of birth, parental history, childhood experiences, and anything/everything you need to know about Gabriel Byrne’s origin. However, the exceptional writing style and the language he uses makes this book stand out from the standard celebrity tell-all. Byrne uses a stream of consciousness to connect his adult experiences to growing up in Ireland. And no one is left out: his first childhood crush, the town alcoholics, the prevalence of organized religion, and even the local artists/musicians who struggle with anxiety and depression (long before those things were discussed openly or understood on a social level).

He writes as if you’re with him experiencing everything in real-time. Extreme traumas are revealed, but he expresses sentimentality in several of his memories. Aside from his personal life, his career is a highway that starts with stage theatre and moves to working with the actors of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood before it arrives to the modern era of filmmaking. The mark of a good memoir is that it’s a great book even if you have no idea of the author’s work or fame. This is that book. I recommend this as an incredible piece of nonfiction… it’s not just another celebrity bio.

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802157126, January, 2021).

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, TN

She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

A Fall 2020 read This Next! Title
Scribner | 9781982157289
October 13, 2020

The National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Heartland focuses her laser-sharp insights on a working-class icon and one of the most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton.

Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particular vulnerabilities—and strengths—of women in working poverty. Meanwhile, country songs by female artists played in the background, telling powerful stories about life, men, hard times, and surviving. In her family, she writes, “country music was foremost a language among women. It’s how we talked to each other in a place where feelings aren’t discussed.” And no one provided that language better than Dolly Parton.

Smarsh challenged a typically male vision of the rural working class with her first book, Heartland, starring the bold, hard-luck women who raised her. Now, in She Come By It Natural, originally published in a four-part series for The Journal of Roots Music, No Depression, Smarsh explores the overlooked contributions to social progress by such women—including those averse to the term “feminism”—as exemplified by Dolly Parton’s life and art.

Far beyond the recently resurrected “Jolene” or quintessential “9 to 5,” Parton’s songs for decades have validated women who go unheard: the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged as “trailer trash.” Parton’s broader career—from singing on the front porch of her family’s cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to achieving stardom in Nashville and Hollywood, from “girl singer” managed by powerful men to leader of a self-made business and philanthropy empire—offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender, class, and culture.

Infused with Smarsh’s trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity, She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and—call it whatever you like—the organic feminism she embodies.

A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South edited by Cinelle Barnes

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Hub City Press | 9781938235719
October 6, 2020

This fierce collection celebrates the incredible diversity in the contemporary South by featuring essays by twenty-one of the finest young writers of color living and working in the region today, who all address a central question: Who is welcome?

Kiese Laymon navigates the racial politics of publishing while recording his audiobook in Mississippi. Regina Bradley moves to Indiana and grapples with a landscape devoid of her Southern cultural touchstones, like Popeyes and OutKast. Aruni Kashyap apartment hunts in Athens and encounters a minefield of invasive questions. Frederick McKindra delves into the particularly Southern history of Beyonce’s black majorettes.

Assembled by editor and essayist Cinelle Barnes, essays in A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South acknowledge that from the DMV to the college basketball court to doctors’ offices, there are no shortage of places of tension in the American South. Urgent, necessary, funny, and poignant, these essays from new and established voices confront the complexities of the South’s relationship with race, uncovering the particular difficulties and profound joys of being a Southerner in the 21st century.