The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Adult Nonfiction

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Down Along with That Devil’s Bones by Connor Towne O’Neill

A Fall 2020 Read This Next! Title
Algonquin Books / 9781616209100
Publication Date: September 29, 2020

“We can no longer see ourselves as minor spectators or weary watchers of history a­fter finishing this astonishing work of nonfiction.” —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

In Down Along with That Devil’s Bones, journalist Connor Towne O’Neill takes a deep dive into American history, exposing the still-raging battles over monuments dedicated to one of the most notorious Confederate generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Through the lens of these conflicts, O’Neill examines the legacy of white supremacy in America, in a sobering and fascinating work sure to resonate with readers of Tony Horwitz, Timothy B. Tyson, and Robin DiAngelo.

When O’Neill first moved to Alabama, as a white Northerner, he felt somewhat removed from the racism Confederate monuments represented. Then one day in Selma, he stumbled across a group of citizens protecting a monument to Forrest, the officer who became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and whom William Tecumseh Sherman referred to as “that devil.” O’Neill sets off to visit other disputed memorials to Forrest across the South, talking with men and women who believe they are protecting their heritage, and those who have a different view of the man’s poisonous history.

O’Neill’s reporting and thoughtful, deeply personal analysis make it clear that white supremacy is not a regional affliction but is in fact coded into the DNA of the entire country. Down Along with That Devil’s Bones presents an important and eye-opening account of how we got from Appomattox to Charlottesville, and where, if we can truly understand and transcend our past, we could be headed next.

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Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

As someone raised in West Virginia, Hill Women struck a particular chord with me. Cassie Chambers delivers an honest narrative about the challenges of life in one of the poorest regions of the country while giving voices to the women who lifted up her life and the lives of those around her. Highlighting their unwavering work ethic, generosity, and fight for the younger generations, Chambers shows how growing up with the influence of these women in her family helped formed the person she became, eventually being educated at an Ivy League school and returning to the region to help provide legal assistance to the very communities in which she was raised. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about the Appalachian region and for readers who enjoy insightful biographies like Educated.

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers ($27.00, Ballantine Books), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.

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The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg

“You cannot treat women only for a disease of which men are the main carriers. Nor, I knew, could you punish every man who fell ill.” ~ Emma Copley Eisenberg

The Third Rainbow Girl is part true crime, part memoir, and fully compelling. On the frame of the unsolved Rainbow Murders, Eisenberg hangs a discussion of Appalachian life and the complicated history its people have with one another, their history, and the rest of the nation. Traditional true crime reads may find the structure off-putting at first, but the alternating of past and present day events give a richer picture of a community defined by the murder of outsiders. Content warning for discussions of violence, bigotry, alcohol and drug use, and sexual assault.

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
(List price: $27.00, Hachette Books)
Recommended by Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC.

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Wine Girl by Victoria James

This is an intriguing and touching memoir of James’s struggles early in life and how she rose to career highs with hard work and motivation. She suffered abuse as a young woman and throughout her work life simply because she was a female and the way she shook it all off is inspiring. This book really shows the rewards of dedication to one’s craft and that you don’t need formal schooling to make something of yourself. I am so impressed at her strength and intellect and would love to hear more of her story.

Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier by Victoria James (List price: $26.99, Ecco), recommended by Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA.

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Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk made a searing impression on me, so I leapt at the chance to read Vesper Flights. It’s a collection of Macdonald’s  essays and musings about human interrelationship with the non-human natural world. From childhood, she loved all wildlife, particularly birds. This woman has trudged through muck and mire, briars and brambles, in every possible weather condition – all for the chance to observe and learn and marvel. Each essay reveals some remarkable experience, but underlying all of them  is a persistent fear for the survival of our planet as the ecosystem she cherishes. Macdonald is a scientist who is willing to expose her emotions and vulnerability: her humanity. Every essay is a breathtaking illumination of life.

Recommended by Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC.

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The Perfect Father by John Glatt

I practically grew up on murder stories–from lurid true crime magazines, to the heyday of Court TV, and my ongoing love for Forensic Files. But rarely does a true crime book affect me like The Perfect Father did. Glatt offers a balanced look into the marriage of Chris and Shannan Watts, their strengths, their flaws, and their love. In our Instragram-able world, ever curated to show perfection, it’s no surprise that the murder of such a vibrant pregnant mother and two beautiful little girls would capture the nation’s attention. This story is heartbreaking, and Glatt shows the devastation not just of their families and friends, but on the first responders and the cops who investigated the murder. It’s a tough read. Four beloved souls are forever gone, and countless lives left wrecked, but The Perfect Father is a cautionary tale for our society as it explores the coldness that lurks beneath an online persona.

The Perfect Father: The True Story of Chris Watts, His All-American Family, and a Shocking Murder by John Glatt (List price: $28.99, St. Martin’s Press), recommended by Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA.

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The Book of Atlantis Black by Betsy Bonner

In 2008, Betsy Bonner’s sister is found dead on the floor of a hotel in Tijuana. Is is suicide, or overdose? Is it even her sister? A talented musician and performer who changed her name to Atlantis Black, her sister had always lived on the edge. Bonner’s love for her sister is apparent as she relays their overlapping stories and tries to unravel the mysteries of her sister’s life.

The Book of Atlantis Black by Betsy Bonner (List price: $26.95, Tin House Books), recommended by Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN.

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How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg, Kristen Meinzer

How to Be Fine is self-help book guide to reading self-help books. But also just a self-help book for the modern world. Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer have done the heavy lifting of reading and living by popular self-help books and then distilled them down into what worked, what didn’t, and what they wished would be addressed more. Readers can use this as a stand alone self-help or a guide to finding more, but anyone with a desire to better themselves will be served by giving this a read. The authors frequently emphasize that “Only you are an expert in you,” and that is a message we can all stand to hear more often.

How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg, Kristen Meinzer (List price: $25.99, William Morrow), recommended by Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC.

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