The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Biography & Memoir

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

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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

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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

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King of Ragtime by Stephen Costanza, Stephen Costanza (Illus.)

This book about Scott Joplin is beautifully written and even more beautifully illustrated. I loved the historic details, like the inclusion of the real 1911 sheet music cover of “Maple Leaf Rag”! Scott Joplin is an iconic part of American music history and every child deserves to know his story.

King of Ragtime by Stephen Costanza, Stephen Costanza (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 9781534410367, 8/24/2021)

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

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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

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Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott by Joyce Scott, Brie Spangler, Melissa Sweet (Illus.)

Judith Scott was a fiber artist with Down Syndrome; she lived in an institution for 35 years before learning to create mixed media sculptures. I loved this beautifully heartfelt book by Judith’s sister Joyce; I particularly appreciated the reminder that too often we keep people who are different from us at a distance.

Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott by Joyce Scott, Brie Spangler, Melissa Sweet (Illus.) (List Price: $17.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780525648116, 6/8/2021)

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

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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

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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

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Small Room, Big Dreams: The Journey of Julián and Joaquin Castro by Monica Brown, Mirelle Ortega

Small Room, Big Dreams is the story of Joaquin and Julián Castro, identical twin brothers born in San Antonio. Raised from a young age by their grandmother to love books and their mother to understand the importance of participating in their community through politics, Joaquin and Julián have dedicated their lives to service and improving their communities. I hope this book inspires children to become involved in their communities and dream big!

Small Room, Big Dreams: The Journey of Julián and Joaquin Castro by Monica Brown, Mirelle Ortega (List Price: $18.99, Quill Tree Books, 9780062985736, 5/4/2021)

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

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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

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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

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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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She Persisted: Harriet Tubman by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Chelsea Clinton, Gillian Flint

Harriet Tubman was one of my favorite people to learn about as a child, so I’m thrilled to have a new book to share with my nieces and the young readers at Bookmarks! In She Persisted: Harriet Tubman, Andrea Davis-Pinkney shares an inspiring portrait of the life of this American legend: daughter, slave, Underground Railroad conductor, nurse, spy, wife, and advocate for women’s rights. Gillian Flint’s illustrations bring the story to life, helping share Tubman’s story with a new generation.

She Persisted: Harriet Tubman by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Chelsea Clinton, Gillian Flint (List Price: $14.99, Philomel Books, 9780593115657, 1/5/2021)

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

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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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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

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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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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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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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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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