What the South’s Independent Booksellers Are Reading and Recommending This Summer


We based our Summer Reading Roundup on interviews with the owners of five great bookshops around the South.

The Bitter Southerner believes the independent bookstores that have survived the last couple of decades deserve one giant, tight-squeeze hug. More importantly, they deserve our loyalty and our business. In a way, they are community heroes. Support them.

If you do not live in a town with a local bookstore, order from the links in this story. Or just phone these folks and order your books. Really. Call them.

If you do have a local independent bookshop, spend time there. Loiter. Talk to other loiterers. Get to know the owner. Buy all your books from them. You’ll be better for it.

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Square Books is a perfect place. Truly, it is. My dear Mississippi friend, Earl Quimby Vance, took me there a few years ago and I was in heaven. Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels like that. Publishers Weekly named Square Books Bookstore of the Year in 2013. Owned by Richard and Lisa Howorth (whose first novel made our Roundup), Square Books will celebrate its 35th anniversary this fall.

Richard, please tell us, what are the big books for summer 2014?
Okay, my list: Euphoria by Lily King, a fascinating novel based on Margaret Mead; the mystery, The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker; The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani; The Painter by Peter Heller, for anyone who likes fly fishing, sex, or murder; Norwegian by Night, a quirky, winning suspense novel that I love by Derek Miller; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (well, this is not coming till August but it will be hot); and, naturally, Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth, a one-of-a-kind novel by a one-of-a-kind writer.

What’s selling in non-fiction?
Two cookbooks that we have signed copies of -- The B.C.T. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook by Alexe Van Beuren and Pickles Pigs & Whiskey by James Beard-award winner and Oxford restaurateur John Currence.  Also Take This Man, an irresistible memoir by Brando Skyhorse. 

Any self-improvement books flying off the shelves?
Yes! How Not to Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide by Meghan Doherty (BS note: Great title!)  and Everything I Know I Learned from a Golden Book by Diane Muldrow.

Business books. Any big sellers?
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty has been the surprise book of the summer.

What in Southern lit has you excited?
Algonquin has reissued a paperback edition of Lewis Nordan's Music of the Swamp, one of the greatest books in our store's history. All God's Dangers (by Theodore Rosengarten), published in 1974 and also one of our store's organic titles, recently had a reappraisal in The New York Times by Dwight Garner that has given it an amazing new life.  We continue to see much interest in Garden & Gun's The Southerner's Handbook. Barry Hannah remains the new style.

Do people still come in and stock up for vacation/summer reading?
Yes, we’ve had lots of summer vacation purchases as well as some high school summer reading list sales. People associate summer with reading, which is a great thing!

Do folks still buy audiobooks for long car trips?
Yes. I know the download "business" is strong, but we continue to sell many CDs. The best is poet Billy Collins Live at Symphony Space with an introduction by Bill Murray. Only $19.95, fabulous, and unlike most audio books, you'll continue to play this one.

Do you read on a device?
I read junk on my "smartphone” and some more junk on an iPad, but all my books are ... books.  (BS note: We assume Richard is referring to the other junk on the Internet and not The Bitter Southerner. Surely.)

How do you travel with books?
I pick out three or four I'm fairly certain will be good and take them all, maybe only two on a shorter trip. I also try to make sure I take one book I'm already pretty well into.

Looking back at your life of reading, do you have one book in particular associated with a certain summer?
Yes, the summer I traveled in Europe, when I was 20, I read tons.  Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment and E. M. Forster's Howards End remain memorable.



The oldest shop on our list, Maple Street Book Shop is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. When we caught owner Gladin Scott on the phone, he had a store full of book buyers (this is good!) and didn’t have much time to chat. He was able to answer a few of the basics.

What’s big this summer?
Without question, the big books for 2014 are Natchez Burning by Greg Iles and The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling.) Also, Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch remains very strong.

What’s selling in non-fiction? Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas is wildly popular here.

People still come in to buy their summer reading in one fell swoop?
Not as much as in previous years.

How do you prefer to travel with books?
I always travel with fiction, specifically in paperback.



When I reached out to our dear friend Frank Reiss, owner of A Cappella Books in Atlanta, he was busy being the best dad ever, touring colleges with his youngest daughter. In his usual friendly fashion, Frank made time for us and answered my questions from afar. A Cappella Books, an Atlanta institution, has been around for 25 years.

Frank, tell us, what are your big books for summer 2014?
Since we think A Cappella's secret to survival has been staying small, what generally goes along with that is that the books that are big most places don't do a lot for us. That being said, there is occasional confluence. Like probably every other bookstore out there, we're having a hard time keeping Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century in stock. We're also excited about two local authors who have mysteries set in Atlanta coming out this summer: Karin Slaughter's Cop Town is set in Atlanta in the '70s, which I anticipate will be a ripe era for a lot of great fiction and nonfiction for years to come. My manager Glen Thrasher beat me to our advance reading copy, and gives it a rave review. 

Also, Amanda Kyle Williams' Don't Talk to Strangers, her third Keye Street mystery. She really nails current-day Atlanta and North Georgia in her novels. She's also got a great personal story and is a lovely person.

What are the notables in non-fiction?
We just had a block party with about 200 people picking up the new paperback of David Sedaris' latest, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls so it will be hard for any non-fiction to top that anytime soon. Two memoirs that I wish I were selling more of, since they were two of my favorites from the spring and will make for great summer reading: singer-songwriter Todd Snider's I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like and Frances Mayes' Under Magnolia

Business books — any big sellers this summer?
Generally, we're not the go-to place for business books, but earlier this year, Atlanta business legend Herman Russell published his memoir: Building Atlanta. It's an amazing Horatio Alger story, made all the more amazing that Russell is black, grew up in the Jim Crow South and continues to be involved in almost every significant construction project in town, as well as all over the country. We've gotten to know Mr. Russell and his wife through working with him on a number of events we've done with the book, and he is, hands-down, the nicest billionaire I've ever met.

Southern literature. Anything you see happening?
In mid-July we host a debut novelist from New Orleans, Laura Lane McNeal. Her book is Dollbaby. Guaranteed to strike a chord with readers who loved Kathryn Stockett's The Help. And that's, statistically speaking, just about everybody. It's an admirable piece of fiction that tells an emotionally gripping coming-of-age story, gives readers an insider's view of New Orleans, particularly during the era of rapid racial changes during the '60s, and touches on universal themes of family and love.

A completely different kind of debut novel, Young God, by Katherine Faw Morris, kept me up all night reading it. It's rough stuff, and I can't exactly say why I couldn't put it down, but I couldn't, and that doesn't happen often. Like Denis Johnson's Angels or Jesus' Son, it's life at its darkest, but somehow through the power of the writing, there's some sort of light.

One of our bookseller Chris Buxbaum's favorites is a Texas novelist's debut: Ruby by Cynthia Bond. He compares it to the work of William Gay. High praise indeed.

A recent favorite of another A Cappella staffer Courtney Conroy's was Further Joy by Florida writer John Brandon. We hosted John in conversation with Josh Russell, one of Atlanta's most talented authors. Between Josh's being a kindred spirit and a reviewer calling Brandon a cross between Elmore Leonard and Charles Portis, I've added it my stack.

Do people come in and stock up before they go on trips?
That's a phenomenon that is, as far as we can tell, a bit on the wane. 

Audiobooks on long car trips, do people still do this?
We don't do audiobooks. I know my wife and I enjoy them, though. Unless, like last year, I chose Al Gore's The Future. She was worried I would fall asleep driving because it put her to sleep. I loved it though.

Do you read on a device?
I don't. I know a lot of voracious readers who do though, including the man who taught me the antiquarian book business over 30 years ago. And we do sell the Kobo e-reader, which allows those folks who like to read books that way to avoid having to buy from Amazon.

Travel. What do you take?
I still always bring a big stack. And I usually come back with a bigger stack. 

Looking back at your life of reading, do you have one book in particular associated with a certain summer?
I can remember getting funny looks when I brought Woody Allen's books Without Feathers and Getting Even with me to wrestling camp one summer. I laughed so much I kept waking up my roommate. Otherwise, I associate summer reading with my wife's family's annual beach trip. I usually have one of the big, juicy books of the year with me, like Jonathan Franzen or Richard Ford, and my brother-in-law is always prodding me to finish because it's usually the book he's been waiting to read next. Last summer's favorite read was a book that went almost completely unnoticed, which is a shame. It was a great true story, The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan I. Koerner. It's now out in paperback. I hope more readers will discover it.



When it opened in 2011, this bookshop received lots of love from the media. Nashville had lost its last independent bookstore, and the Nashville-based best-selling author Ann Patchett decided that wouldn’t do. So together with publishing veteran Karen Hayes, they opened Parnassus Books. We are very glad they did.

Karen, tell us, what’s selling at Parnassus for summer 2014?
Goldfinch and The Silkworm in hardcover. In paperback The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls and The Fault in Our Stars (John Green). Books with local ties The Vacationers (Emma Straub taught at Vanderbilt this past spring), Between Shades of Gray (by Ruta Sepetys, on lots of school reading lists), and Ann’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (of course!).

What’s hot in nonfiction? 
We recently had events for Willie Geist and Robin Roberts (on the same day) and both their books — Good Talk, Dad and Everybody's Got Something.  Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown) in paperback.

Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, written by a modern day Ms. Manners (Amy Alkon). (BS note: We need this book.)

Any business books worth mentioning?
Flash Boys (Michael Lewis) is still selling nicely.

New Southern writers, new Southern books, what do you love?
Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth is my favorite Southern read of late. I’m also really looking forward to getting my hands on Tony Earley’s new collection of short stories, Mr. Tall. It will be out late August. 

Are people still stocking up for vacation?
Yes. Families come in here looking for something for everyone and walk out with multiple copies for each person.

Do Nashvillians still buy audio books for long car trips?
They do and are often looking for something the whole family can listen to together, but more and more people are downloading audio books.

Do you read on a device?
No. When I worked as a sales rep for Random House they would send books ahead of time as “e-manuscripts”. I read most everything digitally, but now I don’t have to. I don’t think I’ve read a single eBook since I opened the store. I love reading and owning a real book. 

How do you travel with books?
I rarely carry hardcovers and as a bookstore owner I have the convenience of getting advanced reading copies for new hardcovers in paperback. I’m getting ready for a two-week vacation in July and am already planning the books I’ll take with me.

Looking back at your life of reading, do you have one book in particular associated with a certain summer?
Books are, to me, their own little world. I don’t often associate them with where I read them like I might the music I was listening to during the summer.

Anything else BS readers need to know about what's happening at Parnassus Books? 
This year we started our own online literary magazine edited by Mary Laura Philpott. Check out Ann Patchett’s posts, interviews with writers like David Sedaris and Michael Pollan, and The Shop Dog Diaries.



I shopped at G.J. Ford Bookshop for 10 years when I lived on St. Simons Island. When I felt a little claustrophobic living in such a tee-tiny place, owner Mary Jane Reed always had that perfect next novel so that I could escape. I love this little shop — now 18 years old — with all my heart.

Mary Jane, what’s everyone reading down there in the Golden Isles?
Oh my, it would have to be Me Before You by JoJo Moyes; also Save The Date (great beach read about weddings and crazy brides) by Mary Kay Andrews, The Vacationers by Emma Straub and definitely Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. One book that has come out of nowhere and going absolutely crazy is The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker.

How about non-fiction?
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.

Business books?
We’re still seeing a whole lot of interest in Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath and Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Think Like a Freak.

What in Southern lit has you excited?
Oh, we truly love Whistling Past The Graveyard by Susan Crandall. It’s a lovely coming-of-age story by a lovely writer. Also, if you haven’t read Island Time by Jingle Davis, do. It was our best selling book last year and will probably be our best seller this year.

Do people still buy audiobooks for long car trips?
Yes, actually they do! I am very high on the audio recording of Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It’s about a bookstore owner, quite the curmudgeon, who experiences something big, something that changes everything … oh, I loved it, everyone has. Also on audio, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, is excellent.

Do you read on a device?
Heavens, no. No device.

How do you travel with books?
I travel with three or four. And if I’m traveling by car, always an audio book. Traveling, I prefer current fiction and maybe one magazine.

Looking back at your life of reading, do you have one book in particular associated with a certain summer?
Summer of 2006, I bribed my somewhat restless, "goth" daughter to graduate from high school, and if she did, I would take her on a trip to Italy. I had several books I brought along as always when I travel, and at the time I had the publishers "reader's copy" of the book Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which had just been published.  It was pretty much unknown at that point — though it became a favorite best-seller for years to come.  Anyway, I started reading the book and getting into it, loving the characters and story as it unfolded.  And the thing I remember is that even with all the magnificent places and sites we saw, the beautiful people we met, the delicious food we ate, including each little town's unique gelato flavors, at the end of the day I always so looked forward to getting settled in bed, and pulling out the book anxious to see what was happening in the story.  All the way from Rome to Salerno and the little towns down to the tip of the boot of Italy and on to Sicily and Palermo I savored the story of a traveling circus while I traveled as well.