Category: Gift Books (Page 2 of 11)

2015, I’d like to kiss you on the mouth.

dbdb37f2-a00d-4114-b5d6-1e42a0bc65cfThis year was a doozy. I consumed everything from nonfiction about animal consciousness to the modern classic Fates and Furies by Lemuria’s new best friend, Lauren Groff. I can’t even get into the second paragraph without telling you that The Godfather was hands down my favorite read of the year. You can read my blog about it here. I had the chance to sit down and talk to Garth Risk Hallberg about his meteoric rise in the literary world. Jon Meacham made me cry.

I personally made the move from the hub that is Lemuria’s front desk to the quieter fiction room, where I now am elbows deep in the mechanics of our First Editions Club; and am coincidentally even more in love with fiction than I was before. My TBR pile has skyrocketed from about 10 books to roughly 30 on my bedside table. It’s getting out of control and I love it.

[Sidebar: This year, I fell even more in love with graphic novelsNimona surprised us all by making one of the short-lists for the National Book Award, and we were so pleased to see it get the recognition that it deserves. Go Noelle Stevenson! You rule!]

As a bookstore, we were able to be on the forefront of some of the most influential books of 2015 (see: Between the World and Me– when we passed that advance reader copy around, the rumblings were already beginning). Literary giants Salman Rushdie, John Irving, and Harper Lee put out new/very, very old works to (mostly) thunderous applause, and debut novelists absolutely stunned and shook up the book world. (My Sunshine Away, anyone? I have never seen the entire staff band behind a book like that before. We were/are obsessed.) Kent Haruf’s last book was published; it was perfect, and our hearts ache in his absence.

We marched through another Christmas, wrapping and reading and recommending and eating enough cookies to make us sick. We hired fresh new faces, we said goodbye to old friends, we cleaned up scraggly, hairy sections of the store and made them shiny and new. We had the privilege of having a hand in Mississippi’s first ever book festival. We heaved in the GIANT new Annie Leibovitz book, and spent a few days putting off work so that we could all flip through it. In short, this year has been anything but uneventful; it’s been an adventure. So here’s to 2016 absolutely knocking 2015 out of the park.

Read on, guys.

 

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The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Today is the sixth day in the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. To celebrate, we’re running Clara’s Clarion-Ledger article about the ever-popular children’s book, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. Enjoy!

JacketThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is not a new Christmas story, but it is one that I would like to revisit as it has been recently published in a new 20th anniversary edition.

Illustrations by P.J. Lynch have made this book the miraculous wonder that it is, and Lynch says the challenge of painting this story was “not to do with costumes or tools; it was to try to match, in my pictures, the deep emotional core of Susan’s story, to try to somehow show that might be going on inside a character’s head, or inside his heart.”

In what looks like Appalachia, Jonathan Toomey is the best wood carver in the valley. However, he doesn’t speak to anyone, and the village children call him “Mr. Gloomy.” He spends his days bent over his work, carving “beautiful shapes from blocks of pine and hickory and chestnut wood.” The reason for his gloom, the narrator tells us, is that some years ago, he lost his wife and child to sickness.

“So Jonathan Toomey had packed his belongings into a wagon and traveled till his tears stopped. He settled into a tiny house at the edge of a village to do his woodcarving.”

When the widow McDowell and her son Thomas knock on his door, asking Jonathan Toomey to carve them a nativity scene, he shuts the door, grumbling, “Christmas is pish­posh.”

After a week, the widow McDowell and Thomas return to see what progress has been made on their manger scene, and Thomas sits at Mr. Toomey’s side, since he, too, wishes to be a woodcarver some day. However, he interrupts Mr. Toomey to tell him that he is carving the sheep wrong, that his sheep are happy sheep. “’That’s pish­posh,’” said Mr. Toomey. ‘Sheep are sheep. They cannot look happy.’” To which Thomas replies, “Mine did…they knew they were with the Baby Jesus, so they were happy.”

With each visit to Mr. Toomey’s, and with each subsequent character being carved to fill the manger scene, Thomas continues to tell Mr. Toomey the right way to carve his figures: the cow is proud that the baby Jesus chose to be born in its barn, the angel looks like one of God’s most important angels because it was sent down to baby Jesus, the wise men are wearing their most wonderful robes, and Joseph leans over the baby Jesus protectively.

When Mr. Toomey asks Thomas how Mary and the baby Jesus should be carved, he says, “They were the most special of all…Jesus was smiling and reaching up to his mother, and Mary looked like she loved him very much.”

Jonathan Toomey completes his carvings on Christmas Day, and it is indeed a Christmas miracle. The widow McDowell and Thomas gave him a miracle by asking him to carve the nativity scene. Twenty years later, the deep human experience and the power of the Christmas story lives on in this book.

“And that day in the churchyard the village children saw Jonathan throw back his head, showing his eyes as clear blue as an August sky, and laugh. No one ever called him Mr. Gloomy again.”

Merry Christmas, everyone.

A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham

JacketSo I don’t think I will win over many people by saying that Wild Swan is a collection of short stories; but its well known European fairy tales are retold for a more adult, modern audience. Yeah, there have been plenty of movie and book re-tellings of fairy tales presented in many different ways- could be a campy musical, or a dark young adult novel, or a big budget action movie…

So why read this one? Well for one thing, many of modern adaptations of fairy tales try to stretch one story into full novel length, or they mash together a lot of fairy tale stories into one. But A Wild Swan (from the amazing author of The Hours) keeps each of its stories separate and brief, like the original tales. Also, fairy and folk tales were really meant to teach a lesson, and these stories do teach lessons, but different, more grown-up ones. For example, “The Tin Soldier” retelling is about the obstacles of marriage. It was really fun after I read each story to sit and think about what it was trying to say. In some of the tales it was pretty obvious, but in some, it was a bit more subtle, or weirdly disguised.

A Wild Swan keeps many of the strange elements left over from a history of oral storytelling, and I wish I could read it deep in the woods at night or something. A lot of the stories are told from the point of view of the villain, and there’s plenty of thorn-covered, derelict settings. (And eerily pretty illustrations by Yuko Shimizu!) But since the structure of each story is geared around the lesson it is teaching, the settings don’t feel too alienating.

That brings me to the most important part. Sure, all of this stuff is cool and all, but is it interesting? It certainly was for me. I read the entire short story collection in one sitting because I wanted to see what the next story had to offer. Some of them have really good twists to them, and a lot of the intrigue comes from you trying to predict what will happen because you’ve read “Hansel and Gretel” before, but then the story takes another direction, then another. And then you sit and think about what the moral was, before tackling the next story. As someone who’s read about a hundred renditions of “Beauty and the Beast”, Cunningham’s take is one of the best.

So, funnily enough, by staying a bit more true to the original source material, A Wild Swan is able to offer something much more unique and addicting than many of the other adaptations I’ve seen. If you love fairy tales, but found yourself a bit bored watching Disney’s recent live action Cinderella movie, this book is for you.

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: Willie’s House

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Chris Ray

We always felt that the house chose us as much as we chose it. Carolyn and I had been to a couple of JoAnne’s parties, the last one being the celebration of the movie release of My Dog Skip after Willie died. I was always struck with how real their home felt, surrounded by genuine laughter, someone playing the piano, curiosities and ephemera, and of course, a library’s worth of books.

When JoAnne decided that the house was too big for her to keep up, I believe that she not only wanted to find someone to buy the house, but also to honor it. Which brings up an interesting challenge: how do you make a home yours, while honoring those who came before you?

We’ve tried to do both – and I think that Willie would be happy to see that the cats from the neighborhood still hang out in the crawl space. Curious literary fans still drive by slowly. There are dozens of assorted balls and sports gear scattered about the house, garage, and yard. In fact, our son John keeps a collection of baseballs in the same small closet where Willie kept his. And the books, my gosh, the books. They are everywhere.

We have Willie’s highway map of Yazoo County framed upstairs and a photo downstairs of Willie taken by his son, David Rae. And every now and then, we will find some odd treasure that Willie had hidden or misplaced. I think Willie would like the fact that our neighbors, Governor Winter and Dick Molpus, still tell Willie stories every time we see them. Dick told me recently that Willie would walk down to his house every Christmas to say hello as part of his “once-a-year exercise.”

But I don’t think Willie would want his former home to be a shrine. Or something too precious. I think he would appreciate that the paint is peeling here and there and there’s a patch where we just can’t get grass to grow. I think he’d be happy to see it alive, with the same kind of love and laughter that you felt and heard when he lived there.

To order a copy of Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy , call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or order online here

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: My dream of reliving the Farish Street of my youth

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Jimmie E. Gates, political writer/columnist at The Clarion-Ledger

When I was in my teens, one of my biggest thrills was coming to Farish Street in downtown Jackson.

It was the sight and sounds of a hustling mecca of black life. There were snappy dressed females with their hats. There were men dressed in classy suits, which made you think of The Apollo Theater or the old Cotton Club in Harlem. We had our Crystal Place on Farish Street, and for good measure, we had our Alamo Theater, which was a movie theater. I will never forget going to the Alamo Theater to watch Bruce Lee movies, Godzilla versus the Three-Headed Monster, and most of all watching actress Pam Grier in films.

Those were the days for me growing up. Farish Street was like a whole new world to me. There would be Mr. Armstrong selling Jet Magazines on Farish Street and vendors selling roasted peanuts in small bags and other items. The shoe shine guy, “Bear Trap,” would stay busy; there was a bakery/donut shop, but my favorite was the ice cream plant. Whenever we would be on Farish Street, we would always go by the ice cream plant. The ice cream man, whose name escapes me today, would give us ice cream bars. He would always be dressed in a white uniform and wearing a hat to match.

We would always come to Farish Street and shop. Although Farish Street was the mecca of black life in the 60s and 70s, many of the clothing stores and shoe stores were Jewish-owned.

I will never forget my Farish Street days. I don’t know when Farish Street began to deteriorate, but it probably occurred after the first mall opened in the city. Jackson Mall opened in 1969 followed by  Metrocenter in 1978. Farish Street stores and other stores began to leave the downtown area for the malls.

We longed for the bygone days of our youths; sometimes wondering if we can recreate those years.

I pass the empty shell of the buildings lining Farish Street today wondering if the hustle and bustle of the street will ever live again.

Decades have gone by since Farish Street was the place to go. There have been talk about reclaiming the area as an entertainment district, but the talk hasn’t materialized into returning Farish Street to its heydays.

I know others have their own fond memories of places and things in Jackson that were once special to them. Farish Street was that place for me.

There was a song by the late Luther Vandross  called “Dance With My Father” that was one of my favorites. The lyrics were based upon Vandross’ childhood  memories of  his late father and mother often dancing together. Vandross knew his dream could never come true when he wrote the song because his father was deceased. We all have our dreams; the dreams that would make us happy. Seeing Farish Street alive again with life and vitality would be a dream come true for me.

 

Ken Murphy will be joining us in the store all day today (December 23) and will be signing copies of all of his books!

Collecting Ellen Gilchrist

“In the Land of Dreamy Dreams” by Ellen Gilchrist. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1981.

unnamedEllen Gilchrist, a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, had spent six years devoted to the craft of poetry when she began writing short stories. She published her first collection of poetry, “The Land Surveyor’s Daughter,” in 1979. In “The Writing Life,” she recalls learning “how to polish and edit poetry until it shone like a mirror” and she applied that skill to short story writing. Gilchrist composed her first story, “In the Land of Dreamy Dreams,” under the guidance of her teacher Bill Harrison at the University of Arkansas where she would later teach. The rest of the stories would be written in New Orleans; Gilchrist describes that time in “The Writing Life”: “I was in one of the spells that artists all know can happen. I knew what I wanted to write about and I just sat down and wrote it.”

Gilchrist sent the stories to Harrison one by one for feedback. Besides writing suggestions, he offered up his literary agent in New York. While many writers would have jumped at the chance, Gilchrist “didn’t want any strangers in New York judging [her] work” and took an offer from the University of Arkansas Press in 1981. The small press was looking for a lead fiction writer and Gilchrist was the perfect fit, but no one could have predicted that her first collection of short stories, titled “In the Land of Dreamy Dreams,” would sell 10,000 copies in the first week and would be reprinted seven times.

“In the Land of Dreamy Dreams” launched Ellen Gilchrist’s literary career and soon she was ready to accept a contract from Little Brown. First editions of “Dreamy Dreams” are difficult to come by but for collectors this debut work featuring the artwork of Ginny Stanford is prized.

Original to the Clarion-­Ledger.

See more Ellen Gilchrist first editions here.

Gifting the Perfect Book: Students of the Human Condition

Jacket (1)It seems impossible to be able to capture what it is to be human, but Brandon Stanton has come pretty darn close.

What started back in 2010 as one man trying to take a photographic census of the city of New York has now become an extremely successful blog with millions of followers. Humans of New York, Stanton’s first book published in 2013, is comprised solely of photographs that portray the diversity of those living in the Big Apple.

Humans of New York: Stories is the highly-demanded continuation of this project that came out in October 2015. Armed with a camera and a knack for interviewing, Stanton uncovers more about the people living in the various boroughs through photographs and accompanying quotes.

From little kids talking about their day and couples discussing their relationships, to men and women battling mental illness or dealing with loss, each story is unique and engaging; and not only paints a bigger picture of the variety of people living in New York, but also reveals how we are all similar at our core.

I absolutely love HONY, particularly the quotes, so this book sucked me in from start to finish. Even in its simplicity, there is a heart-wrenching honesty that comes from the people who are featured. I smiled. I laughed. I cried. Many of the stories are so raw and vulnerable that they straight-up punched me in the gut.

Not only are the stories deeply moving, but the photographs are also incredibly stunning. Each piece flows smoothly to the next, and I couldn’t stop flipping the pages; it makes for a great coffee table book.

What I love the most about HONY is Stanton’s ability to make you stop and really think about people. He takes prejudices and stereotypes and shoves them back in your face. From joy and celebrations to heartache and pain, the rich stories from everyday people (and even a few well-known faces) ultimately show how we are all connected despite our differences. Each page gives you a broader understanding of how every person has their own baggage they’re carrying, their own dreams they’re pursuing, and their own battle they’re fighting.

I really appreciate how Stanton has given people, who may not have a chance to have their voices heard, a platform to share their stories. Though this is a book filled with numerous faces, Stanton still manages to convey that no one can be summed up in a photo or a line of text—their stories extend beyond the page. I’m interested to see what this project will evolve into next. I recommend Humans of New York: Stories to anyone in need of an impressive photography book or a quick read that will get you thinking.

“My Brilliant Friend”: A Small Vessel That Contains Multitudes

Written by our lovely Adie Smith, who is back with us for the Christmas season before beginning a new adventure on the West coast. 

Technology has rendered us all translucent, but Italian author Elena Ferrante maintains her mystique by writing under a pen name. She has never interviewed on television or over the phone. With a few exceptions, she communicates solely through her publisher.

In spite of this, Elena Ferrante’s most recently translated works, the Neopolitan novels, have been on many “best of “lists this year. The final novel in the tetralogy, Story of the Lost Child, was released in September. Now is the perfect time to pick up the first novel in the series, My Brilliant Friend.

Narrated by a middle-aged author (with the same first name as the author, although there is no indication that they are, in fact, the same person), Elena traces her life from a childhood in post-World War II Naples, to university on scholarship, and into motherhood and marriage. A bright student, Elena does well in school despite the neglect and crime of her neighborhood.

In a place where who you know and how you will out-swindle your neighbors defines success, Elena values book knowledge over street smarts. Her education is her inevitable ticket into the leftist academia of Italy. Even here, however, the old neighborhood haunts.

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The Neopolitan novels do not tell an unusual story. Coming of age stories in which characters pull themselves up by their bootstraps is a frequent trope in American literature (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Glass Castle, etc). Upward mobility is the American dream, after all. This genre, however, is much more unusual in other countries, and as a result, Ferrante’s story navigates uncharted waters. Ferrante’s prose is illuminating and strikingly sincere. You would be hard pressed to find an author who pens human folly and triumph with any more truth.

Novels about women, and novels by women, are often relegated to their own special category. Described as sentimental or overly sincere, they are discredited because the domestic stories they tell are small in scope. The kitchen and the home. The marriage bed. The family. But a book (and the life of a woman) is a small vessel that contains multitudes.

In one of her only interviews (with the Paris Review), Ferrante wrote that, “Literary truth is not the truth of the biographer or the reporter, it’s not a police report or a sentence handed down by a court. It’s not even the plausibility of a well-constructed narrative. Literary truth is entirely a matter of wording and is directly proportional to the energy that one is able to impress on the sentence. And when it works, there is no stereotype or cliché of popular literature that resists it. It reanimates, revives,subjects everything to its needs.”

Gifting the Perfect Book: Psychics, Home Owners With Super Old Houses, or Con-Artists

“You like ghost stories?”

JacketBecause it’s the week before Christmas, and Christmas is a crazy time around Lemuria, I’m going to keep this blog short and sweet; just like Gillian Flynn’s new 62 page book, The Grownup.  (Okay, maybe there’s not a lot of “sweet” to this book, but you get where I’m going with this).  Plus, if you’re as busy as we are at the moment and you know you don’t have a ton of time for reading, you can knock this book out in an hour.

If you’ve read any of Gillian Flynn’s other books; Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, or Dark Places (my personal favorite), then you’ll definitely want to pick this one up.  If you haven’t read any of her books, but have seen the movie Gone Girl, then I really recommend you read her work!  Flynn sticks to her crude, almost disgustingly haunting writing style with this one, so it sucks you right in.  It’s the story of a young women runaway-turned-psychic-turned-con-artist. She’s a weird mix of things, but in a great way. Through her psychic gig, she meets a lady who is having strange things occur in her newly renovated 19th century home. She sees this as an opportunity for a lot of cash in a short amount of time. However, in true Gillian Flynn fashion, there’s a strange twist thrown in that keeps you flipping through the pages.

I don’t want to say too much, because with the book being so short, it’s easy to give something away. But, with a question like this on the back of the book: “You like ghost stories?” I think we can both agree this is a fun, 62 page, thriller given to us by Flynn.

Why Maude Schuyler Clay’s ‘Mississippi History’ is Breathtaking

Jacket (1)Maude Schuyler Clay has a new photography book. On a whim, I decided to flip through its pages because I do love a good coffee table book. Looking at these photos, I felt goose bumps; as someone who appreciates art, and the intricacies that are often involved in the history of art, this collection of photographs feels both intimate and timeless. And as there has been a bent and focus on the Delta recently (Richard Grant’s Dispatches of Pluto, an incredible outsider’s view of Mississippi), the sense of place in these photos counterbalanced Grant’s book and is clearly an insider’s view of Mississippi.

At first, I did not know that these people, or subjects of the photographs, were Clay’s own family and friends. But every time I would see a character’s name appear in a different photograph, in a different time, in a different location, I felt a jolt of recognition, a connection with that person who I had also seen several pages back.

What I love about this collection is that it is not chronological. Pictures of her children at twelve appear before pictures of her children when they are toddlers. And because of this repetition, the people in these photographs aren’t just subjects, but characters, part of a story. Clay could have easily called this book “My Mississippi History.” But it wouldn’t have retained the same mysteriousness; it was only after reading the closing words at the end of the book that I learned these people were her own children and family—after all, there are pictures of them in the bathtub, and on Christmas morning. Where else would the photographer be on Christmas morning than at home with her family?

The ambiguity with which the photographs are arranged and presented allows the viewers to place themselves in that moment, to recognize a piece of themselves in Mississippi History. The photographs were taken over the past three decades, so I also loved guessing when the photographs were shot. Some are clearly recent; “Mr. Biggers” has Apple earbuds in his ears as he stands with fresh greens in his hand. Some are unmistakably from the 70s. My favorite picture is of “Anna as Heidi.” All of the photographs are gorgeously artistic and intimate. The majority of these photos are of children, especially Clay’s own children in different stages of their lives, so the photographs have a very evident “mother’s eye-view” in them, a look at what a real Mississippi mother truly sees.

Today, anyone can take a picture on Instagram, put a fancy filter on it and call themselves a “photographer.” Clay shows that she is a genius in the art of photography, and has been using light and shadows in nature to create those illusive filters we place on photographs today.

Flipping through the pages of Mississippi History feels like flipping through a good friend’s photo album. It is the perfect gift for that person who loves to take pictures of their children, and also perfect for anyone who has grown up here in the Magnolia State.

 

Join us on Thursday, December 17 at 5:00 for a signing event for Mississippi History! 

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