Friday, September 14, 2007

Square Books and Thacker Mountain Radio

I have lost my shirt. I must have left it in the Jackson, Mississippi hotel. I'm pretty sure it's not here, in William Faulkner's bedroom.

I spent Thursday morning in the deep bathtub at The Alluvian, the hotel up the block from TurnRow. I padded around in my pajamas, dug another shirt out of the suitcase and, at noon, I waved goodbye to everyone at TurnRow after I paid for my books, took a last photograph of everyone, and... left my wallet on the counter.

What is it with me and wallets? Last tour-time, I left my wallet in the car as Jim dropped me at the airport and I missed my flight out of Atlanta. This time I won't realize that I don't have my wallet until we get to Oxford, two hours northeast of Greenwood. "But I'm getting ahead of myself," as Comfort Snowberger says, "let me back up. I'll start with Oxford and Rowan Oak, since that trip involved me; I witnessed it."

It was a drizzly day that turned into hard rain, but the weather held off long enough for me to soak up the powerful atmosphere at Rowan Oak.

Faulkner lived at Rowan Oak for over 30 years. He created a fictional Yoknapatwpha County for much of his fiction to inhabit, and I have, in turn, created the fictional Aurora County out my childhood summers in Mississippi.

Faulkner is one of my influences, in particular his last novel, THE REIVERS. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963, and I consider it his most joyful work. The story is told in a frame. Here's how it begins: "Grandfather said:" and then we launch into the story. Shortest framed beginning I ever read. And it's perfect.

We arrived at Square Books in plenty of time for my 4pm signing. I felt like the long-lost daughter, walking through the door, falling into everyone's embrace -- the entire staff embodies the passion of Peach Shuggars in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: "I'm just so glad to SEE you!" It does a heart good.

Jill is in the front next to Leita in the blue, and then lovely Norma. Second row is Ramona (not a pest), Kenneth, moi, and Lyn Roberts, who amazes me. They all amaze me. They are just as passionate about books as they are about greeting every person who walks through the door.
Here I am, wearing Leita's glasses so I can see, listening to baseball stories and signing books. Thank you to everyone at Square Books, Jr. for making me feel so welcome. Thank you, Victoria Penny from First Regional Library in Hernando, for coming all the way to Oxford with Lindsly and Taylor! Thanks for the hugs, girls.

And heavens, y'all, look at this. Here is the crowd arriving for Thacker Mountain Radio. This radio program broadcasts live in Oxford on Thursdays and then rebroadcasts on Mississippi Public Radio on Saturday nights just after A Prairie Home Companion. Its tone and feel are very much like A Prairie Home Companion -- music and spoken word. A house band (the Yalobushwhackers, so fun), a Keillor-like host (Jim Dees, who is gracious, funny and smart, and who made me look good), a guest band, and two authors who read from their work for, oh, 13-minutes or so, while keeping an eye on the producer sitting on the floor with her watch, giving signals. Two minutes! One! Wrap it up!
Here is part of the guest band, Jump Back Jake, singing "Sampson." These guys were awesome, awesome, totally awesome. Here they are on MySpace... go listen!

I *love* Thacker Mountain Radio, as does most of Oxford. They crammed into the space made when the Off Square Books staff shoved the rolling bookshelves against the wall and set up wooden folding chairs in this old warehouse of a store. What a mood! What a celebration! What nerves! I was the first reader. I read chapters one and two of THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. I had plenty of time to let the story spin out, to read it in the style of the grand southern storyteller who is telling the story, read it to a room full of grand southern readers and storytellers alike. As a friend of mine says, "It don't get much better than that." You can read more about this particular show here.

This picture of me reading (do I look stunned, or what? I didn't realize the crowd would be so large. I didn't realize there would BE a crowd. Somehow I'd gotten my mental wires crossed and had started thinking "studio" and then, here was this gorgeous crowd of fine folks!) - this picture is dark. Don't spend time here. Look below at Billy Sothern reading from his wonderful new book, DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS: Reflections from a Drowned City.
This was my book purchase at Square Books. I had Billy sign a copy for my daughter Hannah, who has been working in New Orleans during her college breaks. Billy still lives in New Orleans (he evacuated to Oxford and then moved back home) and is a passionate lover of his city. He inscribed Hannah's book: "Thanks for coming to work! Stay! We need you!"

After signing stock for Square Books, Jim Allen and I took off into the rain soaked night (thanks to the vestiges of Hurricane Humberto). We stopped at Taylor Grocery for a catfish dinner. We stopped in Greenwood to retrieve my wallet. The folks at TurnRow had boxed up my wallet and sent it over to The Alluvian, where it was waiting for me behind the desk. We went only an hour (ha!) out of our way to get it. Have you ever done this sort of bone-headed thing? I'll bet you have. I know I can't be the only one to have left her wallet -- twice -- and have been lucky enough to have retrieved it whole.

Thank you, driver Jim Allen, for taking such good care of me on this trip, and especially for being a calming presence yesterday, all day, and almost all night! It was after midnight when we pulled into the parking lot at the hotel in Jackson -- same place I stayed on Tuesday night -- where I sit now, catching you up. My friend Pam is meeting me in a few minutes. We'll have breakfast and go to Eudora Welty's home. Then, a family lunchtime and a trip to the airport, and home for the weekend before we begin again on Monday.

But before I do anything else, I'm going to scoot to the front desk and inquire after my shirt.

Next week: Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, then the west coast, starting with the Bay Area and Seattle.