Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tallahassee's Midtown Reader

Tallahassee has a wonderful new independent bookstore, the Midtown Reader, opened by Sally Bradshaw. 

Sally was former Florida governor Jeb Bush's chief of staff. Jeb called her his "closest advisor for the entirety of my political career." A lifelong Republican, Sally announced that she left the party in 2016, citing her deep disapproval of their presidential candidate, Donald Trump. She finally decided that she wanted a saner life, became an Independent and joined the honorable (although not quite sane) world of bookselling. Welcome to our tribe, Sally!

Here are some shots of this wonderful new store and Sally's answers to my interview questions.

Street view, a little sushi, a good book, nice combination! 😉

I love the entrance to their children's room.
This beautiful artwork was done by local artist Debby Brienen

Just inside are these magical doors for kids to open.


Shelf talkers are everywhere!

SIBA representative Linda-Marie Barrett and Sally discuss the possibility of them making a presidential run in four years.

Read, Think, Share

Looking toward the front of the store from the Nerve Center.

The back entrance has these groovy book-inspired steps.

The best bookstore bathroom I've ever seen!

Midtown booksellers Kim Anderson, Shelby Bouck, Sally Bradshaw, Tanya Corbella.

So, Sally, tell me.................

What drew you to open a bookstore?

I’ve wanted to open a bookstore since I was a little girl.  In our small Mississippi town books carried me to a new world to which I was unlikely to be exposed but for reading.  Over time another career took me in a different direction.  But 2016 sent me on a new path which led to the Midtown Reader!

Tell me about where you live and why you love it so much.

I actually live in Havana, Florida on a chicken farm, just outside of Tallahassee where our bookstore is located.  My husband raises rare heritage breeds of chicken ( – I’m not above a little social media plug) and is part of the movement to make sure these breeds are given plenty of fresh air and room to grow in a free-range environment.
  I love living in North Florida – it’s a connector for so many parts of the South – within 40 minutes we’re on a Gulf Coast beach, within a couple of hours in Jacksonville or Atlanta.  But most importantly, we have the most beautiful live oak trees in the world.
 Tallahassee is the state capital so interesting people are always traveling here, and our two major universities (FSU and FAMU) bring tremendous resources to the area. There is a sense of community here, and it has a been a great place to raise a family.

Where were you living when you were 7 years old? Are they fond memories?

Greenville, Mississippi  - right on the river.  Greenville was a wonderful small Southern town in which to grow up.
I remember making a lot of mud pies in my backyard with my little sister, riding my bike safely in our small neighborhood, and reading and then pretending to be Nancy Drew with my friends.

Did you have a favorite teacher and are you still in touch with him or her?

My high school government teacher, Tony Blanton, was a favorite and encouraged me to move to Washington and apply for an internship on Capitol Hill.  He is unfortunately deceased following a long bout with Lou Gehrig’s disease.  I still remember Ann Clifton’s history lessons.  And fortunately she’s still teaching history in Greenville.

Is there a book that changed the way you look at life?

Doesn’t every book change the way you look at life?:)  Different books have made a difference to me at different phases of my life.  I loved (and still love) anything written by Ellen Gilchrist, but her book The Annunciation rocked my world because the protagonist was such a strong female figure,,204,203,200_.jpg  and I read it at a time when I was just getting started as a freshman in college at Vanderbilt, which seemed at the time to be very far away from my home and full of possibilities.

Do you have a favorite children’s book and what about it makes it so?

I mentioned the Nancy Drew series earlier – another strong female role model for young girls.  We would ride our bikes into the field behind our houses and look for “clues.”  Anything and everything was a clue – a blade of grass bent a certain way, an old bottle cap. 



 I remember at some point reading Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier) and being absolutely stunned  - I was so surprised by what happened – totally did not see it coming. 

 It led to a love of mysteries, but I remain completely unable to solve them, which explains why I am now a bookseller and not an author.  My “Nancy Drew training” was worthless.

What are the funniest or most embarrassing stories your family tells about you?

Hmmm.  No one but my sister tells embarrassing stories about me because she is the only little sister and can get away with it.  I’m not sharing them here because it would delight her.   

I will just say that I am a little obsessive compulsive, or used to be before having children, and she constantly made fun of either how neat my room was or how often I went back through the door to check that everything was still the same.

How did you meet your beloved? How did your first date go?

I met Paul working on Jeb Bush’s campaign for Governor in 1998.  He put together Jeb’s policy team and served as a speechwriter at the time, and I was the campaign manager.  I’m sure it was less of a date and more me telling him about some task on my list that he needed to complete over the usual campaign dinners of pizza and bad beer.

Is there a song that you listen to when you are feeling a bit down?

I’m an 80s junkie and love anything by the Police, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, REM or the Bo-Deans, but I love hearing September by Earth Wind and Fire.  It always picks me up.

How are you different now than you were 20 years ago?

I think I am much less confident that I am right about things than I was 20 years ago – age and experience do that to you - and I hope I am a more empathetic and kind person.  I am very aware that the world is not black and white – there is a lot of gray.

And in a short essay…………………………


to any period from before recorded history to yesterday,

be safe from harm, be rich, poor or in-between, if appropriate to your choice, actually experience what it was like to live in that time, anywhere at all, meet anyone, if you desire, speak with them, listen to them, be with them.

When would you go? 

Where would you go?

Who would you want to meet?

And most importantly, why do you think you chose this time?

I would travel back to June 1944, to London, to meet Prime Minister Churchill and to see Churchill’s war rooms and the men and women involved in planning the D Day invasion.  I love history, especially that period, and I love planning – and surely there were few bigger and riskier plans put together in history.  In many ways WWII was the last great effort where the western world was able to come together regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnic background and take on a challenge much bigger than the individuals involved. 

A challenge that really meant protecting the freedoms of democracy and the decency of mankind.  That generation put their smaller differences aside and joined forces for the greater good in a way that is worth remembering and emulating.

Thank you so much, Sally. You have a beautiful store. All of us in the bookselling community wish you the very best (Oh, and the same for that presidential campaign!).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Avid Bookshop ......Again!

The amazing (and award-winning) Janet Geddis has opened a second Avid Bookshop location in Athens, GA. 

Some of my more devoted readers (bless you!) may recall I did a  post about Janet a while back that highlighted her fantastic home at the time: click here to see it.

Janet and I recently met at the new location to go over our Spring/Summer list (her buying acumen is legendary). I thought I would take a few photos so you could see what her new store looks like. Located in the "Five Points" area of town, just a few miles from her original location, it has a very different clientele.

The space before all the shelves and books.

and after!

I particularly love the imaginative subject headings.

Looking to the back.

Some of you may not know that Janet's store(s) have been nominated for the 2017 Publishers Weekly magazine "Bookstore of the Year" award. There are five finalists, one of which is another fabulous Southern store, Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN.

Here are three of the remarkable women who help make the two Avids run smoothly: Barbette Houser, Hannah DeCamp and Janet.

Good luck to both of my stores! My choice is that there would be a tie for first place, hear that Publishers Weekly!? :-)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Michael Knight

Knoxville's Michael Knight is the author of two novels (Divining Rod and The Typist), two collections of short stories (Dogfight and Goodnight, Nobody), and a collection of novellas (The Holiday Season). The Typist was selected as a Best Book of the Year by The Huffington Post, among other places, and appeared on Oprah’s Summer Reading List in 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines and journals like The New Yorker, Oxford American, Paris Review and The Southern Review, and have been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories, 2004 and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2009.


His forthcoming novel Eveningland is already receiving amazing reviews, including these from bookseller Kelly Justice of the legendary Fountain Bookstore in Richmond VA: 

"Michael Knight is a writer as good and probably better than any in American letters living today. These stories will speak to you, break your heart, heal your soul.  This book is a perfect thing. Please pick it up.  Please read it and share it.  Nothing like this has come out of the South, or American letters for that matter, for a very long time. Stunning."

And this from Esquire Magazine:
"Long considered a master of the form and an essential voice in American fiction, Michael Knight’s stories have been lauded by writers such Ann Patchett, Elizabeth Gilbert, Barry Hannah, and Richard Bausch. Now, with Eveningland he returns to the form that launched his career, delivering an arresting collection of interlinked stories set among the “right kind of Mobile family” in the years preceding a devastating hurricane. Eveningland is a luminous collection from “a writer of the first rank.”

Michael once said on writing stories: “You are wanting to see something which is true, and to patch yourself into that truth.”


I've known Michael for a good number of years now and whenever possible we get together for dinner and enjoy each others company. He's not only an immensely talented writer but also a good, kind soul. He's the best kind of conversationalist, a lot of give and take. I like him a lot. Here are Michael's answers to my questions and then the ever popular Time Travel query.

Tell me about where you live and why you love it so much.

I live in Knoxville, TN, a place the Wall Street Journal once called “that scruffy little city on the river.” Something like that. The unofficial city motto is Keep Knoxville Scruffy and I think that’s what I like about it so much. Don’t get me wrong. Knoxville is a beautiful city in lots of ways, especially downtown, and we’re just half an hour from the mountains. We’ve got just about everything you could want from a place—great independent bookstore (Union Ave Books!!!) and great parks and green ways, some great high end restaurants and great greasy spoons and barbecue joints. But the city hasn’t been over-gentrified. It still feels real. Lived-in. 

Where were you living when you were 7 years old? Are they fond memories?

I grew up in Mobile, Al. Long before I was born, my grandfather bought a bunch of land on and around Dog River, which wasn’t a particularly fashionable location at the time. Too far from town, I guess. I can’t remember if he gave out parcels to his children as wedding presents or if he sold the land on the cheap. The point is my parents built a house on a little creek off the main part of the river and my uncle and his family lived just around the corner and some second cousins lived across the street from them, more cousins two doors down, and little further down the road was my aunt and her family.

Michael with his dad camping.

 Another uncle and my grandparents around a bend in the creek. A great uncle and great aunt near the mouth of the river. My childhood was so idyllic it’s almost embarrassing. Rural but close enough to town that it wasn’t quite the country. Surrounded by water. I felt comfortable piloting an outboard a decade before I ever drove a car. Family everywhere. You could be out playing around and you’d get thirsty and you didn’t have to go home for a glass of lemonade. You could practically just knock on the nearest door. Chances are I was related to whoever lived there. So yes, impossibly fond memories. There’s a nod to some of this personal history in the story “Water and Oil” in my new book Eveningland.

Did you have a favorite teacher and are you still in touch with him or her?

I’ve been blessed by so many great teachers in my life (Nancy Strachan, Patricia Marsh and Lou Currie in high school; Frederick Barthelme and George Garrett in grad school) but for the purposes of your question, I have to go with Susan Pepper Robbins at Hampden-Sydney College. 

This is the woman who saved me from law school. Professor Robbins taught all the fiction writing workshops at H-SC and she assigned exclusively the stories of Anton Chekhov for us to read. That’s it. All Chekhov, all the time. For the first month I thought she might be a little nuts, but eventually I realized what a gift she’d given me by forcing me to immerse myself in Chekhov’s work. She’s probably the reason I still love short stories so much and am still so devoted to the form. 

And yes, we are still in touch. In fact, I recently had the privilege of blurbing her new novel, There is Nothing Strange. If you’ll allow me to sing her praises for a line or two . . . There is Nothing Strange 

blends dark humor reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor with prose that calls Virginia Woolf to mind, tautly beautiful lines and images echoing each other from page to page. In the process, she manages to breathe new life into a particular brand of southern gentry—bank poor, perhaps, but rich in land and eccentricity, family name and huge regrets, tragic histories and complicated loves. Every single one of the people in her novel is a mess and what a pleasure it is to read their story. 

Is there a book that changed the way you look at life?

I’m not sure I can name just one. I know that’s a cop out but I feel like every book I have ever read and loved has contributed to the way I see the world. To Kill a Mockingbird mixed with The Catcher in the Rye mixed with The Great Gatsby and As I lay Dying. Chekhov’s stories, or course. I remember being rocked by Sula in college. John Dollar in grad school. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann just a few years ago. If this question referred to writing, I could probably give you a more coherent answer but you’re asking about who I am as a human being. Those things are related but not exactly the same so I’m going with what I’ve got.

Do you have a favorite children’s book and what about it makes it so?

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders. 

 I bought it for my daughters but I think I like it more than they did. Stunning illustrations. A story that is equal parts silly and heartbreaking.

What are the funniest or most embarrassing stories your family tells about you?

I’ll tell you one that is a favorite of my parents now but was sore spot for them for a while. To get to the house I grew up in, you had to cross a railroad track. There was no other way. If there was a train—and there often was--you just got used to waiting. So one Friday, when I was 16 or 17 years old, I was headed home from a night out with my friends, already late for curfew and lo and behold there was a train, not just passing by but actually broken down across the road. At first I was impatient but then I realized I’d found the perfect excuse for missing curfew. I turned around and drove back to the little country store up the road and called my parents from the payphone—this was way before cell phones—and told my dad I’d been waiting forever but it wasn’t my fault. Damn train, etc. Not true of course but he bought it. Back I drove toward the tracks and got in the line of cars and settled in to wait. I was 5 or 6 cars back from the head of the line. I’d had a few beers. It was late. You can probably see where this is headed.

My dad had a Saturday morning habit. He was religious about it. He’d get up at the crack of dawn and drive into the empty office and knock out a little work and usually he’d been home before the rest of us dragged ourselves out of bed. This particular morning, he noticed that my car wasn’t in the driveway. You guessed it—he found me sleeping behind the wheel back at the railroad tracks, engine still running. I guess other cars had just been driving around me all that time. 

How did you meet your beloved? How did your first date go?

I met my wife in Charlottesville when we were both students at UVa—I was just starting grad school, she was finishing her undergraduate degree. We had a great first date. I cooked dinner (shrimp creole) and then took her to hear a bluegrass band at a bar called Miller’s. For some reason, we were the only people who showed up. Literally. It was just the band, the bartender, a waitress and us. Instead of playing from the stage, the band gathered around at tables and chairs. They played but it was more like a guitar pull on someone’s porch than a performance. It was really sort of magical. I should send that band a thank you note.

Is there a song that you listen to when you are feeling a bit down?

My wife makes fun of me listening to sad music almost exclusively—Tom Waits, Keith Jarrett, Robert Johnson, Velvet Underground. You name it. I tell her that’s what it sounds like inside my head. But if I have to pick just one song, I’m going with “Come Pick Me Up” from Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams. There’s something about that song. It’s sad enough to reflect the fact that I’m feeling low but the chorus rocks enough that you’re not quite wallowing. Emmylou Harris on backup vocals. It’s a doozy. 

How are you different now than you were twenty years ago?

Despite a certain level of goofiness in my behavior, I think I’m a much more serious person that I was 20 years ago. Maybe all of us are. The stakes feel so much higher since my daughters were born. I think this awareness manifests itself across my whole life—in my relationships, my teaching, even my writing. Twenty years ago, I was content with contentment, if that makes sense. Having a good day was enough. Writing a pretty good story was enough. Getting published was enough. That’s not enough anymore. Everything matters. 

And in a short essay…………………………


to any period from before recorded history to yesterday,

be safe from harm, be rich, poor or in-between, if appropriate to your choice,

actually experience what it was like to live in that time, anywhere at all,

meet anyone, if you desire, speak with them, listen to them, be with them.

When would you go?

Where would you go?

Who would you want to meet?

And most importantly, why do you think you chose this time?

I’ve been thinking way too much about how to answer this question. This question is the reason it’s taken me so long to complete this assignment. I thought about going back to the ante-bellum South just to see how the region that I love and that I feel most at home in could have actually believed in the righteousness of its cause. That’s such a mystery to me.  And I kept thinking about what The Misfit says in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” He says, "Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead . . . and He shouldn't have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him . . . I wasn't there so I can't say He didn't," The Misfit said. "I wisht I had of been there," he said, hitting the ground with his fist. "It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady," he said in a high voice, "if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now." Crazy as he is, he makes a pretty compelling case for bearing witness to a particular moment in history.

But if I answer this question honestly and on a purely personal level, I think I’d like to do high school again. I’d screw around less. I’d treat people better. I’d be a better son, a better brother. I think it took me longer than most people to realize that I was not at the center of universe. 

Thank you Michael, I absolutely loved Eveningland and recommend it to every stranger I see (well almost). Congratulations on such a fine collections of stories.