I unqualifiedly and unabashedly love independent bookstores. I’m fortunate enough to live in an area where I have three to choose from, including my hometown store, The Regulator Bookshop (and honestly, there is no reason not to order a book online from a local store – you’ll get it the same way you’d get it from a giant retailer). I’m one of those non-famous writers who has been greatly supported by independents from the very beginning of my career, so I owe them all a debt of gratitude. Really, I’ve been supported by booksellers, including at the two major chains, so thanks to them as well, especially for handselling those books of mine that fell under the radar . . . by which I mean all but the first one.
My heart belongs to Durham, of course, until I’m on a book tour, and then I’m all Haven Fickle Pants. You know how I feel about Books & Books in Florida, and in the comments I mentioned the amazing gift I was given by Liz at Big Hat Books in Indianapolis. But if the Regulator has any real competition for my abiding affection, it’s from Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford, Mississippi: that should be all I have to say. It’s the home of F**lkn*r, Rowan Oak. You can take a tour through the house and see, as if he were still sitting there, where he wrote notes on the wall for Light in August. My heart skipped a beat the first time I saw his handwriting. Here is his typewriter, also very moving to behold:
Oxford is the home of Ole Miss (I do know what happened there during the Civil Rights movement and it was gruesome – I’m just talking about the present, here) (Dylan has a great song about those events called “Oxford Town”), and is the hometown or birthplace of Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Elizabeth Spencer, John Grisham, Willie Morris, someone named Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, for a time the great Randall Kenan, and many others. Jimmy Buffet is NOT from there – a common mistake! – but from Pascagoula. One of my best students, Joel, earned his undergraduate degree at Ole Miss. A friend who lives there, Ron Shapiro, once ran for public office with the slogan: THROW THE RASCALS IN. [Ed. note: Ron, Haven received one of your campaign posters, thank you. She tried to scan it but doesn’t know how. Will work on it.] The store is in Mississippi, one of my three favorite states in the country.
Square Books was opened thirty years ago by Richard and Lisa Howorth (Lisa is another Oxford writer). Richard is a former president of the American Booksellers Association, a diehard friend of the First Amendment, and served two terms as Mayor of Oxford. The store hosts a weekly radio show, featuring writers and musicians, called Thacker Mountain Radio. It’s broadcast on Mississippi Public Radio and draws (literally) hundreds of people each week. Lyn Roberts, who seems to manage everything at once – including the store, UNRULY authors, the radio show, my dinner – knows as much about books as anyone I’ve ever met. Frankly, I love her.
After my reading in Oxford a couple weeks ago I was talking to Richard and Lyn and mentioned I was thinking of getting a varmint gun. Richard asked me why and I said because as soon as I bring the dogs in (on a number of afternoons) I’ve seen a rat mosey across the backyard. It just . . . strolls. Once in a while it hops. The situation is untenable. Having a rat that close to my house and my children is like having a shark in the bathtub, and forgive me, any Buddhists reading this, but one of us is going to have to go and I am much, much taller than the rodent. I win this one. Look at this monstrosity:
That one I took with my special night-vision goggles. Here is one where I risked life and limb using the flash:
God above. And then that rat, or another very similar to it, got in the barnyard and completely terrorized everyone, including my sister who continues to have her back to us. She is wearing the yellow vinyl trousers. As you can see, one goose and one pig are both down.
Again, acting as a conservationist and friend to nature, I got extremely close to the dangerous animal:
So after I got home from that set of travels – I have more coming up, alas – I opened a letter with a strange return address, and discovered that Square Books in Oxford had given me a year’s membership in THE VARMINT HUNTER’S ASSOCIATION! It’s totally official and comes with these special gifts, in addition to a magazine!
That’s my badge! Oh, if I only still had my Mickey Mouse Club corduroy jacket, can you imagine how the two would look together? Of course that jacket would fit my baby, but he would look great wearing this accessory. I also got a card to carry in my wallet; I assume it’s what I show the police when they drop by to see why I’m firing my varmint gun within the city limits. It’s like a FREE PASS.
Do you see my name on it? There are many reasons to support your local independent bookseller – the staff, the stock, the years of experience and the genuine love of literature – but what you see above is the best I can think of. The independents take a person like me seriously. Booksellers and my dogs. Aaaand that’s about it. Thank you, thank you Robert and Lyn, for doubling the list with one graceful gesture.
Also? When rodents invade your barnyard and study, why is it never THIS kind?