Debbie’s Literary Resolution

This week in our Literary Resolutions blog series, we hear from Debbie Hampton, Blair’s director of design and production, about the book that is inspiring her resolutions.

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kissesfromkatieI suppose we all make some sort of New Year’s resolution deep down inside and never really voice it to anyone. Mine is usually something like I will be a better Mom, daughter, sister, friend, etc. And that is easily tied into the book I resolved to read this year since it was given to me by my family for Christmas in 2012. The book, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis, tells the story of an amazing young woman totally devoted to answering God’s call. She was a typical teenager living a comfortable life—planning for college, prospects of a good career, anticipating marriage to the love of her life—but, after a mission trip to Uganda to help with abandoned babies, her heart stirred and the pull to abandon a privileged life and be totally submissive to God changed her forever. By the age of 22 she had moved to Uganda, adopted 14 little homeless girls and founded Amazima ministries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of underprivileged children.


By page 20 of this book I felt like the most selfish person that ever walked the earth. Here I am in my comfortable world of a steady job, a home, a wonderful family and friends, my wonderful church family, and God’s greatest gift of a beautiful daughter. How can I complain at all about anything or justify ever being in a bad mood or un-Christian in any way? But then I remember all that God has called me to do. To be a loving and caring Mother, daughter, friend, etc., and at the same time be a servant, be a giver, and be a helper to anyone in need. I fall short of all of these and I know by the end of this amazing story I’ll feel even more unworthy. But I hope to also feel even more inspired and reminded of enormous blessings.

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Katie Davis and her daughters

You can learn more about Katie Davis on her blog.

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Check back next week for another post in our Literary Resolutions blog series. Happy Reading!

Steve’s Literary Resolution

This week in our Literary Resolutions blog series, we hear from Steve Kirk, Blair’s editor, about his delayed success in completing a reading resolution.

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I made my literary resolution early (mid-December) and broke it early (January 2). The previous two years, I’d read the opening and middle volumes of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium trilogy” over the holidays and happened to finish them on New Year’s Day. So I resolved to end 2013 and begin 2014 with the final book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. But owing to company in the house, I didn’t finish until well past my target date.Hornets

No matter. Larsson’s novels are my kind of blockbusters—brisk, complex, and transportive. Though he goes on too long about Swedish politics and over-introduces minor characters, those flaws are overwhelmed by what he does well—namely, create memorable protagonists (Mikael Blomkvist and Lizbeth Salander), intricate plots, and an exotic setting. In Hornet’s Nest, he sustains a lively 563 pages with his title character mostly confined to a hospital bed and his two heroes together only on the last couple of pages.

I admit to being flummoxed by all the Jonassons, Carlssons, Erikssons, and Goranssons. And when I began the series, I pulled up a Stockholm map on my computer and made a futile effort to follow the action as I read. But I soon learned to plunge right in and let myself be transported. By the end, whenever Mikael Blomkvist might leave Café Copacabana next to the Kvarter cinema in Hornstull, then turn on to Bergsundsstrand on his way to the tunnelbana, I was right there with him, wherever it was we happened to be going.

Stieg Larsson wrote mostly for his own entertainment. He died in 2004 at age 50 from a heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs on a day the elevator broke down. He never saw his novels hit print; they’ve since sold well over 70 million copies. Larsson had a fourth volume in process, a fifth and sixth at least in synopsis form, and a seventh through a tenth planned. My coming holiday seasons will be the less for his passing.

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Join us next week for another post in our Literary Resolutions blog series. Happy reading!

New Blair Blog Series: Literary Resolutions for 2014

We hope you all had fantastic holidays and are ready to face the new year head on.  Blair is celebrating the beginning of 2014 with a new blog series on our literary resolutions. I start us off this week with the simple goal toKeep CalmEasier said than done.

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Shocking though it may be about an English major and publishing industry professional, I have almost always been an avid reader. I would read late into the night, constantly have new titles awaiting me, and usually have a favorite book on hand.

I still love the idea of reading, collect books that I want to read, and plow through ones that I substantially start, but since becoming a passably functioning adult, I am usually in a less-than-alert state when I get home.

Rather than reading for a while, I am ready to curl up and fall asleep as early as acceptably possible (Meaning 8 p.m.-that’s acceptable, right?).

Sometime I get stressed out about not having finished a physical book in a while and I pressure myself to read. Anxiety-induced reading, however, is not enjoyable. No matter a title’s literary merit, very little of the text will register if I have to force myself to read it.

Compile this with the relative ease of unwinding in front of TV,

and I quickly give up on the futile resolve to make myself read.

Nonetheless, I continue to find books that I genuinely want to read, or to have read, which then makes me more anxious about my state of not reading. “I love reading, but I’m not reading. Am I a fraud? What am I doing? Why am I not reading RIGHT NOW??”

So this year I pledge to calm down about reading.

Rather than starting books that I think I should be reading, I am going to go with my gut and pick titles based purely on literary desire.

And I’m going to read at a pace set completely by my whims, not worrying about finishing for finishing’s sake.  Sometimes this will be in a fervor fueled by the intensity of my enjoyment, but often this will be simply at my leisure. And that’s okay.

By stripping away the pressure and letting myself enjoy reading again, I hope to regain my footing in the fold of true book lovers. 2014 is the year I fall back in love with literature. So watch out books, here I come!

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Check back next week for another post on Blair’s literary resolutions. Happy reading!

Don’t Forget Those Holiday Tips!

The holidays are a good opportunity to show people in your life that you appreciate them. Whether with gifts, baked goods, kind gestures, or generous tips.

The Boston Evening Post printed the following poem in 1764 to urge subscribers to tip their newsboys at Christmas:

The Boy Weekly Pads the Streets,
With all the freshest News he meets,
His Mistresses and Masters greet,
Christmas and New Year, Days of Joy,
The Harvest of your Carrier Boy,
He hopes you’ll not his Hopes destroy….
His generous patrons may inspire,
By filling up his pockets higher!

AmericanChristmasesThis poem is featured in American Christmases: Firsthand Accounts of Holiday Happenings From Early Days to Modern Times by Joanne Martell, a great book which offers insight into the history of Christmas in America.

So don’t forget all the people who make your life easier and deserve some recognition this holiday season. And always remember…

Blair’s Holiday Celebration

Blair celebrated the holidays today with some delicious desserts and our annual used book exchange.

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Some of Blair’s treats!

Are you ready for all of your upcoming holiday celebrations? Find some quick and easy gifts for everyone in Blair’s Holiday Gift Guide.

WellShutMyMouthWe’ve also got you covered on the baking side with a collection of cookbooks featuring recipes for bakers of all skill levels. For a chocolate fix, try out Stephanie Tyson’s “Easiest Devil’s Food Cake in the World with Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing” from Well, Shut My Mouth: The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook.

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Easiest Devil’s Food Cake in the World with Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
Makes one 9-inch layer cake

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix on low until combined, then increase the speed to medium for another 2 to 3 minutes. Pour mixture into 2 greased, floured 9-inch cake pans and back for 1/2 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing

3 ounces softened cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons milk

In a mixer on medium, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Melt the chocolate chips with the butter and allow to cool slightly before adding to the cream cheese mixture. Mix on low until smooth. Add the vanilla extract. Thin to a spreading consistency with milk.

To assemble, place a cooled cake top side down on a cake plate. Spread 1/3 of the icing on the cake, top with the other layer top side up, and coat with the remaining frosting.

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Give your sweet tooth something to celebrate this holiday season!

History in the Voices of the Voiceless

The new film 12 Years a Slave is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northrup about his time as a slave in Louisiana from 1841 to 1853.

12 years a slaveOn October 17, 2013, the film’s director, Steve McQueen, and star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, were interviewed by NPR’s Renee Montagne. You can listen to the full interview at “12 Years a Slave: 160 Years Later, A Memoir Becomes a Movie.

During the interview McQueen noted that he “was really upset with [himself] that [he] did not know about this book.” The story of Solomon Northrup is remarkable for the particulars of the man’s experiences as a free man tricked into being enslaved who then finds his way back to freedom. 12 Years a Slave, however, is not the only opportunity that we have to hear about the peculiar institution from slaves themselves.

MyFolksDuring the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt employed jobless writers and researchers to capture thousands of voices of former slaves spread throughout the United States. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) eventually collected more than two thousand narratives from seventeen states, cataloging them in the Library of Congress as Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the U.S. from Interviews with Former Slaves. Though the WPA performed a major service by collecting these narratives, the stories languished in the Library of Congress for several decades until the 1970s when George Rawick put the narratives into a form that was more accessible to the public, entitled The American Slave: A Composite Biography.

FarMoreTerribleBelinda Hurmence was among the first to realize that many readers were still intimidated by the multivolume sets of slave narratives made available by Rawick. Culling the narratives collected by the WPA and others, she edited her first concise volume of slave narratives, My Folks Don’t Want Me To Talk About Slavery, providing insight into the lives of former slaves in North Carolina. Following the positive reaction she received from the public, she published two more volumes of slave narratives from South Carolina and Virginia. Her books have proved perennial bestsellers for John F. Blair, Publisher and launched our “Real Voices, Real History” series.

Voices_Cherokee_WomenWe have continued to expand our line of slave narratives, and to expand the idea of history told by the individuals who personally experienced it. Since then, we have published 12 total volumes of slave narratives, three volumes from the Cherokees, and four other Real Voices, Real History collections. One Real Voices, Real History author described her collection of first person accounts as an opportunity to “give voice to the voiceless.”

Chained_to_theLandThe most recent title added to this collection is Voices of Cherokee Women, edited by Carolyn Ross Johnston, published in fall 2013. We will also be publishing Chained to the Land: Voices from Cotton & Cane Plantation, edited by Lynette Ater Tanner, in spring of 2014.

 

Blair Staffers Heading to the Big Easy

This weekend Blair staffers will be heading to New Orleans, LA, for the Southern Independent Booksellers Association annual trade show.

Blair will be offering great promotions for booksellers, as well as handing out prizes to those who follow our live tweets and pick up on our hinted passwords. Follow @BlairPublisher and #SIBA13 for the latest updates. We hope to see some of you there.

Bring on the beignets and muffulettas!

50th Anniversary of MLK, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering "I Have a Dream" at the 1963 Washington, D.C. Civil Rights March.

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering “I Have a Dream” in 1963

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963 to a packed crowd. King’s speech was part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in support of President John F. Kennedy’s proposed civil rights legislation. King began the speech by recalling the words of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and asserting that Lincoln’s proposed ideals of racial equality had not yet been realized due in part to the restraints of segregation. The most famous part of the speech, in which he expounds upon the refrain of “I have a dream,” calls for a brighter future in which true equality might be found. Watch the speech in its entirety below.


Though he was the public face of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the only great man surging the movement forward in pursuit of equality and justice. One of the men working alongside King was civil rights lawyer Fred D. Gray. As King led the movement in the public sphere, Gray led the way in establishing legal footholds and precedents for civil rights legislation.

Fred D. Gray, Civil Rights Lawyer and Activist

Fred D. Gray, Civil Rights Lawyer and Activist

At the age of 24, Gray was the lawyer for Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization behind the 382-day Montgomery Bus Boycott. Led by a passion to destroy “everything segregated that [he] could find,” Gray continued to take on landmark civil rights cases throughout his impressive career, including those concerned with voting rights, education, housing, employment, law enforcement, and jury selection.

BusRideJustice_RevisedEdGray has documented these extraordinary experiences in his autobiography Bus Ride to Justice: The Life and Works of Fred Graywhich was called “A valuable record of the ground-level struggle for civil rights.” by The New York Times Book Review, “A lively account of how one man made a difference in the South.” by The Commercial Appeal, and “A valuable firsthand chronicle, an instructive legal casebook, and a stirring personal story.” by Publisher’s Weekly. As King’s speech promoted taking inspiration from the past in working toward a more equal future, so can we learn from the pursuits of Gray and his peers when considering the struggles that have yet to be won.

Guest Author and Blair Progeny on Her Summer Reading

This week in our Summer Reading Blog Series we pull in a pinch-hitter and hear from Corinne Serfass, the daughter of Blair’s Margaret Couch.

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The idyllic summers of my childhood and adolescence are tied tightly in my mind to being barefoot in the tall grass of the Appalachian Mountains with blackberries crushed in my hand. I had the never ending afternoons of summer break to spend with all manner of books, starfish-ed on the sofa at home or sequestered in a copse of trees at camp.  As I grow into adulthood I find that I want my summer reads to retain that hazy pleasure where the real world is magnified in a way that transcends my day-to-day experience.trees Like the John Prine song Paradise, whose words I remember from those self-same summers, my summer reading pick for this year lies in “a backwards old town that’s often remembered so many times that my memories were worn,” and the town is Stay More, Arkansas, the fictional setting of Donald Harrington’s With.

Corinne cover imageWith is nestled in the wilderness of the Arkansas Ozarks with tangential appearances by Stay More, both locations emitting the Southern Gothic ennui of settlements slowly fading into obscurity. Inhabiting these towns are humans, just as bleak and beat-down as their surroundings, trying, as many of us do, to lose themselves in a dream of something better. Following such a dream is what finds Robin Kerr abducted and forced to live in a remote cabin in the Ozarks. The story follows Robin after her abductor dies and she is forced to fend for herself, paired with an unusual cast of supporting characters including a dog, a bobcat, and an in-habit (a spirit or haunting).

With reads like a grown-up retelling of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family with a hefty dose of Michael Chabon’s magical realism thrown in. Harrington’s narrative style adheres directly to the way Robin experiences her new world, helpful spirits and talking dogs alike, and requires very little suspension of disbelief for readers to find themselves in that cabin in the Ozarks. Corinne1

Harington’s language grounds the book firmly in the Southern Gothic tradition and the sense that this young girl sits, physically and metaphorically, on top of hundreds of years of tradition and custom. The juxtaposing of Robin’s modern, pre-adbuction, life with the way she struggles to survive off the land when fending for herself highlights the nostalgia which colors our view of days long past. The sweat-soaked, dirt-scuffed nature of the narrative is what makes this a perfect summer reading book, even if you don’t have first-hand access to the humidity and late-afternoon sun of the American South.

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Check back next week for another post in our Summer Reading Series!

You’re Good With Me, Crows

This week in our Summer Reading Series Heath Simpson, Blair’s warehouse manager, talks about the bird life outside his window at work.

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IMG_1180This summer I read Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt about how the author enjoys watching urban wildlife in Seattle. Even in urban Winston-Salem, wild creatures are making lives for themselves. The crows outside my workplace know my name (in crow) and my face. Yesterday as I walked out to my car they had a lot to say and it was not happy talk. I wish I could say to them, “You’re good with me, crows.”

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The branches outside my window where the baby birds hang out.

 

But not when my other bird friends are raising their children nearby. Parent birds teach their babies to munch on berries right outside my window and two years ago I watched in horror as a crow almost snatched a young bird out of midair.

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The tree tops where the crows perch and scout out their prey.

So when baby birds and adult crows are visiting I might step outside (with attitude). I might stand in the middle of the road and glare at a crow at the top of a tree. I might take a yard stick outside. Crows notice odd activity. Crows get uncomfortable when humans take an interest in their snack choices. They aren’t happy but they move along…

…Maybe for a leftover chicken biscuit down the street at Bojangles.

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Check back next week for another entry in our Summer Reading Series and happy reading!