Artie’s Literary Resolution: Taking Advantage of Hidden Gems

This week in our Literary Resolutions blog series, Blair’s office manager Artie Sparrow  resolves one resolution by sharing about another.

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Nestled in the avalanche of emails when I returned to work after being away for two weeks was an announcement that Blair’s next blog series was about resolutions. At that point, I resolved to stop procrastinating and finish things I started, especially the following blog post that I began composing four months ago:

CivilWarBlundersI’m not much of a Civil War buff, but I do enjoy reading about mistakes made by other people. When I started working at Blair, I eagerly devoured Clint Johnson’s Civil War Blunders. As the title implies, it’s accounts of big mistakes made during the Civil War, some of which are rather amusing, despite the underlying subject matter. My favorite blunder is the Union’s first attempt to capture Fort Fisher. It featured an earth-shattering kaboom, but no one got hurt.

Made of sand and dirt, Fort Fisher was located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and protected Wilmington. In December 1864, Union forces were desperate to capture or destroy it, since Wilmington was the last Confederate port that remained open. oceanThe Union plan was simple in its genius and stupidity: it loaded a ship with gunpowder, ran it aground near the fort, and blew it up. The goal was to destroy the fort, but all the attack succeeded in doing was setting off a giant explosion that did little damage. The Confederates easily repulsed the first Union attempt to take the fort. Union troops had to return later using more conventional means to capture it.

Last year when my wife and I went to Southport for vacation, I finally got my chance to see where the giant kaboom took place. In the middle of the week, we took the ferry across the river to Fort Fisher. A helpful staff member at the visitor center told me how to get to the approximate spot where the Union ship blew up. One of my quirks is that I love looking out into the ocean at places where extraordinary things happened, even if the water fortfisherthere looks just like any other stretch of ocean. That didn’t take long, so afterward we took ourselves on a self-guided tour of the remains of Fort Fisher. The walls facing the Atlantic Ocean have mostly washed away, but those that went across the island to the river have been preserved. Thanks to Clint Johnson’s Touring the Carolinas’ Civil War Sites, we were able to understand what we were looking at and what happened there. We found out that the Armstrong gun is a replica of a cannon that could fire 150-pound shells a distance of five miles. We learned that Shepherd’s Battery was the scene of fierce hand-to-hand fighting when the Union finally succeeded in storming the fort.blunders

I’m still not much of a Civil War buff, and there’s no danger that I’ll start reenacting. However, I will spend more time reading Clint Johnson’s books and other Blair backlist titles. Maybe I’ll find some more hidden gems for my travels.

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

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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!

Blair Takes on Halloween

Blair staffers had a blast celebrating Halloween last week. Check out the pictures of our awesome costumes below.

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Sister Artie is ready to law down the law.

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Debbie classes up the joint as Holly Golightly.

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Oatmeal shows off her Halloween romper.

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Margaret is ready to hit the ice.

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Carolyn honors Blair’s passion for mountain life.

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Don’t worry, Blair wasn’t burglarized. But Steve’s scary getup did give us quite a fright.

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I’ll admit it, my attempt is pretty lame, but the hat IS awesome.

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We found Wald-ina!

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And her feline mother.

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Watson and Heath take in the interesting outfits.

We hope you all had an amazing Halloween!

Happy Halloween

Halloween is here – time to party!


Blair staffers got in the spirit with some great costumes. Pictures coming soon!

For a good scare or some ghostly inspiration check out Blair’s collection of folk tales and legends.

However you choose to celebrate, get lost in the spirit of the day and have a happy Halloween, from Blair!

Blair Staffers Rock SIBA Trade Show

This weekend Blair staffers went to New Orleans for the Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show and the good times did roll!

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Trisina mans the Blair booth

We got to catch up with some of our favorite indie booksellers from around the South and share our excitement for forthcoming titles. JKS Communications was handing out king cake, and our resulting prize took watch over the table.

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Blair’s booth gets a new spokesman

After the conference we were free at night to explore the sights, sounds, and especially tastes, of the city. Our streetcar ride through the impressive houses of the garden district introduced us to beaded trees.

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New Orleans – a city so decadent that jewels drip from the trees

One delicious dinner at Arnaud’s included a mushroom and crab cake shaped like a crab.

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I could get used to puff pastry being a staple of every meal.

We stopped at Pat O’Brien’s for their famous, and deadly, hurricane while wandering down Bourbon street. Trisina’s souvenir glass somehow made it all the way back to North Carolina without a scratch. Looks like there will be more hurricane consumption to come!

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Can you tell from the picture how giant this glass is? It’s giant.

Caught up in the festive spirit some of our group were swept into a store to buy masks.

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Blending in on Bourbon Street

Luckily for Angela, Blair’s former vice president of sales and marketing, her frozen margarita provided her with a red tongue that perfectly matched her new red mask.

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We miss you, Angela!

Thanks for a great time in the big easy fellow book lovers of the south.glitterSee you next year in Norfolk!

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!

Where Sea Foam Meets My Toes

This week we wrap up our Summer Reading blog series with Debbie Hampton, Blair’s director of design and production, and her plan for the perfect beach reading.

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I dream all year about doing this—340 more days to go . . .

beachThere is undoubtedly no better place to read than where sea foam meets my toes–the place I always dream of being. For someone with little time to ever sit down, not to mention sit down and read, reading comes in spurts during the year until I go to that favorite place and I grab from the “I sooooo want to read this” pile while packing my bags. Before heading that way a few weeks ago, I took with me the three I have been whittling away at–two similar subjects, one completely different, and two others for which I had a plan.GandDBonhoefferBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Since reading Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Cost of Discipleship, I wanted to know more about this theologian and anti-Nazi activist, who thought it the duty of the Christian, and the privilege and honor, to suffer with those who suffered. He did exactly that, even when given an opportunity to escape, he died totally submissive to the will of God. Though only a third of the way into this 600 page masterpiece, I already feel so unworthy of any of God’s grace.

GERDAAll But My Life by Gerda Weissman Klein
Klein documents her ordeal as a six-year old victim of Nazi cruelty who miraculously survived and was freed by American troops in 1945. How terrifying from the very beginning–I can’t imagine being forced out of my home at any age, or living in fear every single day that another member of my family would be forced out never to be seen or heard from again. What a terrible thing for any child, or person, to experience.

Avas_ManAva’s Man by Rick Bragg.
Bragg is one of my all-time favorite writers. I took this along with me to be the main read-by-the-sea. Sometimes when I want a good laugh, I just grab this book and read the first chapter, which is brilliant: Ava bolts upright in the cotton field upon suddenly being told that black silk stockings were hanging on her clothesline. The upright bolt sent her straight to the source to take care of things, if you know what I mean.

If that’s not bait to get you to read the whole thing, well then I don’t know what is. And that sets the tone for the journey of discovering with Bragg what made the grandfather he never knew tick.

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Reading Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse to my nieces Kenzie and Corinna on the beach – Photo by Kristin Turner

My Plan
Knowing there would be certain little family members on our upcoming beach trip, my daughter and I grabbed our all-time favorite children’s books to read to them seaside.

LillyLilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Lilly, a mouse, is given a special gift by her grandmother of a purple plastic purse that plays a jaunty tune and is “complete with shiny quarters that were very jingly.” In her excitement, she decides to take it to school for sharing time. The purse, in all its glory, is a complete distraction and it is all Lilly can do to contain her eagerness and wait to share. Her excitement bursts prematurely and she is punished but learns her lesson. The recurring phrase, “and that’s about all she could say, ‘WOW,’ ” was repeated long and drawn-out by my nieces (with giggles) and is something I will always remember.

MissFannieMiss Fannie’s Hat by Jan Karon
Miss Fannie is a tiny 89 year-old woman who has a huge collection of colorful hats, each with a specific story. She is asked to give one up to go in an auction for her church and struggles to pick the right one. Counting hats and picking colors and favorites became a fun game when relaxing after a long day of fun and sun in our own beach hats. And I must say, “our” own beach hat was something we were quite proud of!

My daughter Allison helping Corinna and Kenzie find Miss Fannie’s hats

My daughter Allison helping Corinna and Kenzie find Miss Fannie’s hats

My niece, Corinna in her own straw hat at Ocean Isle Beach

My niece, Corinna in her own straw hat at Ocean Isle Beach – Photo by Kristin Turner

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That concludes our Summer Reading blog series. Check back next week as we delve into more fun topics for the fall. Happy Reading!