Last year I wrote a piece about my friend Flossie McNabb at Union Avenue Books. I told, among other stories, the story of how she and I met sometime back in the 1990s at Davis Kidd Bookseller in west Knoxville. I’d begun reading southern writers and desperately need a guide to my reading and help understanding what I read. I found an excellent book group led by a young woman at that book store. She left a couple of months later and Flossie became the facilitator of that group. We read books by dozens of authors and met quite a few of them as they came to the store. Time passed, Davis Kidd closed and the group eventually disappeared.
Last May Flossie and I decided the time was right to resurrect the group. With my job shift, I hope to have more time to read and I’m interested in reading some of the southern literature I’ve missed in recent years, as well as filling in some gaps left from my earlier reading. The first convergence was that she’d already scheduled Tom Franklin and Beth Fennelly for an in-store appearance. They will be there tonight at 6:00 PM to read from their new book, The Tilted World.
Tom Franklin published his first book in 2000. Poachers, a book of short stories took readers on a tour of misshapen, desperate and fascinating characters set against a backdrop of his native southern Alabama. It grabbed me because that’s my original home, but the entire book group loved delving into the tiny moments in the lives he portrayed in the book. I subsequently read both Hell at the Breech and Smonk, which I heard him read at a meeting of the Knoxville Writer’s Guild (a great organization). Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, which I have not read, came out in 2010 and was his break-out novel, winning the Edgar, Hammett, Barry and Anthony Awards, as well as the Los Angles Times Book Prize.
The new book, The Tilted World, is his first co-written with his wife Beth Fennelly. Ms. Fennelly is an award-winning poet and the author of four books of poetry and one book of essays. This is her first venture into fiction and the book is nominated for several awards, has recently been released in paperback and is set to be published in six additional languages. Set in Mississippi during the great floods of 1927, it is a tale of moonshine, political corruption and the kinds of simple people facing large odds in their difficult lives that Tom Franklin’s career has rested upon.
A second convergence came when downtown resident Bran Rogers asked Flossie if she’d like to display the his first round of portraits of great southern writers, memorialized as saints. She happily agreed to the small exhibition and you can see it here, but its much better in person, just inside the door of the bookstore, where you’ll find portraits of saints Tennessee Williams, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Zora Neale Hurston and Flannery O’Connor, all painted on former pieces of the Mary Boyce Temple House. So, the book club is reforming, Tom Franklin and Beth Fennelly are coming today and Bran’s southern art adorns the wall.
A pretty good alignment of southern-ness got even more bizarre last week when I discovered a fifteen-year-old list of the members of our reading group – complete with email addresses. So, please join us tonight at 6:00 for Tom Franklin and Beth Fennelly reading from and signing The Tilted World. Be sure to enjoy Bran’s paintings and wonderful descriptions while you are there. The first meeting of the book club will be at the store, August 21 at 6:00 PM. I hope you will join that if you enjoy southern literature. Our first book will be The Tilted World. Flossie is telling people that I’m facilitating and I’m telling people that she is, so come see what happens. It’s informal and everyone is welcome.