Driving Through the Delta

Mostly photos, with some long captions today, about the trip to Lorelei Books in Vicksburg, TurnRow Books in Greenwood, and First Regional Library's librarians in Hernando. To get to these places, we had to traverse the Delta.

We stopped in Edwards, Mississippi first. My family still knows me as Debbie Edwards, and so do the friends I've known the longest. So does Jim, come to think of it... so we had to get a photo.

We did not go to the First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson to see the hand pointing to heaven on top of the steeple, but I wanted to. We did not go to see the Windsor Ruins, the last of old plantation life near Port Gibson, but I wanted to. (This photo of the Ruins was taken by Eudora Welty.)

We had to pick and choose. Five days into The Pilgrimage portion of The Aurora County Shoestring Tour, we were beginning to show signs of weariness, and a reluctance to break up the day too much -- and we were expected at TurnRow Books by late afternoon.

We pulled into Vicksburg mid-morning. I was surprised to see how much of the historic downtown looks like New Orleans (well, the architecture, anyway). Vicksburg is right along the Mississippi River and is a destination for gamblers, as the fancy riverboat casinos do a brisk business here.

Laura Weeks owns Lorelei Books in Vicksburg. She and her husband moved from the Virginia Beach area two and a half years ago, and bought this space in the heart of old downtown Vicksburg. They renovated the upstairs and live in a loft apartment above the store. "The Corps of Engineers is the largest employeer here," said Laura. "That gives us a base." Laura's store is charming -- the space used to be a pilates studio, and it's open, airy, inviting -- two cats live in the store, and sleep in the front window -- see them?

The children's area is small and standard -- "I'm it," says Laura, "and I'm learning." I was appreciative of the small stack of stock that Laura had me sign, and I also knew that it would be offered to the customer looking for a novel for a young reader -- and I knew it would be hand sold very differently from how, say, Carol Moyer at Quail Ridge will hand sell my novels, because she knows them inside and out, and usually knows her customers as well.

And yet... you have to start somewhere. That afternoon, Lorelei was hosting high school teachers at the store -- that's a start, as Laura says. While we talked, a few tourists stopped by, but the store was very quiet on a Thursday morning -- "We are still getting known here," Laura said.

I'd gone to Lorelei at the request of a Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt rep -- this is one of two bookstores I'm visiting on the Shoestring Tour that are new to me. "We aren't on publishers' radars yet," said Laura, "but we want to be."

Part of the Shoestring philosophy is that a book is still a bargain in these economic times -- particularly paperback books, which is why we're especially promoting the paperback Aurora County trilogy. Part of the philosophy is thinking of ways we can work together to bring good books to readers. And part of the philosophy is to have as much fun as we can while doing it.

This is why I had to go see my friends at TurnRow Books.

TurnRow Books in Greenwood has a standard children's section (YA is superb, and this is clearly buyer/owner Kelly Kornegay's love), but children's is well-cared-for, as Kelly reads and sells what she loves. She and husband Jamie have been so good to my books over the years, and I wanted to go to TurnRow to thank them.
With three children under the age of 5, Kelly and Jamie determined that we should order barbecue and hang out upstairs in their light-filled space, and eat and sign stock at the end of the day, and let the kids play hide and seek -- it was a lovely evening of stories and laughter.

TurnRow's story amazes me. Says Jamie, "Here we are, in the poorest county of the poorest state in the Union, and we've got a bookstore." Yes they do. And it's a mighty fine bookstore, too. Viking Range, headquartered in Greenwood, seeded the store, but it belongs to Jamie and Kelly now.

"Bookselling is about relationships," says Jamie, and that means relationships all the way around the block, from publisher to bookseller, bookseller to customer, and bookseller with author. It's the relationships that grow a business.

I want everyone I know to order books from TurnRow, to hang out in the store and be hand sold something wonderful by Jamie, Kelly, or Ben -- they've got hand selling down to an art and a science, and their selection of books is astoundingly in good taste... I step into TurnRow and feel instantly erudite.

And I never leave without a stack of books I can't live without. This time:

Lanterns on the Levee by Walker Percy
The Missing by Tim Gautreaux
City of Thieves by David Benioff (Hannah's pick)
Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead (another Hannah pick)
Mulgrew Miller, The Sequel - a CD for Jim (we love Mulgrew, and he is from the Delta)
On Friday morning, Hannah and I partook of our one big splurge on this Shoestring Tour: We stayed at the Alluvian Hotel, the fabulous hotel that Viking built in Greenwood, two doors up from TurnRow, and we booked for each of us a massage and facial. We giggled as we walked into the "Ladies Tranquility Room," wearing fluffy robes and slinky slippers.

And then, after a few hours of loveliness, we headed out, into the Delta, for our longest day.

I don't know if it was the massages that left our minds like mush or the cumulative effect of five full days on the road together constantly, sleeping together in a double bed some nights, staring cross-eyed at maps, eating at places we'd never eat in Atlanta, but being hungry and not knowing the restaurant terrain, so stopping at (get ready) Waffle House, Sonic, Pizza Hut, McDonald's (okay, just for fries), and various gas station food marts, but this was our hardest day as well.

We both took to text messaging our significant others, sitting next to one another in the car. Me to Jim: It is good to know one's limits with one another on the road. Hannah to Richard: Will you and Jim come get me if Mom leaves me on the side of the road?

I promise, I never threatened anything of the kind. ha! But we were like sandpaper with one another until the Delta began to work its magic:

The bayou had a breath, like a person. -- from Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty.

We ended up in Hernando, Mississippi, with our librarian friends from the First Regional Library system, who patted us into shape, surrounded us with such good cheer, and breathed new life into two road-weary souls.

A cookout and lively conversation marked the rest of the evening. We stayed with gracious host and good friend Catherine Nathan (in true Shoestring fashion), director of First Regional. That's Catherine on the far right. She is one of my heroes.

I want to tell you about the marvelous work First Regional is doing with their new bookmobile and preschoolers, but this is already so long -- I will try to find and post a link for you. I've worked with these fine public librarians in the past, and love their commitment to literacy and serving the public. I am lucky to know them.

We closed down the joint on Friday night, slept like the dead, and were up early for our last day on the road, Saturday.

Saturday would be all about looking forward, with the Sixties trilogy on my mind, and a little homesickness creeping in around the edges. Saturday would be our treat, our present to ourselves (and research for me) after a long week away: Memphis and Graceland and Stax Records then Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi and a long haul home.