Reading on the front porch: It’s as Southern as sweet tea (and Good People IPA).
If you moved below the Mason-Dixon after your formative years, there’s nothing like football season to remind you you’re not really a southerner. I don’t have a preference for Alabama or Auburn (horrors!). I don’t particularly enjoy okra or grits (although Trattoria Centrale and Chez Lulu are kind of changing my mind on the grits issue). I may live in the land of the southern accent, but I’m a Midwestern girl through and through: I call Coke “soda,” I’m most comfortable when wearing a sweater, I’m self-deprecating to a fault, and I think, if you can’t eat Kansas City barbeque, you might as well go vegetarian.
But, while I’m still a Kansan at heart, I’m an Alabamian, too. I’m proud of that, and it makes me angry when people (I’m talking to you, sitcom writers and evening news producers) generalize southerners as stupid, ignorant or incomprehensible. I put down a book just last week because the southern dialogue was forced and kitschy (it was written by a Chicagoan).
The concept that Alabamians are stupid is, well, ignorant. Just look at our book industry. In a world where bookshops are supposed to be closing right and left, ours are thriving. Books A Million — you might know them as that store that’s expanding into several abandoned Borders shops — is headquartered here. And we have an abnormally high number of thriving independent bookstores. In fact, last time I looked at the statistics, we had more than Chicago has.
Not to brag or anything (in case you missed it, I own a bookstore), but Birmingham has some amazing bookshops. It doesn’t matter how or what you like to read — Southern literature, used books, experiential fiction, eBooks, signed first editions, cyberpunk — there’s a local store that specializes in it and will hook you up with exactly the books you’re looking for. So, this week, I’m going to visit as many independent bookshops as I can, writing about a different shop every day.
But before I go small shopping, I want to say a word about Birmingham’s big box bookshops (alliteration overkill?). If Books A Million has to exist, I love that it’s headquartered here. Among other things, it means you can buy a Nook eReader locally (if not independently) and use it to read locally sold eBooks. And our Summit Barnes and Noble is, in my opinion, the strongest big-box bookstore I’ve ever been to. They seem to have low employee turnover, and their staff is fantastically friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about books. As much as I’ll be championing independent bookshops this week, I want to be clear that, although I don’t like the corporate bookselling model, I know that there are some great booksellers working at those stores — fellow Alabamians who love books as much as I do.
We’re Alabamians, and, yes, we care about football. But we also care deeply about tradition, story, and character — and that means we care about books. Anyone who says otherwise just hasn’t bothered to check.
Amen, sister. Despite popular opinion, most of the people I consort with in Alabama are incredibly well-read and will talk your ears, nose, and toes off about books. Also, reading on the front porch and drinking Good People IPA is as close to heaven as I’ll likely ever come.