Thursday, October 23, 2008

BOOKS ALONG THE TECHE

This morning I made my first trek to town since returning to New Iberia and went into our local bookstore to pick up a check for sales of my books that occurred while I was sojourning in Sewanee, TN. I’m always amazed at the number of Louisiana authors featured at Books Along the Teche. It’s a small haven for local and area writers promoted by owners Lorraine and Howard Kingston who have been in this book business on Main St. for 19 years. I love to look at the newest whimsical paintings of New Iberia folk artist Paul Schexnayder, who illustrated several of my children’s books – they line the walls of the bookstore. Each time I go into the shop, I marvel at the youthful looks of Lorraine, an auburn haired woman who never ages and who is remarkable in that she has kept this small, independent bookstore burgeoning despite economic downturns in other small businesses --and, I might mention, in the face of large bookstore chains such as Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million down the road in Lafayette, LA.

Lorraine exhibits books by the “rich and famous,” such as New Iberian James Lee Burke, whose books featuring the character Dave Robicheaux, stay on the bestseller list, but her inventory also includes many of us who haven’t achieved such fame with our books about Louisiana. Greg Guirard’s INHERIT THE ATCHAFALAYA, a wonderful book of photography about the Atchafalaya Basin, was among the titles exhibited on a table as I entered the bookstore. Louisiana artist George Rodrigue had a small display of his blue dog books on the check-out counter. Next to the check-out counter, a display of Louisiana recording artists featured the work of Brenda Lowry and “Bubba” Murrell, (who won a Grammy award last year) New Iberia blues and Gospel musicians. This pair also wrote the music for and performed “Women at the Well,” a Gospel recording that they created for my ordination as an Episcopal deacon back when… And, of course, Andy Smith, an outstanding area musician, was featured in this display of locals.

A recent addition to the Louisiana collection is a book by Smiley Anders, Baton Rouge columnist, who compiled BEST OF SMILEY and appeared at a book signing sponsored by Books Along the Teche in May. My old friend, Morris Raphael, has at least six of his titles on display, including the annotated tapes of Weeks Hall of Shadows-on-the-Teche fame and his best-selling book, THE BATTLE IN THE BAYOU COUNTRY. Morris writes for both the Daily Iberian and Acadiana Lifestyle and does his own share of penning “puffs” for local writers, artists, and musicians in his bi-monthly news column. An upcoming book signing at Books Along the Teche will feature SLAM DUNKED by Ron Gomez and Beryl Shipley.

Lorraine and Howard support many local endeavors, but one of their favorite charities is “Operation Blessings,” to which they contribute because they witnessed, firsthand, work that a crew from this organization performed following Hurricane Katrina. Their support reminded me of Gail Drake, owner of Lorena’s gift shop and book gallery at Monteagle, Tennessee, who recently sponsored a book signing for my book, GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR. Gail supports an organization called LEAMIS with whom she does mission work to Africa and other Third World countries. Both of these small business owners not only support the work of artists and writers, they send part of their profits to Third World countries and are especially interested in projects that contribute to the health and well-being of children.

The visit allowed time for me to tell Lorraine about my friend and fellow author at Sewanee, Isabel Anders, who writes books about the spiritual life (mentioned in my last blog). Lorraine immediately went online and said, “Wow, 12 books by some great publishers!” She was busy looking up information telling her how to order Isabel’s books when I left the shop. I have enjoyed a book-filled morning, and tomorrow I travel to the public library in Thibodaux to give a lecture on my books, MARTIN’S QUEST and FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE. I’m hoping to get back to book writing one day!
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