Last spring, we published a dispatch from Karen Spears Zacharias during her tenure as author-in-residence at Alabama’s Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts. Her successor, Jan Harayda (center), has also dropped us a line, shortly after her arrival from New Jersey, following a reception the weekend before last where she met, among others, local independent booksellers Martin Lanaux and Karin Wilson (the latter of whom is also the president of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance).
“Nobody knew whether fried green tomatoes would be served at the ‘lunch for four with Fannie Flagg‘ auctioned off at the Chocolate and Champagne Fantasy benefit at the Fairhope Public Library on Saturday night,” Harayda writes, “but Flagg is one of the most beloved residents of Fairhope, home also to Winston Groom, Judith Richards, Watt Key, Roy Hoffman, Suzanne Hudson, John Sledge, C. Terry Cline, William E. Butterworth (better known as W.E.B. Griffin) and other authors. So the lunch—with or without the tomatoes—went for $300 after spirited bidding watched enthusiastically by Over the Transom Books owner Martin Lanaux.
“Lanaux said he had converted his store to a used and rare bookshop after taking over the business a few years ago from Fairhope man-of-letters Sonny Brewer. ‘But I still have a Sonny shrine,’ he said. ‘The only new books I sell are Sonny’s.’
“Also keeping an eye on the bidding at the library was Karin Wilson. With champagne flute in hand, she stepped away from the auction and gave an unexpectedly upbeat view of southern bookselling during the recession. Wilson said that though some regional booksellers are struggling, sheâ€™s encouraged by vitality of stores like Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Books & Books stores in the Miami, Florida area. Her Page & Palette in downtown Fairhope has also thrived, partly because of an in-store coffee shop that offers free wireless Internet (a serious attraction in a town with no Starbucks). Wilson keeps expanding her customer base—a challenge in a town of fewer than 15,000 people̵2by having several events a year at the beautiful two-year-old Fairhope library, plus others at off-site venues. ‘We’re an events-driven bookstore,’ she said. One of her biggest recent successes: a promotion last fall for Nicholas Sparks‘s The Lucky One at the Saenger Theatre, a restored vaudeville house, in nearby Mobile. ‘It was just when the bottom dropped out of the market,’ Wilson said, and the event still drew more than a thousand people.”
While she’s down in Alabama, Harayda promises to maintain her One-Minute Book Reviews site, including the dispensation of 2009′s Delete Key Awards for last year’s most poorly written books, which will be announced on February 26.
(photo: Mary Gregg)