In a long, informative, entertaining profile entitled "Letter from the South: The Bookseller Who Helped Transform Oxford, Mississippi," the New Yorker tells the story of Richard Howorth (and a lot about his wife, Lisa), the owners of Square Books in Oxford, Miss.
The store--actually, stores--is "one of the most beloved and influential bookstores in the country," author and New Yorker staff writer Casey Cep wrote. "Like City Lights, in San Francisco, or Shakespeare & Company, in Paris, Square Books has become as well known for nurturing writers as it is for selling their work. It has also become a small empire, consisting of four stores with some fifty thousand books on five floors of three different buildings, all in the town of Oxford, Mississippi. The Howorth family will tell you that they don't know how this happened, but everyone else will tell you that it happened because of the Howorth family."
Among a few of the many gems in the story:
When the University of Mississippi's Center for the Study of Southern Culture's Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was published, "the Howorths planned an 'encycloparty' for the launch, and dozens of contributors came dressed as entries, from Elvis to kudzu to Brown v. Board of Education. Square Books sold hundreds of copies of the more than thousand-page volume, advertising them as the bargain they were: 'Only $5.98 per lb. Same as catfish fillets.' "
The Howorths have hosted many of the authors making appearances at the store at their home. "They cooked for them and entertained them with sing-alongs, driving tours, juke-joint visits, and, in the case of the Irish novelist Patrick McCabe, an impromptu St. Patrick's Day parade. One morning, the couple woke to find James Dickey, best known for his novel Deliverance, drinking beer on a stool in their kitchen while regaling their son, then in his single digits, with heaven knows what kind of stories while the boy ate his breakfast cereal."
And among the many tributes from authors and other booksellers is this from Richard Ford: "Square Books would be a great bookstore in Duluth or Del Rio, but in Mississippi, to be such a rare locus of humanist and literary decency has conferred a missionary zeal which they and their entire family take completely to heart.... Richard and Lisa's profound, mirthful, decent dedication to books, writers and intelligence shine like a bright beacon out of the most benightedly ill-run state in the Union."