Author! Author! Corey Mesler and Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Corey Mesler

Corey Mesler

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Burke's Book Store owner Corey Mesler will host his own appearance at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Mesler will read from two newly published novels, "The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores" (Bronx River Press, $15.95) and "Following Richard Brautigan" (Livingston Press, $28, or $16.95 paperback).

"Why two novels at once, you ask?" the author wrote in an e-mail. "I want to say it is because I am so prolific that the publishers are lining up to sign me up for every scrap that falls from my table. The truth is that these two novels were written years apart (another novel was actually written between them) and accepted by two different small presses many months apart. But because the wheels of publishing grind slowly, when they grind at all, one book caught up with the other."

He adapted to the idea of two novels at once. "I started to see it as something unique and hence, perhaps, newsworthy," he writes. "So far CNN has not called."

"Following Richard Brautigan" is Mesler's third novel. "FRB is a ghost story, a road novel, a love story and it even has some good jokes in it," says its author.

It's about a poet in 1980s Oklahoma City who is visited by the late Richard Brautigan, the San Francisco writer of the 1960s whose best known work is the novel "Trout Fishing in America."

Ask Mesler why he chose Brautigan to represent inspiration from the netherworld, and he says he was an impressionable youth when he met Brautigan's work: "I came to books late, in my teens, in high school. And what I came to were these small, mass-market paperbacks with strange names like 'In Watermelon Sugar' and 'The Pill vs. the Springhill Mining Disaster' (both Brautigan works)."

He calls "The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores" his "Southern Sex Romp (with Murder)." In other words, it's R rated. "It is dirty. But it is, I insist, also funny."

The author event is 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Burke's Book Store is located at 936 S. Cooper. Call 278-7484.

Each girl has her Barbie

A columnist and essayist, humorist and humanist, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, comes to Memphis this week to talk about her new book "Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming" (NewSouth Books, $24.95).

She'll sign books at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, and will be at Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar, at 2 p.m. May 9.

Johnson has delivered insights about the people and traditions of the South through her writing for 30 years. At last, she's taking on Barbie.

Barbie, of course, is without boundaries, but Johnson's memories of her in "Enchanted Evening Barbie" are set squarely in mid-20th century Montgomery, Ala. She arrived in a black-and-white strapless bathing suit, but Johnson's Barbie dressed in clothes made by Johnson's Grannie after that.

"My Barbie looked as if she had just returned from a Girl's Auxiliary meeting at the Baptist Church where the Lottie Moon Christmas offering had been discussed," Johnson writes. Hence, the longing for Barbie to have one "Enchanted Evening."

Johnson, a columnist for The Commercial Appeal from 1980-1994, and a winner of the Distinguished Writing Award for commentary from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, lost her husband a year ago. The prose in this book absorbs and reflects some of her grief at his death.

"I had started the book in January of 2009," said Johnson, who lives near Iuka, Miss. NewSouth had just published "Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana," and wanted her to follow it with a memoir.

"I decided I wanted to be clever and witty and sell some books, with a Christmas theme," she said last week by phone from her Mississippi home. But then her husband died. After delaying for some time, she says, she went into "kind of a zone."

"It helped me in some way to do what I do, to deal with some things from my past that didn't involve Don."

In this new book, as always, she's a very Southern writer. She recalled a survey of writers by Harper's 25 years ago about Northern vs. Southern writing. The conclusion: "Northerners want sense and Southerners want sound."

"Southerners have a rhythm to their work, we're a region of storytellers," Johnson said. Ask a Northerner for directions, and she'll tell you go three blocks north, take a left, then a right. Ask a Southerner and she'll tell you what happened in every house along the way. "We learn early on how to make a short story long."

At 1 p.m. Friday, Tim Johnston, winner of an O. Henry Prize and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in short fiction, will be at Davis-Kidd Booksellers to sign "Irish Girl" (University of North Texas Press, $12.95).

On bookslut.com, reviewer Beth Harrington wrote: "To start with the bad news, Tim Johnston's 'Irish Girl' is not a collection of interconnected vignettes chronicling the exploits of a red-haired, step-dancing lass who speaks in a lilting brogue. The good news is pretty much everything else. Johnston's stories are sharp and smart, infused with a small-town sensibility that renders them eerie and restless."

Davis-Kidd is at 387 Perkins Ext. Call (901) 683-2032 or visit daviskidd.com.

'T. S. Spivet' author visits

Reif Larsen, author of "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet" (The Penguin Press, $27.95), will be a guest of Book Talk at the WYPL Studios in the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. The book is about a gifted 12-year-old mapmaker named T.S. Spivet who hops a freight train to travel from his family's Montana ranch to the Smithsonian to receive an award. Call 415-2700 for information.

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