Books by Joel Barr

Released: May 6, 1991

First-novelist Barr tells the charming, whimsical story of the owners and denizens of a small-town southern bookstore. Though there's a plot of sorts, the novel is mainly an excuse for a series of anecdotes and local-color vignettes that, at their best, are Vonnegutian. Chapters and Verse is the name of the bookstore—a name arrived at, after much pondering, by one E. Baker, a woman of some years who has now decided to retire. She sells the store to Matthew Mason, former social-worker and necktie salesman, whose story is then alternated here with the letters he receives from E. Baker on her retirement journeys. In Tangelo, many customers ``feel that someone plants books there for him alone.'' We meet a gaggle of these customers—Corb, for instance, who ``reads the same work from different starting points using different copies, so he can check for consistency,'' and others who receive ``prescriptions'' (a transplanted New Yorker, for example, who thinks the South is crass, is given a dose of Welty and Percy, to be taken weekly)—and we learn about the bookstore's past and about E. Baker, once officially proclaimed ``A True and Legitimate Character of the Town.'' Meanwhile, Mason not only learns the ``undeniable rhythm'' of the store and of the regulars and staff (all of whom ``think about writing their own books'') but also develops an epistolary relationship with E. Baker, who misses the store, and eventually helps track her down when she disappears. This is not a chronicle that darkens, however: E. Baker will turn up alive and well (though minus a gallbladder) and finally open a new bookstore. A sweet-tempered, low-key story that has been justly compared to 84 Charing Cross Road. Read full book review >