Winder Binder Gallery & Bookstore just released its 2012 bestseller list. There are a lot of familiar names if you were paying attention to books last year, plus a few surprises. Winder Binder tracks national bestsellers (combining fiction and nonfiction), local fiction and poetry and local nonfiction.
The store’s national bestseller list is led by familiar mega-hits but, surprisingly, they are outnumbered by serious fiction and a few classics. Two of “The Hunger Games” books top the list, but the third in the series is tied with Kurt Vonnegut’s 43-year old “Slaughter-house-Five.” The overexposed (snicker, blush) “Fifty Shades of Grey” is also in a tie with one of the “Game of Thrones” novels. But the rest of the national list is made up of recent and classic literary fiction and nonfiction, including Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, David Sedaris and Harper Lee.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the local fiction and poetry bestsellers are all good stuff. The top two positions go to new books by Sybil Baker and Thomas P. Balazs, excellent fiction writers who teach at UTC. Baker’s “Into This World” takes a reluctant seeker to Korea chasing her prodigal sister and finding more secrets than she wanted. The stories in Balazs’s “Omicron Ceti III” are more magic realism and character study than the sci-fi title might imply.
Two first novels also made the list: “The Dating Dilemmas of Delilah Dunnfield” by Victoria Thurman, and “Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge” by Janie Dempsey Watts. Established Chattanooga poets are represented as well, with Finn Bille’s “Fire Poems” and the anthology “Southern Light: Twelve Contemporary Southern Poets,” edited by Bruce Majors, Ray Zimmerman and Ed Lindberg.
The local nonfiction list tells an interesting tale. Spooky stories were big last year, with “Haunted Chattanooga” and “Chattanooga Chills” at No.’s 1 and 3. According to Smotherman, both surprised him by continuing to sell long after Halloween. There’s also an outdoor guide called “Off-Road Trails.” And “Old Money New South,” Dean Arnold’s history of Chattanooga’s first families, is one of the store’s all-time best sellers, according to Smotherman.
But most of the remaining books on the local nonfiction list don’t actually require much reading. Five books on the list are historic photos with captions. I’m not knocking history picture books. Some of the photos are amazing. But I get an uneasy feeling when I see so much history without many words.
Thankfully, there are also some popular history books with a little more substance. Jennifer Crutchfield’s “Chattanooga Landmarks” and “Legendary Locals” by William F. Hull (who compiled four of the picture books on the list) dig a little deeper, with Crutchfield focusing more on places and Hull on people. And Beth Roberts contributed a longer essay to the city’s most recent coffee table book, “Chattanooga’s Heroic Drive: The History of a Renaissance,” with an introduction by former mayor, now Sen. Bob Corker.
Still, where’s the serious history? Local historian Roy Morris regularly publishes critically acclaimed books on the Civil War and 19th century America—his latest is “Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America,” a chronicle of the Irish wit’s U.S. tour—but rumor has it that a few interesting things have happened since the War of Northern Aggression.
Memoirs take up some of this slack, but can be a mixed bag. They shed light on interesting times, but most are not very well written. The four “Cadillac Dave” books on the list are a huge exception, chronicling the author’s odyssey from rebellious UTC student to being a federal fugitive and drug dealer to the stars and through to redemption.
Decades ago, when it was a much smaller and more insular community, Chattanooga produced civic historians like the late Gilbert Govan and James Lovingood, naturalists like Emma Bell Miles and Robert Sparks Walker—whose history of the Brainerd Mission was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1932—and prolific local children’s writers like William O. and Mary Q. Steele.