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Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

For the first installment of our new series Inside Indie Bookstores, Jeremiah Chamberlin travelled to Oxford, Mississippi, to interview Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books. For the past thirty years, the independent bookstore has been a cornerstone of Oxford's literary community. 

  • 1 of 9Square Books 1
    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

    Square Books 1

    Richard Howorth and his wife, Lisa, opened the first store in 1979. Seven years later they moved into their current location, formerly the Blaylock Drug Store, after buying the building.

     

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    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

    Square Books 2

    The first thing customers notice when they enter Square Books is the signed author photographs. There are hundreds of them, occupying nearly every vertical surface not already taken up by bookcases. They cover the walls and trail up the narrow staircase to the second floor, framing windows and reaching all the way to the fourteen-foot-high tongue-and-groove ceiling.

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    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

    Square Books 3

    The names of sections, grouped by topic, are painted on the stairs leading to the second floor of the stoor.

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    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

    Square Books 4

    Most of the photos are black-and-white publicity shots, the kind publishers send with press kits, but there are also large-format, professional ones—of Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, Richard Ford, and others. Collectively, they comprise an archaeological record of this place’s luminous history—all the authors have passed through these doors—as well as a document of the important role that this particular institution has had in promoting writers and writing.

     

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    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

    Square Books 5

    Jeremiah Chamberlin sat with Richard Howorth upstairs, at a small table in an out-of-the-way corner. "I chose the spot because it seemed secluded—though, coincidentally, we were between the Faulkner and Southern Literature sections," Chamberlin writes. "Howorth commandeered the espresso machine and made us cappuccinos before we settled in to chat, fixing us our drinks himself."

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    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

    Square Books 6

    Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books.

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    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberln

    Square Books 7

    A bronze statue of Oxford native William Faulkner in front of the city hall, which is located near Square Books.

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    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

    Square Books 8

    In addition to Square Books, Richard Howorth and his wife, Lisa, have opened two other shops: Off Square Books, which specializes in used books, remainders, and rare books and serves as the venue for store events and the Thacker Mountain Radio program, in 1993; and, in 2003, Square Books, Jr., a children’s bookstore.

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    Credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

    Square Books 9

    "To be able to go into a place physically, to experience a sensation that is the precise opposite of all that is digital, and to talk to people about books in a business that has as one of its objectives a curatorial function and the presentation of literature as another—that is, I believe, irreplaceable," Howorth says.

     

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