Yet, it is possible to see beyond the dross to the older campus of beautiful antebellum and Victorian era buildings and imagine an atmosphere of studious, intimate, contemplation. Deep in there, beyond the racist, checkered past, is something that inspired scientists and artists and earned Faulkner's devotion.
The Oxford town square evokes similar themes. It is a space of old, renovated buildings amid a neighborhood of the same. The central square is the hub of this small college town (that considers itself a "sister" to the Oxford college town in England) that trades on its notoriety with some expensive eating and dining places. But, as with the university, you can detect the older part where some better spirit lies.
I thought a bit of that better spirit might lie in the Square Books bookstore on a corner off the town square. I had noticed it in many of our trips up there but never went inside. Then, recently, I ran across mention of it in some articles that indicated it was a well-known bookstore even outside of Mississippi, with Publishers Weekly naming it "Bookstore of the Year" for 2013. So I decided I wanted to get a closer look at it on our next Oxford trip.
That trip happened last September on a glorious day of temperate weather with a rare blue sky free of chem-trails. After bouncing around the square a bit, we entered Square Books. The store is larger inside than it appears from the street, encompassing three levels. It has the smell and feel of a regular, modern bookstore but it is an old, renovated building so you get that feel too. The place was busy with people meandering among the shelves, browsing the current bestsellers, local interests books, and all the usual categories. The clerks were working steadily at their big counter up front where the sun streamed through windows enlightening their activities. Customers climbed the wooden staircase leading to a balcony containing more books, entrances to offices, and a few nooks and crannies. This level provides an interesting view of the street-level expanse. The staircase continues from there to a complete upper floor that feels older with its wooden flooring and bookcases, and its own nooks and sections. It is a great place to wander.
All-in-all, Square Books embodies that same blend of old-and-new as Ole Miss and Oxford. I can imagine it being a stimulating venue for "author events" as befitting a bookstore that is just down the street from William Faulkner's house. It has that "sense of place" that struck me about Oxford from the start. I think the same is true about the Oxford in England, though on a grander scale. It's neat that the Mississippi Oxford emanates a small reflection of its bigger, older sister's spirit.
So I think Oxford lends itself as a setting for some kind of story. No doubt, it has been the setting of a lot of local fiction, though none really outstanding that I'm aware of. My thought is of Oxford as a destination, specifically, Faulkner's house--Rowan Oak. I can imagine a compilation of short stories told by writer travelers on a literary pilgrimage to the Faulkner home. Modeled after Canterbury Tales, perhaps it would be Rowan Oak Tales. A neat idea, I think, should I ever get to a place where I could consider it as a project.
I've found Square Books and Oxford to be inspirations for me in my literary musings. There are others, mentioned in this journal, that help keep me going as I work on my first Dentville novel. I'm putting a lot of effort into that project, which is why my journal entries have slowed lately. I don't know when it will be done. The project has frustrated all my attempts at setting goal dates, so it will just have to set its own timing. But I'm anxious to share it with you, my readers.
Since Donna and I moved into our new house (see A Perfect House) last year, we've been so busy we've not thought about new library cards until recent weeks. So we finally got them and have been making use of them (especially Donna). Public libraries are repositories of inspiration, knowledge, and potential, without the crassness of commercialism. They are places where scholars of the 99% can go to do their research. Their loss, would be a loss indeed--the modern equivalent of the Romans burning the library at Alexandria.
Square Books puts out a multipaged newsletter called, Dear Reader. It provides extensive write-ups of the "author events" (book signings) that the bookstore hosts, including book and author overviews with pictures. Being the object of one and having such an event there would be beyond cool (so long as it was supported by sincere readers). Surely, on occasion, such an event draws the interest of spirits who were literarily inspired and inspiring in life, and so I can imagine that Mr. Faulkner, Ms Welty, Mr. Morris, and others, look on with approval.