Charles J. Shields on The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel

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It’s a busy week this week at Skylark! Tomorrow night we welcome Joanna Luloff to the store, and the following evening, we’re very excited to present acclaimed literary biographer Charles J. Shields who will be presenting his new book, THE MAN WHO WROTE THE PERFECT NOVEL: JOHN WILLIAMS, STONER, AND THE WRITING LIFE.

You may have heard of STONER, the “perfect novel” of the book’s title. Originally published in 1965, it’s recently become a publishing phenomenon, selling millions of copies and being celebrated and praised by a host of writers and critics, including Colum McCann, Julian Barnes, Bret Easton Ellis, Ian McEwan, Emma Straub, and Ruth Rendell.

And, oh yes, the book is set in Columbia, Missouri.

Charles Shields’s elegant biography (which was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the fall's "Most Anticipated" titles) traces the life of STONER’s author, John Williams, which in many ways paralleled that of his most famous character, from their shared working-class backgrounds to their undistinguished careers in the halls of academia. Shields masterfully recounts Williams’s development as an author, whose other works include the novels BUTCHER’S CROSSING and AUGUSTUS (for the latter, Williams shared the 1972 National Book Award).

CHARLES J. SHIELDS is the author of MOCKINGBIRD: A PORTRAIT OF HARPER LEE, a New York Times bestseller, a Literary Guild Selection, and a Book-of-the-Month Club Alternate. His young adult biography of Harper Lee, I AM SCOUT, was chosen an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, and a Junior Literary Guild Selection. In 2011, Shields published AND SO IT GOES: KURT VONNEGUT, A LIFE, a New York Times and Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of the Year.

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Joanna Luloff will be at Skylark on Thursday!


THIS THURSDAY at 7:00 p.m.!

Following her acclaimed collection of short stories, The Beach at Galle Road, Jo Luloff will return to Columbia to discuss her debut novel, Remind Me Again What Happened, with the Chair of University of Missouri English Department, Professor Alexandra Socarides.

“There is a smudge where my memory is supposed to be.”

Claire wakes in a hospital room in the Florida Keys. She has no idea how she got there or why. The loss of so many memories is paralyzing. Some things she can piece together by looking at old photos saved by her husband, Charlie, and her best friend, Rachel, and by combing through boxes of letters and casual jottings. But she senses a mystery at the center of all these fragments of her past, a feeling that something is not complete. Is Charlie still her husband? Is Rachel still her friend?

Told from alternating points of view that pull the reader into the minds of the three characters, the story unfolds as the smudge that covers Claire’s memory is gradually, steadily wiped away, until finally she can understand the why and the how of her life. And then maybe she and Charlie and Rachel can move forward, but with their lives forever changed. In Remind Me Again What Happened, Joanna Luloff has written a moving and beautifully nuanced story of transience, the ebb and flow of time, and how relationships shift and are reconfigured by each day, hour, and minute.

Remind Me Again What Happened is a profound and elegiac exploration of the relationship between memory and identity, the way one has the power to remake the other. Joanna Luloff is a splendid writer, and this haunting novel is a wonderful testament to her gifts.” — Laura van den Berg, author of Find Me


Teacher Appreciation Night is on November 11!!

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We love our local teachers, and on November 11, we’ll be celebrating educators of all stripes (librarians, teachers and administrators, K-12) by inviting them to participate in our very first Teacher Appreciation Night.

This will be an opportunity for teachers to shop, chat, and to meet with Skylark staff to discuss how we can help you in the classroom.  Talk to us about teaming up for author visits, trips to the shop, custom classroom or library orders, help in finding materials related to curriculum or for outside-of-the-box approaches to reading.

We’ll be giving away a ton of door prizes, from neat tote bags to signed books and exclusive copies of forthcoming titles.

Most importantly, everyone will receive a 20% discount on all purchases during the event.

THIS EVENT IS ABSOLUTELY FREE! All you need is your educator ID to participate. You don’t have to register in advance to attend, although if you do you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of Kate DiCamillo’s new book, LOUISIANA’S WAY HOME - and other goodies, too. Just shoot us an email at to let us know you’ll be coming! The event will start at 5:30 (after the shop is closed for normal business) until 7:30.

Mark your calendars, and if you know a teacher, please spread the word!

Tiffany Jackson!

We had a wonderful evening with YA author Tiffany Jackson while she was in town visiting every Columbia high school as part of the Authors in the Schools program put on by the Unbound Book Festival. Tiffany spoke with passion and charm about her books and her writing career, and she signed a ton of her books afterwards. She was funny, and inspiring, and occasionally a little bit rude. The audience loved every minute of it.

Here are a few photos, courtesy of Amy Enderle.


Boutique Week is Here! (Nb: FREE BOOK ALERT)

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A little while ago we wrote a blog about Boutique Week, a retail extravaganza focused on the District which is arranged by our friends at CoMoLiving. We’re all about shopping local, so we’re delighted to be part of the campaign.

Go here to sign up to participate in the week-long fun. When you present your “passport” at each participating store, you’ll receive whatever extra bonus or discount they have ready for you. Skylark will be giving away a free, signed copy of Alex George’s latest novel, SETTING FREE THE KITES, to every passport holder who spends more than twenty dollars in the shop. So come, enjoy the District and the benefits of shopping local, and get a free book while you’re at it!

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Stay up to date!


There’s a lot going on at the bookshop, these days.

Last night the amazing Tiffany Jackson spoke to an enthusiastic crowd about her writing career and signed a ton of her novels. She was delightful, and funny, and impassioned, and we all left feeling inspired. This was already our third author event since we opened at the end of August.

Next week, in a slightly different vein, Dave Matter will be talking about his new book, 100 Things Missouri Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, and at the end of the month, we have two more author events on consecutive nights: Jo Luloff will be here on Thursday, October 25, and acclaimed biographer Charles Shields will be speaking on Friday October 26 about his biography of John Williams, who wrote the beloved novel Stoner, which is set in Columbia.

And then of course there’s our new yoga and books thing on October 14.

It’s a lot to keep track of, we understand that. So how can you ensure that you won’t miss anything and thereby be condemned to an eternity of regret and recrimination? It’s easy: sign up for our e-newsletter. We’ll let you know in one quick email about what’s going on at the shop, and if we’ve had too much coffee and/or chocolate and/or doughnuts, we might even throw in a few exclusive special offers while we’re at it.

We promise we won’t bombard you with stuff and, of course, we won’t share your details with anyone else, ever. But this way you won’t miss out on anything. FOMO, people. It’s totally a thing.

Here’s the link to sign up.

Books/Yoga/Books! (But mainly yoga)


We’re excited to announce that we’ll be starting yoga lessons in the bookshop next month. These will be led by our awesome bookseller, Michaela, and she has written a few words to explain the thinking behind the idea…

When Alex and I first talked about doing yoga at Skylark, one of his first questions was “But why do yoga in a bookshop?”

It’s a great question. On the surface, doing yoga at Skylark seems like a fun and different yoga experience, but nothing more. But his question got me thinking. What if yoga and reading aren’t all that different?

Yoga is a practice that reminds me to be curious, and each day that I practice yields an entirely varied result. My flexibility (or lack thereof in the case of my hamstrings), my energy, the time of day, what I’ve eaten and who I’m practicing with can alter my practice infinitesimally or significantly. But that’s kind of the point.

It can be so easy to be lulled into our own routines and ways of being. And in some ways, routines help simplify our life and streamline our decision-making. But they also limit our ability to be curious. We know what we like to eat at our favorite restaurant, we know the best route to get to work, and we know what coffee to order and where.

Yoga turns what we know on its head — sometimes literally. It gives us the opportunity to be curious about how it feels to balance on one foot or be upside down. But even more than that, it gives us the opportunity to be curious about ourselves.

And it is in this way that yoga and reading really aren’t so different. Reading (as so many writers have already explored) allows us the chance to escape our own life and enter into a different one — all without leaving our couch. As a child, that journey might be a fantastical one that transports you to a world vastly different from your own. But as we age, so does our reading. We might still take fantastical journeys, but over time our protagonists’ worlds might not appear to be all that different from our own.

It is this new and different lens from our own that has the ability to challenge our own views and so-called certainties. Books invite us to be curious rather than judgmental about the experiences of others. Eventually, books might even help us to embrace the radical notion that we can change our own mind.  

Which doesn’t sound all that different from yoga.

So how neat would it be to engage in a mentally and physically curious practice in the company of your favorite books?

Join me Sunday October 14th from 9:30 - 10:30 a.m. to stretch your body and your mind (sorry, I couldn’t resist) at Skylark Bookshop.

A few details:

  • Who: Yoga is for everybody so this will be an all-levels class. Seriously. It will be an hour-long class suited to all ages and all levels.

  • You will need to bring your own yoga mat.  

  • Cost: $10 cash.

  • Perks: A $10 credit to Skylark Bookshop valid that day! (So it’s basically free!)




Dr. Christine Sleeter

We always love it when authors visit the shop and sign their books for us. This morning we welcomed Dr. Christine Sleeter, who is in Columbia for several days for a full slate of talks and lectures. Dr. Sleeter is a writer, researcher, and teacher, who is best known for her work in critical multicultural education, and her insights into white people grappling with race. She holds the title of Professor Emerita in the College of Education at California State University Monterey Bay, where she was a founding faculty member. Her novel, The Inheritance, was published earlier this year and has generated a great deal of enthusiastic discussion locally. (And, as you can see, we have signed copies in stock.)

Photo by Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

Photo by Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

If you inherit something, do you also inherit responsibility for its history, even if you have no awareness of that history? How much responsibility do we bear for what happened long before we were born? The Inheritance explores how someone who benefitted directly from the removal of an American Indian tribe from their lands comes to understand how that happened and what one can do about it.

Dr. Sleeter will be giving a talk which is open to the public at 6:30 p.m. at Conservation Auditorium on the Mizzou campus (Anheuser-Busch Natural Resources Building, 1111 E. Rollins Street, Room 111). The title of her talk is: “The Inheritance: Returning What was Stolen.” This event is open to the Columbia community and campus-wide community. It is sure to be a compelling and fascinating event. See you there?


Doris Kearns Goodwin's new book!

We posted earlier today about a couple of the books we’re looking forward to putting out tomorrow, but perhaps the title we’re most excited about is LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES by Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin.


One of the reasons why we know this book will be popular in Columbia is because last November Doris Kearns Goodwin delivered a spell-binding address to a packed house in Jesse Auditorium, on the MU campus, and this book was the basis of the talk. It was riveting stuff; the audience hung on every word she spoke. In the book she draws on her studies of the presidents whose lives she has written about to such acclaim - Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson - and extrapolates from the lives of these complex and very different men certain lessons and principles about leadership. The book provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. (And, in today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a particular significance.)

To whet your appetite a little more, we’re attaching below a video of an conversation that Skylark’s owner, Alex George, had with Doris Kearns Goodwin the morning after her address in Jesse Hall. Our thanks to the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy, who brought Ms. Kearns Goodwin to Columbia and arranged for the conversation to be recorded.

Books go on sale bright and early on Tuesday morning. Call the shop at (573) 777 6990 to reserve your copy!

Book Review: EDUCATED by Tara Westover


Beth Shapiro shares her thoughts on one of our bestselling titles, EDUCATED by Tara Westover:

“The premise of Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is straight-forward: A child raised by an isolated, religiously zealous, survivalist family amazingly goes on to study at Harvard and Cambridge.  The possibility of obtaining an intimate portrayal of such an unusual journey certainly will appeal to readers’ voyeuristic tendencies.  In addition to being able to tell a good story, however, Westover also possesses the power to encourage readers both to question themselves and to examine broader issues.

Glimpses into the author’s family reveal tendencies at odds with typical societal norms.  Massive annual summer canning in preparation for religious end-times leads to a friend asking, “Does your house always smell…like rotted plants?  You must have smelled it.  It was strong.  I’ve smelled it before.  On you.  You always smell of it.” Homeschooling--in name only--means that at age 16 Westover has never taken an exam before the ACT, where she encounters “strange pink sheets I’d never seen before”—bubble sheets. And mistrust in doctors consistently results in no medical treatment after disastrous accidents. 

Characters, however, do not automatically meet preconceptions and are portrayed with complexity.  Westover’s father, for example, can easily solve trigonometry equations unconventionally.  While often agreeing with her husband’s paranoid notions, her mother nonetheless independently starts up a successful home business. 

With frequent references to the mountain of her Idaho childhood home, Westover highlights events, situations, and individuals that influence the move away from her upbringing and that spark the formation of her self-identity.  “I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her,” she shares. Readers invariably will wonder how they personally might have handled such circumstances.  Additionally, book club readers will discover numerous topics for discussion: What constitutes abuse? What defines parental/filial love? How does mental illness affect families? 

Riveting and thought-provoking, Educated invites readers into an unfamiliar world that reveals beauty, horror, struggle, and resolution.”

Elliot Reed at Skylark!

On Tuesday, September 11, Skylark hosted its first ever author event, welcoming Elliot Reed back to Columbia (he was raised here) to talk about his astonishing new novel, A KEY TO TREEHOUSE LIVING. It was a wonderful evening. Elliot read from the novel to a packed house (we don’t have nearly enough chairs, apparently) and answered questions from Alex George and the audience. Afterwards he signed a bunch of books, and we still have some autographed copies of the novel in stock. You might want to grab one while stocks last. Our hunch is that they might become collectors items one day.

Our next event is next Thursday, September 20, when Karen Piper will be discussing her new memoir, A GIRL’S GUIDE TO MISSILES.

Here are a few photos of Tuesday night’s event, courtesy of Stacie Pottinger.

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Shop Local during Boutique Week!

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We're proud to be located in the heart of the District, in Columbia's downtown. There you'll find lots of wonderful bars, restaurants, coffee shops galore - and unique, locally-owned shops. To celebrate these local retail businesses, our friends at CoMoLiving are putting on Boutique Week from October 8-14. Sign up here for an exclusive "passport" which entitles you to discounts on all participating stores for all purchases you make during that week. 

Here are all the fabulous stores that are participating:

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So sign up for the passport, enjoy some great discounts, and support local retail businesses! We'll see you in October! (And hopefully before.)

Calling Self-Published Authors! Submit your Book!


Mid-Missouri is home to many, many writers of all stripes and genres, and one of the missions of Skylark Bookshop is to celebrate our local talent, whether traditionally or independently published. To that end, we're inviting self-published authors in any genre to submit their books, if they would like us to carry their titles on a consignment basis.

If you would like to see your books on our shelves, we'd love to have you. Go here for more information.

Book Review: THE DISPLACED, edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The first of an occasional series, wherein one of our cherished staff members shares their thoughts about a book they've read (and which - of course - you can find on our shelves.) For our inaugural post, Travis McGuire writes about a searing, beautiful, and important prose collection.

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Refugees. The very word may conjure something different for me, you or your neighbors. But in The Displaced we are reminded that refugees are more than just a word - they are people. Brave, brave people whose journeys are rife with tragedy and happiness. These are emotional stories, empowering in what a person can withstand. The Displaced is filled with tragedy and death, night border crossings, emotional and physical abuse and reflections from refugees on what that means.

Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction) brings us this very special collection of essays from refugees around the world. It offers a glimpse of what it’s like for refugees young and old to try to assimilate into a different culture. Their stories briefly become ours as the prose draws you in; feeling their physical and emotional pain, seeing through their eyes the savage ways that places of refuge (mostly the United States) treated them and tried to strip them of their identity, pressuring them to feel grateful for allowing them to exist in a place of asylum.

As an American, it can be a difficult collection to read. As a fellow human, it can be a difficult collection to read. But it is no less rewarding, and indeed this difficulty is part of the point in The Displaced. Through this discomfort we can learn empathy, humility and acceptance. At the very least it can remind us that we are a stronger and more beautiful country when we accept refugees and their cultures.

The Displaced is a fabulous collection for those who enjoy harrowing tales and for those who are ever-curious about the lives of others. It is for the sensitive and compassionate mind. But ultimately it is a collection each of us should read to understand what it means to be a refugee.

Mark Your Calendars! Our First Author Event: Elliot Reed

One of the things we're most looking forward to is welcoming writers to Skylark to talk about their books and writing. There are already some wonderful authors scheduled to come and speak - you can read about them all here. All events are open to the public and completely free. 


We wanted to tell you about our inaugural event, which takes place on Tuesday, September 11. Elliot Reed has written one of the most eagerly awaited fiction debuts of the year, A Key to Treehouse Living. For fans of Mark Haddon, Tony Earley, and Jonathan Safran Foer, this is an epic tale of boyhood from an unforgettable new voice.

It's fair to say that I've never read a novel quite like this one. It's wildly ambitious and Reed has adopted a brilliant and innovative structure: the novel is presented as a list of definitions of peculiar terms such as ASPHALT PATHS, BETTA FISH, MULLET, MORTAL BETRAYAL, NIHILISM, and REVELATION. The compiler of this strange list, a boy called William Tyce, is trying to make sense of his existence by this dogged process of idiosyncratic codification. 

Unlocking an earnest, clear-eyed way of thinking that might change your own, A Key to Treehouse Living is a story about keeping your own record straight and living life by a different code.

And don't just take our word for it. Acclaimed novelist Joshua Ferris writes: “A Key to Treehouse Living by Elliot Reed scrambles up all the customary codes of the novel to piece together, at last, the moving story of a lost boy searching out his place in the world. What appears as all indexed coda turns out to be a well-told tale and, more vitally for me, the accumulation of enormous incidental pleasures.” 

Elliot will be speaking at Skylark at 7:00 p.m. with a book signing to follow. There will also be some live musical entertainment before the event. Come by and help us launch our first author visit with a bang!

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If you haven't visited our children's nook at the back of the shop yet, you should come by and check it out. We're very proud of our wide and diverse selection of books for children of all ages, from infants (we have books that are literally indestructible - we have tried) to the most discerning YA readers.

At 11:00 a.m. next Wednesday, September 5, we'll be starting our regular Wednesday morning story times for our younger customers. Come by and listen to our staff read from some of their favorite kids books! It's very fun, and very low-key (and completely free!) 

You might stop off at one of the many excellent coffee shops in the District for a cup of coffee first and bring it into the store with you to enjoy while you listen.  And, oh, I don't know, maybe a doughnut?

See you next Wednesday morning? Call the shop at (573) 777 6990 for more details.



Day one of Skylark Bookshop is in the books, and yes, the pun is very much intended.

It was a wonderful, miraculous, exhausting day. We (Carrie and Alex) have so much to be thankful for. 

We're grateful to all the local businesses and craftsmen who helped us turn the space into something truly special.

We're grateful to Allison Smythe for our logo.

We're grateful to our wonderful staff, who were brilliant and worked insanely hard all day, especially when various gremlins appeared to cripple various bits of equipment at crucial times. 

We're grateful to everyone who posted photos and messages of support on social media.

We're grateful to the thousands of authors who wrote the amazing books we get to sell.

We're grateful to our spouses and our families, who have hardly seen us for weeks but who have been unwaveringly supportive throughout.

Most of all, we're grateful to our community, who turned out in droves and bought books.

And we're grateful that we get to do it all again today.   


So Close.

We are so close.

It has been a crazy week. We have discovered all sorts of interesting things about what goes on downtown late at night. It turns out there’s a nightclub, or something that requires bouncers anyway, in the alleyway behind the shop. All very exciting, although my goodness, it made us both feel old.

We’ve been so grateful for the messages of encouragement that we’ve received throughout this process. Thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to reach out. We believe strongly in our mission, but it certainly helps to know that we have your support.

This week we’ve been working with our fabulous new staff. It’s been fun to get to know them, and to watch as we become a team. Theo (the bookshop dog) has spent a few days in the shop this week and he seems to be making himself at home.

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Today will be another busy day as we prepare to open our doors to the world tomorrow. We have a ton of last-minute stuff to do: there are shelves to dust (always!) and a few more boxes of books to unpack, process, and shelve. We can’t wait to peel all the Harry Potter pages off the windows tomorrow morning and welcome you inside. We think it’s pretty special. I hope you’ll agree. Come by and say hello, and buy a book! (Or maybe two.)

Presidential Reading...

Some of you may have seen the following recent social media post by President Obama about his summer reading list: 

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Excellent choices, each and every one - and we just wanted you to know that we have multiple copies of all of these books in stock, should you be inclined to check out what our erstwhile Reader-in-Chief has been reading this summer. In particular, Carrie loved EDUCATED by Tara Westover, and those of you who heard Michael Ondaatje speak when he came to Columbia for the inaugural Unbound Book Festival a couple of years ago won't be surprised to learn that WARLIGHT is a complex, thoughtful, and deeply rewarding novel (just in case Mr. Obama's recommendation wasn't enough.)

Come by on Saturday and pick up your copies!