Home Book retailers RESTAURATOR: Alarm clock in a gift shop + Chicken and corn chowder

RESTAURATOR: Alarm clock in a gift shop + Chicken and corn chowder


It’s book season. For many people, this is the time of year when summer paperbacks are published, or holiday cookbooks hit bookstore shelves. For me, this is the time of year when I hit the road with an always interesting, sometimes grueling autograph program.

The coffee table art book – and companion documentary guide Anthony Thaxton and I produced – “Walter Anderson: The Extraordinary Life and Art of the Islander,” hit the shelves at local independent bookstores and gift shops in across the state last week.

This is my 12th book, so my 12th book signing tour. Some of my books have been collaborations; others have been solo. Some have been cookbooks; others have been collections of non-fiction columns and autobiographical reflections. In the beginning, I published six books over a six-year period. Watercolourist Wyatt Waters and I have collaborated on four coffee table cookbooks, and he and I have another near-completed book awaiting a future release.

I love the dedications. They really mean something to me, gut level. The idea of ​​someone taking a few minutes out of their day to go to a bookstore or gift shop so that I can put my signature on the first pages of a book moves me. For 20 years, I have been able to meet people who have bought my books and who have read this column. People remember stories about me and my family, which I wrote in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that I have long forgotten. I love this and I am deeply grateful for their loyalty.

Although I haven’t always had a good attitude about book signings. During the promotional tour for my fourth book, I received a Scrooge / Dickensian level red flag that changed my attitude towards book autographs forever.

It was about a week before Christmas and I was in a gift shop in McComb for the last book signing of the season. It had been a particularly exhausting promotional tour, as my New York publisher’s marketing director had scheduled six weeks of autographs from Orlando to Dallas in a short period of time. McComb was going to be the last stop before I could finally get home to work the vacation rush to restaurants.

Signing for McComb’s book started with a line at the door, but within 30 minutes I had signed all the books anyone in McComb wanted, at least me. But I was scheduled until 6pm, so I browsed the gift shop, bought a few last minute gifts for my wife, visited the staff, and sat alone at the signing table to look at the clock. . As soon as the little hand hit six o’clock, I was ready to leave the door, jump in my truck, and end another round of books.

There is something uniquely dismal about an author sitting alone at a signing table waiting for someone to buy a book. If I ever see this in a bookstore, I buy the book, regardless of the subject or the price. While I don’t mind being that guy, necessarily, as it goes with the territory. Fortunately, I have been fortunate enough to keep busy and busy with most of my signings over the years.

The phone rang in the gift shop, and I could tell from one side of the conversation that I could hear there was a person who needed to come to the store to get a book signed but was late. . They would get off Brookhaven and probably wouldn’t get there until 6:15 a.m. The owner of the bookstore muted the phone against her chest and asked, “Could you stay until 6:15 am?” This person has a book that they have already purchased, but they would like you to sign it. My first thought was that I was ready to go home. My second thought was, I’m going to hang around this gift shop signing a book that ain’t even bought in this gift shop. My third thought was that this person would drive 30-40 minutes so that I could sign a book that I wrote. I have to stay. I stayed.

The person finally arrived at 6:20 a.m. I was not happy, but I did not show it. Inside, I was frustrated, tired and ready to go home. The person came in exhausted and frantic and apologized for being late. There was a certain sadness in his eyes. The book she was holding wasn’t even the new book. It was a previous book of my old chronicles and stories. She said, “I have a story to tell you. I told myself again that this was going to take a long time. This lady is about to tell me a story about something that happened to her children which is similar to something I wrote about what happened to my children. I’ve heard it before. I am ready to go home. Even though I smiled and said, “I would love to hear your story. ”

It turns out that one of his very close friends has died of cancer. The man was close to my age and had lived a childhood similar to mine. At the end of his life, and as cancer ravaged his body, he really had no friends other than this lady who would sit by his bedside and, in his dying days, read him stories from my book. . The book she was holding in her hand. The book that moments before had made me feel so rude. With tears in her eyes, she recounted how my stories used to brighten her mood when she read them to him.

How could I be so selfish and impatient? I felt like the biggest jerk of all time.

I sat down and visited him about his life and his late friend for another 30 minutes. I asked her about their childhood experiences. There were a lot of similarities there and – it was then – I gained a new appreciation for book signings. From that point on, I was always grateful to anyone who would take time out of their day, whether it was frantically driving two cities at the last minute or someone living on the streets.

The new book, “Walter Anderson: The Extraordinary Life and Art of the Islander” will only be released in independent and local bookstores and gift shops. These are the kind of places that take a phone call and ask an author to stay late. Big box retailers don’t care.

The pandemic has hit all local businesses hard. But from my perspective, big box retailers, national chains, and online retailers have thrived. The pandemic has placed local retailers at a critical tipping point and the need to buy locally is at a critical crossroads. The decision was easy. There was no way for me to help the downfall of local businesses by selling this book through big box retailers and online retail giants.

I’m writing this column at 5:45 a.m. as I’m about to hit the road to sign books at two independent bookstores in two separate towns in the Mississippi Delta. Tomorrow I will be signing at two separate events in another city. In all, there will be 15 dedications in 13 days. There was probably a time in my past when I looked at this schedule and didn’t care. But it would have been a while before I met a lady from Brookhaven and learned all about her childhood friend.


A native of Hattiesburg, Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author. He wrote a column in a weekly newspaper for over 20 years.

Chicken and corn chowder

Yield: 1 gallon


• ¼ pound of bacon

• ½ pound of onions, small dice

• 1 tablespoon of black pepper

• 3 teaspoons of poultry seasoning

• 1 ½ cups raw chicken breast, chopped

• ¼ cup of flour

• 1 liter of chicken broth or broth

• 2 cups of creamed corn

• 2 cups red new potatoes, with the skin on, cut into wedges, cooked and drained

• 2 cups thick, hot whipping cream

• ½ cup, half and half, hot

• 2 tablespoons of hot sauce


1. Chop the bacon, return and drain the fat in the pot. Add the onions and sauté until tender (do not brown).

2. Season the chicken with the poultry seasoning, add to the pot and cook.

3. Add the flour, mixing well. Cook without coloring for about five minutes.

4. Add chicken broth slowly, stirring until smooth.

5. Add the corn. Add the drained potatoes. Add the hot cream, milk and hot sauce.

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