There is an adage in the publishing business that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can sell a book by its cover.
I’ve been in on marketing meetings in which New York publishers discussed book covers and what would catch a consumer’s eye. For some reason, books that have yellow tend to sell better. My first book had different tones of yellow, and it has been a best-seller for two decades. My third book also had yellow and it was not, for even the briefest of times, a best-seller.
The book I’m about to tell you about does not have even a smidgen of yellow in it, but I think it is one of the most beautiful book covers I have seen and the primary reason I bought it. I keep it displayed on a bookcase in the bedroom. It is colored in white, blue, red and green. Published by the University of Mississippi Press in 2017, “A Year In Mississippi” is a book of essays by the state’s people that extol different seasons.
There were writers I know and love —Willie Morris and Julia Reed — and those I did not. As these types of books go, some stories are more interesting than others, some writers are more gifted than others. There are essays on revivals, camp meetings, family reunions, debutante balls, canning figs and county fairs. Long before reality television, readers have been drawn to authors who lay bare their souls and share their stories. There was a time, however, when these stories, though raw and real, were not filled with ugliness and bleakness. It can be depressing to wander through bookstores and see so many books that are dark in tone and subject.
“A Year In Mississippi” is nostalgic, informative and touching. One story was so personal, poignant and alive that I wanted to find the author and tell her how much I loved it. People are often kind to me in that aspect, which leads me to want to pay it forward to other writers. A word of encouragement can mean so much. This essay, I gathered, was by an elderly woman who said she had lived in the same house for more than 50 years.
It’s called “Hurricane Season.” Cheri Thornton McHugh tells a good story with tremendous heart about their home in the Lyman community, outside Gulfport. It begins with her first experience of a hurricane on Sept. 9, 1965, when Betsy landed a black eye to the coast. It was nothing compared to what was to come.
Until Katrina, Camille was the deadliest, most destructive hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast. On Aug. 18, 1969, it cut a swath of disaster through the region that would never be forgotten by those who lived through it.
Mrs. McHugh was a young, married woman with three children. She and her husband, Herbert Thornton, escaped but returned to find their property in shambles. Their son’s horse, about to foal, had been left behind and was nowhere to be found. They set about cleaning up their property with a borrowed generator – they were without power for two weeks – and one morning, while she was on top of the house, clearing limbs, her heart was lifted. The horse returned with its baby in tow.
Her life story was touching. Her husband died of a heart attack, her young daughter of a brain aneurysm, then her second husband died, too. Still, with brave spirit, she shouldered it all and carried on admirably.
I was captivated by her willingness to share her challenging journey so I went in search of her. I found her. In the obituaries. I am sad that I can’t share with her how powerful her words were, but I can tell you.
And, I hope you’ll read her story, too.