Square Books: An Entanglement with Southern Identity

Founded by Richard and Lisa Howorth on September 14th, 1979, Square Books consists of three locations, which are all conveniently located within 100 or so feet of each-other: Square Books ; Off-Square Books ; and, Square Books Jr. Square Books is a general independent bookstore, and can be be quite confusing considering that the name “Square Books” denotes both their headquarters—located at 160 Courthouse Square—as well as the entire bookstore entity. They are most known for their strong collection of literary fiction, their emphasis on all things southern, as well as their stockpile of children’s books. From the perspective of someone who simply likes to purchase books, Square Books has sway, and yet, from the perspective of someone living withing Oxford, Mississippi, Square Books exists as a cultural hub, or rather a special place.

Coincidentally—when mapped out—the three Square Books bookstores form a triangle.

Irony at its finest.

Square Books is located deep within the heart of Lafayette County town square in Oxford, Mississippi. If you are as ignorant as I am to Oxford’s literary past, then you probably would be unaware to the fact that this particular town square is what renowned author, William Faulkner, used as a center-point in his fictional universe dubbed Yoknapatawpha. Square Books initially opened its doors with the sole goal of circulating and highlighting literature that was similar to Faulkner’s; that is, literature that depicted either Mississippi, or the South in general.

Before we can understand Square Books’ influence as a place, we, as both author and audience, must come to better understand the environment in which it exists. Out of Mississippi’s population of about three million , the city of Oxford accounts for approximately 22,000 individuals alone. The city lacks a true sense of diversity, as statistics reveal that 72.3% of its residents are White, while African-Americans only account for 21.8%, leaving the other 5.9% to be divided amongst other ethnicities. Even though Oxford does not make the list of ethnically diverse cities, it does, in fact,  have a close split between genders; 49.3% female, 50.7% male. Educationally speaking, in terms of individuals with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, Oxford stands at  nearly 51% , whereas the state of Mississippi—on average—resides at a disappointing 20.1%. To sum up all of the percentages that I just threw at you, Oxford is a predominately white area, with a higher than average educational background. Now, this may be an assumption on my part, but educated individuals tend to gravitate towards certain academic activities; such as leisurely reading, for instance. Why don’t we view Square Books as a bookstore in relation to other bookstores within the common area?


Square Books are marked as the purple stars on the map. Pretty lonely.

Apart from a Barnes and Nobles (which probably doesn’t even deal in used books), and another bookstore, Square Books exists as both a literary, and cultural hub of Oxford. The Off-Square Bookstore emphasizes both of these qualities, as it offers both a selection of literature such as lifestyle  (think cooking books), leisure reading (those awesome used books we all want), as well as a nicely ventilated area to host events, such as the frequent author signings we’d all go to if we could. Any individual could stumble into the Off-Square Bookstore, and be submersed within the very core of Southern literary culture.

Consider Square Books within the confines of Tim Cresswell’s notion of militant particularism. Almost everyone longs to find solace within a place that is unique, individual, that ultimately appeals to us. As Cresswell points out, this instance of “place” serves as a “resistance against the forces of global capitalism” (61). Square Books, when considering the fact that there are massive corporations who monopolize the book-trade, is in opposition to the economic system that allows such businesses. As an independent bookstore, Square Books exists as a small fish, within a big ocean. As Cresswell points out, these “places” are build in order for such groups of like-minded individuals to “live differently from the masses” (61). Instead of going out to a restaurant, or a Starbucks (I hope you don’t go to Starbucks), the individuals who frequent Square Books enjoy different, yet equal activities.

Textual Resources

  1. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/56618-square-books-named-pw-bookstore-of-the-year-miller-rep.html
  2. http://www.squarebooks.com/about
  3. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/28/2854840.html
  4. http://censusviewer.com/city/MS/Oxford
  5. Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.