“Friends of the Library,” by Susan Cushman

Susan Cushman

Reviewed by Niles Reddick

A few months ago, I got an email from Susan Cushman asking if I would endorse her newest book project, a collection of stories titled Friends of the Library. As usual, I immediately agreed and didn’t regret that decision. I have known Susan for several years through a Southern authors blog we both wrote for and then more recently through a collection she edited for the University of Mississippi Press, Southern Writers on Writing, which included an essay I had written. We did panels together in Jackson, Tennessee, at Novel Bookstore in Memphis, and in Nashville at Parnassus Bookstore as well as a panel at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville that included Lee Smith and River Jordan.

When I first read Friends of the Library, I maintained that Cushman’s collection was smart and clever in its concept, structure, and medium. What she did here after her own experience of visiting different Friends of the Library events as part of the release of her first novel Cherry Bomb (which is also a must read, by the way) was to set stories connected to different libraries. The fact they are all set in Mississippi is really secondary because it’s the library itself that is universal and something all readers and writers have experienced. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were being taken to the library for events, getting a library card, and reading books and entering all of these different worlds. So, to set a group of stories around libraries was brilliant on Cushman’s part.

Secondly, having the stories set in different libraries structures the collection in a way that reflects the uniqueness of the libraries themselves, but also highlights the differences of the people who populate those libraries. Further, the structure allows the stories to weave common themes together in support of libraries. In other words, libraries become even more important in the communities, and authors take on multiple roles in helping their readers. So, the relationships formed are mutually beneficial even more so than the normal reader-writer relationship. I know Cushman isn’t actually saying this in her stories, but the concept and structure also point at the future direction of writers and writing and the publishing world in general and how we have to do more to keep our readers and audiences engaged in our work.

Finally, as author of over two hundred stories published globally, I am constantly scanning the landscape like a periscope on a submarine for story ideas. Cushman took that to a different level by compiling a group of stories with real-world characters and issues. In each story, she confronts a problem or issue, and then works to help in some way. Those problems range from cancer to homelessness to domestic violence and more. What further underscores this collection as unique is that it shows us that writers do care about their readers, will go to great lengths to help others, and have a necessary compassion about their personalities that actually fuels their creativity and writing abilities.

Cushman has proven, once again, she is a writing force in the South, one that transcends place and region because of her characters and their stories. A native Mississippian, she makes her home in Memphis, Tennessee, and in addition to Friends of the Library (short stories), she is the author of Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (a memoir) and Cherry Bomb (a novel).  She has edited three collections of essays: A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be,  Southern Writers Writing, and The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years! Her website is https://susancushman.com/.

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