Monday, December 5, 2016

Birthday Book of the Day: in Savannah, it will always be "The Book."

Like Harper Lee, John Berendt proved that, if you write the right book, you only need write one. In honor of his 77th birthday, Henry Bemis Books offers an autographed copy of what, in Savannah, they still call The Book:
Berendt, John, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Random House, 1994). ISBN  0-679-42922-0. “The Book,” they call it in Savannah. This shaggy dog tale wraps around a murder trial, but the stars are locals like drag artist Lady Chablis, who- after playing herself in the film version, announced she expected to be the first performer in history to win Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket, very good condition. Autographed at Clary’s Cafe’ in Savannah. HBB price: $35.
Berendt, educated at Harvard, went into journalism in New York, serving as associate editor (1961-69) and columnist (1982-94) at Esquire, and as editor of New York Magazine, 1977-79.  
The Writer’s Almanac says of Berendt’s lucky strike in life:
One day in 1982, he was feeling overwhelmed by life in the big city and he found a cheap weekend flight to Savannah, Georgia, so he went on a vacation. And he loved it. He especially liked the people who lived there and the stories they told. So he started listening to stories, taking notes, and he finally decided to just go ahead and move to Savannah. He lived there for five years, and then he went back to New York and he wrote a book. That book was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994), and it was a huge best-seller, on the New York Times best-seller list for more than four years, something that Berendt was not expecting. He said: “First, I wanted people to say — or critics to say, ‘Yeah, it’s a book. This man, who writes columns and magazine articles, has written a book.’ Then I hoped they would say, ‘It’s a good book,’ and possibly, ‘It’s a very good book.’ But I wasn’t really thinking of sales. … It didn’t occur to me to even hope for that.”
A “true fiction” story in the mold of Capote and Mailer, Midnight centers on an influential, if nouveau-riche, antique dealer, Jim Williams, put on trial four times for the murder of his boyfriend. In Berendt’s mind, the city and its inhabitants were as much a part of the story as Williams, and its eccentrics- from high society to a sassy drag queen- are woven in and out of the central plot line.
Midnight was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1995, and has sold over three million copies in 23 languages. Most remarkably, the book became an engine of economic development for Savannah. The Georgia Encyclopedia says,
The Washington Post described Midnight in the Garden as "one of the most unusual books to come this way in a long time, and one of the best," and the Los Angeles Times Claimed that Berendt "seems congenitally unable to write a dull paragraph." Of Berendt's portrayal of Savannah, Newsweek stated, "Few cities have been introduced more seductively." The New York Times Book Review agreed: "Mr. Berendt's writing is elegant and wickedly funny, and his eye for telling details is superb.... Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil might be the first true crime book that makes the reader want to call a travel agent and book a bed and breakfast for an extended weekend at the scene of the crime."
Tourists from all over the world have done just that, dispelling unequivocally a Savannah Morning News columnist's early skepticism. Hotel-motel tax revenues rose about twenty-five percent in the two years following publication of the book, and cottage industries related to Midnight in the Garden sprang up like morning glories: trolley tours of the main sites; candles in the shape of the Bird Girl (photographed by Jack Leigh for the dust jacket); T-shirts, mugs, postcards, a newsletter, even a gift shop devoted specifically to Midnightabilia. On April 22,1996, the Savannah Economic Development Authority honored Berendt with a special award, and Mayor Floyd Adams declared April 26 of that year "John Berendt Day."
Midnight was made into a film, directed by Clint Eastwood, in 1997.
Berent has published one book since Midnight, applying the formula to a mysterious fire in the Venice opera house. And, like Harper Lee’s second book, it proved lightning remains as difficult as ever to catch in a bottle.
Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at For more information about any listed book, or more photos, please contact us! Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory. Shipping is always free; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like. #RareBooks #HenryBemisBooks #JohnBerendt #LiteraryBirthdays #MidnightintheGardenofGoodandEvil

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