Maggie Stevenson admits, her life is pretty much an open book (cue rimshot). “I have a wonderful husband, Steve, and we’ve been married three years. We have two dogs, Tillie and Eloise, we like a lot, especially now since I’ve trained them to understand not to chew my books.”
Books, for Stevenson, are almost sacred. They are her passion and for the past twelve years, they have been her livelihood. Not that she’s written any books, or had a desire to. “I am a reader, not a writer. I am one of the few people I know who works in a bookstore and has no aspirations of being a writer.”
Stevenson is entering her thirteenth year working at Lemuria, Mississippi’s largest independent bookstore, located in Banner Hall. She started in sales, but now holds the position of Community Liaison. “I go out into the community and speak to groups–from civic clubs to garden clubs and everything in between.” She’s there when an author is signing books, selling them for Lemuria, and to speak about books and reading in general. “I love doing the talks. I guess I’m sort of the face of Lemuria in the community.”
A reader since an early age, Stevenson said her love of books began with her parents. “My parents read to us, and we always had books around us. I loved reading as a child because it was a way of escaping reality, and of learning about different things. I always had a Beverly Cleary book behind my math book, and I took a flashlight to bed at night so I could read under the covers.” And while she read the classics growing up, now Stevenson reads mainly fiction. “I like mysteries, but someone has to die within the first three pages, unless, every now and then, I decide that I want to meet all the characters first. I’ll give a book a good 50 to 75 pages, but if it isn’t thrilling me at that point, I’ll move on.” Her “to-be-read” pile climbs up from the floor next to her bed, and changes frequently. “I read mostly at night, beginning at around 9 or 10 p.m. until around midnight. I can’t read past 12:30, or I’m useless the next day.”
Reading is essential to her job, as it’s difficult to recommend books she hasn’t read. “That’s where our staff comes in handy. We have different tastes, and we constantly share what we’ve read with each other. That’s a very valuable resource. I trust their opinions more than I do a New York Times review.” When it comes down to it, Stevenson is a bookseller, and she loves that aspect of her job. “I like that what I’m selling is something I really like. I’m fortunate that my hometown has such a great bookstore.”
Stevenson has stayed very close to her roots, in fact. She’s a graduate of Jackson Prep, and earned her degree in Elementary Education from Belhaven University. She and hubby Steve dated for ten years before marrying, so they had two households to consolidate. “We have storage units full of stuff, including boxes and boxes of books.”
Though she collects signed first edition books, she does give others away. “I have rules, though. I pack up the books, my friends come and choose a box, but they can’t look in the box. Once they take it, it’s theirs.” She also donates her books to libraries, Stewpot and Goodwill.
Lemuria is a hotspot for authors, who enjoy eager fans that gather regularly for book signings and readings. “It’s always good to hear an author read their work in their own voice, and to tell the story behind the story. Our readings are free, and I think it makes for some of the best entertainment in town.” Visiting authors range from local and up-and-coming authors to best selling and Pulitzer Prize winners. “We’ve even had a past president come to the store. Jimmy Carter was here promoting his book.” Information on upcoming author signing events can be found on Lemuria’s website, or on the blog where Stevenson regularly contributes posts. “That’s one thing I don’t necessarily enjoy, because I have a phobia about writing. But there are just so many good books out there to write about.”
As a part of Stevenson’s community outreach, she is involved in several organizations. Not surprisingly, many of them have to do with books. She serves on the Board of Directors of Bookfriends of University Press, and Friends of the Library of the Jackson-Hinds Library System. She is also co-Vice President-elect for the Millsaps Arts & Lecture Series.
When not reading and promoting books, Stevenson said she loves music. “I really enjoy listening to live music, but I don’t get to do that as much as I used to. I guess I’m getting old!” She also enjoys following politics. “I like knowing what’s going on in the political world.” And yes, she does watch TV. “I have certain shows that I like to watch. I don’t watch reality shows, except for maybe some cooking shows. I have been watching ‘Revenge,’ which kind of goes along with the kind of books I like to read.”
What does Maggie Stevenson recommend for interesting summer reading? "These are in no particular order," says Stevenson. "I also tried to put a variety of 'types' so it would have wider appeal." Go ahead, carve out some time, whether it's at the lake, beach or curled up in your favorite reading spot at home, and let the pages of these books take you away!
1. Blue Asylum—Kathy Hepinstall
2. The Truth of All Things—Kieran Shields
3. Gone Girl—Gillian Flynn
4. The Healing—Jonathan O'dell
5. A Discovery of Witches—Debora Harkness
6. The Keeper of Lost Causes—Jussi Adler Olsen
7. The Good American—Alex George
8. The Expats—Chris Pavone
9. Canada—Richard Ford
10. Wolf Hall—Hilary Mantel
11. A Land More Kind Than Home—Wiley Cash