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Skylark’s October Book Club Book: “The Hive,” by Melissa Scholes Young

I would hate to sell socks. 

Not that I have anything against socks, of course — I quite like socks, now that I come to think about it, especially in Missouri during the winter — but I can’t help thinking that selling them would become a little boring after a while. I mean, a sock basically does one thing, which is to cover your foot. 

Books, on the other hand (or foot) do a ton of different things. They can entertain, amuse, instruct, inform, educate, thrill, and mystify, or any combination of the above. They can provide escape, comfort, and hope. They can fire you up or chill you out. Open up a book and you open up a whole new world. As some guy called Stephen King once said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 

The other wonderful thing about selling books (as opposed to socks) is that there are literally hundreds of new books for us to talk about every week. Look at Skylark’s Instagram feed on Tuesday mornings (most books are published on Tuesdays) and you’ll see a huge array of new titles. And because we curate our inventory so carefully, we just choose a small selection to stock — the ones we love, and those that are the best fit for the shop. Hundreds of thousands of titles are published every year, and when you factor in independently published (or self-published) books, the number skyrockets still further. Truly, it is a wonderful time to be a reader. 

When it comes to new releases, fall is perhaps the richest time of the year for bibliophiles. This is traditionally the season when the “biggest” books are published — the mega-sellers and the titles that the publishing industry is most excited about. This year is no exception. There are many fantastic books that we’re looking forward to discussing with you and putting into your hands. 

When it comes to choosing books for the Skylarking book club, it’s tempting to choose the titles that everyone is already talking about. But I’ve always thought that one of the key words — perhaps the key word — when it comes to independent bookstores is “discovery.” Every bookstore is different, because each shop reflects its community and its customers. What you find on the front tables in a bookshop in Maine will be different from one in Southern California.

To honor and celebrate that difference, we’ve made a change to our previously announced selection for October. We’re proud of our Missouri roots here at Skylark, and we know many of our customers are, too. So our next choice is Melissa Scholes Young’s new novel, “The Hive.” Melissa lives in Washington, DC, these days, but she is Missouri-born and -bred, as her fiction proudly bears witness. Some of you may remember Melissa when she came to Columbia for the Unbound Book Festival a few years ago to talk about her gorgeous debut novel, “Flood,” which is set in Hannibal. “The Hive” is also set in Missouri, this time in Cape Girardeau. It’s a wonderful novel, crackling with life and with beautifully drawn characters. 

The Fehler family have owned and run a pest control business for generations, but the recession of 2008 has hit the company hard. When the head of the business and the family, Robbie Fehler, dies unexpectedly, his widow and four daughters face challenges on multiple fronts simultaneously: Not only must they find a way to keep the business alive, but they also each have to carve out new paths for themselves and find ways to break free of expectations, both their own and those of other people.

This is a messy, big-hearted novel that does not shy away from the difficulties that the surviving Fehler women face. Indeed, it is Scholes Young’s willingness to confront and document these individual journeys, however uncomfortable, that gives this novel such heart and grace. 

There’s an interesting political element to the story, too. Cape Girardeau, of course, is Rush Limbaugh’s hometown, and the novel is set at the time of Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency. As a working-class family suffering through the worst of the economic downturn, the conflicts and disagreements that the family have to navigate between themselves feel like a telling precursor of the divisions that have afflicted many families in the years since.

In addition to her two novels, Melissa has edited two anthologies of new writing by DC women writers. She is a contributing editor at Fiction Writers Review, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Poets & Writers, Ploughshares, Literary Hub, and elsewhere. She has been the recipient of the Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Foundation Residency Fellowship and the Center for Mark Twain Studies’ Quarry Farm Fellowship. She is currently an associate professor in literature at American University. She will be joining us via Zoom to answer readers’ questions. It’s going to be wonderful discussion. As usual, all you need to come and join us is to purchase the book from Skylark, either in person or online. We’ll meet in the shop (health considerations permitting) at 6:30 on Thursday, October 28. 

Happy reading, and I hope to see you there! 

Alex George is the founder and director of the Unbound Book Festival and the owner of Skylark Bookshop in downtown Columbia.

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