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Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009 11:22 am

LOCAL BOOK BEST

Springfield writer Carol Manley got to see her name listed alongside legendary authors like Toni Morrison, John Updike and Ken Follett when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch chose her book Church Booty as one of the 32 best works of fiction for 2008.

“It was amazing,” Manley says. “It felt kind of like a fluke thing.”

Indeed, the odds stacked against such a scenario seem monumental. For starters, what are the chances that a former welfare mother, like Manley, can actually summon the time and talent to write a great book? For another, the book she wrote is a collection of short stories — a format publishers tend to avoid unless it’s a collection of works by a variety of authors or stories by an already-famous writer (Church Booty was published by Livingston Press, at University of West Alabama). The fact that it even got reviewed surprised her.

Yet there it was: “From the first mesmerizing line, the author depicts the world of small-town black church folk so convincingly, with such humor and underlying sadness, that I wonder how much I’ve missed in my facile belief that [a potential] ‘Black Experience’ [label] excludes a white readership,” a Post-Dispatch reviewer wrote in November, a month before Manley’s book landed on the paper’s “best” list.

Has Manley noticed a subsequent up-tick in sales? It’s hard to gauge, she says, without a distributor. Her book is sold at the local Borders store, on Amazon.com, and at the University of Illinois at Springfield bookstore.

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