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All Aboard for Mitford
Daisy Maryles, with Dick Donahue -- 8/25/97
Call this one "The Little Series That Could." Another recent triumph of booksellers' handselling -- and of loyal readers' enthusiasm -- is Jan Karon's Mitford series, which centers on two characters (an Episcopal priest and his wife, a children's book illustrator) in a North Carolina town -- though it's really a "celebration of small-town life everywhere," according to Penguin publicity director Maureen Donnelly. Karon, who hails from Blowing Rock, N.C., left a successful advertising career to pursue her dream of becoming an author. Her first two books, At Home in Mitford and A Light in the Window, were published by Lion, a small Christian publisher, in 1994, and reprinted by Penguin two years later. The third and fourth titles, These High Green Hills and Out to Canaan, were Viking hardcovers in 1996 and Penguin paperbacks earlier this year. Donnelly notes that there are now more than one million copies in print of the four titles' various incarnations -- an impressive growth from Lion's 5000-copy printings of books one and two. (At Home has close to 390,000 copies in print after 20 trips back to press; first printing was 21,000.) Obviously this quartet has struck a chord, with bookstores hosting Mitford parties, community picnics, even a wedding; an L.A. store threw a retirement celebration for Father Tim, and a New Jersey high school is putting on a Mitford play. Karon, who with Penguin has produced a Mitford newsletter (distributed to about 6000 fans), completed a 24-city tour in June. She's been interviewed on the Today show and CBS This Morning, which sent a crew to Blowing Rock to get footage of "the real Mitford." The author recently signed with Penguin for five more Mitford books, including a cookbook.

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