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The Bookmaker’s Daughter

Shirley Abbott

Published Date: March 28, 2006

Available in



A Memory Unbound
312 Pages
6" x 9"

About this book

This deeply felt memoir is a journey through family history, feminist insight, and southern mythology. In it a daughter reflects on the complicated and volatile love she and her father shared. Shirley Jean Abbott grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the 1940s and 50s and was the beloved daughter of Alfred Bemont Abbott, affectionately known as “Hat.” Hat wasn’t a bookmaker in the literary sense, even though he allowed Shirley’s mother to believe as much while they were dating. Rather, his craft was gambling, and his business was horse racing.


Despite the corruption, which put food on the table and rabbit coats in the closet, Abbott remembers the kind and attentive father who spent nights reading to her. He alone is responsible for opening the door to a world of language and literature for her. And she ran with it. Against her father’s wishes, after graduation she headed for New York City. In the end, the girl he had nurtured into an independent and intelligent young woman had outgrown the small town where she grew up. The Bookmaker’s Daughter was originally published by Ticknor and Fields in 1992 and was a Book of the Month Club selection.

About the author

Shirley Abbott lives in Manhattan and works as a freelance writer and editor. She is also the author of Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South and Love’s Apprentice: The Romantic Education of a Modern Woman. In 2005 she was awarded the Porter Fund Literary Prize, presented annually to an Arkansas writer who has accomplished a substantial and impressive body of work that merits enhanced recognition.


“[Abbott’s] book sings with fierce love for the flawed patriarch with whom she finally comes to terms.”

Publishers Weekly


“A rare thing in American literature. . . . an honest daughter’s-eye view of a nurturing father.”

—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times


“It is a sure bet that sections will be anthologized as models of good writing. In addition…this book will likely grace reading lists of women’s studies classes nationwide. The book deserves every bit of this attention.”

Library Journal


“A marvelously readable book.”

—C. Vann Woodward, author of The Burden of Southern History

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