D.G. Martin

Autumn reading suggestions from North Carolina Bookwatch

It is reading time again.   So, courtesy of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, I have some autumn reading (and early Christmas gift) suggestions for your consideration.   Charles Frazier’s new book “Nightwoods” will be on this Sunday’s New York Times best seller list for the second week in a row. “Nightwoods” may not be the same kind of blockbuster that his “Cold Mountain” became, but it is off to a solid start sales wise. “Nightwoods” is set in Frazier’s beloved North Carolina mountains. With engaging characters and a story line of suspense and surprise, this short book could become a favorite. Because it is compact it opens the doors for a wider audience to become acquainted with Frazier’s magnificent gifts. I am betting that many people who did not finish “Cold Mountain” or “Thirteen Moons” will, through “Nightwoods,” become new members of Frazier’s fan club. You can visit with Frazier on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch this weekend: Friday, October 21, at 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 23, at 5 p.m.   A new book by a New Bern resident will almost certainly be at or near the top of The New York Times list by the end of October. Nicholas Sparks’s “The Best of Me” is the kind of love story Sparks knows how to tell so well. Set in Oriental, a small town and sailing center on the...

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Sparks' new book is good news for the East

The launch of a North Carolina author’s book this week will give economic development in eastern North Carolina a nice boost. New Bern’s Nicholas Sparks’s “The Best of Me” made its way on to the bestseller lists before its official October 11 release date. It is bound to be another blockbuster for Sparks, who has sold over 100 million copies of his earlier books. Warner Brothers has the movie rights to the new book, and rumors have production beginning next year with Sparks as co-producer. What does the new book have to do with economic development in the Coastal Plain? First of all, the book’s royalty checks will go to New Bern, where Sparks lives. For every million copies sold, there could be three to four million dollars into Sparks’s mailbox. Plus the movie income, which could be considerable. Secondly, like most of Sparks’s books, his stories are set in Eastern North Carolina, most often in and around New Bern. Sparks does not paint an idyllic picture of the region.  But the region he describes is small town America, close to the water, and full of mostly good people who would welcome new businesses. Thirdly, and most important, Sparks’s success has given him the resources to live anywhere in the world. Having that choice, he lives in New Bern. The message for people looking for good places to site...

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A smaller glass, filled to the top

Why does Cold Mountain’s Charles Frazier’s new book make me think about the joys of dining at a popular restaurant in Carrboro near Chapel Hill? Read on, and when I explain, you will understand why I think the new book, “Nightwoods,” is going to give Frazier a host of new readers, ones who never read “Cold Mountain” or “Thirteen Moons.” What does his new book have for these readers that is other books lacked? That is the wrong question. The attraction of “Nightwoods,” compared to his earlier books, will be that it “lacks” the number of pages and words that filled “Cold Mountain” and “Thirteen Moons.”    “Nightwoods” is Frazier’s gift to readers who like their novels to be compact with a story line that moves along briskly.  Frazier’s devoted fans need not worry. He has not abandoned them or given up his skill in delivering lovely, engaging, descriptive prose or his development of richly complex characters, the qualities that made reading his first two novels so rewarding. He continues to bring wonderful literary food to our tables, just in a smaller portion. Now, about the restaurant. Its name is Glasshalfull. It features carefully prepared delicious food, elegantly served, in very small, half-sized, portions. Sometimes eating light is much more satisfying than the overwhelming portions we get in other good restaurants. Frazier’s “Nightwoods” is his literary glass half full, a smaller...

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Is Perry 'Roast' in North Carolina?

“After what he said about our barbecue, he is a dead duck in North Carolina.” A Democrat was celebrating the report that Texas Governor Rick Perry once made a disparaging remark about our favorite food. According to a news report that quoted one of my favorite books, “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue” by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, Perry, when he ate Eastern North Carolina barbecue in 1992, said, “I’ve had road kill that tasted better than that.” Sure enough, after the North Carolina barbecue road kill story started circulating, Perry’s campaign, which had been sailing along at a pace that made Perry look like the sure nominee, took a nosedive. The news reports said his debate performance was sub-par. His opponents attacked his decision to require girls in Texas to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus associated with vaginal cancer. They jumped on his advocacy for tuition support for illegal immigrants attending college in Texas. Then Herman Cain crushed him (37 percent to 15) in the Florida straw poll, and Mitt Romney did the same in Michigan (50 percent to 17). “Don’t mess with Texas,” Perry says. Maybe he will have to learn, “Don’t mess with North Carolinians and their barbecue.” If he wants some background about the political implications of “messing” with our barbecue, he can talk to our former...

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We got trouble right here in River City

North Carolinians outside the Research Triangle region (“Triangle”) envy its economic success and cultural assets. But don’t get too jealous. The very success of the Triangle brings challenges that, if unmet, will topple the Triangle’s place as North Carolina’s capstone example of successful economic development. The Triangle’s dilemmas are the focus of “The Research Triangle: From Tobacco Road to Global Prominence,” a new book by William Rohe, director of the Center for Urban & Regional Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. The story of the Research Triangle Park is a part of the state’s defining history or myth, just as much as the Lost Colony or the Wright Brothers’ first flight. You know the short version. In the 1950s North Carolina’s visionary government and business leaders saw the pending demise of the state’s traditional low-wage industries and the potential for using the resources and reputations of Duke, N.C. State, and UNC-Chapel Hill to attract research-related businesses to an open area of worn-out farmland near all three universities. Thousands of acres of land were acquired and, over time, the research-related business filled them. In less than a generation, the Triangle moved from economic laggard to national leader. This “myth” is mostly true. There were a few bumps in the road. Lots of tenacious people fought through roadblocks and disappointments before the Triangle achieved the success that makes it widely admired and envied....

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Hard to find dirt on this politician

Every politician is the object of critical, unfriendly, and just plain bad comments. That is the rule. But retired journalist and biographer Ned Cline may have found an exception. He had to look long and hard to find any dirt on the subject of his latest book, “The Man from Mount Gilead: Bob Jordan Helped Give Public Service a Good Name.” The closest thing to dirt about Jordan was during his campaign against incumbent governor Jim Martin in 1988. His consultants prepared a television ad that showed a bunch of real monkeys dressed in tuxedos but acting wildly. They were, the ad implied, as ineffective as Governor Martin’s staff. It was funny and made an important point. But in the minds of some people, it was tasteless and unfair. So, Jordan quickly pulled the ad. Democratic Party Executive Director Ken Eudy had pushed for more attack ads and told Cline later, “Bob just didn’t have the stomach for that kind of campaigning. He would have been a great governor, but he was not a great campaigner on things like that. I don’t think he wanted to win that badly.” Cline found one other time during the 1988 campaign when Jordan drew a few critical remarks. Explaining to black newspaper editors why he was not more forthcoming on some issues that were important to their readers, Jordan said, “I can’t...

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September 11: Remembering what we thought and wrote back then

Ten years ago, what were we thinking? Here is what I wrote in September 2001: War. War. War. What is it about this word that excites us, that unifies us, that puts aside at least for a moment our selfish preoccupation with ourselves? The word brings with it a spirit of action that rises out of September 11’s time of despair, questionings, and anger. It rushes through my system like a miracle drug, wiping out my depression and lifting my spirits to new heights. A flag banner decorates our front porch. My chest puffs out with pride as the army calls my son to a week’s active duty to help process other reservists who are being called for longer periods of service during this war on terrorism. War. War. War. Oh, what a word. We will fight a war against terrorism. We will find it, destroy it, root it out, and avenge its murder of our friends and countrymen. It is exhilarating and comforting. But underneath I know it is not going to happen that way. There is not going to be a quick, happy ending, no VE Day or a VJ Day, as there was at the end of the Second World War. Even if there is a successful military strike against bin Laden or his terrorist training camps, it will not win our “war.” Indeed, we must...

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Basketball and the small cracks in the wall of segregation

The best thing about the new movie and best-selling book, “The Help,” may be something other than the compelling story and the view into the relationships between white women and their black servants. So what is this “best thing?” “The Help” has us talking, thinking, remembering, reflecting, and reconsidering. It reminds us of friendships between some whites and some blacks that were making small cracks in that great wall of segregation. Like “The Help,” a new North Carolina novel pushes us back to 1963 and requires us to re-experience relationships between whites and blacks during those times. Clyde Edgerton’s “Night Train” is set in a small North Carolina town, where two teenaged aspiring musicians, one black, the other white, struggle to build a friendship over and around the walls of segregation. When he talks about his new book, Edgerton shares a poignant back-story. The fictional black teenager is modeled on a real person named Larry Lime Holman.  Holman, like Edgerton, grew up in Bethesda, a small town near Durham. Although they lived in the same town, Larry Lime’s black school and Clyde’s white school never competed against each other in athletics. But both the white and black athletes hung around Clyde’s uncle’s grocery store. One day they started arguing about which group had the best basketball players. Larry Lime, Clyde and the other boys decided to do something that...

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Dealing with “The Help”

“You-all afraid if we take over we might treat y’all like you treated us. And you might be right.” It sounds like something Minny, one of the characters in “The Help” (either the book or the new movie), might say to one of the white women who treated their African American servants with such little respect. But the quote comes, not from “The Help,” but from another book set in 1963 that also explores the changing dynamics of relations between whites and blacks in a southern town. I will give you that book’s title in a minute. “The Help” and its story of black maids and how they had to kowtow to their white employers has been a best-selling book for more than two years. What explains its popularity? A good story, sympathetic main characters, and evil villains who get put in their places are part of the answer. Another reason, I think, is that it has given whites a pathway to understand, confess, and be exorcised from guilt for their part in an exploitive system in which black women lovingly raised white children while their own children and families were left to their own devices. The book and the movie have not been so popular in the black community. Last year, I tried to persuade a black pastor to organize some older women in his congregation to discuss...

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In the shadow of Cold Mountain, a real Inman

Driving south on Lake Logan Road, in the Pigeon River Valley and the shadow of Cold Mountain, headed towards Inman’s Chapel the other day, I could not help wondering whether or not the Inman in Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain” was a real person. The dedication of a highway marker at Inman’s Chapel that day gave me some idea that somebody named Inman was important enough to have a chapel named after him.   As I neared the chapel, I passed Inman Branch Road and then Frazier Road. Good evidence that Inmans and Fraziers lived close by—and that they were real. Other “Cold Mountain” readers and moviegoers may also wonder about the lead character, W.P. Inman, that strong-willed, determined, and principled North Carolina Civil War soldier and his odyssey from battlefield, to a hospital, and a long walk across the state towards his mountain home. But was he a real person? Charles Frazier insists that his Inman was a fictional character. But he concedes that family stories about his great-great-grandfather and his ancestor’s brothers inspired the novel. At the highway marker ceremony, I met two Inman family historians, Cheryl Inman Haney and Phyllis Inman Barnett. Both have written books about the Inman family. I learned from their books that W.P. Inman was indeed a real person. Like the fictional Inman, he fought in the “Battle of the Crater,” was wounded,...

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