Summer’s Final Reading Assignments

A classic love story full of mountain music from one of North Carolina’s greatest living balladeers, a loving portrait of a North Carolina beach by a modern prophet of coastal catastrophe, a fictional look into the recent past in small eastern North Carolina towns, and a novel that explains an old marker in a Beaufort graveyard.

These are the latest and the final summer reading assignments (I mean suggestions) for your vacation reading.

Madison County’s Sheila Kay Adams is a living legend among the fans of the music of the Appalachian mountains. Thanks to Doug Orr’s and Fiona Ritchie’s recent book, “Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia,” Adams has gained an even wider group of admirers. For her storytelling gifts and musical talents, the book cites her more than 25 times, and the accompanying CD contains her performance of the ballad “Young Hunting/Elzig’s Farewell.” That tune begins, “Come in, come in my old true love, and spend this night with me,” and is the source for the title to Adams’ 2004 novel, “My Own True Love.”

Set in the mountains during Civil War times, it is, like the old ballads Adams sings, a story of fierce and lost love. Two boys, close friends and cousins, battling for the love of the same girl, cannot make for a happy ending. But for the reader it can be a poignant reading experience, akin to listening to Adams singing a ballad.

For many years, retired Duke Professor Orrin Pilkey has been studying the North Carolina coast. Like an Old Testament prophet he has been warning us of coming catastrophes unless we change our policies. Global warming, rising sea levels, thoughtless development near water’s edge, and barrier building will lead to the devastation of our shorelines. His new book, “The Last Beach,” co-authored by J. Andrew G. Cooper, makes an unassailable case for preserving and strengthening regulations controlling building at or near the beaches.

His earlier book, “How to Read a North Carolina Beach,” though much less policy oriented, is a valuable introduction to the complex history and makeup of our shorelines, even showing us that some of the sands on our beaches came from our mountains not far from where Sheila Kay Adams lives.

Sheila Kay Adams is not the only musician who writes books. Charles Blackburn, author of “Sweet Soul,” played guitar and sang with the group, “When Cousins Marry,” beginning in 1981. He grew up in Henderson and worked all over the Carolinas as a reporter and editor, bookstore owner, and publicist for a medical center and a national scientific fraternity. Those experiences gave him a rich source for his imaginative short stories. For example, in “The Outlaw,” set in Anson County’s Lilesville, the outlaw, “Fireball” Catlett, demands from the editor extra copies of his paper’s coverage of his gang’s exploits. The editor agrees on the condition that his newspaper will have exclusive coverage of Catlett’s planned surrender to authorities. Catlett asks only, “Will you take pictures?”

“The Story of Land and Sea,” Katy Simpson Smith’s debut novel, is set in the small coastal town of Beaufort around the time of the American Revolution. It follows generations of families under stress–fathers and daughters, mother and son, masters and slaves. There is war and piracy, kidnapping and escape and a challenge to religious faith in a God who presides over tragic loss. It is also a story that provides a fictional solution to the puzzle of a gravesite in Beaufort marked with “Little girl in a rum keg.”

UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch will feature these authors on upcoming programs.

Chapel Hill Library to Host Harper Lee Celebration

Harper Lee’s new book, “Go Set a Watchman,” will be the subject of events Tuesday at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

Readers remember the Atticus Finch of Harper Lee’s groundbreaking 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” as the white lawyer who stood up against racial prejudice. In the book, Finch defends a young black man named Tom Robinson, who was falsely accused of raping a white girl. Gregory Peck played Finch in the 1962 film adaptation.

But critics who’ve read advance copies of Lee’s second release warn readers to prepare themselves for a very different Atticus Finch. “Go Set a Watchman” features a racist Atticus Finch who affiliates with the KKK and opposes desegregation.

Nonetheless, Harper Lee fans are awaiting the release of her new book with a great deal of excitement. Flyleaf bookstore owner Jamie Fiocco says she’s even a little nervous about the expectations readers have for a book that may have been an early draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“Whenever I read a debut novel, I’m a little more forgiving with maybe the author’s way of writing and how they develop the story,” Fiocco said. “But this is a really strange situation in which the second book we’ll be reading is really the first book, […] but we’re reading it as the second and so there’s a lot of expectation.”

The Chapel Hill Public Library is inviting fans to gather there Tuesday to celebrate the release of “Go Set a Watchman.” Library Director Susan Brown says the celebration will feature the 1962 film adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and a panel discussion.

“Daniel Wallace is going to moderate,” Brown said. “We have an author, someone from the ACLU, someone from the Center for the Study of the American South, and they’re all going to talk about what Harper Lee has meant to them as writers, as readers and to our culture.”

The library is showing the film at 2 p.m. The panel will take place at 6:30 p.m. Flyleaf Books will be selling copies of Lee’s new book at the event.

Major Golsteyn and General Noriega: In Headlines and Vacation Books

Headline news stories in recent few days reported the U.S. Army’s disciplining of Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who was once seen as a hero for his service with the Special Forces in Afghanistan. Golsteyn was accused of killing an Afghani bomb-making suspect and forced out of the army. Another news story reported that the 81-year-old former dictator of Panama, Manuel Antonio Noriega, remains in prison in Panama.

These stories are closely related to two of the four books I am recommending for your summer reading.

The first is written by North Carolina’s Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata. Tata is a retired Army general and former Wake County schools superintendent. Writing under the pen name A. J. Tata, he is also a popular and prolific author. His recent novel, “Foreign and Domestic,” is a spy thriller that is a perfect beach read.

The central character, Capt. Jake Mahegan led an unsuccessful operation in Afghanistan to capture a turncoat known as the American Taliban. During the mission Mahegan killed a dangerous bomb maker. Like Maj. Golsteyn, he was accused of an unlawful killing.

As a result, Mahegan left the Army in disgrace. He is determined to clear his name, and when the American Taliban returns to domestic soil, Mahegan is the only person who knows how to stop him.

Tata brings the action to the North Carolina coast where a rogue military contractor is connected to the American Taliban, whose terrorist activities in America solidify the need for the contractor’s expensive services.

Jake Mahegan takes Tata’s readers on a wild ride with gun and knife fights, high-tech weapons, a parachute jump into the open ocean for action on the high seas, and lots of deception and dead bodies. All of it leads up to a surprising and satisfying ending.

Another book by a North Carolina public official, Court of Appeals Judge J. Douglas McCullough, tells how an abortive marijuana smuggling operation on the North Carolina coast led to the downfall of General Noriega. “Sea of Greed” explains the connections in a page-turner that reads like fiction. McCullough had a big role in bringing hundreds of drug smugglers to justice, but he focuses on the audacity and careful planning of the smugglers and how their carelessness led to their downfall.

When something happens to their child, like a life-threatening disease, a severe physical condition, or a learning disability, the child’s parents face their own toughest challenge. In his book about his son’s autism, “Journey with Julian,” award-winning television journalist Dwayne Ballen shows that such an experience, though challenging, can make a family stronger and more appreciative of each other. Durham resident Ballen is a familiar face, appearing on the Golf Channel, Fox TV Sports, and other sports networks. But this book is about family and especially about his son Julian, who was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old. Julian, now in his twenties, becomes the central and winning character in this poignant and inspiring story.

Lynne Hinton grew up as a preacher’s kid in and around Fayetteville surrounded by family and other rural and small town characters like those in her early books that were set in our state, including “Friendship Cake,” “Pie Town,” and “Welcome Back to Pie Town.” Her latest,  “The Art of Arranging Flowers,” however, is set in eastern Washington State, where Hinton recently served as an interim pastor. With a few changes in location names, the small Washington town where her main character, Ruby Jewell, runs a florist shop, could be in North Carolina

Hinton, writing under the name Lynne Branard, tells a gentle story in which serious problems get solved by a florist who knows more about births, deaths, weddings, parties, love affairs, celebrations, and mourning than anyone else in town.

All these books are great vacation reading. They will soon be featured on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch.

Local Authors Fox, O’Neil Take “Road Trip Carolina”

O’Neil and Fox pose with their first book.

The author and illustrator of the beloved local children’s book Goodnight Carolina have struck again.

Author Missy Julian Fox and illustrator Elaine O’Neil have teamed up for their second collaboration – a new children’s book called Road Trip Carolina, A Ride Across the Old North State.

Bolstered by O’Neil’s distinctive illustrations, Fox takes readers on a journey across the state, from mountains to shore, stopping by Grandfather Mountain, the Biltmore Estate, the Wright Brothers Memorial, and many more iconic locations along the way.

Fox and O’Neil stopped by WCHL Monday for a chat with Aaron Keck.


Road Trip Carolina is available in stores across the state, online at Amazon, or online at (Visit that website to learn even more about the book.)

There will be a launch party on Tuesday, June 30, at Julian’s at 135 E. Franklin Street. All are welcome: the party will begin at 5:30 and there will be a book signing.

Road Safety In 2014; World Book Night; Home For The Holidays

ORANGE COUNT – The Town of Chapel Hill is kicking off 2014 by asking you to make a resolution to drive with care and pay attention when walking or biking.

Chapel Hill continues to try to be a walk- and bike-friendly town with the promotion of safety at crosswalks and on roadways.

The Town is hosting three crosswalk education outreach sessions for motorist, pedestrians and drivers:

• January 8 – 10 to 11 a.m. on Pittsboro Street near SECU and McCauley Street
• January 22 – 5 to 6 p.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
• January 28 – 8 to 9 a.m. on Franklin Street near Granville Towers and E. Franklin Street at Elizabeth Street (Stroud Hill)


You still have time to register as a Book Giver for World Book Night.

World Book Night is an annual celebration in which people spread the love of reading by going out into their communities and give out paperbacks to light and non-readers.

Each Book Giver receives 20 World Book Night paperbacks to give out, and OrangeCounty’s main library will be one of the pickup sites for the givers. The library will also hold a reception for the givers the week before World Book Night.

World Book Night is April 23 this year. Tens of thousands are expected to participate again.

You have until January 5 to register to be a Book Giver.

For more information, click here.


Take a trip to the Orange County main library and you’ll see the Orange County Animal Services decorations of shelter pets in need of adoption.

Photos of animals that need a new home and some who have already gotten one will be on display until January 11 as part of the “Home for the Holidays” annual campaign to raise awareness for the shelter.

Animal Services is also giving a special deal for adoptions with dogs available for $60 and cats available for $50.

If you want to help Orange County Animal Services—even if it’s just to donate food—you can find more information by clicking here.

CHPL Commemorates Banned Books Week With Trading Cards

CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill Public Library has come together with local artists to commemorate Banned Books Week with a different trading card for each day.

Wednesday: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison - Artist: Jolmar Miller

Wednesday: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – Artist: Jolmar Miller

Tuesday: 1984 by George Orwell - Artist: David Eichenberger

Tuesday: 1984 by George Orwell – Artist: David Eichenberger

Monday: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - Artist: Mike Brown

Monday: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – Artist: Mike Brown

sunday trading card

Sunday: Charlotte’s Webb by E.B. White – Artist: Clay Carmichael

Banned Books Week begins on Sunday.  Director of the Chapel Hill Public Library, Susan Brown, says that the event is a national celebration of the freedom to read.

“Sponsored by libraries, book stores, and publishers, that seeks to educate people about the challenges to intellectual freedom, books that are banned, books that are taken out of schools, books that are even censored,” Brown says.

Even today, books continue to be banned from schools and libraries.  Recently, in Randolph County, public schools voted to remove Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” a classic mid-twentieth century novel, from the school curriculum and library.  Brown says that in cases like this, banning books is limiting access.

“It’s very interesting, I think sometimes people bring challenges to books for some good reasons in the sense they want to protect their children from difficult issues, or they are maybe offended by language,” Brown says. “But by taking these books out of places, they are limiting the access for people that want to be challenged or aren’t offended by those issues.”

This year, the Chapel Hill Public Library asked artists to submit works inspired by banned books or authors to be used for trading cards.  Brown started this community involvement last year when she was the marketing director at the Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas.

“The idea is that it is a unique way to get people to engage with this issue, and it also brings in the artistic community, and often the artists have challenges to their work as well,” Brown says.

From a selection of 48 submissions, a small jury including  Brown,Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Daniel Wallace, and others from the arts community selected the seven that will be presented during the week. Each day, a new card will be revealed.  Brown says that the cards cover a range of books and art styles.

“So there’s everything in there from Charlotte’s Web to Brave New World to Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” Brown says. “So, like I said, there’s all kind of different art and all kinds of different books represented.”

The library will host an exhibition of all forty-eight entries to the project, and 500 cards will be available free at the library. Each day, you can visit the library and pick up the card of the day. Cards will also be available for purchase online, and the proceeds will go back towards helping the library.

For information on purchasing cards click here.

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 broke the rules of their segregated town. They decided to break into the small Old Bethesda School gym and play a game of basketball, whites against blacks.
 “They had nine guys and we just had five,” Edgerton remembers. “And those who weren’t on the court just stood in line waiting to replace a player who got tired.”
Larry Lime’s team “just wore us down,” Clyde says.
From that report, I assume that Larry Lime’s team won. But Clyde says he does not remember for sure.
Clyde and Larry Lime got away with their secret basketball game. But a few days later, when the two boys were shooting baskets at a goal in Clyde’s backyard, Clyde’s dad came out of the house and told the boys that Larry Lime would have to leave. The neighbors might complain.
Clyde fictionalized this real story in an earlier novel, “The Floatplane Notebooks.”
Retired Chapel Hill pharmacist Cliff Butler remembers a similar story from 1963 when his Dunn High School basketball team coached by Dick Knox (later deputy executive director and supervisor of officials for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association) won its league championship.  
That same year, Harnett High, the black school, also had a great team.
The white players and the black players hung around Cliff’s dad’s drugstore. There was some friendly bantering about which team was better, and they decided to settle the question.
So they agreed to meet in the gym at Harnett High, everybody knowing that it would be too dangerous to bring black players to the white high school gym. The black team won a close game, Cliff remembers, thanks in part to “a little guy on their team who shot the lights out that day.”
The next day, word got out in the community about the game. Mr. Hutaff, who ran an insurance agency next door to Cliff’s dad’s drugstore, pulled Cliff aside and told him that he had heard about the game. “It had better not happen again or there will be hell to pay.”
A more secret and more illegal interracial basketball game took place in 1944 between the Duke Medical School team and the North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University).

These basketball stories were tiny cracks in the wall of segregation. But it was the accumulation of many tiny cracks that helped bring down that wall. So, every one of those little cracks in is worth remembering and celebrating today.

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 “The Help” with whites. He made inquiries and reported to me that he could find no interest in his congregation in such a project.

Recently, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts helped white me understand the mixed feelings that blacks have about “The Help.”

“As Americans,” he wrote, “we lie about race. We lie profligately, obstinately and repeatedly. The first lie is of its existence as an immutable reality delivered unto us from the very hand of God.

“That lie undergirds all the other lies, lies of Negro criminality, mendacity, ineducability. Lies of sexless mammies and oversexed wenches. Lies of docile child-men and brutal bucks. Lies that exonerate conscience and cover sin with sanctimony. Lies that pinched off avenues of aspiration till “the help” was all a Negro woman was left to be.

“I think of those lies sometimes when aging white southerners contact me to share sepia-toned reminiscences about some beloved old nanny who raised them, taught them, loved them, and who was almost a member of the family.


“Reading their emails, I wonder if those folks understand even now, a lifetime later, that that woman did not exist simply as a walk-on character in a white person’s life drama, that she was a fully formed human being with a life, and dreams and dreads of her own.”

Nevertheless, Pitts concedes that “The Help” is a triumph, an “imperfect triumph to have understood this and seek to make others understand it, too.”

Two recent books by North Carolinians set in 1963 can also help us understand Pitts’s “this” as they explore the relationships between blacks and their white employers. One of them, Clyde Edgerton’s “Night Train,” is a compelling read.

It is the source of this column’s opening quote.

The other recent book set in 1963 is UNC-Chapel Hill professor Minrose Gwin’s “The Queen Of Palmyra,” about a young white girl and the trials of the African-American woman who is her family’s servant. It is even deeper, richer, and better than the “The Help.”

Another new book, “The Dry Grass of August” by Anna Jean Mayhew, takes us all the way back to the racially-segregated Charlotte of 1954 and the poignant story of a young girl who loves her family’s African American servant and does not understand the brutal racism that ultimately destroys the person who was the center of her family.

Fiction tells the truth about North Carolina’s changing rural landscape

We have changed.

More urban. Less rural and farming.
At least that is what the latest Census is telling us.
But the story is more complicated. It is more interesting, too. Out in the formerly all-rural counties of our state, new kinds of residents have moved in. But lots of the old-time residents are still there.
How do fifth-generation farming families interact with back-to-the-land newcomers, suburbanite encroachers, and retirement community residents?
The census does not give us the answer.
Maybe the answer can be found best in fiction.
Chatham County’s award-winning writer Marjorie Hudson has given it a try in a new book of short stories, “Accidental Birds of the Carolinas: Stories about newcomers and natives, and the healing power of the rural South.”
Hudson sets her stories in a fictional Ambler County, which is much like her own Chatham County. Like Chatham, Ambler is rural by tradition, but growth from nearby cities is expanding across the county lines. At the same time, idealistic young people from all over the country are still moving to rural Ambler to try their hands at living on the land and off the grid. The natives and the “accidental” newcomers are characters who move through Hudson’s stories.
In “The Clearing,” a woman running away from a broken relationship moves into an old farmhouse in bad repair. When the pipes freeze, a crusty local plumber named Whiskey Collins fixes them. Before you know, he is fixing everything for her. They may be an unlikely pair, but when they wind up making love in the water of a spring hole, neither seems to care that they might not be meant for each other.
In “Rapture,” an old-timer named Sarton Lee and his wife, Miss Irma, had a daughter Trudy, who was a mess. When she died of a drug overdose, Sarton and Irma were left to raise Trudy’s daughter, Nancy. They love her. Then she falls sick, and, as Sarton says, “The good Lord in his wisdom dragged it out for a full year, that son of a bitch.” There is much more to the story but, quoting Sarton again, “You are never so alone as when a child dies.”
“The High Life” is the story of Dip, a 15-year-old runaway, who is working at a carnival that has stopped in town. He helps Royal, a hard-core carnival man, who, ugly and dirty as he is, still is a great seducer. Dip has a hard time adjusting to his new life and ultimately runs away again.
Nina is married to a mentally ravaged-by-war soldier who turns his wrath on her. A voice tells her to leave. Driving through North Carolina, she sees a sign, “Providence,” which gives the story its title. She stops, finds an old house to rent for $50 a month, and settles in.
In “Home,” a young woman marries Carter, who lives on a farm. Carter’s son from his first marriage loves the farm where he, his mom, and Carter, once lived. The new wife’s marriage is haunted by her thoughts of Carter’s first family’s life on the farm where she now lives.
In the title story, a retired Army colonel trying to get used to subdivision life in Ambler County loses his wife unexpectedly. He finds himself ill equipped to deal with his new circumstances.
 “The Outside World,” really a novella, tracks the marriage of a student at Chapel Hill who falls in love with her professor. She follows him to a farm in Ambler County, where he tries to replicate the experience of Henry Thoreau, resulting in special challenges to their lives and marriage.
Sometimes fiction is the best way to tell the truth.
This time, Marjorie Hudson’s fiction does the job.