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.

Good Books You Won’t See On Bookwatch

Here are some important new books you will not learn about on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch.

Before I explain, let me tell you a little bit about the books.

Popular novelist Clyde Edgerton’s “Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers: Advice to Dads of All Ages” is based on what he has learned as the older father of three young children. He will be 69 on May 20.

Edgerton embraces the opportunities young children present to an older parent and laughs at the multiple challenges. After all, those extra years of writing, teaching, and living have taught him some things that young parents might not know.

He has learned to laugh at himself. You can see his smile when you read about how he recommends installing the car’s child’s seat weeks before the baby comes because, he says, it took him weeks to learn how to accomplish that task.

Just as Edgerton’s wonderful novels give us a record of our changing region and its peoples, so does Charlotte Observer retired chief photographer Don Sturkey in “This Old Wheel Will Roll Around Again: A Pictorial History of the South, 1950-1990.” Sturkey fills his book with more then 200 photos of mill workers, tenant farmers, civil rights protesters, Ku Klux Klan rallies, Vietnam protesters, and famous people, interspersed with lovely and provocative pictures of ordinary life in our region.

The book opens with an essay by Frye Gaillard about our state’s progress on racial matters. It is illustrated by Sturkey’s classic photograph of 15-year-old Dorothy Counts making her way through an angry white mob to integrate a Charlotte high school in September 1957.

Gaillard praises school board member Ward McKeithen, who explained, according to Gaillard, “People could support the public schools or see them destroyed, and for many Charlotteans the decision was obvious, even if it was hard. They would do what they could to make the best of the change.”

In “The Seventh Angel,” Ward McKeithen’s son, Alex, chronicles his experience as a Davidson College student on his junior year abroad when what he calls “the happiest time of my life” exploded into a full-blown manic episode in Paris. Thinking he was the Seventh Angel described in Revelation, he ran nude through Paris warning that the last day had arrived. Arrested and confined in mental institutions, his account of his painful recovery and return to a productive life is griping and inspirational.

Similarly, in “Cobalt Blue,” Peggy Payne’s fictional character, a 38-year-old Pinehurst artist, is consumed by uncontrollable sexual arousal and activity, a condition that may be explained by a feature of a brand of Asian yoga known as “kundalini rising.”

The book’s vivid descriptions led Peggy Payne’s husband to warn that his wife’s new book is “not for the faint hearted.”

Tom Earnhardt, also a product of Davidson College, is host of the popular UNC-TV program “Exploring North Carolina.”

His new book, “Crossroads of the Natural World: Exploring North Carolina with Tom Earnhardt,” has been called a “love letter to the wild places and natural wonders of North Carolina.”

Earnhardt takes his readers across our state, explaining its rich diversity and illustrating it with striking photographs.

Danny Bernstein, takes us across North Carolina in a different way in her new book, “The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina: Walking a Thousand Miles through Wildness, Culture and History.”

Although the trail is a work in progress, Bernstein persuaded this reader that the sites and experiences along the way make the long journey well worthwhile.

You will not see these authors on North Carolina Bookwatch, which in July begins repeats from the current season. Meanwhile, North Carolina Now, UNC-TV’s weekday news program, will feature timely interviews about these and other new North Carolina books.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit

Next week’s (May 19, 23) guest is Lee Craig author of “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times.”

How could one of North Carolina’s most important political leaders be both a progressive champion for education and economic development and, at the same time, the leader of the white supremacy movement in our state? N.C. State Professor Lee Craig wrestles with this challenging question in his new book, “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times.”

The program will also air at Wednesday May 22, at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring John Dalton author of “Heaven Lake.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.