Winter reading suggestions from North Carolina Bookwatch

It is time to talk about books again.

If you are looking for some special holiday gifts for some hard-to-give-to friends, I may have some help for you, thanks to UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch’s programs during the next few weeks.

Here is a book for lovers of history or politics: One of North Carolina’s most popular speakers about European history and the history of ideas is Lloyd Kramer, chair of the department of history at UNC-Chapel Hill. He makes complicated topics understandable and interesting. That is what he has done in his new book, “Nationalism in Europe & America: Politics, Cultures, and Identities since 1775.” I always thought of nationalism as our collective loyalty to our country, a good thing that binds our country’s people together. But Professor Kramer challenges those ideas in his book and in his conversation with meon Bookwatch on Friday, December 9, at 9:30 p.m. Sunday’s Bookwatch will be preempted by special Winterfest programming.

For those who love down to earth stories about North Carolina people, I recommend Ruth Moose. She is widely admired as an author, storyteller, poet, teacher, and supportive reviewer of the works of other writers. What grabs my attention are her stories about farmers, townspeople, preachers, teachers, handymen, and regular people struggling to get to the next day. Most are set in and near the Uwharries, where Moose grew up. Her book of short stories, “Rules and Secrets,” will be the subject of conversation on North Carolina Bookwatch. (Dec. 16, 18) 
If you know someone who ever wanted a career on Broadway or wanted a child to have such a career, “Broadway Baby” might be a perfect present. The author, Alan Shapiro, is a nationally acclaimed poet. “Broadway Baby,” his first novel, follows the life of a woman whose hopes for fame in show business for herself and later for her son end in disappointment. Publishers Weekly writes that Shapiro is “an acute observer of moments, people, art and language [who] packs even seemingly simple stories with many layers of meaning.” (Dec. 23, 25)
Here is a book for those who love a pet so much that cloning would be an idea to consider. Pulitzer prize-winning reporter John Woestendiek tells that story in “Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.” While entertaining his readers with the tale of how a former beauty queen and other Americans pushed scientists in Korea to make duplicates of their favorite pets, Woestendiek gently explains the science of cloning. (Dec. 30, note that the Sunday’s Bookwatch will be preempted for UNC-TV’s special New Year’s Day programming.)
History lovers may like “The Resurrection of Nat Turner Part One: The Witnesses,” even though it is fiction. Durham author Sharon Ewell Foster’s novel is based on groundbreaking historical research into the Nat Turner rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831. Ever since, people have argued whether Turner was a terrorist, an early version of Osama bin Laden, or a hero of an unsuccessful, but justifiable, effort to liberate slaves. (Jan. 6, 8)
Don’t give your doctor friends “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them” by world-famous North Carolinians, Joe and Terry Graedon. Their new book’s title gets your attention and gives notice of serious warnings about risks associated with medical procedures. (Jan. 13, 15)
Bookwatch’s current season ends January 15. But encore showings will begin Sunday, January 22. If we are able to have one more season of Bookwatch, it will probably begin in July 2012.






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D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m and Sundays at 5 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at

This week’s (Friday, December 9) guest is, author of “Nationalism in Europe & America: Politics, Cultures, and Identities since 1775.” This Sunday’s (December 11) Bookwatch will be preempted by special UNC-TV fundraising programming.


November 11, 2011. It will be remembered by many of us as the day Carolina beat Michigan State in the inaugural NCAA Carrier Classic on the deck of the Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson.

Others of us still remember the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the armistice ending the First World War went into effect. Armistice Day –now Veterans Day– means more, of course, than just a basketball game.

In my family, we remember that day is also St. Martin’s Day, and we remember my father, who would have celebrated his 101st birthday last Friday.

But a Durham-based author says that November 11 this year was important for another reason.

Sharon Ewell Foster, author of “The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part One: The Witnesses,” reminds us that this year marks the 180th anniversary of the slave rebellion led by Turner.

Beginning in August 1831, Turner and a small band of followers moved from farm to farm in Southampton County, Virginia (just across the line from Northampton County, North Carolina), freeing the slaves and killing men, women, and children in slave-holding families.

After being captured, tried and convicted, Turner was hanged on November 11, 1831. Later, his body was beheaded and quartered. The authorities tried 45 slaves and five free blacks. Of the slaves, 18 were convicted and hanged, 15 were acquitted, and the others, though convicted, were spared. Only one of the free blacks was convicted and hanged. Many other blacks, including those who had nothing to do with the rebellion, were beaten, tortured, and killed.

Ever since, Americans have debated the question of whether Turner was a terrorist, an early version of Osama bin Laden, or a hero of an unsuccessful, but justifiable, effort to liberate slaves from a brutal and indefensible system.

Whites in the South in the 1830s were repulsed by the brutality of Turner’s rebellion. Their reaction sparked a wave of fear that led to more oppressive laws to govern the activities of blacks, both free and slave.

Although Foster’s new book is fiction, it tells the story through the voices and experiences of Turner, his owners, other slaves, and slave owners. She tries to show the challenges faced by slave owners, some of whom were so poor they could barely put food on their own tables, much less care for their slaves.

In one very poignant scene, an older enslaved woman rescues her cruel mistress from certain death by the Turner rebels. She had raised that now cruel woman from childhood and still loved her for the little girl she had once been.

Foster’s research in Southampton County found a number of errors in William Styron’s novel, “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” and other popular history versions of Turner’s rebellion and trial. For instance, the basic historical record of Turner was the original “Confessions of Nat Turner” written in 1831 by Thomas Gray, who claimed to be Turner’s attorney. Foster found that Gray was not Turner’s attorney and that Turner never confessed or pleaded guilty.

Foster says, “My literary journey has been to find the real Nat Turner, a peaceful and devout man prior to the revolt, not the one created for the press.”

Some have criticized the author of “The Help” for trying to write in the voices of black servants. Here is an opportunity to read the work of a gifted African-American writer who tells her story effectively and sympathetically, using many voices, both white and black. It is a story well worth reading, whatever label you decide to put on Nat Turner.