One on One: Last minute shoppers – North Carolina books to the rescue

Published 2:22 am Saturday, December 21, 2019

By D.G. Martin

Are there new North Carolina books that would be good holiday presents for hard-to-give-to people on my list?

I get that question every year about this time. Answering it gives me a chance to spread the word about the work of our state’s diverse authors.

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Here are some ideas.

First, consider two books that are battling each other for the top position on The New York Times best-selling fiction list: “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and “The Guardians” by John Grisham. Owens set her book in North Carolina, and although Grisham lives in Charlottesville, Va., he spends lots of time here “doing the grandfather thing” with family in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Because both Owens and Grisham are great storytellers, their books would be good choices for almost any reader.

If the prospective gift recipient is a Grisham fan but has already read “The Guardians,” consider “The Substitution Order” by Martin Clark, who has been called “the thinking man’s John Grisham.” His complicated literary thriller is built on a multi-million-dollar insurance scam and the broken life of a once highly respected lawyer. Best-selling author Clark lives just across the North Carolina line in Patrick County, Va.

Don’t forget our state’s master literary fiction authors, Ron Rash and Charles Frazier. Rash’s “The Risen” and Frazier’s “Varina” gained widespread praise throughout this year for their beautiful language and rich storytelling.

For readers who miss the late Pat Conroy’s booming fiction, consider Cassandra King Conroy’s “Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy.”

Two debut authors gained my admiration this year: “A Woman Is No Man” by Etaf Rum and “In West Mills” by De’Shawn Charles Winslow. Rum lives in Rocky Mount, but writes about the Palestinian-American community in Brooklyn, N.Y. Winslow grew up near Elizabeth City and writes about people in a nearby fictional African American community.

For speculative fiction fans, “The Crossing” by Columbus County native Jason Mott takes readers to a future troubled America and the travels of teenaged twins, a sister who remembers everything, and her brother who remembers almost nothing.

There is also a wealth of non-fiction related to North Carolina.

“The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke” by Andrew Lawler is a comprehensive and entertaining review of our state’s founding myth and the 350-year-old search for clues about what happened to those lost colonists.

“A Delicious Country: Rediscovering the Carolinas along the Route of John Lawson’s 1700 Expedition” by Scott Huler and “The Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies” by David La Vere take readers back to the struggles between the early colonists and the natives they displaced. Huler enhances the tale by a modern-day report on his travels along Lawson’s route through the Carolinas.

For a worried supporter of the UNC System, “Fire and Stone: The Making of the University of North Carolina under Presidents Edward Kidder Graham and Harry Woodburn Chase” by Howard Covington shows how UNC struggled to gain support from state government in the early days of the last century.

Other new books that help explain the North Carolina experience are “The Rise and Fall of the Branchhead Boys” by Rob Christensen, who tells the story of the family of Governors Kerr and Robert Scott; “The Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle” by Malinda Maynor Lowery: “That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tar Heel Politics, Watergate and Public Life” by Rufus Edmisten; and “Tar Heel Lightnin’: How Secret Stills and Fast Cars Made North Carolina the Moonshine Capital of the World” by Daniel Pierce.

Finally, a surefire gift for North Carolinians who love their mothers, “Mothers and Strangers: Essays on Motherhood from the New South” edited by Lee Smith and Samia Serageldin.

Note: If you would like to know more, I will send you a draft essay that describes these books in more detail. Email me at

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sundays at 11 a.m. and Tuesdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and other times.