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

Published 6:57 am Thursday, December 23, 2021

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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 just before Christmas. 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 are two books that won top national awards this year.

David Zucchino’s “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy,” won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. The prize committee described the book as “A gripping account of the overthrow of the elected government of a Black-majority North Carolina city after Reconstruction that untangles a complicated set of power dynamics cutting across race, class and gender.”

Last month Jason Mott won the National Book Award for Fiction for his fourth novel, “Hell of a Book.” The prize committee described it as “a structurally and conceptually daring examination of art, fame, family and being Black in America.”

Either book would make a great present to anyone who takes pride in the accomplishments of fellow North Carolinians.

Another sure-fire successful present for anyone who loves North Carolina is Bland Simpson’s new book, “North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky.” Simpson, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor, musician, song writer, environmentalist and engaging writer, takes his readers across North Carolina, stopping at the most interesting and precious spots. The lovely photographs that illustrate his journey, by themselves, make the book a treasure.

For a barbecue lover, or someone who is just curious about our state’s affection for this smoky dish, expert John Shelton Reed has written another book, “On Barbecue.” It is a compilation of Reed’s engaging short writings about various barbecue topics. Because Reed knows barbecue and knows how to entertain his readers, the new book would be a welcome gift.

Although Frank Porter Graham, president of the University of North Carolina, has been dead almost 50 years, the stamp he put on public life in this state remains strong. A new biography, “Frank Porter Graham: Southern Liberal, Citizen of the World,” by William Link, helps explain Graham’s enduring influence. It would be an excellent gift for anyone who wants to understand North Carolina history, especially if the recipient tilts liberal.

One feature of the Graham book is a history of a complicated effort to open the University of North Carolina to black students. The liberal Graham had to deny blacks admission because he was bound by rules established by the university’s conservative trustees.

Another view of this question, one by a young author of color, is chronicled in a new book, “To Drink from the Well: The Struggle for Racial Equality at the Nation’s Oldest Public University,” by Geeta N. Kapur. Because the book examines examples of racism at UNC through the years, beginning with the laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the campus’s oldest building, it would be a good present for someone wanting to see all sides of difficult public challenges.

The fourth novel of one of North Carolina’s most promising and popular young fiction writers, Wiley Cash, may be his best ever. In “When Ghosts Come Home,” set in Brunswick County in 1984, Cash weaves a story of drugs, racial conflict, local politics, family challenges and petty jealousies among law enforcement agencies.

“Even As We Breathe,” the debut novel of Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, is the first novel published by an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Set in Asheville and the area near the town of Cherokee during World War II, it tells a poignant story of a young Cherokee boy trying to find a place in a white world.

This list is only a beginning.

Your local bookseller can provide many more options.

D.G. Martin hosted “North Carolina Bookwatch,” for more than 20 years. To view prior programs, visit