Monday, November 18, 2013
She'll be at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, to publicize her latest picture book, "Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella." Yes, it's a retelling of the Cinderella story, but it's set in snowy 18th-century Russia and, true to its title, features chickens.
Brett, who raises similarly fancy birds at her home in Massachusetts, will arrive in Charlotte in a custom bus decorated with images of Cinders and other fowl from her new book.
Friday, November 15, 2013
The headline on my Facebook newsfeed sucked me in, as was its goal.
“This map,” it said, “shows the most famous book set in every state.”
Why a website called Business Insider compiles such lists I don’t know, but I clicked immediately, curious to see the most famous book set in North Carolina. Would it be Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward Angel?” Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain?” Or maybe “A Long and Happy Life,” the debut novel that vaulted Reynolds Price to national fame?
Wrong, wrong and wrong. The most famous book set in North Carolina, according to Business Insider, is Nicholas Sparks’ “A Walk to Remember.”
Until it appeared on Business Insider’s list, I had not heard of this 1999 bestseller, which became a movie starring Mandy Moore. Its main character is a teenager in Beaufort who dies of cancer. Sparks, who lives in New Bern, has set many of his novels in North Carolina.
Though I puzzle at this choice, I still like the list because its selections – especially the random-seeming ones – make great conversation starters. (“The Wizard of Oz” for Kansas? Come on. The book’s setting is mostly Oz. Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” is a totally better choice.)
Also, the list gives a sense of the depth – or lack of depth – of each state’s literary traditions. Surely it was a struggle to come up with a book for a few states. South Dakota, for instance, got Tom Brokaw’s memoir, “A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland in the Forties and Fifties.”
North Carolina, on the other hand, has multiple contenders. When I called Ed Southern, director of the N.C. Writers’ Network, his first thought was “Look Homeward, Angel,” published in 1929 and set in Asheville. It’s a classic, probably the greatest book set in North Carolina. It’s also not read much these days. The “most famous” stipulation makes the choice trickier.
So we kept brainstorming. Southern said he could make a strong case for Charles Frazier’s 1997 Civil War-era novel, “Cold Mountain.” It won the National Book Award and the movie version starred Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger. I recalled that Robert Morgan’s “Gap Creek” became plenty famous as an Oprah’s Book Club pick. We agreed that “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” Allan Gurganus’s 1989 bestselling novel, should be in the running.
If you’ve got another suggestion, let me know with a comment here. Also, what do you say about South Carolina? Business Insider chose Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Secret Life of Bees.” I’d go with a Pat Conroy book, probably “The Lords of Discipline.”
Friday, November 1, 2013
This month’s roundup of new books by Carolinas authors features nonfiction, including two works sure to appeal to dog lovers.
Veteran journalist Mark Pinsky writes an intriguing story of unsolved murder in “Met Her on the Mountain” (John F. Blair; $24.95). The book recounts a 40-year quest to find out who killed a young antipoverty worker in Madison County.
In 1970, a VISTA worker named Nancy Dean Morgan was found dead deep in the Appalachian mountains. She had been left naked, hogtied and strangled in the backseat of her car. An inept local investigation went nowhere, and when new information reopened the case in the 1980s, prosecutors failed to convict their prime suspect.
Pinsky, a former Los Angeles Times writer, became fascinated with Morgan’s case and began collecting information. With this account, which combines true crime and N.C. political history, “Many readers will be convinced,” Publishers Weekly writes in a starred review, “that his dogged investigation has at last uncovered the truth.”
Pinsky, who now lives in Florida, graduated from Duke University, where he worked on the school newspaper and first heard about Morgan’s murder.
On a lighter note, “Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $26), tells the story of one smart dog. In 2004, John Pilley, a retired Wofford College psychology professor, decided to see how many words he could teach his family’s new border collie puppy.
Ultimately, the dog, Chaser, accumulated and learned the names of more than 1,000 toys and became a media star. The book, written by Pilley with Hilary Hinzmann, describes the professor’s training techniques, which can be used with any dog.
“This marvelous blend of good science and heartwarming dog story will inspire all of us to reexamine our canine friends,” Booklist says in a starred review. Pilley lives in Spartanburg with his wife, Sally, and Chaser. He and the dog are now working on complex sentences.
For more on canine intellect, check out “What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs” (Simon and Schuster; $26.99), by Cat Warren, an N.C. State University English professor.
Warren became intrigued by working dogs through her unusual hobby: Her German shepherd, Solo, is a cadaver dog, trained to search for bodies. She explores how dogs find drugs, detect bombs and can even locate unmarked graves of Civil War soldiers.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Fans of writer David Sedaris shouldn't miss his latest piece in The New Yorker, a poignant departure from his more humorous fare.
Sedaris, who grew up in a family of six kids in Raleigh, reflects in "Now We Are Five" on his sister Tiffany's suicide last spring and his family's summer vacations on Emerald Isle. An excerpt:
Sedaris will be performing at Wingate University at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24. Tickets are $24-$47. Details: battecenter.org.
Friday, October 18, 2013
And yet don’t be fooled. The book is full of practical advice. It just happens to be sandwiched, as Rivenbark says, “between the obscenity and the ranting.”
Don’t bring some trifling store-bought cake to a funeral. Funerals aren’t the place for store-bought food, period. She includes a simple baked ham recipe “Any idiot can bake a ham,” she points out.
Those back-window minivan decals featuring white outlines of families are inappropriate public displays of affection. “There’s Dad, looking tall and in control, even as a chalk outline. There’s Mom, fuzzy haired and goofy in her mom-skirt. There are the kids and even the family dog, cat, and bird,” she writes. “I get that this is meant to tell the world that You Love Your Family. But, if we’re being honest, the sub text in this particular and very public display of affection is that My Family Is Probably Better Than Yours. (P.S. Did you not see our bird?)”
Bragging on Facebook is just as bad as bragging in person. “Every time you find your fingers wanting to bang out a quick status update that ‘Donnie Jr. had the highest grade on the spelling test!’ know that your friends think that’s kinda douchey. Actually, very douchey.”
Rivenbark, who lives in Wilmington, writes a syndicated humor column that runs Thursdays in the Observer. She has written six other humor books, including “Bless Your Heart, Tramp.”
But being somewhat of a bossy pants by nature, she says this was the book she has always wanted to write. She began by asking friends and acquaintances: What’s the rudest thing you’ve ever seen? Responses poured in.
“This books gets to the nitty gritty, the way real people lead real lives – not how to hold your pinky finger, but what to do about the bossy bitch on the playground,” she told me.
She covers texting at the dinner table, husbands who leave razor stubble in the sink, armrest hogging on airplanes. She hooked me in her foreword, when she described the phenomenon of Faux complaining. As in: “Olivia bosses me around all day in French! Oh, those four-year-olds.” I knew about this practice, the art of cloaking a brag in a complaint. I just didn’t know it had a name.
That’s how Rivenbark rolls in this book, tackling etiquette problems your grandmother never imagined. Except maybe the razor stubble. And Rivenbark has a simple solution for that one. Two words: Clorox Wipes.
Celia Rivenbark will read and sign books at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall in Pineville, 11025 Carolina Place.
Monday, October 7, 2013
In my humble opinion, October in Charlotte hasn't been quite the same since the 2010 demise of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library's excellent Novello Festival of Reading. But here's the good news: Some dedicated book lovers are helping fill the Novello vacuum with two literary events this month.
The first, on Saturday, Oct. 12, is the Center City Literary Festival, sponsored by UNC Charlotte and UNC Charlotte Center City. The free festival includes a carnival-like afternoon program for children from noon- 3:30 p.m. and an evening program for adults from 6:30-9:30 p.m. All events take place at UNCC Center City, 320 E. Ninth St.
The children's program will feature a giant Scrabble board and a 30-foot blue heron puppet, among other things. Participating writers include Janaka Lewis ("Brown All Over"), Andrew Hartley ("Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact"), children's playwright Elizabeth Murray and Gail Haley, the only picture book author from North Carolina to win a Caldecott Medal. She'll read from "The Green Man."
The evening program includes three UNCC professors who are also authors: Aimee Parkison ("The Innocent Party"), Karen Cox ("Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture") and Andrew Hartley ("Macbeth, a Novel", co-authored with David Hewson.)
On Monday, Oct. 14, a slew of authors converge for food, drink and book talk at the Charlotte Chapter of the Women's National Book Association's annual Bibliofeast. The event begins with a cash bar at 6 p.m. at Maggiano's Little Italy at SouthPark, 4400 Sharon Road. Then there's dinner, followed by what the WNBA calls "a moveable feast" of nine authors who discuss their books with diners at each table. Tickets are $45 for WNBA members and $55 for nonmembers.
This year's author lineup includes Wilton Barnhardt ("Lookaway, Lookaway"), Diane Chamberlain ("Necessary Lies"), Nora Gaskin ("Time of Death" and "Until Proven"), Susan Gregg Gilmore ("The Funeral Dress"), Tommy Hays ("What I Came to Tell You"), Cassandra King ("Moonrise"), Rebecca Lee ("Bobcat and Other Stories"), Jamie Mason ("Three Graves Full") and John Milliken Thompson ("Love and Lament").
Friday, October 4, 2013
His son, Max, started the book, but wasn’t getting very far. Finally, one night at dinner, Hays noted the lack of progress.
Later, he wrote about Max’s response: “He sighed, put his fork down on his plate, and then, looking up at me, said, ‘Daddy, it’s good historical fiction, but it’s just not my cup of tea.’ ”
Historical fiction. Ouch. “Like the Paleozoic Era or something,” Hays writes.
But Max’s remark got his dad thinking about writing a novel set in present-day Asheville – a time and place that his son and daughter knew. The result, “What I Came to Tell You” (Egmont; $16.99), Hays’ first book for middle-grade readers, is a satisfying story that demonstrates, among other things, how art can inspire and help people heal. The book has earned a starred Publishers Weekly review.
This is Hays’s fourth novel. Previous books include “The Pleasure Was Mine” and “Sam’s Crossing.” He also directs the Great Smokies Writing Program, a community writing program affiliated with UNC Asheville.
“What I Came to Tell You” centers on 12-year-old Grover Johnston, who is grieving over his mother’s death following a car accident. His father is also bereft but distant, spending long hours as director of Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe house, which is struggling to attract visitors.
Grover’s passion is making art – creating giant weavings using bamboo that grows in a stand near his home. But his father, frustrated by his son’s bad grades, believes Grover is simply wasting his time.
The book, written for readers 10 and up, doesn’t shy from thought-provoking themes. In the first paragraph, in fact, we meet Grover, reeling from the loss of his mom and pondering the idea that God is omnipresent, a word his minister liked to use.
“But what Grover believed more and more, if you could call it believing,” Hays writes, “was the omnipresence of absence, the everywhere of gone.”
With its exploration of themes such as loss, grief and spirituality, this book is sophisticated enough to attract many adult fans, I’m sure. But it remains accessible to younger readers.
“It's been my experience,” Hays told me, “that kids are incredibly insightful and understand a lot more than we ever give them credit for.”
Want to see Hays?
Tommy Hays will be among the authors at the Women’s National Book Association’s Bibliofeast dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy at SouthPark on Oct. 14. Tickets are $45 for members, $55 for nonmembers. More information: wnba-charlotte.org.
Hays will also read at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.