Friday, April 30, 2010

Win a copy of "Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps"

Just in time for Mother's Day: I'm giving away two copies of "Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps" (Penguin Press; $21.95).

Edited by Dave Isay, this book includes some of the best stories about and by moms, collected from thousands recorded by Americans from across the nation.

If you'd like to enter to win a copy, leave a comment with your name, or some way to identify you -- not just "anonymous." I'll randomly choose two winners and announce the results here on Tuesday.

And if you want to know more, here's my column on the book, running in Sunday's Living section:

A Mother’s Day gift suggestion from Dave Isay: Interview your mom. It’ll be a gift for both of you.
If you’re an NPR fan, you may recognize Isay as the founder of StoryCorps, the seven-year-old project that has recorded the stories of more than 50,000 people.
Friends or family members do the interviews, the Library of Congress collects them all and every Friday, NPR’s “Morning Edition” airs one.
These stories are funny, poignant, authentic. Often, they’re extraordinary stories told by ordinary people. Often, they make listeners cry. “I’ve gotten maybe 10,000 e-mails from people saying ‘Every Friday, my mascara runs,’.” Isay told me recently.
Now, you can read some of the best in “Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps” (Penguin Press; $21.95). This new collection, edited by Isay, includes people talking about their moms and moms talking about their lives. It, too, would make a fine Mother’s Day gift.
Among the collection’s stories is one from Charlotte’s own Valerie Jo and Hagos Egzibher. Hagos is from Ethiopia. His mother, Zodie, came to America in 1989.
In the Egzibhers’ story, the couple recalls how their two mothers formed a bond, even though they didn’t speak the same language. And Valerie Jo remembered the time Zodie attended a performance of Charlotte’s singing Christmas tree: “…the tears were streaming down her face. I didn’t know what the tears were about until after we’d left, and on the way home she said, ‘I didn’t know God would let me live to see anything this beautiful!’.”
The couple told their story in 2008, when StoryCorps brought its recording booth to Charlotte and parked it at the Main Library. Zodie had died a year earlier. “My husband said this would be such a wonderful way to honor our moms,” Valerie Jo Egzibher told me.
At the end of book, Isay includes a list of interview questions designed to elicit rich answers. Here are some:
What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
What are you proudest of in your life?
Do you have any regrets?
Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
Go to for more questions and interviewing tips.
Isay, by the way, has interviewed his own mom, and it was, he says, a great experience. “The one thing I’ll guarantee – no matter what,” he says, “you’ll find new things.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On book blurbs and deliciously bad reviews

I'm becoming jaded. I've begun to wince when I read publicity blurbs touting new novels. These novels are: lyrical, poignant and pitch-perfect. They are transcendent page-turners. They are, in short, lots of nice adjectives.

It's hard to write a positive book review without a few adjectives, I admit. It's hard to sound totally original when you're making a case for a book that you find brilliant, funny and wise.

It's easier to be original, however, when you're trashing a book. This thought occurred recently as I read Walter Kirn's New York Times review of "Solar" by Ian McEwan. Kirn found the novel "so ingeniously designed, irreproachably high-minded and skillfully brought off -- that it's actually quite bad." He went on: "There's so little wrong with it that there's nothing particularly right about it , either. It's impressive to behold but something of a virtuous pain to read."

Wow. That's an original review. And wouldn't you love to hear McEwan's response?

Call me mean-spirited, but in a world of heartfelt and engaging books, an occasional caustic, lacerating review really peps me up.

My all-time favorite? Dorothy Parker, writing as Constant Reader in The New Yorker. In a 1928 review, Parker found A.A. Milne's "The House at Pooh Corner" too treacly, particularly when she reached the part where Pooh was feeling "hummy.

"And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings," she wrote, "that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

Monday, April 26, 2010

UNCC holds children's literature festival on Friday

In honor of Arbor Day, UNC Charlotte is presenting "Celebrating Trees and Stories: An Arbor Day and Children's Literature Festival" on Friday, April 30.

The free festival is from 2-4 p.m. at UNCC's McMillan Greenhouse. It kicks off with presentations by children's authors Gail Haley and Susan Grewell.

Haley, winner of the Caldecott Medal and author of "Green Man" and "Jack and the Bean Tree," will tell a story and show some of her hand-made puppets. Grewell, author of "ABC Learn Your Trees with the Leaf Critters," will talk about materials she has developed to teach children to use leaves to identify trees. Following the presentations, botanical garden volunteers will give guided tours.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Karl Rove to sign books in Charlotte Friday

Karl Rove, former senior advisor to President George W. Bush, will be in Charlotte Friday, April 23, to sign copies of his new memoir, "Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight" (Threshold Editions; $30).

He'll sign copies 5-7 p.m. Friday at Joseph Beth Booksellers, 4345 Barclay Downs Drive.

Rove is now a Fox News contributor and writes a weekly opinion column for The Wall Street Journal.

In his new 600-page memoir, Rove tackles subjects ranging from early partisan leanings (As a Nixon supporter at age 9, he got beat up by a little girl who favored JFK) to his years in the Texas governor's mansion and the White House.

"Rove has fashioned a portrait of the Bush presidency that aims to shape history in his boss's favor," the Washington Post writes in a review. "It's the mother of all political fights -- one for the ages that this brawler, still at heart the bloodied 9-year-old, seems determined not to lose."

Put your dog on a diet? N.C. vet's new book exposes pet obesity epidemic

It seems like it would be easy. Got a fat cat? An obese dog? Stop feeding them so much.

But in his new book, "Chow Hounds" ($14.95, Health Communications), Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian in Calabash, explains that solving America's pet obesity epidemic isn't that simple.

Dr. Ward visits Charlotte's Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark 7 p.m. Monday, April 26. He'll talk about his book and answer questions. Meanwhile, some interesting points he shared with me:

* Nearly 50 percent of America's dogs and 58 percent of cats are overweight. That's 89 million overweight pets.

* In recent years, the pet food industry has loaded many products with fat and sugar in a race for what Dr. Ward calls "first-bite preference."

Just like people, dogs love fat and sugar. "When your dog sees that food, it eats it rapidly. So you're more likely to buy it."

Dr. Ward contends pets become addicted to these high-calorie products. "Kibble crack," he calls them. "They're eating for pleasure," he says. We've substituted interaction and play with food."

* Pet food makers aren't required to reveal calories per serving on most products. Dr. Ward is pushing for new rules that require calorie listings.

So what's the owner of a pudgy pet to do? Among Dr. Ward's suggestions:

* Look for high-protein pet foods. "I want protein about 30 percent for dogs and above 35 percent for cats," he says. "Look for meat as the first ingredient."

* Take your dog for more walks. "My hidden agenda here is to help both ends of the leash," he says.

* Know that most feeding guides are formulated for active pets that aren't spayed or neutered. If you've got an indoor pet that's been spayed or neutered, it doesn't need as many calories. An indoor neutered cat, he says, needs only about 180 to 220 calories per day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stanly County native Eleanor Ross Taylor wins $100,000 poetry prize

Eleanor Ross Taylor, 90, has won the American Poetry Foundation's $100,000 Ruth Lilly award for her lifetime accomplishments. Given to a living U.S. poet, it's one of the nation's largest literary prizes.

Born in 1920, Taylor grew up in Stanly County, graduated from Norwood High in 1936 and from UNC-Greensboro in 1940. She lives in Charlottesville, Va., where her late husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Peter Taylor, taught fiction at the University of Virginia.

Until her collection "Captive Voices" was published last year by Louisiana State University Press, nearly all Taylor's work was out of print. In a press release, Poetry magazine editor Christian Wiman noted that Taylor's name may be unfamiliar to many readers, but praised her work for its "sober and clear-eyed serenity."

Here's a poem from her latest collection:

Disappearing Act

No, the soul doesn't leave the body.

My body is leaving my soul.

Tired of turning fried chicken and

coffee to muscle and excrement,

tired of secreting tears, wiping them,

tired of opening eyes on another day,

tired especially of that fleshy heart,

pumping, pumping. More,

that brain spinning nightmares.

Body prepares:

disconnect, unplug, erase.

But here, I think, a smallish altercation


Soul seems to shake its fist.

Wants brain? Claims dreams and nightmares?

Maintains a codicil bequeathes it shares?

There'll be a fight. A deadly struggle.

We know, of course, who'll win ….

But who's this, watching?

From "Captive Voices: New and Selected Voices 1960-2008" (Louisiana State University Press; $21.95).

Monday, April 19, 2010

"The Sweet By and By" author Todd Johnson at Park Road Books tonight

Todd Johnson's fine novel, "The Sweet By and By," is now out in paperback (Harper; $13.99). Johnson will sign copies at 6 p.m. tonight, Monday, April 19, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.
Johnson grew up in Charlotte and graduated from East Mecklenburg High. His debut novel, set partly in an N.C. nursing home, tells the stories of five women. Reviewers have loved Johnson's humorous, poignant storytelling.

"Confessions of a Rebel Debutante" winner

Congratulations, Toryn. You're the winner of Burlington-born Anna Fields' new memoir, "Confessions of a Rebel Debutante." Email me your mailing address, and I'll get the book to you. Hope you enjoy it!

I've got more new books to give away. Check back often for my next contest.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Confessions of a Rebel Debutante": Win a copy

Anna Fields, playwright and television writer, is a North Carolina gal, born and raised in Burlington. In her new memoir, "Confessions of a Rebel Debutante" (Putnam; $24.95), she recounts her Southern-belle upbringing, complete with dance instruction, cotillion classes and finishing school.
But Fields wasn't your typical debutante. Publicity for her book says it's the story of what it's like to grow up a fat kid in a small Southern town, "picking mosquito bites and catfish guts off your overalls."
Sound fun? If you'd like to enter to win a copy, leave a comment with your name, or some way to identify you -- not just "anonymous." I'll randomly choose two winners and announce the results here on Monday.

Sex in the suburb

Lots of people write book reviews. But few write reviews like Ward Sutton, a cartoonist and illustrator who creates "Drawn to Read" graphic reviews for Barnes & Noble.

Check out his new piece on "Love in Mid Air," by Charlotte's Kim Wright. Titled "Sex in the Suburb," the review combines panels illustrating scenes from the book with his own commentary on the work.

Sutton, who lives in New York, draws a review about once a month. He chose "Love in Mid Air," he told me, after reading about the book. "I thought it looked really good and could make a great 'Drawn to Read.' "

Set in Charlotte, "Love in Mid Air" tells the story of Elyse Bearden, an almost-40 Charlotte woman debating whether to leave her stale marriage and the comfortable existence that goes with it.

"The book will likely appeal most to women, yet it deserves attention from men readers, too," Sutton writes. "Smart, funny, and insightful -- and possessing a spellbinding second-to-last chapter -- Wright's debut has all the makings of a hit. Read it before Hollywood adapts it: 'Love in Mid Air' is bound to take off."

I'm similarly enthusiastic about Wright's book. And I'm now also a fan of Sutton's work. Read more of his reviews at

Monday, April 12, 2010

West Mecklenburg student is poetry recitation champ

Wish her luck: After winning North Carolina's Poetry Out Loud competition, West Mecklenburg High's Zamyia Felton heads to Washington D.C. later this month to compete in the Poetry Out Loud national recitation competition.
Zamyia, a senior, was among 26 N.C. students who participated in North Carolina's Poetry Out Loud competition in March. She recited three poems, including Nikki Giovanni's "Walking Down Park." Click here to listen as she delivers her winning performance.
As North Carolina's winner, Zamyia receives $200 and a paid trip to the national meet in Washington D.C. Her school also receives $500 to buy poetry books.