Friday, November 15, 2013

What's the most famous book set in North Carolina?

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.”


Anonymous said...

"Look Homeward Angel" is a long difficult read, which has killed its modern popularity. I had the same instinct as you did in response to the question of the most famous book set in NC.

Unfortunately, the books selected for NC and SC are total garbage. I really can't even discern which is worse as I didn't bother to finish either of them. I guess the only positive thing that can be said is that at least people reading something.

Anonymous said...

This country is going down the tubes. Consider Louisiana where the most famous book is schlock like "Interview with the Vampire" instead of "All the King's Men" or even "A Confederacy of Dunces."

The list cops out for Tennessee with two John Grisham novels.

Wouldn't "Where the Red Fern Grows" be a reasonable choice for Oklahoma?

"Walden" is a worthy, but debatable choice for Massachusetts.

Anonymous said...

I am a fan of Ron Rash, Serena, Cove Creek among others.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your SC comment - most any Pat Conroy book would be a better choice.

"Into the Wild" for Alaska? How about "Call of the Wild"?

And since "Into The Wild" was based on true events, I would nominate "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" for South Dakota.

DocWilson said...

I like the fiction choices for North Carolina, but what about non-fiction? I would nominate Joe McGinnis's FATAL VISION.

cindy said...

How about the more recent book by Wiley Cash, " A Land More Kind than Home"? A great new author from this great state.

Anonymous said...

"Old Man and the Boy" by Robert Ruark tells of his journey from child into manhood while growing up near Wilmington, NC during the first half of the 20th century. His tales of learning how to hunt, fish, and camp in the coast under the watchful eye of his grandfather could be the biography of any NC boy.

Anonymous said...

Cold Mountain. Hands down.

Anonymous said...

I prefer anything by North Carolina's Margaret Maron. Her Deborah Knott series is the best!

Pat R said...

How about John Hart's King of Lies

Karl Plank said...

The category "famous"--might as well say "popular"--surely skews the list. If one shifts to "significant" or "influential," then the works mentioned by Wolfe, Price, and Morgan would take pride of place, with Wolfe being in a category unto his own. Less celebrated perhaps, but of great worth would be Wilma Dykeman's The Tall Woman (1962)--it's hard to imagine Gap Creek, Cold Mountain, or even Serena without it. It taught NC writers how to listen to the mountains and evoke them as a rich place in the imagination. It is a work more people should know, a work well ahead of its time (as tributes by Robert Morgan and Fred Chappell attest). In terms of novels that establish NC as a place, I would add John Ehle's Last One Home. His portrayal of early Asheville and its development is very memorable.

Pam Kelley said...

Thanks all, for many good suggestions. There are several books here (Robert Ruark's "Old Man and a Boy," for one) that I didn't know about. As my friend Karl Plank points out, the requirement that a book be "famous" skews things. You almost need a movie version to make the list. Still, it's interesting to see the breadth of works set in North Carolina.

NClady said...

To Nirth Carolinians, Thomas Wolfe’s novel “Look Homeward Angel, will always be “THE MOST FAMOUS! Hands down ~ no contest!