Saturday, December 25, 2010

What was your favorite book of 2010?

In my Dec. 26 column, I list my favorite reads of the year.

Here's the abbreviated version:

Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom"

John Updike's "Rabbit Run"

Randi Davenport's "The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes"

Mary Karr's "Lit"

David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

David Sedaris's "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk"

Ron Rash's "Burning Bright"

My list of books I want to read in 2011 is already getting long. At the top:

"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" a novel by French author Muriel Barbery.

Dave Eggers' "Zeitoun," a nonfiction set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Zadie Smith's essay collection, "Changing My Mind."

I've been intrigued by glowing reviews of "Cleopatra," the new biography by Stacy Schiff.

After hearing Terry Gross interview rapper Jay-Z recently, I'd like to read "Decoded," his new memoir.

So what were the most memorable books you read this year? Leave a comment, tell me why. And what are looking forward to reading in the new year?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Best Xmas shows, from the woman who wrote the book

Joanna Wilson, author of "The Christmas TV Companion" and "Tis the Season TV," has probably watched more cheesy Christmas shows than anyone on the planet.

She talked with me recently about some of her favorites. All are available in libraries, through Netflix or in video stores. Here they are, in five different categories:

Animated: "A Charlie Brown Christmas." "It’s just got this melancholy flavor to it, and the jazz is great," Wilson says. It also rekindles fond memories: In second grade, she played Peppermint Patty in a school production.

Humorous: Mad TV's “A Pack of Gifts Now,” a parody of “Apocalypse Now” using characters from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer..” And yes, Santa plays Kurtz.

Strange: "Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life." This 1993 Academy Award-nominated short film is "bizarre and it’s strange and it’s charming at the same time," Wilson says. On Christmas Eve, Franz Kafka is struggling to come up with the opening words to "Metamorphosis." Need I say more?

Scary: From the 1972 movie, "Tales from the Crypt," a story called "All Through the House" starring Joan Collins. A woman kills her husband on Christmas Eve. As she's cleaning up the body, she hears a radio report that an insane asylum escapee dressed as Santa Claus is in her neighborhood.

Variety Specials: “The Judy Garland Christmas Special,” circa 1963. “If you ever forget how talented this woman is, she’s there to prove it," Wilson says. "At the same time, there’s just something off about it. You can just feel the tension in the air. Which is very Christmasy too.”
Now you're in a holiday mood? Check out more on Wilson's blog.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Charlotte's Dede Wilson pens page-turning poetry

Here's a sentiment you don't often hear: I picked up a new poetry book and couldn't put it down.

The book, by Charlotte poet Dede Wilson, is "Eliza: The New Orleans Years," published by Charlotte's Main Street Rag. And this slim volume, based on actual events, is a real page-turner.

Eliza was Wilson's great- great-grandmother, and her life with husband Caleb has long been a subject of fascination in Wilson's family. "I had always heard the story of Eliza and Caleb, that he had killed her husband in a duel and married her. That always haunted me," Wilson told me.

Wilson used her late mother's research and her own to write Eliza's story for family members. After she finished, she did more research for this fictional version.

"Eliza" is the tale of a young London woman who sails in 1837 with her mother and siblings to New Orleans. In route, she marries the ship's captain. But once on land, she meets Caleb.

Rich and precise, Wilson's blank-verse poems speed the story along. By the end of the book, it's 1862. New Orleans has fallen to Union troops, and Eliza's marriage is disintegrating.

When a writer bases fiction on a true story, I always end up wondering what parts were factual. Wilson answers that question nicely, explaining at the back of the volume the truth and fiction of each poem.
Mark your calendar: She'll read from "Eliza" 7-9 p.m. Jan. 28 at Green Rice Gallery, 451 E. 36th St.

The following poem, "New Orleans," is from "Eliza." She has sailed from England and is newly arrived in New Orleans. It's 1837:

The smells are thicker than any in England:
coffee, sausages, sugared pecans. Flesh
too ripe, too perfumed. My own captain
unwashed--and me in sun-stained threads!
On the levee, a leper is begging.
Someone flips him a picayune. Enough,
I pray, for a dip of soup. I stumble
on rocks and cobbles, pitch through the streets.
Beg for my sisters. I saw Louise, I did,
peering back at me from a carriage.
That small bleached face. I cried to her, I ran--
my captain grabbed my sleeve. The sky is ringing
with heat and mosquitoes. I'm weak-kneed, trying
to breathe. Ah! Scents of camphor and sassafras--
that sweet reek of whisky reeling from doors.
The Vieux Carre. I sway against a wall.
He leads me by the wrist to a filthy street,
through a door, down an oily hall.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hiking the Appalachian Trail, and other euphemisms

Ever ponder how much we rely on euphemisms? I didn't, until I dipped into "Euphemania," a new book sure to delight language lovers.

The book, by Ralph Keyes, explores how we use euphemisms as stand-ins for words that evoke fear, unease or embarrassment.

And, best of all, it offers hundreds of examples, from antiquity to the present.

Did you know, for instance, that "penis" was a euphemism in Cicero's time? It's Latin for tail.

But "penis" is what Keyes calls a "fallen euphemism." "They start out as euphemisms, they're supposed to be respectable, and then they take on the taint of what they refer to."

"Disease" is another fallen euphemism. Think "dis-ease" and you see that it was once a gentle term for illness.

As you might guess, body parts and sex are the most popular subjects for euphemisms. In this group, "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" is a favorite. Meaning "having an affair," it was born in 2009, after one of former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford's staffers offered it as an explanation for the missing governor's whereabouts.

Keyes likes it, too. "Thank God for Mark Sanford," he says.

In recent years, Keyes has noticed, money and finance have birthed many a euphemism. Saying someone is "highly leveraged" sounds nicer than saying he's in debt up to his ears. And a "market correction" seems less scary than a 300-point drop in the stock market.

Keyes will discuss his new book on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" on Tuesday, Dec. 14. Meanwhile, check out more euphemisms than you ever knew and take a euphemism quiz. (Note that they contain explicit language and sexual content.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Two contests for writers of fiction and fact

The N.C. Writers' Network is now taking submissions for two literary prizes:
  • The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize. Open to all writers. Unpublished fiction manuscript shouldn't exceed 12 doubled-spaced pages. Winner receives $1,000 and possible publication in the Thomas Wolfe Review. Entries must be postmarked by Jan. 30.

  • The Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Contest. First-, second- and third-place winners receive $300, $200 and $100 respectively. Winning entry may be published in Southern Cultures magazine. Entries must be postmarked by Jan. 5.
More details at the N.C. Writers' Network.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Actor James Franco's N.C.connection

If you keep up with such things, you may know that actor James Franco, in addition to starring in movies, including "127 Hours" and "Howl," writing a book of short stories ("Palo Alto") and preparing to co-host the Oscars, is a graduate student. In six programs. Really.

He's studying fiction writing at Brooklyn College and Columbia and filmmaking at New York University. He enrolled this fall at the Rhode Island School of Design and at Yale, where he's pursuing at PhD in English. And, finally, he's studying poetry. Guess where? Warren Wilson College, just outside Asheville. (Let's pause here to sigh and vow to stop watching reality TV and start being more like James Franco.)

Why would a New York-to-LA guy like Franco choose a small MFA program in the N.C. mountains? Probably because it's so good. When Poets & Writers Magazine recently rated MFA programs, Warren Wilson ranked No. 1, tying with Vermont College of Fine Arts, among 46 low-residency programs.Folks at Warren Wilson try to keep quiet about their famous student.

Deb Allbery, MFA program director, would only tell me that Franco enrolled in 2009 and is on track to graduate in 2012. He'll likely return to Warren Wilson for a 10-day session in January.

How does he do it all? Writer Sam Anderson explored that question recently in New York magazine: "According to everyone I spoke with, Franco has an unusually high metabolism for productivity. He seems to suffer, or to benefit, from the opposite of ADHD: a superhuman ability to focus that allows him to shuttle quickly between projects and to read happily in the midst of chaos.

"He hates wasting time -- a category that includes, for him, sleeping. (He'll get a few hours a night, then survive on catnaps, which he can fall into at any second, sometimes even in the middle of a conversation.) He doesn't drink or smoke or -- despite his convincing performance in 'Pineapple Express' -- do drugs. He's engineered his life so he can spend all his time either making or learning about art. When I asked people if Franco actually does all of his own homework, some of them literally laughed right out loud at me, because apparently homework is all James Franco ever really wants to do."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Meet Pat Conroy at Park Road Books on Monday

Pat Conroy will sign copies of his new memoir, "My Reading Life," 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.
Conroy, whose best sellers include "The Prince of Tides," "The Lords of Discipline and "The Lords of Discipline," writes in his newest work about the books and book people who have shaped is life. Publisher's restrictions apply at this signing: You must buy a copy at Park Road Books. Details: 704-525-9239.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Olympic Gold Medalist Apolo Anton Ohno at Park Road Books Wednesday

Olympic speed-skating great Apolo Anton Ohno will sign copies of his new biography, "Zero Regrets," 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.
Ohno was originally scheduled to be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. But last week, Joseph-Beth announced it's closing. So it has transferred scheduled readings to Park Road Books.
Also moving from Joseph-Beth to Park Road is a signing with former Gov. Jim Hunt and Gary Pearce, author of "Jim Hunt: A Biography." They'll be there 7 p.m. Nov. 15.
At both events, you must buy the book at Park Road Books, unless you already bought it at Joseph-Beth.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Destination Charlotte" launches on Thursday

As a sales and marketing guy in Charlotte's hospitality industry, Greg Greenwalt often needed gifts for VIP clients and visiting dignitaries. What would be perfect, he thought, would be a book showcasing current images of Charlotte and the surrounding area. When he couldn't find one, he decided to write it himself.

The result? "Destination Charlotte" (Lorimer Press; $29.95), by Greenwalt, with photos by Paul Purser. The book includes snippets of history, both long-ago and recent. But what you'll notice most are the striking color photographs.
Lorimer Press launches the book 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, at Doubletree Guest Suites SouthPark, 6300 Morrison Blvd.

Christmas TV shows? Here's a must-watch list

Why am I writing about Christmas TV shows?
Because there's a book involved, that's why.
Joanna Wilson, author of "The Christmas TV Companion" and "Tis the Season TV" will be in Charlotte Saturday, Nov. 6, to give us the scoop on Christmas TV programs that range from beloved to creepy. She's speaking at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, at 2 p.m.
Wilson, who lives in Ohio, actually started this project when she lived in Charlotte about a decade ago. Since then, she's probably watched more cheesy Christmas shows than anyone on the planet.
So now that she's an expert, I asked her to name five favorites. All are available in libraries, through Netflix or in video stores. Here they are, in five different categories:
Animated: "A Charlie Brown Christmas." "It’s just got this melancholy flavor to it, and the jazz is great," Wilson says. It also rekindles fond memories: In second grade, she played Peppermint Patty in a school production.
Humorous: Mad TV's “A Pack of Gifts Now,” a parody of “Apocalypse Now” using characters from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer..” And yes, Santa plays Kurtz.
Strange: "Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life." This 1993 Academy Award-nominated short film is "bizarre and it’s strange and it’s charming at the same time," Wilson says. On Christmas Eve, Franz Kafka is struggling to come up with the opening words to "Metamorphosis." Need I say more?
Scary: From the 1972 movie, "Tales from the Crypt," a story called "All Through the House" starring Joan Collins. A woman kills her husband on Christmas Eve. As she's cleaning up the body, she hears a radio report that an insane asylum escapee dressed as Santa Claus is in her neighborhood.
Variety Specials: “The Judy Garland Christmas Special,” circa 1963. “If you ever forget how talented this woman is, she’s there to prove it," Wilson says. "At the same time, there’s just something off about it. You can just feel the tension in the air. Which is very Christmasy too.”
Now you're in a holiday mood? Check out more on Wilson's blog.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Southern food writing, with the food

I write about books, not food. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the Levine Museum of the New South’s “New South for the New Southerner” program on Monday, Nov. 8, involves both a book and Dan Huntley’s unforgettable barbecue.
Speakers include Huntley, co-author of “Extreme Barbecue,” Observer Food Editor Kathleen Purvis and Fred Sauceman, editor of “Cornbread Nation 5: The Best of Southern Food Writing.” Pieces by Purvis and Huntley are featured in that collection.
The event, 7 p.m. in the Lilly Family Gallery of Davidson College’s Chambers Building, is $8 for the public, $4 for members of the Levine Museum and Davidson Friends of the Arts. It includes a reception with the aforementioned barbecue.
RSVP: 704-333-1887 ext. 501 or

Monday, November 1, 2010

Twenty-five years ago today, The Charlotte News died

Have you lived here long enough to remember The Charlotte News? A quarter century ago today, Charlotte's afternoon daily published for the last time. For years, the News, a great, feisty publication, was the Carolinas' largest afternoon paper.
The News holds a special place in my heart: It was where I got my start as a journalist. I'd forgotten that 25 years had passed since its demise until I recently stumbled on the story now-retired News and Charlotte Observer writer John Vaughan wrote that last day, Nov. 1, 1985 . His first paragraph follows. Does it remind you of anything?

The Charlotte News, once the largest afternoon daily in the Carolinas and for many decades one of the South's best newspapers, ceases publication with this edition. A victim of social changes and economic forces beyond the control of its publishers and marketing strategists, The News passed into history shortly after 2 p.m. today, after almost 97 years, with a final press run of 67,003 copies. It was the largest press run in a decade or more, but 18,000 of those copies will go to souvenir collectors and former employees, not to subscribers. At its death The News had a circulation of only 34,700 -- half that of its peak period in 1972. The News was loved, but it wasn't loved by enough people to survive.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Only a few tickets left for Tom Wolfe on Thursday

Tom Wolfe, the man who brought us "Bonfire of the Vanities," "The Right Stuff" and "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," speaks in Charlotte Thursday, Oct. 28, as part of a major Charlotte Mecklenburg Library fundraiser.
Wolfe will discuss his upcoming novel, "Back to Blood," with Rolfe Neill, retired publisher of The Charlotte Observer. The event begins at 6 p.m. in the Booth Playhouse in Founders Hall. It'll be followed by a dinner in the Urban Garden, One Bank of America Center on College Street.
Tickets are $300 each, and only a few remain. To purchase, contact Dick Pahle at 704-416-0617 or
All event expenses are being covered with donations, including support from three corporate sponsors -- Bank of America, Barry Evans Josephs & Snipes and TIAA-CREF. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 for early childhood literary services.

A poetry reading, with recipes

Let's start with a stanza:

Aunt Wilma's fabled spoon bread sits
Beside Aunt Martha's perennial grits;
Here Sissie's chicken a la king
Companions Darla's Jell-O ring,
While Cousin Willoughby has brought in
A gay attempt at haute cuisine,
And next -- the terror of the soul:
Aunt Lavinia's casserole.

-- from "Pot Luck Supper: Aunt Lavinia Strikes," by Fred Chappell

Yes, you get poetry in "The Sound of Poets Cooking," (Jacar Press, $15.95), a new anthology edited by Richard Krawiec. The collection includes about five dozen poets. Among them are some of North Carolina's best, including Chappell, Joseph Bathanti, and Kathryn Stripling Byer. Every poem is about food, of some sort or another.
But this anthology offers more.
You also get recipes, written, in some cases, only as poets would write them. (For a French bread recipe, Susan Ludvigson directs us to toss the yeast, sugar and sea salt "as if you were scattering seeds for wildflowers.")

And if that's not enough, consider that the book functions as what Krawiec calls an "arts-stimulus program." He's using proceeds from sales to pay stipends to writers to conduct free community writing workshops.

Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark hosts a poetry reading at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31. Among the poets attending: Charlotte's Julie Suk, Diana Pinckney, Allison Elrod and Gail Peck. Krawiec tells me there will be food, of course.

Monday, October 25, 2010

N.C. writers to converge in Charlotte, and you can join them

More than 300 writers, editors and literary agents gather in Charlotte next week for the N.C. Writers' Network's 25th annual fall conference. Want to join them? You can.
The conference runs Nov. 5-7 at the Omni Charlotte Hotel, 132 E. Trade St. It offers more than 25 workshops and panel discussions on topics ranging from creative nonfiction and children's books to critiquing work and promoting yourself. N.C. Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers will teach a poetry master class. Michael Malone, bestselling author of "The Four Corners of the Sky," will give the keynote address. And Georgann Banks, author of "Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont," will lead a walking tour.
The cost runs from $100 to more than $400, depending on the conference package you choose. For the best prices, register by Friday, Oct. 29. Check the N.C. Writers' Network web site for a complete schedule and details.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What did David Sedaris write in your book?

Humor writer David Sedaris wowed the crowd at Charlotte's Blumenthal Monday night, reading stories, diary entries and jokes collected from folks he met on the road. Then, afterward, he sat behind a table and autographed books for hundreds of adorning fans.
I'm no expert on the autographing habits of authors, but I think it's safe to say Sedaris is one of a kind. As is his habit, he brought a canvas tote bag filled with gifts he doled out, especially to his teenaged fans. They included hotel soaps and shampoos, hand sanitizer and stretchy bracelets, purchased in bulk. (In the past, he has gifted teenagers with condoms. A fine idea, I think, but he caught flack.)
His autographs are equally unique. He wrote in my friend Lesa's book: "We see eye to eye." (An amazingly true statement.)
He wrote in my 17-year-old daughter's book: "Let's throw sticks at vulnerable old people together."
So, now I'm desperate to find out what else he wrote. If he signed your book, leave a comment and let me know what said.

Abigail DeWitt reads from "Dogs" Sunday at Joseph-Beth

North Carolina's Abigail DeWitt launches her new novel, "Dogs" (Lorimer Press, $25.95), 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at SouthPark.
The story of Molly Moore and her troubled Texas family, "Dogs" is "dark, sexy and profoundly original," author Lee Smith says.
DeWitt, the award-winning author of "Lili," lives in the N.C. mountains.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

One Circus Poem for now, more on Friday

Chapel Hill poet Alex Grant reads from his new collection, "The Circus Poems" (Lorimer Press, $16.95), 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, at Joseph Beth Books in SouthPark Mall.
Grant won the 2007 Oscar Arnold Young Award for best collection by an N.C. poet and the 2006 Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize. And yes, his new collection does mostly revolve around circus themes. Here's one:

The Dwarf

A full-grown man looking up at the world -- riding the trains
with the children -- they think him a child, ask why his beard
doesn't move when they tug it -- offer pink and white bunches
of stale cotton-candy. In his trailer at night, he looks up at the moon and imagines his body, enormous and celestial, lighting
half of the night sky -- casting its immense glow on the world.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chelsea Handler coming to Park Road Books

New York Times bestselling author and comedian Chelsea Handler ("Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang") will sign books 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.
Some restrictions apply: Books must be bought at Park Road Books, and receipts are required. No memorabilia will be signed. Pictures may be taken of Chelsea, but not with her.
Also, you might want to wear something nice. We're told the signing will be filmed.

Mary N., you've won David Sedaris' new book

I've got a copy of David Sedaris' new "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary" to send out to Mary N., who says she's going to give it to her son -- after she reads it.
Thanks to everyone who posted. Loved the comments, and clearly, many folks are as crazy about this author as I am.
Mary, email your address, and I'll get the book to you in time for Sedaris' appearance in Charlotte Monday night.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lots more used books for sale

Check out two more used book sales this week to benefit the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library:
Resourceful Books on Gardening, Birds, Nature & Ecology
Wing Haven Educational Building
248 Ridgewood Ave.
Tuesday, Oct.12, 3-7 p.m.

Fascinating Books on Music, Theater, Film and Dance
The Meadows Clubhouse, 4315 Simsbury Road
Saturday, Oct. 16, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Win David Sedaris' new book, "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk"

Do you love the humor of David Sedaris? Then you'll want to read "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary," his new, very funny collection of animal stories.
If you'd like to win a copy, post a comment on this blog with your name or some way to identify you -- not just "anonymous."
Then, make sure to check back on Tuesday, Oct. 12, when I'll randomly select a winner.
Sedaris will be in Charlotte Monday, Oct. 18, as part of his lecture tour. I recently had a great chat with with him by phone, so if you're hankering for his wit and wisdom, read my Q&A.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Check out children's and young adult authors at Saturday's Tribute to Novello

This year's Tribute to Novello wraps up Saturday, Oct. 9, at ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St., with a day devoted to children's and young adult authors. The morning kicks off at 10:30 a.m. with appearances by book characters Max and Spot.

Saturday's impressive lineup includes Newbery Honor Book winner Stephanie Tolan ("Surviving the Applewhites") and Gloria Houston, author of the classic "Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree." And if you know any young-adult readers who are partial to zombies, make sure to meet Carrie Ryan, author of the beautifully written and wonderfully creepy "Forest of Hands and Teeth."

Check out the full schedule.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dinner with four authors? It's BiblioFeast.

Conversations with authors, dinner and a glass of wine. That's the enticing lineup at BiblioFeast, coming up 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at Sante, 165 N. Trade St. in Matthews.
Organized by the Charlotte chapter of the Women's National Book Association, the event features Carolina-based authors Minrose Gwin ("The Queen of Palmyra"), Rick Rothacker ("Banktown"), Jay Varner ("Nothing Left to Burn") and Kim Wright ("Love in Mid Air").
They'll travel from table to table discussing their work. And I'm delighted to be hosting.
Tickets are $35 and available in advance at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Monday, October 4, 2010

When the United States spoke French

Even though some Americans got so peeved with the French a few years back that they renounced French fries, the fact remains: This nation's ties with France are deep.
Francois Furstenberg, author of "In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation," explores some of those ties when he gives a free talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5 in Sykes Auditorium at Queens University.
Furstenberg, a history and American studies professor at the University of Montreal, will trace the outlines of his book in progress, tentatively titled "When the United States Spoke French: Land, Émigrés and Politics in the Age of Revolutions."
It follows a group of émigrés who fled the French Revolution and took refuge on American shores. Check here for details.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tribute to Novello starts tonight

Enjoy four local authors who've all written about the Charlotte area and its history, 7-8:30 p.m. tonight, Oct. 1, at the Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. Seventh St.
The event is the kickoff to Tribute to Novello, a volunteer-organized literary festival that's filling in for the Novello Festival of Reading. The Charlotte Mecklenburg library's festival was a victim of this year's budget cuts.
Tonight's authors: History writers Mary Norton Kratt ("Charlotte, North Carolina: A Brief History"), Tom Hanchett ("Sorting Out the New South City"), John Grooms ("Deliver Us From Weasels") and Mike Lassiter ("Vanishing Americana").
Everything's free -- though library donations are welcome -- and the schedule of events continues from noon to evening on Saturday at the Main Library, 310 N. Tryon St. I'll be there at noon to introduce fantasy writers A.J. Hartley and Faith Hunter. Join me!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reading banned books at Queens University

In honor of Banned Books Week, students, faculty and staff at Queens University of Charlotte are celebrating their freedom to read on Wednesday, Sept. 29, by reading passages from books that have been challenged or banned. They'll be on the steps of Everett Library from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

What's on the agenda? You might be surprised at how many great books make the list. Look for Cormac McCarthy's "All the Pretty Horses," Toni Morrison's "Beloved" and Katherine Paterson's "Bridge to Terabithia," to name a few.

And if you can't make it to Queens on Wednesday, check out excepts from banned books being read by members of N.C. State University's community:

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Freakonomics" authors coming to Charlotte

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of the best-selling "Freakonomics" books, will speak in Charlotte Nov. 4. They'll be the inaugural lecturers for a new speaker series sponsored by UNC Charlotte's Belk College of Business.

Levitt and Dubner are famous for asking new questions and discovering unexpected answers. In "Freakonomics" and "SuperFreakonomics" they've looked at the telltale signs of a cheating schoolteacher and wondered whether a sex change could boost your salary. They've also asked what's more dangerous, driving drunk, or walking drunk?

The two will speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte. Tickets, which include a cocktail reception starting at 5:45 p.m., are $49. VIP tickets, which include the reception before the event, a private reception with the speakers after the event and signed copies of the "Freakonomics" books, are $149. Check here for more information.

Enough already with the zombies and vampires

Sorting through new books recently, I came across "The Zombie Night Before Christmas," a retelling of Clement C. Moore's classic. No stockings hung by the chimney -- just undead legs. The perfect gift, I guess, if you're trying to scare the crap out of your kids.
The next day, the Observer reported on a new version of everyone's favorite beginning reader: "Dick and Jane and Vampires."
These books, as you probably know, follow a slew of retold classics in which vampires, zombies and other assorted beasties have been inserted -- "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," "Jane Slayre," "Little Vampire Women," "Android Karenina," "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."
You get the picture. In fact, by now, I think we all get the picture: Let's take what originally may have been a clever idea and beat it death, hoping to extract every last dime.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A wondrous Junot Diaz speaks at Davidson College

My plan was to jot a few quotes as Junot Diaz ("The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao") spoke Thursday night at Davidson College. I ended up scribbling the whole time.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, dressed in a black hoodie, jeans and tennis shoes, was provocative and irreverent as he discussed his Dominican-immigrant background, his writing process and MFA programs.
Some highlights:
On cancer, which plays a role in his novel:
His older brother was diagnosed with cancer when Diaz was 12. "Cancer pulls you out of the normal stream of life," he said. "You reside on what I call Cancer Planet. It becomes a different reality altogether."
On mixing humor and violence in his work:
"In real life it gets all mixed up. People even in extreme situations crack jokes. We don't live our life in genre. My family didn't stop laughing because s--- was hard."
On mixing Spanish and English in his novel:
"These two languages have been in bed with each other for 500 years."
On people who find his work offensive:
"The truth rarely gets you friends," he said. "Really, if you want friends, be a f------ lawyer."
On becoming a writer:
"I kind of grew up in a world where if you weren't awesome at something right away, you sucked. The thought didn't enter my mind for a long time that I might be amazing at something I find very difficult."
On whether MFA creative writing programs produce cookie-cutter writing:
"If your s--- is whack, it ain't the program's fault."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Art books on sale Friday and Saturday

Find bargains on lots of big, beautiful books on art, architecture and photography when Hodges Taylor Gallery and Friends of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library host a book sale Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24 and 25, to benefit the library.
The sale runs 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Hodges Taylor Gallery, 401 N. Tryon St. Look for more bargains on books at benefit sales over the next month. Click here to find out more.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A book club milestone

In 1960, Charlotte’s Connie Braxton started a Great Books group, an outgrowth of the Great Books Foundation, founded to encourage readers to discuss enduring ideas.
For the past half century, as far as she can remember, Braxton has read every book the group has chosen. “I wouldn’t dare go the meeting without reading the book,” she says.
Now 92, she recently decided she’d no longer attend meetings because she has difficulty hearing. But she’ll continue reading the group’s monthly selections.
In fact, she just finished the most recent, Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” – all 1,000-plus pages, she told me, not some abridged version.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Charlotte's A.J. Hartley pens a new fantasy

He's a sort of literary superhero, that A.J. Hartley.

At UNC Charlotte, he's Andrew Hartley, distinguished professor of Shakespeare. But fans of his novels know him as A.J.

Hartley's newest work, "Will Power" (Tor; $25.99), is now in bookstores. The fantasy novel centers on young actor Will Hawthorne, who finds himself transported to a strange land and plunked down in the middle of a war between humans and goblins. Readers first met Will in Hartley's previous book, "Act of Will."

Early reviews are good. "All of the fast pacing, outrageous dilemmas, and sharp cynical humor (of "Act of Will") are back in full force," says Publishers Weekly.

Hartley will speak at noon Saturday, Oct. 2, at the main library, 310 N. Tryon St., as part of the "Tribute to Novello" festival.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The story behind your cute outfit

Kelsey Timmerman has traveled the world to find out where, exactly, his clothes are made.
Timmerman, author of "Where Am I Wearing: a Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People that Make our Clothes," speaks at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 17 in the chapel at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer. He'll also attend a 7 p.m. dessert reception on Thursday, Sept. 16 in the Stokes Student Center Lounge. Both events are free and open to the public.

The 2008 book is Pfeiffer's required reading for freshmen this year.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Davidson professor dedicates his new book to a fallen soldier

Stories of soldiers ancient and modern converge in Peter Krentz's new book, "The Battle of Marathon" (Yale University Press; $27.50), a new interpretation of a battle that changed Greek military history.
In the Battle of Marathon, in 490 BCE, the city-state of Athens defeated invaders from Persia. For centuries, scholars have found fault with the earliest surviving account of the battle, written by the Greek historian Herodotus. Nearly all, for instance, have doubted Herodotus's claim that the Athenians ran nearly a mile when they charged the Persians. The soldiers' heavy equipment and armor would have made such a long run impossible, they argued.
But Krentz, a Davidson College classics professor, wasn't so sure. He decided to test Herodotus's claim by consulting some modern wartime experts: American soldiers.
In 2006, Krentz emailed dozens of Davidson College ROTC graduates asking about their experience running with heavy equipment. About 50 responded, and many described training that involved running for miles with a 35-pound rucksack and gun. Based on their accounts, Krentz says he became convinced that Herodotus's story was plausible.
Among those Davidson graduates was David Taylor Jr., a 1991 graduate and Army major who took the time to email Krentz from Iraq with a long, thoughtful response. A few months later, Krentz learned Taylor had been killed -- the first Davidson graduate to die in the Iraq war.
Krentz dedicates his new book to Maj. David Taylor. "It just felt right," Krentz says, as a way of remembering Taylor and all the ROTC graduates who helped him.
It also felt right to dedicate the book to a soldier, since the Athenians' victory in the Battle of Marathon, Krentz believes, was a victory won by the soldiers, not the commanding officers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New children's book from Charlotte's Tameka Fryer Brown

Sometimes, Tameka Fryer Brown will tell you, persistence pays off. Brown, a Charlotte mom who lives in the University City area, worked for three years to find a publisher for her children's picture books. And she got nowhere.

Then, in 2008, lots of things happened at once. A publisher expressed interest. The Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories Author Contest awarded one of her stories a $1,000 prize. The publisher got more interested.

The result? Brown's first book, "Around Our Way on Neighbors' Day" (Abrams Books for Young Readers; $16.95). Illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb, the book's

rhyming lines tell the story of a diverse neighborhood holding its annual summer block party.

Brown has now sold a second book, due out 2012.

She'll be among a slew of children's and young adult authors reading and signing books 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m Oct. 9 at Imaginon, 300 E. Seventh St. The event is part of this year's Tribute to Novello activities.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Support the public library. You may win wine.

Surely you know by now that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library has suffered huge budget cuts. But did you know this: Neiman Marcus at SouthPark is raffling off some ritzy prizes to help our beleaguered library system.
As part of the department store's Fashion's Night Out event at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, Neiman Marcus is selling $20 raffle tickets, with all proceeds going to the library system.
What could you win?
1. A private wine tasting for 12 guests from Bond Street Imports, plus three bottles of Northern Rhone Wine.
2. A Ritz-Carlton hotel package that includes a night in a deluxe guest room and breakfast.
3. $500 Neiman Marcus gift card.
How do you buy a ticket?
1. At the event. It's free, but reserve a spot at
2. Online at
3. At any of library's 20 locations.
Organizers are aiming to sell 1,000 tickets. You don't have to be present to win.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A new historical novel from CPCC's president

Tony Zeiss has a plenty demanding day job -- president of Central Piedmont Community College, the state's largest community college. But Zeiss is also a history buff, a guy so passionate about the subject that he also finds time to write historical novels.

His new book, "Backcountry Fury" (Parkway Books; $19.95), tells the true story of Thomas Young, who was just 16 in 1780 when he fought against the Tories in the South Carolina backcountry during the Revolutionary War. Zeiss worries that students today are often ignorant about the Revolutionary War. He's hoping Thomas's story will educate while it entertains.

And it is a heck of a story. Zeiss discovered an intriguing quote from Thomas on an historical plaque at Kings Mountain National Military Park, on the N.C.-S.C. border near Interstate-85.

Then he found Thomas's memoirs and discovered the young man became a soldier at 16. He fought barefoot at the Battle of Kings Mountain, Zeiss learned, because his shoes had worn out. He suffered six saber wounds. He was captured and interrogated. But he escaped and lived to 83.

Though only 16, Thomas wasn't particularly young for a soldier, Zeiss told me. "The best estimate is 50 percent or more of all militiamen were teenagers," he says. Some soldiers were as young as 10.

This is Zeiss's second historical novel. His first, "Journey to Cherry Mansion," was a Civil War story. But this new one, Zeiss says, is better. "I give it a solid B, and maybe a B-plus," he says. "I’m proud of it."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New books appeal to anal grammarians

Do you cringe at a sign that says "their" when it should be "they're," or when a restaurant menu informs that the roast beef sandwich is served "with au jus"?
Do you die a little inside every time you see a misused apostrophe?
For you, dear readers, I recommend "The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time" (Harmony; $23.99).
In 2008, authors Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson began traveling the country, tracking down egregious typos in public places and doing their best to fix them. Sometimes, this meant quietly scratching an unneeded apostrophe off a wall. Or it required our heroes to convince owners of a grammatically-challenged sign to fix their errors.
Admit it, you've thought about doing this yourself. With this book, you can live vicariously.
And if you love language, you'll also enjoy Roy Peter Clark's new "The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English" (Little, Brown; $19.99). Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, is a master writing coach.
His instructive chapter headings alone will entice you. Among them: "Honor the smallest distinctions--even between a and the," "Switch tenses, but only for strategic reasons," "Politely ignore the language crotchets of others."

Monday, August 23, 2010

UNCC's Aaron Gwyn in "New Stories from the South"

Charlotte's Aaron Gwyn has earned a place in the 2010 edition of "New Stories from the South" (Algonquin; $14.95), with his short story, "Drive." Gwyn, an English professor at UNC Charlotte, joins some formidable company in this collection from well-known and up-and-coming Southern authors.
Also in the collection: Western Carolina University's Ron Rash, with "Ascent," and Wells Tower's "Retreat." The New Yorker recently named Tower, who grew up in Chapel Hill, one of 20 outstanding writers under 40.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Huntersville author pens "The Pirate Queen"

Huntersville's Patricia Hickman starts her new novel close to home. "The Pirate Queen," (Waterbrook Press; $13.99), opens at Saphora Warren's waterfront house on Lake Norman, a house so lovely that Southern Living has dropped by to photograph it.
But we soon learn that Saphora's life is far from perfect. She's on verge of leaving her philandering plastic-surgeon husband when he delivers news that changes everything: He's dying.
Like Hickman's last novel, "Painted Dresses," this is a book that defies easy labeling. Yes, Hickman is a Christian writer, but she's never heavy-handed. And yes, Romantic Times gave the book four stars. But don't expect a tired plot about a long-suffering woman finding true love.
Suffice it to say that "The Pirate Queen" is a good story, well told. Hickman's fans should love it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What have those college kids been reading?

Every summer, many colleges assign summer reading to incoming freshmen. A few summer assignments from Carolinas colleges:

Appalachian State University: "Mudbound," by Hillary Jordan. Set in the Mississippi Delta following World War II, the novel involves people coping with old questions of class, race, gender and ethnicity under new conditions.
Catawba College: "Three Cups of Tea," by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The true story of Mortenson's mission to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Davidson College: "Here, Bullet," by Brian Turner. A poetry collection written by soldier-poet Turner after his stint in Afghanistan.
Queens University: "Mister Pip," by Lloyd Jones. In this fablelike novel, a man on a tropical island ravaged by war introduces the island's children to Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations."
UNC Chapel Hill: "Picking Cotton," by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. The true story of a woman and the innocent man she sent to prison.
Winthrop University: "Make the Impossible Possible," by Bill Strickland. A CEO and MacArthur genius grant winner, Strickland writes about dreaming bigger and achieving the extraordinary.
Know of more college summer readings? Tell me about them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sunset Beach's mysterious mailbox featured in new novel

If you've been to North Carolina's Sunset Beach, maybe you've visited the Kindred Spirit mailbox nestled among the dunes on Bird Island. It's a plain mailbox filled with notebooks that visitors use to record all kinds of thoughts and wishes.
Charlotte's Marybeth Whalen features that Sunset Beach landmark in "The Mailbox" (David C. Cook, $14.99). Whalen's new novel examines loss and second chances as it tells the story of Lindsey Adams, who visits the mailbox for her first vacation since her husband left her.
This is Whalen's first novel, and Library Journal calls her "a new writer to watch." Whalen has also penned several non-fiction books, including "Learning to Live Financially Free." But wait, there's more: She's the mother of six kids. How does she do it? Check out her web site:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rebecca Steele, you've won Janet Evanovich's new novel

I heard last week from lots of readers who said they'd love a copy of Janet Evanovich's "Sizzling Sixteen," the newest novel in her Stephanie Plum series.

Rebecca Steele was my winner. But hey, Rebecca, I need an email with your address so I can mail your book. If I don't hear from Rebecca by next week, I'll choose another winner from the entries.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Historical novel explores the Radium Dial painters

Hard to to believe, but starting in 1920s, an Illinois company called the Radium Dial Co. encouraged its workers to lick the tips of their paint brushes, which were dipped in radium, to create perfectly pointed lines on the watch and clock dials they painted. As years passed, scores of women died of radiation poisoning and related cancers as a result of ingesting the glow-in-the-dark paint.

When Charlotte's Shelley Stout learned about these women years ago through a documentary, she remembers being "stunned and horrified," but also fascinated.

Stout's recent novel "Radium Halos" (LibriFiles Publishing; $9.99) is a fictional take on this sad piece of history. Her story begins in Belmont in 1923, where two sisters convince their father to let them travel to Illinois to take jobs with the well-paying Radium Dial company.

Stout, who describes herself as mostly self-taught, works by day in a sales job. But she's obviously a born writer, as her engrossing first novel shows. She'll sign copies at Joseph Beth Booksellers at SouthPark 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 10.

Friday, June 25, 2010

We've got a winner for Janet Evanovich's new novel

Wow, you folks do love your Janet Evanovich. I got lots of entries for my book giveaway.

Our winner is Rebecca Steele. Send me an email, Rebecca, and I'll mail you your copy of Janet Evanovich's "Sizzling Sixteen," the newest novel in her Stephanie Plum series.

Thanks all for entering, and check back for more giveaways.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Janet Evanovich visits Charlotte Thursday; Win her new book

Janet Evanovich fans take note: The New York Times bestselling author will sign books at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 24, at Borders at Stonecrest Shopping Center, 7836 Rea Road.

But wait, there's more: I'm giving away a copy of her new novel, "Sizzling Sixteen,"(St. Martin's Press; $27.99).
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this blog with your name, or some way to identify you, not just "anonymous." I'll randomly pick a winner and post your name on Friday, June 25.

"Sizzling Sixteen," out today, June 22, is the latest in Evanovich's long-running mystery series featuring New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Check out Judy Goldman in Real Simple magazine

Charlotte author Judy Goldman has a piece in the July issue of Real Simple magazine, on sale Friday, June 18. It's an excerpt from the book she's now working on, "Unreliable Hearts: A Sister's Memoir."

In the piece, Goldman, a poet, teacher and author of the novel "Early Leaving," explores what she calls her "close but sometimes ragged relationship" with her sister.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Charlotte-Mecklenburg library launches summer reading clubs

Kids can win prizes, reduce overdue-book fines or give back to the community through the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library's summer reading clubs.

The clubs start Monday, June 14, and run through Aug. 9. Sign up and pick up your reading record at any location, except the Main Library and Checkit Outlet.

For each hour of reading, kids can earn "book bucks." Book bucks can be redeemed for prizes once you reach 10 and 20 hours, or you can use them to erase your fines. You can also donate them to provide books to local centers in need.

Go to the library's summer reading Web site for more information.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Queen of Palmyra" author at Joseph-Beth on June 12

UNC Chapel Hill's Minrose Gwin will read from her debut novel, "The Queen of Palmyra", 2 p.m. June 12 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 4345 Barclay Downs Drive.

I wrote about Gwin and her new novel in my column in Sunday's Observer, but I misstated the time. It's a good book, and I don't want readers to miss out because of my mistake. So: 2 p.m. Saturday, June 12.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Enjoy movie trailers? Check out this book trailer for "Love in Mid Air."

Charlotte's Kim Wright, author of "Love in Mid Air," has discovered it's a new world in book promotion these days. With newspaper reviews dying out and author tours on the wane, writers often find that if they want to promote their books, they've got to do it themselves.

And so Wright is. Set in Charlotte, her debut novel tells the story of a woman struggling to decide whether to stay in a safe but loveless marriage. With the help of a film director friend, she has just completed a trailer for the book.

"All my friends pitched in sort of like when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland would say 'Let's put on a show in the barn,'" she told me in an email. Check it out. It's a great introduction to an engaging novel.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A new book on Elizabeth Lawrence, Charlotte's late, great garden writer

A few years ago, a friend gave me a Christmas present of Emily Herring Wilson's "Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence -- A Friendship in Letters."

White, wife of E.B. White, was a writer and editor for The New Yorker. Lawrence wrote gardening books and gardening columns for The Charlotte Observer. Their friendship lasted from the late '50s until White's death in 1977.

I found it a fascinating, wonderful book, and I wasn't alone. The New York Times called it "one of the finest gardening books published in years."

Now, Wilson, who lives in Winston-Salem, has published another book of Lawrence's letters, "Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: Discovered Letters of a Southern Gardener" (John F. Blair Publisher, $$19.95). It's the correspondence between Lawrence and her friend and mentor Ann Preston Bridgers, founder of the Raleigh Little Theatre and coauthor of "Coquette," a Broadway hit that starred Helen Hayes.
Wilson will be in Charlotte to discuss her book 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 25, at the Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary, where Elizabeth Lawrence's gardens are located, at 248 Ridgewood Ave.

She discovered the letters, she told me, while working on "No One Gardens Alone," her biography of Lawrence. The collection reveals much about the two women's friendship, as well as life for Southern women in the 1930s and 1940s.

Lawrence died in 1985. In 2004, Horticulture magazine named her one of the world's 25 greatest gardeners.

“I really didn’t have the key to Elizabeth until I had these letters,” Wilson says. "This is as close as we'll have to her autobiography."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Charlotte woman's novel tells of a life-changing injury

In 1986, Charlotte's Elizabeth McColl had just married, graduated from Duke University Law School and passed the N.C. State Bar. Then, on her honeymoon, she suffered a head injury in a bike accident that changed her life forever.

That accident and its aftermath are the inspiration for McColl's debut novel, "Opening Arteries" (Main Street Rag; $14.95). Like McColl, the protagonist in the book has a brain injury and must rebuild her life.

McColl, now 48, had to relearn how to talk, how to read. She worked for a couple of years in a Charlotte law firm, but knew things weren't going well. Her brain wouldn't function as it once did.

So she left. She had three children, ran marathons, earned a master's degree in English from UNC Charlotte. Now, she teaches literature at Central Piedmont Community College and King's College.

And several years ago, she began her book. "I realized I had a story worth reading," she says.
McColl, who's the niece of retired Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, continues to have occasional seizures. She believes her cognitive abilities aren't what they were before her accident. Her family and friends, she says, tell her otherwise.

She has, after all, just published a novel. She's already working on the sequel. This wasn't the life she had planned, but it feels like what she's meant to be doing.

"There’s something magic," she says, "about giving something to your reader that came from inside you."

McColl signs copies of "Opening Arteries" 6 p.m. Wednesday at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road. She'll be at Joseph Beth Booksellers, 4345 Barclay Downs Drive, 2 p.m. June 26.

Monday, May 17, 2010

We've got a winner for Jen Lancaster's "My Fair Lazy"

Congratulations, reader who goes by "jmdcnc." You've won a copy of Jen Lancaster's newest memoir, "My Fair Lazy." Send me an email and I'll get the book in the mail to you.

Lancaster and her goofy sense of humor will be at Barnes & Noble at Birkdale in Huntersville at 7 p.m. Friday, May 21. In her new book, she explores whether she can move, intellectually, beyond her lying-on-the-couch-watching-reality-TV existence.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jen Lancaster's coming to town; win her new book

Jen Lancaster ("Bitter is the New Black," "Pretty in Plaid") began her literary career as a blogger blessed with an acerbic sense of humor.

She's now a New York Times bestselling author who writes about fashion obsessions, losing weight and her slovenly existence as a reality television addict.

On tour with her new memoir, "My Fair Lazy" (NAL Hardcover; $24.95), she'll be at Barnes & Noble at Birkdale in Huntersville, 7 p.m. Friday May 21. Piece of advice: Arrive early. Her visit last May drew several hundred fans.

And did you say you'd love a copy of her new book? I've got one to give away. Leave a comment on this blog with your name, or some way to identify you, not just "anonymous." I'll randomly pick a winner and post your name on Monday, May 17.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bestselling "The Lace Reader" author in Charlotte

Brunonia Barry hit it big in 2008 with her bestselling debut novel, "The Lace Reader." Now with her new second novel, "The Map of True Places," she'll speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 18, at Charlotte's Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 4345 Barclay Downs Drive.
Barry sets "The Map of True Places" in Salem, Mass., where a psychotherapist begins to find strands of her own life in the suicide of a troubled patient.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Free author readings at Queens University

Queens University's low-residency MFA holds a series of free readings this month by faculty members. All are in Sykes Auditorium on campus.

The series begins at 8:15 p.m. Sunday, May 23 with a reading by Pinckney Benedict, author of "Miracle Boy and Other Stories," being published this month by North Carolina's Press 53. He'll be followed by Cathy Smith Bowers, a longtime Queens professor who was recently named North Carolina's poet laureate.

Charlotte's Kim Wright, author of "Love in Mid Air," kicks off a second reading at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 25. Her debut novel, set in Charlotte, tells the story of a woman struggling to decide whether to stay in a safe but loveless marriage. David Christensen, a Canadian director and producer, will follow.

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, author of "Appropriate," "The Change," and "Neighbors," will start the final readings in the series, 8 p.m. Friday May 28. Nathaniel Rich, senior editor at The Paris Review and author of the novel, "The Mayor's Tongue," will follow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Greensboro's John Hart wins his second Edgar Award

Congratulations to Davidson College graduate John Hart, who has snagged his second Edgar Award for best novel for "The Last Child."
The Edgar Awards are given out annually by the Mystery Writers of America. Hart won his first for "Down River."
In his latest thriller, "The Last Child," 13-year-old Johnny Merrimon's life falls apart when his twin sister goes missing. A year has passed, but Johnny can't let her go. As he continues searching throughout his N.C. county, he uncovers terrifying secrets.
Hart grew up in Salisbury and worked as a lawyer and stockbroker before trying his hand at writing and hitting it big with his first novel, "The King of Lies." He's known for his work in support of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina and the Greensboro Children's Museum. Last year, he raised money for the museum by raffling off a character name in his next novel.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two readers win StoryCorps' new book on moms

Congratulations Pamela Diamond and Laurie S. You've won copies of "Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps," edited by Dave Isay. Email me with your addresses, and I'll get the books to you. With luck, they could arrive before Mother's Day.

Thanks all who entered for your thoughts and memories about your moms. I'm embarrassed to say that I waited too long to sit several of my family members down for an interview, and I've lost some wonderful stories.

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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RealEyes holds a grand re-opening

RealEyes Bookstore is holding a Grand Re-Opening, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday. The independent bookstore has moved next door to its former space in NoDa.

The new location, 3306-B N. Davidson St., offers a lounge and patio area, plus free WiFi and a tea and cafe bar. Friday's celebration features barbecue and wine tasting, plus 25 percent off all books.

More information: 704-377-8989 or RealEyes Bookstore.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Readers win copies of "Love in Mid Air"

Congratulations Dot and Andrea. You're the winners of my first Reading Life book giveaway. Send me an email with your mailing address, and I'll mail you copies of "Love in Mid Air," Charlottean Kim Wright's debut novel.
I've got more great new books to give away. Check back regularly for book news, and for my next contest.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Win a copy of "Love In Mid Air"

People magazine calls Charlottean Kim Wright's debut novel, "Love in Mid Air" (Grand Central Publishing; $23), "astute and engrossing." I've got two copies to give away. Want one?
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.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some people just don't get the sarchasm

A friend recently sent me this great list of invented words and definitions, each concocted by changing or adding a single letter in a real word. As far as I can tell, these are past entries from one of the Washington Post's Style Invitational contests.
I hope they make you smile. And if you have one of your own, please share.

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until
you realize it was your money to start with.

2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

3. Bozone (n .): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops
bright ideas from penetrating.. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows
little sign of breaking down in the near future.

4. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the
subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

5.. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

6. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the
person who doesn't get it.

7. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running

8. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

9. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

10. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these
really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's,
like, a serious bummer.

11. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming
only things that are good for you.

12. Glibido: All talk and no action.

13. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when
they come at you rapidly.

14. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after
you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

15. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into
your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

16. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in
the fruit you're eating.

Monday, March 22, 2010

N.C.'s John Hart is up for another Edgar Award

Three novels, three nominations for the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award -- the Oscars of the mystery genre.

That's an impressive track record for Greensboro's John Hart, whose third novel, "The Last Child," was recently nominated for an Edgar for best novel. Hart, who graduated from Davidson College, won an Edgar for his second novel, "Down River." His first book, "The King of Lies," was also nominated.

The awards, named for Edgar Allan Poe, will be announced in late April. Check out the full list of nominees here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Charlotte woman pens Easter pop-up book

Just in time for Easter baskets:
"Easter Parade" (Jumping Jack Press; $14.95), is a new pop-up book co-authored by sisters Andrea Green and Charlotte's Stephanie Prysiazniuk.

So what goes into writing a pop-up book? It's interesting. The text itself is a simple poem that begins:

The square is lined with crowds today.
The Easter parade is on its way!

But Prysiazniuk, who's corporate sales manager for The Morehead Inn and the Van Landingham Estate, told me that's only part of what she and her sister submitted to their publisher.
They also included lots of details about their concept -- an Easter parade featuring animals as characters. Horn-blowing raccoons, egg-juggling chipmunks and ballerina chicks who kick their legs in the air when you pull a tab. These ideas were carried out by an illustrator and paper engineer, but they came from Prysiazniuk and her sister.

You can find the book in Barnes & Noble stores and on

Novello Festival Press novel is a literary award finalist

Dale Neal's "Cow Across America," winner of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library's 2009 Novello Literary Award, has been named a literary fiction finalist for a ForeWord Book of the Year Award. The awards, given by ForeWord Reviews, are designed to help discover great books from the nation's independent publishers.

Neal's novel, published in the fall by the library's Novello Festival Press, is the coming-of-age story of Dwight Martin, a North Carolina kid who's estranged from his father and anxious about growing up. It's also a tale about two young men who set out to walk across the country with a cow named Ivy.

Neal, a reporter for the Asheville-Citizen Times, is one of 15 finalists in the literary fiction category. Winners will be announced in May.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In fiction, does it matter if the facts are wrong?

A few years ago, I tried to read a popular, well-reviewed novel by a North Carolina author who shall remain anonymous. Not a quarter of the way through, I found myself plowing through a scene set at the house of the protagonist's grandmother.
I'm figuring it was August or early September. School was in session, but it was hot. Tomatoes plants were bearing. The main character had set out to mow Grandma's lawn, and she cautioned him to look out for her just-planted peony and tulip bulbs.

Whoa. I stopped there and read the passage again. I'm no expert gardener, but I know enough to know:
A. Peonies aren't bulbs.
B. You probably wouldn't plant tulips until fall.
C. If you had planted bulbs, they'd be underground, so you couldn't mow them down.
As I kept going, I found more errors involving wisteria and pinks. I never finished the book.

I thought of that novel recently as I listened to Charlotte author Andrew Hartley speaking to a local book club about his novel, "The Mask of Atreus." As he began talking about it, he confessed that it contained an error. The book is set in Atlanta. Hartley knows the city well -- he lived there for years. But his main character drove to Athens, Ga., on the wrong highway.
A minor error, yes. But the fact that he brought it up told me he still felt bad about it. As a reporter, I know that the occasional error is inevitable, even when you're really careful. Hartley told me later that he researches like crazy. But the mistakes usually come when you're writing about something you know about.

"What’s maddening about these things," he told me in an e-mail, " is that they are completely inconsequential for the story, often affecting no more than the phrase in which they appear, but they can knock people out of the story, so they are a real concern."

That's exactly what happened to me when I discovered the gardening errors. Suddenly, I was thinking about bulb planting times instead of plot. Chatting with Hartley gave me new respect for fiction that transports me to another world. There's a ton of work that goes into making make-believe believable.

But even the best writers make errors. Hartley shared a fascinating one: In William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," the character of Piggy wears glasses because he's nearsighted. The allegorical novel centers on a group of British schoolboys stranded on a deserted island. The boys use Piggy's glasses as a magnifying lens to start fires. Here's the problem: The kind of lens used to correct nearsightedness doesn't focus sunlight and wouldn't start a fire.

Do mistakes in fiction drive you crazy? Ever encountered errors in well-known novels? Let me know.