Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"N.C. Bookwatch" showcases N.C. literary talent

D.G. Martin, host of UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," recently sent me a list of guests for the season's second half, and it's some impressive lineup.

Among the upcoming guests: Greensboro's Fred Chappell, former N.C. poet laureate; Heidi Durrow, author of the bestselling "The Girl Who Fell From the Sky"; Greensboro's John Hart, who has a new thriller coming out in July; and Chapel Hill-raised Wells Tower, one of The New Yorker's 20 top writers under 40.

Starting May 6, episodes run at 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Big Charlotte book sale starts Thursday

Charlotte book lovers: Mark you calendar for Thursday evening, April 28, to get first dibs on some 30,000 good used books. The Friends of the Library book sale preview night runs 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Quail Corners Shopping Center, 8400 Park Road, where Blockbuster used to be.

That first preview night sale is free to Friends of the Library members. Or you can pay a $10 entrance fee. Proceeds will pay for new books for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library, which has had to slash its books and materials budget.

Entry is free after Thursday. The sale runs 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, April 29; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, April 30; 1-5 p.m. Sunday, May 1 and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday, May 2. On Monday, it's buy two books, get one free. Get more info here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Charlotte's Amy Clipston shares the story behind her new novel

Charlotte's Amy Clipston, author of the Kauffman Amish Bakery novels, has a new young adult novel, "Roadside Assistance" (Zondervan; $9.99). The story centers on Emily, whose world has been turned upside down by her mother's death.

Clipston will share the story behind the book and sign copies 4:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at New Creation Christian Bookstore, 11416 E. Independence Blvd. in Matthews and 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at the Mount Pleasant Library, 8556 Cook St., Mount Pleasant.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Play Go Fish. Learn about James Joyce.

Need a travel-friendly game for an upcoming vacation? Check out Notable Novelists of the 20th Century, a new card game that features images some of the last century's greatest novelists, including Kurt Vonnegut, Zora Neale Hurston and John Cheever.

The game is basically a version of "Go Fish." You try to collect sets of three cards about the same author. The player with the most sets win. Along the way, you might learn a few things. The cards feature images, biographical facts and major books each author has written. Hurston, by the way, was Barnard College's first African-American graduate. Didn't know that.

The game is $10.95. It's described as for appropriate for ages 12 and up, but I don't see why younger kids who are competent readers couldn't enjoy it too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fabrications in 'Three Cups of Tea'?

Since it was published in 2006, Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea" has sold millions of copies. This inspirational tale about one man who set out to build schools and promote literacy in Pakistan and Afghanistan has become a book club favorite and required reading in many high school English classes.

But now, Mortenson is under fire following a Sunday report from CBS's "60 Minutes" that questions how he spent millions of dollars and whether some of the most dramatic stories in his book are true.

Mortenson has issued a statement denying the allegations. His publisher, Viking, says it will review the materials in the book with the author. Read the "60 Minutes" transcript here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

John Grisham does a nice thing for Charlotte

Bestselling author John Grisham will make a visit to Charlotte for a good cause on Saturday, April 23. The master of the legal thriller ("The Firm," "The Pelican Brief," "The Confession") will speak at a private dinner as part of Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend.

The dinner, at Pewter Rose, is being hosted by vintner Robert Foley, Mike Gminski and Johnny Wallace. Gminski, a TV sports commentator and former NBA player who starred at Duke University, lives in Charlotte. Wallace was his roommate at Duke.

Gminski, a friend of Grisham's, asked him to come speak. "He said, 'We'll have a lot of fun, some good food and wine.'" Grisham told me recently.

Grisham, who lives in Virginia, has some strong N.C. ties, by the way. His daughter, Shea, graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 2008 and his wife, Renee, finished her degree there in 2010.

Two winning bidders each purchased 12 seats at this dinner, bidding a total of about $25,000.

The proceeds will go to four Charlotte charities: The Council for Children's Rights, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, Charlotte Community Health Clinic and Pat's Place Child Advocacy Center.

Read more about the dinner in the Food section of Wednesday's Observer.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chick lit, hen lit and now -- mom lit

I've learned this week via press release that many early fans of chick lit have grown up, gotten married and started reading mom lit. Actually, the press release was referring to "The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs," a new novel by British author Christina Hopkinson, so it said 'mum' lit.

"Chick lit," as you probably know, refers to novels about young professional women finding their way in the world. Many are light, even, shall we say, fluffy. Big hits includes Sophie Kinsella's "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and Jennifer Weiner's "Certain Girls."

I've also heard of "hen lit," novels about the lives of older women -- in their 40s and up. I kind of hate the term "hen lit," but an alternative term, "matron lit," also makes me shudder. Examples include "The Hot Flash Club," "The Red Hat Club" and "The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love."

Mom lit has been around a while. Think: Allison Pearson's "I Don't Know How She Does It." Hopkinson's new book, about a woman whose husband leaves most of the childcare and housework to her because she works part time, is getting rave reviews in the UK. It'll be published in the U.S. on April 25.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Duke to celebrate Reynolds Price's long and happy life

Duke University will celebrate the life of Reynolds Price, acclaimed author and Duke English professor, at 2 p.m. May 19 in Duke Chapel.
Price, one of the South's most renowned literary voices, died Jan. 20 at 77 after more than 50 years on the Duke faculty. Price found fame in 1962 with his first novel, "A Long and Happy Life." In the mid-'80s, spinal cancer left him a paraplegic, yet he became more prolific, writing fiction, poetry, memoirs, essays and plays.
Duke's celebration will include readings, performances and reminiscences by colleagues, former students and friends. The event is open to the public, but if you can't make it to Durham, you can watch a live webcast at

Monday, April 11, 2011

Will you have a serving of rhymes with that poem?

Ben Horack is best known as the Horack from Horack Talley, one of Charlotte's oldest law firms. But when he called me recently, it was to discuss poetry, not law.

Horack, 93, had spotted a stanza from a poem I'd quoted in one of my recent stories and noted that it didn't rhyme. This did not sit well with the retired barrister.

Poems without rhymes, he argues, are really just fancy prose "sprinkled with a lot of two-bit words that often obscure the message." He believes this so strongly, in fact, that he once wrote a poem titled "Blank Verse for Blank Minds." It begins:

I have no patience

And have no time

For poems that

Make no sense or rhyme.

Horack got me thinking about a subject that's been debated for centuries: What is poetry? If it doesn't need rhymes or a specific form, how is it different than prose?

For an answer, I called Cathy Smith Bowers, North Carolina's poet laureate. One thing that separates poetry and prose, she told me, is compression. "Poetry is much more compressed than prose," she says.

Poetry also makes more use of metaphor and sound devices than ordinary speech. "Robert Frost once said poetry is about finding the music in natural speech." Bowers tries to make her poems sound like normal human speech, "but in a kind of heightened language."

"In prose, we learn we have to read between the lines," she says. "In poetry, which is much more compressed, we have to learn to read between the words. That’s why the best poems don’t give themselves up so easily."

Horack told me he stands by his opinion: Poetry should rhyme.

Interestingly, I just read writer Jay Parini's picks for America's 10 best poems. By my count, three rhyme, the rest, including Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," do not. What do you think? Do you need a rhyme to enjoy a poem?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A new book for North Carolina's gardeners

If you're like me, you've recently been pulling weeds, turning soil, applying fresh pine needles to winter-gray beds. In April, our gardens call us. Now, a new book, "The Successful Gardener Guide: North Carolina," (John F. Blair; $19.95) serves up advice when we need it most.

Written by N.C. gardening experts Leah Chester-Davis and Toby Bost, the guide covers everything from lawns and flower gardens to food plants and trees. It also includes a list of 70 top plants for the state and a gardening calendar by region.

Learn more from the authors, who'll sign books at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 9, at Main Street Books,126 S. Main Street in Davidson, and 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Tales from a Free-Range Childhood" author at Park Road Books

North Carolina's Donald Davis, a nationally-known storyteller, will share stories both funny and bittersweet at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 9, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Davis's new book is "Tales from a Free-Range Childhood" (John F. Blair; $19.95 hardcover, $12.95 paperback). A former Methodist minister, Davis grew up near Waynesville and graduated from Davidson College and Duke Divinity School. For more than 20 years, he has been a full-time storyteller, making some 300 storytelling presentations around the country each year.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lemony Snicket to judge Charlotte writing contest

Daniel Handler, better known to young fans as Lemony Snicket, will be this year's final judge for the Charlotte Writers' Club's Elizabeth Simpson Smith Short Story Contest.

The club is accepting entries until May 17. Short stories can be on any subject, between 1,500 and 4,000 words. They must be unpublished.

The club will provide preliminary judging. Handler, author of literary novels as well as his Lemony Snicket series for children, will choose the winners.

This year's top prize is an Apple iPad 2. Winners will be announced in September. Complete details: