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North Carolina books and my favorite TV program

by DG Martin

Every now and then you all let me promote my favorite TV program, UNC-TV’s ‘“North Carolina Bookwatch.’” The program, which I am honored to host, begins a new series this Sunday, July 3 at 5 p.m.

The leadoff episode features Shannon Ravenel, the famed editor at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, discussing New Stories From the South 2005, her 20th volume in an annual series. Each year she selects the best short stories set in our region and compiles them into ‘“New Stories.’” She is experienced and wise in the ways of writing and marketing fiction. So a conversation with her is always interesting and sometimes shocking, as when she says that good Southern writing is not that different from good writing in the rest of the country. Sadly for me, this edition of ‘“New Stories’” will be her final one as editor.

Another important collection of short stories is Greensboro author Quinn Dalton’s Bulletproof Girl. Dalton’s first novel, High Strung, took the literary world by storm with its powerful and provocative writing and storyline. The short stories in her new volume give the reader a look at life through the eyes of modern young women.

On the other hand, Hendersonville’s Ann B. Ross shows life in small town North Carolina from the vantage point of a somewhat older woman. Ross’s ‘“Miss Julia’” series has gained fans all over the country. They love the good hearted and practical Miss Julia and the wonderful characters who are drawn into her orbit.

Several authors give their readers and ‘“Bookwatch’” viewers an in-depth look at our state and its history. Randall Kenan’s Walking On Water is a chronicle of his journey across the country, visiting communities of African Americans, and asking the question, ‘What does it mean to be a black American?’ Kenan’s story begins in Duplin County, where he grew up. It ends in Chapel Hill, where he went to college and now teaches.

Timothy Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name is the UNC-CH summer reading selection. It tells the true story of the town of Oxford’s reactions to a racial murder in 1970. It is not an easy or a pleasant story. But Tyson says that most North Carolina towns have similar stories and that we should confront our history, the good and the bad, and learn from it. ‘“We are,’” he says, ‘“runaway slaves from our own past, and only by turning to face the hounds can we find our freedom beyond them.’”

Lawrence Earley, a former editor of Wildlife in North Carolina is the author of Looking for Longleaf. His book about the history of the longleaf pine details the historic role of tar, resin, turpentine and tall pine lumbering in the economy of our region. In his book and in our interview, Earley shows his love of the outdoors and the gifts of a great storyteller ‘— and he tells us the probable source of the ‘Tar Heel’ nickname.

Two authors from Winston-Salem give us true stories of how individual people enriched the lives of others. Emily Herring Wilson’s No One Gardens Alone is the biography of North Carolina gardening writer Elizabeth Lawrence. Her books are still in print 20 years after her death. From Emily Wilson we learn how good writing and a love of growing things and nature often intersect.

Emeritus music director of the Winston- Salem symphony, Peter Perret’s A Well Tempered Mind shows how the presence in elementary school classrooms of a small group of professional musicians on a regular basis led to dramatic increases in scores on standardized tests. More importantly, the program led to increased performance in reading, writing, calculating, thinking and understanding.

It is always fun to feature a book about food. Chapel Hill’s Moreton Neal’s Remembering Bill Neal is full of recipes from her and her late former husband’s collections, including favorites from La Residence and Crook’s Corner, their trend-setting restaurants. Even richer than the recipes are Moreton Neal’s stories of how she and Bill Neal were part of a revolution in Southern cooking that brought to the table an emphasis on the freshness of the food and extreme care and creativity in the preparation.

Finally, Duke professor Henry Petroski is the author of best-selling books like The Pencil. In his new book, Pushing the Limits, and in his ‘“Bookwatch’” interview, Petroski tells us the inside stories of the design and construction of other monumental engineering projects that ‘“pushed the limits.’” One of the most interesting of these is his account of the design of the Dorton Arena on the state fairgrounds.

When these authors talk about their books, they show a passion for their subjects that is contagious. Their enthusiasm is why I love my role so much ‘— and why I think you will enjoy watching them during the next few months.

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