North Carolina books for Christmas giving list

by DG Martin

What other North Carolina related books can you recommend for Christmas presents?

Several people asked me that question after they read my recent column about the new Encyclopedia of North Carolina, which is a perfect gift for best friends. The $65 price tag might put it out of reach as a gift for anyone but your “best” friends.

Another good selection for an ardent North Carolinian is Hugh Morton, North Carolina Photographer, published soon after Morton’s death earlier this year. His photographs capture our state’s scenes, its character and its people.

If you have North Carolina history buffs on your list, don’t forget John Hope Franklin’s autobiography Mirror to America. It was one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books for last year, the only one from North Carolina to make the list.

Retired UNC-Chapel Hill professor William Leuchtenburg’s The White House Looks South tells the story on the impact on the South of Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson – and there is a lot of North Carolina to be learned from Leuchtenburg’s great storytelling.

There are a number of good books about North Carolina college sports. Many have already read two excellent books about the Carolina-Duke basketball rivalry, Will Blythe’s To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever and Art Chansky’s Blue Blood. Either, or both, are still good presents for the basketball fan who has everything else.

Another book about Carolina basketball, Off the Rim: Basketball and Other Religions in a Carolina Childhood, is a sensitive memoir by Fred Hobson, one of the leading scholars of southern writing.

If the sports fan on your list is interested in fishing, consider Tom Carlson’s Hatteras Blues about the rise and struggles of the family that popularized sports fishing off the Outer Banks. Also, for folks who love the sound waters on this side of the Outer Banks, look at Bland and Anne Simpson’s just published The Inner Islands, with stories, descriptions, and photographs of 15 precious and very threatened North Carolina islands.

For cooks and food connoisseurs on your list, consider giving legendary chef Bill Smith’s Seasoned in the South. Consider giving it to others as well. The simplicity of the book and its directions open the door for those who think they can’t cook. Bill Smith and I also like other new food books, including Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, about an effort to cook every one of the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook, and The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners. I was also excited to see Reflections: The Memories and Recipes of a Southern Cook by North Carolina lawyer Jim Early, who is also the author of Tar Heel Barbecue.

If you need a “page turner” thriller, there are several recent North Carolina books that have gotten attention. First is John Hart’s King of Lies, a murder mystery set in Salisbury. Raleigh resident Andrew Britton’s The American is an international spy thriller that I could not put down. Similarly, UNC-Chapel Hill graduate Dan Fesperman’s latest novel, The Prisoner of Guantanamo, is not only entertaining, but also very timely. It deals with the intersection of US interrogation policies and the changing Cuban government.

For literary fiction fans, consider four books by important North Carolina storytellers: Lee Smith’s On Agate Hil, Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons, David Payne’s Return to Wando Passo, and Dot Jackson’s first novel, Refuge. These books take their readers back to the Carolinas of more than a hundred years ago. Return to Wando Passo is set in the low country. The other three take us to the mountains.

Fans of cartoonist Doug Marlette would be happy to get a copy of his fine second novel, Magic Time. It takes its readers into stories about the struggles that were a part of the Civil Rights Movement in the last century.

Similarly, Mark Ethridge’s Grievances, although a fine mystery, is centered on the struggle for racial justice.

This is just a beginning list of possibilities. For more information about the books mentioned here and a number of other possible North Carolina connected gift books, check the Bookwatch blog at the UNC-TV web site (

DG Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina “Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 5 p.m.