DG MARTIN COLUMN: Three great books you must read — but not yet

Published 4:43 pm Friday, July 2, 2021

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The good news is that three wonderful books about North Carolina will be published soon. The bad news is we must wait a few months to buy them.

In the meantime, here is what I know about each of them.

D.G. Martin

Wiley Cash’s new novel “When Ghosts Come Home” comes out in September.

Cash may be North Carolina’s most promising and popular young fiction writer. His first three novels, “A Land More Kind Than Home,” “This Dark Road to Mercy” and “The Last Ballad,” were highly praised bestsellers.

In “A Land More Kind Than Home” we met a storefront preacher, Pastor Carson Chambliss, a handler of snakes and a manipulator of people, one of the most complicated and interesting villains I have ever encountered. A more sympathetic important character was Sheriff Clem Barefield, who thinks of himself as an outsider in Madison County even though he has lived there for 25 years. The lead character of Cash’s new book will remind readers of Sheriff Barefield.

Cash built his second novel, “This Dark Road to Mercy,” on the personal disasters that followed the unsuccessful career of a Gastonia minor league baseball player in deep trouble with the law and a criminal gang.

“The Last Ballad,” his third novel, was based on Ella May Wiggins, a real person, who was killed while participating in a major strike at Loray Mills in Gastonia.

“Ghosts” builds on the strengths of his earlier novels, blending family and personal challenges with the larger ones the major characters and their communities face. Set in Brunswick County in 1984, Sheriff Winston Barnes awakes in the middle of the night to hear noises at the nearby airport. There he finds a large airplane has landed. Its cargo section is empty and there are no signs of pilot or crew. But Barnes finds the dead body of the son of a local Black leader on the site.

From this beginning scene, Cash weaves a story of drugs, racial conflict, local politics, family challenges and petty jealousies among law enforcement agencies. His story is a compelling one, well worth waiting for its September release.

Bland Simpson’s lovely descriptions of North Carolina waterways in previous books have made him a revered figure in the North Carolina literary and environmental circles. His upcoming “North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky,” with brilliant photos by Ann Cary Simpson, Scott Taylor and Tom Earnhardt, may turn out to be his very best. He takes his reader across the entire state, blending his memoir with history and landscape in ways that will make even the most cynical North Carolinian acknowledge the special greatness of our state.

The only bad thing about this book is that you will have to wait until Oct. 26 to buy a copy.

William A. Link is a distinguished historian at the University of Florida. But we know him best as a historian of North Carolina, having written strong books about U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and University of North Carolina President William Friday. Both Helms and Friday were influenced by the life of a man who was both a U.S. senator and a UNC president, the subject of Link’s forthcoming biography: “Frank Porter Graham, “Southern Liberal, Citizen of the World.”

Even in a North Carolina that was much more conservative than today, Graham was a strong New Deal liberal. Link explains how Graham’s talents as a negotiator and his genuine belief that there was good to be found in almost everybody opened doors for him to influence a wide variety of people.

Graham was the inspiration of a generation of North Carolina liberal political leaders including Kerr Scott, Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt.

Even today, it is hard to understand North Carolina’s political divides without knowing the history of Frank Graham. Link’s book comes out in October.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch” Sunday 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on PBS North Carolina (formerly UNC-TV). The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8 p.m. and other times.