DG MARTIN COLUMN: Books that ‘Bookwatch’ would have featured

Published 5:11 pm Monday, July 17, 2023

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What books are you featuring on PBS-NC’s “North Carolina Bookwatch” this season?

D.G. Martin

I still get this question even though Bookwatch, the program about North Carolina books and authors that I hosted, ended its 23-year run almost two years ago.

Here are some of the North Carolina-related books and authors that might have been featured if the program had continued.

A favorite Bookwatch guest was Lee Smith, one of North Carolina’s favorite authors for almost a half-century. She always gives her readers a look at the interesting lives of compelling and often quirky characters.

Her latest, “Silver Alert: A Novel,” is set in Key West and is full of those quirky characters like those Smith’s fans treasure.

Herb is an 83-year-old wealthy and cranky man in Key West. He and a young manicurist take a wild ride around Florida in his treasured Porsche. Herb’s family reports him missing, and the resulting “silver alert” leads to the book’s conclusion.

With the hurricane season upon us, one book that would surely have been featured is “Fifteen Hurricanes That Changed the Carolinas: Powerful Storms, Climate Change, and What We Do Next,” by hurricane expert Jay Barnes.

Barnes gives a good background about the dangers hurricanes bring to our state. Then in separate chapters he covers some of the most memorable beginning with The Great Carolina Hurricane of 1752 and more recent ones such as Hugo (1989), Fran (1996), Floyd (1999), Matthew (2016), and Florence (2018).

In his latest book, “Lessons from North Carolina: Race, Religion, Tribe, and the Future of America,” UNC Law Professor Gene Nichol writes about the struggles of North Carolina’s poor and North Carolina’s exploitation and inattention to them. Taking on the role of an Old Testament prophet he condemns the ways the state’s powerful oppress the powerless.

The late UNC-Wilmington Professor Phillip Gerard wrote a series of articles for Our State magazine about North Carolina in different decades. His articles about the 1950s are the basis of “North Carolina in the 1950s: The Decade in Motion” published by Blair/Carolina Wren Press.

Gerard covers such topics as beach music, family visits to the local drive-in theater, the beginning of WUNC-TV, how four North Carolina A&T students sat down at Greensboro’s Woolworth’s whites-only lunch counter, noting their quiet courage and informing readers how rich and complicated the fifties were.

UNC Professor Daniel Wallace’s best-selling novel, “Big Fish,” and other novels have demonstrated that he is one of America’s great storytellers. His latest book, “This Isn’t Going to End Well: The True Story of a Man I Thought I Knew,” shows that he also can use those gifts to create compelling nonfiction.

His account of his relationship with his brilliant but troubled brother-in-law and great friend is powerful, moving and memorable.

De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel, “In West Mills,” introduced readers to the town and its residents in the 1940s. His new book, “Decent People,” begins in March 1976. Both books give readers a painful inside look at Black communities in northeastern North Carolina.

“Decent People,” opens: “Josephine Wright could have kissed the ground, she was so glad to arrive back at home in West Mills, North Carolina.”

Jo Wright was born and grew up in West Mills, but had lived in New York for 48 years. Now she was returning to West Mills to enjoy retirement, live in a cottage, and marry Olympus “Lymp” Seymore, “the man she had waited so long to find, someone she had known as a child.”

But Lymp has become a suspect in a recent murder.

Jo’s search for the real murderer finally and concludes surprisingly, but only after the reader has learned the complex story of life in West Mills.

We may miss Bookwatch, but North Carolina writers have not missed a beat.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.”