Book Report: Reading Roundup

This week’s Book Report is dedicated to local authors, regional reads and new releases.

• Country-wide, travel is on the decline, but day and weekend trips close to home feel like getting away from it all without sending adventurous spirits into bankruptcy at the gas pumps. With the day-tripper in mind, the North Carolina Department of Culture Resources and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension released Homegrown Handmade: Art Roads and Farm Trails (John F. Blair, 2008). The photo-filled guide with its colorful tabs covers the music, crafts, arts, farms, restaurants and heritage sites of some 76 mostly rural counties. Now, the for Western N.C. native, there is the sting of exclusion: Handmade sticks to the Piedmont and Carolina coastal areas. Sad but true. The good news is, the book outlines 16 driving trails just beyond the horizon of WNC. After all, it’s a big state with a lot worth exploring.

Closest to home is the route mapped out in the “Pictures from the Piedmont” chapter, covering Alexander, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties. An introduction touches on the highlights (“One of the state’s most popular gardens, the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, is located [in Kings Mountain] on 450 acres near Lake Wylie.) followed by an itemized county-by-county list of not-to-be missed attractions. There’s the strawberry festival with its Miss Strawberry Pageant held in May in Denver, the unexpected Island Style Restaurant in Hickory, homemade ice cream at the Knob Creek Farms ad Creamery in Lawndale and (should it all go horridly awry) the Revolutionary War-era Ramsour-Reinhardt Cemetery in Lincolnton.

• For history buffs, Nazi POWs in the Tar Heel State (University Press of Florida, 2008) by Wingate University professor Dr. Robert D. Billinger, might be just the thing. Though this information-dense text is no beach read, it does unearth some of North Carolina’s all but secret past. Turns out, during World War II, the state detained over 10,000 prisoners in 18 camps, though very few residents were aware of this. Two of the camps, it’s worth noting, we relocated in Hendersonville and Swannanoa.

Billinger’s book is dry (“Werner Lobback was a native Saxon and a lieutenant with the artillery unit that was captured in Cherbourg in the summer of 1944,” we’re told. “He wound up with fellow German officer prisoners working for R.J. Reynolds in a tobacco factory in Winston-Salem.”) but there is a story line of sorts. We follow the trajectory of the prisoners, from their capture to their forced employment (“Uncle Sam needed workers to replace American civilians who were drafted into the armed forces and military maintenance forces that were to be shipped overseas.”), escapes and “reorientation.” The Reorientation chapter reads a bit like a chapter from an espionage novel, explaining that under the Geneva Convention detainees could not be subjected to propaganda from their captors. The loophole was in “intellectual diversion programs” organized by other prisoners with “liberal and democratic leanings.”

• Hot off the press, Daphne Beal‘s In the Land of No Right Angles (Random House, 2008) is sure to resonate with many local globetrotters. The book, described as “an intoxicating story of a young American woman in Nepal,” follows 20 year-old student Alex on a trip to Asia where, as a favor to her friend Will, she helps a Nepali woman named Maya free her native village.

This is not exactly a new story—a young person set loose in a culture so confusing and so completely different from all that she’s known, only to bruised and battered by the school of hard knocks before returning home changed. Hopefully for the better. It’s Razor’s Edge, Goa Freaks, Shopping for Buddhas and Darjeeling Express. What makes Angles exciting isn’t so much because it covered new ground but because it returns to this same place where so any travelers, dreamers, writers and readers can’t quite get over the stark beauty, the danger, the magic and the undoing of the self.

Angles is fraught with a certain delicate beauty. “Maya pushed her bike onto a narrow, muddy footpath and, single file, we walked between a brick wall on one side and sprouting rice paddies on the other, their water reflecting the gathering clouds above us, studded with green shoots.” It’s these moments that shed light on why we travel. The rest of the story is at turns wrenching and exhilarating—a book that will certainly receive more press.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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