About this time every year people ask me what books I would recommend for Christmas giving. I am glad to get the question because I try to keep up with our state’s books and authors in connection with North Carolina Bookwatch, the UNC-TV program that I host. But I have learned that there is no way I can read, or even know about, all of the approximately 1,000 new North Carolina-related books that are published each year. Almost every day, I learn about an important new book that I had, up until then, missed.
There is another thing I have learned about giving and receiving books. We are all different and have different tastes. Giving a book can be risky business, even when you know your recipient pretty well. But the risk may be worth taking. When you give a book that brings joy to a friend or opens a door to some new knowledge, you will get an extra special pleasure from giving.
With all that in mind, here are a few ideas. Some of them may fit somebody on your giving list.
There are a few can’t-miss books that almost everybody who loves North Carolina would treasure. If a friend does not yet own a copy of William Powell’s Encyclopedia of North Carolina, give it to him or her and they will appreciate you forever. It is a collection of thousands of short, readable, entertaining and comprehensive articles about North Carolina topics.
Another “can’t miss” is a book of photos of old businesses across North Carolina—barbershops, movie theaters, hardware and grocery stores, filling stations and drug stores. Mike Lassiter, a lawyer, spent several years going all over our state taking the pictures of buildings and businesses that are fading about from us. I have seen people pick up his book, Our Vanishing Americana: A North Carolina Portrait, and then not be able put it down.
If you have a friend who loves reading and also loves the North Carolina mountains, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains by Georgann Eubanks will almost certainly be a winning present. Eubanks takes her readers on a tour of the mountains and tells about the connections of many mountain communities to important authors and books.
For anyone who loves to read about food and Southern Cooking, a good bet is A Love Affair with Southern Cooking. The author, Chapel Hill’s Jean Anderson, has won five national best-cookbook awards. This time she blends personal memories, Southern-foods history and great regional recipes. It will be fun to read for those of us who do not cook much. Those who do will probably rush the book into the kitchen and go right to work.
My personal favorite new book is Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan. This carefully researched and well-told story of Daniel Boone’s life would be a good present for someone who loves history and literature. Morgan brings the two together. I will stand by what I wrote a few months ago when I asserted that Morgan “has done for biography what literary fiction writer Shelby Foote did for Civil War history.”
Another biography of an important North Carolinian could make a great gift for one of the subject’s many admirers. Karl Campbell’s Senator Sam Ervin, Last of the Founding Fathers not only helps his readers get to know Senator Sam better, but he also helps them understand the great changes that took place during the senator’s lifetime.
For your readers of literary fiction, consider the epic novel Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell. Set in the mountains, it follows the ambitions, struggles, conflicts and tragedies of families from Civil War times until the 1920s.
This time last year, I recommended three other important novels by well-respected North Carolina authors. I still think they would make great gifts for serious readers: Lee Smith’s On Agate Hill, Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons and David Payne’s Return to Wando Passo.
There are many more great North Carolina books that you should consider. You can find some of them at the North Carolina Bookwatch Web site (www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch) and even more in the local-book sections at your local bookstore.
[D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch.]