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From Moonshining to Life at Connemara, Books to Savor this Summer

Posted On June 7, 2020

Sandhills Summer picks

By Lewis Bowling




Frances O’Roark Dowell, Birds in the Air

Moving from Chapel Hill to a small town, Sweet Anne’s Gap, in the North Carolina mountains proves to be a bit challenging for 40 year old Emma Byrd. But her husband and two children make a fairly smooth transition in this novel by Dowell. One day Emma wanders into a sewing store in town, and before she knows it she is making a quilt for the first time, and making new friends with fellow quilters. Soon Emma finds herself organizing the town’s quilt show for the centennial celebration. But there is controversy when Emma befriends someone who has been shunned by the town and its people. And what’s going on with the older lady who lives next door to Emma, and what is in all those trunks in the attic of her home? It only takes a few pages of Birds in the Air to get caught up in Emma’s new small town life nestled serenely in the picturesque mountains of North Carolina. Most of us know what it feels like to be the “new kid on the block,” just like Emma, but quilting helps her to adjust. And you don’t have to know anything about quilting, like me, to enjoy this book. But fair warning, you may find yourself picking out fabric to make a quilt before you finish the book!


Penelope Niven, Carl Sandburg A Biography

Having read many books about North Carolina writers, I have to say Penelope Niven’s Carl Sandburg just may be my favorite. Of course, being a fan of Sandburg’s prose and poetry got me to read this book, but having devoured each page, I now rate Niven amongst the best authors literary North Carolina has produced. It is a big book, over 700 pages, but once completed, you will know Sandburg intimately. And we most assuredly claim Sandburg as a North Carolinian, since he lived in Flat Rock, North Carolina, from 1945 until his death in 1967. Some of us have the good fortune to be born in the Tar Heel state, Sandburg had the good wisdom to move here and die here. In Niven’s absorbing chronological biography, she saves some of the best for his last 22 years, living at Connemara, his home in Flat Rock. There Sandburg writes his earthy poetry and sings folks songs, while his wife, Paula, raises her prize-winning goats. Niven’s Sandburg reveals that Sandburg belongs among the very best writers who have called North Carolina home, and for that matter, Penelope Niven certainly rates among the best authors we have produced.  Carl Sandburg A Biography gives you the best of both in one book.  


Roy Morris Jr., The Better Angel: Walt Whitman In The Civil War

Covid-19 has killed tens of thousands of Americans. Some of the heroes who have fought so valiantly against this virus have been our nurses, doctors, and medical personnel, who have fought to save lives while risking their own lives. During the Civil War, Walt Whitman put himself in danger by nursing the sick and wounded of war, just like what is happening today. Whitman was not a “registered nurse” but a volunteer, who sat by the bedside of the young men, offered company, wrote letters for them back home, and brought them small gifts. Basically, he comforted them. By being so close, Whitman endangered his own health, but he kept visiting the army hospitals, mostly in the Washington, D.C. area. “Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, straight and swift to my wounded I go, where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in, where the priceless blood reddens the grass the ground, or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital.” The Better Angel offers a new perspective of this great poet and an engaging look into a horrible war.


Daniel S. Pierce, Tar Heel Lightnin’: How Secret Stills and Fast Cars Made North Carolina the Moonshine Capital of the World

In the 1800’s and well into the 1900’s in North Carolina, moonshiners took great pride in making whiskey. Whiskey and liquor stills were usually found close to streams or branches, since the illegal drink needed water, and were found way back in the woods and other places of cover, or so the moonshiners hoped. One large still confiscated in Granville County had a capacity of 20,000 gallons and 15,000 pounds of unused sugar was found. Of course, most stills were much smaller, especially if the whiskey was being made for the moonshiner’s personal use, and not being made to sell. Moore County was reported in 1895 as a “regular moonshine nest. Stills are being cut up in some part of the county nearly every week.” Capture of a Moonshine Distillery was one of the first silent films made in North Carolina. Facts like these and hundreds of others, along with dozens of photographs, are found in Tar Heel Lightnin’, an entertaining and informative book by Daniel S. Pierce.