No Bones About It!

03 Oct 2020

Thought-provoking regional books to savor this fall

By Lewis Bowling

Elizabeth Spencer, Landscapes of the Heart

I gave Elizabeth Spencer my 2019 book, Sam Ragan: North Carolina’s Literary Godfather, on a Friday morning. She told me, “I am proud of you. I bet it’s as good as anything William Faulkner ever wrote.” Two days later, Mrs. Spencer passed away in her home in Chapel Hill at the age of 98.

Over the past couple of years, I had visited Mrs. Spencer several times, and she talked about William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Eudora Welty, and other writers she had known in her long life. Of course, I certainly know she was just being sweet with her Faulkner comment to me.

Elizabeth Spencer is known most for her book, The Light in the Piazza, which was adapted for a 1962 film starring Olivia de Havilland, and a musical that won six Tony Awards. I asked her a couple of times about The Light in the Piazza, but her reply was always, “People always connect me with that book, but I wrote other books also.” That she did, including The Voice at the Back Door that was unanimously chosen by a Pulitzer Prize jury in 1957, but the committee chose not to award a Pulitzer that year.

For sure, my favorite book Mrs. Spencer wrote is Landscapes of the Heart, her memoir. This book spans her youth in Mississippi to living in Chapel Hill and teaching at the University of North Carolina. Elizabeth Spencer wrote many great novels and short stories, but in my opinion, Landscapes of the Heart is her very best book.  

Henry Petroski, The Book On The BookShelf

I once read a book about the toothpick. It was titled, appropriately enough, The Toothpick. I enjoyed it thoroughly. My wife told me that I was officially a nerd, but I kept right on reading the book. It was about the history and many uses of toothpicks through the ages and the type of wood used to make them. The book was written by Henry Petroski, a professor of civil engineering and history at Duke University.

Petroski wrote another book which I found fascinating. It is The Book On The BookShelf.  Petroski writes in detail about the earliest existence of bookshelves and libraries and how they were designed. He writes about the great lost library of Alexandria, the storing of scrolls in Rome. Libraries are studied in detail, from ancient times up to modern times, such as the Vatican Library and the Library of Congress here in the United States. Another way to describe Petroski’s book is it is about how books are stored. After all, once we bibliophiles collect books, we have to store them somewhere. Petroski also writes about how to arrange books, among many other topics related to books. If you have ever read Nicholas Basbanes book about books, A Gentle Madness, and enjoyed it, you will like The Book On The BookShelf.

Bethany Bradsher, Bones McKinney: Basketball’s Unforgettable Showman

Horace McKinney was quite a character and was widely known throughout North Carolina and beyond. Okay, let me call him by his nickname and you will know who I am writing about. Bones McKinney is the only coach to take Wake Forest University to the NCAA’s Final Four in 1962. For comparison, UNC has been to more Final Fours in the history of college basketball, with 20 appearances. Duke has the third most in history, with 16.

 McKinney was born in Lowland, North Carolina. Now if you are like me, I had never even heard of Lowland before reading Bethany Bradsher’s book, Bones McKinney: Basketball’s Unforgettable Showman. Lowland is in the rural eastern part of our state, and the section where Lowland is located is known for oystering, fishing, and farming.  

Mckinney, once when asked where Lowland was, replied in his characteristic quick wit, “It’s as far as you can go after you leave Bayboro, and you go down toward Vandemere, and you take a left at Cash Corner, and go through Mesic, across the water-way, toward Hobucken. And you take a left before you get into Hobucken, and you go right into Lowland.”

Bradsher does an absolutely top-notch job in describing Bones McKinney’s days in basketball, where he played at UNC and N.C. State and coached the Carolina Cougars of the old ABA, but also writes beautifully about a man who was one of the great characters in our state’s storied history of college basketball.

Devi Laskar, The Atlas of Reds and Blues

Devi Laskar wrote The Atlas of Reds and Blues in 2019. And let me warn you, once you start reading this book you will not want to put it down.

Laskar, of Indian (Asian) parents, grew up in Chapel Hill where she knew first-hand how it felt to be on the receiving end of racism. The book opens with the main character and story teller, referred to  simply as “Mother” lying in her driveway. She has been shot by police in a raid that wasn’t warranted. While lying there, she reflects on the many instances of racism toward her as a woman of color. As Mother waits for help, her life flashes back and forth from the past to the present.

With the divisions in our country today, Laskar’s The Atlas of Reds and Blues is a perfect book for the present. This book will generate much discussion in book clubs. This is a book of fiction that also has a tremendous amount of autobiography, and it reads like good poetry. This is a powerful read. I highly recommend this book.

To have your book reviewed contact Lewis Bowling by text or call at 919-417-6305.

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