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Give them a book

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D.G. Martin

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

What is a good book I can give a friend?

Every year I get this question from folks who know that I try to keep up with North Carolina-related books.

First of all, I have to warn people that giving books is not without risks. In fact, an effective way to lose friends is giving a book that is not right for them, and then checking every other day to ask how much of it they have read.

On the other hand, a book that is carefully and lovingly chosen can be a perfect gift.

Just in case you need a few hints for some last-minute gift giving, I have some ideas for North Carolina-connected books for you to consider.

First of all, from PBS’s Great American Read list of 100 of America’s favorite novels, several had North Carolina connections:

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith, while set in New York City, was written in Chapel Hill.

“Tales of the City” is by Raleigh native Armistead Maupin.

The only book set in North Carolina was “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks, who lives in New Bern.

The Great American Read named Harper Lee’s 1960 southern classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” as “America’s Best Loved Novel.” Although that novel is set in small-town Alabama in the 1930s, it reminds us of small-town North Carolina during those times. The current Broadway production based on the book demonstrates that the powerful themes of family, race, and justice still resonate.

Another helpful gift-giver’s list recently appeared in “1,000 Books to Read Before You Die” by James Mustich. The author lists and thoughtfully discusses important and popular books from the beginning of literary history and includes a few North Carolina-connected books in his long list: Thomas Wolfe’s classic, “Look Homeward Angel.”

Ann Tyler’s “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,” about which famed author Eudora Welty wrote that if she had written its last sentence, “I’d have been happy for the rest of my life.”

The late Reynolds Price’s “A Palpable God: Thirty Stories Translated from the Bible with an Essay on the Origins and the life of Narrative.”

Greensboro’s Orson Scott Card’s popular science fiction thriller, “Ender’s Game.”

Robeson County native Joseph Mitchell’s book about life in New York City, “Up in the Old Hotel.”

These books are not for everybody, but each of the 1,000 books listed in “1,000 Books to Read Before You Die” could be a suitable gift for someone.

There is, however a very good and safe choice, maybe even perfect choice, that would be a good fit for almost everybody on your list, namely Mustich’s book itself.

With compact, easygoing descriptions of each book and its author, “1,000 Books” is like a trip to a good bookstore or library. With the books arranged alphabetically by author, it opens the possibility for a delightful browsing experience: finding, remembering, and savoring old favorites; passing by other books that don’t interest you; and being surprised by the appeal of books whose titles you have not known before.

If you are still waiting to learn about the right book for your gift giving, here are three more possibilities, both North Carolina connected.

First is another book by Nicholas Sparks, “Every Breath.” Like almost all of his books, it is set in coastal North Carolina. But there is a hitch. One of the main characters is from the African country of Zimbabwe.

Secondly John Grisham, who has a second home in Chapel Hill, is enjoying the long run of his latest best seller, “The Reckoning” It is, according to USA Today, “Grisham's argument that he's not just a boilerplate thriller writer.”

Finally, for literary fiction fans, “Cold Mountain” author Charles Frazier’s “Varina” has been enthusiastically reviewed.

And then there is always my book, “North Carolina Roadside Eateries,” a perfect gift for any occasion.

D.G. Martin is a a retired lawyer, politician and university administrator and is host of UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.”

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