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Bookin' it

The best of reading 2003


As usual, books by local authors made the New York Times bestseller lists. As usual, books by local authors were optioned and made into movies. As usual, books by local authors won national awards. We're the lucky ones.

As sure as Duke in the Final Four and a mega-mall opening at your favorite intersection, our neighborhood writers keep putting out wonderful books.

Here's a sample of the year's best.

Best Guidebook:
Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook (by Barbara Duncan and Brett Riggs, University of North Carolina Press). Beyond celebrating the Cherokees, North Carolina's earliest people, this beautiful, detailed book takes the reader by the hand, by the map, and by the car--showing us places of poignant history and culture in our midst. Sidebars of legends, poems, storytelling and Cherokee philosophy draw the traveler into the original Cherokee culture, while historic sites, winding trails, sacred places and scenic mountain drives come alive. Many day trips suddenly seem to offer immediate access to the homeland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Full color illustrations, maps and photographs dot the book, in addition to sobering doses of history. Duncan's book is a treasure leading us to more treasures.

Triple Threat Writers, Media Division:
This category includes our own red carpet heroes, Daniel Wallace, Sarah Dessen, and Charles Frazier. Mandy Moore didn't write How to Deal; Chapel Hill writer Sarah Dessen did. Despite what the movie posters say, Tim Burton didn't "imagine" Big Fish; Dessen's neighbor, Danny Wallace, did. And Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain isn't about some hill in northern California (or Eastern Europe), but in our very own state. 2003 was the year local writers saw the options on their books made into film realities, with local premieres and all. Please pass the popcorn.

Best Children's Book and CD Set:
Mrs. Moon: Lullabies for Bedtime (by Dana Kletter and Clare Beaton, illustrator, Barefoot Books). This book is the definition of coziness. Gentle, warm, soft and familiar, the illustrations and folksy style of voices and instruments lull the reader to dreamtime. It'll be familiar to anyone who's sung or been sung to, sat in a lap, or curled up in quilts. Sounds wonderfully intimate and homemade. And it is.

Most Popular Local Book Club Books:
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett; A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel; The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. Meeting in living rooms, coffee shops, over mother-daughter dinners and in high school libraries, book clubs kept literary conversations going. You're in one right? But you didn't always read the whole book did you? I hope you read one of the three above titles; if not, add it to your list!

Best Civil War Novel:
Wilderness Run (by Maria Hummel, St. Martin's Griffin). Just before she left for California three years ago, this former Independent A&E editor signed a two-book deal with St. Martin's Press. Hummel, a Vermont native, captures the cold, shivering climate of a bloody war. Her prose is vivid, wasting not a word. A student of Fred Chappell, Hummel was an award-wining poet before writing Wilderness Run. Romance, family tensions, violence, tenderness and graphic battle scenes combine for a winning winter page-turner.

Best Novel Set in North Carolina:
Evidence of Things Unseen (by Marianne Wiggens, Simon & Schuster). There are 25,695 books out now about the Wright Brothers. Coyly setting her novel in the Outer Banks--even name-dropping Orville and Wilbur--Wiggens tells a glorious, intriguing story of two other brothers: Flash and Fos Foster, who open a photography studio at the dawn of the art. This magical novel is about science, heartbreak, meteors and glassblowing. It's also about "things that glow" and then stop glowing. Evidence of Things Unseen causes the reader to look up at the stars and pause at the wonders of light and discovery.

Native Son Award of the Year:
You saw it first a few years ago as a zine, copied, collated and stapled as a Christmas gift for friends. Karate cartoonist David Rees, Chapel Hill native and temp-job survivor, hit it large when his Website karate comix grabbed the funny bones of hip America. When Mr. Bush started bombing Afganistan, Rees started a political clip-art attack of his own called Get Your War On. His Internet-only images became an underground publishing sensation and are now seen in every issue of Rolling Stone. Visiting his hometown a few months ago, he celebrated the recent release of my new fighting technique is unstoppable from Penguin Books.

The Award Winners:
Drum rolls please for Karla Holloway, Pam Duncan and Michael Chitwood. Duke University's dean of humanities and social sciences, Holloway won top honors at the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Awards for her book, Passed On: African American Mourning Stories, which talks about the death of her son, and examines bereavement, dying and burial in 20th century black families.

Set in a small town and its aging cotton mill, Duncan's Plant Life celebrates the community and companionship of women through hard times. For her moving portrait, Duncan, who lives in Graham, won this year's Sir Walter Raleigh Award for fiction.

At the same ceremony, Chapel Hill poet Chitwood received the Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry, for his collection, Gospel Road Going. Of harvesting apples, the call of the whippoorwill and a time without cars and television, Chitwood writes about the land of his grandparents in southern Appalachia.

Best Sports Book:
The Vision of a Champion (by Anson Dorrance, Huron River Press). He made Mia Hamm a brand name. He knew what was happening way before Bend it Like Beckham. This is Dorrance's book, a guide simply subtitled "advice and inspiration." Dorrance, who stands aside or in the background of most team pictures, guards his words and gives incredible pre-game and half-time pep talks. There should be a Vision of a Champion 365-day calendar: Armed with Dorrance's attitude, we would go undefeated every day of the year. His teams do.

Most Anticipated Book for 2004:
It's a toss up really, between a pair of titles: that epic novel you're writing and the next delicious local cookbook, Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker's American Desserts. There's lots to look forward to next year! EndBlock

Contributing Writer John Valentine can be reached at

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