The Love Connection

Avid Aggies and organic farmers. Foodies and Philanthropists. High school sweethearts and high-stepping seniors. Meet five couples who share a common passion — and the joy of being together.

True Blue & Gold Aggie Love

Frank & Vicki McCain

By Jim Dodson     Photographs by Mark Wagoner

Frank and Vicki McCain are living proof that timing is everything in the mysterious ways of love.

They met 38 years ago when both were high school students attending a gathering of North Carolina student councils in Raleigh. Frank was president of the statewide organization and president of his senior class in Charlotte. Vicki Hinton was senior class president at Rocky Mount Senior High School Down East.

“He was wearing a Kelly green sports coat and looked so confident and handsome,” she recalls with a laugh.

“Oh, you better believe I noticed her too,” says Frank with a chuckle.

One year later, they were both freshmen at North Carolina A&T State University. Vicki was rooming with a girl from Charlotte, planning to major in accounting. Frank was studying marketing and management.

“One evening there was a knock at our dorm door and there was Frank McCain,” she remembers.

“You’re that girl from Rocky Mount,” Frank said with a smile.

Their love affair began — as many enduring ones do — with a strong friendship, time spent in classes together and conversations around campus.

Two years later, Vicki was attending the Aggies’ away football game against N.C. Central with friends from back home, when Frank happened to be there. He offered to drop off her friends at their campus in Durham after the game and give Vicki a ride back to Greensboro. 

Dropping her off at her dorm, he boldly asked to kiss her goodnight.

“Naturally,” she says, “I said no.”

Frank McCain is living proof that faint heart never won a fair maid. He kept asking Vicki out, and she finally consented to a first date to Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant in the spring of 1986.

On the drive back to A&T, Frank calmly spoke from the heart. “I want you to be my wife,” he told Vicki. “And I want you to have my children.”

She was sure her was joking. “I laughed till I cried,” Vicki remembers. “We were just great friends at that point.  I couldn’t believe he was serious. But when I looked at him, he wasn’t laughing.”

“We’ll see who gets the laugh,” Frank said with a stoic shrug.

Upon graduation in ’87, she took an accounting position with Cargill Corp. in Memphis, Tennessee. Frank went to work for First Union Bank in Greensboro.

During one of his visits, Vicki informed him that when he left, she was going with him. A more promising job awaited her in Richmond, Virginia. They loaded up her Chevette with her belongings and headed home to Rocky Mount. Vicki soon moved on to Richmond.

From December of 1987 to late summer of ’89, the couple managed to see each other every weekend. During a weekend visit to Georgetown, Frank proposed marriage. Vicki told him she needed to speak with her mother, Lucinda “Miss Tab” Hinton, who affectionately called Frank “Hotdog” because of his name. Vicki also said she needed to pray on the proposal.

They got married August 12, 1989, at Vicki’s childhood church in Rocky Mount. It was really the first time Vicki had a chance to get to know Frank’s extended family.

Something lovely happened before the service. Vicki was all alone in a room, dressed in her wedding gown and watching guests arrive, when there was a knock at the door and Frank’s father, Franklin McCain Sr., stepped in to have a quiet word with the bride.

Franklin McCain was an American icon, one of the four brave A&T State freshman who staged a peaceful sit-in at the Greensboro Woolworth on February 1, 1960 — a moment broadly regarded by historians as a key moment in the birth of the nonviolent American Civil Rights Movement.

“He knew I was nervous and calmly told me ‘You look mighty pretty, Sugar.’” McCain then asked her if she was absolutely sure she wanted to marry his son, she recalls. “He explained that marriage is a serious commitment and that if I had any doubts I was free to change my mind.”

She didn’t. This pleased him. “Big Daddy was such a wise and reassuring man. That meant so much to me. We became such close friends.” 

After the couple exchanged vows, the groom couldn’t resist a gentle dig. “I guess I got the last laugh after all,” he told Vicki with a chortle. 

Today, Frank McCain carries on the family tradition of public service as vice president of United Way of Greater Greensboro, and Vicki serves as pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Cross on Phillips Avenue and works as a royalty auditor for Centric Brands. Both are deeply involved in A&T alumni affairs and athletics.

In fact, three generations strong, they may be the poster family for Aggie Blue and Gold.

After graduating from Ragsdale High with high honors (serving as homecoming queen, varsity head cheerleader and student government president as well) daughter Taylor, 25, attended UNC-Chapel Hill and today works as operations manager for a major snack company in Miami.

Son Frank III — whom everyone calls “Mac” — a graduate of Dudley High Academy, is a star footballer whose key interception in the closing moments of the 2017 Celebration Bowl led to MVP honors in a win over rival Grambling State and a perfect 12–0 season for the Aggies. The redshirted McCain picked up two All-America honors and snagged eight interceptions during his first two years, running two of them back for touchdowns, including a 100-yarder against East Carolina for the victory.

Last December, Mac McCain helped guide the Aggies to their third straight HBCU national title with a third consecutive win over Alcorn State at the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta. After battling food allergies and injuries, he is now in graduate school at his alma mater studying agricultural business and preparing for a fourth season in Aggie Blue and Gold.

“We are blessed to have children who are such good people,” says Pastor Vicki. “We’re also proud to be part of the A&T community, which is really our extended family.”

“A&T allowed us all to grow,” agrees Frank. “It’s who we are — and who we will always be. Aggie pride is nationwide!”  OH

Providential Pairing

Katie Clark & Branyon Spigner

By Maria Johnson     Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

If they get married as planned, Katie Clark and Branyon Spigner won’t have to worry about becoming one of those couples who start to look like each other.

They already do.

With their broad, easy smiles, their clear blue-green eyes and their rosy 19-year-old faces, they could be mistaken for sister and brother.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘You’re like the same person,’ “ he says.

Their differences stood out the first time they met — or became aware of each other.  They were in seventh grade, doing a walkathon on the grounds of Mendenhall Middle School in Greensboro. Katie was strolling with friends behind Branyon, who, having already experienced a growth spurt, was 5-feet-9-inches tall, by far the biggest kid around.

“I was like, ‘Why is there a 16-year-old at our walkathon? And what’s his name again?’ I couldn’t say his name,” Katie recalls.

It’s Branyon, rhymes with canyon.

They had English class together the following year.

“I remember, I heard her talking about a Christian football movie, When the Game Stands Tall. I was like, ‘Hey, I love that movie,’” he says.

They were too shy for conversation in person — she hid behind a locker door to avoid making eye contact with him in the hall — but they struck up a friendship by texting, mostly about their faith in God.

When Katie’s friends threw a surprise party for her December birthday, they invited Branyon.

“Most people gave me gift cards,” Katie remembers. “He gave me a plaque with Proverbs 3:5.”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding.

“I thought that was charming,” she says.

They talked face-to-face. It was a good sign.

“It was like, ‘OK, we can talk without a phone.’” says Branyon.

They held hands at a New Year’s Eve party.

She invited him to a community theater production of Sleeping Beauty, in which she played the lead role.

“It was funny,” Branyon remembers. “The first girl I fall for, I have to watch her kiss a 17-year-old.”

Their own first kiss came a few weeks later, on a snow day when school was canceled. They went sledding then walking in the woods with friends. Suddenly, the friends vanished.

“I think they all planned it,” Katie says of the couple’s instant privacy. “We talked for a while and then he kissed me. It was cute.”

They went to a Christian music festival on Valentine’s Day.

They became each other’s best friends in high school. Their friends called them Mom and Dad. Or KatieBranyon. Neither drank. Both were on student council and participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and in the faith-based organization Young Life.

He joined her youth group at Lawndale Baptist Church.

“It was so natural,” she says. “It felt like we’d always been together.”

He played varsity football for three years at Page High School, and she stayed until the end of every game, partly because she was in charge of the pep club and partly to get post-game pictures of her and Branyon.

“It was nice to have that support,” he says.

They planned to go to different colleges, she to Carolina to study psychology, he to N.C. State to study civil engineering.

She was accepted by both schools, but State offered her a scholarship, and a campus Christian group reached out to her. She changed her mind about going to Chapel Hill.

“It was a God thing,” she says. “It was a bonus that Branyon was at State.”

Now, they live in the same dormitory, in suites one floor apart. When he’s done studying, he’ll text her to see if she has time for a visit. Sometimes, they meet in the dining hall.

Like any couple, Katie and Branyon quarrel at times.

“At first, we didn’t really understand our differences,” he says.

“We tried to look past them,” she says.

“We needed to understand where the other person was coming from,” he says.

“Now it’s more like, “What do you need from me?’” she says.

For a while, they thought they would get married in college, but now they think they’ll get engaged while in college and get married right after graduation in 2023, after he starts a full-time job, possibly with the construction company he will intern with this summer.

Katie has changed her major to communication, with a minor in Spanish, to prepare for a more flexible career should Branyon’s future employer send him to another city.

“All of our ducks are almost in a row,” he says.

They look at each other with the same eyes. 

They smile the same smile.  OH

Planned Spontaneity

Paul Russ & Lynn Wooten

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Mark Wagoner

Cooking, art and philanthropy cinch the relationship for high-profile Triad couple Paul Russ and Lynn Wooten.   

Food is the extra ingredient: It was in a Triad restaurant that they met and they were married in another, with a celebratory party thrown on a later date at an art gallery.  

In 2006, Russ and Wooten had a blind date for brunch at Greensboro’s Green Valley Grill. Then they took the blinders off. “It’s unusual, because less than a month before we had seen each other across a room,” says Wooten, with Russ completing the thought “ . . . at a Durham film festival.”  

With a shock of recognition, the pair discovered they lived parallel lives.  

They were the same age. 

The Russ-Wootens simultaneously attended UNC-Chapel Hill with studies overlapping three out of four years.  

They earned the same degree (Journalism).   

Russ’ good friend lived next door to Wooten. “And we’d never met!” Wooten exclaims.  

“We had to have met, at some frat party, or walking across the quad,” muses Russ.

“Or on an elevator,” offers Wooten. 

“Or basketball games at Carmichael,” adds Russ. A bit like the romantic comedy, Sliding Doors, he says. 

“We were not meant to meet before we did,” agrees Wooten, who invited Russ to a Durham party. “We were inseparable from then.” Synchronicities abounded.  

Each transitioned from journalism to public relations. When they met, Wooten worked at UNC-Hospital; Russ worked at Hospice and Palliative Care of Greater Greensboro.     

“We both were involved in nonprofits, volunteering and helping out,” Wooten says. “As corny as it sounds, we both liked giving back,” he adds. 

Then there was a shared joy of cooking — and eating well.

“We love food,” he confesses. “There are very few ways we differ.  He won’t eat goat cheese and I won’t eat raw tomato,” sighs Wooten.

“I can watch cooking competitions ad nauseum,” confesses Russ.  

Both laugh.  

The foodies married in 2015 at 1618 West — the restaurant’s first wedding. 

For the celebration held at GreenHill, Ibby Wooten supplied a Japanese-made cake topper featuring Lynn snapping a selfie — a signature move. Her brother paused for a selfie during the ceremony.  “I did it at the end!  I pulled out a selfie stick, popped the camera up, and got the photo with everybody behind us.  It turned out great.”

Russ is now vice president of marketing and development for the newly merged AuthoraCare Collective, formerly hospices in Greensboro and Alamance/Caswell.  Three years ago, Wooten became vice president of marketing and public relations for the Well-Spring Group.)  

In those roles, they meet people who are farther along life’s pathway. 

“At Hospice I’ve learned more about living than dying,” says Russ. “We’ve met people with the capacity to do great things.”

Working with seniors and those with fewer days apportioned to them, they also have learned something valuable.  

So the couple, who have both done a lot of public service work as volunteers and on various boards — e.g., Triad Stage, Weatherspoon, the Public Art Endowment — discovered the need for “me time.” 

“Paul rules the finances,” says Wooten. “I do the calendar.” In which he occasionally writes, “Do Nothing.” 

On those special weekends, they may not leave the house, one filled with antiques, books, and an art collection amassed together. Russ is in the kitchen cooking. Wooten reads or naps.

They reserve uncommitted weekends for forays or outings to restaurants they haven’t yet experienced. (A recent such trek was to Acropolis, the downtown Greek restaurant.) “It was great,” enthuses Wooten.

They call this, “planned spontaneity.”  

“We love fun, good experiences. It’s a simple life,” says Wooten.  OH

Happy Trails

Sue Beck & Bill Haney

By Nancy Oakley     Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

“You really gotta like someone a whole bunch to sleep in a tent and walk every day with a pack on your back,” says Bill Haney with a broad grin. But Haney has done just that for most of the 44 years he’s been married to Sylvia “Sue” Beck.

“I had always wanted to do hiking,” says Sue, now 83, while Bill, whom she affectionately describes as “just a kid,” at 80, “was interested in wherever we both went.”

“Actually, I was interested in her,” he chimes in, his Cheshire Cat grin reappearing.

The two met in the mid-1970s when Sue was completing her master’s in music at UNCG and needing some education courses to fulfill teacher certification requirements. She landed in two of Bill’s classes one summer. An avid athlete, Bill’s interests included cycling and rock climbing, and, as Sue would later discover, swimming and diving. “That’s what really got me interested in him. I saw him diving and wow! He was amazing!” she says with a soft, low chuckle.

They took their courtship slowly, having both been married before, “and not anxious to get into that mess again,” Sue says with her ready laugh. But they tied the knot in 1975, blending families, and working — Sue with the Guilford County Schools, Bill with the Employment Security Commission.

As they approached their late 50s, the couple had heard about classes offered at Guilford College’s Wilderness Center. “Canoeing, backpacking, climbing,” Bill recalls.

“So we took the backpacking thing, and I loved it,” Sue waxes, explaining her deep appreciation of the outdoors and the natural world. “I’m an explorer at heart,” she adds, “but I could never have done it without Bill.”

While she carried “around 35 pounds,” he would shoulder a heavier 45- to 50-pound pack as the two began to hit various hiking trails in the Southeast. “He just sort of put up with it,” Sue laughs.

“There were times when either one of us would have enough for that day and throw a fit,” Bill concedes. Like the time they had run out of food a day before reaching Nantahala Gorge. “I get very grouchy when I’m hungry,” Bill admits. Or the times they’ve been injured, or when their camp stove once blew up. But taking the mishaps — how else? — in stride, Sue remarks, “We’ve had some fascinating experiences and we’ve met some amazing people.” Particularly groups of other hiking enthusiasts they’ve encountered on the Appalachian Trail.

In 1988 the two hiked a southern portion of the famed 2,200 route stretching from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine and would periodically hike various sections of it. “We just jumped around. We’d hike for a weekend. Or maybe during a vacation period for 10 days or something like that,” Sue recalls. “And all of a sudden I said to Bill: ‘You know what? We’ve hiked a lot of this trail, why don’t we just do the whole thing?’”

Under the trail moniker, “NC Pole Cats,” a nod to their use of ski poles for balance and safety well before it became accepted hiking practice, the two completed their goal, encountering a cast of characters along the way: the Four J’s, three guys and their unseen fourth, Jesus; or The Three Little Pigs, three gals who described themselves as “looking like pigs and smelling like pigs,” says Sue. And the ultimate payoff: Mt. Katahdin. “The end of the trail at Katahdin is spectacular,” Sue enthuses. “There’s a beautiful campground at the bottom. Then you have to hike up, up, up.” She recalls going by a beautiful waterfall. And as they got higher and higher, it turned out to be not so much a trail as a jumble of rocks. “Huge rocks. Car-sized rocks” she says. “And they’re all piled up on the top of this mountain. And just before you get to the very end, it becomes a trail again. It’s very challenging.” Here, Bill’s rock climbing expertise was crucial. “I don’t think I could have done it if he hadn’t been there to explain to me where to put my foot next and my arm next,” Sue observes.

By 2001, Bill and Sue earned their AT patches that they proudly wear on the sleeves of their camp shirts, along with their perennially young hearts. They’ve become an example, if not an inspiration to their peers, sharing their experiences with local groups such as the Shepherd’s Center, or Abbotswood, where they live. Its nearby 3-mile loop and regular yoga sessions keep them in shape for excursions to favorite hiking destinations such as Hanging Rock and Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, with its “beautiful rock formations and wild ponies,” says Sue. They’ve trekked through Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland, and imparted a love of hiking and the outdoors to their grandkids. And though age has necessitated some modifications — no more 50-pound packs for Bill — the two have “a long life to live,” Sue says, laughing, and as long as they’re able, they’ll continue speaking their love language — step by step.  OH

For Love of Family & Good Food

David & Nneka Williams

By Jim Dodson     Photographs by Mark Wagoner

A dozen years ago, David and Nneka Williams made an important decision about their quality of life and young family.

“We decided it was time for a healthy change in the food we ate — realizing that what we were eating was simply not making us healthier,” explains David.

“It was an epiphany for us.”

The roots of this awakening lay in his evolution as a landscaper who, in the early 1990s after graduating from Northwest Guilford High School, started out with New Garden Landscaping & Nursery. Williams eventually opened his own business, having morphed into a specialized personal landscaping designer with a dozen private clients he works with to this day.

Out for an evening in 1998, he happened to bump into pretty Nneka Little — pronounced “Nay-Kay” — a UNCG dance major and ballet dancer who grew up in New York City. David was shy. Nneka wasn’t. They swapped phone numbers but she had to call him first.

Your classic case of country mouse meets city mouse.

“I’m a city girl. If you’ve ever seen the movie Big,” Nneka says with a laugh, “that was supposed to be my life.”

Because David grew up on a family farm in Stokesdale, he had no interest “whatsoever” in returning to the farming life — or so he thought.

Lightning struck fast. The next year the pair were married at a quiet family ceremony in Stokesdale.

When their sons Logan and Gavin were 5 and 3 respectively, it bothered them that both children suffered from allergies and asthma, requiring daily breathing treatments. Nneka also required her own medication for allergies, and everyone in the family was putting on weight.

Fearing years of medical issues, the Williamses boldly switched to a vegan diet and experienced a quick and remarkable turnaround. “Healthy organic food was the answer,” says David. “It healed our bodies and resulted in making all of us dramatically healthier. Within a few years, everyone in the household was off meds and had lost weight.”

Moreover, their shared passion for healthful food led to an exciting new chapter of life. A backyard, raised-bed organic garden fueled their growing knowledge of organic gardening and in 2011 led to visits to a pair of sustainable farms in Saxapahaw.

“That was all I needed to see,” says David, who began meeting with a farm consultant to plan and gather ideas for their future organic farm.

For the next two and a half years the couple searched for the right piece of property, eventually settling on a rolling 13-acre parcel off Church Street extension, in the rural community of Midway, just into Rockingham County.

A week before Christmas in 2015, the Williamses moved into a handsome energy-efficient 3,200-square-foot house they designed and built themselves. Soon thereafter, they completed work on their first high tunnel–heated greenhouse and started building their washing and packing facility, just in time for their first harvest.

Sunset Market Gardens was born.

Today, its fourth year, the farm boasts three state-of-the-art large greenhouses (plus two smaller ones) filled with a bounty of USDA-certified organic produce that looks almost too good to eat — spectacular Asian greens and several varieties of gourmet lettuce, bok choy, baby kale, radishes, beets, carrots, spinach, scallions, plus turnips and collards. Ditto various herbs, ginger and turmeric, and pasture-raised eggs. As February dawns, new potatoes, summer squash, cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes are already planted in immaculate rows, working their way to market. The Williamses even sell organic bread and have an online store. No surprise that their customer base is growing robustly.

The farm’s prime sales venue is the historic Greensboro Farmers Curb Market on Yanceyville Street along with their own ever-expanding farm store, open Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Sons Logan and Gavin, at 15 and 13 respectively, have grown into impressively polite young men, homeschooled by their mother. They run the farm store and ultraclean packaging operation. Two other mouths to feed and two more pairs of potential helping hands have expanded the Williams family.

“It’s not been a easy life but it’s such a rewarding life,” says Nneka, as she spoon feeds organic veggies to 5-month-old Kieran while keeping an eye on Falynne, age 2, playing in the gated living room. “David is a perfectionist about the farm — his passion — and the boys are learning valuable lessons about work and life and sustainability.

“My mother’s dream was to live in the country and have a farm like this,” she adds with another laugh. “Whenever my parents come to visit, they’re so excited they hardly come in the house because there’s so much to do and see.”

“For us, this is really is a dream come true,” adds David, who continues to beautify the property’s landscape with plans to eventually offer farm suppers and special events on the grounds.

“To think how far we’ve come in such a short period of time makes me humble and very grateful. That’s something we love to share with people who buy our produce and come out to the farm to see how we grow our food — a love of family and good healthy eating.”  OH

For more info: Sunset Market Gardens, 346 Woolen Store Road, Reidsville  Open: Wednesdays 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Phone: (336) 362-1344   |

O.Henry Ending

A Manner of Speaking

For this Southerner, it’s drawl or nothin’

By David Claude Bailey

If you’ve met me, you will agree that one of my most unforgettable traits is my down-home Piedmont accent. Think Andy Griffith or a North Carolina Highway Patrolman asking you if you had a particularly pressing reason for exceeding the speed limit.

In my youth, I never gave it much thought — until, I went to New York City at 16 and ordered a burger. The waitress stopped me in mid-sentence and said, “Say that again.” When I did, she broke into uncontrollable laughter and parroted my words with a lame Gomer Pyle impersonation.

Granted, I tend to draw out my vowels. I pronounce the sauce (dip) that’s used to mop pork barbecue “Di-yup.” When I say “hog” or “dog,” they sound as if I fattened them up with a few extra syllables.

I don’t need to be telling “you all” this if you’ve lived in Greensboro or its surrounds for any length of time. And yet, decades ago when I enrolled at UNCG, 20 miles from my hometown of Reidsville, people thought I talked funny, just my cousins from Madison and Mayodan talked funny. And my wife-to-be, bless her, got an earful when she moved to Reidsville from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. My schoolmates had a field day with the way she said “Sears” (rhymes with “mayors”). Sadly, she lost any trace of a rich and glorious accent that I only get to hear when we visit her relatives.

Let’s face it, everybody talks funny compared to someone else, but if you have a Southern accent, somebody’s going to point it out.

A press trip to Malaysia with a group of American cookbook writers comes to mind. Two or three of us who had become fast friends would get up early and seek out farmers’ markets, gawking at the unusual viands, such as frogs, bats and sea creatures I’d only seen before in storybooks. Afterwards, we’d drink cup after cup of coffee that had been made in what looked like a sock, thickened with an inordinate amount of sweetened condensed milk. In spite of these shared bonds, one in the troupe still thought it hilariously amusing to affect a Hee-Haw drawl, once chortling out, “Why right’ cheer comes Day-fid Bay-leee.”

I simply asked her: “If I were Polish, would you start telling ‘dumb Polack’ jokes? Or if I were Hispanic or Black, would you suddenly start talking like the Frito Bandito or Buckwheat?” She actually apologized.

On other occasions, I’ve discovered my speech has its advantages. When I was a young college kid hitchhiking through Europe, a group of Italians in a bar thought I sounded just like Bob Dylan and bought me rounds of beer as long as I crooned on about Ruthie wanting me to come see her in her honky-tonk lagoon. And a female publicist in London once kept me on the phone, asking me about what kind of car I drove and was I married. Finally, she said, “Has anyone ever told you that you have a really sexy accent?”

Sexy? Er, no. Though a waitress in Philadelphia once sat down at my table to spoon feed me the crème brûlée I’d ordered because, she said, she liked the way I talked. I’m pretty sure that’s not all she liked.

Over the years, I’ve come to actually treasure my Southern accent. What continues to bother me, though, is that with the influx of so many people from all over the United States into the Piedmont, I still hear, “say that again.”

“Hey,” I think as they laugh hysterically, “I was here first.” Which brings me, of course, to another story.

In the early 1980s I was aerospace editor of Cocoa TODAY, which became Florida TODAY, which was a trial run for Al Neuharth’s USA TODAY. I covered NASA for the paper in the months before the Space Shuttle became America’s first manned flight in six years. I had just been Okayed for a trip to Washington, D.C., to write a series about the Shuttle’s cost overruns, a series that eventually won the Aviation and Space Writers’ top award. As I jabbered on and on about the trip with my colleagues, a Brooklyn-born photographer mimicked my pronunciation of our nation’s capital — “Warshington,” I was saying.

“Bev,” I said, “where are we?” She looked puzzled, but replied, “In the newsroom.”

“Where’s the newsroom?” I continued. “In Cocoa.” “Where’s Cocoa,” I countered. “In Florida,” she said, and then suspiciously, “What is this?” “Just answer my question, please,” and by this time the entire newsroom was tuned in.

“What region of the country is Florida in?”

“It’s in the South, I guess,” she replied.

“No guessing about it,” I shot back. “Florida is in the Deep South, so quit telling me how to talk on my own turf.”

Never has the sound of applause been so sweet.  OH

David Claude Bailey did not pick up any of his mother’s Pennsylvania Dutch accent.

The Omnivorous Reader

Crime and Punishment

Doing justice to a pair of new legal thrillers

By D.G. Martin

Two popular authors of legal thrillers have close connections to North Carolina. We would like to claim them for our state, but both live in Virginia.

John Grisham’s latest book, The Guardians, has spent recent weeks on or near the top of The New York Times best-seller list. Although he lives near Charlottesville, he regularly visits his daughter’s family in Raleigh and enjoys his second home in Chapel Hill, where his wife, Renee, is active in support of the UNC Press and the performing arts efforts.

Martin Clark, author of his fifth novel, The Substitution Order, though not as well known as Grisham, has legions of fans. He has been called “the thinking man’s John Grisham.”

Clark lives on a farm near Stuart, Virginia, just a few miles above the North Carolina line and not far from the Winston-Salem hospital where he was born.

Both new books feature hardworking, smart lawyers confronting sophisticated corruption schemes in the justice system.

Grisham’s story features innocent people who have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy years of confinement. Coincidently, newspapers and movie theaters have been full of real life stories of long-serving prisoners who have been found to be innocent.

“After 36 Years in Prison, 3 Men Cleared in Killing,” a headline in The New York Times proclaimed recently. Stories like it have become more and more common as efforts to establish the innocence of people convicted of murder expand throughout the country, including North Carolina.

Last year Charles Ray Finch, 81, was freed after being wrongfully convicted 43 years ago of a murder in Wilson County. His release came after a 17-year effort by students in the Duke Law Innocence Project.

Why does it take such a long time to undo a wrongful conviction?

Grisham gives an answer in The Guardians. His hero is Cullen Post, a lawyer and Episcopal priest who works for Guardian Ministries in Savannah, Georgia. Post lives in a small apartment above the ministries’ office, but spends most of his time on the road, visiting prisoners all over the Southeast.

Post interviews prospective clients in their prison cells. Most of the time he concludes they are guilty. But for those who have persuaded him of their innocence, he gives his all. He even sits with them as they await execution, sharing their last meal. With others, he tries to unearth facts and connections that might bolster their innocence claims. Back at the office, he helps draft legal documents to persuade courts to open the door for a review of their clients’ convictions. Even after all this hard work the Guardian Ministries has only gained the release of eight innocent prisoners.

Grisham paints the portraits of several imprisoned clients who are almost certainly innocent but focuses on an African-American former truck driver, Quincy Miller. Twenty-two years earlier Miller had been convicted of murdering Keith Russo, a small town white lawyer who had done a lousy job representing Miller in an acrimonious divorce. The evidence against Miller was thin and contrived, but the local sheriff was determined to pin the murder on him.

Why was the sheriff so motivated? Post’s probing is, at first, inconclusive. Then, as he learns that drug dealing might be involved and that the murdered Keith Russo was involved in the illicit trade, things get scary.

Post meets Miller’s original defense lawyer and learns that a drug cartel had subjected him to torture and terror so frightening that he would not speak of Miller’s case in public. When Miller is attacked and almost killed by prisoners on the drug cartel’s payroll and strange men begin to follow Post, Grisham injects his patented skillful storytelling to weave a disturbing tale.

While Post makes it clear that his job is to prove that his clients, in this case Miller, are innocent, and not necessarily to find the actual murderers, after all Grisham reveals about the horror of the drug cartels and the local officials involved in Keith Russo’s murder, it disappointed this reader not to have the real trigger man and his handlers brought to justice.

Maybe Grisham is just leaving the door open for a sequel. If so, I will be in line to buy the first copy.

Meanwhile, there is time to enjoy Clark’s The Substitution Order, which has gained widespread praise. New York Times reviewer Alafair Burke wrote, “In a good legal thriller, the law itself propels the narrative as intensely as any single character. By that definition, Martin Clark’s ‘The Substitution Order’ is not merely a good legal thriller; it’s a great one.”

It opens with its main character and narrator speaking, “For years, I was an excellent lawyer, as honest and effective as you could ever want, and I’m a decent enough person, and despite my mistakes, which — I concede — were hellacious, I deserve better than this misery.” These words introduce us to the plight of Kevin Moore.

When a lawyer’s life collapses, it can fall hard, and the devastation can be horrendous. But hard times can make for a good story, and Moore’s sad situation becomes the basis for Clark’s enticing book.

Moore was an admired and successful lawyer in Roanoke, Virginia. He was deeply devoted to his wife, but then briefly fell into a short fling of infidelity, drug use and association with drug dealers.

The results: disbarment and probation. His wife gives up and leaves him. Hoping to regain respectability and return to a good life, Moore takes a job working in a cheap deli. His circumstances make him the target of sophisticated crooks. A stranger who calls himself Caleb visits the deli and proposes that Moore cooperate in a multi-million-dollar scam to con his malpractice insurer out of millions of dollars. As a part of the scam, Moore would admit that he failed to follow up on a client’s option to purchase a parcel of mountain land for a little less than a million dollars. She lost the property, which later sold for $6 million.

If Moore plays along, his lawyers’ malpractice insurer will pay $5 million to his former client, who is part of the scam.

When Moore turns Caleb and his colleagues down, they use a corrupt law enforcement official to get a fake positive drug test and plant drugs and a pistol in his car. The resulting probation violation and new charges could put him in jail for a long time.

His Job-like experience continues when he suffers a stroke just as his soon-to-be ex-wife takes him off her health insurance coverage. His slow turnaround begins when he calls Dan Duggan, his Davidson College classmate and law school roommate at the University of Virginia, for help. Duggan guides him through the health insurance morass and then, at the end of the book, plays a key role in Moore’s counter-scam to punish Caleb’s colleagues and deny them the fruits of their evil deeds.

Martin Clark, the author of this compelling story, recently retired as a Virginia circuit court judge, giving him, we can hope, time to write more “thinking man’s” thrillers.  OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 11 a.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8 p.m. To view prior programs go to

Life of Jane

Just Desserts

It takes one to know one

By Jane Borden

In my parents’ home, desserts are both rewards and consolations, applied as prescription and preventative medicine alike. As such, the procurement of them is as important as the distribution. My mother likes to be prepared.

Shortly after Nathan and I were married, we made an impromptu visit to Greensboro from Chapel Hill. Mom not only welcomed us generously but also threw together an elaborate dinner for four in the dining room. Afterward, she announced, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know you were coming, so we have nothing for dessert.” Naturally, we insisted: Dessert was unnecessary, and we were thankful for the delicious dinner, not to mention full. This was a response to the gesture behind the statement. And once it was made, I considered the statement itself. Suspiciously, I asked, “Wait, you have nothing for dessert?”

When my sisters and I were children, our kitchen pantry was legend. Across different grades and schools, word spread of the snack-food riches therein, making our house the first choice for any playdate location. I’m still not sure who were real friends, and who were mercenaries out for a payday in Little Debbie snack cakes.

They weren’t shy. They knew Mom’s organizational system and poked around freely. It was a bit like looking for coins in a video game. One employs a combination of tactics, returning to previously discovered gold mines while also seeking new sources. That was part of the fun. Our friends knew they could open the freezer door and score a few chocolate M&Ms, but also what’s behind that cereal box in the pantry? Is it one of a dozen cans of chicken consommé (a collection always stocked in case, I presume, the municipal water source became tainted and we had to drink it)? No. Is it a jar of relish that expired five years ago (that’s my dad’s organizational system)? No. Is it . . . yes, Girl Scout cookies! Wait, how old are they? Just kidding, I don’t care.

The shelves were deep. There was a lot to explore. And it required agility, considering the floor was littered with bottles of Diet Rite. I understand this culture of plenty. I inherited the trait. I go overboard, whether in my shopping cart or on my plate. “That looks good. Do I need it? Probably not. But you never know? Anyway, it might taste good. I like things that taste good. OK I’ll take it.”

For example, having a great plenty is what allows one to throw together a dinner for four in a formal dining room on short notice. Appreciation aside, however, I am biologically incapable of missing an opportunity to joke. That is how I came to do the unthinkable: endeavoring to entertain our group by making fun of Mom.

“You have nothing for dessert?” I asked, inviting her into the trap.

“Nothing!” Mom said innocently. “I feel terrible!”

“You’re sure there’s nothing?” I pressed.

“Yes!” she said.

“OK, I’ll just confirm,” I announced, rising from the table and heading first to the second refrigerator in the laundry room. “Bag of M&Ms in the drawer!” I shouted and, moving a bottle of chardonnay, added, “also a bag of jellybeans. And a box of Godivas.”

“Those don’t count,” Mom yelled back. “That’s candy!”

I next turned to the freezer: “Fudge popsicles!”

“They’re Weight Watchers,” she protested, “fake dessert.”

“And what about this homemade chocolate-covered toffee the Hassenfelts gave us for Christmas?”

“Jane,” she said, her voice now grave: “You better be careful.”

Making fun of mother is a risky venture. The situation must be perfect, or plans require, as revenge does, the digging of two graves. But any great endeavor is susceptible to circumstance, and if, when conditions do allow, our heroes fail to act, we’d never have harnessed electricity, or captured a giant squid on film. I realize I’ve just compared my mother to a giant squid, but the sound I sought — of her laughing at me laughing at her — is as rare.

I don’t mean to suggest her hard or stoic. Mom laughs constantly, and labors to elicit the same from others. She’s an entertainer. She says I get my sense of humor from my dad. Maybe. I hope so. He’s one of the funniest people I know. (Last year, when my parents visited Los Angeles, we took an Uber to Hollywood. After embarking, Dad had trouble with his seat belt, so the driver pulled over to wait. When the lock finally clicked, Dad leaned forward to the driver and cheerily announced, “OK, you can get in a wreck now!”) Regardless, I inherited my desire to entertain from her.

She’s a pro. Whether hosting a party in your honor or running into you at the Harris Teeter, Mom makes you feel special. And you can relax meanwhile, because she does all of the work, including the emotional labor. I’m not at her level. But I hope to be eventually. I’m still practicing. Anyway, it’s not my job to entertain when I’m with her. It’s hers. That duty is part of her general position as matriarch. Mom controls everything — including the comedy. If children are serfs, then my aim in mocking her was nothing short of an uprising.

But I had her cornered. I knew I was right and, more important, I knew this was funny. I pressed on to the kitchen pantry, where I found candied pecans, chocolate-covered almonds, gummy bears, and four kinds of Weight Watchers treats (caramels, minifudge bars, shortbread cookies, yogurt pretzels). I shouted out each as I found them.

“Jaaaane. . . .” she replied, threatening the outcome of my continued pursuit. This was getting worse before it got better. But if I stopped now, I’d have already lost. I had to double down.

“OK, I’m opening the kitchen freezer,” I yelled. And then she sighed loudly: resignation, a positive sign.

“Jackpot! Two kinds of ice cream, a frozen loaf of banana bread, a Skor bar, and more popsicles — not Weight Watchers.” I returned to the dining room: “17, Mom. That’s a total of 17 desserts in the house.”

She stared at me for two or three very long seconds, and then raised her eyebrows, shrugged and chuckled. It was a little thing, and also the best thing.

“OK,” she said, somewhat sarcastically. “Very funny.”  OH

Jane Borden grew up in Greensboro and now lives in Los Angeles, where she currently has nine desserts in the house and gets paid to be funny.

February Almanac

February blossoms make the cold hard to shake.

Crocus burst open like paper fortune tellers, hellebores whisper prophesies of spring, and in the backyard, where a speckled bird is kicking up fresh mulch, winter Daphne blushes like bright-eyed maidens in faded terra-cotta planters.

All of this, yet winter feels deep-rooted, endless. As if her flowers were cruel illusion. As if your bones could be forever yoked to this chill. 

Then one day, out of nowhere, a new warmth arrives with the daffodils, a new softness beckoning you outdoors.

Beneath the bare-branched sycamore, where the picnic table has all but forgotten its name, February sunshine feels like a warm bath. You’ve brought lunch — a thermos of soup — and as the sunbeams dance across your face and skin, you feel, for the first time in months, as open as the crocus. As if winter might release you. As if hellebores were true harbingers of spring. 

Beside your thermos, a feathery caterpillar edges toward you. Did it fall from the sky? You look up toward bare branches, wonder where he came from, where he’s going, whether he’ll be the speckled bird’s lunch. He’s closer now, gliding across your idle spoon, and as you observe his wispy yellow coat, you see yourself in this tiny being and in what he might become:

Enamored by each fragrant blossom; wide open; ever-seeking the simple grace of light.

February sunshine has transformed us, encoding within us the promise of spring. We can feel it now.

The Lenten Rose

When a plant blooms in the dead of winter, it is neither ordinary nor meek. That plant is a pioneer.

Also called the “Lenten rose”, the hellebore is a beloved and shade-tolerant herbaceous or evergreen perennial — not a rose — that so happens to thrive here. Some species more than others.

Take, for example, the bear claw hellebore, which is named for its deeply cut “weeping” leaves. February through April, this herbaceous perennial displays chartreuse green flowers that the deer won’t touch, and you shouldn’t either (read: toxic when ingested). As the flowers mature, the petal edges blush a soft, pale ruby. Talk about subtle beauty, but more for the eyes than for the nose (its crushed leaves are what give it the nickname “stinking hellebore”).

On behalf of every flower-loving soul aching in their bones for the coming spring, thank you, hellebore. You’re a true queen.

Full Snow Moon

The Full Snow Moon will rise at night on Feb. 8, peaking in the earliest hour of the morning on Feb. 9. Also called the Bone Moon, this supermoon (the closest the moon can come to Earth in its orbit) marks a time of heavy snowfall and, in earlier times, little food. If you’re warm and full-bellied, this moon is a good one to share the wealth.

I know him, February’s thrush,

And loud at eve he valentines

On sprays that paw the naked bush

Where soon will sprout the thorns and bines.

— George Meredith, “The Thrush in February,” 1885

Warm Your Bones

This month in the garden, sow beet, mustard and turnip seeds. Plant your spring salad (loose leaf lettuce, arugula, spinach, carrots, radish, cilantro). But while it’s cold out, soup!

The following recipe from is a quickie — all the better for soaking up more February sunshine while the spring garden grows.

Spinach and White Bean Soup


1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

4 cups vegetable stock

2 bay leaves

1 cup uncooked orzo pasta

2 cups baby spinach

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Heat olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in thyme and basil until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir in vegetable stock, bay leaves and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Stir in orzo; reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender, about 10–12 minutes.

Stir in spinach and cannellini beans until the spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley; season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve immediately.  OH

Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle . . . a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream. — Barbara Winkler

Life’s Funny


Weeding out a CBD treatment

By Maria Johnson

I was at wit’s end.

To shush my mewling left ankle, which I’d aggravated while playing tennis, I’d tried all sorts of remedies: anti-inflammatory pills, gels, and a cortisone injection, which worked — until it didn’t.

A doctor sent me to a physical therapist, who showed me how to build up my foot and ankle muscles. My peroneus brevis never looked so good. She ended our sessions by dressing my ankle with a battery-powered patch that pushed some anti-ouchy medicine into the gristle end of my boney-ass-chicken-drumstick leg — my words, not hers.

The relief lasted for a couple of hours at a time, probably because I was so caught up in the cool factor of wearing a battery-powered bandage. It reminded me of the light-up tennis shoes that both of my sons wanted so much, at age 3, that they endured the rigors of giving mom and dad what they wanted — potty-trained sons — in exchange for the fly kicks.

Who knows? Maybe if the patch had packed a stronger battery and a flashing dump truck, I’d have been cured. Alas, the wee batteries died, and I went back to being my gimpy, unelectrified self.

I tried simpler fixes, too, soaking up enough fragrant Epsom salt to pass as a lavender-scented country ham. And, of course, I’d worn out the RICE regimen, which orthopedic folks use as shorthand for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, but which the rest of us know as Relax In a Chair and Eat the ice cream you got out of the freezer when you fetched the gel pack.

I was desperate for relief. So when post-yoga chitchat turned to a new hemp store nearby, and someone volunteered that she’d rubbed hemp oil into her hip to soothe an aching flexor, I was on it.

Skeptical, but on it.

I hobbled on over to the ol’ hempatorium. Graphics on the windows suggested that CBD — or cannabidiol, a non-la-la-inducing compound in hemp — could be used to treat a wide array of health problems:

Anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, autism, scurvy, rickets, dropsy, hysteria, ringworm, imbalance of the humours. I exaggerate, but not much.

The kid who was minding the store was extremely friendly, in a floaty, underwater sort of way.

“How . . . can . . . I . . . help  . . . you?” he asked languidly.

“I was wondering if you have any kind of ointment that might help a strained tendon in my ankle,” I replied.

“Everyone  . . . your  . . . age . . . wants . . . topicals . . . instead . . . of . . . smokables  . . . and  . . . chewables,” he observed in approximately the time it would take me to watch a whole season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

I was tempted to say, “Been there, done that. Why, I recollect a concert by them Who fellers back in nineteen and eighty-two,” but I preferred to focus on my ankle while I was still ambulatory.

He led me over to a wall of shelves and picked up a small white jar with a smudged label that looked to have come from a home printer. “Full Spectrum Hemp Oil Pain Salve, 500mg/1oz,” it read. Everything was spelled correctly, which I took as a positive sign, medically speaking.

“My . . . aunt . . . has . . . bad . . . arthritis . . . in . . . her . . . back . . . and…”

“Good for her,” I said. “I’ll take it.”

I panned the rest of the seascape: tinctures of oil; packs of multicolored gummies; bottles of lotions; tubes of salve promising to relieve, relax or restore one thing or another; a few textile products woven from hemp fiber; and some prerolled joints.

A tray of loose-leaf hemp lay next to the register.

“Is it, uh, legal to sell it that way?” I asked.

“Yeah . . . as  . . . long . . . as . . . it . . . contains . . . less . . . than . . . point . . . three . . . percent . . .THC,” he said, using the initials of Tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in weed that makes you high.

I looked it up later. Hemp, a low-grade strain of marijuana, contains less than 0.3 percent THC, which is currently the legal limit in North Carolina. In states that allow the sale of recreational or medicinal pot, the THC content can be more than 20 percent.

Back in the day of  “them Who fellers,” it was 3 to 4 percent.

I’ll leave it to politicians, pundits and public health folks to hash out whether society’s widespread embrace of cannabis makes sense.

But I can tell you that after a few days of rubbing the hemp oil balm on my ankle, the pain faded away.

In fairness to cause-and-effect, maybe it was because I’d laid off the high-impact exercise. Or because I’d flexed my foot and ankle muscles into a state of Marvel Comics buffness. Maybe in the year since the original injury, the frazzled tendon had finally mended on its own.

Or maybe it was because of the healing properties of CBD.

There’s a seed of truth in there somewhere.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. She can he reached at


From Custom to Consignment

Tailor’s Rack is a perfect fit

Armed with a degree in computer science and music technology from Elizabeth City State University, Dana Williams, 28, was on the fast track with a job at Procter & Gamble. Ascending into management, he was overseeing the production of three brands of deodorant. The money was good but the stress was unbearable, and one day he had a potentially fatal seizure.

“I woke up in Moses Cone Hospital,” he recalls, “and the doctor said if I had gotten there two minutes later I wouldn’t have made it.” Stress, the doctor told him, would kill him.

So, Williams went to work for Goodwill Industries and then off-price retailer Ross Dress for Less, rising into management at both stores. “At Goodwill I learned the thrift-store process,” he says. “Ross was buying closeout items, and that taught me about buying and pricing in retail. That gave me my foundation.”

All this time, Williams was developing a passion for sewing he’d had since childhood, engendered by watching his grandmother make and mend clothes on her pedal-powered Singer. By college he was designing and altering clothes for classmates.

“I had my sewing machine right there beside my desk in my dorm room,” he says, adding, “Before long, people were asking me to customize clothes for them and dress them up.”

After renting booths at flea markets, and selling his wares both there and online through Etsy, he was ready to take the entrepreneurial plunge and opened a consignment shop in Rockingham, N.C., near his wife, Felicia’s hometown of Hamlet, expanding into a successful consignment-thrift-vintage outlet.

Moving to the corner of Davie and Friendly, Williams opened Tailor’s Rack on September 28, 2018 (Felicia’s birthday).

With the Tanger Center and the new hotel opening, Williams feels confident about his location and his blend of men’s, women’s clothing and household goods, all very reasonably priced.

Still, the 48-year-old father of two boys (Landon, 10 in March, and Laydon, 8) foresees his own clothing line in his future. He already has a label, Danaanad, has flown to China to develop relationships with manufacturers, and has the hands-on experience to make it work.

“I really want to get back to custom designing,” he mused. “That’s where my heart is.”

Plus, one would imagine, it’s a lot less stress on the heart.  OH

— Ogi Overman

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Let’s Do It!

If birds, bees and educated fleas do it, you can, too — with a little help from book releases in time for Valentine’s Day

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

Yes, love and romance.
Of course, chocolates and flowers. But what is it we really want from Valentine’s Day? January and February bring us a proverbial backroom full of new books on sex and sexuality that will help you separate the players from the performers. With these guides and how-tos, you’ll soon sort out what you actually desire from what you’re supposed to desire. What is it we really want from Valentine’s Day? Books on sex!

January 7: Topics of Conversation, by Miranda Popkey (Knopf, $24). Miranda Popkey’s first novel is about desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt — written in language that sizzles with intelligence and eroticism. The novel is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women — the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage.

February 4: The Queen V: Everything You Need to Know about Sex, Intimacy, and Down There Health Care, by Dr. Jackie Walters (Andy Cohen Books, $27). After twenty years of private obstetrics and gynecological practice, there’s nothing Dr. Jackie Walters hasn’t encountered. And now, in her new book, the widely adored OBGYN invites you to put your feet in the stirrups and investigate. Whether she’s covering libido, contraceptives, labiaplastyor fertility, Dr. Jackie educates readers with her characteristic grace and pragmatism. Both funny and informative, she brings you on a quest through the female reproductive system — answering all the burning (and itching and odiferous . . .) questions you’ve always been afraid to ask.

February 4: Seduction: A History from the Enlightenment to the Present, by Clement Knox (Pegasus, $28.95). Moving from the Garden of Eden to the carnivals of 18th-century Venice, and from the bawdy world of Georgian London to the saloons and speakeasies of the Jazz Age, this is an exploration of timeless themes of power, desire, and free will. Along the way we meet Mary Wollstonecraft, her daughter Mary Shelley, and her friend Caroline Norton, and reckon with their fight for women’s rights and freedoms. We encounter Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, who became entangled in America’s labyrinthine and racialized seduction laws. We consider how after seduction seemingly vanished from view during the Sexual Revolution, it has exploded back into our lives.

February 4: The Pleasure Gap: American Women and the Unfinished Sexual Revolution, by Katherine Rowland (Seal Press, $28). American culture is more sexually liberal than ever. But compared to men, women’s sexual pleasure has not grown: Millions of American women experience the sexual malaise clinically known as low sexual desire. Between this low desire, muted pleasure and experiencing sex in terms of labor rather than of lust, women by the millions are dissatisfied with their erotic lives. For too long, this deficit has been explained in terms of women’s biology, stress and age, but in The Pleasure Gap, Katherine Rowland rejects the idea that women should settle for diminished pleasure. Instead, she argues women should take inequality in the bedroom as seriously as we take it in the workplace and understand its causes and effects.

February 11: Sex Positive: Redefining Our Attitudes to Love & Sex, by Kelly Neff (Watkins Publishing, $18.95). In this ground-breaking study of modern sexuality, Dr. Kelly Neff explores this new cultural movement and examines LGBTQI issues, #MeToo, female orgasm, the rise of nonmonogamous relationships and robotic sex partners, among many other contentious topics emerging as part of the ongoing social and political shifts surrounding sex, love and identity.

February 11: Summer of ’69, by Elin Hilderbrand (Back Bay, $16.99). Sorry. Apparently this book isn’t about what I first thought. But that does remind me that Scuppernong Books will host its 2nd Annual Non-Erotic Reading on February 13 at 7p.m. We’re guided by The Guardian’s annual Bad Sex Awards in Fiction. Here’s a sample from a “winner,” Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls:

“Then I screamed as though I were being run over by a train, and that long arm of his was reaching up again to palm my mouth, and I bit into his hand the way a wounded soldier bites on a bullet.
And then it was the most, and I more or less died.”

Please join us to celebrate the bad so we can recognize the good!  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.