In Case You Missed Them
Titles worthy of the party they didn’t get
Compiled by Brian Lampkin
It was a difficult year for writers who published a book in 2020.
Actually, it was a difficult year for anyone who drew a breath in 2020, but we’re here to focus on books. Typically, a writer publishes a book, then celebrates with a launch party, book tour and a variety of live appearances. None of the post-publication afterglow happened in our plague year. Still, plenty of great books saw the light and many of them by North Carolina authors. As this grievous year comes to an end, let’s give some renewed appreciation for these 2020 titles either from Tar Heel denizens or those inspired by North Carolina events.
Wilmington’s Lie, by David Zucchino. Happily, this one published before the curtain was drawn on events, and Zucchino drew a sell-out crowd to Scuppernong in January for this important look at the 1898 overthrow of the Wilmington, N.C., government. Zucchino argues that the racist events in Wilmington set the stage for North Carolina’s descent into 20th Century Jim Crow life.
Write It!: 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire, by Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown. If, poet, you were always suspicious of the efficacy of prompts as a poetic practice, then you need to prop open this sophisticated and deeply knowledgeable collection of ideas and inspirations. There’s nothing cute or precious about these hard-thought and useful mind and heart starters. Jacobs and Brown bring an Asheville focus on nature and openness to the page.
The Tyranny of Questions, by Michael Gaspeny. This unique collection of poems is novelistic in its narrative and close attention to a single subject — a woman struggling through repressive American life in the 1960s. That makes it a brave text in these times, which are so anti-empathetic. If this is appropriation, then give me more, as Gaspeny offers tender, wise and heartfelt appreciation for the difficulties, hard-earned joys and ever-present despair of a life thwarted.
Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. Clapsaddle lives in Qualla, N.C., and is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. No less than Charles Frazier says of her novel: “Even As We Breathe is a fresh, welcome and much needed addition to the fiction of the Appalachian South and its neglected people and places. Clapsaddle creates characters with sensitivity, subtlety, humor and warmth. A splendid debut by a writer well worth following.”
Step It Up and Go, by David Menconi. Long-time Raleigh News & Observer music critic David Menconi offers a detailed overview of the long history of great music made in North Carolina. The work is beautifully presented by UNC Press, and includes everything from Doc Watson to Beach Music, from Winston-Salem’s hugely influential The “5” Royales to Greensboro’s Rhiannon Giddens. There’s a ton of information, but most of it is delivered with the real joy and passion pop music deserves.
Why Didn’t We Riot?: A Black Man in Trumpland, by Issac J. Bailey. Davidson College professor Issac J. Bailey is America’s self-appointed spokesman for the millions of Black and Brown people throughout the United States who felt pushed back to the back of the bus in the Trump era by a media that prioritized the concerns and feelings of the white working class and an administration that made White supremacists giddy.
Down by the Eno, Down by the Haw: A Wonder Almanac, by Thorpe Moeckel. Moeckel’s strange and meandering drift through the woods and rivers of the Piedmont is filled with language both specific and ethereal — like a good walk through nature itself. I’d give occasional whoops of wonder as Moeckel puts words and syntaxes to new uses. Prose for poets and nature lovers alike.
This Will Make It Taste Good, by Vivian Howard. Kinston’s latest claim to fame brings a second cookbook to life with more direct attention paid to the mysteries of Eastern North Carolina cooking. It’s also got a generous serving of Howard’s winning personality and typical honest reflection on the difficulties and joys of a chef’s life.
Highlighting these eight books means I’m ignoring all these other gems of the COVID-era: Blue Marlin, by Lee Smith; Hieroglyphics, by Jill McCorkle; Indecent Assembly, by Gene Nichol; The Best of Me, by David Sedaris; In the Valley: Stories and a Novella Based on Serena, by Ron Rash; When These Mountains Burn, by David Joy and Escaping Dreamland, by Charlie Lovett.
Good luck catching up on what you’ve missed. OH
Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books