Lifestyles: Books

May. 23, 2014 @ 09:59 AM

Two quests: Durham playwright releases debut novel

Durham-based playwright Monica Byrne’s debut novel “The Girl in the Road” is an engrossing, thought-provoking work of science fiction and speculative fiction, one rich in symbolism.
Byrne creates a future world that is believable yet at times magical, even hallucinatory. Set in the mid-21st century, Byrne’s world is a place where many contemporary ills have been solved. Sexually transmitted diseases have been eliminated because of advances in vaccines and antibiotics, and contraceptives have been perfected. The world has developed a stronger, seemingly more universal tolerance of lesbians, gays and transgendered people, and, judging from the fact that two women narrate this story, the rights of women also has advanced.

May. 17, 2014 @ 09:36 AM

Sesame Street helps children deal with incarcerated parents

Last year, Sesame Street launched an initiative called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.” Using familiar characters and a new character who has a parent in jail, Sesame Street created a multimedia toolkit for children, parents and caregivers. It started with 10 pilot states, but North Carolina wasn’t on the list.
Melissa Radcliff, executive director of Our Children’s Place, a statewide private nonprofit she runs from her home office in Durham, took that as a challenge. She contacted Sesame Street, who sent her the materials so that one toolkit could be available in every library branch in the state. Our Children’s Place took the materials – about 400 kits, one for every branch – to the State Library of North Carolina, which distributed them this spring. Workshops and webinars about the materials were offered to libraries, and Durham and Orange County libraries participated.

May. 16, 2014 @ 09:46 AM

The lives of a house

Henry Petroski, a professor of civil engineering at Duke, and his wife Catherine Petroski, a photographer and writer, have written the story of how they found, and later explored, their summer home on the Kennebec River in Maine, “The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship” (W.W. Norton, $27.95).
In his many previous books (“The Toothpick: Technology and Culture,” “The Evolution of Useful Things”), Henry Petroski has taken the hard science of engineering and explained it in a way that is not too intimidating for laymen (read: English majors). With maps and many fine photographs from his wife, Petroski “takes apart” (not literally) the history and design of a house that is some 60 years old. “The house may be modest,” Petroski writes, “but it is also a model of thoughtful design and careful craftsmanship.”

May. 09, 2014 @ 09:49 AM

Pittsboro author takes prizes

Pittsboro author Laura Herbst has won two prizes from the North Carolina Writers Network. Herbst has won the 2014 Doris Betts Fiction Prize for her short story “The Cliffs of Mobenga.” The piece will be published in the 2015 edition of the North Carolina Literary Review. Herbst also won the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition for an essay on breast cancer.

May. 03, 2014 @ 10:54 AM

Word pictures from two wars

The first story in Katey Schultz’s new collection “Flashes of War” (Apprentice House, $16.95), is titled “While the Rest of America’s at the Mall.” In her afterword, Schultz traces the source of the title to a quote from a soldier that reporter Ben Anderson interviewed: “America’s not at war. America’s at the mall,” the soldier said.
Schultz immersed herself in reports and information, trying to understand the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather than trying to tell the story through journalism, she chose fiction. “As someone inclined to make sense of the world through story, I knew my window into these wars would have to be narrative,” Schultz writes.

Apr. 23, 2014 @ 05:06 PM

‘Chameleon Club’ evokes mood of occupied France

If you have ever imagined yourself walking the streets of Paris between the world wars, if you devour the drama and history of France under the German occupation, if you are enamored of the romance of the French Resistance, if you have ever pretended to appreciate the novels of Henry Miller (you like the descriptions of Paris, not the sexy parts), then you will be captivated from the first page of Francine Prose’s novel “Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932.”

Apr. 19, 2014 @ 03:04 PM

The end of print – in print

“Without words, we’re history’s orphans. Our lives and thoughts erased,” writes Anana Johnson, the narrator of Alena Graedon’s debut novel “The Word Exchange” (Doubleday, $26.95).
In “The Word Exchange,” Anana’s father Doug Samuel Johnson disappears while editing the final edition of the “North American Dictionary of the English Language.” In Graedon’s world, the much-discussed death of print has finally happened. Anana’s father and a small group of compatriots have vehemently opposed the move away from print to devices. Anana, who works for her father as an editor and assistant, goes on a search to find her father.

Apr. 11, 2014 @ 10:47 AM

New adventures of Conte, Longmire, Sir Sidney’s Circus

With “The Accidental Pallbearer,” Duke University literature professor Frank Lentricchia began his series of crime dramas starring former private investigator Eliot Conte. The second novel in the series, “The Dog Killer of Utica,” is available in paperback April 22 (Melville House, $15.95), and, like the first novel, is set in Utica, N.Y., Lentricchia’s home town.


Apr. 03, 2014 @ 08:26 PM

Library announces Humanities series

Programs about the history of censorship and the early founders of Durham are among the offerings from the Durham Library Foundation’s Humanities Series.

All programs in this series are free and open to the public. 
For more information, visit


Mar. 28, 2014 @ 04:48 PM

The child star who healed a nation

The late Shirley Temple’s legacy goes far beyond film, John F. Kasson argues in his new biography of the child star, “The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America” (W.W. Norton, $27.95). Her optimism, and that of Franklin Roosevelt, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and many other public figures, was vital to helping Americans get through the Great Depression, writes Kasson, a professor of history at UNC Chapel Hill.

Mar. 24, 2014 @ 11:43 AM

Beyond Beat: Johnson discusses Kerouac’s French connection

The publication of “On the Road” in 1957 soon earned novelist Jack Kerouac the title “King of the Beats.” His fame and the cultural phenomenon of the Beat Generation masked a different side of Kerouac that remained largely hidden from his readers – his French-Canadian heritage.

Writer and editor Joyce Johnson, who had an almost two-year relationship with Kerouac around the time of the publication of “On the Road,” came to UNC last week to discuss the importance of that heritage to Kerouac’s art in a lecture titled “Jack Kerouac: Beyond Beat.” His family left Quebec and settled in Lowell, Mass. Kerouac’s first language was French, and he did not really speak English until his teens.  

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 10:45 AM

'Acts of God' explores family, cherishing life

In “Acts of God,” the title story of Ellen Gilchrist’s new short story collection (Algonquin Books, $23.95), the author gives us a brief history of a family, and a look inside a common modern dilemma. The story focuses on William McCamey and his wife Amelie, now in their 80s, who have been in love since elementary school. To protect them from themselves, their children hire a sitter to keep them from driving their car out of the garage.

Mar. 15, 2014 @ 10:46 AM

The meaning of secrets

So, what secrets do you carry with you? Frank Warren, founder of the blog, has been collecting secrets for about 10 years from people who send them to him anonymously on post cards. Monday, Warren will invite audience members to share their secrets when he performs “PostSecret Live” at The Carolina Theatre.
PostSecret began in November 2004, when Warren handed out some 3,000 post cards in Washington, D.C., asking people to return them to his address with a secret. 

Mar. 15, 2014 @ 10:20 AM

Graham Nash: Rock star, visual artist, Renaissance man

David Crosby once called bandmate and friend Graham Nash “one of the most highly evolved people on the planet.” In his new memoir “Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life,” Nash comes across as a true Renaissance man, and a highly successful musician who has that rare quality of gratitude.
The memoir is also a wild ride. Nash, who helped start the British band The Hollies before meeting Crosby and Stephen Stills to become Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Neil Young), is not shy about sharing the excesses of the 1960s. Laurel Canyon in California, a haunt for many rock and folk musicians of the time, was the site of many parties, with “plenty of music, sex, dope, the whole enchilada,” Nash writes.  

Feb. 28, 2014 @ 11:28 AM

Embellishing the bull

Organizers have put a Bull City stamp on the Durham version of Mardi Gras. The event’s slogan reads, “Laissez Les Bull Temps Rouler.” The Krewe organizations have names like Krewe du Durty (a krewe of the Durty Durham Art Collective), the Society of the Sacred Bull, and The League of the Tutu.
The latter organization has created a distinctly Durham tradition as part of the annual parade, transforming the bronze sculpture “Major” the bull into “Bullerina.”