We are No. 1. Number one?
That is what North Carolinians love to say about our state. We want our state’s things to be the best, biggest, first, most successful, bestselling and best loved.
Think of the Wright Brothers’ first in flight, the 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence’s first in freedom, Michael Jordan and on and on.
We are proud, and we like to brag. That is one reason I think the five books and authors to be featured on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch will make for the program’s all time favorite month.
Opening the month will be the first lady of North Carolina literature, Lee Smith, arguably also the best-loved. In “Mothers and Strangers: Essays on Motherhood from the New South,” Smith and her co-editor, Samia Serageldin, collected essays by 28 southern writers, mostly North Carolinians.
Smith emphasizes that the relationships and experiences between mothers and children as described in these essays are varied. She explains, “America’s traditional Hallmark conception of Motherhood (note the caps) takes a real beating in these essays.”
Then, there is the country’s No. 1 best selling book, which is set in our state. For almost a year, Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing,” has been at the top of The New York Times’ bestseller list, usually at No. 1. The book’s central character, Catherine Clark or “Kya,” lives alone in a shack in the marshes miles away from a fictional North Carolina coastal town. Owens blends a compelling murder mystery, with a coming of age theme, a love story and beautiful descriptions of nature’s plants and creatures.
None of us is proud of the Jim Crow segregation that ruled our region for so many years and still infects our culture. We do not want to be No. 1 in this category. So we can be grateful for a new book, “Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White,” by UNC Chapel Hill assistant professor of history, William Sturkey. He tells the story of a Mississippi city. The book’s chapters alternate between the experiences and viewpoints of white and black residents. The reader learns how each group dealt with each other and with the Jim Crow overlay that affected everything. Though set in Mississippi, the story could have fit the experience of most North Carolina towns and cities.
Another example of how North Carolinians like to be associated with No. 1 is our pride in the Biltmore House outside Asheville, the largest privately owned residential mansion in the nation. In “The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home,” Asheville author Denise Kiernan tells the story of how and why the Biltmore House was built and how its gradual transformation to a high-class tourist attraction made possible its survival.
Finally, there is a book about the only time North Carolina was No. 1 in professional baseball. In “The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team that Helped Win WWII,” Anne Keene explains how Ted Williams and other major league players came to Chapel Hill to get the Navy fighter pilot training they needed to help win World War II. While they were in North Carolina, they played for a Navy team called the Cloudbuster Nine that was arguably better than any major league team. Keene details the rigorous training the cadets endured and the glory their baseball team brought to North Carolina.
Being No. 1, it is not so bad.