Blair Books in Action (or How Blair Books Saved My Relationship) by Shannon Pierce

Travis and me in front of the Biltmore House

Travis and me in front of the Biltmore House

I am a North Carolina newbie. I moved down here from the D.C. area with my boyfriend, Travis, a few months ago, and I am truly enjoying living in Winston-Salem and working at Blair. But I didn’t start out that way.

Winston-Salem is about a six-hour drive from D.C., and neither Travis nor I was at all familiar with the area or with North Carolina in general. Travis came down a couple of months earlier than I did, and on my visits prior to my own move, he would take me to Winston-Salem attractions, such as Old Salem, Salem Lake, and local hiking trails. I was disappointed to be leaving Northern Virginia, but all of my trips to N.C. were fun, so I was eager and hopeful about the change.

travis hiking

Travis hiking

But then I got down here, and Travis dropped the ball. He stopped trying to find fun things for us to do, since he no longer had to sell me on it: I was here. And rather than take any responsibility for the situation or make the effort to entertain myself, I wallowed in my resentment. HE had made this decision for us, and it was up to HIM to make me like it.

Except, of course, it wasn’t.

Me hiking

Me hiking

Fortunately, during this time, one of my first tasks at work was to check e-book conversions of Blair’s backlist titles. I skimmed through a wide offering of books devoted to highlighting attractions and activities in North Carolina and the South in general. Confronted daily with all that the region has to offer, I was robbed of my excuses for complaining. If I chose to be discontent, it was my own fault for not taking advantage of the opportunities around me.

So Travis and I started doing the things suggested in Blair books. We went hiking (Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers), we tried new restaurants and recipes (Well, Shut My Mouth: The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook), and we checked out the local museums (North Carolina Weekends). With so many excursions to look forward to, I was far too busy to bemoan the losses I had supposed I suffered.

Travis approves of Blair books at Biltmore.

Travis approves of Blair books at Biltmore.

Last weekend, we took the recommendation to visit the Biltmore Estate from Travel North Carolina. I had only heard vaguely of Biltmore, associating the name with expensive hotels. I did not know that it is actually the largest private residence in America, open for visitors, and completely amazing. We ended up spending a total of seven hours within the estate grounds and had not exhausted all of its possibilities. It is definitely worth checking out.

Travis in the Biltmore gardens

Travis in the Biltmore gardens

My original aim for this blog was to focus on our trip to Biltmore, but when I examined the true nature of how Travis and I have put Blair books into action, I realized that it has been much bigger than any one trip or outing. Blair books opened up the possibilities of my new home to me and even made me like it. They not only saved my relationship, but they saved me from myself.

Me in the back of Biltmore

Me in the back of Biltmore

Look for another installment of Blair Books in Action next week!

Our 2011 gift guide for the southern reader

Still looking for the perfect gift for someone on your list? Here are a few of our favorite titles of 2011; we think they’d make stellar gifts for your family and friends!

For the music or mystery lover

In Murder on Music Row, by Stuart Dill, Judd Nix, a 23-year-old unpaid intern at Elite Management, welcomes the chance to become the paid assistant of Simon Stills, one of country’s biggest managers, but he soon finds himself a witness to an assassination attempt. When a gunman takes aim at megastar Ripley Graham, Stills’s most important client and the last hope for the troubled recording industry, on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, the shooter misses and seriously wounds Stills instead. Nix and his co-worker, Megan Olsen, decide to investigate on their own, but with music executives plotting a major merger, they can’t be sure whom to trust.

“Remember your first John Grisham? Country music veteran Dill (he served as a personal manager for Minnie Pearl, Dwight Yoakam, and other greats) doesn’t miss a beat in this debut high-adrenaline thriller full of twists and turns.”
Library Journal, starred review

Murder on Music Row: A Music Industry Thriller has more twists and turns than a spring tornado in Tennessee. This book will have you diving under the covers — with a flashlight, of course. A terrific read.”
Marshall Chapman, critically acclaimed musician and author

Read a book club guide, watch interviews with the author, and more >>

For the memory lane walker

Tales from a Free-Range Childhood, a memoir by storyteller Donald Davis, will have you hootin’ and hollerin’ at his youthful misadventures in rural North Carolina in the 1950s. Among this collection of 18 stories, Davis explains why 28 second-graders petitioned the school board to reestablish paddling as their preferred form of punishment, instead of the new policy of “suspension.” He also spins family tales about how his mother was finally convinced to give his brother Joe’s naturally curly, “wasted-on-a-boy” hair its first cut; and how he and his cousin Andy got fired from their job of “watching the baby.” Through his tender, often humorous stories about his life experiences, Davis captures the hearts and minds of readers while simultaneously evoking their own childhood memories.

“From the photo on the cover…to the strings of hilarious and touching stories, Donald Davis takes us on a journey. This is not just his story, however, as a master storyteller, he not only tells you about himself, but also strikes familiar notes that reach into each listener’s memory bank.”
New York Journal of Books

“…a well-told true story is comfort food for the soul, and Davis’s book is nourishing.”
Foreword Reviews

Read an excerpt, visit the author’s website, and more >>

For the soul food aficionado

Well, Shut My Mouth! The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook is recipes – recipes from the restaurant, recipes from the families of Chef Stephanie Tyson and co-owner Vivian Joiner, recipes that are Southern, plain and simple. The cookbook is also the history of the two women who started a locally and nationally acclaimed restaurant (Our State, Southern Living, New York Times). As Tyson says in her introduction, “Every part of me is a part of Sweet Potatoes.” In Well, Shut My Mouth! she shares a culinary experience that has been a favorite of Winston-Salem natives and visitors for years. Now, patrons have the tools to re-create the Sweet Potatoes dining experience in their own homes.

“Everything about this book is correct except the title. Anyone with a taste bud in their mouth should follow these recipes and open their mouth.”
Maya Angelou

Watch cooking demos with the author, and more >>  

For the adventurer

The 21 tours in Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads, by Carolyn Sakowski, cover the entire mountain region of western North Carolina and provide numerous opportunities for seeing unspoiled landscapes and pastoral scenes. But scenery is not the only focus. Once you’re on the backroads, you might speculate about the history behind the old white clapboard farmhouse that dominates the valley ahead, or you might wonder about the rest of the story behind the two sentences on the historical marker at the side of the road. Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads fills in those details. Drawing from local histories and early travel writings, each tour is designed to be a journey through the history of the area. Tales of eccentric characters, folklore that has been passed down through the ages, and stories about early settlers combine to present a perspective that makes the scenery come alive.

“Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads by Carolyn Sakowski is the book to consult for Thanksgiving. No, it doesn’t have recipes but it has more important help. It will help you entertain your out-of-town guests.”
— Danny Bernstein, Hiker to Hiker

“Sakowski doesn’t choose routes simply for the scenery; almost any mountain road presents visual delights. She finds stories about people and places, then connects them, guiding readers along a narrative path as well.”
— Doug Clark, Greensboro News & Record

Find tours at the author’s website, learn “best-of” sites chosen by the author, and more >>

For animal lovers of all ages

In Animal Adventures in North Carolina, Jennifer Bean Bower shares 70 animal attractions that she has personally discovered throughout her travels of the entire state. Each entry provides contact information, driving directions, possible fees, hours of operation, and useful travel tips, accompanied by photographs and detailed descriptions of the attraction’s offerings. An extensive appendix lists additional opportunities for viewing and interacting with animals in North Carolina, including wildlife refuges, farm tours, nature preserves, and working farm vacations.

 Discover the 10 best N.C. animal adventures you didn’t know >>

Sweet Potatoes chef Stephanie Tyson and Vivian Joiner rocked their launch party

Last week we posted a lot on Facebook and Twitter about the book launch for Well, Shut My Mouth! The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook, by Stephanie L. Tyson. And it must have worked–we stopped counting guests at the event after we hit 170. Stephanie and her partner Vivian Joiner must have signed books for a solid two hours. If they didn’t have carpal tunnel before, they must be feeling it now.

But that didn’t keep them from getting back to work at Sweet Potatoes the next day or talking to NPR’s All Things Considered this week. You can catch Stephanie and Vivian discussing what it’s like running their restaurant in today’s economy here.

A big thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate with us. If you missed it, books are still available at your local bookstore, through online booksellers, at Sweet Potatoes restaurant, and at blairpub.com.

All photos courtesy of Sheri Clawson.