Happy Holidays from Blair!

Things are going to be quiet here at Blair for the next week, but we hope you enjoy the holidays (and snuggle up with a few good books). See you in 2012!

Image credit: LetterMpress


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 >>

BookMarks’ Book Club Social

One last reminder: see you today at BookMarks’ Book Club Social, right? We’ll bring our handy book club catalog, you bring yourselves and your friends. We’ll make an afternoon of it.

Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, 4 p.m.-5 p.m.
Forsyth County Public Library
660 West 5th Street  
Winston-Salem, NC
More details

But if you can’t make it, here’s the digital version of our book club catalog:

BookMarks book club social and membership drive this week

One of our favorite things about Winston-Salem is the BookMarks Book Festival, an annual literary event where folks from the all over the Triad and beyond head to the Winston-Salem Arts District to meet authors, attend signings and readings, and just have a great time with books.

But BookMarks is more than just a festival–the group sponsors events all year long. This Thursday, Dec. 8, head to their first ever book club social at the Downtown Winston-Salem public library where you can meet local authors Rachel Keener and Jo Maeder. This book club social will offer new ideas for your book club, suggest books that make for great book club discussions, and talk about how your book club can benefit from being involved with BookMarks–for example, did you know that your book club has the opportunity to meet with BookMarks authors privately before their book signing events? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Blair President Carolyn Sakowksi will also be attending, so you don’t want to miss this meeting!

Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, 4 p.m.-5 p.m.
Forsyth County Public Library
660 West 5th Street  
Winston-Salem, NC
More details

If you’re unable to attend, look for future events like a conversation with David McCullough or a discussion with Kim Edwards. And while you’re at it, become a member of BookMarks to support the organization and the festival. BookMarks’ membership drive runs from today, Dec. 5, through Friday, Dec. 9. The goal is to get 100 new members, who will help keep the festival free to people of all ages and backgrounds, bring focus on reading and literacy as priorities, and enhance our community’s quality of life. To become a member, you simply make a tax-deductible contribution to BookMarks.  As a member, you will receive many perks throughout the year–including being the first to know and register for author events. Check out the BookMarks website for more information.

See you at the book club social this Thursday!

Guest post: Valaida Fullwood, author of “Giving Back,” on what home means to her

I just love guest blog posts from authors. Today, we’re posting a heartfelt reverence to home from Valaida Fullwood, author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists (photography by Charles W. Thomas, Jr.).

Giving Back lifts up seldom-celebrated traditions of giving among Americans of African descent. Rarely acknowledged as philanthropy, these centuries-old cultural customs and beliefs nevertheless continue to have an impact on lives and communities. Images and narratives of more than 200 people commemorate the legacy of black philanthropists—from generous donors of wealth to ingenious givers carving a way out of no way. (For just a few examples of this generosity, some of which are mentioned in Giving Back, read this recent article in the New Orleans The Times-Picayune.)

I hope Valaida’s words get you thinking about your home, wherever it may be, and how you can make a big difference there with a little gift this holiday season.


“No building bears their names. No boardroom displays their portraits. No foundation sustains their legacy. And yet, the philanthropists best known to me are the ones in my family, church and hometown. These are people who showed a profound love for humankind and taught me about giving.”
–Valaida Fullwood, Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists

So much about Giving Back is rooted in Morganton, North Carolina. Though a large share of the book’s stories and photography feature people and places in Charlotte, the city where I now reside, my hometown is without a doubt the book’s epicenter.

Morganton, a hilly prelude to North Carolina’s western mountains, is where I grew up and where my parents still live. My affection runs deep for both the town’s natural beauty and its history and people. It is the place of my father’s birth and where his mother, his mother’s mother, and her mother and all my known paternal ancestors were born, lived and died. But like many daydreaming girls from small towns, I longed for big-city adventures and faraway places all through my childhood and youthful years there.

Only when I left home in pursuit of long-awaited places did I awaken to Morganton’s hold on me. Though this revelation came to light soon after leaving home, it became undeniably clear while writing Giving Back. The close-knit family, wide-ranging networks of friends, nurturing educational environments and shared community values that Morganton provided during my youth shaped me then and also sharpened my sight for a kaleidoscope of opportunities and experiences that were yet to come.

While a high school junior, I was the beneficiary of women at my church who pooled their dollars to give me spending money when I left home to become a foreign exchange student in Bolivia. Their kindness helped provide a yearned-for taste of the world. Upon returning, my appetite for globetrotting had only increased and, as I headed off to Chapel Hill to delve into international studies, family and hometown folks stepped up again. This time, they came bearing graduation gifts, cash slipped in cards, new clothes and advice.

Years prior to high school—in fact, as long as I can remember—I have felt encircled by a community of people looking out for my interests. My memories are filled with Morgantonians fiercely committed to important work, willing to engage in civic causes and selfless in their giving. These influences were strong. And when my sister and I ventured to follow suit with forays into leadership and community service, our efforts were met with encouraging nods and enthusiastic pats on the back. The imprint of such generosity remains with me.

Perhaps it should not have been all that surprising, when decades later the same hometown kindred were there for me yet again. While launching my book project in Charlotte, I was taken aback by unexpected help from home. Childhood friends, former classmates and family were among the first to give, at a time few folks could grasp my vision for the book. Their blind faith, financial gifts and willingness to share personal stories seeded the development of Giving Back.

Of the book’s 60 main narratives and 180 photographs, over three dozen feature people connected to Morganton. Among the project’s donors, more than a dozen hail from home. This trend persisted when I learned Carolyn Sakowski, president of John F. Blair, Publisher, boasts Morganton roots, too, and that our families have shared fond friendships for generations.

My wander-lusting spirit relies on the compass and lessons imparted while coming up in Morganton. In navigating life, it brings comfort. A quick glance at a calendar and I know I left Morganton a long time ago, yet it stays within me. And for certain, it is the heart of my book Giving Back.


Valaida Fullwood is a project consultant, writer, traveler, and consummate idea whisperer. Her areas of work range widely and center on social innovation, education, and the arts. She is a native North Carolinian and resides in Charlotte. For more information, go to givingbackproject.org.