Where Sea Foam Meets My Toes

This week we wrap up our Summer Reading blog series with Debbie Hampton, Blair’s director of design and production, and her plan for the perfect beach reading.



I dream all year about doing this—340 more days to go . . .

beachThere is undoubtedly no better place to read than where sea foam meets my toes–the place I always dream of being. For someone with little time to ever sit down, not to mention sit down and read, reading comes in spurts during the year until I go to that favorite place and I grab from the “I sooooo want to read this” pile while packing my bags. Before heading that way a few weeks ago, I took with me the three I have been whittling away at–two similar subjects, one completely different, and two others for which I had a plan.GandDBonhoefferBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Since reading Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Cost of Discipleship, I wanted to know more about this theologian and anti-Nazi activist, who thought it the duty of the Christian, and the privilege and honor, to suffer with those who suffered. He did exactly that, even when given an opportunity to escape, he died totally submissive to the will of God. Though only a third of the way into this 600 page masterpiece, I already feel so unworthy of any of God’s grace.

GERDAAll But My Life by Gerda Weissman Klein
Klein documents her ordeal as a six-year old victim of Nazi cruelty who miraculously survived and was freed by American troops in 1945. How terrifying from the very beginning–I can’t imagine being forced out of my home at any age, or living in fear every single day that another member of my family would be forced out never to be seen or heard from again. What a terrible thing for any child, or person, to experience.

Avas_ManAva’s Man by Rick Bragg.
Bragg is one of my all-time favorite writers. I took this along with me to be the main read-by-the-sea. Sometimes when I want a good laugh, I just grab this book and read the first chapter, which is brilliant: Ava bolts upright in the cotton field upon suddenly being told that black silk stockings were hanging on her clothesline. The upright bolt sent her straight to the source to take care of things, if you know what I mean.

If that’s not bait to get you to read the whole thing, well then I don’t know what is. And that sets the tone for the journey of discovering with Bragg what made the grandfather he never knew tick.


Reading Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse to my nieces Kenzie and Corinna on the beach – Photo by Kristin Turner

My Plan
Knowing there would be certain little family members on our upcoming beach trip, my daughter and I grabbed our all-time favorite children’s books to read to them seaside.

LillyLilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Lilly, a mouse, is given a special gift by her grandmother of a purple plastic purse that plays a jaunty tune and is “complete with shiny quarters that were very jingly.” In her excitement, she decides to take it to school for sharing time. The purse, in all its glory, is a complete distraction and it is all Lilly can do to contain her eagerness and wait to share. Her excitement bursts prematurely and she is punished but learns her lesson. The recurring phrase, “and that’s about all she could say, ‘WOW,’ ” was repeated long and drawn-out by my nieces (with giggles) and is something I will always remember.

MissFannieMiss Fannie’s Hat by Jan Karon
Miss Fannie is a tiny 89 year-old woman who has a huge collection of colorful hats, each with a specific story. She is asked to give one up to go in an auction for her church and struggles to pick the right one. Counting hats and picking colors and favorites became a fun game when relaxing after a long day of fun and sun in our own beach hats. And I must say, “our” own beach hat was something we were quite proud of!

My daughter Allison helping Corinna and Kenzie find Miss Fannie’s hats

My daughter Allison helping Corinna and Kenzie find Miss Fannie’s hats

My niece, Corinna in her own straw hat at Ocean Isle Beach

My niece, Corinna in her own straw hat at Ocean Isle Beach – Photo by Kristin Turner


That concludes our Summer Reading blog series. Check back next week as we delve into more fun topics for the fall. Happy Reading!


50th Anniversary of MLK, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering "I Have a Dream" at the 1963 Washington, D.C. Civil Rights March.

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering “I Have a Dream” in 1963

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963 to a packed crowd. King’s speech was part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in support of President John F. Kennedy’s proposed civil rights legislation. King began the speech by recalling the words of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and asserting that Lincoln’s proposed ideals of racial equality had not yet been realized due in part to the restraints of segregation. The most famous part of the speech, in which he expounds upon the refrain of “I have a dream,” calls for a brighter future in which true equality might be found. Watch the speech in its entirety below.

Though he was the public face of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the only great man surging the movement forward in pursuit of equality and justice. One of the men working alongside King was civil rights lawyer Fred D. Gray. As King led the movement in the public sphere, Gray led the way in establishing legal footholds and precedents for civil rights legislation.

Fred D. Gray, Civil Rights Lawyer and Activist

Fred D. Gray, Civil Rights Lawyer and Activist

At the age of 24, Gray was the lawyer for Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization behind the 382-day Montgomery Bus Boycott. Led by a passion to destroy “everything segregated that [he] could find,” Gray continued to take on landmark civil rights cases throughout his impressive career, including those concerned with voting rights, education, housing, employment, law enforcement, and jury selection.

BusRideJustice_RevisedEdGray has documented these extraordinary experiences in his autobiography Bus Ride to Justice: The Life and Works of Fred Graywhich was called “A valuable record of the ground-level struggle for civil rights.” by The New York Times Book Review, “A lively account of how one man made a difference in the South.” by The Commercial Appeal, and “A valuable firsthand chronicle, an instructive legal casebook, and a stirring personal story.” by Publisher’s Weekly. As King’s speech promoted taking inspiration from the past in working toward a more equal future, so can we learn from the pursuits of Gray and his peers when considering the struggles that have yet to be won.

In Defense of Ice Cream

This week in our Summer Reading Blog Series we hear (again) from Shannon Pierce, Blair’s sales and marketing assistant, on why you should eat at least a little ice cream every day.


9780895875938-cov2.inddFull disclosure, I actually read Long Gone Daddies by David Wesley Williams in the spring, but I have been thinking about its prevalent themes recently, so let’s let that slide. In Long Gone Daddies Luther Gaunt is a traveling musician seeking to understand the two generations of male musicians who came before him. He knows pieces of their stories, but spends much of the book contemplating the motivations underlying the lives they led.

gpop and gmom young

With my grandmother before a party

My grandfather, Dr. Thomas F. Clauss, “Doc”, Tucker, Grandpop, passed away earlier this week and, while, like the Gaunts, he lived near Scranton, the similarities between him and the absentee Gaunt fathers end there. If pressed to make a literary parallel I would paint him more as the Atticus Finch of small-town doctors. He led an impressive life and maintained a strong reputation for being fair and kind. He let his patients pay him in produce, gave his kids stitches on the kitchen table, played football in the front yard, and was well known for his loud bow ties. Like the effect of the absentee Gaunts on Luther, however, my grandfather’s death leaves me thinking of all the ways that I did not know him. As Luther imagines the reasons why his ancestors skipped town or missed auditions, I find myself imagining the complexities behind my own grandfather’s, albeit more honorable, decisions and passions.


Celebrating his 90th birthday party with his family in July 2013

gpop and mom wedding church

Giving my mother away

Of my grandfather’s 10 surviving children and 39 grandchildren, there are no doubt many who were much closer to the man than I was, and would have much less room for conjecture, but the understanding of earlier generations is always glossed over with an anachronistic haze and it is hard to construct a fully fledged rendering of our role models at younger ages. As Luther Gaunt searches for answers from those who knew his predecessors, a part of me is looking forward to listening to stories about my grandfather at his upcoming funeral. Until then, I find comfort in remembering the tangible connections that I have to him. Besides seeing the reflections of his generous character enacted daily through my mother, and forever wondering about the culprit responsible for the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder (Bing Crosby has got nothing on Thomas Clauss), the most personally engrained link that I have to my grandfather is ice cream.

gpop gmom baby

They were always suckers for babies.

During our childhood visits we would inevitably be treated to ice cream after dinner. “The calcium is good for them,” my grandfather would say to any of our skeptical parents as he added an extra scoop to our bowls, and I took that statement as pure, delicious, fact.

Grandpop babyIt’s not so much that I consciously plan to have ice cream every day, but no day feels complete unless I do, and I owe that to my grandfather. Each chilly bite reminds me a little of the amazing man behind the tradition, and it’s a legacy that I will be proud to pass on. Therefore, eat ice cream, it’s good for you. A doctor told me so.


Check back next week for the final installment of our Summer Reading Series. Happy Reading!

Anniversary of Elvis Presley’s Death

ElvisElvis Presley passed away on this day 36 years ago at his home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee. Though Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935, Memphis became his chosen home town.

Elvis burial site, at Graceland, Memphis Tennessee (Photo by Jan Kronsell, 2002)

Elvis burial site, at Graceland, Memphis Tennessee
(Photo by Jan Kronsell, 2002)

Whether or not you were a fan of Elvis’s songs and films, it is undeniable that his presence made a huge impact on the American pop culture scene. Check out the king below.


With Memphis Elvis-Style by Cindy Hazen and Mike Freeman you can celebrate Elvis by exploring his favorite town. From the restaurants where he ate, to the stages where he performed, this book tells the inside story of the King’s love affair with Memphis.

Guest Author and Blair Progeny on Her Summer Reading

This week in our Summer Reading Blog Series we pull in a pinch-hitter and hear from Corinne Serfass, the daughter of Blair’s Margaret Couch.


The idyllic summers of my childhood and adolescence are tied tightly in my mind to being barefoot in the tall grass of the Appalachian Mountains with blackberries crushed in my hand. I had the never ending afternoons of summer break to spend with all manner of books, starfish-ed on the sofa at home or sequestered in a copse of trees at camp.  As I grow into adulthood I find that I want my summer reads to retain that hazy pleasure where the real world is magnified in a way that transcends my day-to-day experience.trees Like the John Prine song Paradise, whose words I remember from those self-same summers, my summer reading pick for this year lies in “a backwards old town that’s often remembered so many times that my memories were worn,” and the town is Stay More, Arkansas, the fictional setting of Donald Harrington’s With.

Corinne cover imageWith is nestled in the wilderness of the Arkansas Ozarks with tangential appearances by Stay More, both locations emitting the Southern Gothic ennui of settlements slowly fading into obscurity. Inhabiting these towns are humans, just as bleak and beat-down as their surroundings, trying, as many of us do, to lose themselves in a dream of something better. Following such a dream is what finds Robin Kerr abducted and forced to live in a remote cabin in the Ozarks. The story follows Robin after her abductor dies and she is forced to fend for herself, paired with an unusual cast of supporting characters including a dog, a bobcat, and an in-habit (a spirit or haunting).

With reads like a grown-up retelling of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family with a hefty dose of Michael Chabon’s magical realism thrown in. Harrington’s narrative style adheres directly to the way Robin experiences her new world, helpful spirits and talking dogs alike, and requires very little suspension of disbelief for readers to find themselves in that cabin in the Ozarks. Corinne1

Harington’s language grounds the book firmly in the Southern Gothic tradition and the sense that this young girl sits, physically and metaphorically, on top of hundreds of years of tradition and custom. The juxtaposing of Robin’s modern, pre-adbuction, life with the way she struggles to survive off the land when fending for herself highlights the nostalgia which colors our view of days long past. The sweat-soaked, dirt-scuffed nature of the narrative is what makes this a perfect summer reading book, even if you don’t have first-hand access to the humidity and late-afternoon sun of the American South.


Check back next week for another post in our Summer Reading Series!

You’re Good With Me, Crows

This week in our Summer Reading Series Heath Simpson, Blair’s warehouse manager, talks about the bird life outside his window at work.


IMG_1180This summer I read Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt about how the author enjoys watching urban wildlife in Seattle. Even in urban Winston-Salem, wild creatures are making lives for themselves. The crows outside my workplace know my name (in crow) and my face. Yesterday as I walked out to my car they had a lot to say and it was not happy talk. I wish I could say to them, “You’re good with me, crows.”


The branches outside my window where the baby birds hang out.


But not when my other bird friends are raising their children nearby. Parent birds teach their babies to munch on berries right outside my window and two years ago I watched in horror as a crow almost snatched a young bird out of midair.


The tree tops where the crows perch and scout out their prey.

So when baby birds and adult crows are visiting I might step outside (with attitude). I might stand in the middle of the road and glare at a crow at the top of a tree. I might take a yard stick outside. Crows notice odd activity. Crows get uncomfortable when humans take an interest in their snack choices. They aren’t happy but they move along…

…Maybe for a leftover chicken biscuit down the street at Bojangles.


Check back next week for another entry in our Summer Reading Series and happy reading!

Win A Long Gone Daddies Audiobook

Elvis Presley in Jailhouse RockDo you love Memphis? Are you crazy about rock ‘n roll? Do blues beats dictate the rhythm of your soul?

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry gets down with audiobooks.

Then you need to enter our Blues Trivia Contest for a chance to win copies of the Long Gone Daddies audiobook by David Wesley Williams, narrated by David Kudler. According to singer-songwriter John Gorka, “Long Gone Daddies is a story that sings. This tale of a struggling band unfolds in the places where my favorite music was born. But like a good song, it transcends the particular. It conjures Maxwell Perkins’s idea that one of the great themes in literature is a man’s pursuit of his father, and Utah Phillips’s line that ‘the past didn’t go anywhere.’ ”


Jimmie Rodgers says, “Enter Now!”

Visit the Blair website for complete instructions and guidelines for entry. The Long Gone Daddies audiobook is available for purchase through Audible.com and iTunes.com.