The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Blog Post by Carolyn Sakowski, President of Blair

Carolyn as Peter PanI was five years old when Walt Disney released the animated classic Peter Pan—a fact brought home to me constantly with the wave of commercials for its “60th anniversary” release. I was the target market. I was the perfect age to respond to make-believe and fall in love with a tale about staying a child forever.

Carolyn and Her Sister

Sister Margaret Sakowski Moore (left) and Carolyn hold two books from their extensive Little Golden Books collection

I didn’t discover Neverland through the J. M. Barrie classic like those before me. Like most of my generation, Walt Disney introduced me to Peter Pan.

About the same time the movie was released, Simon & Schuster came out with a Little Golden Book called Peter Pan and Wendy. This edition made no mention of J. M. Barrie anywhere except on the copyright page. A woman named Annie North Bedford got the credit for condensing the Disney movie into a 26-page book that sold for 25 cents. Eyvind Earle, a Disney illustrator, created the watercolors based on scenes from the movie.

Carolyn with Her Sister and Grandma

Carolyn (left), her grandmother Margaret Dunlap, and her sister Margaret reading the Sunday newspaper

Although this version of Peter Pan lacked the literary value or Mr. Barrie’s original, it still had a powerful effect on this five-year-old. I would look out my bedroom window at night and search for the “second star to the right.” I was sure I could fly, just like the characters in my book.

When Barrie’s stage adaptation—called Peter Pan: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up—was produced, he included a special note in his dedication: “After the first production, I had to add something to the play at the request of parents about no one being able to fly until fairy dust had been blown on him; so many children having gone home and tried it from their beds and needed surgical attention.”

Peter Pan Hat

I guess I, too, overlooked the role Tinker Bell’s pixie dust played in making flight possible. One night, I got right up on the headboard of my bed and took my leap of faith. I flew, all right—right into the footboard. I lost my front two baby teeth. Their imprint remained on that footboard until we got rid of that bed years later.

So, this book did not smack me upside the head. It simply caused me to smack myself. However, it was one of the first books to transport me to a completely new world. I still believe in magic, and I have done my best to remain a child forever.

Fall hiking with Artie, Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads, and The Best Hikes of Pisgah National Forest

As the summer heat subsides and autumn’s leaves change to fiery red and warm gold, it’s harder and harder to stay in the office. So last week Blair’s order and customer service guru Artie Sparrow took a quick detour to the N.C. mountains–with the help of Carolyn Sakowski’s Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads and Goldsmith, Hamrick & Hamrick’s The Best Hikes of Pisgah National Forest. If you get the hiking itch, Artie has some suggestions for you.


The leaves were turning and my mind was drifting west to the North Carolina mountains for their spectacular fall foliage. I checked with my boss, first to confirm that I had some vacation time left, but more importantly, to ask for suggestions on where to go. Sometimes it’s quite convenient working for Carolyn Sakowski, the author of Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads.

I told her that I wanted to do a few miles of hiking in the Linville Gorge area, and Carolyn suggested the Table Rock Tour from her book. I decided to try it when I read that Table Rock was the inspiration for the mountain in Jules Verne’s Master of the World.

I set off early on a Wednesday, joined by my dog Tigger, who always enjoys a walk in the woods. The tour starts at N.C. 181, just north of Morganton. It’s a road you’d expect to see on an episode of Top Gear: scenic, uncrowded, and curvy; a perfect place to test the capabilities of a high-performance car. My Scion isn’t high performance and in general I hate driving, but I wouldn’t mind it so much if more roads were like N.C. 181.

Our first stop was Hawksbill Mountain. We added some bonus material to the hike by missing the turnoff to the summit. After an hour or so of huffing and puffing we made it to the top, and were treated to spectacular views that were well worth the effort. (Even though I suspect Carolyn suggested that hike as a way of encouraging me to quit smoking).

After Hawksbill we took a slight detour to hike the Spence Ridge Trail at Linville Gorge. I used Blair’s Best Hikes of Pisgah National Forest for that. It’s a book I picked up a decade ago after getting lost on the Max Patch trail. It came in handy when I was trying to decide when to turn around. With the trail description I was able to figure out how close I was to the river at the bottom of the gorge.

Spence Ridge Waterfall

Some call Linville Gorge the Grand Canyon of the East. It’s not, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Canyon is much bigger. It takes 11 hours or more to hike from the rim to the bottom and back. The Park Service strongly discourages people from attempting that in one day. You can do the same thing at the Gorge in a couple of hours. The similarity is that both are marvels of nature, places where you can recharge your spirit and just soak up what a majestic and wonderful world we live in. The bottom of the Gorge is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and Tigger enjoyed a refreshing dip in the pool of water.

We made it out of the Gorge just before sundown. (Just like the Grand Canyon, getting out of the Gorge is much more difficult than going down in it.). We decided to leave the mysteries of Table Rock for another trip. All in all it couldn’t have been a better day. Thanks Carolyn.

The mountain on the left is Table Rock, known as Great Eyrie in Verne’s Master of the World.

Summer Reading: Part II (in which Carolyn Sakowski ponders “Fifty Shades of Grey”)

Today, Blair President Carolyn Sakowski shares her summer reading plans–and her reaction to E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. Enjoy!

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Sum..Sum..Summertime. I was going to devote my summer reading to lofty literary fiction and the latest offerings from my favorite mystery/detective writers, but my plans suddenly changed course the first weekend in June.

I joined a group of five college friends for a beach reunion. We’re talking about women in their mid-60s here—all intelligent, voracious readers with enough disposable income to indulge in purchasing dozens of books every year.

Our usual conversations revolve around family and ailments, but this year, something new entered the discourse. Yep, the Fifty Shades trilogy. They all wanted to know what I thought about it. Of course, I was aware of the phenomena, but I had purposefully avoided reading the first book. I just couldn’t fathom any serous interest in reading about bondage and sex toys. I will admit that I like to read a good romance every now and then, but this just sounded too trashy.

The first afternoon of our weekend, while my friends took their naps, I picked up the first book someone else had been reading. Several hours later, we were all down at Pelican Bookstore getting our fixes. I had to get my own copy to take home; one person had just finished book two and had to have the third. We were all disgusted with our reactions to this trilogy, but were certainly not alone. Neilsen BookScan numbers show 815,000 copies of this trilogy sold during the week of May 21-27. They accounted for 13% of all trade paperbacks sold that week. Total sales topped 10 million that same week. Will sociologists look back on the spring and summer of 2012 and analyze why so many women went crazy? I especially loved what one of my hairdresser’s clients said when asked if her sex life had improved after reading these books. She answered that after you read these books, you won’t need a man—just get a dog.

What do you think? Have YOU read–or do you plan to read–Fifty Shades of Grey?

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For a good chuckle, check out this clip about the books from Saturday Night Live or this clip of Gilbert Gottfried reading excerpts (fair warning: these clips are NOT safe for work–much like Fifty Shades of Grey).

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 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!

Summer reading picks from an indie publisher

It must be summer: the office is half empty because my coworkers are at the beach or the mountains, I spend my weekends at the pool, and fresh berries and stone fruits are making appearances at every farmers’ market. This means it’s also time for Blair staff to share their summer reading picks. First up: Blair president Carolyn Sakowski muses over her newest books and just how to read them. (Anyone else dealing with that conundrum?)


I just finished A Visit from Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan on my iPad. I enjoyed this book in e-book format. The assortment of changing characters and the contemporary narrative seem perfect for the electronic media.

Yet while recently reading The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht on my iPad, I kept noticing that I was yearning to read this story on real book pages. I’m still pondering why the desire to read the folktale that Natalie’s grandfather told about the tiger and the deaf-mute on the printed page was so strong, but it’s led me to a summer reading experiment: to determine which books are suited for the iPad, and which are suited for the physical book.

Carolyn Sakowski summer reading list

So for the summer, I’ve purchased Karen Russell’s Swamplandia in book form and Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks as an e-book. After reading these two books, will I wish Russell’s story about the clan of alligator wrestlers in southwest Florida had been in e-book format for easier reading while traveling or on vacation? Will Brooks’ story about the Wampanoag Indian who graduated from Harvard in the 1600s be another story that I find myself wishing I had read in physical book form?

From her earlier works, I assume Ann Patchett is going to take me deep into the world of the Amazonian rainforest in State of Wonder, so I ordered a physical copy of this book. When I added Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish to my list after reading about his latest offering in the series about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, it seemed like a perfect iPad candidate, especially for the airplane traveling I’ll be doing this summer.

As for which format to try for Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, which has been compared to Charles Portis’s True Grit, I’m just going to have to give that some more thought. Any suggestions from you, blog readers?