Reading Matters

Carolinas writers read deep and wide

Lee Smith
Lee Smith News & Observer

Carolinas writers amaze me with the breadth and the depth of their reading lives.

Novelist and essayist Raymond Barfield (“The Book of Colors”), a pediatric oncologist at Duke, says care-givers too often miss the wonder and the mystery of what is happening at the patient’s bedside “because we are so busy carrying out tasks of documentation or trying to cram the wonder into a medical model too cramped for such things.”

So he’s reading “Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End-of-Life Care,” edited by Koshin Paley Ellison and Matt Weingast. Barfield says this book shows a way of approaching “this most human of realities with honesty, love and a sense of sacredness.”

Charlotte poet Julie Suk (“Astonished to Wake”) says she’s long had a yen to read about Wallace Stevens, “that quirky poet” and “his brilliant, funny, haunting, musical, dark and often consoling work.” These days, she says she’s often propped in bed at 1 a.m., with “The Whole Harmonium,” a new Stevens biography by Paul Mariani in one hand, and a collection of Stevens’s poem in the other.

N.C. State novelist Travis Mulhauser (“Sweetgirl”) says Patrick deWitt (“Undermajordomo Minor”) writes dialogue as well as anybody in comtemporary fiction. “This novel is fast and funny, inventive and surprising at every turn.” He’s also reading “Byrd,” a debut novel by Raleigh’s Kim Church. “Startlingly honest and so well-written it will bleed the ink from your underlining pen.” And “Academy Gothic,” a debut novel by James Tate Hill of Greensboro. “A poignant, intelligent critique of academia, wrapped inside a slapstick comedy, wrapped inside a murder mystery. Sound good? It is.”

Charlotte’s prolific mystery writer Mark de Castrique (“A Specter of Justice”), praises “Factory Man,” by Beth Macy, the story of the furniture industry centered around the Bassett family and played out on a stage from Galax, Va., to China. “Very timely,” he says, “given the protectionist rhetoric of the current election.” He’s now begun “Moriarty,” by Anthony Horowitz, told through the eyes of a Pinkerton detective. “The tale promises to reveal what really happened to Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis James Moriarty of Reichenbach Falls.”

Hillsborough novelist and memoirist Lee Smith (“Dimestore”) just read Elizabeth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton,” “and marveled at the depth she achieves in exploring a complicated mother-daughter relationship.” Now it’s “Over Plain Houses,” a debut novel by Julia Franks, which “masterfully depicts a rupturing marriage” set in the 1930s Appalachian South – “a time and place which Franks brings to stunning life.” Franks is “an extravagantly talented new writer.”