If you want some more tips for good summer reading from recent books by North Carolina authors, I have four suggestions, two set in the mountains, two about our military.
An obvious choice if you are planning a trip to the mountains is Randy Johnson’s book, “Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon” published this month by UNC Press. It is a superb history and collection of photos that capture the majesty of this national treasure. North Carolina is blessed with a host of wonderful and beautiful mountains. Grandfather, though not the highest, is the most dramatic, the grandfather of all the rest.
Robert Morgan, author of “Gap Creek,” writes, “In this loving tribute Randy Johnson has captured the majesty of this national treasure. Through spectacular photographs and a lively, deeply researched narrative, Johnson celebrates the glory of ‘the Grandfather’ of mountains as no one else has. This volume is both a practical guide for those discovering the area, and a work of art commensurate with the grandeur of the mountain itself.”
Coincidently Morgan’s latest, “Chasing the North Star,” is one of my favorite novels of the year. His novel, set in pre-Civil War times, follows a crafty teenaged runaway slave named Jonah Williams on a northward journey towards freedom, from the Carolina mountains all the way to Ithaca, New York. Along the way, Jonah’s adventures and his contacts with the people he meets reminded me of the travels of Inman, the Civil War soldier in Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain.”
Early on Jonah meets a young enslaved woman named Angel, who decides to follow him. Sometimes together, sometimes separated, they make their sometimes different ways towards freedom, drifting past Asheville in a stolen small boat on the French Broad River, walking to Kingsport, finding work in a high-class brothel in Roanoke, with close calls and adventures on every pathway and at every stop.
Pam Saulsby, a well-known and much-admired Emmy-award winning television news journalist, grew up in a military family and understands the challenges that children face when their parents are deployed to conflict zones. Her new book, “Ashley’s High Five For Daddy” is a beautifully illustrated picture book for young readers. It stars Ashley, the feisty daughter of a returning soldier and recounts her successful struggle to understand how and why her beloved dad has changed.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger teaches at N.C. State. Here is the shocking opener of his new book: “I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism.” These opening lines come from “Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.”
Bolger writes, “It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.”
Just what did Bolger and the other generals do wrong in Afghanistan and Iraq?
He writes, “Despite the unmatched courage of those in U.S. uniform--including a good number of generals who led their people under fire--our generals did not stumble due to a lack of intellect. Rather, we faltered due to a distinct lack of humility. Certain we knew best, confident our skilled troops would prevail, we persisted in a failed course for far too long and came up well short, to the detriment of our trusting countrymen.”
These pages should be required reading for any president or presidential candidate who proposes to send American troops again to fight an extended counterinsurgency war.