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The best local books of 2005 

Around here, you just don't need to go too far and wide to find a favorite writer. They're our neighbors, they're teaching our children, they're next in line at the grocery store, they're composing on a laptop in the coffeeshops. Hundreds of titles were published by dozens of local authors in the past 12 months. Here are just a few of our favorites: BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

EndBlock Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Ever an activist, Dr. Franklin was there, petitioning, marching, testifying and documenting. In 1995 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in civil rights. His most famous book, From Slavery to Freedom, the first essential textbook in African American studies, has sold 3.5 million copies.

Now the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Duke University has written a valuable account of 90 years of an extraordinary life that thrived despite ubiquitous racism.

Dr. Franklin's optimism and modesty shine in his autobiography, as does his fortitude. His book is a record of tenacity and scholarship. It's about being a gentleman but never losing focus or commitment to justice.

Dr. Franklin says about his latest book, "As I got older, people became curious about my life, writing papers on me, and in more recent years writing a biography of me, and I said, 'Well, I'd better get my word in first,' you see. They could pick over me after I'm gone. But I want the first word."

BEST SPORTS BOOKS: EndBlock The Krzyzewskiville Tales by Aaron Dinin (Duke University Press)

EndBlock Blue Blood, Duke - Carolina: Inside the Most Storied Rivalry in College Hoops by Art Chansky (St. Martin's Press)

Two books arrived at just the right time this year, full of a love and the lore of local college hoops. We live in Brackettville, North Carolina, and Art Chansky and Aaron Dinin filled up a dreary football fall with heartfelt, historical basketball journalism.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales and written with the enthusiasm of a Cameron Crazy, Dinin takes the reader through the winter pregame tenting rituals of Duke undergrads. This is a beautiful little book, complete with a glossary, some sweet photographs, and filled with the boundless joy of being a Dukie during the wonder years.

Art Chansky was courtside, too, on press row, noting all the back stories, the recruiting battles, the dirt and the laurels. He writes a great chronicle of The Rivalry with a beat reporter's eye and ear for detail (Chansky was Sports Editor of the Durham Morning Herald for 7 years). As the season heats up, this will be an impossible book to put down. BEST COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR EndBlock Seasoned in the South: Recipes from Crook's Corner and From Home by Bill Smith (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)

It's hard to get past the scrumptious cover. Bill Smith's odes to his own corner on Southern cuisine are enough to make you walk out the door and head straight to Crook's, order a meal from both sides of the menu and apply for a job at the Chapel Hill restaurant. You already know how much fun it is to eat there--Smith's asides and stories about the scene behind the counters are as delicious as the food. The recipe intros are full of helpful tips and wit. But it's Smith's loving vignettes on the restaurant's extended family that remind us why Crook's is so special and why Seasoned in the South is not just another cookbook.

BEST POETRY BOOKS EndBlock The Lapis Dwellers by Kim Arrington (Greased Scalp Press)

EndBlock Breath of the Song by Jaki Shelton Green (Carolina Wren Press)

"what is a hued girl, if not a sister to the elements, and a daughter of nature?" writes Kim Arrington. Her poems are vibrant splashes of language, lyric experiments in lower case, cadence and intimate expression. "Feeler-singer-teacher-writer" Arrington name-checks friends and favorite places all over her home town of Durham.

"who will remember, to unbury the unborn seeds, that arrived, in captivity, shackled, folded, bent, layered in its bowels, we are their messengers," asks Mebane's Jaki Shelton Green in her new anthology, her first since receiving the N.C. Award for Literature in 2003.

Pick any page, any phrase, you'll find something evocative, personal, timeless and tender.

BEST CHILDREN'S BOOK EndBlock The Bake Shop Ghost by Jacqueline K. Ogburn (Houghton Mifflin)

Cora Lee Merriweather haunts a bake shop she used to own. The ghost tries to scare a new young baker into leaving, and when Annie asks what she can do to be able to work in peace, Cora Lee asks for a cake so rich and so sweet, "it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes." On Nov. 19, NPR's Daniel Pinkwater, who called the book "hauntingly sweet," read the entire story on the air. The next week, Cora Merriweather was as popular as Harry Potter and Dora the Explorer.

LITERARY TREND OF 2006: GIRL POWER REDUX Marianne Gingher's A Girl's Life: Horses, Boys, Weddings and Luck, a wistful memoir of her happy North Carolina childhood, was published In 2001. Director of the Creative Writing Program at UNC-CH, Gingher wrote of nostalgia for the '50s and '60s, dreamy images of summer trips and pies on the kitchen window sill. The following year Lee Smith published her adventurous romp, The Last Girls, a fictional river tour based on a real life raft trip down the Mississippi she took with 15 college girlfriends. Lee wrote, "I want us all to understand how important, in either a negative or a positive sense, early experiences can be in girls' lives."

This past year, Chapel Hill author Leah Stewart published The Myth of You and Me, a moving novel about the complete falling out two best friends have after college. Inseparable since they were 15, roommates in college, the two girls simply stop being friends. Stewart's book is tender study of the complexities of relationships and female friendships.

This coming spring, a trio of books by local women continues the exploration and celebration of girlhood. Lucky for us, both Zippy Jarvis and Ellen Foster make triumphant returns. In She Got Up Off the Couch, Durham's Haven Kimmel gives us delightful Zippy entering her tween years, "struggling with both her hair and her distaste for shoes."

Kaye Gibbons' Ellen in The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster, is now 15, growing and learning truths with her wide eyes and independent spirit every day. Gibbons' poignant four-page "Dear Reader" introduction about love and loss, expectation, parenting and motherhood is the best essay I've read all year.

Margaret Sartor's Miss Americam Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets and Growing Up in the '70s is a funny and frank memoir of her teenage years in the deep South, a raw document culled from dozens of diaries and notebooks. It all happened in the '70s--drugs, desegregation, sex, feminism and the spread of evangelical Christianity, even in Margaret's small Louisiana hometown. x

Contributing Writer John Valentine can be reached at ajcg@acpub.duke.edu.

  • Around here, you just don't need to go too far and wide to find a favorite writer.

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