Saturday, March 02, 2013


A reader recently asked me to post some of my favorite books, so here goes:

Alton Ballance's Ocracokers continues to be one of the best introductions to Ocracoke. Written by a native islander with a degree in journalism, this book includes history, stories, personal anecdotes, and reflections about island life.

Ann Ehringhaus's Ocracoke Portrait is a wonderful compilation of Ann's photographs and quotations from residents and visitors that capture the spirit of the island.

To Ocracoke! by Fred Mallison is a delightfully written, entertaining, and engaging account of visiting Ocracoke in the 1930s. It is currently out of print, but I understand the Ocracoke Preservation Society is negotiating to have it reprinted.

I recommend three books on the United States Life Saving Service: Ship Ashore!, The U.S. Lifesavers of Coastal North Carolina; The U.S. Life Saving Service, Heroes, Rescues and Architecture of the Early Coast Guard; and Fire on the Beach, Recovering the Lost Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers.

For the history of Blackbeard you can't go wrong with Robert E. Lee's Blackbeard the Pirate, a Reappraisal of His Life and Times, and Kevin Duffus's The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate.

Jack Dudley's coffee table book, Ocracoke Album, has an excellent collection of vintage photographs and accompanying text.

My own book, Digging up Uncle Evans, is a compilation of "History, Ghost Tales, & Stories from Ocracoke Island"

There are, of course, many other excellent books about Ocracoke and the Outer Banks. Some concentrate on history, some on stories, others on wildlife and the environment.

The reader also asked about my personal reading choices. I generally prefer to read non-fiction. Subjects often include science (e.g. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, The Cooperative Gene, by Mark Ridley, The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, How the Mind Works by Stephen Pinker, Hallucinations by Oliver Sachs, A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi, and Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond), religion (e.g. Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq and Did Jesus Exist by Bart Ehrman), history (e.g. The Great Hunger, Ireland 1845-1849 by Cecil Woodham-Smith and The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky) and some biography (e.g. The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman).

I have also recently read (or re-read) several classics: Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, The Trial, Metamorphosis, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Treasure Island, Moby Dick, and War and Peace.

Maybe some of our readers would like to share their favorite books. Please leave a comment if you would.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the unique"Ocracoke Greeting." You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous12:14 PM

    Thank you for the follow-up, Philip. I always say, "One person can't possibly read everything, so flag the good stuff and pass it along." I'll note your recommendations for future reference and share them with other friends who also enjoy good writing.

    As I recently shared with a friend:

    I terms of books, I enjoyed "Interpreter of Maladies", short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri; "The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx; "The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon; "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. And you CAN NOT go wrong with "Half-Broke Horses" by Jeannette Walls. As the father of a daughter, I think ALL women should read HBH. I gave it to my niece and said "You only have to read the first three pages--then you can put it down if you want." She finished it by morning.

    I also recently discovered "The Sun", a monthly literary magazine out of Chapel Hill, NC. Each issue is about 50 pages: from a featured in-depth interview, to short stories, poetry, essays, themed reader submissions, and "The Dog-Earned Page," a reader-suggested passage from literature--some famous, some lesser so. And the final page, "Sunbeams", a collection of notworthy quotes, is always a pleasure. Each issue packs gems--of wonderful writing, of life lessons, of words to live by.

    I look forward to seeing what other followers of your blog are reading. And thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts with us, Philip.

  2. Vickie Pavlik5:19 PM

    Thanks for your recommendations Philip. I lean more toward fiction for my recreational reading. However, I recently read "Mountains beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder about Paul Farmer, an unorthodox physician who is attempting to cure the world of tuberculosis in such an unlikely place as Haiti. " In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan is also a personal favorite of mine. My favorite book is "To Kill a Mockingbird". "A River Runs Through It" is a close second. I read it every summer before we go on our backpacking, fly fishing trip to Idaho. I realize the book is set in Montana but it is the same ecosystem with fewer people. My current favorite is "Tooth and Claw" recommended by none other than Sundae Horne and her librarian sister. Please thank her for her recommendation.

  3. Debbie Leonard8:20 AM

    I agree on Interpreter of Maladies; it is one of the most elegant collection of short stories that I have ever read. My all-time favorite fiction book is Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith. Some people say it's kind of hard to read; it's written in the SW Virginia dialect. Right now I am reading Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and it is wicked fun!

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  4. Anonymous12:21 PM

    What's your favorite color? What 's your sign?

    1. I don't have a favorite color. For me, it's the interplay of all the rich and vibrant, and muted and understated, hues that provide excitement to this grand enterprise called "living."

      I'm going to go with this for my sign --

      (I know that's not what you meant, but I never give much thought to astrological signs.)

    2. Anonymous4:03 PM

      Brilliant sign!

  5. Anonymous12:30 PM

    I've been thinking I'd try Uncle Tom's Cabin & The Waterman's Song .Did you not like the latter? I have read most of the Ocracoke books. At the top of my list ... Digging Up Uncle Evans.---- DC

    1. The Waterman's Song is an excellent book about slavery in coastal North Carolina.

      And thanks for your testimonial!

  6. Thanks to all of our literary commenters for sharing your choices for good books. I will use your suggestions the next time I am looking for a book to read, especially a novel. By the way, I agree...To Kill a Mockingbird is an all-time favorite. I have also enjoyed Wicked, and Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. Right now I am reading The Worst Hard Times; and The Master Butcher's Singing Club (a novel) is next up. Cold winter days are great times to curl up in front of the fire with an engaging book!

  7. debbie s.2:42 PM

    I think I've read (and own many) of those ;)

    I'm (generally)a fiction reader, myself. I read anything but Romance and I'm not a big murder mystery person LOL

    Right now I'm reading 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' - I've seen the movie a million times and finally got the book- LOVE IT! :P

    I'm also reading (but am not terribly 'into') 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' (haven't seen the movie)

    and before that, I read 'Life of Pi' (again, haven't seen the movie)...Book was good once you got past the first half (and given my attention span, its amazing I made it through- I'm usually one of those where if it doesn't get my attention within the first couple of chapters, I put it down and never finish it!)

  8. Anonymous2:43 PM

    I agree with Okracokers-we have/and have enjoyed many of those books. We even got the big coffee table book with all the photos as a cottage we used to rent is on the cover!

    I read the Worst Hard Times twice-amazing and authentic stories and history. Kind of painful but a timely morality lesson in terms of current agricultural practices and climate change. The Master Butchers is in my top ten. Just finished "The Known World" fiction on the topic of freed slaves owning slaves...hmmmm it did happen. SueM

  9. Anonymous6:28 PM

    Since readers are still posting, I'll pose another question: What books do you absolutely NOT recommend?

    I got about a hundred pages into "American Psycho" by Brett Easton Ellis before my son convinced me to bail on it, which I happily did. It read like a catalog for upscale clothing--a groundbreaking literary "device" by the author, perhaps, but one that fell flat with me.

    Similarly, my son advised, since I wasn't "feeling it" by p150, to dump "The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo," which I happily donated to my local library.

    From my perspective, those are two books that warrant the international "No" symbol. How about you folks, any tips for the "Must NOT read" pile? Philip?

    1. Anonymous6:35 PM

      Or, more appropriate to this forum, Books NOT to Be Read. ;-)