Saturday, July 17, 2010

Vacation reading

From: GoHeath
To: 'Eric Nance Woehler' ; 'Matthew Vaughn'
Sent: Monday, July 12, 2010 12:22 PM
Subject: Vacation Reading for Eric

Here are five books, Eric, that I think you would enjoy on your vacation. I have limited myself to books that are readily available:

1. "The Book of Basketball," by Bill Simmons
2. "Profiles in Courage," by John Kennedy
3. "And The Angels Were Silent," by Max Lucado
4. "Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley," by Peter Guralnick

And one work of fiction that I promise you would like:

5. "Keep the Aspidistra Flying," by George Orwell


Thank you, GoHeath.

But, in fact, I spent my vacation reading the July 27, 1957, issue of The State, Down Home in North Carolina. This magazine was already into its 25th volume in the summer of 1957, and I'm pretty sure that it continues to publish today, as the monthly magazine that is named Our State.

When Rachel and I were on our honeymoon, I bought a terrific stack of copies of The State from the 1950s, '60s and '70s from a junk store in Morganton, N.C. From the first evening Rachel and I went to dinner in 2002 after we met in North Carolina, we talked about that we each wanted to eventually return to Kentucky. By the time we got married in 2004, we were already planning the timeline and circumstances of our eventual move home. And, of course, we did move back in 2008, just before Virginia's arrival in 2009. Regardless, we loved North Carolina the whole time we lived in Cary (still do love it), and reading old copies of The State was one of the ways I loved it. When we returned to North Carolina for vacation this week, at Topsail Island, digging back into The State felt like the appropriate thing to do. I wanted to re-immerse myself in North Carolina, and The State is stridently North Carolinian. I wanted to think about being a writer for a periodical, and The State might've been The Heath Post had it started in 2010 instead of 1932. And I wanted to drape myself in the right state of mind for the July 25 return of Mad Men.

Here's an editorial from Page 2 of the July 27, 1957, issue:

"Needed: A Law

"In favor of: a law requiring the ferries to the Outer Banks (Hatteras & Ocracoke) to run one way one week, the other way the next week.

"This tremendous inconvenience would save the public from its own fickle folly. Nobody should be allowed to visit Hatteras for a one-hour tour, nor spend one night at Ocracoke.

"It isn't fair to those places, and it isn't fair to the visitor.

"Times Square overpowers a visitor in ten seconds, with its gaudy nothingness.

"But it takes time for simple medicines to work, and they perform miraculous cures.

"When you suddenly cut off the opiates of civilization, a man's nerves falls apart and he screams for relief. But a few days of quiet relaxation works on even the worst cases.

"'The road changed people,' said Scottie Gibson down at Hatteras. 'They used to come down and stay for weeks. Now you see their cars drive slowly through the village. You can see the disappointment on their faces. You can see them slap miserably at a mosquito. In ten minutes, they've had all of Hatteras they want.'

"We're afraid Ocracoke is in for the same sort of visitors.

"When people had to stay, they began to react to the old alchemy. Then they left reluctantly and returned again and again.

"Cap'n Bill Gaskill at Ocracoke used to say that if the mail boat returned to the mainland the same day it reached the island, he'd never have an overnight guest.

"But they had to stay at least one night. And that night Cap'n Bill fed them well and regaled them with his stories. Ocracoke the next morning looked at least endurable.

"If they stayed another day, it even looked interesting. If they stayed a week, they were doomed, and never wanted to go home.

"Let us be tyrannical and presumptuous dictators and feed these visitors our medicine in the proper dosages. They'll live to call us blessed."

This is vintage stuff of The State. It's poking fun at its usual conservative politics, but it's rooting earnestly for North Carolina. I imagine this was exactly the kind of guy Bill Sharpe, the bi-weekly's primary writer and co-publisher, was. North Carolina is his home, and he's pretty much always earnest (and blind, his critics would argue) in his love and rooting for it. He votes conservative, but he's willing to make a little fun of himself in this area. And Bill Sharpe's religion trickles in to a lot of his writing, but he hardly ever throws around God by name.

There's all kinds of other fun things in this issue of The State. Regular features include excerpts from North Carolina newspapers, construction news, a roundup of odds and ends from the capital and "Merely a Woman's Opinion" by Carol Dare. I love seeing the text-heavy ads of this era, such as the one for Mt. Olive pickles, which crams more than 110 words into a 1-column, 5-inch space on Page 5 (including the product's motto, "They're Better!") And I'm intrigued by mention of a titanium plant being built in New Hanover, a story about Morehead City's emergence (real-estate promoters in the 1850s laid out "Carolina City" west of Beaufort Inlet to capitalize on the construction of a new railway, but the new terminus actually ended up near where Gov. John Motley Morehead owned 600 acres) and a little thing that speculates U.S. 421 might be extended from Fort Fisher to Baldhead Island and subvert talks about a Fort Fisher-Southport ferry.

I find everything in The State so lively and optimistic. It believes in North Carolina, and it makes the reader believe, too.

Here's one last thing from this 1957 issue, from Page 17 and by a contributor named C. Sylvester Green: "Louis Graves and his Chapel Hill Weekly have brought to North Carolina a type of journalism that is rapidly and sadly disappearing from the American scene. It is that kind of personal journalism in which the reader knows the editor as a person, most often as a personal friend and feels that he is writing to him as well as about him and his fellows. This style of journalism must be kind and absolutely fair. It must be accurate, and yet perhaps not tell the whole story. But no limitations are put upon it that good writing, decency, and concern do not demand. That the writing is almost always local, and when foreign is interpreted in local terms, makes it a dependable, quotable kind of journalism that readers enjoy, and the other editors like to quote. Most of all Louis Graves has made his columns throught he years the depository for thoughts on true culture, wide knowledge, basic understanding of people, what they like and what they feel. This means much in the development of a community, and cultivates a pattern by which the community gains an individuality, a distinctiveness."

So all of this from The State gave me a lot to think about on vacation in terms of The Heath Post.

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