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North Carolina writers top New York Times' bestseller list

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, November 21, 2005

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North Carolinians are proud of their literary heritage.

Stop in any town in our state and local people will tell you about a favorite author who lived or worked nearby.

In Asheville you can still get an earful about Thomas Wolfe and “Look Homeward Angel,” even though many of Wolfe’s contemporaries in Asheville had hoped that Wolfe never would come home again.

My friend Jim Cheatham reminds me regularly that North Carolinian Robert Ruark’s storytelling genius made his books, such as “Something of Value” and "The Old Man and The Boy," popular all over the world.

More recently, Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain” and Robert Morgan’s “Gap Creek” captured the hearts of readers and made the bestseller lists. There are many others, of course, and any attempt to name them all would be inadequate.

Given our state’s pride in the accomplishments of its literary lights, you might expect that there would be a lot of fanfare if three of the four top spots in the weekly New York Times Bestseller fiction list were held by North Carolina connected writers.

It happened this past Sunday.

But there has been no fanfare until right now.

Books by our writers were the second, third, and fourth bestsellers!

Number two on this week’s list is “Light from Heaven,” Jan Karon’s ninth in her Mitford series about Father Tim, an Episcopal priest in a small North Carolina mountain town. In the new book, Father Tim sets out to revive an old mountain church. Karon says this will be the last of her novels set in Mitford.

Number three is “Predator,” the latest of a long series in Patricia Cornwell’s series featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta. In “Predator,” Scarpetta is tracking down a possible serial killer. There are confusing psychological clues that lead her to seek advice from a psychopath in prison.

Fourth on the Times’ list is Nicholas Sparks’ “At First Sight,” a sequel to his earlier novel, "True Believer." The young couple from “True Believer are expecting a child and living in North Carolina.

These books from North Carolina connected writers are selling ahead of books by such blockbuster authors as Anne Rice (“Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” #8), and Danielle Steel (“Toxic Bachelors” #9), even though all the books were released within a few weeks of each other.

Patricia Cornwell, who grew up in Black Mountain and graduated from Davidson College, was a little known writer and reporter until the success of her first Scarpetta novel about 15 years ago.

Jan Karon grew up in Caldwell County and Charlotte, had a successful career in advertising in Charlotte and Raleigh, and moved to Blowing Rock to write books about 1988. Her Mitford novels, based on Blowing Rock, took off about ten years ago.

Nicholas Sparks moved to North Carolina a little more than ten years ago. His first novel set in North Carolina, “Message in a Bottle,” was an immediate success. He continues to live in and write about his adopted home state.

All three authors have sold tens of millions of their books—an accomplishment that has brought each of them great wealth and recognition across the world. Needless to say, every other North Carolina writer envies these sales records.

Ironically, these authors are not “insiders” in the literary community.

The New York Times Book Review, for instance, which regularly reports their amazing sales figures, seldom, if ever, reviews their books. Their commercial success does not guarantee them a place in the New York Times’ literary world.

The New York Times dealt with this situation in Sunday’s edition, acknowledging Karon’s success, but calling Karon’s work “sentimental” and “feel-good stories.” However, the Times admitted that her novels “ struck a chord.”

Sparks and Cornwell have also “struck a chord.” All three have found a way to write to their readers’ hearts, guts, and minds.

Whether or not the New York Times thinks they are “literary” enough, it is a good thing that these authors are giving millions of people reasons to read books. And it is a good thing for North Carolina that much of what they write is set right here and tells others about the great places where North Carolinians live.

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North Carolina writers top New York Times' bestseller list

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