What I’m Reading This Summer

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of summer reading picks from Charlotte Lit staff. Here, Charlotte Lit col-founder Paul Reali shares what he’ll be reading this summer.


Each time I pick up my iPad with the Kindle app, or pick through the stack on my nightstand, my different selves do battle. Which Paul is doing the reading tonight?

This summer, my selves will be battling over these titles. This is not be a traditional summer reading list, because nothing here has anything to do with summer, most are not new, and there are no beach reads here (well, maybe one). Summer for me is the time to trim my stack, not add to it.

For the Writer: The Anatomy of Story, by John Truby. One of the bibles of writing. Authors Lab coach Kim Wright uses the author as a verb, as in: “Did you Truby the manuscript?”

For the Reader (and Writer) of Mysteries: When Will There Be Good News, by Kate Atkinson, the third Jackson Brodie mystery. Atkinson writes mysteries that read like literature.

For the Reader of Literature: Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss. I’m one day into this and I think it wins the daily battle until I get to the end. Charlotte Lit co-founder Kathie Collins called this the book she’d wished she’d written.

For the Reader of Local Writers: Clio Rising, by Paula Martinac. Charlotte Lit teacher and Authors Lab coach has written another winner with distinct voices and memorable characters. I defy you to ever forget Livvie Bliss or Clio Hartt.

For the Editor: I’ll be reading my own mystery novel in progress, which is going through one (I swear just one) last (absolutely last) final (absolutely dead final) revision to get that word count down to 80K.

For the Parent of Teenagers: Untangled: Guiding Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, by Lisa Damour Ph.D. The subtitle says it all. A fascinating and sometimes frightening read.

For the Runner: Run Less, Run Faster, by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Ross. The perfect book for running like a 40-year old on 50-something legs.

For the Fun-Lover: Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. A 30-year old one-off collaboration by two fantastic writers, and that has had an active fandom ever since. Read this beforeyou watch the new Amazon mini-series and you’ll appreciate it all the more.

Summer Reading Picks by Lisa Zerkle

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of summer reading picks from Charlotte Lit staff. Here, Lisa Zerkle, curator of the 4X4CLT poetry and art poster series, shares her choices for top books.


Just finished

The Wall, by John LancesterThis near-future dystopia plays out in a country that could be Great Britain where young people are conscripted into two-year deployments as guards along a vast border wall. They’re tasked with preventing incursions by Others, desperate refugees who have left their home countries for a slim chance of getting past the Wall. Fast-paced and disturbingly plausible.

I’m a huge fan of short story collections for their brevity and variety. I heartily recommend these two remarkable, recently released short story collections, both of which are worth reading for their skilled construction alone.

Sing to It, by Amy Hempel is written in a Lydia Davis-style compression. “I leave a lot out when I tell the truth. The same when I write a story,” Hempel has said of her stories. I imagine her sliding words out of her drafts Jenga-style to see if the center still holds. The first two “stories” of ‘Sing to It” are so brief and rich they could double as prose poems. I found her risk-taking style thrilling and entertaining.

Your Duck is My Duck, by Deborah Eisenberg. A recent New York Times review called this collection “cannily constructed, and so instantly absorbing that it feels like an abduction.” Her skill at spoofing a celebrity adjacent tell all in the second story, “Taj Mahal,” is a wonder.

Reading now

The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay began as a practice in the daily appreciation of delight. Beginning on his birthday, Gay pledged to write a brief essay about some experience of delight. I love Gay’s poetry and couldn’t pass up this new book of essays. They are delightful, but not puffery alone. He takes on difficult topics but addresses them with his signature faith in humanity.

Evicted, by Matthew Desmond. A heart-wrenching and clear-eyed look at the affordable housing crisis. True stories of tenants and landlords stuck in challenging circumstances, many of which are caused by thorny, systemic problems. It’s an unflinching, difficult portrayal of families for whom an unexpected $100 expense can mean homelessness. I’d put this one in the hands of every banker bro in Charlotte if I could.

The History of Anonymity and Some Say the Lark, two collections of poetry by Jennifer Chang, who is Charlotte Lit’s featured poet for the September 4X4CLT. Chang is a lyrical poet who draws on themes of family and the natural world.

Up next

Normal People, Sally Rooney. The second foray from the “it” novelist of the millennial generation

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. I thought I was the only one who’d not read this novel that came out in 2016, but the public library currently has 91 hold requests on its 40 copies.

The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Everyone I know who read this book, a 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner, loved it. Ann Patchett calls “the best novel ever written about trees.” I’ve dragged my feet so long on this one it’s now available in paperback (sustainably sourced, of course).

Summer Reading Picks by Tamela Rich

Editor’s Note: Charlotte Lit’s staff is using the summer months to catch up on our reading and we thought we’d share our lists with you. First up—program coordinator and all-around, can-do woman, Tamela Rich’s selections for both pleasure reads and writing research.


If I had a nickel for every book I own and have started but not finished…I’d buy more books!

I picked up two new titles at Park Road Books and laughed with the bookseller about my habit of buying new books when I haven’t finished others. He said, “When you buy a book, you’re buying the promise of time to read it.” That resonates. Buying a book does feel like I’m buying the time to read it. Buying time…what a concept.

I bought:

Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker

I studied with Michael last year at the The Appalachian Writers’ Workshop at Hindman Settlement School, where he told us about this, his sixth novel, based in family lore.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep

I read the New York Times Book Review each week. That’s where I learned about the mystery surrounding Harper Lee’s first and only work of nonfiction, and the shocking true crimes at the center of it.

I’m reading:

Clio Rising, by Paula Martinac

A book set in the literary world of New York in the 1980s is doubly fun for this reader-writer. The protagonist hails from western North Carolina, and tells her story in witty first person. Paula is my Authors Lab mentor, which is why I bought Clio, but the fabulous writing is why I’m enthusiastically reading it!

Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap, by Judy Goldman

Judy is a masterful memoirist who teaches the craft at Charlotte Lit. My husband and I are reading Together together.

Research Reads:

My novel-in-progress follows a teenage girl from a Kentucky coal camp up the “Hillbilly Highway” to Detroit in 1943 where she hopes to make enough money to support her family back home. She encounters a world far beyond her understanding, including the country’s sexist and racist public health response to the syphilis epidemic that raged in the final years before antibiotics. These are terrific books that have helped me flesh out mine (working title, The Varney Girls).

The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, by Bridgett M. Davis

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age, by Kevin Boyle

Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination, by Herb Boyd

The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison ‘Promiscuous’ Women,’ by Scott. W. Stern

Top Summer Reads from Park Road Books

Oh, how we writers love our independent book stores. They host our readings, sell our books, and provide jobs for our friends and neighbors. Besides, they’re some of the only people who love books as much as we do. In this post, the marvelous book sellers at Park Road Books have winnowed down their favorite reads for summer. The only thing left to choose? Poolside or beachside.

Sally:

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow (June 4)

Azalea “Knot” Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors’ gossip won’t keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Alone in her one-room shack, ostracized from her relatives and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.

Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule. After his failed attempt as a teenager to help his older sister, Otis Lee discovers a possible path to redemption in the chaos Knot brings to his doorstep. But while he’s busy trying to fix Knot’s life, Otis Lee finds himself powerless to repair the many troubles within his own family, as the long-buried secrets of his troubled past begin to come to light.

Set in an African American community in rural North Carolina from 1941 to 1987, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love

Substitution Order by Martin Clark (July 9)

Kevin Moore, once a high-flying Virginia attorney, hits rock bottom after an inexplicably tumultuous summer leaves him disbarred and separated from his wife. Short on cash and looking for work, he lands in the middle of nowhere with a job at SUBstitution, the world’s saddest sandwich shop. His closest confidants: a rambunctious rescue puppy and the twenty-year-old computer whiz manning the restaurant counter beside him. He’s determined to set his life right again, but the troubles keep coming. And when a bizarre, mysterious stranger wanders into the shop armed with a threatening “invitation” to join a multimillion-dollar scam, Kevin will need every bit of his legal savvy just to stay out of prison.

A remarkable tour of the law’s tricks and hidden trapdoors, The Substitution Order is both wise and ingenious, a wildly entertaining novel that will keep you guessing—and rooting for its tenacious hero—until the very last page.

Shauna:

Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (May 14)

Casey McQuiston’s debut is a fun, quirky romance set in an alternate reality that boasts a more beautiful world after November 2016, in which the First Son falls for the Prince of Wales. With an enemies-to-lovers romance between the First Son and the Prince of Wales, an intricate and well-developed familial bond, and a hopeful political landscape, this book is salve on an open wound.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune by Roselle Lim (June 11)

When Natalie Tan returns to her home in Chinatown following her mother’s death, she finds that the neighborhood she grew up in is in danger of being sold off and gentrified. Using her grandmother’s cookbook, she re-creates recipes meant to heal the wounds of the neighborhood in order to save it. Roselle Lim’s debut is a delightful, cultural novel with recipes, magic dumplings, and a touch of romance.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal (May 14)

This whirlwind Arabian-inspired fantasy by debut author Hafsah Faisal is filled with heart-stopping twists, tight-knit and unbreakable friendships, a slow burn romance, and bright, lyrical prose that left me breathless. Readers of fantasy novels such as Children of Blood and Bone and City of Brass will devour this tale that left me drawn into the story long after it was over.

James:

The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver (May 14)

Deaver is back! This time with an intriguing new protagonist by the name of Colter Shaw. Raised by a bi-polar survivalist, Shaw becomes a “tracker” who finds missing people. On his current case Shaw finds himself in the world of computer gamers and the intrigue of Silicon Valley. This is a “can’t put it down” thriller.

Recursion by Blake Crouch (June 11)

I liked Crouch’s previous novel, I loved this one. Straddling a fine line between being science fiction and a thriller, Recursion explores the ideas of memory, perception, identity, and reality. At its core, this page-turner explores the concept of a technology that can be used to capture memories and let its user experience them again.

Megan:

Broken Things by Lauren Oliver (YA)

This fantastic book is like reading a mix of Pretty Little Liars, The Slender Man and Bridge to Terabithia. A page turning, gripping thriller about three friends, a secret, and a mystery.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi (YA)

A beautiful take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Set in Brooklyn, Pride deals with gentrification, class struggles while still staying remarkably true to its roots.

The Ancient Nine by Ian K. Smith

This book is a suspense thriller that takes you deep inside one of our country’s elite Ivy League universities and its secret societies. Based on real life events, Ian K. Smith weaves a tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page.

Molly:

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Wickedly funny and dark, Braithwaite tells the story of how far a woman is willing to go to protect her sister, who has a nasty habit of killing her boyfriends. She soon finds herself second guessing her protective stance when a friend of hers is poised to be the next victim.

Alice isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

In this perfectly creepy road trip mystery from the author of Welcome to Night Vale, Keisha takes up a job as a cross country truck driver to locate her missing wife, Alice, who she keeps seeing in the background of national news stories. Supernatural mysteries follow her on her journey, including a dangerous, man-eating, cryptid who knows too much of Alice for Keisha’s liking.


Charlotte Lit it grateful to Park Road Books for sending us their top picks for summer reads. Be sure to check their events calendar for upcoming readings by local authors. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram, and visit them in person at the Park Road Shopping Center.

Summer Reading Picks from Park Road Books

Ah, summer!  Time to dig your toes in the sand and crack open an excellent book. Need ideas? Our friends at Park Road Books are here with these helpful suggestions, including Middle Grade and YA picks at the end of the list. 

Nothing is Forgotten, by Peter Golden (Atria, $26.00)

This historical novel delves into family relationships and secrets.  Spanning the time between WW II and the Cold War, Nothing is Forgotten follows a family of Russian Jews as they escape persecution and rebuild their lives only to have their past resurface.  From a CIA-sponsored radio program broadcasting early rock ’n’ roll in West Germany to tracking down Pablo Picasso in the south of France, this novel spins a great tale that keeps the reader guessing and wanting more. (John O.)

Vacationland, by John Hodgman (Penguin Books, $16.00)

Memoir is a new direction for John Hodgman, whose previous three books comprised a fantastically fraudulent encyclopedia of imagined knowledge. Hodgman brings the same absurdist wit and manic, self-deprecating sensibilities to his stories in Vacationland, along with keen observations and honest insight. John Hodgman remains one of the funniest writers around, but with Vacationland we get to enjoy a bit of his wisdom as well. (John O.)

Educated, by Tara Westover  (Random House, $28.00)

From debut New York Times bestselling author Tara Westover comes Educated: A Memoir. A true story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in the mountains of Idaho raised by survivalists. The story follows young Tara through her early years and into adulthood. Her father shuns all forms of government oversight and because of this, she never attends school. Although the family has had its struggles they have remained “close.” This changes when Tara decides to take the GED and is accepted into Brigham Young University.  With the freedom of education, Tara struggles with what she now sees is a very different world from the one she grew up with. This beautiful book is an engrossing story and an engaging read. If you enjoyed The Glass Castle you will enjoy Educated. (Megan M.)

The Seven Husbands, by Taylor Jenkins Reid  (Washington Square Press, $16.00)

An excellent look at not only the various “masks” that women of the 1950s were required to wear in order to survive daily life, but also about the sheer strength of true love. This triumph of a novel chronicles the life of fictional Old Hollywood actress Evelyn Hugo as told through interview snippets by the backseat narrator, Monique, a journalist hired to write the aging Evelyn’s biography. Throughout the novel, Evelyn candidly details life with each of her seven husbands with the intent of answering the question on everyone’s mind: which one was the great love of her life? With amazing women of color and LGBTQ+ representation, this novel is beyond deserving of the overwhelming praise it has received. (Nikki B.)

Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata (Grove Press, $20.00, on-sale 6/12/18)

A slim and stunning English-language début of a young woman who works in a Japanese convenience store for 18 years. Funny, touching and scathing observation on what passes for normal in society. Selling over 650,000 copies in Japan is an achievement and I hope her American audience appreciates her as much as I do. (Sally B.)

Penelope Lemon: Game On!, by Inman Majors (Louisiana State University Press, $26.00, on-sale 8/15/18)

Don’t plan on getting anything done once you pick up the funniest book of 2018. Major’s tale of a recently divorced 40 year-old woman struggling to make a life for herself and her ten year-old son is a hilarious page-turner. (Sally B.)

Calypso: Essays, by David Sedaris (Little Brown and Company, $28.00)

This is David’s best book. Humor and tragedy that will bring tears to your eyes. Need I say anything else? (Sally B.)

Middle Grade

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, by Stacy McAnulty (Penguin Random House, $16.99)

The story of twelve-year-old Lucy whose grandmother makes her attend middle school for one year, make one friend, join one activity, and read one book.  Seems pretty easy except since Lucy was struck by lightning four years earlier, she’s now a math savant who does calculus for fun, reads math textbooks, and has been homeschooled ever since. Fitting in isn’t easy for Lucy; her ordered, rigid world meets middle school angst while its aches are tempered with laughter.  Lucy and her peers learn to embrace their uniqueness and this book reminds all readers to do the same. (Sherri S.)

Young Adult/Teen

The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan (Little Brown for Young Readers, $18.99)

This gorgeous, powerful début tells the story of an incredible journey from the U.S. to Taiwan. After Leah’s mother dies by suicide, she appears to Leah as a ghost in the form of a giant red bird. To uncover her family’s secrets, Leah travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents. With gorgeous prose, elements of magical realism and Buddhist influences, this novel reads like a dream. (Shauna S.)

Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro (Tor Teen, $17.99)

With this debut, Mark Oshiro has written a fully intersectional book sure to garner many awards. Oshiro’s characters represent a range of gender, sexuality, disability, and mental health situations and he covers topics such as systemic racism, disability access, police brutality, anxiety, first love, and more. With fast-paced and compulsively readable writing, Anger Is a Gift is a much-needed addition to the literary canon. Fans of The Hate U Give, Dear Martin, and All American Boys will enjoy this novel. (Shauna S.)

Sky in the Deep, by Adrienne Young (St. Martins Press, $17.99)

This novel sends readers into a Viking-like world with warrior clans who fight every five years. During the last clash Eelyn, an Aska warrior, watched her brother die on the battlefield against the Riki.  She has been training for revenge ever since and gets her chance during the next battle cycle only to see her brother alive and fighting with her enemy. Stunned by his betrayal of family and clan, wounded Eelyn must survive with her brother’s friend Fiske and his family in order to survive. When a legendary clan begins to raid and kill throughout the mountain villages, Eelyn and Fiske must decide who is the worst enemy-the Herja or themselves?  Gritty, Games-of-Thrones-like action will appeal to both genders with just a slight hint of romance. (Sherri S.)

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (Harper Collins, $17.99, on-sale 6/26/18)

This collection of YA short stories explores themes in East and South Asian mythology and features Charlotte-based New York Times bestselling author Renee Ahdieh and New York Times bestselling and North Carolina-based author Roshani Chokshi. (Sherri S. and Shauna S.)

Becoming Human: A White Person’s Reckoning with Race

Book Review: Debbie Irving’s Waking Up White and Finding Myself in a Story of Race


As a life-long lover of books, it feels particularly special to stumble across a book that profoundly shifts my world view, my approach to life, or my thoughts in a new direction. Waking Up White was one such book.

As a woman from a lower-middle class family situated in the beautiful, rolling hills of North Carolina, I’ve struggled with the stereotypes I grew up with, having relationships with people of color—including a best friendship with a woman of color in college, and through a job in which I faced data and stories that clearly showed racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Before reckoning with my own race and history, I experienced the sting—the Zap Factor—of conversations with this best friend, who praised Malcom X (someone I had learned was a terrorist) and tried to explain how she was watched in stores (I wondered what she must have been doing wrong). As I read through the chapters, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief and feeling encouraged that there is a way out of racial tension. By understanding ourselves a little more fully, we can find harmony with others who are different from us; and in embracing those differences, we will co-create a future that is more successful, beautiful, and rich for all of us.

In her book Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, self-described WASP Debby Irving recounts her liberating, yet heart-wrenching coming to terms with racism: “Racism’s ultimate grip on me came not just from my conditioning to ignore it but from the inverse story that I was told about it.”

In this memoir-like account, Irving walks readers through the process of her transformation from a white person with no racial identity to having a profound sense of her history, privilege, and role in supporting anti-racism. Rather than lecture readers on what she has learned, Irving takes us deep into her journey. Her step-by-step account allows readers to reflect on their own journeys and invites them to embark on their own personal transformations. While some readers may be offended by her criticism of white culture, Irving’s commentary provides a contrast to her long-standing perception of white culture always being “right.” She offers no critical analysis of other racial or ethnic groups. The focus is inward, self-critical, and at times, uncomfortable.

In telling her story, Irving describes key themes or revelations that are common to the white experience. Each chapter provides an insight that builds on the next. She explains the failure of “color-blindness” and how she perpetuated racism by being unaware of the benefits brought by her skin color, and writes about “Robin Hood syndrome,” defined as “‘dysfunctional rescuing,’ helping people in ways that actually disempower them.” Her numerous examples of this syndrome may help altruistic white people recognize where this may come into play in their own civic engagement or volunteerism.

Irving introduces an idea she calls the Zap Factor––the sting of discomfort and embarrassment that occurs when white people experience misunderstandings or recognize their own ignorance during cross-racial conversations. By labeling these experiences and providing concrete examples from her own life, Irving enables readers, particularly white readers, to finally understand why their interactions with people of color may be uncomfortable and seemingly unproductive.

Irving also delves into the “dominant white culture” and elucidates the values and character traits that America’s dominant white culture has retained from early colonists. While these traits may not fit every white person, the underlying message is critical: There are cultural differences that impact cross-racial interactions. White people who are cognizant of their own dominant cultural traits while being sensitive to the cultures of people they interact with, will experience a greater degree of progress and partnership.

As Irving’s recount of her own racial enlightenment progresses, she lets go of labels and tells more personal stories. Later lessons seem to be still fresh and not quite established in her vernacular or approach. She describes a moment in which it became evident that her socialization as a white person remained so embedded with cultural differences her conversations still had the power to alienate people of other races and ethnicities. At the same time, when she realizes a mistake or blunder, Irving is able to model vulnerability and transparency. Concrete examples from her own life allow readers to share in her embarrassment and confusion, while also allowing them to identify with her efforts to overcome life-long blocks to wholehearted relationships with people of other races and ethnicities.

Irving doesn’t attempt to smooth over any of her experiences, and empathetic readers will struggle, particularly if Irving’s experiences resonate with them. But the book ends with a powerful, refreshing call to action: “Self-examination and the courage to admit to bias and unhelpful inherited behaviors may be our greatest tools for change. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to expose our ignorance and insecurities takes courage. And love. I believe the most loving thing a person, or a group of people, can do for another is to examine the ways in which their own insecurities and assumptions interfere with others’ ability to thrive.”

Waking Up Whiteis a moving story of reckoning, a kick in the pants for readers who have become discouraged or indifferent to issues of race, and a tremendous tool for the person seeking to understand and eliminate racism. It’s a story about reclaiming our humanity. When the fabrications of race are exposed for what they are (constructs of power) and what they have caused (dehumanization of people, death, injustice, and unrest), we are freed to recognize the humanity in our fellow brothers and sisters, to collectively mourn the devastation that has been caused, and to collectively build a better future that works for all of us.


Dr. Melissa Neal is a proud North Carolina native who endeavors to make a unique contribution to the world, through writing, relationships, and her work. Professionally, she is a public health expert who specializes in creating effective criminal justice systems and healthy communities. From establishing a nonprofit for justice-involved families in rural Tennessee to conducting national research and justice reform activity in Washington, D.C., she has long worked to improve the intersect between the criminal justice system and community health.

Dr. Neal obtained her doctorate in public health from East Tennessee State University. She currently works for Policy Research Associates, a national firm providing technical assistance to criminal justice and behavioral health systems. She is a commissioner on the North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities and is a member of the Race Matters for Juvenile Justice leadership collaborative. She and her husband, with their two dog rescues—Rufus and Greyson—live in Cornelius, NC.

Pardon This Intrusion: Frankenstein 200 Years Later

Leslie Klinger, editor of the New Annotated Frankenstein, discusses When Literature Becomes Myth: Celebrating 200 Years of Frankenstein at CPCC’s Sensoria Festival. Monday April 9 at 10:30 am, Central Campus, Tate Hall.  Free.


Two centuries after Frankenstein first appeared, we need to remember how eloquently the creature speaks. Not the monster who debuted on stage in 1823’s Presumption, or the Fate of Frankenstein, the one whose film history began with the 1910 one-reel Frankenstein from Thomas Edison. Hundreds of films, TV shows, stage plays, even musicals have followed them, from James Whale’s 1931 classic through Universal Studios’ upcoming remake of The Bride of Frankenstein. Granted, they have given us some of our most enduring cultural tropes: the mad scientist, the grunting monster, the torch-wielding mob. But they have drowned out a remarkable voice, one we need to hear now more than ever.

That voice belongs to the creature of Mary Shelley’s novel, published anonymously on January 1, 1818, and never out of print since. It is the voice of an articulate autodidact conceived by a girl a few months shy of her nineteenth birthday, motherless herself, displaced from family and proper society because of her elopement with a married rakish flake, creating what she later called her “hideous progeny” while holed up under rainy skies darkened by the global ash-cloud from Mt. Tambora’s eruption.

It is the outcast who faces Victor Frankenstein on the sea of ice and speaks the most moving words in the novel, the one who has by then found an abandoned book satchel containing the essential Romantic Era reading list and uses Paradise Lost to plead a case that convicts us all to this day. Speaking to his creation for the first time, Victor greets him as “Devil,” but the creature is far ahead of him: “I expected this reception. All men hate the wretched.” He proceeds to tell his wretched tale, beginning with the night Victor brought him to life and promptly abandoned him.

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel,” he says, and Paradise Lost informs his tale and underscores the novel’s indictment of society. Steeped as she was from childhood in the great intellectual tradition, Mary Shelley knew very well the key scenes in Paradise Lost: Adam coming to life in the sun-drenched Garden of Eden, able to open his mouth and name every creature which presented itself to him, Eve so enchanted with her beautiful reflection that she almost refused to leave it. By contrast, the creature describes waking to darkness and cold. When he tries to imitate the sounds of night birds, the “uncouth and inarticulate” sounds he makes frighten him into silence. In contrast to Eve, the creature sees his reflection only after he has been admiring the De Lacey family from his hiding place. He has come to appreciate beauty, and with that understanding has come the recognition of how hideously he has been made.

Even Satan had his fellow devils, but the creature has no one; worse than that, he has read the great Miltonic explanation of the chain of being and found himself utterly excluded. When the creature makes his attempt to be included, when he approaches blind father De Lacey, his first words to another human being are “Pardon this intrusion.” Of course, at this point De Lacey’s children return, immediately assume a monster is attacking their father, and chaos typical of the movies ensues.

From that moment until the creature meets Victor, the series of mishaps and misdeeds that follow lead him to confront Victor and make the argument that he should have his own Eve. “I am malicious because I am miserable,” he says. He lays the blame for that misery at the feet of Victor, who created him and fled; that blame also lies on the man who shot him after the creature had saved his daughter from drowning (a scene turned around horribly in the Whale film), on the villagers who drove him away with stones and sticks, even on Felix De Lacey for assuming instinctively that because he was hideous he was evil. Give me a mate, he asks, and we will go to the wilds of South America. There, as he has learned from his reading, he and his mate will find the better Eden in each other’s arms. Victor is moved by the argument, at least until the moment when he aborts his second creation and puts the novel’s tragic conclusion into motion.

Jill Lepore’s recent New Yorker article points out how the creature’s story resembles a slave narrative, connecting it to Mary Shelley’s reading about slave rebellions in Haiti and the West Indies and also to the life of Frederick Douglass. The comparison is apt with regard to both the extraordinary way Douglass obtained his education and to his struggle to assert the full humanity of people of color to a society which considered them savage children. Lepore points out that in James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein, the monster is lynched. I think it is even more telling that in Mary Shelley’s novel, the creature has internalized society’s condemnation and decides to immolate himself.

Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws, a parallel biography of Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft, makes a fascinating case that both were hampered and unappreciated by the men in their lives: as thinkers, as writers, as full equals to the supposedly progressive and revolutionary men with whom they were intimately associated. Through her creature, Mary Shelley also speaks out against patriarchy, certainly against how the Miltonic chain of being justified the prevailing political and economic hierarchy—and hierarchy within families—as God-ordained.  Though the creature measures himself against Adam and Satan, I see him as similar to Eve, sent to gather food while the angel Raphael warned Adam of Satan’s designs. Like the creature eavesdropping on the De Lacey family (the pun is unavoidable) Eve is forced to obtain knowledge only by subterfuge, then judged as fallen by those who did not deign to teach her.

Mary Shelley’s novel has serious flaws: improbable plot devices, overwrought and silly dialogue, and a neophyte author’s attempt to make it everything from moral fable to philosophical argument to travelogue. But it is intricately and artfully presented through narrative framed within narrative, and at its heart the creature speaks what he rightfully calls the most moving part of the tale.

Today, even if the mob is carrying tiki torches or the stones are cast on-line, the creature still confronts us on behalf of anyone who is labelled Other, who is blamed, exploited, excluded or forced to assert that his or her life matters. Read the novel, or read it again, through the lens of the 21st century. Heed the voice of the creature.


Gastonia poet and writer David E. Poston taught for thirty years in public school, at UNC-Charlotte, and at Charlotte’s Young Writers’ Workshop. His work has appeared in journals and anthologies such as Broad River Review, English Journal, Pedestal, The Cape Rock, The Southern Poetry Anthology: North Carolina, and Kakalak. His poetry collections are My Father Reading Greek, Postmodern Bourgeois Poetaster Blues, and Slow of Study. He served on the steering committee for Charlotte Lit’s Carson McCullers centennial celebration in 2017 and currently serves on the boards of the Friends of the Gaston County Public Library, Gaston Literacy Council, and Charlotte Writers’ Club. He teaches writing workshops for Hospice and other venues and will talk about Frankenstein or Paradise Lost to any group that will listen.

How to be Kind to Your Reader: Some Thoughts on George Saunders

George Saunders is big on kindness. When I read the convocation speech he gave at Syracuse University, which is now available to us in a book, Congratulations, By The Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness, which I highly recommend, it got me wondering: if you write fiction, as Saunders does beautifully, is there such a thing as being kind to your reader?

I happen to believe that there is. Kindness begins with respect, human being to human being. The writer of fiction should assume that the reader is an intellectual equal. Now, I know George Saunders knows more than I do, and when I read his Lincoln in the Bardo, I relished the challenge of keeping up. This masterpiece of a novel, about souls in a literal or figurative state of transition, tells the story—from a wildly original point of view—of Abraham Lincoln in the hours surrounding his beloved 11-year-old son Willie’s death from typhoid fever. Even though I wandered through some pages, disoriented as a blind squirrel looking for a nut, I trusted that Saunders would lead me to the light.

No one likes to be talked down to or treated with condescension. I used to tell my high-school English students, “In a three-page paper, you only need to say it one time. I know I’m old, but my memory is still intact. You don’t need to restate your thesis in the conclusion. Use that space and opportunity to tell me something related to your topic that I may not know.” Saunders taught me a lot, not only about American history, but also about tone and characterization and pacing and structure. Fiction writers are teachers, too. I choose to read writers whose ability level is far beyond mine so that I might learn from them.

Kind writers allow the love for their craft to show. When I read Saunders, I’m reminded of my ninth-grade geometry teacher who could not hide her admiration for the beauty of a geometrical proof. Her voice would change; her eyes would shine. I witness that same kind of joy in Lincoln in the Bardo. Imagine Saunders’ delight when he discovered that, in 1861, the President received a letter that read, “Mr. Abe Lincoln, you don’t Resign, we are going to put a spider in your dumpling….” (There’s more to that letter that made my mouth fall open in horror; see page 233 for details.) As I read these words a second time, I can almost see Saunders hopping out of his desk chair and jumping around like he’d won the lottery. Ali Smith is another awe-inspiring contemporary fiction writer easy to catch in the act of joy; her novel How to be Both is as inventive and challenging as Lincoln in the Bardo. I don’t know if Smith and Saunders have met, but I believe they’d become the fastest of friends.

A kind fiction writer embraces economy of language. One of the mantras of the editor and publisher should be, “No self-indulgence allowed.” A writer flaunting his flair with intricate similes or veering off on an unrelated tangent reveals a selfishness, not to mention a startling lack of awareness, that someone other than he will be reading the words. With their enlarged empathy genes, kind writers know better than anyone that there are plenty of other A+ novels their readers could have chosen instead. “Kindness, it turns out, is hard,” Saunders told the student body at Syracuse, where he teaches creative writing—also hard if done well, and worth all the precious time and emotional energy and sleepless nights when one reader says, “Those words on that page: I am pretty sure that you wrote them just for me.”


Jenny Hubbard lives in the town of her childhood (Salisbury, NC) and works at the public library where she first learned to read. Her two novels, Paper Covers Rock and And We Stay (Delacorte Press, Penguin Random House), feature teenage protagonists who come to rely on poetry as a way to order the chaos. An English teacher for seventeen years, Jenny believes she learned more from her students than they ever learned from her. She is currently under the tutelage of her rescue dog, Oliver.

Read to Understand: CML’s Black Lives Matter Reading List

When I arrive on the second floor of Charlotte’s Main Library, I notice the usual activity. Two librarians seated behind the reference desk, ready to answer questions. A couple of individuals shuffling through the bookshelves. A cluster of people seated at computer work stations.

But there is also the sound of a soft quiet here—not silence, but quiet. The type of quiet I think floods a place where people have respect for the many ideas percolating in the presence of so much information.

I take in these observations in a quick sweep of the room. Then words in the corner of my eye pull my gaze to the space near the elevator. “Unrest,” “K(no)w Justice, K(no)w Peace,” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” read the signs hanging on the wall. Interspersed with the words and phrases are black and white drawings of Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland. Just above each of their names are the words, “Justice For.”

One sign frames the familiar phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” and rises above a book display. I pause and I stare. I stare at the words on the wall and the drawings of people no longer alive. I read their names in a hushed voice, barely above a whisper. Then I walk around the book display, nodding at titles I’ve already read, like Men We Reaped and The Fire This Time, and also noting the many books I don’t know.

Enlarged, photocopied book covers form a column at the edge of the wall. Recommended reading for those wondering where to start. Yellow call-out bubbles explain who might want to read each book suggestion.

“Feel defensive?” says the first call-out bubble. Then read What Does It Mean to be White by Robin DiAngelo.

“Think racism is a thing of the past?” Then read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“Think you are ‘color blind’?” Then read Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum.

“Think anyone can get ahead if they work hard enough?” Then read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

Last autumn Angel Truesdale and her co-workers curated this display and created a reading list in response to the one-year anniversary of Keith Lamont Scott’s death—and also to support the new exhibit at the Levine Museum entitled, K(no)w Justice, K(no)w Peace. The library will keep the display up until the end of February. However, the suggested reading list is online now and will remain available.

The presence of this book display in the Main Library sends a powerful message to our community that these issues are important and we must engage. These voices and these stories matter, and we must not turn away despite the possibility of missteps and pain. If we want to seek authentic, genuine healing in our broken society, then we must understand the places our society came from and how those places gave birth to where we are today.

I am a black woman who often writes about the topic of race. When I look at this library display and read the suggested list, I experience a thrill at knowing I add my words to the words of many.

These curated books and other materials offer invitations to all of us. For some, these are invitations to find affirmation that people are using their voices to tell our stories. For others, these are invitations to discover another experience. In the act of accepting these invitations, we open ourselves up to the possibility of reimagining the future.

I again read the words taped to the wall. I look at the drawings of people who should still be alive. I touch the spines of books. The soft library-grade quiet present in the room allows me a moment of reverence as I stand before these books and this wall.

And I think this display whispers to me, “Your life matters.”


Patrice Gopo is a 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellow, and her essay collection about race, immigration and belonging will release this summer. Please visit patricegopo.com to read more of her work and sign up for updates about her book.

Park Road Books’ Best Books of 2017

Whether you’re looking to curl up with a good book or still need to round out your gift list, there’s no better source for book recommendations than from the people who sell them all year long. The booksellers from Park Road Books, Charlotte’s independent book store, share their 2017 favorites with us here.

From James: 

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash. This historically accurate account of the Loray Mill Strike in 1929 Gastonia features an indomitable heroine who takes on mill owners, abusive bosses, and corrupt police officers while trying to provide for her family. A beautifully written book that will open the most hardened heart.

The Driver by Hart Hanson. A thriller set in modern LA where a veteran with PTSD  named Skellig opens a limousine service and hires other vets suffering their own wounds from battle. A millionaire skateboarder, Bismark Avilla, recruits Skellig to drive him around, a task made more difficult by the people trying to kill Avilla. Great pacing in this first novel from the creator of the TV series “Bones.”

Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by Karen L. Cox. UNCC history professor Karen Cox deftly describes one of the most famous murders of 1929 and its cover-up that takes place in Natchez, Mississippi.

From Shauna:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This National Book Award finalist inspired by Black Lives Matter is a must-read for all. With nuanced discussions on race and a relevant storyline with relatable characters for a YA audience, Angie Thomas’ debut has earned its spot on the #1 NYT Bestseller’s list.

Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. A dark, bloody, vicious short story collection perfect for women who are completely fed up. This collection features a multitude of queer women characters, an overtly feminist message, and stories that are both brand new and familiar, like a dream you cannot quite recall.

From Chris:

The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay. A kaleidoscopic mix of history, religion, mysticism, and good old-fashioned page-turning suspense that creatively uses historical fiction to challenge readers to see the underlying connections that shape their world. Manages the intricate feat of telling three stories that are all equally compelling in their own unique ways. Should be a great read for anybody who enjoyed David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. One of the most unabashedly fun reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. A great nostalgic love letter to the stories of yesteryear that simultaneously pays tribute to modern America’s pop cultural landscape while building a wholly original tale of madness, adventure, love, and the costs of growing up. Alternately hilarious, horrifying and heartwarming.

From Trudy:

The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family’s Quest to Bring Him Home by Sally Mott Freeman. Remarkable story of a family of three brothers during WWII. Their love, courage, and the will to survive makes it a fantastic read.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy. Skillful women outwitting the Japanese by code breaking during WWII. Well researched and beautifully written.

From Sally:

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. Fascinating historical fiction that recalls the best noir thrillers, Egan does not disappoint with her account of a young girl, her father, and a gangster in Manhattan between the Depression and WWII.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. After oil was discovered on their land, the Osage Indians in the 1920’s were some of the richest people in America. One by one they were murdered and after the death toll reached 24, local officials turned to the newly formed FBI for help. A riveting work of non-fiction that keeps you turning pages long after you should be asleep!

Righteous (hardcover) and IQ (paperback) by Joe Ide. Joe Ide is my new idol. He writes about a young African-American growing up in one of South LA’s toughest neighborhoods who solves crimes the police won’t touch. Sherlock Holmes would be proud!


Located in the Park Road Shopping Center, Park Road Books has been independently owned and operated for 40 years, and today is the only independent bookstore in Charlotte carrying only new books. Winner of Creative Loafing’s Best of the Best awards on a yearly basis, Park Road Books hosts author events and local bookclubs.