However, there are two books that I will periodically pull off the shelf and dive right into. (Well, three, if you count The Good Book.) I consider these two books to be my all-time favorites; they never get old.
One is Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline. I first read it in college, which is the perfect time for a book that explores a young man's experiences at that same age. (It's also nice to be reading it while not in college at a military academy.) I could relate to the protagonist, despite the many differences between my life and his. But there is just something magical about this book; it doesn't hurt that Charleston is a quite magical place in and of itself.
I also have very little in common with the protagonist of my other favorite book, the late Tim McLaurin's Keeper of the Moon. Actually, the protagonist is McLaurin himself, as Keeper is a memoir, a look at "A Southern Boyhood." I'm sure I'm biased about this book; McLaurin was a teacher of mine at State. (I can't call him a "professor" as that sounds a bit too pretentious for a guy who was a soda truck driver; a Marine; a Peace Corps volunteer; a snake handler; and a carnie.)
Still, I've yet to find a book that paints the perfect Eastern North Carolina picture as Keeper does. I may not have lived the hardscrabble life that the McLaurin clan did, but I can sure feel the hard dirt beneath my feet, or smell the honeysuckle, or taste the raw milk straight from the cow while reading this fantastic story.
One passage, in particular, always stands out to me. It's from the beginning of the book, as McLaurin is describing a typical Southern summer. The page is marked in my copy of Keeper of the Moon so that I can always return; returning to this page, in some strange way, returns me to my own childhood.
If indeed there exists a physical heaven, I hope it is patterned after North Carolina between the summer hours of six and eight a.m. The haunting call of doves, leaves jeweled with dew, the glint of sun in oak branches, robins and roosters in duet, fog -- something eternal exists in those minutes that a person carries in memory for life.
(Photo of McLaurin from the Independent Weekly)