When planning your trip to the South, it’s important to research where you’re going. So we’ve compiled a list of the best books about North Carolina and by North Carolina authors to help you prepare. No matter whether you’re a resident looking to learn more about your home state or a first timer curious about the history, these books are sure to help you enjoy it more. Note that this post does contain affiliate links, but will not add any additional fees to your purchases.
Books by North Carolina Authors
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Later turned into a movie starring Nicole Kidman, Cold Mountain tells of Inman, a wounded Confederate deserter who tries to get home to Ada, the woman he loves, in the rural community in the Appalachians. He wakes in a hospital in Raleigh while Ada struggles to keep the farm afloat after the death of her father. She takes in Ruby, a homeless woman, while Inman escapes the Home Guard, who track down deserters. Frazier was inspired by his home state, especially the area around Asheville and the High Country.
Serena by Ron Rash
Set in the late 1920s, passionate newlyweds George and Serena travel from Boston to North Carolina to start a timber empire. Although a young bride, the book’s namesake Serena quickly sets herself apart in the male-dominated lumber camp. She kills rattlesnakes, masters falconry, and stands up to anyone threatening the business. Soon the veneer of control starts to fade from Serena’s person. Upon learning she cannot bear children she sets off to kill her husband’s illegitimate child and heir. Her downward spiral and its repercussions propel the reader towards the novel’s unflinching climax.
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
North Carolina literary legend Thomas Wolfe makes a name for himself in his semi-autobiographical freshmen novel Look Homeward, Angel. Set in fictional Altamont, Catawba (modeled after Wolfe’s hometown of Asheville) the novel follows the maturation of the sensitive and intelligent Eugene Gant. Following Gant from his small town upbringing through college and beyond, Wolfe’s version of the “coming of age” tale resonates with small town survivors and vagabonds alike.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Set in two parts, Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of short stories accentuates Sedaris’ gift for cynical humor. Part One includes snapshots from Sedaris’ childhood in suburban Raleigh as well as the derisive recounting of his time in New York City . Part Two revolves around his struggle to live in France without speaking French. The entire collection is considered by many readers to be one of the funniest books of all time.
Fiction Set in North Carolina
Nights in Rodanthe, Nicholas Sparks
Fleeing from personal pain and disappointments, divorcees Paul and Adrienne’s paths collide while sheltering in an inn during a severe storm. Confidence leads to love and passion in this story set in the rugged landscape of the Outer Banks. In true Nicholas Sparks fashion, Nights in Rodanthe is a tearjerker but readers will be reassured that although duty may rule the day, love can be found in even the bleakest of situations.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Another book set in the wilds of the Carolina coast, Where to Crawdads Sing centers around “Marsh Girl” Kya who makes her home alone in the dunes of 1960s Barkley Cove. Both wild and mysterious, Kya begins to fascinate and attract young men from town. All seems well until local heartthrob Chase Andrews winds up dead and outsider Kya becomes the main suspect. Owens’ background as a wildlife scientists lends to the artful treatment of the remote marsh and its residents in her first novel. Part mystery part romance, this novel has fans such as Southern sweetie Reese Witherspoon.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
The sixth entry to the widely read Outlander series, readers find Scotsman Jaime Fraser and his time-traveling wife Claire attempting to live peacefully in the North Carolina foothills. With knowledge from the 20th century, the couple struggles to navigate the oncoming American Revolution alongside their loyalty to the Crown. With painstaking attention to history and detail, Gabaldon ensures readers the satisfaction of a continued glimpse into the complicated and passionate lives of the Frasers.
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
In the first of her popular series, At Home in Mitford , Jan Karon introduces readers to the lovable but lonely Father Tim. The novel’s wholesome but enjoyable characters and antics are grounded in the fictional town of Mitford, inspired by picturesque Blowing Rock, NC. With fourteen books in this spiritually minded series, fans can look forward to continued amusement at the quirks and foibles that make small town life so fulfilling.
Non-fiction About North Carolina
The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan
Richard Morris Hunt’s architecture and Frederick Law Olmstead’s gardens combine to be the elaborate Biltmore estate, America’s largest private home. What the designers and builders could have never imagined was the sweeping stories contained within this prodigious chateau. Kiernan’s meticulously researched book The Last Castle highlights George and Edith Vanderbilt’s parties, guests, struggles, and successes all held within the monumental walls of the Biltmore.
Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina by
Music fans should pick up a copy of Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina: A Guide to Music Sites, Artists, and Traditions of the Mountains and Foothills, the quintessential guide to Old Time and bluegrass history in the state. This guide to the state’s traditional music is organized county by county and includes venues, musician profiles and interviews. The newest version also includes a 26 track CD filled with classics from the mountains to the foothills.
Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue by
North Carolina is considered to be ground zero for Southern barbecue and Holy Smoke dives into the history of this type of meat. With stories of the intense rivalry between Eastern and Piedmont sauces, carnivores of all styles will enjoy this book. Written less as a guide and more as an ode to the beloved food, this book includes recipes, relevant resources and the stories of real connoisseurs.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
In his New York Times bestseller The Wright Brothers, McCullough tells the story of the First Flight at Kitty Hawk. Money, education and the threat to life and limb wouldn’t prevent the determined Orville and Wilbur from accomplishing the seemingly insurmountable task ahead. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian McCullough draws on letters, diaries, and scrapbooks to introduce readers to the men behind the “first flight” and the childhood that led to that fateful day in the Outer Banks.
Guidebooks on North Carolina
Moon North Carolina by Jason Frye
Moon guides are known for their exceptional content and Frye’s North Carolina entry is no exception. Regional highlights and flexible itineraries in Moon North Carolina are full of enjoyable outdoor pursuits, foodie finds, or quaint getaways. This guide is the first stop for expert and honest advice on traveling throughout North Carolina.
Backroads of North Carolina by Kevin Adams
Praised for its beautiful photos and illustrations, Adams’ guide takes travelers along the majestic “backroads” of the state. Backroads of North Carolina is broken into regions and provides maps and directions to assist the reader in finding the hidden gems sprinkled across all corners of North Carolina.
Tar Heel Traveler: New Journeys Across North Carolina by Scott Mason
Written by the adored Raleigh area travel reporter, Tar Heel Traveler is a compilation of Mason’s humorous anecdotes from his travels across the state. Readers are immersed in the colorful cast of characters and circumstances encountered. This updated version includes profiles of Mason’s enjoyable television spots alongside new original content.
North Carolina Adventure Weekends by Jessie Johnson and Matt Schneider
Residents and visitors alike know the unending opportunities for outdoor pursuits to be found in North Carolina. North Carolina Adventure Weekends is a “choose your own adventure” guide perfect for any adventure. The authors highlight twelve distinct trips that boast biking, hiking, camping, climbing, and/or boating pursuits. With attention to detail, recommendations include where to stay, where to grab some post crag drinks, and where to stock up with power bars before you hit the trail.
We can’t leave out our own book, This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States, which has a whole chapter on North Carolina. Purchase your copy today!