This past summer I had an obsession. I found myself completely absorbed in a three books – two that took place in the Triad, and one that was written by someone who grew up in the Triad. None of the books relate to one another, yet I became fascinated by the history and scandal, as well as the background and experiences of the one Triad author.
You may remember this post I ran last June. The three books I’ve since read – and became obsessed with – were The Gilded Leaf by Patrick Reynolds, Bitter Blood by Jerry Bledsoe, and Proof of Heaven by Triad native Eben Alexander. If you’re looking for some good books to curl up with this winter, I highly recommend these reads.
The Gilded Leaf is written by Patrick Reynolds, the son of RJ Reynolds, Jr. I first heard of this book when I moved to the Triad nearly 10 years ago by friends who had grown up in and around Winston-Salem. The book was getting passed around from friend to friend, and they couldn’t put it down…so I finally gave it a try. For those of you who are not history buffs, you might think this book starts out slow or reads like a textbook with all its details, dates and business jargon – but I found it compelling from start to finish.
Patrick Reynolds takes you through three generations of his family, starting with his great grandfather (RJ Reynolds, Sr’s father) who essentially started the family’s tobacco fortune in Virginia, and all the way through the scandalous details of his father’s (RJR, Jr) life and mysterious death – as well as the tragic life and death of another Reynolds family member. As you read the book, you’ll recognize local landmarks and streets that have been named after some of the most remote characters in the book. I found myself driving around town looking for buildings and sites mentioned in the book (which have since been torn down or rebuilt) and I took another tour of the Reynolda House (always highly recommended!) with a whole new perspective.
I also learned that some of the details in the book have been contested, and there is another book that provides similar accounts – Kid Carolina. My husband and a friend read and enjoyed Kid Carolina this summer- and they say it’s a quicker read than The Gilded Leaf – but just as juicy. If you’re looking for a compelling read this winter, I say pick up one of these two local sagas!
Bitter Blood was another page-turner for me. This book, while true and written very cut and dry, read almost like a fiction novel. It was a train wreck that I could not peel my eyes away from. Another family saga, this book ties together three families (including one with ties to Greensboro and Winston-Salem) in two different but related murder plots. The story line is so scandalous that it actually became a Lifetime movie!
If you grew up in the Triad, I’m sure you are familiar with the storyline. One of the main characters of the book is a Wake Forest grad, one was a well-known doctor (in Durham), and another was the first female Chief Justice in NC – all related and intertwined in the conspiracy. My friend’s mom remembers the final scene of this horrifically tragic story played out on the streets of Greensboro in the ‘80s – and she said it was as sensational as the OJ Simpson car chase was in the ‘90s.
This book is not for the faint-of-heart as there are several disturbing scenes that are detailed in the book, as well as a bitter and sad custody battle. Once again this past summer, I found myself searching out the location of one of these shocking scenes, and I’m still spooked by it. When you finish this book, you’ll understand how many theories and scenes in the story were never proven as fact. However, I could not put this book down and, in my mind, the author proves his case.
The third book I read – with ties to the Triad – is one that I think about constantly.Proof of Heaven is about a near-death experience. I know there have been a million books written on this topic – and honestly I never thought I would have an interest – but the author is a trained neurosurgeon who offers a clinic perspective – and one that I have a hard time disbelieving. The author, Eben Alexander, grew up in Winston-Salem and his dad was the chief neurosurgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center – two more facts that pulled me into the book right away.
I don’t want to give the story away, but in a nutshell Dr. Alexander suffers from a rare illness, he falls into a coma, has a near-death experience, and then an unexplained miraculous recovery. But before this happened, the author (because of his medical training) did not believe in God, Heaven or the existence of a soul. His experience afterward changed his beliefs, and there is a twist in the book that – to me – cannot dispute the life-after-death argument. There is just no other explanation.
I almost felt guilty after reading this book, as if I learned something that I was not supposed to know. And like I said, I think about this story constantly. It’s not an easy book to read because the author uses a lot of scientific descriptions to explain what was happening in his brain, but it was another book I could not put down.
Have you read any of these books? If so, do you take them to word or do you think the stories have been embellished? And if you’ve haven’t read them, have I convinced you to add them to your winter reading lists?