American Culture

ArtSunday: What to see, where it is, how to get there…

Cover, Lighthouses of the Carolinas, 2nd ed. (courtesy,

The review for my most recent  completed book from the 2013 reading list has been giving me fits. I finished this book several days ago – but it’s not, as my wife Lea commented, the sort of book one generally reads straight through. But I did, so here I am.

In a typically whimsical moment, I put a guidebook on my reading list. Lighthouses of the Carolinas by Terrance Zepke is one of those books travelers buy to help them find and learn about certain “sites to see” (in this case, lighthouses of note in NC and SC).

Like any good guidebook, Lighthouses of the Carolinas gives some brief historical information  about each lighthouse or “light station” (a term used for less permanent structures that either supplemented or stood in for a lighthouse at various points in this region’s maritime history). It also gives directions for reaching each point of interest (as well as explaining which of these various lighthouses or stations simply can’t be viewed (either because they are out to sea as some light stations are) or because they are on private property (as most, it seems, of SC’s lighthouses are, thanks to corporate control of one sort or another).

Some of the lighthouses have colorful histories and some are world renowned either in the maritime history of lighthouses (Hatteras in NC, the nation’s tallest light) or in pop culture (Harbour Town, a developer-built addition to the Harbour Town Links golf course, home to a PGA tournament each year but a functioning lighthouse, nonetheless). As with all guidebooks, there are long lists of “other points of interest,” contact information for chambers of commerce and other sources of information, and the occasional sidebar featuring a historical anecdote, local folklore, or a brief biography of, for example, a noted lighthouse keeper.

And that’s pretty much it. There’s not much to say about the writing – it’s functional and occasionally the author musters a tad of enthusiasm for some sight that shouldn’t be missed or bit of trivia – but this is a guidebook. It’s function is to tell the reader what to see, where it is, and how to get there.

And so it does.

(I should note that I read the first edition of this book. The 2nd edition seems to edit out some places, especially those lighthouses/stations “difficult or impossible to see.” That seems a shame, since they were often quite interesting historically. But this is a guidebook – and I guess you can’t guide people to places they can’t get to, now can you? Oh, and she’s demoted Harbour Town from the SC list of lighthouses. But it was pretty Disney anyway, so maybe she went for a kind of authenticity. Or maybe lighthouse buffs complained about its inclusion. Oh, the politics of guidebook writing….)

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