Reviews of Ted Koppel's "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public" and Josephine Humphries' "Nowhere Else on Earth" 

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Koppel goes Public
Ted Koppel's "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public" (Knopf, $25) is a journal the author kept in 1999. Some of the entries concern momentous events. Others focus on life's minor vicissitudes. The whole makes for fascinating reading.

Koppel, who has worked for ABC news for 37 years and has anchored "Nightline" since 1980, is unusual among television journalists: He is a literate man with the vocabulary to express himself precisely. In short, he knows how to write well.

For example, on Feb. 5 he wrote from his home in Potomac about the price of gasoline in the U.S. as compared to Europe: "This economic bubble of ours is going to burst one of these days. That's the easy prediction. The tougher truth to remember ... will be the notion that good times are also a part of that endlessly repetitive cycle."

On May 9, from his vacation home in Captiva, he wrote about the Vannatizing of America, noting that what makes TV's Vanna White so popular is that she never expresses an opinion. "George W. Bush seems to have studied at Vanna's knee, which may account for his overwhelming lead in the GOP sweepstakes these days. I wonder if he can keep it up until he is elected president."

That's the sort of thing Koppel would never say on the air, and that's what makes "Off Camera" appealing.

Another example of the forthright nature of the book comes in an entry for Sept. 19. Koppel is writing "en route to Pittsburgh" about a recent chance meeting with Muhammad Ali during which Koppel had told Ali he was "a great symbol of moral strength. " Koppel wasn't certain he heard Ali's reply correctly: "I asked him to repeat it. The eyes were still twinkling, but I am sure I heard the same phrase three times: 'Still just a n---er,' he said."

Koppel found keeping a journal "a useful discipline." His readers will find his musings to be surprising, wise and full of an opinionated wit the author evidently struggles to keep under control in his day job.

— Don Dale

Love in Scuffletown
Josephine Humphries' latest novel, "Nowhere Else On Earth," (Viking, $24.95) is a good solid read for those who like historical, romantic fiction. Humphries begins her story in 1864 in an isolated pocket of southeastern North Carolina populated by Lumbee Indians. Largely ignored or shunned by other North Carolinians, both black and white, the Lumbees thrive in their own well-organized, self-sufficient society. Their settlement in the swamps surrounding the Lumbee River is known as Scuffletown, although it does not appear on any map. As the Civil War drags on, and North and South become desperate for manpower and supplies, the outside world begins to intrude and destroy the peaceful life of Scuffletown.

Humphries' narrator is young Rhoda Strong, daughter of a proud Lumbee mother and misfit Scotsman. Rhoda is fierce, stubborn and intelligent. When the young Scuffletown men begin hiding out in the swamps to avoid capture for forced labor by the flagging Southern army, her two brothers go along. At first bitterly resentful of the charismatic leader of the outlaws, Henry Lowrie, Rhoda quickly discovers that he is her soul mate. She marries him and becomes his partner and is known to all as the "Queen of Scuffletown." Their life together is difficult and often tragic. Through it all, Rhoda survives and remembers.

This novel is not another "Cold Mountain," for it lacks the depth and moral dimension of Charles Frazier's award-winning novel. But it is an enjoyable and well-told tale, perfect for reading in front of the fire on a chilly fall night.

— Mary Lloyd Parks

Recommended: Writer George Garrett, who has written three novels about the Tudor period in English history, including one about Sir Walter Ralegh, recommends "Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado" by Marc Aronson (Houghton Mifflin, $20). "Although intended and marketed for a young adult audience, it is, in fact, a good read and the product of the latest research," he says.


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