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Catching up with ‘Uncle Jack’

His funny Outer Banks book publishes during the quarantine, with no stores to sell it, but he remains sanquine

UNCLE JACK’S OUTER BANKS captures three decades-plus of Jack Sandberg’s entertaining writing, enhanced by OBX cartoonists.

For Jack Sandberg, as for everyone else, the coronavirus and its accompanying quarantine have changed everything.

Fortunately “Uncle Jack” has a sense of humor about everything.

Sandberg is the humorist who came to define North Carolina’s beloved Outer Banks, writing for two now-defunct newspapers in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. His writing was funny, yes, but savvy, too, as more than one critic noted approvingly. He loved the OBX, but “Uncle Jack” was keenly aware that the strand of islands faced pressure from tourists, developers and real estate agents, and, of course, Mother Nature. So he shared his love with a wink and a grin.

Leaving the OBX

Sue and Jack Sandberg. (Photo courtesy the Sandbergs)

This past July, Sandberg and his wife Sue left their home in South Nags Head, moving to Maryland. For Jack, a former college professor, the departure came after 40 years as a writer and art gallery owner on the OBX. The move allowed the couple to be nearer family and medical care.

Fortunately for us, the good work of “Uncle Jack” survives in a hardcover book published today, Uncle Jack’s Outer Banks. It is a gem that — disclaimer here — I was fortunate to have a hand in, even writing an introduction that tried to explain Jack’s importance (and style of humor) to those who might not understand. A number of cartoonists have their works included, too, most created specifically to be alongside Jack, some from small earlier editions of his work, now long out of print.

Ordinarily, today would mark an explosive debut of Jack’s new book in perhaps 50 OBX bookstores and gift shops. The shops, of course, are all closed to visitors. So, too, is the Outer Banks.

So instead the $16 hardcover book is launching online, at the Beach Glass Books site and at usual sellers like Barnes & Noble, indiebound.org and Amazon. eBook versions are on sites like B&N, Amazon, and Kobo.

Life during the coronavirus

I shot Jack an email to update him and he quickly responded:

“Hi Ray.  Thanks for the good news about publication even though it is tempered by all the bad news about distribution at this point in time.  This too will pass, as the philosopher (or was it the quarterback) said, and I share your prognostication that it will sell steadily down the line.  You have certainly made it look and sound like something worth buying.  Every coffee table on the O.B. should have one for sure. I will surely devote  time to soliciting reviews from all the folks I sent copies to over the next few days and I’m quite sure that some of them at least will respond.”

Jack in May 2019 at South Nags Head, shortly before leaving the Outer Banks after 40 years. (Photograph by Vicki McAllister)

As you can see, Jack’s not sweating any of this.

But just exactly what IS he doing these days?

He responded:

“We are continuing to maintain an extreme hunkered-down position in our little house in the woods.  Now that the weather has warmed up enough for us to sit outside most of the time, we have been entertained by the springing of spring in all of its delightful manifestations:  buds and flowers popping out all over, birds of all kinds returning and tearing around, grass turning vivid green and the sound of the lawnmower is heard in the land once again. 

“I give the newspapers five minutes a day and then spend the rest of the day with Robert Caro’s four-volume biography of LBJ.  Fascinating reading but I’m sorry to say that … we have picked some very strange people to be our presidents and he was one of them.

“Thanks again for all your efforts on behalf of Uncle Jack.  Stay healthy and keep in touch.  Cheers, Jack.”

Until the next time

I shall indeed keep in touch, Jack. I hope you do as well, and you stay healthy, too. I’m sure your many fans join me in wishing that.

In the meantime, I just may reread your book.

Ray McAllister, former columnist of The Richmond Times-Dispatch and former editor of Boomer Magazine, is the award-winning author of six books, including four on North Carolina’s islands. Through Beach Glass Books, he is also the publisher of nine books by other authors.