The weather outside is turning frightful, which makes going outside less than delightful. So, stay inside and read a good book. Here are five inspired ideas for your next read, all with ties to West Virginia.
If you’re that nebby neighbor who loves learning everything about everyone, try … a good ol’ Appalachian memoir.
Coalwood born-and-bred author Homer Hickam is perhaps most known for his best-selling 1998 memoir Rocket Boys, which inspired the film October Sky. (Even if you watched the movie, you’ll want to read the book, we promise.) In Rocket Boys, Hickam tells the tale of his boyhood dreams to become a rocket scientist in a coal-mining town. In case you’ve already read it, Hickam also has three other books about Coalwood.
For an insightful non-native perspective on the state, check out Nancy L. Abrams’ The Climb from Salt Lick: A Memoir of Appalachia. In the mid-1970s, the Midwestern gal packed up her car and headed to a summer internship at The Preston County News. That one summer turned into a decade as the photojournalist traversed the rural wonders of West Virginia, focusing her lens on the local issues of the ’70s and ’80s.
If you’re the type of person who never fails to take vitamins—but prefers the gummy ones shaped like cartoon characters, try … a historical fiction book.
Sometimes learning about true events is more enjoyable if it has a few dashes of fiction sprinkled in. That said, don’t look to Denise Giardina’s Storming Heaven for a sweet, sugar-coated read. It may be a fictionalized account of coal miners’ labor woes in the early 20th century, but it’s very much real in its raw, heart-wrenching emotion.
If you can spin a good yarn and like when others do too, try … a fiction novel.
Combine beautifully flawed characters, a dark sense of mystery, and a healthy pinch of Appalachia, and you get Their Houses, written by West Virginia-born Meredith Sue Willis. Through lyrical prose, Willis tells a story of three adults whose troubled childhoods lead them to search for stability in different ways. The narrative takes several twists and turns until its stunning grand finale.
For a more internationally flavored tale, check out Rajia Hassib’s new novel A Pure Heart. This captivating story focuses on two Muslim sisters and the decisions they make, which all pivot around a single tragic event. Hassib’s writing is filled with beautiful descriptions of Egypt, New York City, and, yes, even a little West Virginia. Hassib herself grew up in Egypt before moving to the United States, and she currently lives in the Mountain State. (We’ll be writing more about this book in the winter issue of WV Living. Stay tuned!)
If you ask for fifty tiny-spoon samples before deciding on an ice cream flavor, try … a collection of short stories or essays.
Ann Pancake’s Appalachian roots shine through the tales in Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley: Novellas and Stories. Some are gritty coming-of-ages. Others are touching slices of life. All are tastefully crafted.
Pancake’s writing is also included in Mountains Upon Mountains: Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene. Even the pickiest reader is sure to find a chapter they’ll enjoy—nearly 50 writers contributed to this collection. Together, the pieces bring to light both the beauty and tragedy of our current human–nature relationship.
If you’re a busy parent whose bookshelf looks more Dr. Seuss than New York Times best-seller list, try … an easy-reading series the kiddos will love.
West Virginia-born Cynthia Rylant has written more than a hundred children’s books. Her series Henry and Mudge follows a boy and his beloved, very big dog as they learn about life and loyalty. If the little ones enjoy the adorable duo, they’re in luck—there are 28 books. If they’re more into cats, Rylant also writes Mr. Putter and Tabby about an elderly man and his charming feline.
Didn’t see a book that strikes your fancy? There are so many good ones out there that we had trouble picking just a few to mention. Visit your local library to find tons of books for free. Or write your own!