The best books that transport readers to the Appalachian Mountains

Why am I passionate about this?

I live in the southern Appalachians, a place that boasts some of the most beautiful views on earth and laments some of the most ravaged landscapes. As a fiction writer who is passionate about nature and human rights, I’ve taken up my pen to craft a novel with regular people at its heart, all living regular lives that are disrupted by tragedies all too common to the region. This is the general throughline in the books I am recommending, although the themes differ. I’ve offered a variety of genres, as well, which best reflects my own bookshelf at my home in the hills. 

I wrote...

In Circling Flight

By Jane Harrington,

Book cover of In Circling Flight

What is my book about?

In this contemporary novel set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southern Appalachia, the lives of two young women are knit together when one is left alone on a farm after the sudden loss of her partner and the other is displaced by mountaintop removal coal mining. An embedded historical plot line follows the exodus of ancestors from Ireland during the Great Hunger to their settling in the Blue Ridge, a tale of oppression and migration that mirrors the current circumstances. In Circling Flight is as much a story of love and loss of the human kind as it is a treatise to the elemental relationship between people and their land.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Strange as This Weather Has Been

Jane Harrington Why did I love this book?

This is the novel I can only wish I had written. Pancake’s expansive story of a family in a desperate struggle to save their homes and hollows from the ravages of mountaintop removal mining gives voice to modern-day Appalachians in the same way The Grapes of Wrath spoke for the displaced farmers of the Dustbowl era. (As one who loves Steinbeck’s epic, I don’t make this connection lightly!) Another heartrending masterwork that I couldn’t stop thinking about as I read this book is Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible because of its centering on motherhood, its similar structure, and its ability to pull the reader into the lives of the characters. This is storytelling at its best. I couldn’t put it down. 

By Ann Pancake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Strange as This Weather Has Been as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A West Virginia family struggles amid the booms and busts of the Appalachian coal industry in this “powerful, sure-footed, and haunting” environmental novel from an author with echoes of John Steinbeck (The New York Times Book Review)

Set in present day West Virginia, this debut novel tells the story of a coal mining family—a couple and their four children—living through the latest mining boom and dealing with the mountaintop removal and strip mining that is ruining what is left of their hometown. As the mine turns the mountains “to slag and wastewater,” workers struggle with layoffs and children find adventure…

Book cover of Call It Horses

Jane Harrington Why did I love this book?

I loved reading this novel first and foremost for its exquisite craftswomanship; van Eerden just writes beautiful sentences. Her descriptions are palpable, delivering the reader to a hollow and its people—all characters who remain intricately bound to their homeplaces no matter how far away they travel. Like my own novel, this story revolves around women and also includes an LGBTQ character. And themes of grieving and motherhood, love and loss, and compromise, are naturally woven into the fabric of the story. 

By Jessie van Eerden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Call It Horses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2019 Dzanc Prize for Fiction

Set in small-town West Virginia in the twilight of the eighties, Call It Horses tells the story of three women-niece, aunt, and stowaway-and an improbable road trip.

Frankie is an orphan (or a reluctant wife). Mave is an autodidact (or the town pariah). Nan is an artist (or the town whore). Each separately haunted, Frankie, Mave, and Nan-with a hound in tow-set out in an Oldsmobile Royale for Abiquiu and the desert of Georgia O'Keeffe, seeking an escape from everything they've known.

Frankie records the journey in letters to her aunt Mave's…

Book cover of A Year Without Months

Jane Harrington Why did I love this book?

This is not a work of fiction but a memoir by a novelist, an unflinching portrait of generations of a family ever at the brink. It reads almost as vignettes, exquisitely crafted and somehow soothing even in their brutal honesty. Poignantly rendered pieces of the author’s life reflect aspects of Appalachian culture that can often come across as stereotyping, but the personal nature of this work combined with Dodd White’s skilled pen makes it an authentic view into struggles endemic to the region. He bravely writes of suicides in his family, most heartbreakingly that of his son. Until I read this book, Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking was secure in its position at the top of my “best memoirs” list.

By Charles Dodd White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Year Without Months as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of fourteen essays by Charles Dodd White-praised by Silas House as "one of the best prose stylists of Appalachian literature"-explores the boundaries of family, loss, masculinity, and place. Contemplating the suicides of his father, uncle, and son, White meditates on what it means to go on when seemingly everything worth living for is lost. What he discovers is an intimate connection to the natural world, a renewed impulse to understand his troubled family history, and a devotion to following the clues that point to the possibility of a whole life.

Avoiding easy sentiment and cliche, White's transformative language…

Book cover of Light at the Seam: Poems

Jane Harrington Why did I love this book?

I’m including some verse in my list because there’s no better way to capture Appalachia’s mix of beauty and sorrow than with poetry. This collection by Joseph Bathanti, former poet laureate of North Carolina and longtime inhabitant of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lays bare the effects of mountaintop removal mining against a backdrop of the serene landscape it destroys. I don’t often read a book of poetry more than once, but I found myself skipping back through this one a lot, unable to turn away from the forsaken people and places of the poems. 

By Joseph Bathanti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Light at the Seam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Light at the Seam, a new collection from North Carolina poet Joseph Bathanti, is an exploration of mountaintop removal in southern Appalachian coal country. The volume illuminates and champions often invisible people residing, in a precarious moment in time, on the glorious, yet besieged, Appalachian earth. Their call to defend it, as well as their faith that the land will exact its own reckoning, constitutes a sacred as well as existential quest. Rooted in social and restorative justice, Light at the Seam contemplates the earth as fundamentally sacramental, a crucible of awe and mystery, able to regenerate itself and its…

Book cover of Looking for Ireland: An Irish-Appalachian Pilgrimage

Jane Harrington Why did I love this book?

This book may seem an aberration, but it makes my list because it touches on my own research life, my own literary journey, and my heart: it connects Appalachia and Ireland. This is a book of poetry—simple, lovely pieces written in both places—accompanied by gorgeous photographs of nature and landmarks. As one who travels to Ireland whenever I can, and pines for it when I can’t, this book transports me from my mountain home to those shores across the Atlantic. I am a visual writer, in that I see my stories play out, and especially the stories I imagine for my Irish immigrant ancestors. So a picture book of poems that connects my two homelands strikes the right note with me, lets my mind relax and create.

By Laura Treacy Bentley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Looking for Ireland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journey from Appalachia to Ireland with Laura Treacy Bentley in Looking For Ireland: An Irish-Appalachian Pilgrimage (Mountain State Press). Both chapbook and a work of art, her book creates a seamless alchemy of elegant poems and stunning photographs. Laura is a poet, novelist, point-and-shoot photographer, and West Virginia native whose work has been widely published in the United States and Ireland. She is the author of a poetry collection, Lake Effect (2006), a novel, The Silver Tattoo (2013), and a short story prequel, Night Terrors.

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Book cover of Dulcinea

Ana Veciana-Suarez Author Of Dulcinea

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I became fascinated with 16th-century and 17th-century Europe after reading Don Quixote many years ago. Since then, every novel or nonfiction book about that era has felt both ancient and contemporary. I’m always struck by how much our environment has changed—transportation, communication, housing, government—but also how little we as people have changed when it comes to ambition, love, grief, and greed. I doubled down my reading on that time period when I researched my novel, Dulcinea. Many people read in the eras of the Renaissance, World War II, or ancient Greece, so I’m hoping to introduce them to the Baroque Age. 

Ana's book list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age

What is my book about?

Dolça Llull Prat, a wealthy Barcelona woman, is only 15 when she falls in love with an impoverished poet-solder. Theirs is a forbidden relationship, one that overcomes many obstacles until the fledgling writer renders her as the lowly Dulcinea in his bestseller.

By doing so, he unwittingly exposes his muse to gossip. But when Dolça receives his deathbed note asking to see her, she races across Spain with the intention of unburdening herself of an old secret.

On the journey, she encounters bandits, the Inquisition, illness, and the choices she's made. At its heart, Dulcinea is about how we betray the people we love, what happens when we succumb to convention, and why we squander the few chances we get to change our lives.

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Interested in the Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia, and suicide?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia, and suicide.

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