The most recommended books set in a rural area

Who picked these books? Meet our 65 experts.

65 authors created a book list connected to rural, and here are their favorite rural books.
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Book cover of This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind

Katie Powner Author Of Where the Blue Sky Begins

From my list on small towns with big hearts.

Who am I?

I grew up on a dairy farm on the outskirts of a town with about a hundred residents. I remember walking to town with my sister and two brothers to buy candy and rent a VHS movie from the tiny grocery store. My first job off the farm was doing dishes at the local café, where my father and the other farmers would drink coffee and read the newspaper at table 10. These experiences shaped me as a person and hooked me on small-town living. I believe it’s the people in the smallest of towns that have the biggest of hearts.

Katie's book list on small towns with big hearts

Katie Powner Why did Katie love this book?

I’ve lived in Montana for over twenty years, so any books related to Montana get my attention. This book in particular, however, is so much more than just a memoir about growing up in the wilds of Big Sky Country. It’s a beautiful and poetic masterpiece that pays homage to the tiny towns and quirky community members that gave Ivan Doig a sense of home and family as a child. I enjoyed reading the familiar names of towns and mountains that I’ve grown to love during my time in Montana, and I especially appreciate how Doig shows us that the size of people’s hearts is more important than the size of their town.

By Ivan Doig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This House of Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

National Book Award Finalist: A “beautifully written, deeply felt” memoir about growing up in the American West (Los Angeles Times).
 
Ivan Doig grew up in the rugged wilderness of western Montana among the sheepherders and denizens of small-town saloons and valley ranches. What he deciphers from his past with piercing clarity is not only a raw sense of land and how it shapes us, but also of the ties to our mothers and fathers, to those who love us, and our inextricable connection to those who shaped our values in our search for intimacy, independence, love, and family.
 
A powerfully…


Book cover of The Grapes of Wrath

Jerome Antil Author Of The Mysteries of Pompey Hollow

From my list on human resolve in the face of moments of despair.

Who am I?

The seventh child of a seventh son of a seventh son. Mother spoke of my sleeping nights and alert days…felt I was curious, observant. She was convinced I’d be the writer in the family. Named me Jerome after the librarian St. Jerome and Mark after Mark Twain, her favorite author as a child. Mother read to us daily, during high school time, a chapter a night. My brother Fred mailed me a word a week to look up. My freshman year in college I earned money writing compositions. And so it began. I sat on the floor and listened to the world war from Pearl Harbor to D-Day and Hiroshima.

Jerome's book list on human resolve in the face of moments of despair

Jerome Antil Why did Jerome love this book?

Steinbeck can see through his character’s eyes. I get chills when he captures private moments.

Faces on pickers being pushed off land in the dustbowl during the Depression. I tasted abject poverty when supper was passed out on pie tins—one tablespoon of beans in each. Dimes were gas money to follow a dream of picking work a brochure of orange orchards in California promised, not for bread.

The hardships mesmerized me—burying Grandpa along the highway; daughter Rosasharn rocking her swaddled stillborn to ward off the suspicion of border inspectors. In an abandoned railroad car as a night’s shelter a man was dying from malnutrition.

I was moved by the statement of character when the childless momma kneeled and offered the dying man a breast letting her dead baby’s milk save him from death. Steinbeck inspired me to become a writer—this novel and his Of Mice and Men.

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Grapes of Wrath as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags, I don't want him satisfied.'

Shocking and controversial when it was first published, The Grapes of Wrath is Steinbeck's Pultizer Prize-winning epic of the Joad family, forced to travel west from Dust Bowl era Oklahoma in search of the promised land of California. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and powerlessness, yet out of their struggle Steinbeck created a drama that is both intensely human and majestic in its scale and moral vision.


Book cover of Cold Mountain

David L. Robbins Author Of War of the Rats

From my list on love and war and describing both battlefields.

Who am I?

I’ve penned (so far) seventeen novels, most set during some historical conflict or other, all of them revolving around intense personal relationships (loyalty, love, betrayal, those sorts of profound truths). I tend to read the sorts of books I wish to write. I also teach creative writing at a university (VCU); I tell my students that if they want to really know what a character is made of, shoot at them or have them fall in love. In my own work, I do both.

David's book list on love and war and describing both battlefields

David L. Robbins Why did David love this book?

When Inman decides he’s had enough of the Civil War, he takes a very long walk home. Along his path, he encounters the detritus of the conflict in shattered land and people. Meanwhile, his love, Ada, tries to cobble together some remnants of her former life.

Maybe a book out of fashion these days because it’s set in the defeated South, and that I understand. However, it remains a masterclass in style, vision, plot, and insight. 

By Charles Frazier,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Cold Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1997, Charles Frazier’s debut novel Cold Mountain made publishing history when it sailed to the top of The New York Times best-seller list for sixty-one weeks, won numerous literary awards, including the National Book Award, and went on to sell over three million copies. Now, the beloved American epic returns, reissued by Grove Press to coincide with the publication of Frazier’s eagerly-anticipated second novel, Thirteen Moons. Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, a Confederate soldier named Inman decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge mountains to Ada, the woman he loves.…


Book cover of Prodigal Summer

Emily Grandy Author Of Michikusa House

From my list on to help reconnect with the natural world.

Who am I?

I write well-researched literary fiction with an ecological focus. Before becoming a biomedical editor, I did clinical research for a leading academic medical center in Cleveland, OH. However, it was only by working at a research institution – and becoming a patient there – that I realized how much science overlooks; it’s only one way of knowing about something. Another way is by building relationships – including with non-human beings. It’s not just people who are complex. Every living thing exists within an intricate, nuanced ecosystem. This sort of knowing, built over long periods, is what facilitates understanding, compassion, and respect for other beings. These are the qualities I hope to share through my writing.

Emily's book list on to help reconnect with the natural world

Emily Grandy Why did Emily love this book?

Prodigal Summer is a poignant novel that interweaves three unforgettable stories of humans’ interdependency with nature.

A wildlife biologist and land steward excitedly sites coyotes on her forested turf; two neighbors feuding over the use of herbicides; and a former “bug expert” turned widowed farmer’s wife. I admire how these fictious tales offer keen-eyed examples of how stories centered around nature can be braided into everyday fiction.

Set in Appalachia, this novel also celebrates an underappreciated corner of our country (too many books are set in New York, in my opinion). As a novelist, Barbara Kingsolver’s books are among my greatest role models.

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Prodigal Summer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is summer in the Appalachian mountains and love, desire and attraction are in the air. Nature, too, it seems, is not immune. From her outpost in an isolated mountain cabin, Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist, watches a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the region. She is caught off guard by a young hunter who invades her most private spaces and interrupts her self-assured, solitary life. On a farm several miles down the mountain, Lusa Maluf Landowski, a bookish city girl turned farmer's wife, finds herself marooned in a strange place where she must declare or…


Book cover of My Side of the Mountain

Jennie Liu Author Of Enly and the Buskin' Blues

From my list on boys for middle graders whose reading is falling off.

Who am I?

My boys greedily consumed books until middle school when screens began to pull them away. I still brought home piles of books, especially stories that stirred empathy, hoping they would pick them up (especially during enforced no-screen times). My then-5th grader complained that I brought home too many “sad books about kids having a really hard time,” and that’s when I realized I was choosing titles I liked and wanted them to read. The novels I had written thus far were heavy stories for teens, but after this little episode with my boy, I decided to pay attention to what they really wanted to read. And to write one they might like.  

Jennie's book list on boys for middle graders whose reading is falling off

Jennie Liu Why did Jennie love this book?

This story of a 12-year-old boy who runs away from his New York City home to live alone in the Catskills is a comfort read in my house.

The detailed description of how Sam survives—foraging, building traps, hollowing out a tree—and the theme of independence are catnip to the introverts in my family. The book is read on repeat with my boys.

By Jean Craighead George,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked My Side of the Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

"Should appeal to all rugged individualists who dream of escape to the forest."-The New York Times Book Review

Sam Gribley is terribly unhappy living in New York City with his family, so he runs away to the Catskill Mountains to live in the woods-all by himself. With only a penknife, a ball of cord, forty dollars, and some flint and steel, he intends to survive on his own. Sam learns about courage, danger, and independence during his year in the wilderness, a year that changes his life forever.

"An extraordinary book . . . It will be read year after…


Book cover of Lead Me Home

Katie Powner Author Of Where the Blue Sky Begins

From my list on small towns with big hearts.

Who am I?

I grew up on a dairy farm on the outskirts of a town with about a hundred residents. I remember walking to town with my sister and two brothers to buy candy and rent a VHS movie from the tiny grocery store. My first job off the farm was doing dishes at the local café, where my father and the other farmers would drink coffee and read the newspaper at table 10. These experiences shaped me as a person and hooked me on small-town living. I believe it’s the people in the smallest of towns that have the biggest of hearts.

Katie's book list on small towns with big hearts

Katie Powner Why did Katie love this book?

Not only is the small-town, rural setting of this book beautifully written, it is also so honest and real. Every community faces challenges and has shortcomings, regardless of its size, and I appreciate that Amy K. Sorrells doesn’t shy away from that. Lead Me Home also includes a neurodivergent character, which really resonated with me because one of my children is neurodivergent as well. Small towns can be a great place for kids with special needs because of the extra safety, slower pace of life, and sense of community. But they can also be a challenging place for kids with special needs because of the lack of resources, diversity, and opportunity. This is my favorite book by Amy K. Sorrells so far.

By Amy K. Sorrells,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lead Me Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Amid open fields and empty pews, small towns can crush big dreams.
Abandoned by his no-good father and forced to grow up too soon, Noble Burden has set his dreams aside to run the family farm. Meanwhile, James Horton, the pastor of the local church, questions his own calling as he prepares to close the doors for good.

As a severe storm rolls through, threatening their community and very livelihood, both men fear losing what they care about most . . . and reconsider where they truly belong.


Book cover of Recent Approaches to Participatory Forest Resource Assessment: Rural Development Forestry Study Guide

Carol J. Pierce Colfer Author Of Adaptive Collaborative Management in Forest Landscapes: Villagers, Bureaucrats and Civil Society

From my list on to bring people into forest management.

Who am I?

This topic, adaptive collaborative management, has been dear to my heart for nearly a quarter of a century (indeed longer if one includes my involvement in farming systems research and development, a similar agricultural concept with less emphasis on the environment). I have long felt that deep involvement with local communities is crucial if we want to avoid ‘the sins of the past’ in conservation and development. My hope and that of my colleagues has been that by involving local people in a respectful, iterative, inclusive, learning, collaborative process, together we can steer policies and actions in a benign direction that may in fact endure (unlike most such projects). 

Carol's book list on to bring people into forest management

Carol J. Pierce Colfer Why did Carol love this book?

This book is as much a manual as a book, but I particularly liked it because it provided me with specific examples of ways that local communities had been involved in forest issues – a topic I was struggling with how to implement in the late 1990s (as we developed the ACM approach on which my own book focuses). Carter’s book also had chapters on collaboration, on learning, on local management – all within a forestry framework, in a variety of tropical countries. As I glance through it again, to consider this description, I realize much of its contents remain relevant in 2022.

Book cover of Look Homeward, Angel

Beverly A. Li Author Of The Elbow Grease Legacy

From my list on seeking to unravel dysfunctional family cycles.

Who am I?

It took a career as a librarian to help me understand my need for order, instead of the emotional chaos I grew up with in a large family. Being the child of an alcoholic father and a codependent mother gave me little personal value. After gaining some sense of worth in college, I wanted to give my kids the stability and support every child deserves, but I had to learn how to do this. I used my resources: education, self-scrutiny, honesty, art, nature, and the good Lord of the universe.

Beverly's book list on seeking to unravel dysfunctional family cycles

Beverly A. Li Why did Beverly love this book?

As a leader in autobiographical fiction, Wolfe writes of a large family dominated by an alcoholic, authoritarian father who is highly dramatic in words and behavior.

His wife’s determination to survive by running a boarding house and investing in real estate leaves little time for parental attention to the needs of their children.

While most grow to repeat the dysfunctional family habits that hinder healthy development, the youngest child, with the help of his teachers, struggles enough to finally take steps away from the pain, and out of the cycle, as I did with my own life.

By Thomas Wolfe,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Look Homeward, Angel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The spectacular, history-making first novel about a young man’s coming of age by literary legend Thomas Wolfe, first published in 1929 and long considered a classic of twentieth century literature.

A legendary author on par with William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Wolfe published Look Homeward, Angel, his first novel, about a young man’s burning desire to leave his small town and tumultuous family in search of a better life, in 1929. It gave the world proof of his genius and launched a powerful legacy.

The novel follows the trajectory of Eugene Gant, a brilliant and restless young man whose…


Book cover of God's Little Acre

Lillah Lawson Author Of Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree

From my list on Southern Gothic with a heart.

Who am I?

I am the author of three novels (with two more set to release next year); Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree; The Dead Rockstar Trilogy; and I'm happiest when straddling literary genres. I have published works of historical fiction, as well as southern gothic, horror, speculative fiction, dark fantasy, and literary fiction. My debut, Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year in 2020. In addition to writing, I am a genealogist and recently went back to school to obtain my history degree. My love of writing, history, and family all intersect to inform my writing and I always set my characters in good old Georgia.

Lillah's book list on Southern Gothic with a heart

Lillah Lawson Why did Lillah love this book?

Erskine Caldwell is deeply underrated; for my money, he’s one of the best southern gothic writers in the genre. Perhaps it’s down to the risque nature of his books and characters, which were especially provocative (and in some cases, downright despicable) for the time period. However, beyond the depravity there is a real beating heart in his books that perfectly capture the desperation and grief of depression-era Georgia. 

By Erskine Caldwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked God's Little Acre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Like Tobacco Road, this novel chronicles the final decline of a poor white family in rural Georgia. Exhorted by their patriarch Ty Ty, the Waldens ruin their land by digging it up in search of gold. Complex sexual entanglements and betrayals lead to a murder within the family that completes its dissolution. Juxtaposed against the Waldens' obsessive search is the story of Ty Ty's son-in-law, a cotton mill worker in a nearby town who is killed during a strike.

First published in 1933, God's Little Acre was censured by the Georgia Literary Commission, banned in Boston, and once led the…


Book cover of Winter's Bone

Carl Vonderau Author Of Saving Myles

From my list on thrillers that are as much about family as danger.

Who am I?

I am a former international banker and now a prize-winning author. My books take place in the financial world. However, my writing principle is that behind every crime is a family. In my thrillers, the crime amplifies the family dysfunction. My characters can only survive by growing and coming together. If you like character development, as well as the twists and turns of a good plot, you will like the novels that I recommend. 

Carl's book list on thrillers that are as much about family as danger

Carl Vonderau Why did Carl love this book?

This is one of the few thrillers that brought tears to my eyes.

Ree, a teenage girl, must save her family by negotiating with the violent inhabitants of the Ozarks. Ree’s father has disappeared from his trial and, if she doesn’t find him, the family will lose everything they own because he pledged it as collateral for his bail bond.

I love how Woodrell portrayed her loyalty and fierceness, as well as how he wrote the deeply flawed characters who love her. His descriptions and metaphorical uses of winter and the landscape are breathtaking.

The book is literary but also has great narrative propulsion.

By Daniel Woodrell,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Winter's Bone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a fiercely original tale of love, heartbreak and resilience in the lonely wastes of the American Midwest. The last time Ree saw her father, he didn't bring food or money but promised he'd be back soon with a paper sack of cash and a truckload of delights. Since he left, she's had to look after her mother - sedated and losing her looks - and her two younger brothers. Ree hopes the boys won't turn out like the others in the Ozark mountains - hard and mean before they've learnt to shave. One cold winter's day, Ree discovers…