The most recommended books about West Virginia

Who picked these books? Meet our 42 experts.

42 authors created a book list connected to West Virginia, and here are their favorite West Virginia books.
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Book cover of The Appalachians

Sarah Loudin Thomas Author Of The Finder of Forgotten Things

From my list on making you feel like you’re in Almost Heaven, WV.

Who am I?

I’m a seventh-generation West Virginian. My husband and I own the farm that’s been in my family since before the Civil War. My Appalachian roots are sunk deep, so when it comes to “writing what you know,” this is it! I was baptized in stories by my father who transformed my ancestors and my history into a living, breathing cast of characters I longed to meet. So, I began to write their stories in the guise of novels about made-up people. My seven novels (and two novellas) are love letters to the place that shaped me. 

Sarah's book list on making you feel like you’re in Almost Heaven, WV

Sarah Loudin Thomas Why did Sarah love this book?

This nonfiction work is the quintessential handbook to the biological diversity of Appalachia. Plus, it’s fun to read! Brooks grew up on a farm not far from where I did in north-central West Virginia. I like to think he fell in love with the flora and fauna of our region the same way I did—by simply being exposed to it from the day he was born. His account of a snake visiting camp after dark one night is told in true West Virginia style. With a tongue-in-cheek humor I love almost as much as these mountains!

Book cover of The Glass Castle

Who am I?

My life and work have been profoundly affected by the central circumstance of my existence: I was born into a very large military Catholic family in the United States of America. As a child surrounded by many others in the 60s, I wrote, performed, and directed family plays with my numerous brothers and sisters. Although I fell in love with a Canadian and moved to Canada, my family of origin still exerts considerable personal influence. My central struggle, coming from that place of chaos, order, and conformity, is to have the courage to live an authentic life based on my own experience of connectedness and individuality, to speak and be heard. 

Caitlin's book list on coming-of-age books that explore belonging, identity, family, and beat with an emotional and/or humorous pulse

Caitlin Hicks Why did Caitlin love this book?

The fact that this book is a memoir makes it more amazing than a work of fiction.

The writer, Jeannette Walls, has so much more at stake in this story because it’s about her family, her childhood, and her parents. Her life. I raced through the book, from the first page, with my mouth open in almost disbelief because the level of neglect that Jeannette’s parents floated around in was astounding.

The story of childhood should not be so suspenseful, but Jeannette tells her realities so casually; her experience was truly like a frog in a pot of warming water, so familiar to the narrator as to be almost unremarkable but so dangerous. The appalling nature of the stories and fables told to her by her parents, in relief, made me question my own family narrative. And then there’s the question of the choices her parents deliberately made.

I’m…

By Jeannette Walls,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked The Glass Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson.

This is a startling memoir of a successful journalist's journey from the deserted and dusty mining towns of the American Southwest, to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue. Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, 'brilliant' but alcoholic parents.

At the age of seventeen she escapes on a Greyhound bus to New York with her older sister; her younger siblings follow later. After pursuing the education and civilisation her parents sought to escape, Jeanette eventually succeeds in her quest for the 'mundane,…


Book cover of Shiloh

Bobbie Pyron Author Of Stay

From my list on about dogs for grades 3 and up.

Who am I?

From the time I was a small, shy child, books and dogs were my best friends. I loved nothing better than reading books about dogs in the company of my dog. I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to be an author. My love of books led to a career as a librarian that lasted over thirty years. Still, I never gave up on my dream of becoming an author. Since then, I have written seven novels for young readers including A Dog’s Way Home, The Dogs of Winter, and my latest award-winning novel, Stay. When I’m not writing, I can be found hiking with my dogs in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Bobbie's book list on about dogs for grades 3 and up

Bobbie Pyron Why did Bobbie love this book?

Naylor won the coveted Newbery Award for Shiloh, for good reason. The story is heartwarming, beautifully written, and timeless. When 11-year-old Marty finds a young, starving beagle near his home in the West Virginia mountains, he is faced with a moral dilemma: keep a dog who is not his or return the dog to an abusive home. One of the many reasons I love this book is Naylor does an excellent job of creating characters that are multidimensional and so very relatable. Even the “bad guy!” This is the first in a series of three books about Marty and Shiloh. Give this book to your tenderhearted, reluctant reader.

By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Shiloh as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Marty will do anything to save his new friend Shiloh in this Newbery Medal–winning novel from Phillis Reynolds Naylor.

When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it's love at first sight—and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh, belongs to Judd Travers, who drinks too much and has a gun—and abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd. But Marty's secret becomes too big for him to keep to himself, and it exposes…


Book cover of In The Shadow Of The Greenbrier

Kitty Zeldis Author Of The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights

From my list on historical novels that feature bad-ass women.

Who am I?

As a girl growing up in the 1960s, I loved books that were set in the past—Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were among my favorites. But those books weren’t historical fiction because they were written back then. So discovering that I could set my own books in the past was a thrill. I love evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of the past. And I especially love describing what my characters wear. Vintage clothes are my passion and being able to incorporate that love into my work is an ongoing delight.

Kitty's book list on historical novels that feature bad-ass women

Kitty Zeldis Why did Kitty love this book?

Here’s another one about tony people leading their tony lives, this time in the hills of West Virginia which is home to the Greenbrier Resort, a real place that catered to the rich and famous. This novel follows the story of four members of the Zelner family—Jews in a decidedly inhospitable environment.

It’s the women who really stand out. First, there is scrappy, defiant Sylvia, unhappy in her marriage and seeking consolation in another man’s bed, and then later, her daughter Doree, who, like her mother, chafes against the restrictions imposed by class and religion. But Doree is more adept at navigating a hostile world and finds happiness in a way her mother never did.

The mother-daughter relationship, by turns fraught, contentious, and tender is at the heart of this story, and it won my heart too.

By Emily Matchar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In The Shadow Of The Greenbrier as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Four generations. One remarkable hotel. Countless secrets.

Nestled in the hills of West Virginia lies White Sulphur Springs, home to the Greenbrier Resort. Long a playground for presidents and film stars, the Greenbrier has its own gravitational pull. Over ten decades, four generations of the Zelner family must grapple with their place in its shadow . . . and within their own family.

In 1942, young mother Sylvia is desperate to escape her stifling marriage, especially when it means co-running Zelner’s general store with her husband. When the Greenbrier is commandeered for use as a luxury prison, Sylvia finds her…


Book cover of Colored People: A Memoir

Lawrence Goldstone Author Of On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights

From my list on for white people to learn about Black people.

Who am I?

When I was eight, my mother was called in to see the principal…yet again. He pulled me out of class, stood me in the hall for maximum intimidation value, then said to my mom, “Your son has no respect for authority.” Mom asked, “What about that, Larry?” My reply—and this is totally true—was, “He doesn’t mean respect. He means courtesy. You can demand courtesy, but you have to earn respect.” Those sentiments have not changed, which is why, I suppose, I have an extremely critical eye for history, especially American history, that deifies the winners. I don’t think we make ourselves stronger as a nation by pretending our leaders were somehow not as human in their flaws as the rest of us.  I prefer to look under what is called “conventional wisdom,” because that’s where the real story often lies.

Lawrence's book list on for white people to learn about Black people

Lawrence Goldstone Why did Lawrence love this book?

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a renowned Harvard professor and author of a series of deeply insightful books on African American history. He has also become one of the most recognizable public figures in the nation, from the PBS series Finding Your Roots and Reconstruction to a cameo in Watchmen in which he played the United States Treasury Secretary. It can be easy to forget that “Skip” Gates was raised in the hills of West Virginia, part of a tight-knit, quirky, distinctly African American community. In Gates’ affectionate memoir detailing his growing up, a series of fascinating characters leap from the page—some Churchgoing, some anything but; some strait-laced; some definitely not; some ambitious, some content to do as little as possible to get by.  Everyone we meet in Colored People is both recognizable and a revelation, and Gates has created a moving and nostalgic look at African American culture that…

By Henry Louis Gates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Colored People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A re-creation of what it was like to grow up in the hill town of Piedmont, West Virginia, in the 1950s and 1960s. Recalling an age at which the town and people represented his known universe, Gates describes the clannish pride of the family and the sense of place that characterized Piedmont, with its beautiful countryside, its paper mill, whose sulphurous fumes permeated the air but brought the town its prosperity, and the social event of the year, the annual mill picnic. The young Gates's consciousness takes in "colored people" in a time when segregation was still influential. He tells…


Book cover of Bruiser

William Mark Habeeb Author Of Venice Beach

From my list on poignant coming-of-age about boys.

Who am I?

My novel Venice Beach—like the five books I recommend here—has been classified as a “coming-of-age” novel, a classification that I have no quarrels with as long as it’s understood that coming-of-age is not regarded simply as a synonym for “adolescence” or “being a teenager.” The coming-of-age years—generally defined as between ages 12 and 18—are so much more than a period of life wedged between childhood and adulthood. Coming of age is a process, not a block of time; it is a hot emotional forge in which we experience so many “firsts” and are hammered, usually painfully, into the shapes that will last a lifetime. 

William's book list on poignant coming-of-age about boys

William Mark Habeeb Why did William love this book?

Bruiser is only nine years old, younger than most “coming of age” protagonists, but his anxiety-ridden family life in a Manhattan apartment has aged him. His father is a philanderer who rarely is home and often physically abusive when he is; his mother is a deeply depressed poet. Bruiser spends most of his time running around his Upper West Side neighborhood with a make-shift gang of older boysand has the bruises to show for it, hence his nicknameor hiding at the bottom of the clothes hamper when his parents are going at it. He befriends a 10-year-old girl, Darla, who lives across the courtyard with her drug-addled mother and who convinces him to run away with her. Their journey, which takes them first to West Virginia in search of Darla’s father and eventually to North Carolina, is the book’s magic. Both kids are pre-puberty, so it’s…

By Ian Chorao,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

After spending another morning hiding in the clothes hamper eavesdropping on his miserable parents, Bruiser realizes it's time to change his life. It's New York City during the late 1970s, and in the middle of a chilly autumn night he takes to the open road with Darla, a kindred spirit who lives across the alleyway. Their flight from the mounting tensions of home -- an adventure dotted with frightening episodes and surprising revelations -- is a journey in search of liberation and emotional truth.

This is Bruiser's tale in his own words, captured by first-time novelist Ian Chorao with uncanny…


Book cover of Diamond Doris: The True Story of the World's Most Notorious Jewel Thief

Caitlin Davies Author Of Queens of the Underworld: A Journey into the Lives of Female Crooks

From my list on female crooks.

Who am I?

I first became fascinated by the portrayal of female criminals when I wrote a novel, The Ghost of Lily Painter, based on the first women to be executed at Holloway Prison in London in 1903. Holloway was the most infamous female jail in Europe and shortly before it closed down in 2016, I was given access to the prison archives. That led to Bad Girls, nominated for the Orwell Prize, and it also led to the discovery of a forgotten criminal aristocracy -  the women who were once so notorious they were Public Enemy No.1. 

Caitlin's book list on female crooks

Caitlin Davies Why did Caitlin love this book?

This is a rollicking read about the criminal adventures of Doris Payne, jewel thief extraordinaire who started her career in the United States in the 1950s. She saw herself as a crusader, and stealing diamonds as an act of retribution against a racist world. Doris continued her career until 2017, often updating and refining the methods once used by her Victorian forebears.

By Doris Payne, Zelda Lockhart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Diamond Doris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Doris Payne is an unapologetic badass." - Tessa Thompson, Actress

This is the sensational and compelling memoir of the world's most notorious jewel thief - a woman who defied society's prejudices and norms to carve her own path, and live out her dreams.

She stole diamonds from the people who underestimated her, she exploited the men who tried to domesticate her, and she consistently defied society's assumptions and prejudices to create a new life for herself. For fans of Catch Me If You Can, The Wolf of Wall Street and Molly's Game, this is the newest must-read crime autobiography.

Growing…


Book cover of Storming Heaven

Meredith Sue Willis Author Of Their Houses

From my list on great American stories from Appalachia.

Who am I?

I grew up in West Virginia and believed you had to leave the region to write. Only after I’d published my first novel did I discover books like these and many more. I have become a wide reader in our literature, with a special interest in novels that both tell the stories of individuals and families and explore the connection between resource extraction and poverty. It’s also a pleasure to read about regional successes as well as losses.  

Meredith's book list on great American stories from Appalachia

Meredith Sue Willis Why did Meredith love this book?

West Virginian Denise Giardina’s brilliant Great American Novel is the fictionalized account of the mine wars of 1920 and 1922 in the coal fields of southern West Virginia. 

I love it for the mix of the lives of real (albeit fictional) human beings with actual history and allusions to labor figures and other American political struggles and strikes. Giardina, an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, grew up herself in a mining camp, and gives us a perfect introduction to the struggles of industrial workers of central Appalachia– and a grand epic of American life.

By Denise Giardina,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Storming Heaven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Brilliant, diamond-hard fiction, heartwrenching, tough and tender.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review

Annadel, West Virginia, was a small town rich in coal, farms, and close-knit families, all destroyed when the coal company came in. It stole everything it hadn't bothered to buy—land deeds, private homes, and ultimately, the souls of its men and women.

Four people tell this powerful, deeply moving tale: Activist Mayor C.J. Marcum. Fierce, loveless union man Rondal Lloyd. Gutsy nurse Carrie Bishop, who loved Rondal. And lonely, Sicilian immigrant Rose Angelelli, who lost four sons to the deadly mines.

They all bear witness to nearly forgotten events…


Book cover of Rocket Boys

Patrick Chiles Author Of Frozen Orbit

From my list on space history that read like novels.

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with space exploration since watching the Apollo missions as a child. As an adult, I devoured every book I could find on the subject while nursing my own desire to create “what if” stories that were not too far removed from present day. A career in managing flight operations gave me some appreciation of the technical challenges and personality types, experiences which I’ve extrapolated into my fiction. Some of my novels have been described as “Airport for the 21st century” and “Apollo 13 meets The Hunt for Red October.” The books on this list were the foundation of my early research and remain favorites to this day.

Patrick's book list on space history that read like novels

Patrick Chiles Why did Patrick love this book?

The basis for the movie October Sky, this isn’t an account of the space program so much as it is a study of the types of people drawn to it, in particular a young man in 1950s West Virginia striving for something more than a life in the coal mines. The culture shock of Sputnik sets him and his friends off into increasingly dangerous—and often hilarious—experiments in amateur rocketry.

Set against an awkward adolescence in a small coal town, it’s a vivid illustration of the obstacles that must be overcome to break free of the cycles life can impose. The screen adaptation takes some liberties, most notably with Hickam’s father. The book portrays him as being cautiously supportive, if understandably skeptical, of his teenage son’s unlikely obsession.

By Homer Hickam,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rocket Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Previously published in paperback as October Sky.

Three years in the life of Homer 'Sonny' Hickam, from the moment he sees the Sputnik satellite overhead in West Virginia to his successful launch of a prizewinning rocket.

In 1957, Coalwood, West Virginia, was a town the post-war boom never quite reached, and dominated by the black steel towers of the mine. For fourteen-year-old Homer 'Sonny' Hickam there are only two routes in life: a college football scholarship, or a life underground. But from the moment the town turns out to watch the world's first space satellite, Sputnik, as it passes overhead,…


Book cover of The Unquiet Grave

Sarah Loudin Thomas Author Of The Finder of Forgotten Things

From my list on making you feel like you’re in Almost Heaven, WV.

Who am I?

I’m a seventh-generation West Virginian. My husband and I own the farm that’s been in my family since before the Civil War. My Appalachian roots are sunk deep, so when it comes to “writing what you know,” this is it! I was baptized in stories by my father who transformed my ancestors and my history into a living, breathing cast of characters I longed to meet. So, I began to write their stories in the guise of novels about made-up people. My seven novels (and two novellas) are love letters to the place that shaped me. 

Sarah's book list on making you feel like you’re in Almost Heaven, WV

Sarah Loudin Thomas Why did Sarah love this book?

Don’t you love that title?!? And the novel is based on a true story about a ghost who testified at her own trial. Seriously. Testimony from the Greenbrier Ghost was accepted in a court of law. I’m just sorry I didn’t get around to writing about this one before Sharyn did!

By Sharyn McCrumb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unquiet Grave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb comes this finely wrought novel set in nineteenth-century West Virginia, based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history-the case of the Greenbrier Ghost.

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930-Following a suicide attempt and consigned to a segregated insane asylum, attorney James P.D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Eager to try the new talking cure for insanity, Boozer encourages his elderly patient to reminisce about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia. In his forty-year career,…