I love Kentucky. I’m proud to be from The Bluegrass State and was lucky enough to “hang my hat” there for so many years. Now that I’ve moved further South, I’ve been considering the ways in which people connect to a sense of home. Whether it be through a special meal or a well-worn family heirloom, we all maintain tethers to those places we hold most important. Today, I thought it would be fun to explore a few literary connections to my home state. If you, like me, have a soft spot for thoroughbreds, college basketball, bourbon, and all the beautiful scenery between Paducah and Pikeville; then these books are for you. Some are written by Kentucky authors. Some explore Kentucky through setting and characters. Whether you currently call Kentucky home or look fondly upon the time that you once did, here are 5 books to read if you love the Commonwealth:
The Coal Tattoo by Silas House
Mining the storytelling tradition of Appalachia, House tells the story of two very different sisters. Lovingly constructed characters, a deep understanding of mountain folk’s religiosity, and strong imagery coalesce to create a tale about what brings people together and tears them apart. A gripping read.
Night Rider by Robert Penn Warren
This is Robert Penn Warren’s first novel and details the tobacco wars which once plagued the state of Kentucky. A classic Southern tale featuring a main character who will do anything to set himself apart in the outbreak of violence.
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
Set in Kentucky and spanning one family’s journey over a quarter of a century, this book is dramatic and captivating and mysterious. Playing out the resulting years after a father makes a split-second decision, it’s plot makes for a story that’s hard to put down.
Appalachian Elegy by bell hooks
This book of poetry is inspired by hooks’ childhood in the hollows and hills of Kentucky. She expertly touches on matters both political and confessional, painting a truthful portrait of life in Appalachia narrated by someone grappling with the slow loss of this very identity.
Coal Miner’s Daughter by Loretta Lynn with George Vecsey
Don’t ya just love a good rags to riches tale? They always make me think of this cartoon — safely covering both ends of the spectrum! This one tells the story of country music star Loretta Lynn. Covering her early life in Butcher Holler, KY and her rise to fame, we learn the paths she took to become a prolific songwriter and an influential woman in the music industry.
P.S. No brainer: You should also pick up anything ever by Wendell Berry and give it a read! You may also want to read Players First by John Calipari to prove how blue you bleed. Or, if you can get your hands on a copy, Pauline’s by Pauline Tabor, a memoir about a famous madam who managed a brothel in Bowling Green, is AMAZING. Speaking of…if you have MY copy of Pauline’s, I WANT IT BACK!
Now it’s your turn! From Kentucky or call the Commonwealth home? What books do you think fellow Kentuckians should pick up? Not a Kentucky guy or gal? What books connect you to YOUR home?! I’d love to hear!