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What Appalheads are Currently Reading

What Appalheads are Currently Reading

If y’all are like us, you’ve been turning to art and artists in new ways during this hard time.  Whether it’s entertainment, comfort, learning new skills, or seeking out new media, we feel like we’d be at a loss without the creators we’re lucky enough to have in our world. At Appalshop, we started to share the books we’re reading with each other — and wanted to share them with you as well.

We’re also encouraging each other to support our local and independent artists, businesses, and organizations when and how we can. For books, we’re a huge fan of the Read Spotted Newt in Hazard, KY. You can order via phone and have it delivered or opt for curbside pickup. We also love where you can order books and support a variety of independent bookstores (including the Read Spotted Newt!). Support your makers, bakers, creators, crafters, musicians, writers, poets, painters, and any and all other ne’er-do-wells.

Without further ado, here’s our list, coming in long at 25 books! You might notice a few themes…

From Executive Director Alex Gibson:

Historical Fiction, Guy Gavriel Kay

“I was turned on to him by Les Roll, knowing my twin interest in history and fantasy. Kay sets up the surface of a fictional scenario, but it is 100% historically researched. For example, Kay will write a book about the Mongols, but from the perspective of a concubine. Each data point will be what actually happened, but, by the device of fantasy, you get a great picture into the narrative. I have read almost all of his books now, and would recommend any that meet the historical era of your interest. He tends to pick things Americans know less about i.e. Moorish occupied Spain, the Portuguese pirates of antiquity, ancient Byzantium, etc.” -AG

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende

“If you haven’t read this epic, take the time now, during this time, to do so. This is one of the finest pieces of literature, writing, art that has ever been. Isabel tells the story of a Chilean family, through generations, in a magical realistic narrative. To call this a good book, is to call water useful. Allende informs the reader what it is like to live in a place like Chile. By the end of the book, you will feel part Chilean–and certainly know a lot about the poet who died by the sea. After Allende moved to California, later in life, you can see distinct shift of her work. Her modern books are good, just not like HOS.” -AG

Red Rising, Pierce Brown

“Red Rising is the best fantasy book you’ve likely never heard of, but will be an HBO/Netflix show soon, guarantee! Follows the story of a lower-class helium miner in a cast-based galactic society with Roman overtones. This is like well-written Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones.” -AG

From Roadside Theater Director Becca Finney:

Slapstick or Lonesome No More, Kurt Vonnegut

“This is my second or third time reading this quick novel. It is grotesque, situational poetry. It makes you laugh out loud and simultaneously breaks your heart – like the Laurel and Hardy comedies from back when. There is also an undertone of a kind of rootlessness or listlessness, both invigorating and idealistic as often as it is sad, which feels uniquely American. The book begins, by the way, with the former President of the United States standing barefoot in a purple toga around a cooking fire in the lobby of a ruined Empire State Building.” -BF

From Mimi Pickering, Filmmaker and Making Connections Director:

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

“I just pulled Love in the Time of Cholera off the shelf as it seemed so appropriate. This is not as good as Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the best books ever and an introduction for much of the world to magical realism, but the title is so right.” – MP

From Letcher County Culture Hub Coordinator Annie Jane Cotten:

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, Robin Wall Kimmerer

“I recently read a book about mosses called Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and I’m currently re-reading Lewis at Zenith: A Three Novel Omnibus, a compilation of Lewis Sinclair’s work. Also recently finished My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, the first in a trilogy called the Neopolitan Novels. It might take me on an Italian author trip, which I’ve never done. French, Persian, German, Irish, etc. I’ve previously explored… Anyone else explore literature this way? I love it.” -AJC

From WMMT Public Affairs Director Rachel Garringer:

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong

“It’s an absolutely stunning novel exploring memory, immigration, queerness, trauma, and writing. Vuong is a poet, and so the language is just beautiful, sometimes aching, and takes on poetic structures at times rather than only following traditional novel formats. The book is told through the voice of a young queer Vietnamese writer and immigrant, who’s writing a letter to his mother about all the things they have trouble speaking about, including: the ways the Vietnam War shaped her life/their family, the racism and xenophobia they experience in Hartford, CT, his queerness, his writing, class and poverty, and his first love – a tormented local white farmboy. It’s the kind of book that knocks your breath out with it’s craft and it’s vulnerable honesty. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” -RG

From JuneAppal Co-Founder and WMMT programmer Rich Kirby:

The War Before the War, Andrew Delbanco

“I’ve recently been immersed in a first-class historical book, The War Before the War by Andrew Delbanco. It’s the story of runaway slaves from the Revolution up to the Civil War, and all the issues and questions they raised–which turns out to be the story of America in those years. Deeply researched, well written, it tells a tragic story and leaves the realization that we have not really left these questions behind us.” -RK

Stephen Fry, Mythos

“On a whole other plane is Mythos, a retelling of Ancient Greek myths by Stephen Fry, the comic actor of Fry and Laurie fame. Fry is as entertaining on the page as he is on the screen as he weaves a bunch of tales into a surprisingly coherent narrative. Deeply learned, it is not “scholarly” in the least. Paganism, it turns out, can be vastly entertaining.” -RK

From Nell Fields, Appalshop board member:

All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy’s 1968 Tour of Appalachia, Matthew Algeo

“I just finished All This Marvelous Potential. I like it because it parallels the politics of ’68 with today. Appalshop is mentioned more than once.” -NF

From Development Associate Jessica Shelton:

Kindred, Octavia Butler

“I just finished Kindred by Octavia Butler. It’s an interesting fantasy/sci-fi novel that explores slavery and the antebellum South through the eyes of an African-American woman that travels back to this time from the year 1976.” -JS

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Read the whole series now if you haven’t! Extremely clever writing and fun story.” -JS

[Editor’s Note: Don’t Panic!]


From Appalachian Media Institute Educator Eric Vanhoose:

Arc of a Scythe, Neal Shusterman

“I’ve been reading (well listening to) the Scythe series most recently.  It’s a sci-fi novel set ~3-400 years in the future where humanity has developed AI, solved death, and basically every need is taken care of, but with death gone humanity has to figure out population control on its own.  The answer humanity came up with is “Scythes” who are above the law and tasked with “gleaning” as they see fit, while not showing bias for or against any one group.  Personally, I’ve really liked the way it looks at AI and technology as a whole.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it is a far different look than the more common tropes around future tech.” -EV

The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher

“I just finished a re-read of the Dresden Files in anticipation of his new book Peace Talks coming out later this summer. The Dresden Files is a low fantasy series centered around a wizard who is running a private investigation agency in Chicago set in present time.  The books are more or less mystery adventure novels where the protagonist just happens to have access to magic.  There are 15 books out so far and he is set up to do between 20-24, so its a ton of content.  Bonus points for listening to the audiobook versions in my opinion – James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) reads them and he absolutely kills it.” -EV

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

“Finally, I really think Ready Player One is fantastic as well.  The movie was okay considering how hard filming something that uses every copyright known to man would be, but like most movie adaptations the book is still better.  If you have nostalgic feelings for anything at all related to the 80s it comes up in the book somewhere.  Again, bonus points for the audiobook because they got Wil Wheaton to read it and he is fantastic.” -EV

From Appalachian Media Institute Director Willa Johnson (& her son Jay):

I’m a Dirty Dinosaur, Janeen Brian & Ann James
“It’s a fun kids book about a dinosaur who loves to go outside and get muddy, but at the end he goes to take a bath. This is a fun way to encourage both playing outside and good hand washing when we come inside.” -WJ


From Communications Director Alexandra Werner-Winslow:

The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
“I just finished reading The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and before that I finished a really excellent essay collection by Jia Tolentino called Trick Mirror. Highly recommend both.” -AWW


From retired Roadside Theater Managing Director Donna Porterfield:

Fiction, Toni Morrison
“I am now re-reading all of Toni Morrison’s books. I read some of them when I was much younger, and her more recent ones later. She’s one of my favorite authors. I find her books powerful, and her writing poetic (not in a sappy way, in a realistic way). Once I begin one of her books, I can’t stop reading it.” -DP


From Archivist Caroline Rubens:

Gurney Norman, Allegiance
“I’m reading Gurney Norman’s Allegiance. Much of the book is from the point-of-view of Wilgus Collier, so a continuation of Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories, but with shorter chapters and memory fragments. Gurney is just a great writer. He’ll describe a funny situation, but then with a detail or two convey something very sad or painful about it. I think it would be good to promote Allegiance with Kinfolks as a companion book. (FYI, the Appalshop film Fat Monroe adapts a story from Kinfolks). ” -CR


From Community Development Worker (and new dad!) Marley Green:

Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May Gaskins

“Highly recommend Ina May Gaskins’ Spiritual Midwifery, Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, and The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.” -MG

From WMMT General Manager Elizabeth Sanders:

The Birds of Opulence, Crystal Wilkinson

“I’ve had this on my to-read list for a long time; it being the pick of a virtual book club I’m in was the push I needed. My only regret is that there weren’t more pages to turn. This novel carries you through and winds you around generations of the Goode family in Opulence, Kentucky. The birds – mad, loving, wild, losing – are powerful women expertly woven together by Wilkinson.” -ES

The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste
“I’m currently only a quarter of the way through this novel, but I already highly recommend it. It tells the story of Hirut, a young orphaned woman working in servitude for a family in Ethiopia at the onset of World War II, as Mussolini invades Ethiopia. When the emperor goes into exile, Hirut crafts a shadow king and becomes his personal guard and at some point is becomes prisoner of an Italian officer. I love historical fiction generally, and this novel specifically because it connects that history with lesser known history of women in that time and place and rolls all of that into a beautiful world exploring memory, femininity, and violence.” -ES

Happy Reading!