When planning your trip to the South, it’s important to research where you’re going. So we’ve compiled a list of the best books about Kentucky and by Kentucky authors to help you prepare.
No matter whether you’re a resident looking to learn more about your home state or a first-timer curious about history, these books are sure to help you enjoy it more.
Books by Kentucky Authors
Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place by bell hooks
Legendary writer, artist, and activist bell hooks pays homage to her upbringing in Hopkinsville, Kentucky with this collection of poetry. Appalachian Elegy pulses with themes ranging from this history of race in the region to the value of place in shaping one’s identity.
Clay’s Quilt by Silas House
Award-winning regional author Silas House chronologically concludes his fictional trilogy profiling family and love in the mountain south in Clay’s Quilt. The novel follows hard-living young man Clay Sizemore who, upon losing his mother at a young age, finds himself lost and purposeless.
His whole life changes when he meets fiddle playing Alma. The story that follows brings the reader right into the mountain hollows that Clay calls home.
Cloud Chamber by Michael Dorris
Following multiple generations across oceans, this novel acts as a prequel to Dorris’ bestseller A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Honing in on the ripples stemming from Rose Mannion’s decisions of life and love in 19th century Ireland, Cloud Chamber follows her descendants as they navigate their own struggles.
Nancy Culpepper by Bobbie Ann Mason
When Kentucky native Nancy Culpepper heads to school in Massachusetts then marries a Yankee, she learns to adapt to a life of refined taste. But her southern roots are never far from her heart.
This collection of short stories follows Nancy as she lives her new life in the east then returns to her family in rural Kentucky. Poignant and full of life, Nancy Culpepper reminds us of home.
A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry
Grounded in Berry’s fictional Port William, A Place on Earth returns to beloved characters as they deal with the changes wrought by World War II. Written in Berry’s quintessential slow pace, this novel explores the relatable themes of family, duty, and change.
Fiction Set in Kentucky
Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
Icy Sparks was born with Tourette’s Syndrome in Appalachian Kentucky in the 1950s. As a natural outsider Icy struggles to interact with her classmates, family, and teacher.
Narrated by an adult Icy, readers enjoy the heartwarming journey she undertakes to understand her disorder and ultimately herself.
All That Glitters by Gilbert Morris
After the loss of her mother, Afton travels to Kentucky to spend time with her director father on the set of a movie. All That Glitters centers around Afton’s return to faith through her interactions with a unique soul she meets there.
The Blessing by Jude Deveraux
The Blessing follows high powered corporate Jason as he ventures to small-town Kentucky over the Christmas holiday. His brother David has asked him to assist a young widow, Amy, with her two-year-old child. What follows is a romantic story of hope and discovery.
The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi
Rooted in the feud between the notorious Hatfields and McCoys The Coffin Quilt, is told from the perspective of 7-year-old Fanny McCoy as she watches the tumult unfold between loved ones and neighbors.
This historical fiction novel is targeted at young adult readers but is an enjoyable interpretation of events for adult readers alike.
First Blood by David Morrell
First Blood introduces readers to a Rambo unseen in the Sylvester Stallone films. Carrying the scars of war, Vietnam veteran John Rambo goes head to head against the complicated cop Teasle in rural Kentucky.
With extensive violence and a pretty high body count, First Blood serves as a harrowing reminder of the personal cost of war.
Non-Fiction Set in Kentucky
Wild Ride: The Rise and Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach
Financial scandal is not limited to the bounds of Wall Street. Wild Ride profiles the rise and fall of Calumet Farms, a notorious thoroughbred stable in the bluegrass of Kentucky.
With shady deals, gang ties, and criminal proceedings this is more than just a simple horse book. Dive in if you are looking for a good scandal to keep you hooked from cover to cover.
Trapped! The Story of Floyd Collins by Robert Murray and Roger Brucker
Trapped tells the story of cave explorer Floyd Collins who in 1925 became the center of the third biggest news story between the World Wars.
While looking for a new chamber in Crystal Cave, Collins became stuck when a large rock fell on his leg. The story that follows centers around rescue efforts and the accompanying media sensation.
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Written by one of the most well known American Catholics of the last century, The Seven Storey Mountain is an autobiographical account of Merton’s conversion and joining of the Trappist monk order.
The Same River Twice by Chris Offutt
Offutt’s upbringing in the mountains of Kentucky lends to his ability to spin a story in an engaging and meaningful way. The Same River Twice intersperses memories of a youthful life on the road with preparations for the birth of his first child. With an eye for detail and humor, Offutt’s account will delight the rambler in all of us.
Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage by Michael R. Veach
Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is a comprehensive look at a wholly American product. Tracing the history of the spirit back to the founding of our country, Veach takes a deep dive into the product that is enjoying a renaissance among craft distilleries and collectors.
Guidebooks on Kentucky
Off the Beaten Path Kentucky by Zoe Strecker
Off the Beaten Path Kentucky prides itself on giving unique locations and experiences in Kentucky for the resident or visitor alike. With festivals highlighting the uses of poke or quirky campsites, Kentucky’s culture and hospitality will run throughout.
My Old Kentucky Road Trip by Cameron Ludwick and Blair Thomas
Kentucky natives Ludwick and Thomas pen My Old Kentucky Road Trip, highlighting the historic and cultural treasures of the bluegrass state.
Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide by Susan Reigler
Kentucky Bourbon Country is a must for pilgrims traveling to the Commonwealth to partake of the state’s most notable good. With practical advice and bits of history, use this guide to help you plan your visit.
Moon Kentucky by Theresa Dowell Blackinton
With itineraries and pit stop recommendations, Moon Kentucky covers the state’s most notable landmarks alongside notes on the spirit and culture of the Commonwealth.
Explorer’s Guide Kentucky by Deborah Kohl Kremer
Explorer’s Guide Kentucky highlights the top spots in the state to catch a glimpse at the true Kentucky experience. The guide focuses on the heavy hitters (no pun intended!) like the Louisville Slugger Factory and Bourbon Country in addition to numerous outdoor, artistic, and culinary experiences to be enjoyed by all.
We can’t leave out our own book, This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States, which includes Kentucky. Purchase your copy today!
Alexander Moir says
Thanks for this great post, Sammi. I decided to pick up Nancy Culpepper and a couple of books by Chris Offutt. I’m from Long Island, NY and next year if world conditions allow I’m going to do a road trip down through WV, KY, TN and possibly down to MS to see Vicksburg and the river and head back through the Smokies. I love to read up on places I visit first. I have this growing obsession with Kentucky. I want to stay in a cabin on a mountain lake there and fish.
Just saw this.post and honey did it warm my heart!
My people settled in eastern kentucky around 1720 or so – grew up in eastern Kentucky near the West Virginia border
Like them I was meant to live (and die) in the hills
Such good people-still have a frontier spirit.
But changed my destiny by moving to Colorado in 1982 (because of a job for just one year) and have been here since.
My heart never left the bluegrass
People make such disparaging comments about Appalachia
People in Kentucky make fun of eastern Kentucky -our accents are more rough and it’s a pocket of brutal poverty
Outside Kentucky – they regard everyone from the state as a hillbilly
So very pleased that someone wants to sojourn back home
A great adventure awaits
Susan Noe Harmon says
My heart never left the mountains of Harlan, Ky. That is why I wrote , Under the Weeping Willow. Thank you for suggesting all these wonderful books.