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5 Books to Read When You’re Stuck in Kentucky for the Summer

Books to make home seem like a new frontier.

Kentucky, the name itself conjures up images of icy Mint Juleps and banjo plucking Bluegrass maestros.

The reality for much of the state is half-empty strip malls and every type of fast food chain imaginable…Captain D’s anyone?

While the constant Fox News talking points can be tedious, a great escape can be spending hot, long summer afternoons at the local library where these books can help you make the most of some down time at home.

5. The Great Derangement by Matt Taibbi

Whether it’s a cashier openly pining for the apocalypse or the persistent belief that Obama is a Muslim Robot, Kentuckians believe in all manner of strange things. In Taibbi’s book he explores how these beliefs are tied into the fraying of American culture and the polarization of our political system. Throughout the book, Taibbi exposes the disconnect between reality and perception and how the heartland of America has developed addictions (pills, religion, conspiracy theories) to fill the void left by a rapidly globalizing world..

4. Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson

Kentucky’s own Hunter S Thompson goes where angels fear to tread and successfully infiltrates one of the most notorious motorcycle gangs in America. Thompson spent a year embedded with the gang and gives an intimate account of life within their circles. By the end of year, Thompson himself couldn’t tell if he was still doing research or was slowly becoming an Angel himself. A fascinating look into a unique American subculture.

3. The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad

Jim Goad is nobody’s fool. This high speed missive on the history and plight of working class Americans is a call to arms for a segment of the population who feels disenfranchised with the current political system. Written with the intensity of a meth-addicted truck diver barreling down Route 66, this book will surely raise your eyebrows and give you something to chew over. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to put down a book whose first chapter is called ‘White Niggers have feelings too.”

2. Congo Journey by Redmond O’Hanlon

Every good book list needs to involve some form of escapism. Redmond recounts a 1989 journey up the Congo river in search of the Mokèlé-mbmbé, the reputed Congolese dinosaur. On the way, Redmond and his associates survive harrowing adventures on boats and in remote villages with colorful tribal leaders, all the while documenting the incredible wildlife on display. With an amazing eye for detail and a very witty sense of humor, this epic tale will have you making plans for the next time you hit the road. 

1. That Distant Land by Wendell Berry

Famed Kentucky author and activist Wendell Berry is insanely prolific and it can be daunting to decided where to begin. This collection of short stories gives a good insight into rural life in Kentucky throughout the 20th century. Berry’s fictional world, which he called the Port William Membership, is well represented here and shines a light on the character strength and flaws of the farming base that makes up the backbone of the state.

Get these books

You can get these books from Amazon now (and we’ll get some nickles and dimes from the sale).
The Great Derangement by Matt Taibbi
Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad
Congo Journey by Redmond O’Hanlon
That Distant Land by Wendell Berry

Filed under: Books, Kentucky, USA

About the Author:

Lawrence Hamilton is a freelance journalist focusing on South Asian security situations and border disputes. has written 51 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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