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Kentucky by Heart: What’s on your reading list? Book choices from Kentuckians around the Commonwealth

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on what books are popular among Kentuckians.

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

I’m a voracious book reader, always having at least two, and often three, in process. As you might expect, my choices are often about Kentucky or by Kentucky authors.

I just finished James Klotter’s amazing biography, Henry Clay: The Man Who Would be President and am currently enjoying Bill Noel’s latest Folly Beach Mystery offering, Dark Horse. Also on my plate is a sports book, Doug Brunk’s Forty Minutes to Glory: Inside the Kentucky Wildcats’ 1978 Championship Season.

Klotter shares a feast of well-researched information about Clay, the iconic U.S. congressman from Kentucky, noted for his ability to get things done politically over the course of his long, illustrious career. The burning question Klotter wrestles with is: Why was this man never elected America’s president? The author provides an assortment of possibilities; he lets readers come to their own conclusions.

Louisville writer Bill Noel’s Folly Beach Mystery series novels keep me coming back, with Dark Horse his fourteenth. He’s created a cottage industry off portraying quirky people loosely working together with the mild-mannered protagonist Chris Landrum to solve murders on this South Carolina barrier island near Charleston. Doug Brunk’s Kentucky basketball book is told primarily through interviews with players and others associated with the Wildcats’ run to the championship, and it includes a number of surprising, often humorous, stories that Big Blue fans will enjoy.

There’s a whole passel of other books that Kentuckians around the state are reading, too, so I reached out to find out what some of ‘em are. I received some interesting responses, and for sure, not all were Kentucky-related.

P. Shaun Neal, Nicholasville, is re-reading Look Homeward Angel, by Thomas Wolfe. “If I could write half as well as Thomas Wolfe,” said Shaun, “I would be utterly satisfied with my talent. Effortlessly he weaves poetry into his storytelling.” He also recently finished Spin, which he called “a different kind of science fiction novel. Hot, provoking, and well-written…at my age, it takes a unique genre novel to really capture my attention. This one did.” Shaun, a construction manager who enjoys writing on the side, hopes to release his debut novel, Mama’s Song, in 2019.

Another Nicholasville resident, Connie McDonald, has three on her list: The Bluegrass Conspiracy (second time), The Handmaid’s Tale, and Arnie: The Life of Arnold Palmer. The former public school teacher called BC “very compelling…(and) scary to think so much illegal activity was going on right here in central Kentucky, right under our noses.” She found Handmaid’s Tale “disappointing,” believing that’s probably because she isn’t a fan of dystopian literature, but finds Arnie “interesting,” and delightfully discovered that Palmer and Fred “Mr.” Rogers were friends as youths.

Hard-hitting non-fiction that seeks answers to burning public issues might describe the reading tastes of Inna Kordelchuk, a Lexington dental hygienist. She’s just finished The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy and Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America. She’s currently reading Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War and The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.

Inna called the first two “riveting, jaw-dropping expose of ongoing national crises” and portrayed The Color of Law as a “shocking look at the federal laws that strictly imposed racial segregation nationwide up until the 1950s…(and) goes a long way to explain the forces preventing economic mobility in the U.S.” Of Confederates, Inna noted a “hilarious” tone, but that it gives “a surprising look at the attitudes in the South about the Civil War.”

Sometimes Kentuckians will travel great lengths to find good books to read, or so it might seem. On Tony Trapp’s and his wife, Valerie’s, sojourn to Florida from Grants Lick (Campbell County) this past winter, friends put two interesting books into Tony’s hands. One, called A Land Remembered, told of a family who moved to Florida after the Civil War. “They rounded up wild cattle a ranching empire,” explained Tony. “It told of their adventures as their empire grew through the last of the family, somewhere around the 1960s.” The other was titled Gladesmen: Gator Hunters, Moonshiners, and Skiffers. Tony remarked that the books were similar in plots “of tough people who carve out lives in a rough and tumble environment…much like Jesse Stuart writes about in his books on Kentucky.”

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching for 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state and still enjoys doing those one-dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

Somerset electronics businessman Rich Dailey makes time to keep his reading habit active. He’s poring over N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian, Walker Percy’s Signposts in a Strange Land,” and The Fixer, by Bernard Malamud. He likens Wright’s offering to C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity… “a simple defense of the Christian worldview—clear and concise.” He also likes Percy’s essays and is challenged by the exploration of “justice and unjust, right and wrong” in Malamud’s work.

Nature Reliance School director Craig Caudill includes a taste for books that might not be fully considered “at the beach reading” for most. “I usually have a fiction work, a professional development book, and a strictly educational (manual type) going on as well,” said the Winchester native. Here is a list: In Extremis Leadership, by Thomas Kolditz; Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel; Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking by Paul and Elder; and Building Tactical Acuity for Counter IED Operations by Cornelius Nash. His fiction reading currently is I Am Still Alive, by Kate Alice Marshall.

Peter Brackney, who operates the Brackney Law Office in Lexington, likes to mix up his reading choices. “I recently finished Southernmost, by Silas House, and Kudzu, by John Mitchell Johnson,” said Peter. He called both of them “excellent,” and is now working on Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad. In the non-fiction department, he’s read Grant, by Ron Chernow, and plans to tackle Klotter’s Henry Clay biography soon. His own book, Lost Lexington, Kentucky, has been a popular offering around central Kentucky for several years.

There’s many more to come, and I’ll share those with you in next week’s Kentucky by Heart. Let me know what YOU are reading.

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)      

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