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Summer Reads: Eight Books to Bring to the Beach (or Anywhere but Your Dusty Bookshelf)

Summer Reads


There’s never a bad time to melt your mind into a good book. But lazy summer days especially make for quality reading opportunities, whether it be on the beach, under a shady tree in the park or on your deck with your morning coffee within reach. 

You won’t have to worry about losing interest with these eight relatively new books – all with a West Virginia University connection – to fulfill your quiet and intellectual intervals over the scorching summer. 

If you have a favorite book pertaining to our grand university or written by a WVU author, feel free to drop us a line in the comments section below.  

The Mermaid's Daughter: A Novel 

Mermaid's Daughter

The New York Daily News calls “The Mermaid's Daughter” a “dark and grown-up makeover” of “The Little Mermaid” story. 

So maybe don't assign this to your 8-year-old as complementary reading to the Disney movie. 

Kathleen, the main character, is an opera singer tormented by a mysterious stabbing pain in her feet, bouts of depression and a curse that’s wrecked the lives of women in her family. The only thing that eases her pain is the touch of seawater. 

A trip to her family’s native land of Ireland unravels the mystery behind the family curse, and Kathleen must choose between the sea and her lover.   

“I love some of [Hans Christian Anderson’s] stories,” said author Ann Claycomb, MFA '10, English. “They’re so crazy and they’re really weird and dark. I definitely felt like the ending [of “The Little Mermaid”] was wrong. I wanted to fix the ending.”

Claycomb is assistant vice president for strategic and academic communication in the Office of the Provost at WVU. 

The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll 

Pep roll

Is there anything more delightful than bread stuffed with pepperoni?

We’ve heard about the origins of the pepperoni roll. Italian immigrants conjured up the snack food so it could be easily consumed underground in the coal mines of north central West Virginia. 

Candace Nelson, BS ’11, Journalism, BA ’11, English, MS ’13, Journalism, a social media editor at WVU, digs into this Mountain State staple by exploring its history and evolution, including the controversial sticks vs. slices debate. 

Nelson is making several appearances throughout the state this year to promote her book, published by WVU Press. And before you ask her to sign your book, try to hide that pepperoni grease stain on it. 

Fifty Cents and a Box Top


When you think of famous West Virginia musicians, you might instantly gravitate toward Brad Paisley, Bill Withers and Kathy Mattea.

Let’s add Charlie McCoy to that list. 

National Public Radio labeled McCoy a “musical quarterback of 1960s Nashville.” But his influence certainly transcends Nashville.

Born in Oak Hill, W.Va., McCoy has performed with legends ranging from Bob Dylan to Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash to Ringo Starr. The Grammy Award-winning musician, known largely for his magic on the harmonica, also served as music director on the country variety show “Hee Haw” and played with the Million Dollar Band. 

In this WVU Press book, which takes its title from an ad McCoy read in a comic book selling harmonicas for 50 cents and cereal box top, the Country Music Hall of Famer recounts stories of his life with the help of Travis Stimeling, MM '03, Music History, assistant professor of music history at WVU. 

Early Native Americans in West Virginia: The Fort Ancient Culture 

Early Natives

It’s believed that the Fort Ancient people, a maize-based agricultural society of Native Americans, lived along the Ohio River and predominantly in southern West Virginia long before the first Europeans settled there. 

Darla Spencer, a Native American Studies professor at WVU, unearths the culture of the Fort Ancient population and tries to set the historical record straight on who lived in West Virginia before the first white settlers arrived. 

“Growing up in West Virginia, we were not taught in school about native people living here except those that built the mounds,” Spencer said. “Even today, people will tell me that they were taught that West Virginia was merely an Indian hunting ground with no permanent occupants. One reason for writing this book is to finally put this story to rest.”

Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia

Eyes Glowing

This anthology featuring 63 fiction writers and poets, many of whom are associated with WVU, pays heed to modern West Virginia and Appalachia in a literary sense. 

“These stories and poems, all published within the last 15 years, are grounded in what it means to live in and identify with a complex place,” according to the book’s summary. 

And the collection published by WVU Press captures all elements that exude throughout our state, from environmental beauty and peril to the hilarious and bleak. 

The Rebel in the Red Jeep: Ken Hechler’s Life in West Virginia Politics 


If you’re a West Virginian of at least 30 years old, a red jeep is synonymous with one of the state’s most iconoclastic politicians in history. Though Ken Hechler probably wouldn’t appreciate being dubbed a “politician.”

A Democrat and Long Island native, Hechler was first elected to Congress in 1958 after arriving in West Virginia just a year earlier to teach government at Marshall University. 

He went on to serve nine terms in the House of Representatives as a champion of civil rights and fighter for coal miners and mine safety. Hechler also served as West Virginia secretary of state and once worked as a speechwriter and researcher for President Harry Truman. 

He’d often be seen roaming the hills and hollows of West Virginia in a red jeep. 

Hechler told The Charleston Daily Mail in 2010, “I was always contrasting it with the Lincoln Town Cars and limousines that big shots were driving around in.”

He died in 2016 at the age of 102 but his legacy lives on courtesy of WVU Press within these 344 pages penned by Carter Taylor Seaton.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures books 
Unless you’re in hiding, by now you know about “Hidden Figures,” the story of a team of three black female mathematicians who helped calculate flight trajectories for groundbreaking space projects, including the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. 

The leader of the group was White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.-native Katherine Johnson, also the first black woman to desegregate graduate studies at WVU in 1938. 

“Several of the real-life women who are central characters in this important book have close ties to West Virginia, including Katherine Johnson, now 98 years old,” Provost Joyce McConnell said when it was announced that “Hidden Figures” would be the 2017-18 Campus Read, a book that all first-year WVU students will read and study this coming year. 

The book reached No. 1 on The New York Times Non-Fiction Best Sellers list.

The Industrialist and the Mountaineer


It’s time for the Hatfields and McCoys to step aside for a moment. 

Six years after the end of that feud emerged a new bloody encounter between rural West Virginia residents that garnered national media attention. 

The setting: Tucker County. 

The characters: Robert Eastham, a nature lover and former Confederate; and Frank Thompson, an industrialist, timber magnate and northern Republican. 

Thompson angered many of the locals, including farmers, with his lumber company blocking access to the Blackwater River. So when Eastham saw Thompson riding a train from Parsons to Davis, he confronted him. Gunshots were exchanged and one man was left dead, leading to political, environmental and legal ramifications in West Virginia at the turn of the 20th century. 

Written by Ronald Lewis, professor emeritus of history at WVU, “The Industrialist and the Mountaineer” from WVU Press captures a clash of the cultures and a power struggle over the Mountain State’s pristine land. 

We’re listening. You are our greatest voice. So use it. Use this form to send us story ideas, letters to the editor, questions for a future guest on Ask an Expert, memories for the Flashback section or tales for the Alumni Diary.

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