The New River Valley region of Virginia is an area of the Commonwealth with a rich history, breathtaking natural scenery and more than a few adequate pastimes. Even a cursory glance at what this place has to offer reveals that it is not the culturally bereft locale it is often made out to be. Southwest Virginia served as the gateway to the west during the earliest days of American expansion, and it remains a top destination for outdoor activities from fishing to hiking.
In the interest of revealing this area’s latent charms and arming the new arrivals with the literary muscle to work through this new chapter in their lives, I have assembled a reading list for those who wish to familiarize themselves with the area as well as to motivate readers in such a transformative time as this.
“Follow the River” by James Alexander Thom
The story of Mary Draper Ingles, a colonial woman abducted from the village of Draper’s Meadow (where Virginia Tech now stands) during an attack by the Shawnee tribe in 1755, and her journey home from her captors in the Ohio River valley is one of Southwest Virginia’s most beloved historical tales. James Alexander Thom’s novelization of Mary Ingles’ ordeal became a national bestseller, and it has been a local classic ever since its publication in 1981.
“Fishing the New River Valley: An Angler’s Guide” by M. W. Smith
The New River and its various tributaries are a haven for smallmouth bass, rock bass, the Appalachia Darter and many other species of fish, in addition to being one of the five oldest rivers in the world according to some sources. This thin but handy guide to the best fishing spots in the area will have even the most well-informed anglers learning new things. Though you might not be a fisher at the moment, there’s no place in the world better to learn the art of angling than the NRV, and few better guides to getting the most out of the pastime.
“Looking for Alaska” by John Green
When I thought to myself, “what’s the best book I’ve read about going to a new place?” the first answer I came up with was the first novel from young adult superstar and YouTube extraordinaire John Green. This Printz Award-winning novel follows the story of a boy named Miles, nicknamed “Pudge” as he transfers to a new boarding school, guided by the last words of French writer Francois Rabelais, “I go to seek a great perhaps.” While the novel takes place at a high school in Alabama and is primarily concerned with Pudge’s relationship with the character Alaska, the implications behind the “great perhaps” will be different for every reader, and mulling over what your great perhaps might be is a worthy thought experiment that every college student will, at some point, go through.
If someone were to ask me to recommend them a gift of some kind or just anything to get them through a tough time, my first instinct is to recommend a book. The books I have mentioned here were chosen based on both their significance to the area as well as their value as works of prose. And honestly, all of them are just good, generally easy reads. Since a good book will contain a wide range of emotional experiences and will provoke the reader into self-reflection, there are few better things one can do at college than pick up a book or two.