New Year’s resolutions reflect personal values. Many resolutions relate to our physical being: we resolve to lose weight or start an exercise program. Some resolutions relate to strengthening our spiritual lives, but it seems to me that people should also resolve to improve their minds.

In 2021, I encourage you to start a reading program. Watch television less and read more. Toward that end, I invite you to join the Jesse Stuart Foundation book discussion group, “The Regional Readers.” We read and discuss books written by Appalachian authors and books with Appalachian themes. We meet the last Tuesday of the month, March through November, at 2 p.m. in the JSF Conference Room. The book group is open to all and new members are always welcome. We all teach by example. If you want your children and grandchildren to be good readers, then you need to read and set a good example.

Reading helps you build “mental muscles,” and I’ll recommend a few books to add to your 2021 reading list:

• “Hidden Heroes of the Big Sandy Valley” is a collection of biographical essays by seventeen of the region’s best authors. Reading this book will be an exercise in self-discovery for many local readers.

• “Men of Valor” by popular local journalist Sam Piatt is a collection of World War II stories that profile men from southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky.

• “Jesse Stuart: Immortal Kentuckian” is a comprehensive study of one of Kentucky’s best-known and most-loved writers.

• “Presidential Visits to Kentucky” by retired Kentucky librarian and archivist Wayne Onkst describes each historic visit to the Commonwealth by U.S. Presidents from 1819 to 2017.

• “Appalachian Murders & Mysteries” is a collection of 23 true stories written by seventeen regional authors describing 200 years of murder and mayhem in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southern Ohio.

• “Sergeant Sandlin: Kentucky’s Forgotten Hero” is the biography of Willie Sandlin, the only native Kentuckian to receive the Medal of Honor in World War I.

• “Mark My Words” by well-known local author Mark Maynard is a popular collection of stories about the legendary sports heroes of northeastern Kentucky.

• “The View From My Keyboard” by Keith Kappes, winner of national and statewide newspaper awards for personal commentary, is a collection of 125 of his best weekly columns.

• For your post-Christmas reading, I recommend “True Christmas Stories From the Heart of Appalachia,” a collection of 43 true stories by 39 mostly local authors.

These books are included among more than 10,000 individual titles in the Jesse Stuart Foundation Bookstore & Appalachian Gift Shop at 4440 13th Street in Ashland.  For more information, call (606) 326-1667 or visit

Happy New Year from your friends at the Jesse Stuart Foundation!

JAMES M. GIFFORD, Ph.D., is CEO & Senior Editor at Jesse Stuart Foundation.

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