In and Around
(Darren Bush wrote this in the FAQ for rec.boats.paddle, borrowing in turn from rec.backcountry):
"Books are not a substitute for skill, nor can they make safe those who do not practice the principles of safety. Books are not substitutes for training. We do not wish to discourage people who have age old urges. But they can answer simple problems and questions. It is urged that the inexperienced avail themselves of instruction, training, and mentorship. We would counsel you remember the virtues of progressive training."
In other words, don't go to the library, get "How to Kayak Class V and Live to Tell", buy a kayak from the REI catalogue, and go for it. Not that anyone would be foolish enough to do that...
Performance Kayaking, by Stephen U'Ren, Stackpole Books, ISBN 0-8117-2299-6, is my favorite book for beginner kayakers. He covers all of the aspects of the sport in a nicely organized way, and shows how the more advanced whitewater moves follow from simpler, easier moves.
River Rescue, by Les Bechdel & Slim Ray; published by AMC Press. I consider this a standard textbook for kayakers. Full of good information, which should be practiced as far as possible by groups planning on boating together. Everything you wanted to know about Z-drags, but were afraid to ask. 8-) Endorsed by Charley Walbridge.
The Bombproof Roll and Beyond by Paul Dutky, Menasha Ridge Press, ISBN 0-89732-085-9, is the best book I've found for teaching boat lean, rolls, body position, and some of the more gymnastic aspects of the sport.
Kayak by William Nealy, Menasha Ridge Press, ISBN 0-89732-050-6, is not only a very funny book, but it is the *only* guide to advanced paddling techniques that I've seen. The information on river-reading is unique and terrific.
Keystone Canoeing, by Ed Gertler, published by Seneca Press, ISBN 0-9605908-3-8, is a great guide to the streams of the state. Ed has paddled just about anything with water in it, and this book covers every aspect of trips in PA, from getting there to what you'll find once you do.
Canoeing Guide to Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia, Roy R. Weil and Mary M. Shaw, published by Pittsburgh Council of American Youth Hostels, ISBN 1-879724-00-6 covers most of the western part of the state (Gertler covers most of the east). This is another wonderful and informative book by long-time PA paddlers. You can check out some of the data from book by checking their web site at Canoeing Guide to Western Pennsylvania.
Appalachian Whitewater: The Central Mountains, Menasha Ridge.
The Guide's Guide, by William McGinnis. While intended for raft guides planning and running long trips, it's useful for anyone who's trying to work out the logistic for a wilderness adventure.
Medicine for Mountainering, ed. by James A. Wilkerson, published by The Mountaineers. What to do when the doctor is not coming. The definitive work on backcountry and emergency medicine. Good reading during the winter months; excellent book to take along on in a drybag.
The Whitewater Sourcebook, by Richard Penny; published by Menasha Ridge. This is a *great* reference, full of pointers to outfitters, suppliers, guides, guidebooks, and darn near everything else that you can think of for rivers throughout North America. If I were going to plan a trip on an unfamiliar river, this is the first book I'd reach for.
River Safety Report (various years), by Charles C. Walbridge. Detailed descriptions and analyses of accidents in order to understand what happened, why it happened, and how to keep it from happening again. Charley is the chairman of the ACA River Safety Taskforce, and may have done more for whitewater safety than anyone alive. He's not afraid to be honestly blunt, to point out where the victim was stupid, etc. The truth hurts, but it also saves lives.
Rivers at Risk - The Concerned Citizen's Guide to Hydropower by John D. Echeverria, Pope Barrow & Richard Roos-Colins. Published by Island Press (220 pg., about $30 hardcover, $18 paper, Order through the AWA. This book explains the issues involved in hydropower politics and is useful for anyone trying to fight dams and other waterway intrusions.
Boatbuilder's Manual, by C. Walbridge; published by Menasha Ridge Press. How to build, modify and repair your own canoes and kayaks.