The best Southern Gothic books for today’s readers

Who am I?

I’ve lived in the South all my life. When I travel the world, I recognize a certain vision and way of life that is unique to the southern United States. The prose that springs from our shared history of societal tragedies, our deeply engrained family sagas, and from the very nature of our land itself—dripping with Spanish moss, humidity, and blood from the sins of our past—is rich, meaningful, and snatches at the soul. My goal in writing Southern Gothic is to transcend race, gender, and political affiliation in favor of eliciting a conviction of the heart toward a better future for all.


I wrote...

Winter's Reckoning: A Novel

By Adele Holmes,

Book cover of Winter's Reckoning: A Novel

What is my book about?

In 1917, herbalist Madeline Fairbanks is devoted to the people of a dying town in the Southern Appalachians. Renetta Morgan—with whom it is taboo to fraternize because of race—is her apprentice.

On a cold September wind, charismatic Carl Howard blows into town astraddle a stallion of near-mythic proportions. With no reason to doubt him, the town accepts him as their new pastor. But Carl casts a wider net, claiming power, leadership, and much more than he has a right to. Maddie does not bend the knee to Carl, but continues in her progressive ways—and in doing so, finds herself accused of witchcraft and targeted by the KKK.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

A Rose for Emily

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of A Rose for Emily

Why this book?

I like to start with an easy read to slide into the Southern Gothic genre. While a macabre or grotesque element is required, mysticism—or even magical realism—is not required to label a work as a Southern Gothic, though many Southern Gothic pieces hold hauntings front and center. 

A Rose for Emily is a short story, an allegory for the stuck ways of the old South, wherein at the funeral of an elderly, reclusive woman the town recalls her lifetime of idiosyncrasies. And shortly thereafter, they find harrowing evidence of her true nature. The tale is a quick read from the master of Southern Gothic and is all that one needs to spark the desire to descend into the genre.


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

By John Berendt,

Book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

Why this book?

A favorite guilty pleasure, I read this non-fiction novel on repeat. And egads, please don’t miss the cover photo of The Bird Girl, a chilling statue that inhabits a cemetery. It drips Southern Gothic, as does the name of the book itself: the half-hour before midnight is a time for good magic, the half-hour after is time for malevolence. Have goosebumps yet?

The story is based on the murder of a prostitute for which the protagonist is accused. The allure of the tale includes fascinating, eccentric characters, the beauty of Savannah’s haunting charm, and the mystical underpinnings of hoodoo which waft a veil of mysticism over the story—a story that will possess your consciousness interminably.


Beloved

By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Beloved

Why this book?

Though this novel is set in Ohio, it is Southern Gothic because of the fact that the protagonist, Sethe, cannot mentally escape from the plantation in the South where she was formerly enslaved. While the character, Beloved, is portrayed as a ghostly being, the true horror of the novel is the fact that Sethe is willing to kill her children to keep them from a life of slavery.

No one writes like Toni Morrison, and in this novel she shows that no one ever really escapes the humiliation, the inhumanity, the terror of slavery. I cannot do justice to explaining all the intertwining themes, but believe me: this is a classic.


Winter's Bone

By Daniel Woodrell,

Book cover of Winter's Bone

Why this book?

For a taste of modern-day Southern Gothic, read this.

Set in the Ozarks, 17-year-old protagonist, Ree Dolly, takes up the mantle of caretaker and survival overseer for her family after her father disappears. Epic in its mix of family secrets, general despair, and societal ignorance, Winter’s Bone serves up humanity at its worst: the underbelly of the meth world in the forgotten parts of our country. And yet, the will to survive is strong in Ree. 

I can tell you from experience, this backwoods life still exists in places today.


The Cicada Tree

By Robert Gwaltney,

Book cover of The Cicada Tree

Why this book?

Finally, a recently-written novel that checks all the boxes for Southern Gothic.

Beautiful prose, memorable and believable characters, excellent plot line, fascinating ending—what more could a reader ask for? The Southern Gothic elements of course: spirituality, mystery, racial tensions, eccentric/mad characters, death, and decay. The South's heat and humidity almost drip from the page. And there are ghosts!

“Some things in this world are meant to burn,” is the tagline for this book, and trust me, this read is on fire.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Southern Gothic, Georgia (USA), and the Ozarks?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Southern Gothic, Georgia (USA), and the Ozarks.

Southern Gothic Explore 24 books about Southern Gothic
Georgia (USA) Explore 49 books about Georgia (USA)
The Ozarks Explore 12 books about the Ozarks

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Devil in the White City, In Cold Blood, and Invisible Cities if you like this list.