The best Southern novels with prose good enough to make you forget the world’s on fire

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m from East Texas, which is closer in culture and climate to the South than the Southwest. The southern voice in American literature has given us countless classics, specifically when it comes to dealing with our very dark, very human nature. Violence, racism, religion, and redemption are all explored under the Southern Gothic umbrella. My own upbringing exposed me to much of the darkness that still exists in these shadowed pockets of the country. I want to illuminate some of those places, and each of these books serves as a massive spotlight. 


I wrote...

River, Sing Out

By James Wade,

Book cover of River, Sing Out

What is my book about?

Attempting to escape his abusive father and generations of cyclical poverty, young Jonah Hargrove joins the mysterious River -- a teenage girl carrying thousands of dollars in stolen meth -- and embarks on a southern gothic odyssey through the East Texas river bottoms. They are pursued by local drug kingpin, John Curtis, and his murderous enforcer, Dakota Cade, with whom River was romantically involved. But Cade and Curtis have their own enemies, as their relationship with the cartel controlling their meth supply begins to sour.

With a colorful cast of supporting characters and an unflinching violence juxtaposed against lyrical prose, River, Sing Out dives deep into a sinister and sanguinary world, where oppressive poverty is pitted against the hope of something greater.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Suttree

James Wade Why did I love this book?

Though my own work will never come close to equaling its wonder, this is the novel that taught me the most about the actual craft of writing. Before he redefined the western, Cormac McCarthy was a master of Southern Gothic storytelling, and Suttree was his crowning achievement. Perhaps only Blood Meridian does more in the McCarthy canon as far as elevated imagery, but Suttree accomplishes its beauty without the benefit of the sprawling southwestern landscape. Rather, McCarthy’s Knoxville becomes like Joyce’s Dublin, and he paints it in such vivid dereliction, there can be no mistaking Suttree is the novel by which all other southern works ought to compare themselves. Bonus points for somehow making watermelon fornication into a literary act.

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Suttree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Suttree is a compelling, semi-autobiographical novel by Cormac McCarthy, which has as its protagonist Cornelius Suttree, living alone and in exile in a disintegrating houseboat on the wrong side of the Tennessee River close by Knoxville. He stays at the edge of an outcast community inhabited by eccentrics, criminals and the poverty-stricken. Rising above the physical and human squalor around him, his detachment and wry humour enable him to survive dereliction and destitution with dignity.


Book cover of Provinces of Night

James Wade Why did I love this book?

Gay was a McCarthy disciple and Provinces of Night is his greatest work. Though he often mimics McCarthy (and in my opinion came closer to McCarthy than anyone else), he finds a desperate, haunting voice that is all his own. Provinces of Night (the title taken from a line in McCarthy’s Child of God) does a remarkable job of storytelling with multiple characters leading the narrative. Bonus points for this quote: “Life blindsides you so hard you can taste the bright copper blood in your mouth then it beguiles you with a gift of profound and appalling beauty.”

By William Gay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Provinces of Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The year is 1952, and E.F. Bloodworth has returned to his home - a forgotten corner of Tennessee - after twenty years of roaming. The wife he walked out on has withered and faded. His three sons are grown and angry. Warren is a womanising alcoholic; Boyd is driven by jealousy to hunt down his wife's lover; and Brady puts hexes on his enemies from his mother's porch. Only Fleming, the old man's grandson, treats him with respect and sees past all the hatred, realising the way it can poison a man's soul. It is ultimately the love of Raven…


Book cover of As I Lay Dying

James Wade Why did I love this book?

A classic, and perhaps too much so. Many scholars of Faulkner believe there are other, greater titles in his career that should stand as his seminal work. However, this is the first of his novels that I read, and so perhaps had the advantage when it came to leaving an impression. Again, the multi-faceted storytelling is most impressive, as are the not-so-subtle themes of death and religion. Bonus points for the shortest chapter in literary history: My mother is a fish.

By William Faulkner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked As I Lay Dying as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The death and burial of Addie Bundren is told by members of her family, as they cart the coffin to Jefferson, Mississippi, to bury her among her people. And as the intense desires, fears and rivalries of the family are revealed in the vernacular of the Deep South, Faulkner presents a portrait of extraordinary power - as epic as the Old Testament, as American as Huckleberry Finn.


Book cover of Look Homeward, Angel

James Wade Why did I love this book?

Wolfe is, in my opinion, a writer’s writer. His passion for life and for the written word are evident in the way he seemingly attacks each page. Some have called his writing “exhausting,” and it may very well be—but no doubt because the writer himself was exhausted by the time he was finished. Look Homeward, Angel is one of the great American novels and its theme of growing up and coming of age and leaving home is as universal as it is timeless. Bonus points for the inspired paragraphs in which Wolfe depicts every smell Eugene Gant is exposed to from the time he is a toddler to the time he begins school. 

By Thomas Wolfe,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Look Homeward, Angel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The spectacular, history-making first novel about a young man’s coming of age by literary legend Thomas Wolfe, first published in 1929 and long considered a classic of twentieth century literature.

A legendary author on par with William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Wolfe published Look Homeward, Angel, his first novel, about a young man’s burning desire to leave his small town and tumultuous family in search of a better life, in 1929. It gave the world proof of his genius and launched a powerful legacy.

The novel follows the trajectory of Eugene Gant, a brilliant and restless young man whose…


Book cover of Where All Light Tends to Go

James Wade Why did I love this book?

I don’t read many current authors. It’s not their fault I’m a slow reader and have so many older novels to work through. But there are exceptions and David Joy is certainly one of those. I’d recommend starting at his beginning with Where All Light Tends to Go. His voice helped (and is still helping) usher in a new generation of southern authors. Joy, unlike the other authors on this list, tends to lean toward spare prose, which creates a bingeable quality to his work. Bonus points for a perfect ending. 

By David Joy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Where All Light Tends to Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel

“Remarkable . . . This isn’t your ordinary coming-of-age novel, but with his bone-cutting insights into these men and the region that bred them, Joy makes it an extraordinarily intimate experience.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

"Lyrical, propulsive, dark and compelling. Joy knows well the grit and gravel of his world, the soul and blemishes of the place."--Daniel Woodrell

In the country-noir tradition of Winter's Bone meets 'Breaking Bad,' a savage and beautiful story of a young man seeking redemption.

The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home…


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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."


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