The best southern themed books you’ve never heard of (maybe)

Why am I passionate about this?

My heart has been Southern for 35 years although I was raised in Boston and never knew the South until well into my adulthood. I loved it as soon as I saw it but I needed to learn it before I could call it home. These books and others helped shape me as a Southerner and as an author of historical Southern Jewish novels. Cormac McCarthy doesn’t describe 19th-century North Carolina so much as immerse his voice and his reader in it. Dara Horn captures her era seamlessly. Steve Stern is so wedded to place he elevates it to mythic. I don’t know if these five are much read anymore but they should be.


I wrote...

An Undisturbed Peace

By Mary Glickman,

Book cover of An Undisturbed Peace

What is my book about?

Greensborough, North Carolina, 1828. Abrahan Naggar arrives in America from the slums of East London in search of a better life. But Abe’s vision of golden opportunity are soon replaced by the grim reality of indentured servitude.

Fifty miles west, Dark Water of the Mountains, the daughter of a Cherokee chief, leads a life of solitude. Twenty years before, she renounced her family’s plans for her to marry a wealthy white man—a decision that proves fateful. And in Georgia, Jacob, a Black slave, resigns himself to a life of loss in a Cherokee city of refuge for criminals. As their stories converge, the three outsiders will witness the horrors of Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act—just as they also discover the possibility for hope. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady

Mary Glickman Why did I love this book?

There is one very excellent reason to read this book: It’s hilarious. Ms. King delivers her memoir of a 1950s-60s Southern childhood with searing, laugh-til-you-cry wit as she turns classic Southern tropes on their eccentric heads. Everything from the ubiquitous obsession with lineage (“Who are your people?”) to a mother’s nickname for a wayward child (“Mama Tried”) receives its due. It’s a must-read if you want to understand Southern culture or if only to make acquaintance with Ms. King’s most famous one-liner, an admission of the indelible effects of Southern training even in failed ladies: “No matter what sex I slept with, I never smoked on the street.” 

By Florence King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is Florence King's classic memoir of her upbringing in an eccentric Southern family, told with all the uproarious wit and gusto that has made her one of the most admired writers in the country. Florence may have been a disappointment to her Granny, whose dream of rearing a Perfect Southern Lady would never be quite fulfilled. But after all, as Florence reminds us, "no matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street."


Book cover of The Lonely Days Were Sundays: Reflections of a Jewish Southerner

Mary Glickman Why did I love this book?

As a fiction author who investigates the Southern Jewish Experience as it transects with the African American one, I’ve found the work of Eli Evans indispensible. This collection of essays highlights Evans’ Civil Rights Era bona fides, his work in the LBJ administration as speech writer, his trip with Henry Kissinger to the Middle East. But it is also a book at its most personal and insightful when it celebrates small-town Southern life and the Southern Jew’s place in it. In the title essay Christian neighbors, both Black and white, are at church or enjoying Sunday supper after church, which leaves the often isolated Jewish children with little to do. An experimental fishing trip with his father on one such Sunday warms the heart and brings a smile. It’s worth the price of the book entire.

By Eli N. Evans,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lonely Days Were Sundays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of essays by the astute historian Eli N. Evans is written from the unique perspective of a Jew raised in the South.


Book cover of Outer Dark

Mary Glickman Why did I love this book?

I am an unabashed Cormac McCarthy fan and this novel from 1968 is perfection in both mood and dialogue. I have always found it his best, surpassing even the superb The Road. In what feels to be Appalachia in the late 19th or early 20th century, Rinthy, a young orphan, lives in isolation with her brother, Culla, who impregnates her. When the child is born, Culla, consumed by guilt and fear of exposure, abandons the child in the woods, telling Rinthy the child has died when in fact it is stolen from its place of abandonment by a tinker. The remainder of the story chronicles Rinthy’s search for her child and her brother’s search for redemption. Meanwhile, a nameless evil in the form of three murderous strangers blankets the countryside in fear and awe. Eventually, tinker, baby, Rinthy, and her brother all fall under their influence. I don’t think I’ve ever read before or hope to read again a novel of such evocative, elemental power. A masterpiece.

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Outer Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By Cormac McCarthy, the author of the critically acclaimed Border Trilogy, Outer Dark is a novel at once mythic and starkly evocative, set in an unspecified place in Appalachia sometime around the turn of the century. A woman bears her brother's child, a boy; the brother leaves the baby in the woods and tells her he died of natural causes. Discovering her brother's lie, she sets forth alone to find her son. Both brother and sister wander separately through a countryside being scourged by three terrifying and elusive strangers, headlong toward an eerie, apocalyptic resolution.


Book cover of All Other Nights

Mary Glickman Why did I love this book?

Dara Horn is a fabulous writer. A recent work, People Love Dead Jews, won the National Jewish Book Award, and for good reason. She is an exquisitely profound, solidly intellectual writer in Guide for the Perplexed. In All Other Nights, she proves herself as a master storyteller on matters of the heart and soul. Set during the Civil War, a young Jewish man volunteers for not-so-patriotic reasons in the Union Army and is set upon a mission of spying and assassination at the bosom of his Southern family. It’s a brilliant story of lovers and enemies separated and reunited with the tragedies of war in between. Beyond all that, it’s a meditation on loyalty and the cruel duplicity of man. Our hero faces innumerable moral choices that attempt to answer the question: What’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a war like this? Horn’s answers do not disappoint.

By Dara Horn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How is tonight different from all other nights? For Jacob Rappaport, a Jewish soldier in the Union army during the Civil War, it is a question his commanders have already answered for him-on Passover, 1862, he is ordered to murder his own uncle in New Orleans, who is plotting to assassinate President Lincoln. After this harrowing mission, Jacob is recruited to pursue another enemy agent, the daughter of a Virginia family friend. But this time, his assignment isn't to murder the spy, but to marry her. Their marriage, with its riveting and horrifying consequences, reveals the deep divisions that still…


Book cover of The Frozen Rabbi

Mary Glickman Why did I love this book?

For my money, Stern is the South’s premiere literary comic writer. In this one, he is a Southern Philip Roth with an I.B. Singer twist. A teenage boy discovers a frozen rabbi in the Kelvinator inside his parent’s Memphis basement. The rabbi’s been frozen for one hundred years. Bernie thaws him and what ensues covers a universe of incident: teenage hope and angst, Talmudic wisdom, kabbalistic film-flammery, the seduction of all of Memphis, from lowlifes to elite, by a rabbi (who can fly) selling himself as the font of all magic and knowledge. Stern obviously loves his Memphis and his Jews. At the same time he skewers them with the sleekest wit. Even Israel gets a gratuitous knock. It was the only thing I did not like in the book but it was fleeting, so I got over it. Such is the power of genius.

By Steve Stern,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Award-winning novelist Steve Stern's exhilarating epic recounts the story of how a nineteenth-century rabbi from a small Polish town ends up in a basement freezer in a suburban Memphis home at the end of the twentieth century. What happens when an impressionable teenage boy inadvertently thaws out the ancient man and brings him back to life is nothing short of miraculous.


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The Truth About Unringing Phones

By Lara Lillibridge,

Book cover of The Truth About Unringing Phones

Lara Lillibridge

New book alert!

What is my book about?

When Lara was four years old, her father moved from Rochester, New York, to Anchorage, Alaska, a distance of over 4,000 miles. She spent her childhood chasing after him, flying a quarter of the way around the world to tug at the hem of his jacket.

Now that he is in his eighties, she contemplates her obligation to an absentee father. The Truth About Unringing Phones is an exploration of responsibility and culpability told in experimental and fragmented essays.

The Truth About Unringing Phones

By Lara Lillibridge,

What is this book about?

When Lara was four years old, her father moved from Rochester, New York, to Anchorage, Alaska, a distance of over 4,000 miles. She spent her childhood chasing after him, flying a quarter of the way around the world to tug at the hem of his jacket. Now that he is in his eighties, she contemplates her obligation to an absentee father.




The Truth About Unringing Phones: Essays on Yearning is an exploration of responsibility and culpability told in experimental and fragmented essays.


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