The best books that take place in the American South (and contain a good bit of magical realism)

Rita Leganski Author Of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
By Rita Leganski

The Books I Picked & Why

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book cover of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Why this book?

Benjamin Button was a tiny mystery who was born unaccountably different (much like my own Bonaventure Arrow). I love the way Fitzgerald makes time run backward as Benjamin Button lives his life in reverse going from an infant resembling a seventy-year-old man to a young child whose mind is failing, to a small being who’s forgotten his remarkable life. This story allows readers to ponder the vast journey that takes place in every life. 


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A Gracious Plenty

By Sheri Reynolds

Book cover of A Gracious Plenty

Why this book?

Finch Nobles is a gutsy, burn-scarred loner. She’s also a cemetery caretaker who can hear the dead talking. She listens to their stories and engages them in conversation, since they’re the only friends she has. This story is strong from the start, and so are all of its characters. I found it easy to love as I witnessed Finch finding out what she needed to know. 


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Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

Book cover of Life of Pi

Why this book?

This story weaves fantasy into philosophy, and it doesn’t get better than that! Piscine Molitor (Pi) Patel, the son of a zookeeper, sets sail with his family from Pondicherry, India on a cargo ship bound for Canada. But it’s an ill-fated trip, and Pi finds himself on a lifeboat in the company of wild animals, one of whom is a talking Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. But who is Richard Parker, really? I’m in awe of Yann Martel’s imagination and this story’s revelations about what it is to be human.


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Peace Like a River

By Leif Enger

Book cover of Peace Like a River

Why this book?

I’m a firm believer that we can learn a lot from our younger selves. This unforgettable story contains a touch of magical realism and is told by Reuben Land, a man reminiscing about a quest he once went on with his father, Jeremiah, and his younger sister, the courageous Swede, as they set out to find his brother, Davy. This one speaks of love, loss, and faith as seen through the eyes of Reuben’s eleven-year-old self. Beautifully told, it explores extraordinary truths about life, death, and miracles.


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The Third Angel

By Alice Hoffman

Book cover of The Third Angel

Why this book?

This one is all about the enchantment and disenchantment that comes with love. In it, women fall for the wrong sort of man and a grieving mother grows “belladonna, thorn apple, hemlock, black nightshade...everything poisonous” in her garden. The story is told in reverse until it comes to 12-year-old Lucy Green in 1952 who blames herself for a tragic accident, then spends forty years looking for the angel she hopes will renew her faith.


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