The best books about Arkansas

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Arkansas and why they recommend each book.

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The Dixie Association

By Donald Hays,

Book cover of The Dixie Association

I was working as a flak at Simon & Schuster when this book came out, and I helped to write the flap copy, so it feels to me like I had a hand in it. As an aspiring writer, I remember admiring the hell out of this novel. On a recent re-read, as a grizzled, wizened veteran writer, I still do. Hays gives us a collection of memorable characters, and a wild, vagabonding tale that offers a glimpse at minor league life in the deep South. There’s humor and heartache and all that good stuff. 


Who am I?

I’m a writer and a lifelong baseball fan with a weakness for baseball-ish fiction. For a lot of folks, this means reading the usual suspects: Kinsella, Malamud, Coover, Roth, DeLillo... But I especially enjoy stumbling across under-the-radar novels that can’t help but surprise in their own ways. I enjoy this so much, in fact, I went out and wrote one of my own – inspired by the life and career of an all-but-forgotten ballplayer from the 1880s named Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap, one of the greats of the game in his time. In the stuff of his life there was the stuff of meaning and moment… of the sort you’ll find in the books I’m recommending here.


I wrote...

A Single Happened Thing

By Daniel Paisner,

Book cover of A Single Happened Thing

What is my book about?

A father, a daughter, a forgotten icon of 1880s baseball... these are the players in Daniel Paisner's haunting novel about the specter of love and legacy that fills our days and colors our relationships.

A Single Thing Happened
tells the story of a going-nowhere book publicist, David Felb, who encounters the ghost of a former ballplayer - Fred "Sure Shot" Dunlap, a once-legendary second baseman whose career has lapsed into obscurity. Soon, the spirit of Dunlap begins to unsettle Felb's relationships and cloud his already murky worldview. As his tether on reason appears to unravel, the protagonist's daughter Iona - a colorful teenager with a penchant for DayGlo-dyed hair, body piercings, and our national pastime - joins Felb in his quest to be proven sane and whole. In the end, it is Iona's emergence as a confident, self-reliant young woman that sets Felb right, even as his marriage unravels on the back of this ghostly apparition. 

Warriors Don't Cry

By Melba Pattillo Beals,

Book cover of Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High

We all know the iconic photograph of the Little Rock Nine; the nine black students who first integrated Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the picture, you see a young black female, walking stoically towards school, clutching books, hidden behind dark glasses as a mob of white people screams at her. What is behind that face?

This is that story. The story of how the American legal system creates fear and loathing. Her truth stares you in the face, her strength resonates in your backbone. Rather than curse her oppressors, she reveals the heroes, the villains, the people, and the law who tried to tear down the Little Rock Nine - and stand them up. Equal time is given to humanity and humiliation. 

This book discusses integration, laws, discrimination, and human kindness all interwoven into an excellent historical account. It doesn’t reduce the 9 to photos, but rather people…


Who am I?

I am an award-winning true crime author, criminologist, and victims advocate who has written and presented on crime for over 30 years. I know that history teaches us how and why crime occurs and why it will happen again, but crime doesn't happen in a vacuum. History, personality, and human nature all play a part. There is always a "story behind the story." I appreciate true crime books that teach us rather than sensationalize. The faster we share knowledge, the easier it is to catch criminals.


I wrote...

When Nashville Bled: The untold stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid

By Judith A. Yates,

Book cover of When Nashville Bled: The untold stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid

What is my book about?

He was evil personified. In the Spring of 1997, a serial killer held Nashville, Tennessee in an icy grip of terror. Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. was caught and sentenced to seven death sentences, yet a new chapter began in the saga of one of the most heinous serial killers in our time, and the people whose lives he cut short. The victims were reduced to being called "the victims of Paul Reid." Until now. Here, for the first time, and with the approval of the family and friends, are the stories of those innocent, young people whose lives were ended far too soon. It is also the story of how a crime ripped a city apart.

Strangled Prose

By Joan Hess,

Book cover of Strangled Prose

As owner of a dusty bookshop and mother of a teen daughter, widow Claire Malloy is hesitant to host a book party for a smutty romance author. But the two women are friends, so she does, and this being a cozy mystery, murder results. Claire’s droll wit, the funny situations, and the sparring between Claire and the handsome detective keep the pages turning in this well-plotted mystery. Strangled Prose is the first book in the Claire Malloy series.


Who am I?

I’ve been addicted to reading and writing mystery novels since I picked up my first Nancy Drew. But in addition to a good puzzle, I also love a good laugh and grew up watching classic screwball comedies. I’ve written a dozen funny cozy mysteries now with more in the works. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!


I wrote...

Big Shot: A Small Town Cozy Mystery

By Kirsten Weiss,

Book cover of Big Shot: A Small Town Cozy Mystery

What is my book about?

Hi. I’m Alice. The number one secret to my success as a bodyguard? Staying under the radar. But when a public disaster blew up my career and my reputation, my perfect, solo life took a hard left turn to small-town Nowhere, Nevada. And to bodies. Lots of dead bodies…

Sugar

By Bernice L. McFadden,

Book cover of Sugar

Once upon a time, I was the founder and president of a book club, Literary Ladies Alliance. Many moons ago, LLA chose Sugar as our monthly reading selection. I was absolutely floored by this unlikely, unconventional heroine of the same name as the novel set in a small southern town that wasn’t ready for this seductive storm, i.e. Sugar. I found her shockingly bold and beautifully unapologetic despite her disreputable past and “questionable morals.” She hungered for love, endured dangerous risks and scandal; and yet for me, Sugar moved with an air of voluptuous freedom that captivated my church girl imagination and respect. While Dianne McKinney Whetstone is my favorite author, Sugar is undoubtedly my favorite novel! I’ve read the book twice and would readily devour it again for its captivating journey back in time and its uncharacteristic, boldly unforgettable heroine. 


Who am I?

I have a youthful spirit, but an old soul. Perhaps, that’s why I love African American history and gravitated to Black Studies as my undergraduate degree. My reverence for my ancestors sends me time and again to African-American historical fiction in an effort to connect with our past. Growing up, I was that kid who liked being around my elders and eavesdropping on grown-ups' conversations. Now, I listen to my ancestors as they guide my creativity. I’m an award-winning hybrid author writing contemporary and historical novels, and I value each. Still, it’s those historical characters and tales that snatch me by the hand and passionately urge me to do their bidding. 


I wrote...

My Name Is Ona Judge

By Suzette Harrison,

Book cover of My Name Is Ona Judge

What is my book about?

New Hampshire, 1796. “My name is Ona Judge, and I escaped from the household of the President of the United States. I was the favored maid of George and Martha Washington, but they deemed me a slave and thought me property. Now I must write the truth that I have lived, and tell my story…”

Meet Ona Judge, the young, brave lady’s maid who dared to risk her entire world by escaping enslavement. Take a walk through her early years and the circumstances that led to her harrowing escape. A dynamic dual timeline narrative based on a true story, this riveting novel will whisk you to another world and arrest your imagination.

The Lions of Little Rock

By Kristin Levine,

Book cover of The Lions of Little Rock

I had long been familiar with the events of Little Rock Central High, having read books, articles, and online accounts of the attempt to integrate this Arkansas school. I found The Lions of Little Rock an accurate and compelling novel that provides young adults with a masterful introduction to how attempts to integrate the Jim Crow South impacted its children. Built on the seminal events to integrate Arkansas’s Little Rock High in 1958, the friendship of young Marlee and Liz portrays how segregation damages not just communities, but friendships. Young adults will be pulled in by Levine’s blend of plot, humor, and emotion to make this a memorable work of historical fiction that may inspire young readers to engage in the cause of civil rights. 


Who am I?

I was born in Georgia but grew up in Florida during Jim Crow. My earliest memory of racism was when my mother took me downtown to buy new school shoes. I grew thirsty, so I went to drink from the “colored” water fountain. My young mind may have been attracted to water that might have been blue or pink or green. Quickly my mother whisked me to the “white” fountain, and it was then that I first began to question the racism that was part of my Southern heritage. I wrote Spite Fences to explore the historical barriers erected against equal treatment for African-Americans. All of those prohibitions are fences, limiting opportunity, begging to be torn down. 


I wrote...

Spite Fences

By Trudy Krisher,

Book cover of Spite Fences

What is my book about?

Maggie Pugh has lived all her young life in Kinship, Georgia. In all that time, almost nothing has changed in her racially divided town. If you are poor, you live on the west side. If you are rich, you live in the north. If you are white, you can sit at the counter at Byer's drugs. If you are black, you have to eat outside.

That's just the way things are in the Jim Crow South. Then something horrible happens, and Maggie is the only eyewitness to this scene of racial injustice. As Maggie’s world explodes, she wonders: Who can she tell? Who would care? Can Black Lives Matter in Georgia in 1961? Read this classic, award-winning work of historical fiction to explore Maggie’s struggle for justice and redemption.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Maya Angelou,

Book cover of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The reason I chose this book is because it serves as an inspiration for anyone who has experienced hurt and disappointment. This book spoke to my soul, I could identify with the feelings of hurt in my life that have caused me to crawl up into a tiny space and isolate myself from the world. I could also identify with feeling like there’s nobody in the world that can identify with the pain that one feels sometimes. The most important takeaway I gained from this book is that we all have hidden gifts inside of us that are waiting to be discovered. And just like Maya in the book, I too know why the caged bird sings. I know what it is to finally say all the things you have been holding inside and how it frees your spirit like a bird in flight.


Who am I?

I'm the author of Penelope’s Purple Passions. I've been in love with writing poetry since I was a little girl. I would go under the bunk bed at night with my flashlight and write all these poems about love, not that I knew anything about love, but what I did know was how writing poetry made me feel. I believe love is truly the most valuable gift we can give to another soul in our lifetime. I want my poetry to empower people and be that beacon of light in people’s lives.  Poetry is the avenue where I can spread love and hope globally to anyone who picks up my books.


I wrote...

Penelope's Purple Passions

By Penelope Chaisson,

Book cover of Penelope's Purple Passions

What is my book about?

Penelope’s Purple Passions is a story of the butterfly who innocently falls in love only to find out that love can be complicated, and that it changes and evolves just as she does. She is about to embark upon a life-changing journey—one of self-discovery, transformation, and evolution. Once the butterfly accepts that everything is about growth and evolution, she views her journey differently. It’s as though someone has given her a new lens to see through, and now her vision is clear for her expectations of life, love, and self-worth. Then, there’s the ultimate realization that without the hardships and growing pains, she would not have been able to transform into the beautiful butterfly that she sees when she looks in the mirror.

The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks

By Donald Harington,

Book cover of The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks

It may be pure fiction, but Harington’s saga of the remote community of Stay More (home, of course, to the Stay Morons) is still the best, most entertaining history of the Ozarks in existence. Beneath the postmodern devices and 1970s-era subversiveness, Harington’s abiding love for the Ozarks and its people shines through. From the backcountry dialect to the intricacies of a century and a half of regional history, it remains – for my money – the best thing ever written about the Ozarks.


Who am I?

I can’t say that I was even conscious of having grown up in the Ozarks until stumbling upon a regional geography book in college. Once I learned that the rural community of my childhood was part of a hill country stretching from the outskirts of St. Louis into the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, I dedicated my life’s work to explaining (and demystifying) the Ozarkers – a people not quite southern, not quite midwestern, and not quite western.


I wrote...

A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: The Old Ozarks

By Brooks Blevins,

Book cover of A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: The Old Ozarks

What is my book about?

The Ozarks reflect the epic of the American people—natives and would-be colonial conquerors, the determined settlers and on-the-make speculators, the endless labors of hardscrabble farmers, and capitalism of visionary entrepreneurs. The Old Ozarks is the first volume of a monumental three-part history of the region. 

Brooks Blevins charts how these highlands of granite, dolomite, and limestone came to exist. From there he turns to the motivations behind the eagerness of many peoples to possess the Ozarks. Blevins places these settlers within the context of broader American history. But he also tells the varied and colorful human stories that fill the region's storied past—and contribute to the powerful myths that even today distort our views of the Ozarks. A sweeping history in the grand tradition, A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1: The Old Ozarks is essential reading for anyone who cares about the highland heart of America.

The Ozarks

By Vance Randolph,

Book cover of The Ozarks: An American Survival of Primitive Society

It is doubtful that anyone has been more associated with an American region than Vance Randolph is with the Ozarks. Ornery and darkly romantic, Randolph was always attracted to people on the margins. Few were more marginal than the Ozarkers in the early twentieth century. While we must take a lot of Randolph’s “nonfiction” with a dose of salt, The Ozarks, originally published in 1931, was the first book-length documentary take on the region and its people. It set the stage for generations of Ozarks observations to come. 


Who am I?

I can’t say that I was even conscious of having grown up in the Ozarks until stumbling upon a regional geography book in college. Once I learned that the rural community of my childhood was part of a hill country stretching from the outskirts of St. Louis into the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, I dedicated my life’s work to explaining (and demystifying) the Ozarkers – a people not quite southern, not quite midwestern, and not quite western.


I wrote...

A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: The Old Ozarks

By Brooks Blevins,

Book cover of A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: The Old Ozarks

What is my book about?

The Ozarks reflect the epic of the American people—natives and would-be colonial conquerors, the determined settlers and on-the-make speculators, the endless labors of hardscrabble farmers, and capitalism of visionary entrepreneurs. The Old Ozarks is the first volume of a monumental three-part history of the region. 

Brooks Blevins charts how these highlands of granite, dolomite, and limestone came to exist. From there he turns to the motivations behind the eagerness of many peoples to possess the Ozarks. Blevins places these settlers within the context of broader American history. But he also tells the varied and colorful human stories that fill the region's storied past—and contribute to the powerful myths that even today distort our views of the Ozarks. A sweeping history in the grand tradition, A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1: The Old Ozarks is essential reading for anyone who cares about the highland heart of America.

With

By Donald Harington,

Book cover of With

Harington was one of the great unheralded—or at least under heralded—novelists of the last fifty years, bursting with stories and whole populations of flawlessly captured human voices, and With was one of his highest achievements. It follows the fortunes of a kidnapped girl in the Arkansas Ozarks who befriends the woods’ menagerie of animals, as well as the ghost (or, as Harington would style it, the “in-habit”) of a twelve-year-old boy whose body did not die but moved away and abandoned him. Recommended if you like your ghosts warm-hearted and aching for home.


Who am I?

I’ve written and published one hundred very short ghost stories, plus a handful of longer ones, and have spent a lifetime reading and watching and thinking about stories of ghosts and the afterlife. My expertise, such as it is, involves ghosts as beings of narrative and metaphor. I’ve encountered great numbers of them on the page and on the screen—nowhere else—but I confess that I would love someday (though don’t expect) to encounter them in the flesh. My flesh, that is to say; their fleshlessness.


I wrote...

The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories

By Kevin Brockmeier,

Book cover of The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories

What is my book about?

A spirit who is fated to spend eternity reliving the exact moment she lost her chance at love, ghostly trees that haunt the occupant of a wooden house, specters that snatch anyone who steps into the shadows, and parakeets that serve as mouthpieces for the dead—these are just a few of the characters in this extraordinary compendium of one hundred ghost stories. Kevin Brockmeier’s fiction has always explored the space between the fantastical and everyday with profundity and poignancy. Like his previous books, The Ghost Variations discovers new ways of looking at who we are and what matters to us, exploring how mysterious, sad, strange, and comical it is to be alive—or, as it happens, not to be.

Sam Walton, Made in America

By Sam Walton, John Huey,

Book cover of Sam Walton, Made in America: My Story

Sam Walton didn’t have a side hustle, but he was certainly a hustler. He fell in love with retail outsmarted his competition. It’s a fascinating read and takes the story of Walmart, one of America’s most successful companies and largest employers, all the way down to a competition between five and dime shops across the street from each other in a small town in Arkansas. If you think of each store as a stand-alone business (as Sam did), then Sam Walton was perhaps the most successful parallel entrepreneur in history.


Who am I?

I studied economics and environmental policy but landed in entrepreneurship. I wrote The Parallel Entrepreneur after I sold my first company and continued to work on Rbucks, my blog, after I joined the next company. Outside of work I volunteer frequently in my community. I’m an Associate Professor in the Business Department at Diablo Valley College, where I teach marketing and sit on the advisory boards for both the Business and Computer Science departments. I also lead the Diablo Valley Tech Initiative (DVTI), an economic development organization incubated at DVC. Related to DVTI, I run Lamorinda Entrepreneurs, a community group that promotes and supports local entrepreneurship. I have a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and a MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.


I wrote...

The Parallel Entrepreneur: How to start and run B2B businesses while keeping your day job

By Ryan Buckley,

Book cover of The Parallel Entrepreneur: How to start and run B2B businesses while keeping your day job

What is my book about?

Building a product on the internet is relatively easy these days. It's the making money part that's hard. I wrote this book to help you become a parallel entrepreneur faster than I did, and to encourage you to do so while you have the safety net of a day job.

I've divided this book into two parts: Theory and Tactics. The Theory section will cover all sides of parallel entrepreneurship and lean on both my experiences and those of others who have also ventured into parallel entrepreneurship. The Tactics section covers everything you need to know in order to plan, build, and run a business on the internet -- all while keeping your day job.

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