The best Southern Gothic books 📚

Browse the best books on Southern Gothic as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing

By Jesmyn Ward

Why this book?

Jojo in this novel breaks my heart. His mother neglects him, his father is in prison, and he must take care of his three-year-old sister Kayla on his own. He and the other characters in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi are haunted by drugs, poverty, and backwoods racism. They are also haunted by ghosts. Jojo’s mother Leonie sees the phantasmic presence of brother Given, and Jojo is followed by the ghost of a boy who was cruelly murdered in Parchman prison. Apparitions wait in the tall trees. 

From the list:

The best contemporary Southern Gothic novels

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Book cover of Collected Stories of William Faulkner

Collected Stories of William Faulkner

By William Faulkner

Why this book?

It's almost impossible to dive into Southern Gothic narratives without exploring the work of William Faulkner at some point, and his collected stories are a great place to start. Specifically, the story "A Rose for Emily" pretty much created the Southern Gothic literary genre. The writing is beautiful, evocative, haunting, and a springboard for the aspirations of many Southern writers, myself included.

From the list:

The best books to summon the off-kilter beauty of the grotesque

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Book cover of Wise Blood

Wise Blood

By Flannery O'Connor

Why this book?

William Faulkner might have been the father of Southern Gothic, but Flannery O’Connor was the master. This is one of those books that makes you thankful for genius. Because everything about this book is genius. The story is about a young man named Hazel Motes who struggles to avoid his relentless fate. O’Connor’s writing is filled with religious extremism, grotesqueness, and mental illness—all the things that make America great. If I could have written a single book—this would be it.  

From the list:

The best novels that are relentlessly twisted

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Book cover of God's Little Acre

God's Little Acre

By Erskine Caldwell

Why this book?

Erskine Caldwell is deeply underrated; for my money, he’s one of the best southern gothic writers in the genre. Perhaps it’s down to the risque nature of his books and characters, which were especially provocative (and in some cases, downright despicable) for the time period. However, beyond the depravity there is a real beating heart in his books that perfectly capture the desperation and grief of depression-era Georgia. 

From the list:

The best in southern gothic with a heart

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Book cover of The Third Life of Grange Copeland

The Third Life of Grange Copeland

By Alice Walker

Why this book?

Alice Walker is one of my all-time favorite authors and inspirations, and not just because she’s from Georgia, like me. The Third Life of Grange Copeland is my favorite novel of hers; in it, she captures beautifully the fraught relationship between a hardened old man and his granddaughter, who he is determined to do right by after a lifetime of doing wrong. It is a heartbreaking, stark, beautiful novel. 

From the list:

The best in southern gothic with a heart

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Book cover of Moon Lake

Moon Lake

By Joe R. Lansdale

Why this book?

The action is set in the fictional east Texas town of New Long Lincoln, where Daniel Russell returns after a long absence. He was 13 when his father tried to kill them both by driving his car into Moon Lake. Now a drought has caused the lake to evaporate and the car’s been found, with the remains of Daniel’s father inside, as well as an extra body in the trunk. Daniel teams up with a childhood friend who’s become a police officer to untangle a web of old grudges and strange murders.

Drowned towns – ones that are deliberately submerged…

From the list:

The best Southern Gothic novels that are dark and twisted

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