I was born and raised in the North, but found myself living in the South during graduate school. I never expected to fall in love with the South, but I did. When I moved back to Manhattan for my MFA program, I missed my old life something fierce. Moving back North – to NYC, no less – was a culture shock, despite the fact that I’d lived there before. Four years in Chapel Hill, NC spoiled me, and I’ve been itching to get back ever since. In the meantime, I have to be content with sad imitations of biscuits, the occasional found Cheerwine (a cherry soda), and listening to lots of James Taylor – and of course, reading books set in the South/by Southern writers.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is my favorite book of all time. I first read it in high school, and it has endured for me. Scout, Jem, Boo – this classic story is one I return to again and again.
The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
If you’ve never read O’Connor, this is a good place to start. She can be a little overwhelming if you’re not used to her. Acerbic, smart, talented – these stories are treasures.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story
by John Berendt
Last year, I stayed up late to finish this in one sitting, and the story has stayed with me every since. Filled with a cast of characters as diverse and entertaining as any good novel, this true story is captivating.
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
After a one-night stand at a comic con, Leia finds herself pregnant with a biracial baby. She decides to tell her traditional family, but then her stepsister’s perfect marriage falls apart, and her beloved grandma’s dementia is outed. Add in a family secret made public, and you’ve got Jackson’s best book yet.
To Hate Like this is to Be Happy Forever by Will Blythe
My favorite book about the UNC-Duke rivalry. As a die-hard Tar Heel, I could read this book a million times. Funny, insightful, personal, and smart, this book brings me right back to the Dean Dome, cheering Roy’s Boys on.
South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature by Margaret Eby
This is the book I wish I had written. Eby travels through the hometowns of Southern writers like Harry Crews, Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Flannery O’Connor, looking at how place influenced them. Reading this made me want to jump in the car and head South ASAP – after stopping at the bookstore for #allthebooks.
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash (forthcoming October 2017)
Cash is one of those writers for whom it seems writing is effortless, scenes just appearing on the page, brilliant with detail and visible in the mind’s eye. This story, about a single mother living in the Appalachian foothills in 1929 and her fight for basic rights as a worker, is one that is especially important today.
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz
This is one of my favorite books. When I moved South, I didn’t quite understand the pull of the War Between the States. This book – a travelogue/memoir/social commentary – is insightful and humorous, and provides a very personal look into why the Civil War still looms so large.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (forthcoming September 2017)
Gritty and lyrical, Ward’s forthcoming book doesn’t disappoint. Her books don’t shy away from the tough stuff, which makes them even more important to read.
Life After Life by Jill McCorkle
Set in a retirement center in a small town in North Carolina, this is a delightful book that weaves together stories that illustrate how people’s experiences help make them who they are. McCorkle has a way of capturing things just so, which makes her books feel like old friends you return to.