Okay. Who doesn’t love a little Southern charm? Sure, the Southern US has been known to get a bad wrap, but it certainly makes a great setting for some of my favourite novels.
All of these books on this list have been read by yours truly. So, no, I am not steering you down a path I myself haven’t ventured down. The only book I haven’t read on this list is the third instalment in the Ya-Yas Series but not for lack of trying!
I hope you enjoy this list and find a book recommendation or two. Happy reading 🙂
Side note: Funny, only two books on this list aren’t a movie (well, Crawdads is pending, I think). I guess that tells us something. People love a little Southern comfort.
1)Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Not only is this book an absolute classic, it is also my all time favourite book. If you are a historical fiction fan like me, you definitely want to put this bad boy on your list. I say bad boy because it’s so big you could kill a man with it.
Now, I could talk about this book forever and I’ve tried to put my love and admiration for it into words many, many times. It wasn’t until I came across an essay by Pat Conroy and Philippa Gregory that all my feelings were actualized. Honestly, I recommend reading both of their takes to get a better understanding of Mitchell’s mastery. Also, its film adaptation is also *chef’s kiss*. In my opinion, it is a great example of book adapted into film. Check it out!
Side effect: an unrelenting desire to wear large hooped skirts and say “fiddle-dee-dee” to everything.
Synopsis: Scarlett O’Hara, the beautiful, spoiled daughter of a well-to-do Georgia plantation owner, must use every means at her disposal to claw her way out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea. (Goodreads)
If you enjoy this book, check these out: (Both authorized by Mitchell’s estate)
Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig
Ruth’s Journey by Donald McCaig
Do not read Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley.
2) A Time to Kill by John Grisham
You’ll probably know this one best from its 1996 movie adaptation starring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samual L. Jackson. If not, please remedy that posthaste.
Anyway, if you are looking for a courtroom drama, this one is for you. While I love this book, I haven’t read any other John Grisham novels. However, if his endless amounts of books sitting on bookstore shelves are any indication, the dude can write.
This is another case of “the movie lead me here.” Even better, years later, a sequel came out (below) and I was pumped. Of course, I went in scared that the sequel would disappoint me. Thankfully, it did not. Surprise x2, a third installment is coming this October 2020. You better believe I will be running to the bookstore for it!
Side effect: an urge to apply to law school.
Synopsis: The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes matters into his hands. For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life…and then his own. (Goodreads)
If you enjoy this book, be sure to continue the series!
Sycamore Row (published 2013)
A Time for Mercy (coming October 2020)
3) Beach Music by Pat Conroy
I am always looking for books set in the South and I voice this desire often. Thankfully, someone paid attention to my bookish ramblings and suggested this book. Bless them.
You get that southern setting mixed in with a Roman piazza. Ya, bet you didn’t expect that one, did you? Two of my favourite places in one book? Sign me up! This book expertly weaves between the past and present as the protagonist comes to terms with life, death, and family.
So, if you are someone who loves to read about family dynamics (aka you love drama), this book is for you! P.S. there are turtles.
Side effect: looking at available real estate in the low country.
Synopsis: A Southerner living abroad, Jack McCall is scarred by tragedy and betrayal. His desperate desire to find peace after his wife’s suicide draws him into a painful, intimate search for the one haunting secret in his family’s past that can heal his anguished heart. Spanning three generations and two continents, from the contemporary ruins of the American South to the ancient ruins of Rome, from the unutterable horrors of the Holocaust to the lingering trauma of Vietnam, Beach Music sings with life’s pain and glory. It is a novel of lyric intensity and searing truth, another masterpiece among Pat Conroy’s legendary and beloved novels. (Goodreads)
If you enjoy this book, check out:
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
4) Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Being my most recent Southern read, I am still talking about it and recommending it to anyone who will listen to me. So much so, I wrote a review on it (something I didn’t plan on doing).
Anyway, this coming-of-age story also has splashes of love and mystery. Honestly, it is an emotional rollercoaster in the best way possible. When I closed its covers I literally said, “wow.” There isn’t much more to be said without giving everything away besides saying that if you have this on your TBR or are on the fence, make the jump. If time is a problem, well, I read it in one day. It’s a quick read!
P.S. I heard this is coming to the big or little screen. Is this true?! *cries happy tears*
Side effect: a sudden craving for grits.
Synopsis: For years, rumours of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens. (Goodreads)
5) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
The only book on this list that isn’t fiction, but true crime. What’s great about this book is that you can literally hop in your car and drive your way down to Savannah to see first hand everything they talk about in this novel (except not because of stupid COVID). I made the trip myself and even got to visit the statue you see on the cover (now in a museum to protect her from all her visitors).
If you are planning to make a trip to that beautiful city, I am giving you this book as homework. Read it and watch the movie. Honestly, it will add a surreal element to your trip when you get to see things you’ve only read about. Something that us bookworms don’t always get the pleasure of doing.
Side effect: wandering around cemeteries after dark.
Synopsis: Shots rang out in Savannah’s grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt’s sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.
It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman’s Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the “soul of pampered self-absorption”; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else. (Goodreads)
6) The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Another family drama in the mix. Again, this was made into a film as well and that’s what brought me to the book.
If I had to pick one word to describe this book and its accompanying series it is raw. Emotionally raw, to be more specific, as characters explore their perspective of what it was like to grow up in a dysfunctional southern family. It ain’t all sunshine and rainbows over here, folks. Though, there is still a lot of love.
Side effect: attempting a southern accent.
Synopsis: When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she’s directed, her mother gets described as a “tap-dancing child abuser.” Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda. Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” As Sidda struggles to analyze her mother, she comes face to face with the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for. (Goodreads)
If you enjoy this book, keep up with the Ya-Yas:
Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells
Ya-Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells
Have you read any of these books on this list? If so, which ones? If you have any recommendations, please, don’t hesitate to share! I am always looking for more books to add to my southern shelf.
4 thoughts on “Southern Comfort: 6 Must-Read Books Set in the South”
I heard so much about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil! I just never picked it up, because I didn’t think I would like true crime. I have however read Gone with the Wind lol. What a BIG book
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I’m a huge true crime lover so Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was right up my alley. I would recommend giving it a try if you like mystery kind of books. It doesn’t read like a fact-based true crime novel, but is written like a regular fiction novel which is one of the things I really loved about it. This book also made me want to book a one way ticket to Savannah as soon as I finished it lol. And haha honestly that book is a tomb! I read the whole thing laid flat on my bed or kitchen table cause it was too heavy to hold for more than 30 seconds. – Amber
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Oho! If it’s more like a fiction book that somehow seems less intimidating lol
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I love Where the Crawdads Sing! These are great recommendations and I’ll have to check out some of these other titles 🙂
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