Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books I’d Give to Readers Who Haven’t Read Southern Literature

top ten tuesday

Each week, The Broke and the Bookish holds Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly booking meme. This week, we’re making book recommendation lists.

Southern literature is one of my secondary fields. I’ve talked a lot about children’s literature here, a lot about the YA genre, because those are my primary fields of interest. But my primary field was almost Southern literature. It’s a complex field. Like children’s literature, the precise nature of Southern literature can be difficult to define.

But then again, so can being Southern. The South is not a homogeneous place, nor are its people. Why would its literature tend to be any different? There are some generic markers—religion, the grotesque, a focus on place, and…Dead mules. Though I’m  aware of just how imprecise this definition might be, this list consists of writers from the American South writing about the American South. And here are the 10 I’d recommend to those just starting the genre:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

2. A Lesson before Dying, Ernest Gaines

“He told us that most of us would die violently, and those who did not would be brought down to the level of beasts.”

3. Lancelot, Walker Percy

“In New Orleans I have noticed that people are happiest when they are going to funerals, making money, taking care of the dead, or putting on masks at Mardi Gras so nobody knows who they are.”

4. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Tool

“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston

“She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her.”

6. Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison

“Mama learned to laugh with them, before they could laugh at her, and to do it so well no one could be sure what she really thought or felt.”

7. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

“She stood in front of the mirror a long time, and finally decided she either looked like a sap or else she looked very beautiful. One or the other.”

8. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

“Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”

9. Salvage the Bones, Jesymn Ward

“And I get up because it is the only thing I can do.”

10. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg

“It’s funny, most people can be around someone and they gradually begin to love them and never know exactly when it happened; but Ruth knew the very second it happened to her. When Idgie had grinned at her and tried to hand her that jar of honey, all these feelings that she had been trying to hold back came flooding through her, and it was at that second in time that she knew she loved Idgie with all her heart.”

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23 Comments

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  1. You gave me ideas. I got my Bachelors in English Lit, but somehow I managed to skip past “To Kill A Mockingbird” during my entire reading career. I look forward to finally reading it. Luckily, I did get to “A Confederacy of Dunces” in college, and that was quite a book.

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      1. I will. Though it might take some time. Especially as I managed to forget that that was a new book on my reading list when my first shipment of other books arrived…But I will read it, I will!

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        1. haha! Well, I hope that you enjoy it when you read it. Of course, I find it difficult to imagine someone not enjoying it, but perhaps that is the way we all feel about the books that we love. 🙂

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  2. Oh, I see a lot of good suggestions for me to add to my reading list! Thanks for sharing. 😀 (I was really surprised to not see Flannery O’Connor in your list….as someone who knows a lot more about these things than I do, do you not like her work? Did you intentionally leave her out, or are the books you listed just better? This is just curiosity, by the way. I’m not at all saying that she *should* have been on your list or anything like that.) 😉

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    1. 😀 I was wondering if anyone would notice that I left of O’Connor! I almost put A Good Man is Hard to Find on the list, but there were just so many choices!

      I decided to stick to novels, and although I love O’Connor’s short stories, her novels don’t pack quite the same punch for me. She’s also very much nested in the Southern Gothic tradition, and I had a few of that sub-genre already listed, so I wanted to branch out a bit (because I could really have just made a list of Southern Gothic texts).

      I also don’t necessarily think of this as “best of” list, but more of a “getting your feet wet” list, and I think these novels are pretty good introductions to the genre. A “best of” would likely have included Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Robert Penn Warren, too. See how unwieldy that list gets? lol

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    1. Welcome! TKAM is also one of my favorite books—Atticus Finch is probably my favorite literary father figure ever, and that’s saying a lot.

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    1. Thanks—and yes indeed! Ignatius Reilly is such a delightful grotesque. 🙂

      And Salvage the Bones is phenomenal. There are moments when it just takes your breath away.

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    1. 🙂 Southern literature is a bit of an odd category, as it encompasses so much, and it’s definitely worth wading into. Southern Gothic is perhaps my favorite sub-genre of the bunch.

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  3. Great list. I have Lancelot, but haven’t read it yet so I’m glad to see it’s on your list I got it because it was one of the books that the tv series Lost showed Sawyer reading. I loved how you put a sentence from the book, very inspiring.

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    1. Thanks! I really do enjoy Lancelot, but it’s also definitely an odd book, too. Very postmodern. Walker Percy manages to be so darkly funny and so very witty, though, that the complexity is worth the read.

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