The American South is perhaps the most popular US region to be used as a setting for fiction. From classic American literature to modern novels, the South provides a beautiful backdrop for some of the best known stories the United States has to offer. These seven books are just a small sample of all the great literature that will make you feel immersed in Southern charm:
1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in South Carolina in the 1960s, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens and her quest to discover her late mother’s past. She runs away from her father’s home and moves in with “the calendar sisters,” beekeepers August, June and May Boatwright. In her new life, Lily learns about bees, womanhood, and family, and Kidd’s descriptions of the warm Boatwright home will make you feel like you’re living a South Carolina summer too.
2. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind is one of the most famous American novels, and rightly so. Margaret Mitchell’s epic story of heroine Scarlett O’Hara transports readers to Georgia in the midst and aftermath of the Civil War. To read this classic novel is to experience Scarlett’s personal journey against the backdrop of one of the darkest periods in Southern history.
3. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is part murder mystery and part John Berendt’s experiences and observations of the multi-faceted city of Savannah, Georgia. With a vibrant cast of characters, Berendt brings this Southern city and its people to life in such a powerful way that you’ll feel as though you’re living in Savannah too.
4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill A Mockingbird is possibly the ultimate Southern novel. Based on Harper Lee’s childhood in Monroeville, Alabama (where she was close friends with fellow writer Truman Capote), this classic perfectly captures life in a small Southern town in the 1930s, including the racial tensions that are still a prominent problem in American culture. Through Scout Finch, Lee brings the reader right into the heart of Maycomb and questions the ideas of Southern community and identity.
5. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Sarah Addison Allen writes about the South like few modern authors can. The Sugar Queen is set in a small North Carolina town, where Josey spends most of her time hiding away in her mother’s house, eating her stockpile of sweets and regretting that she is nothing like a typical Southern belle. But when a local waitress becomes a kind of fairy godmother to her, Josey learns that there’s a magical quality to her town and the people who live there. This cozy book will easily make you feel at home in Josey’s quiet but mysterious home.
6. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Many of the best American plays take place in the South as well, one of the most famous of which is A Streetcar Names Desire. In New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1940s, Stella Kowalski and her husband, Stanley, open their home to Stella’s troubled sister, Blanche DuBois. Class differences and family tensions simmer in the tiny two-bedroom home, and Blanche struggles to find her way after losing the comfort and status she enjoyed as a socialite in Mississippi. Williams explores the darker side of Southern society in Streetcar.
7. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help tells the story of a group of black maids working for white households in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, and Skeeter, the recent white college graduate who wants to tell their story (despite the insistence from her mother and society at large that she get married as soon as possible). Kathryn Stockett brings readers behind the closed doors of Southern homes during the Civil Rights Movement, exploring the deep divide between white and black women living and working in such close proximity.
Even if you haven’t yet had the chance to visit the South, this reading list will make you feel as though you’re sitting on a porch, drinking sweet tea, and listening to a charming accent.
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