Arts & Culture

The Great Southern Summer Reading List

New novels, nonfiction, cookbooks, forthcoming titles, even some classics—and where these Southerners plan to enjoy reading them

A collage of many books across three rows

Lee Durkee, writer and contributor: I’ll likely spend another summer held hostage by hummingbirds. When not cooking nectar at beak-point, I will sit on my cabin porch turning pages on Jake Maynard’s hilariously brilliant Slime Line, a dark, eloquent, coming-of-age indictment of Alaska’s salmon-processing plants and the best debut novel I’ve read in years. Might also dip into Max Hipp’s extraordinary and extraordinarily raunchy What Doesn’t Kill You Opens Your Heart, a story collection tailormade for those of us who miss the great Larry Brown. If feeling brave I’ll revisit Siamak Herawi’s Tali Girls, an unsparing novel, brutal at times, that documents the downfall of the young women in an Afghan village after the Taliban takes power.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author and contributor: I’m reading poolside with my six-pound chihuahua by my side while my teens splash in the water: The Light Eaters, by Zoe Schlanger, a fascinating look at the hidden world of plant intelligence; and The Stone Home, by Crystal Hana Kim, an utterly absorbing novel with a moving portrait of a dark time in South Korean history.

Amanda Heckert, executive editor: If Natasha Trethewey penned cereal box copy, my eyes would be glued to the back of Special K. In other words, if the Pulitzer Prize winner and U.S. poet laureate writes it, I want to read it, whether it’s poetry, essay, or memoir. I can’t wait to sink into the couch on my screened porch with her latest book, The House of Being, a meditation on the geographies of her youth in Mississippi and how they seeded her writing life.

Jessica B. Harris, author and contributing editor: I will be reading the new Kevin Kwan novel, Lies and Weddings. And I’m waiting to read Percival Everett’s James. I have to reread [the book that inspired it] Huck Finn first. I will be reading it all on the porch on Martha’s Vineyard.

Caroline Sanders Clements, associate editor: Like any good Georgia-born English major, I have been transfixed by Flannery O’Connor since I first picked up a compilation of her short stories in high school. And while O’Connor’s bibliography is already impressive, Jessica Hooten Wilson’s latest work, Flannery O’Connor’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Work in Progress, proves that we still have more to learn from the legend. Over the last decade, the scholar and writer has compiled, transcribed, annotated, and added to the 378 pages of an unfinished novel that O’Connor left behind, posthumously presenting a look into what she might have been planning to publish. As we approach the centennial anniversary of O’Connor’s birth, what better time to revisit her works?

Bill Smith, North Carolina chef and contributor: My favorite book of this year so far is Tom Maxwell’s A Really Strange and Wonderful Time, subtitled The Chapel Hill Music Scene 1989–1999. It was published in April, and people around here in North Carolina are having a fit over it, but you don’t have to be from Chapel Hill to get it. I’ve been jumping up and down for years yelling that our local musicians are real artists. Now I’ve got this wonderful play-by-play narrative to back me up. I read most of it on a flight to Lisbon.

James Lee Burke, author and contributor: I’ve had my head in Faulkner of late. In fact, my brain wants to get out of the twenty-first century. This summer I would like to reread As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the FuryI think those two books are among the best ever written, and I would like to read them on Prytania Street in the Garden District of New Orleans. I think rereading great books is important because we realize that great art is endless. It is like creation, the one activity in our lives that we share with God. That’s not just a metaphor.

CJ Lotz Diego, senior editor: From his sunroom in Florida, my dad reads more than pretty much anyone I know, and he won’t stop texting me snippets of this new book by Cal Newport, Slow Productivity. A native of Houston, Newton is a contributing writer at the New Yorker, a computer science professor at Georgetown, and an absolute pro at putting into words things so many of us feel but aren’t sure how to articulate. I usually roll my eyes at self-help books, but the three main points of Slow Productivity hit me right during a G&G deadline when I was ready for these reminders: (1) Do Fewer Things; (2) Work at a Natural Pace; (3) Obsess Over Quality.

Gabriela Gomez-Misserian, digital producer: Every word from the Mississippi-based poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a little bite of joy. I’m excited to have her latest release, a collection of poetic essays, Bite by Biteon my bookshelf. Her writing explores memories, history, and the heritage behind flavors in the South and beyond. I really admire her ability to transport readers into a sensory-rich space, one that feels real and familiar as she spoons into custardy pawpaws, cracks open crawfish, and slurps up juicy mangoes.

Lindsey Liles, digital reporter: Devoured: The Extraordinary Story of Kudzu, the Vine That Ate the South came out this spring and is sitting on my dresser, waiting for me to pack it up for some airplane reading on an upcoming trip. It’ll be my first sample of science writer Ayurella Horn-Muller’s work, and I’m excited for the deep dive into the history of an invasive species, and to learn how it’s popping up today in sustainable architecture and restaurant dishes. I’m also curious about Horn-Muller’s exploration of how, as a second-generation American, she sees herself in the invasive weed that has in turns been celebrated, hated, feared, and tolerated as it has cemented itself in Southern culture.

Amanda Heckert, executive editor: When the journalist and professor Matt Tullis died suddenly in 2022 at age forty-six, he left behind an adoring family and an unfinished book: Stories Can Save Us: America’s Best Narrative Journalists Explain How, a terrific compendium of interviews with some of America’s top journalists, whom he had hosted on his popular Gangrey: The Podcast. Some of those writers worked together to finish the project, and I can’t wait to dive into how-do-they-do-it Q&As with the seventy-five-plus masters of their craft featured, including G&G contributors Wright ThompsonJustin Heckert (disclosure: my husband!), Kim CrossBronwen DickeyLatria Graham, and more.

Ace Atkins, author and contributor: I’m currently reading Don Winslow’s epic Danny Ryan trilogy, making my way to his last one, City in Ruins. I also just finished Lisa Unger’s incredibly fun latest, The New Couple in 5B, certainly a great read for fans of Only Murders in the Building.

Beth Ann Fennelly, author and contributor: Habitations by New Orleanian Sheila Sundar deserves to top every TBR list.  This debut novel features a young academic who moves from India to the U.S. and navigates falling in love and becoming a mother—it’s sexy and smart and wryly funny.

Danielle Wallace, editorial assistant: Whenever I see “new book” and “Lucy Foley” in the same sentence, I internally whoop with excitement. In my favorite novels of hers, such as The Guest List and The Hunting Party, Foley brilliantly captures whimsical characters who are (usually) caught up in some sort of murder mystery mayhem—then her writing comes and shakes things up at the perfect time with mind-boggling plot twists. As soon as the release date of June 18 arrives, I’m taking my copy of her newest book, The Midnight Feast, right to my cozy, newly furnished back porch (unless it’s too hot).

But it’ll have to battle against Riley Sager’s newest novel, Middle of the Night, for which book I’ll read first (the book gods have cursed me with two of my favorite authors’ new releases on the same day). Sager, whose prowess in flashbacks and plot twists left my jaw agape throughout Lock Every Door and Home Before Dark, continues his craft in his new novel with a thirty-year missing persons case that ties the past to the present (undoubtedly with sit-straight-up plot twists).

Emily Daily, newsletter editor: I love thumbing through cookbooks, finding inspiration for new meals to get out of a boring weekday slump. One that’s on my list is Asheville chef William Dissen’s recently published Thoughtful Cooking, which spotlights his love of seasonal ingredients and his appreciation of the joy of cooking. “Open a bottle of wine. Turn the music up. Just enjoy,” he told G&G in a recent interview. The first recipe I’d like to try? His mac and cheese with country ham.

Amanda Heckert, executive editor: On a couple of flight legs last month, I devoured a delightful new book by G&G contributor Tommy Tomlinson, Dogland: Passion, Glory, and Lots of Slobber at the Westminster Dog Show, hailed as the first inside account of Westminster—America’s oldest and most beloved dog show—and one dog’s quest to become a champion. But it is about so much more, including humans’ relationship to dogs, breed history, and top pups in pop culture. I’ve already bought copies for the canine lovers in my own life: Father’s Day, birthdays, Christmas, sorted.

Vishwesh Bhatt, Mississippi chef: Books by the Oxford, Mississippi, native Ace Atkins are always a great read. I am planning on spending my June trip to the Outer Banks with his latest masterpiece, Don’t Let the Devil Ride. And Greg Iles’ Southern Man looks like a book that captures the current (under currents?) of where we are as a country right now. I have it at the front my to-read queue for late summer. I’m also looking forward to reading Bite by Bite from my friend Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Aimee writes great poetry. Unfortunately, I am not smart enough to do it justice. But a book with smart, witty essays about food and memories? That’s just my cup of tea.

Kinsey Gidick, contributor: I’m counting down the days until I can read Long Island Compromise, the latest from Taffy Brodesser-Akner—my favorite profile writer and the best-selling author of Fleishman Is in Trouble. All I know is that the book has something to do with dashed suburban dreams, but when it comes to the brilliant writing of Akner, that’s more than enough of a teaser.

John T. Edge, contributing editor: I read C. H. Hooks’s last novel, Alligator Zoo Park Magic, while in St. Augustine, Florida, where those alligators romp and occasionally chomp. In his forthcoming Can’t Shake the Dust, set among the strip malls of South Georgia, Hooks writes about people who get sideways at honky-tonks and lose their shirts to payday loan sharks and drive straightaways at dirt tracks, showing the same grit and empathy as his sire, the late great Harry Crews—which is another way of saying that Hooks gets the people of the gray and red clay right.

Elizabeth Florio, digital editor: Plan to stay up late with Secrets of Ash, the debut novel from Atlanta journalist (and G&G contributor) Josh Green. Inspired by Green’s past reporting on PTSD-afflicted veterans, the book alternates between the perspectives of Chase Lumpkin, a haunted ex-soldier who sets off into the North Georgia wilderness to end it all, and Jack, a hotshot Atlanta radio host on a desperate mission to save his brother. The book, which earned Green a Georgia Author of the Year nomination, is a fine marriage of fast-paced plot and elegant, place-driven prose—“The Amicalola range lumped off in blue distance, and dying leaves smeared the foothills yellow and red”—that echoes Deliverance in the rugged, sometimes sinister setting and the city slicker who plunges into it.

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