Arts & Culture

New Reads for Right Now

The best of January and February’s book releases for Southern readers—powerful memoirs, novels that turn myths inside out, a beautiful collection of photos, and an ode to good old dogs
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Old Dogs, by Sally Muir

For anyone who has seen stubborn love in the graying face of an elderly dog, found themselves cocking their head to mirror their pup’s questioning eyebrow tilt, or been swayed by the big eyes of a pup who could use just one more little snack, please, this beautiful collection of paintings and illustrations by the artist Sally Muir might just do you in.

Black, White, and the Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant, by Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano

“Neither of us had opened a restaurant before, we were not from Savannah, and we had a very young and inexperienced staff,” writes Mashama Bailey in the riveting memoir of sorts she coauthored with John O. Morisano, her partner at the celebrated Grey restaurant. “Thank goodness we never stepped back to view it from 10,000 feet.” In a back-and-forth style, they now take the long view to share how Bailey, a Black chef with Georgia roots, and Morisano, a freewheeling Italian American entrepreneur, took a delicious dare. Each chapter ends with a personal recipe, including some from their grandmothers and one for the Paper Plane, the Grey’s perfect bourbon-based aperitivo.

The Liar’s Dictionary, by Eley Williams

Just for joyful fun: a novel that hilariously mines the idea of mountweazels (that’s a real word), or fake entries in encyclopedias and dictionaries meant to catch plagiarists. From a wildly creative British writer.

The Fortunate Ones, by Ed Tarkington

“Tarkington’s writing is talky, devoid of flash, and calls to mind a young Pat Conroy,” wrote G&G book reviewer Jonathan Miles of Ed Tarkington’s 2016 debut novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Read as the novelist continues to climb with his next tale, The Fortunate Ones, a chronicle of the not-all-that-glitters-is-good examination of the top echelons of Nashville society.

Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas 

A modern Southern success story: Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and On the Come Up are certified international young adult novel sensations. The author, who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, returns with Concrete Rose. This prequel to The Hate U Give—already topping best-seller lists—offers a heart-wrenching examination of what Black young adulthood and manhood means to one family.

Nick, by Michael Farris Smith

In a Good Dog column about his Lab mix, Black, Michael Farris Smith wrote, “Only two living creatures didn’t look at me strangely back then when I said I wanted to become a part of the literary tradition of Mississippi. One I later married. The other was Black.” A haul of successful books into that endeavor, he delivers Nick, a fascinating imagined look at the life of Nick Carraway before he became the leading man of The Great Gatsby.


The Prophets, by Robert Jones, Jr.

The tender and surprising love story set against a plantation in Mississippi, The Prophets is Robert Jones, Jr.’s highly anticipated debut novel that everyone will be talking about this winter. A creative mind to watch rise and soar.

Outlawed by Anna North

The actress Amy Adams’s production group just announced they will develop this rollicking novel for television. Outlawed hoofbeats-out all the old Wild West cliches, telling a revelatory tale about a young midwife and her mission with the notorious Hole in the Wall gang.

The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell: Speed, Grace, and the Negro Leagues, by Lonnie Wheeler

“When the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell in 1974, it recognized him as one of the fastest players in history. ‘But when people think of the great players of the Negro League, Bell’s name doesn’t always come up,” says Michael Jaffe, the founder and president of Mississippi’s Cool Papa Bell chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research. “He was not only the first ballplayer from the state of Mississippi to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but to this day he’s the only one.” The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell, by Lonnie Wheeler, a sportswriter who died in 2020, tells Bell’s fascinating story.—Caroline Sanders

In Search of The Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece, by Salamishah Tillet

Yes, Alice Walker’s 1982 novel The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize and inspired a film and Tony-winning Broadway show, but its publication and reception were not without controversy. Through deep research and interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, and Walker herself, scholar Salamishah Tillet explores the complicated legacy of this titan of American novels.

The Wife Upstairs, by Rachel Hawkins

A tear-through-it modern Southern Gothic thriller, Rachel Hawkins’s The Wife Upstairs is set in Birmingham, Alabama, among a cast of housewives dawdling in suburban boredom. Until Jane—is that really her name?—arrives.

Dog Flowers: A Memoir, by Danielle Geller

After Danielle Geller’s mom dies from alcohol withdrawal, the grief is nearly too painful to carry. So Geller leans on her skills as a librarian and archivist to sort through her late mother’s letters and papers to piece together a compassionate portrait of a painful life. She also weaves together her family’s connections to Florida and the Navajo Nation in a powerful personal story.

The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus, by Allan Gurganus

The North Carolina author Allan Gurganus’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All sits right up there with works by Faulkner and Welty in the minds of many Southern literary lovers. Now, a previously uncollected gathering of some of his short stories comes together in one funny, empathetic tome.

Yellow Wife: A Novel, by Sadeqa Johnson
In the 1850s, on a plantation in Virginia, an enslaved woman named Pheby Delores Brown navigates womanhood and motherhood under unspeakable cruelty in a deeply researched work of formidable historical fiction.

That Old Country Music: Stories, by Kevin Barry

The American South and Ireland have long been connected—through migration as well as a shared love of traditional music and storytelling (to that end, both the American South and Ireland claimed the late and great musician John Prine as their own sort of native son, although he was born in Illinois). Sink into these melodious stories by the lauded Irish writer Kevin Barry and you’ll forget about the ocean that separates us.

The Nightcrawler King: Memoirs of an Art Museum Curator, by William Fagaly

If you want to attempt to understand the South, you have to at least try to understand how deeply we appreciate our weirdos: our creative souls, our collectors, our strange dressers and long-winded storytellers. Here’s an ode to a lovable creative brain, William Fagaly, a heralded collector and museum curator in Louisiana with a penchant for encouraging self-taught artists.

A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South, by Ben Montgomery

The writer Ben Montgomery has a knack for humanizing seemingly abstract historic figures through research, compassionate storytelling, and lyrical writing. He combined all three in 2014’s Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, which chronicled a great-grandmother who walked eight hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail, and now he returns with the true story of a freed slave named George Dinning who struck up an unconventional alliance with a Confederate war hero to uncover surprising Southern truths.

Craft: An American History, by Glenn Adamson

An admiration for beautiful handmade goods is in many ways deeply patriotic—we’re proud that G&G’s own Made in the South Awards are rooted in a very American tradition of quality crafts. This engaging history of creative people spans Paul Revere’s silver, enslaved blacksmiths and potters, and today’s modern movers and makers.

This Far and No Further: Photographs Inspired by the Voting Rights Movement, by William Abranowicz

“Everybody says in the South, you can stand on the soil and feel things,” says the photographer William Abranowicz, “because America’s memory is in the soil.” In this collection of photographs from his travels in the South, the G&G contributor shares evocative images of the South’s people, places, winding paths, and grand live oak trees. See a preview here.