Arts & Culture

Southern Summer Reads

We asked the experts at independent bookstores across the South for the summer reads they’re recommending to book lovers right now

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New Summer Reads

The Answers, by Catherine Lacey 

“Tupelo, Mississippi, native Lacey’s second novel is a daring, accomplished, slightly surreal examination into the nature of human love. An insightful and at times wondrously strange book that will leave you breathless and looking forward to the next work by this bright young writer.”

—Cody Morrison, buyer, Square Books, Oxford, MS

Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls’ Escape from Slavery to Union Hero, by Cate Lineberry

“One of the most interesting stories to come out of Charleston during the Civil War, Smalls, an enslaved man, stole a Confederate steamer with his wife and two young children, slipped through the fortified harbor, and carried it to the Union. Lineberry is a young and acclaimed historian out of Raleigh.”

—Jonathan Sanchez, owner, Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC

Camino Island, by John Grisham

Camino Island is the perfect beach book for bibliophiles. Aside from Grisham’s taut storytelling and quicksilver timing, what makes this such a pleasure to read is trying to sleuth out which Southern booksellers and bookstores might have provided inspiration. It is just plain fun.”

—Anne Waters, manager, Hub City Bookshop, Spartanburg, SC


Eveningland: Stories, by Michael Knight

“All these beautifully written short stories are set in Alabama. You find yourself wanting to know more about each character and his or her circumstances.”

—Laney Blanchard, head clerk, Sundog Books, Seaside, FL

Once in a Blue Moon, by Vicki Covington

“Set in Birmingham around 2008. Obama is running for the presidency, and the book shows how the South has and hasn’t changed in a very compelling story.”

—Linda White, co-owner, Sundog Books, Seaside, FL

Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, by Jonathan Gould

“Gould was thorough and persistent and produced maybe the best book on Redding that could be written so long after his death.”

—Eric Wakefield, owner of Golden Bough Bookstore, Macon, GA

Sunshine State: Essays, by Sarah Gerard

“A collection of essays, ranging from Gerard’s volunteer work at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary to pieces on class and consent, set in Florida as a kind of synecdoche for the country as a whole. I loved her debut, Binary Star, and this doesn’t disappoint. Both highly personal and socially poignant.”

—Sara Peck, manager/buyer, Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC

Theft by Finding: Diaries, by David Sedaris

“Raised in Raleigh and celebrated the world over, Sedaris has given us a supremely rich gift this summer: a collection of daily journal entries spanning twenty-five years. Think of this hilarious nonfiction treat as a palate cleanser between fiction courses. Open to any page and enjoy several entries—or devour the whole thing. There’s no wrong way to savor Sedaris.”

—Mary Laura Philpott, editor of Musing, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN

The Weight of This World, by David Joy

“Someone once told me that good Southern noir should read like a pull from a bottle of Appalachian moonshine: smooth and elegant with a punch in the gut that lingers a while after you’re done. Joy did that with his first novel, Where All Light Tends To Go, and he’s done it again with The Weight of This World. Deeply flawed characters embroiled in a fast-paced, drug-fueled snafu with brutal and potentially catastrophic consequences, all told in Joy’s tight and skillful prose.”

—Lane Jacobson, Buyer, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

Reads to Revisit This Summer

Almost Famous Women, by Megan Mayhew Bergman

“Self-proclaimed ‘displaced Southerner’ (a North Carolinian living in Vermont), Bergman is currently working on a new novel set to come out next summer. In the meantime, re-read her last short story collection. In the literary tradition of Flannery O’Connor but with a style all her own, Bergman weaves captivating tales about real women plucked from the fine print of history books.”

—Mary Laura Philpott, editor of Musing, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN

Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food, by Wendell Berry

“No one transports a reader quicker to a picnic table in a field quite like Berry. His care for the food and food production he explores is contagious; it’s impossible not to feel, as he writes in Bringing it to the Table, that eating is itself an act of agriculture.”

—Sara Peck, manager/buyer, Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC

Empire of the Summer Moon, by S. C. Gwynne

“It’s the kind of nonfiction that reads like fiction, chronicling the last Comanche ‘chief’ in the West—totally engaging and thrilling. I had fortuitously just read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy before picking up Empire, and they are an excellent, if slightly gruesome, pair.”

—Claire Anderson-Ramos, head book buyer, BookPeople, Austin, TX

I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, by William Gay

“I love to re-read Gay’s stories from this book during the summer. They are as near perfect as stories can be.”

—Ben Arnold, bookseller, Turnrow Books, Greenwood, MS

Joe, by Larry Brown

Joe is easily the most stylish and powerful novel to come from the oft-overlooked Oxford, Mississippi, writer. The story of a down-on-his-luck man searching for redemption, Joe is hardnosed and touching, humane and dignified. A novel filled with muscular language and an ingrained sense of the tragic.”

—​Justin Souther​, buyer and manager, Malaprop’s Bookstore, Asheville, NC

The New and Improved Romie Futch, by Julia Elliott

“A magical realism Southern gothic novel about this middle-aged, often drunk, often broke taxidermist. Sort of dark, very funny.”

—Jonathan Sanchez, owner, Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC

Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor

“The darkness in Wise Blood pairs well with this dead summer heat. Though I could say the book is about an atheist veteran often mistaken for a priest, a prostitute, a manic teenage zookeeper, and a questionable priest and his daughter, nobody talks about Flannery O’Connor as well as Flannery O’Connor. In the edition we have of this book, she describes her first novel as being about the ‘inevitability of belief.’”

—Sara Peck, manager/buyer, Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, by Anton DiSclafani

“Set in Florida and North Carolina during the Depression, it is a family drama with a carefree Florida girl at the center of the story. A definite page-turner.”

—Linda White, co-owner, Sundog Books, Seaside, FL