New Reads We’ve Been Loving this Summer

A balm of beautiful photos, powerful memoirs, and fiction from beloved Southern authors, including Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and James Lee Burke
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Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir, by Lisa Donovan

The pastry chef Lisa Donovan knows the insides of some of the South’s top restaurant kitchens even better than people think they want to know them. In her moving, real-talk memoir, the James Beard Award–winning writer describes beautifully the current, sometimes painful moment that Southern writers, editors, and chefs—perhaps especially women—have found themselves in as the world at large seems enamored by Southern food. “And, not for nothing,” she writes, “in the process of getting down into the nitty-gritty of being Southern, of learning how to accept it for what it is and for what it tries to be despite itself, I discovered that I had some secrets up my sleeve with regard to baking that I didn’t even know about.” And she generously shares.

Blue Marlin, by Lee Smith

A rule many Southerners live by: Read anything the author Lee Smith writes. Up next is this novella about a family that adventures to Key West in 1959 and stays at the Blue Marlin Motel. There, thirteen-year-old Jenny pieces together details of her father’s affair, learns more about her own ambitions, and discovers secrets about the movie stars bunking alongside her family.

Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road, by Matthew B. Crawford

In his beautiful and fascinating 2009 bestseller Shop Class as Soulcraft, the Virginia–based writer and motorcycle mechanic Matthew B. Crawford explored the idea that hands-on work is deeply fulfilling. Now he’s focused his blue-collar philosopher’s lens on the open road, and on how sitting in the driver’s seat can bring focus, attention, and self-reliance to our lives.

The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, by André Leon Talley

In this entertaining and personal read, the North Carolina–raised editor and fashion icon André Leon Talley tells all—about his years at Vogue, his globe-trotting adventures in pursuit of haute beauty, and about the Southern women (especially his grandmother) who raised him.

Hieroglyphics, by Jill McCorkle

When the couple Lil and Frank retire to North Carolina, the edges of their individual and shared pasts blend and fray when Frank becomes fixated with his childhood home and the young single mother living there. This is the Tar Heel State author Jill McCorkle at her best—a masterful storyteller noting the complications of life with a heart full of empathy.

Fernbank Forest, by Peter Essick

The photographs in this book, like Fernbank Forest itself, act as a cooling balm in the middle of summer’s scorch. Fernbank is an old-growth forest that sprawls over sixty-five acres in urban Atlanta, and Essick’s photography, commissioned by the Fernbank Museum, documents the textures of leaves and flowers and tree bark and ferns growing wild, and is accompanied by a lovely essay by the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame poet and naturalist Janisse Ray.

If I Had Two Wings, by Randall Kenan

“Rangy, wise, and unpredictable, If I Had Two Wings is Randall Kenan’s first collection since 1992’s groundbreaking Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. Surprises lurk in almost every story,” wrote G&G contributing editor Jonathan Miles in his review for the magazine. Read more about Kenan’s work, plus find Miles’s other late-summer reading picks, here.

World of Wonders, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

“When the first glimmer-pop of firefly light appears on a summer night, I always want to call my mother just to say hello,” writes the Oxford, Mississippi, poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil in her debut nonfiction book. Her gorgeous essays reveal how nature is both for all of us, and for each of us, deeply personal.

In Faulkner’s Shadow: A Memoir, by Lawrence Wells

A must-read for fans of William Faulkner or anyone interested in the literary annals of Oxford, Mississippi. In 1972, the writer and editor Lawrence Wells married the only niece of William Faulkner. What follows is about as Southern as it gets: what it was like living under the cloud of dark literary brilliance; deep Southern rivalries; and odes to the writing stars that continued to pop out of the Oxford scene, including Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, and Willie Morris.

When These Mountains Burn, by David Joy

In this new Appalachian noir from novelist David Joy, “Joy’s storytelling is top-notch (and not for the faint of heart), and you’ll find yourself turning pages deep into the night,” wrote G&G editor in chief David DiBenedetto in his August/September 2020 issue Editor’s Letter, which mentions this book. “But it’s his knack for capturing a sense of place that really brings the hammer down.”

A Private Cathedral: A Dave Robicheaux Novel, by James Lee Burke

In the prolific novelist James Lee Burke’s fortieth book, he brings back his beloved lead character Dave Robicheaux for a Louisiana romp. The eighty-three-year-old’s devoted fans likely already have this one ordered, but do keep tabs on Burke: “I’m writing a lot,” Burke recently told G&G. “I just started another book, the sequel to my novel The Jealous Kind, which is probably one of my three best books.”

In the Valley: Stories and a Novella Based on Serena, by Ron Rash

In her recent profile of the writer Ron Rash, G&G contributor Bronwen Dickey describes his new collection: “[Rash’s] tenacity has yielded a wide-ranging body of work—seven novels, seven books of short stories, six books of poems, two anthologies, and a children’s book over the past twenty-six years—all set in the deep folds of Southern Appalachia. In the Valley includes Rash’s first novella, which continues the saga of Serena Pemberton, the ruthless logging magnate from his 2008 best-selling novel, Serena.”

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha Trethewey

The Pulitzer Prize–winning former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, who was raised in Atlanta, revisits her past, turning on a light in the darkest of corners. She pieces together the memories of her childhood and her mother’s death at the hands of her former stepfather. Her pain still feels primal, but the poet confronts shadows to reveal, as she writes, “the story I tell myself to survive.”

Soul Full of Coal Dust: A Fight for Breath and Justice in Appalachia, by Chris Hamby

The Appalachian Mountains are beautiful, yes, but they’ve also been the site of plenty of hardship. Here, the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hamby follows two men—a West Virginia coal miner with black lung, and a medical clinic worker turned lawyer—in what reads like a legal thriller about an ongoing Southern struggle for workers’ rights.

The Revelators, by Ace Atkins

The tenth novel in the Quinn Colson series is classic Atkins for his stalwart fans: Gripping, Mississippi-set, and full of Southern characters. More for the Atkins loyal: This ode to drive-in theaters he recently wrote for G&G.

Some Go Home, by Odie Lindsey

G&G contributing editor Jonathan Miles compared Odie Lindsey’s full-length debut, set in Mississippi, to a bountiful greenspace: “A wild, overgrown novel is like a wild, overgrown garden: glutted with color, abundant with rewards, and, most important, teeming with life.”