Southern Summer Reads

Summer is upon us, those hazy, humid days when the very air seems heavy and time oozes by like molasses. More than any other, this is a Southern season to us, made for iced tea and lemonade, juleps and swimming holes, lightning bugs and thunderstorms. And what does summer demand if not a summer read — those delicious, all-consuming books that sweep you up and away into another world. Sometimes called beach reads, although we find them equally suited to front porches or air-conditioned bedrooms, they are sunnier fare. You can leave your Proust’s and Yanagihara’s for the rain-soaked weeks of fall: When the mercury is up and our foreheads are perpetually sweaty, all we really want is a great, captivating story. Here are some of our favorites.

divine

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Author: Rebecca Wells

Published: 1996

Setting: Lake Quinault, Louisiana

Features: female friendship, mother-daughter drama, Cajun French, a striptease, an oxygen tank

Quote: “She longed for porch friendship, for the sticky, hot sensation of familiar female legs thrown over hers in companionship. She pined for the girliness of it all, the unplanned, improvisational laziness. She wanted to soak the words ‘time management’ out of her lexicon. She wanted to hand over, to yield, to let herself float down the unchartered beautiful fertile musky swamp of life, where creativity and eroticism and deep intelligence dwell.”

fried

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Author: Fannie Flagg

Published: 1987

Setting: Whistle Stop, Alabama

Features: tomboys, vacation bible school, barbecue sandwiches, The Weems Weekly, a railway accident

Quote: “Are you a politician or does lying just run in your family?”

help

The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Published: 2009

Setting: Jackson, Mississippi

Features: maids, journalistic ambitions, fried chicken, the Junior League newsletter, chocolate pie

Quote: “I always thought insanity would be a dark, bitter feeling, but it is drenching and delicious if you really roll around in it.”

gonegGone with the Wind

Author: Margaret Mitchell

Published: 1936

Setting: Clayton County and Atlanta, Georgia

Features: unladylike spirit, a brothel, carpetbaggers, architectural horrors, the siege of Atlanta

Quote: “‘Sir,’ she said, ‘you are no gentleman!’  ‘An apt observation,’ he answered airily. ‘And, you, Miss, are no lady.’”

friend

The Little Friend

Author: Donna Tartt

Published: 2002

Setting: Alexandria, Mississippi

Features: a mysterious death, Genghis Khan, Christmas gifts, a black tupelo tree, a would-be girl detective named Harriet

Quote: “A training program. This was Houdini’s secret.”

prodigal

Prodigal Summer

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Published: 2000

Setting: The Appalachian Mountains, Virginia

Features: a park ranger, an entomologist, coyotes, mountain women, the extinct American Chestnut

Quote: “If you never stepped on anybody’s toes, you never been for a walk.”

wolves

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Author: Karen Russell

Published: 2006

Setting: The Everglades,  Florida

Features: alligator wrestling, nuns, Swamp Prom, Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers, the exoskeleton of a giant crab

Quote: “My older sister has entire kingdoms inside of her, and some of them are only accessible at certain seasons, in certain kinds of weather. One such melting occurs in summer rain, at midnight, during the vine-green breathing time right before sleep. You have to ask the right question, throw the right rope bridge, to get there-and then bolt across the chasm between you, before your bridge collapses.”

heart

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Author: Carson McCullers

Published: 1940

Setting: an unnamed mill town, Georgia

Features: best friendship, legal insanity, deaf-mutes, a piano, a diner

Quote: “She wished there was some place where she could go to hum it out loud. Some kind of music was too private to sing in a house cram full of people. It was funny, too, how lonesome a person could be in a crowded house.”

salvage-the-bone

Salvage the Bones

Author: Jesmyn Ward

Published: 2011

Setting: Bois Sauvage, Mississippi

Features: pit bull puppies, canned goods, the myth of Medea, the eye of a hurricane, motherless children

Quote: “In every one of the Greeks’ mythology tales, there is this: a man chasing a woman, or a woman chasing a man. There is never a meeting in the middle.”

abundance

An Abundance of Katherines

Author: John Green

Published: 2006

Setting: Gutshot, Tennessee

Features: a child prodigy,  a paramedic-in-training, road trips, tampon strings, the supposed grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Quote: “He liked the mere act of reading, the magic of turning scratches on a page into words inside his head.”

midnight

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Author: John Berendt

Published: 1994

Setting: Savannah, Georgia

Features: voodoo, murder trials, a historical mansion, an antique pistol, Lady Chablis

Quote: “Rule number one: Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen. That’s when you find out everything you want to know.”

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