Fall just doesn’t feel right without a pot of tea and a good book to read. This season, we’ve whittled down a big batch of Southern debuts to five must-read titles that are sure to fill the cozy nights ahead.
“Hieroglyphics” by Jill McCorkle
Domestic drama unfolds in this novel about the burden of secrets and what parents leave behind when they die. Lil Wishart and her husband, Frank, have recently retired to Southern Pines, North Carolina, where Lil is determined to leave a history for their children by sifting through years of journal entries. Her notes, spanning decades, reveal more secrets than Frank wants their children to know. As a Kirkus review aptly puts it, McCorkle’s latest winner “gathers layers like a snowball racing downhill before striking us in the heart.”
“In the Valley” by Ron Rash
A 10-story powerhouse from a true literary master, Rash’s pitch-perfect collection includes a long-awaited novella revisiting the ruthless lumber baroness from “Serena,” who returns to the North Carolina wilderness she desecrated to make one last attempt to kill the child who threatens to undo all that she has accomplished.
“My Vanishing Country” by Bakari Sellers
What J. D. Vance did for Appalachia with “Hillbilly Elegy,” the CNN analyst and former state legislator does in his memoir set in his hometown of Denmark, South Carolina. In tracing his own history, Sellers also writes about the plight of the rural Black working class and the struggles that shape their lives: access to health care, job security and hanging onto slowly eroding traditions.
“Blue Marlin” by Lee Smith
This masterpiece of a novella follows 13-year-old Jenny and her parents on a patched-up family vacation to Key West, Florida, following the discovery of her father’s affair in 1958. There, the family spends their days with movie stars who are in town to film “Operation Petticoat.” There’s only 123 pages in this little jewel, which is a dang shame.
“Blacktop Wasteland” by S.A. Crosby
“Ocean’s Eleven” meets “Drive,” with a Southern noir twist. Once known as the best getaway driver east of the Mississippi, Beauregard “Bug” Montage has built a new life for himself as an honest mechanic, loving husband and hardworking dad. But when a former associate comes calling with a jewelry store heist, Bug is drawn inexorably back into a world he thought he left behind.