Business Insider caused a sensation with their list “The Most Famous Book Set In Every State.” And when we say “sensation,” we mean “shock and anger.” While some of their picks are obvious, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for Kansas or To Kill a Mockingbird for Alabama, others provoked more consternation. Does Louisiana deserve to be saddled with Interview With a Vampire, or poor Washington with Twilight (well, okay, maybe Washington deserves it)?
Surely, it occurred to us, we can do better. Narrowing the focus to the Southern states and its distinctive literature, we propose the following list. We have allowed ourselves more than one pick, and considered “best” or “most representative” rather than simply “most famous.” What would your picks be?
Business Insider: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
No one can argue with The Business Insider choice for Alabama, but if you want to read a little deeper try these:
The Violent Bear It Away, by Flannery O’Connor
If you aren’t religious, or aren’t from the South, you might read this and think O’Connor is making fun of rural evangelical Southerners. She’s not.
Adventures of Simon Suggs, by Johnson Jones Hooper
Simon Suggs is one of the true classics of Southern humor.
Business Insider: A Painted House, by John Grisham
Clearly the Business Insider editors have a thing for John Grisham, but despite the fame of Grisham’s thrillers, it’s hard to imagine that A Painted House is more well known than the Portis favorite.
True Grit, by Charles Portis
One of those rare cases where neither the book nor the movie (indeed, neither of the movies) disappoint.
Business Insider: To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not is not a bad novel, but even Hemingway recognized it was far from his best work. It was made into a pretty good movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, with a screenplay written by William Faulkner. We offer these alternate choices:
The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Business Insider: Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind is not bad selection, and probably a necessary one. Mitchell was a very good writer with a terrific ear for dialogue. But Georgia has more to offer.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
A Man In Full, Tom Wolfe
Georgia Scenes, by Augustus Baldwin Longstreet
Business Insider: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Business Insider makes, perhaps, another obvious choice, but other works provide a more complete vision of the Bluegrass State.
Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry
Penhally, Caroline Gordon
River of Earth, by James Still
World Enough and Time, Robert Penn Warren
Warren’s telling of the Kentucky Tragedy. Edgar Allan Poe and William Gilmore Simms also told this story, but Warren did it best.
Business Insider: Interview With a Vampire, by Anne Rice
Anne Rice is without question closely identified with her native Louisiana, but once literary giants walked there.
The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
Business Insider: The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
It’s understandably hard to see past Faulkner when considering Mississippi literature, but give Eudora Welty and Stark Young a try. And then read the rest of Faulkner.
The Optimist’s Daughter and The Ponder Heart, by Eudora Welty
So Red the Rose, by Stark Young
The rest of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels.
Business Insider: A Walk to Remember, by Nicholas Sparks
While it’s hard not to pick a book that was made into a movie starring Mandy Moore, North Carolina has no shortage of great novels.
Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe
Wolfe’s great coming-of-age novel set in Asheville, before Asheville was hip.
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
I Am One of You Forever, by Fred Chappell
If you haven’t read Fred Chappell now is the time to start.
Business Insider: The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
Simms and Wister challenge The Imaginative Conservative to see worlds long past.
Woodcraft, by William Gilmore Simms
The best novel by the Old South’s greatest man-of-letters.
Lady Baltimore, by Owen Wister
Business Insider: The Firm and The Client, by John Grisham
Again with the Grisham from Business Insider, but Tennessee has done better.
Shiloh, by Shelby Foote
A Summons to Memphis, by Peter Taylor
Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor
O’Connor forces us to confront the important questions. As she explained in the Author’s Note to the second edition: “Freedom cannot be conceived simply. It is a mystery and one which a novel, even a comic novel, can only be asked to deepen.”
Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy is more known for his Western novels today, but his early work was set in in his native Tennessee.
Business Insider: Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Patterson
Nothing against Bridge to Terabithia, but The Imaginative Conservative may want to try these options, too.
The Fathers, Allen Tate
In Old Virginia, by Thomas Nelson Page
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.
Note: Thanks to Sam Burnham (@C_SamBurnham) and Miles Smith IV (@IVMiles) for their input on this list.