the imaginative conservative logo

true gritBusiness 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?

Alabama

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.

Arkansas

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.

Florida

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

Georgia

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

Kentucky

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.

Louisiana

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

Mississippi

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.

North Carolina

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.

South Carolina

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

Tennessee

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.

Virginia

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.

Print Friendly
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
6 replies to this post
  1. Whether you count Missouri as South, Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are Southern and at least as important and iconic as anything listed. Whomever made the original list was not paying attention. It’s like listing whaling novels and overlooking Moby Dick.

  2. For Arkansas, I can agree with “True Grit” — but how about Honorable Mention to Donald Hays’ “The Dixie Association?” For Georgia, to take Tom Wolfe over Harry Crews’ “The Gospel Singer” or “A Feast of Snakes” is an injustice.

  3. I have heard the arguments before, but they do not hold up to scrutiny. Texas and Oklahoma should have been included on the list. Oklahoma gets to share True Grit (and unfortunately Grapes of Wrath) and Texas gets No Country.

Please leave a thoughtful, civil, and constructive comment: