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Southern Fiction Reading List

In celebration of the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the much anticipated follow up to the one of the 20th century greatest novels To Kill a Mockingbird, here are some other great reads set in the American South.

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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Twenty years after the trial of Tom Robinson, Scout returns home to Maycomb to visit her father and struggles with personal and political issues as her small Alabama town adjusts to the turbulent events beginning to transform the United States in the mid-1950s.

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unswerving honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

In Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, there are lines that are not crossed. With the civil rights movement exploding all around them, three women start a movement of their own, forever changing a town and the way women--black and white, mothers and daughters--view one another.

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The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The great American writer Ernest Hemingway, had this to say about Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn: "All modern, literature, stems from this one book." In this quintessential American novel, Tom Sawyer's best friend, Huckleberry Finn, travels down the Mississippi River on a raft with a slave named Jim, getting himself in and out of danger along the way.

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Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Inman is a wounded soldier who walks away from the ravages of the war and back home to his pre-war sweetheart, Ada. Inman's odyssey through the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada's struggle to survive her father's death and the loss of his income by reviving the family farm in the Cold Mountain community where she is an outsider. Based on a story handed down in Frazier's own family, Cold Mountain is a beautifully written and haunting novel of love and loss.

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.

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Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she's directed, her mother gets described as a "tap-dancing child abuser." Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda. Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." As Sidda struggles to analyze her mother, she comes face to face with the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for.

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Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind is the story of Scarlett O' Hara, a spoiled Southern belle who uses her wits and her wiles to lift herself and her family out of the ashes left by Sherman' s March to the Sea during the American Civil War, only to learn the true meaning of love and friendship as she loses those who have become most dear to her.

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A Painted House by John Grisham

The tale of a journey from innocence to experience. Autumn 1952, and seven-year-old Luke helps his family pick cotton on the Arkansas farm that they rent. Times are hard, tension is high, and he finds himself keeping secrets that threaten the crop and will change the life of his family forever.

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A Time to Kill by John Grisham

Near the rural town of Clanton, Mississippi, little Tonya Hailey is brutally raped, beaten, and left for dead by two drunken and remorseless men. The rapists are almost immediately caught in a road side bar, where they have been bragging of their exploits. When the men appear in court days later, Tonya's father Carl bursts out of the courthouse basement, and executes them with an assault rifle. Murder or executions? Justice or revenge? Carl trusts his life to only one man in town - local criminal lawyer Jake Brigance, who dreams of famous cases, headlines, and the big time. Jake is about to face the fight of his life, and he knows it. Not only is he up against Rufus Buckley - a tough, ambitious district attorney who realizes that a murder conviction could help him gain higher office - but he has a much bigger problem: the rapists are white, the judge is white - and Carl is black. This is a trial sure to change forever the lives of everyone involved. A Time to Kill is a riveting novel that challenges everything we think we know about justice and equality.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou's six volumes of autobiography are a testament to the talents and resilience of this extraordinary writer. Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a black woman she has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope and joy, achievement and celebration. In this first volume of her autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American South of the 1930s. She learns the power of the white folks at the other end of town and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother's lover.

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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Successive episodes in the death and burial of Addie Bundren are recounted by various members of the family circle.

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