Southern-Set Book Pairings to Try

It’s funny how books end up accidentally being in conversation with one another, just because you happened to pick them at the right time. Those accidental connections and conversations between texts are some of my favorite things about reading, so I have a few suggestions for book pairings if you’re stuck in a reading rut.

The American South has never been a particular interest of mine. I’ve taken classes about Southern lit, but not being from the South myself meant a certain amount of distance or extra context needed. For some reason, though, I keep picking up great Southern-set books this year that I can’t stop recommending. In an ideal world, I would adore seeing these authors in conversation with each other on an actual panel, but life rarely works like that. If you have further suggestions for either category, let me know in the comments!

Modern Southern Art and Trauma Narratives

I reviewed Nick White’s debut earlier this year, and I just finished Whitaker’s novel last week. I couldn’t put either down easily. White’s book is as points disturbing and thrilling, unraveling the narrator’s past at a “homosexual rehabilitation” camp. Whitaker’s book follows two women as they archive their childhoods in animation and the ways their relationship sustains and complicates their lives.  Both texts tackle film, memory, and trauma in the American South in really interesting ways and an AWP panel with these authors would be worth the plane ticket anywhere, in my opinion. Let me know if this becomes a thing, because these two authors have some very interesting ideas about creativity and the way art twists the past.

Too-Real Civil War-Themed Dystopias

In Ben Winters’s novel, slavery continues to exist in four of the US states. One young black man works as a bounty hunter to recover a slave called Jackdaw and gets sucked into an abolitionist ring called Underground Airlines. I won’t ruin the plot further, but this book is a dystopian thriller, which seems to be Winters’ sweet spot.

Omar El Akkad’s book, on the other hand, while dystopian, shifts more toward the literary than the commerical, and is one of the most sober books I’ve read this year. El Akkad was a journalist for years, covering stories from the Arab Spring to Guantanamo Bay, elements which clearly appear in this book. American War is set during and after a second Civil War.  Readers trace the history of a girl, Sarat, and her transformation from civilian to warrior. What her cause becomes remains the question up until the end of the novel.

These books are incredibly different in tone, but what they hold in common is a a kernel of unrest and brokenness that speaks to why dystopian novels are so powerful. I can’t guarantee that if you loved one, you will love the other. I will say that they both get at the heart of personal choice in the face of a national crisis.

 

I would love more book suggestions for either category! Post below if you’ve got them!

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