The List: The best Southern books ever written

I love book lists, especially those compiled with a lot of considered opinion. The current edition of The Oxford American, a magazine that features the writing of the South, just asked more than 125 scholars and writers to select the best Southern books ever written. Since Friday is List Day on The Sheet, here are the top five novels and top five non-fiction works:

1) “Absalom, Absalom!” William Faulkner, 1936 (“the only serious rival to Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ as the great American novel.”

2) “All the King’s Men,” Robert Penn Warren, 1946 (“seemingly nothing escapes its scope or ambition”)

3) “The Sound and The Fury,” William Faulkner, 1929 (“an unbearable tragedy, yet simultaneously a joy”)

4) “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain, 1885 (“It’s the funniest great book there is.”)

5) “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee, 1960 (“Who doesn’t love this novel for its descriptions, its drama and humor...?”)


1) “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” James Agree, Photography by Walker Evans, 1941 (“combines a modernist, experimental aesthetic with a kind of documentary intention.”)

2) “Black Boy,” Richard Wright, 1945 (“One cannot understand the American South” without reading this book)

3) “The Mind of The South," W. J. Cash, 1941 (captures “the Southern white mentality brilliantly”

4) “One Writer’s Beginnings,” Eudora Welty, 1984 (settles “why we should even read literature in the first place”)

5) “The Civil War: A Narrative,” Shelby Foote, 1958-74 (“monument of a lifetime”)


(The same edition of The Oxford American includes an article by Graham Hillard, who teaches English and creative writing at Trevecca Nazare University in Nashville. It is entitled ‘Why Teach Faulkner’s Masterpiece?” referring to “Absalom, Absalom!” which, it admits, is “not an easy read.” Here’s the answer to the title's question: "We do because the biggest questions--those whose scope puts to the test the very notion of what it means to be educated--seldom arrive spontaneously. We must dig them up where they’ve been buried--in the theater; on the canvas, in these particular, difficult pages.”)

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By Valerie Strauss  |  November 27, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
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All excellent choices, though I think that the Faulkner needs to be balanced by Welty's Delta Wedding: people of the same time, place, and location, leading happy, loving lives in the bosom of their family.

Since you don't include poetry, I'd throw in Wendell Berry's The Country of Marriage or A Timbered Choir.

Posted by: cthehill | November 30, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

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