The Best Southern Novels to Inspire Your Late Summer Reading List

There’s no denying a checkered and dark history precedes the American South I love so much. Built on the backs of slaves, Ground Zero of the U.S.’s Civil Rights Movement, the stigma of racism, poverty, and ignorance remains. The region also has a staggering number of intellectuals and some of our most beloved stories and storytellers hail from the area. The South should not be defined only by its failings and the ugliness; there is as much spiritual, intellectual, and creative beauty as deep as roots of giant oak trees.

Humid Southern summers bring afternoon thunderheads, mockingbird and yellowhammer concertos, peaches bigger than a fist and watermelons as big as your torso, and in my case, very large hair that refuses to be tamed in the intensity of this moisture. One can very easily fall into the seduction of the season, primed and lulled by the heat. Shaded porches are a must, as is, also in my case, Benadryl and cortisone for my growing collection of bug bites on my feet and ankles I get from walking barefoot in the sod fields and wooded trails on the farm.

Lazy summer days are meant for relaxing in literature. While I count down my final weeks in this quiet, little town in the middle of Alabama, here are some of the best Southern novels you can add to your reading list.

best summer novels for late summer reading

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

“If you tell the truth you do not need a good memory!”

Not without controversy, Huck and Jim’s saga has been banned in some schools and libraries. The story of Jim’s plight as an escaped slave is hard to handle, for some, but it stands on its own as an example of American literature in its finest form and is a window to the past reminding us of once was. Rediscovering this book as an adult was one of my highlights of the year.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg

“You know, a heart can be broken, but it still keeps a-beating just the same.”

Weaving together past and present (1980’s) and examining the different layers and forms of female friendship, Fried Green Tomatoes gives representation to women in middle age, and told with so much wit and rich details in characters. Don’t read on an empty stomach, but if you do, not to worry. A solid recipe for the namesake tomatoes, along with other Whistlestop Café features, can be found at the back of the book.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

“For whatever you live is life.”

Warren received a Pulitzer Prize for this novel and the film version earned an Best Picture Oscar, so plainly put, this is American storytelling at the highest level. All actions have consequences. A person cannot stand as a mere, emotionally detached observer but must take action in life.

best southern novels for late summer reading list

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

“To be an artist includes much; one must possess many gift -absolute gifts- which have not been acquired by one’s effort. And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul.”

Edna Pontellier is possibly the first liberated woman in American literature. A New Orleans housewife falls in love when on a vacation and realizes, upon her return home, she cannot devote herself to the social expectations of her. A moving chronicle of her embracing independence and self discovery, this is a must for any #YesSheCan minded thinker.

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

“You’re not necessarily supposed to believe it…You’re just supposed to believe in it.”

Tim Burton did a fantastic job translating the book into the film, but like many movies, the book stands alone! This classic father-son relationship study is imaginative and, yes, includes a very big fish.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

“You are your best thing”

Okay, so this is cheating a little bit but I’m including because the story features the aftermath and terrifying consequences of slavery in a post-war (yes, the “War of Northern Aggression” AKA the Civil War). I’ll not even go into the plot beyond this is haunting and stirring, and it’s going to stay with you after you turn that final page. This book is also, for me, a pivotal point in my young adult life when I first discovered my voice for empathy and representation.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

A Pulitzer Prize winner, the National Book Aware for Fiction winner, and close to two dozen combined Oscar and Tony nominations for the respective film and musical adaptations, The Color of Purple is as controversial as it is loved. Heavily depicting violence that, at moments, is hard to face, it is an honest, and beautiful portrayal of the life of a young, poor, black girl living in the South in the 1930’s following her through her adulthood. 

best southern novels for late summer reading

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

“Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.”

Mitchell won a Pulitzer Prize and should we dare to count the Oscars? Yes, the story is known – so known – but if you haven’t read the novel that was once condemned by the Vaticam, well then, you don’t know the saga of Scarlett or the plight of Melanie, or the dignified scallywag, Rhett Butler.

Fun and unrelated fact: when my friend referred to her new boyfriend (now husband) as Rhett Butler, I thought it was her code name for an exceptionally dreamy suiter. Well, he was, and that is his name.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

“And I realized that I’d tolerated him this long because of self-doubt.”

The queen of Southern Gothic and vampire stories, Rice has numerous series set in and around New Orleans. Interview with the Vampire was the world’s introduction to “The Brat Prince,” the antihero we all are going to fall in love with, sooner or later.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

“You get a little moody sometimes but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little fucked up.”

You know when Barbara Streisand takes on a role to portray a character in a film that there is a story worth seeing. In this case, the story is also, very much, worth reading. Conroy’s story about the lives of a South Carolinan family is the original claim of Lowcountry setting. A story of sibling love, family trauma, and recovery. It’s so lovely.

More to come of the best Southern novels to inspire your daydream south of the Mason-Dixon line. What’s your favorite Southern title feature?

best southern novels for late summer reading
Follow:

How to Manage Reading for Grad School

You took the plunge and are starting graduate school. Congratulations! Have you noticed your reading list, yet? The length can be intimidating… welcome to grad school! You can expect to read numerous articles and chapters each week. Yes, you will study and work differently in a graduate program than you did in your undergraduate degree. This includes how you approach reading for grad school.

The bar has been raised and you already made the decision to step up to the occasion by virtue of arriving. But you’ve got this!

For your time you are in grad school, you will be – and should be – reading, constantly. Always read, read, read. Be insatiably curious.

There’s no way to make the lengthy list of readings go away. Make no mistake; you’re going to read more in this program than you probably ever have before in your life.

But there are numerous ways to make the most out of your reading time and tackle these titles more efficiently. Here are some of the strategies I recommend for my grad students that I tried and found to be true through both of my master degrees and my PhD.

reading for grad school

Scholarly/Academic reading is a different process than reading for pleasure.

One of the largest mistakes students will make in their approaches to assigned readings and research is to approach them as if they are leisurely reading. Scholarly reading requires a different approach. Be prepared to take notes, look up supplementary and related reading materials, and even rereading paragraphs.

Start at the abstract.

At the start of your chapter or article, review the abstract and the first two to three paragraphs. This helps you orient and assess what you want to learn as a result of reading the article (and is also why creating strong thesis statements and introductions is important in scholarly writing). Scan all of the headings and review the concluding paragraphs. You may find that your use of that article is complete – you may have discovered what you need or you may have realized the article is not valuable to what you need to learn. The latter will occur quite often when you are researching for your assignments.

When you are reading a textbook, flip to the end of the chapters and read the questions scripted at the end. Those are great insights into what you want to hone in on when skimming the chapter.

Make multiple passes.

Don’t read from start to finish. Scan the article numerous times, paying attention to the headings, tables, captions, and anything in exaggerated font style.

Begin to read more.

If you determined the article is valuable for your assignment or project, now you can read it. Read the introduction and conclusions, then go through and find out what was the method and how the authors approached finding their conclusion. Review the discussion portion of the article and examine the context of how the authors interpreted their results.

reading for grad school

Be noncommittal.

Remember that you can stop reading the article if you obtained all the information you need or if it is not valuable for you. This isn’t Harry Potter… sometimes all you need is a skim.

Be a problem solver.

Look at the article in the way you typically would a puzzle – outside in. Once you use the introduction, conclusion, and headings to create the framework, then begin to fill in the rest of the picture. Sometimes you will need the full article to see the picture, and sometimes you don’t. Approach textbook chapters and articles from a strategic vantage point, and once you’ve found the information that is valuable and necessary to you, move on.

Using these strategies will be a significant game changer in whether or not, or how much, you feel overwhelm. Get ready to “hack” everything you currently know about reading to get the best use of your energy and your time. You should intend to read a lot, but read smart. Identify the general theme of the required reading or research article then apply these targeted reading strategies to build your knowledge.

 

sound strategies to maximize your time and tackle your list of reading for grad school

 

sound strategies to maximize your time and tackle your list of reading for grad school
Follow:

12 Frida Kahlo Quotes to Light Your Soul on Fire

Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón was born July 6, 1907… she died six days after her 47th birthday on July 13, 1954. Frida, one of Mexico’s greatest and the world’s beloved painters, is the embodiment of patience, perseverance, and passion. The world responds to her, viscerally. Frida Kahlo quotes, paintings, and likenesses are woven into our collective consciousness.

Our Frida… that’s how many people feel for her.

Frida endured and thrived among numerous challenges that would rock the foundation and resolve of most people. A life of pain, physical and emotional, for sure. 

Twelve Frida Kahlo Quotes to light your soul on fire

But, oh, what a life.

I see pain in her work, I don’t see the tragedy in her. I see something altogether different when I view Frida as the woman. Her life… Oh, what a life! A life of courage… when I see Frida’s work, when I read her journal, the dozen times I watched Salma Hayek’s soul filled portrayal, when I think of Frida, I think of courage.

Courage to be herself, to be unique, and to not give a f—- what anyone else thought about her. An OG savage, so to say. Frida lived her life on terms she decided. Look at her works – look at Las Dos Fridas, for example…. How is she not daring life to try to give her another tragedy to beat her down? Even when her body and circumstances appeared to fail her, she owned every bit of it and put it into tremendous paintings, drawings, and writings.

Without further ado….

Twelve Frida Kahlo Quotes to light your soul on fire

12 Frida Kahlo Quotes to Light Your Soul on Fire

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

“I cannot speak of Diego as my husband because that term, when applied to him, is an absurdity. He never has been, nor will he ever be, anybody’s husband.”

“I want to be inside your darkest everything.”

Twelve Frida Kahlo Quotes to light your soul on fire

“The most important thing for everyone in Gringolandia is to have ambition and become ‘somebody,’ and frankly, I don’t have the least ambition to become anybody.”

“You deserve the best, the very best, because you are one of the few people in this lousy world who are honest to themselves, and that is the only thing that really counts.”

“There is nothing more precious than laughter.”
 
“I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to better.”
 
“I don’t give a shit what the world thinks. I was born a bitch, I was born a painter, I was born fucked. But I was happy in my way. You did not understand what I am. I am love. I am pleasure, I am essence, I am an idiot, I am an alcoholic, I am tenacious. I am; simply I am … You are a shit.”
 
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”
 
“Perhaps it is expected that I should lament about how I have suffered living with a man like Diego. But I do not think that the banks of a river suffer because they let the river flow, nor does the earth suffer because of the rains, nor does the atom suffer for letting its energy escape. To my way of thinking, everything has its natural compensation.”
 Twelve Frida Kahlo Quotes to light your soul on fire
 
If you reside in Phoenix, you have 5 more weeks to visit the Frida and Diego exhibit at the Heard Museum. When I was in town this past Spring I made a visit, greedily, as I was at Casa Azul one week earlier. The exhibit is a fantastic collection of some of her pieces, and Diego’s, and a beautifully curated display of costumes similar in style to what Frida wore. They are not any of her exact wardrobe pieces. Those you can see (including her corsets) in Casa Azul in Mexico City.
 
Today, on the anniversary of the day Frida died, remember life. Viva la Frida. Viva la vida.
 
XO, Jennifer
 Frida Kahlo Quotes to Light Your Soul on Fire
Twelve Frida Kahlo Quotes to light your soul on fire
Follow:

Some Things to Enjoy | HAIM – Want You Back

If the weather hasn’t convinced you, surely the fireworks and festivals this week for Fourth of July heralded summer is in full swing! I appreciate the AC, sweet tea, the juicy peaches, warm watermelons, salads fresh picked from our garden, and songs of crickets and frogs I hear in the woods surrounding the farm at night.

Aah, summer. I love you so much, I even accept the frizz in my moppy hair this time of year. So much so I even accept picking the fleas of Edie as a daily ritual.

Here are some things that inspire and uplift me this week.

want you back

Something I’m Listening to….HAIM – Want You Back

Haim’s single from their new album, Want You Back has been out for two months, now, and it’s on heavy Spotify rotation. Well, alongside songs from Moana and Cigarettes After Sex — it’s been a rough summer of edits and motivation to finish that has waned to nonexistent…. My musical tastes this summer represent the chaos that is my writing frustrations and anxiety on overload.

Cue in some salvation and better-than-a-pineapple-whip delight… HAIM’s new album, Something to Tell You, released yesterday. Definitely, most definitely, check it out! I’m no musician or critic, and won’t pretend to be, but I like it — hello — their harmonies.

The video is LA eye candy, too.

Something I’m Reading…. Darling Magazine

I stopped subscriptions to print magazines when I moved from Phoenix. A newly adopted nomadic lifestyle is not conducive to monthly mailings. Fortunately for me, Darling Magazine maintains a robust online platform. This is a particularly refreshing read for some internal reflection on what labels or definitions you are picking up from external influences and pressures.

Something I’m Loving…. 

Fellow stationary groupies, raise your hands! Currently loving on the locally sourced stationary and excellently curated art, home, and apparels in Lawrence, Kansas. The best town in the heartland.

On an unrelated topic, have you contacted your senator to express your views on the AHCA bill? If you’re unsure how to act to effectively communicate with your senator, Our Revolution has a great page of resources.

Want you back

What is inspiring you this summer? XO, Jennifer

want you back
Follow:

Make a Visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum | Casa Azul

La Casa Azul… Frida Kahlo’s childhood home in Coyoacán, Mexico City became her studio and residence is now Museo Frida Kahlo. Frida left a deep impression on the world and certainly left a lasting mark on me. My time in Mexico City was limited to one week. The one agenda I insisted on making happen when I was in my maiden visit to CDMX was to venture south to the colorful Coyoacán neighborhood to unabashedly swoon and fawn. With good reason, make a visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum – it is not a place to be missed when you find yourself in Mexico City. 

Today is her birthday, by the way. She would be 110 today. Instead, she died 6 days after her 47th birthday.

Frida Kahlo Museum

Some practical tips:

Here are a few ways to make your visit to Museo Frida Kahlo smooth and stress free!

*Ticket prices are about 10% higher on weekends than week days ($220.00 pesos compared to $200.00 pesos during week days for non-Mexican citizens).

Frida Kahlo Museum
Go as early in the day as you can reasonably make it.

The museum will get busier as the day goes on, regardless of day of the week. I asked museum staff and they confirmed every day is bananas with the crowd. I went on a Wednesday and arrived at the museum about an hour after opening. And it was so busy. As in I committed to my intention to visit the museum and made nearly a complete day of it by the length of my wait.

Frida Kahlo Museum
Buy your ticket in advance.

This is SO important!! Even if you don’t have a printer, no worry! You can download electronic versions of your ticket/s and they have devices to scan from your phone. Pre-purchasing your ticket (you’ll select from available time slots) is going to be the difference of waiting 15-30 minutes for your queue and four hours. Yes, I waited FOUR HOURS because I wasn’t sure if I could bring an electronic ticket. Don’t be like me. By the ticket in advance!

Casa Azul Frida Kahlo Museum

If you want to take pictures, you need a special picture fee. 

You need to pay an additional fee if you want to take pictures. There are docents and attendants throughout the museum and they will check to see if you have a photography pass. The cost of the pass is fairly minimal (about $30.00 pesos).

The house portion of the museum is set up to direct the traffic and flow in pretty much a single direction. Don’t expect to be able to navigate through the house freely. The courtyard and other structures have more freedom in flow.

Frida Kahlo Museum

“I am that clumsy human, always loving, loving, loving. And loving. And never leaving.” ~Frida Kahlo

I am so happy I went even though I waited four hours to gain entrance! 

If you love her work, I highly recommend you make a visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum. I believe you will walk away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of her life.  

Museo Frida Kahlo

If you are able to get an early admission, you are already a majority of the way to Xochimilco, so you can ride your Frida high on the ancient canals and get serenaded by mariachis. 

Frida Kahlo Museum

XO, Jennifer

Follow: