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
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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
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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

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Some Things to Enjoy | The Hamilton Mixtape: Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)

I know I’ve been quite off the radar and absent. I’m sorry! It seems every time I turn to the news there is more news that drags me down. I’m already in a tender spot of sad feelings with my dissertation frustrations so I find that I get easily overwhelmed with the state of our administration. This week, in particular, has my head spinning. So it’s good for me to consciously see what’s good. And there’s so much good!

I’m back in Alabama and will spend probably a majority of what remains of summer down here. It’s quiet, on the farm, and aside from morning garden duties, I have minimal distractions. My current focus on finishing the final edits and revisions (again, and again) are my big priority. The next one is – to find a job. That is an interesting experiment in frustration and reflection. In time….

Nashville the Gulch

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

Whatever you are looking ahead to with your long weekend and heading into next week, make it beautiful!

Something I’m Listening to…. Lin-Manuel Miranda – The Hamilton Mixtape: Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)

Unless you’ve been underneath a rock or exclusively watch Fox & Friends, you might have seen the #HAM4ALL challenge. Borrowing inspiration from the ALS ice bucket challenge, Miranda is asking participants to upload a video of them singing a selection from Hamilton to social media and make a donation to the Immigrants: We Get the Job Done Coalition, then nominate two friends to do the same.

Hello – challenge accepted! And I have terrible stage fright, and cannot carry a tune, whatsoever (I’m so bad).

I hope you participate, too. It’s fantastic cause and electric campaign.

Something I’m Reading…. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

I started a reread of this book last summer then accidentally packed it up and put in storage before finishing. When I was going through some more items to “prune” and get rid of during a yard sale at my folks’ house at the beginning of the month I found it again, dogeared right where I left off. You may remember the delightful movie with Kathy Bates charming us as the mousy middle aged self conscious housewife and Jessica Tandy as Ninny, a quirky resident in a senior assisted living home who inspires Bates’s Evelyn to come into her own.

If you had any enjoyment in the movie, consider visiting your local library and making the book a summer read. It follows three story patterns: present day (1980’s) with Evelyn and Ninny; the fictional newsletter, “The Weems Weekly;” and Ninny’s childhood memories in 1920’s Whistle Stop, Alabama in which the beloved character Idgie will charm you as she did the bees.

If you loved the movie, as I did, I believe you will embrace the novel. There are  themes beautifully and tenderly written in the book that were not translated into the film, particularly the nuance pertaining to Idgie and Ruth’s relationship.

Fried Green Tomatoes

And then you can watch the film again, too! I promise you, before I leave Alabama again, I’ll share with you my recipe for fried green tomatoes. They are truly heavenly and worth the cheat day, and I’m loving having such close access thanks to the abundant garden harvest this summer on the farm.

Something I’m Loving…. 

I drove through Nashville last weekend on my way back to Alabama. Now, Music City… THAT is a fun town! I was quite short on time as I was making the drive from Kansas to Birmingham in a day – a long day. A break in my drive was scheduled so I could spend some time in the Gulch. Don’t be fooled, she’s 100% devil! Oh, Edie….

Nashville the Gulch -

I love planners. For 2017 I had a pretty “millenial pink” planner from Bando, despite not being a millenial – I’m technically not a Gen X, either, having been born in the weird transition years from 1977-1983 that is considered a microgeneration neither fitting in either set. Dawson’s Creek for the win (too young for 21 Jump Street, too old for One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl).

For 2018, I have a jump on my planner, already. I selected this pretty planner from Kate Spade – solely because I love the cover image. If you’re into zodiacs, this is the perfect pick for you.

And, hi, um, can you believe tomorrow is July?! Where has 2017 gone?!

The Gulch in Nashville Mural What Lifts You Up
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Five Great Movies to Inspire Solo Travel

Summer is in full swing and what if the heat has you clamoring to take a great escape? Whether seeking inspiration for your next vacation destination, wanting a sojourn in your mind, or craving a nudge to buy the ticket you’ve been dreaming of, here are some great movies to inspire solo travel and feed that ever loving wanderlust in you. 

Grab some popcorn and fuzzy socks and wine, and settle in for a movie night in the comfort of AC as respite from the summer heat. Find your personal ticket to a next adventure. From trekking trips to jet setting around the world, these films feature women who bring their passions with passports. These ladies knew how to go their own ways.

Under the Tuscan Sun | Starring Diane Lane

Following a divorce from her husband who left her for the woman he was having an affair with, Frances Mayes makes an impulsive purchase to beat all… a rundown villa in Tuscany. This film is as delightful and hopeful as the cinematography is beautiful. Now, where can I find some limoncello, bella? 

Tracks | Starring Mia Wasikowska

Another adaptation of a memoir, this captivating film follows Robyn Davidson’s nine month journey as she treks across Australia. The movie is vivid, breathtaking, and incredibly gorgeous. You may find yourself researching the Outback after this one! This is one of those movies that you feel so hard, the lump in your throat will burn before your eyes get watery.  Seriously, so good….

Wild | Starring Reese Witherspoon

Okay, yes, another memoir adaptation. Cheryl Strayed, of the Dear Sugar series, book, and podcast, authored her heartbreaking story of the intense interventions she created for herself to heal from the trauma of her mother’s death. Determined to heal herself, Strayed set forth on an epic solo thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Reese brings you into Strayed’s downward spiral of self destruction and triumph in her personal salvation. And don’t forget about the impeccable cinematography capturing the scenery along the stretch of the PCT. G-G-G-G-Gorgeous!

Also, one of my favorite books… I highly recommend this as a read. Perhaps some inflight reading?

Eat, Pray, Love | Starring Julia Roberts

The memoir touched the hearts of millions of women. Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal quest to reconnect with her true self, a self she lost in being the roles she took on in how she believed she needed to be with the people in her life. Spending a year in Italy, India, and Indonesia (Bali), Gilbert discovers the joy of living and power of self love. The story resonates with many people who can relate to seeking self discovery and finding our personal compasses.

Out of Africa | Starring Meryl Streep

Karen Blixen is a Danish baroness who traveled to colonial-era Kenya to work the plantation she owned with her husband. This is a story of Blixen asserting her independence in a foreign land and culture, managing a plantation by trial and error, and coming into her own as a powerful force for her own advocacy and experiences. To watch this film is to see Streep in what I think is her best, and – hello – Robert Redford. Together! “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills….” So starts the film narration. If you want more, watch it. Also, the book was incredible, too.

It’s no coincidence the five films I selected here are all based on true stories of women striking out to live their lives by their designs, and ultimately, literally, write their own stories. For each film listed here, I have also read the book, and they are all worthy of space in your schedule and on your bookshelf.

I think there’s something incredibly powerful about choosing to be deliberate and then having the ability to share your story with a meaningful impact and value to others.

movies to inspire solo travel

Have you traveled solo or are planning a maiden voyage anytime soon? 

movies to inspire solo travel

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