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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There are some things in life that shouldn't be given so much importance, if they don't change what is essential. Laura Esquivel Quotes

It doesn’t matter to me what you did, there are some things in life that shouldn’t be given so much importance, if they don’t change what is essential. What you’ve told me hasn’t changed the way I think; I’ll say again, I would be delegated to be your companion for the rest of your life-but you must think over very carefully whether I am the man for you or not. ~Laura Esquivel

Not counting the anime I watched growing up in Germany, in which case Sea Prince and Fire Child would probably be my first foreign film, Like Water for Chocolate was the first foreign film I saw. My mom took me to the old Camelview theater 24 years ago to see the film, of which she read reviews and wanted to go see it. The woman is still traumatized so many years later. She was not ready to have the “sex” dialogue with me after having barely recovered from the “becoming a woman” conversation.

My mother actually shrieked – yelped – at the first sighting of full frontal nudity. Then she spent the remainder of the film alternately jumping, yelping, and ordering me to cover my eyes. To this day, I can still get a reaction from her by the mere mention of the title of the film.

Como Agua Para Chocolate, or Like Water for Chocolate is a euphemism to describe someone in a rapturous state. I asked my Spanish teacher why the reference because I had some idea but wasn’t fully in the concept. Sometimes, yes, I am that clueless. He just smiled and explained because to make hot chocolate, to be added to the chocolate, the water must be boiling.

In Mexico, hot chocolate is usually made with water, not milk.

I rather like that reference, don’t you? It’s such a vivid and sensational way to describe a sensual state of being.

Since seeing the film I had an opportunity to read the book, and I highly recommend the read. Her ability to create such vivid and beautiful concepts with her words is magical. I recently read Malinche, another of Laura Esquivel’s books when I was in Puerto Escondido. It not only was an exceptional beach read, the story was sad and beautiful.

What is on your upcoming summer reading list? I have a feeling I’m going to pick up a certain “libro” for another read through.

Make this one a great one!

XO, Jennifer

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Octavio Paz quote

In addition to being National Poetry Month, this is also my final month for my current stay in Oaxaca. I will return to the States for a wedding of a good friend and for family. And file my extended taxes and defend my dissertation (kind of important). And… start to look for a job with reliable income. That will allow me to live in Mexico, of course. I did not know Octavio Paz before a man I met almost immediately before leaving the city introduced me to him. Why does it seem to be the most interesting ones are those with a short shelf life?

How did I not know Octavio Paz?

The same way I didn’t know Juan Rulfo or Carlos Fuentes. At least I knew Laura Esquivel, and even that was because of the movie before I found the novel.

Octavio Paz is prolific in his writings and his work is beautiful. I lament not knowing Spanish better to be able to appreciate his prose in the language originally created. For now, I must rely on the translation. Outside my dissertation and faculty work, reading a book on the history of Oaxaca protests, and sleeping through siestas, I’m trying to translate a Spanish copy of The Alchemist.

It’s not going well.

But I try!

In time, perhaps….

I love this quote, though. Deserve your dream. Because, yes, right?! Shouldn’t we be required to work for what we want? I think it is a piteous condition, indeed, if one were to get everything he or she wanted without knowing denial or work.

Wind, Water, Stone by Octavio Paz

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.
 
Wind carves stone,
stone’s a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.
 
Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.
 
Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.

Make this a great week!

XO, Jennifer

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Beyonce Quotes

Who runs the world? Well, as these Beyonce quotes will testify, Beyonce runs her. Here’s some inspiration for pep in your step with a most delicious collection of some things to say to slay your day. All hail Queen Bey!

“I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I only have to follow my heart and concentrate on what I want to say to the world. I run my world.”

“Thank God I found the GOOD in goodbye.”

“The most alluring thing a woman can have is confidence.”

“Do what you were born to do. You just have to trust yourself.”

“When I’m not feeling my best I ask myself, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ I use the negativity to fuel the transformation into a better me.”

“Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.”

“I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything?”

“The reality is: sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose. You’re never too big to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. It happens.”

“I don’t like to gamble, but if there’s one thing I’m willing to bet on, it’s myself.”

“The world will see you the way you see you, and treat you the way you treat yourself.”

“It’s so liberating to really know what I want, what truly makes me happy, what I will not tolerate. I have learned that it is no one else’s job to take care of me but me.”

“Never let success go to your head, never let failure get to your heart.”

“If you live your life with kindness and giving other people great energy, that beauty and great energy will come back to you.”

“I always find the inner strength to pull myself up; I was served lemons but I made lemonade.”

Does Beyonce inspire you? How?

XO, Jennifer

Beyonce quotes

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