The Best Southern Books of November 2020

I turned on my heat for the first time this week in Tennessee, which means it’s the perfect time to cozy up with a blanket and new book! The best new books of November include an examination of the diaries of Southern women during the Civil War, poetry from Taylor Johnson, a study of waste in America, and a novel in stories about loss, addiction, and recovery.

By Richard Taylor
November 3, 2020

University Press of Kentucky: “In this classic work, Richard Taylor artfully assembles a collage of passages from diaries, travel accounts, and biographies to tell part of the notorious villain’s story. Taylor uses the voice of Simon Girty himself to unfold the rest of the narrative through a series of interior monologues, which take the form of both prose and poetry. Moments of torture and horrifying bloodshed stand starkly against passages celebrating beautiful landscapes and wildlife. Throughout, Taylor challenges perceptions of the man and the frontier, as well as notions of white settler innocence.”

Fourteenth Colony
By Mike Bunn
November 3, 2020

NewSouth Books: “The British colony of West Florida — which once stretched from the mighty Mississippi to the shallow bends of the Apalachicola and portions of what are now the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana — is the forgotten fourteenth colony of America’s Revolutionary era. The colony’s eventful years as a part of the British Empire form an important and compelling interlude in Gulf Coast history that has for too long been overlooked.  In Fourteenth Colony, historian Mike Bunn offers the first comprehensive history of the colony, introducing readers to the Gulf Coast’s remarkable British period and putting West Florida back in its rightful place on the map of Colonial America.”

Belles and Poets
By Julia Nitz
November 4, 2020

LSU Press: “In Belles and Poets, Julia Nitz analyzes the Civil War diary writing of eight white women from the U.S. South, focusing specifically on how they made sense of the world around them through references to literary texts. Nitz finds that many diarists incorporated allusions to poems, plays, and novels, especially works by Shakespeare and the British Romantic poets, in moments of uncertainty and crisis. While previous studies have overlooked or neglected such literary allusions in personal writings, regarding them as mere embellishments or signs of elite social status, Nitz reveals that these references functioned as codes through which women diarists contemplated their roles in society and addressed topics related to slavery, Confederate politics, gender, and personal identity.”

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
By Kiese Laymon
November 10, 2020

Scribner: “Brilliant and uncompromising, piercing and funny, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is essential reading. This new edition of award-winning author Kiese Laymon’s first work of nonfiction looks inward, drawing heavily on the author and his family’s experiences, while simultaneously examining the world — Mississippi, the South, the United States — that has shaped their lives. With subjects that range from an interview with his mother to reflections on Ole Miss football, Outkast, and the labor of Black women, these thirteen insightful essays highlight Laymon’s profound love of language and his artful rendering of experience, trumpeting why he is ‘simply one of the most talented writers in America’ (New York magazine).”

By Taylor Johnson
November 10, 2020

Alice James Books: “Inheritance is a black sensorium, a chapel of color and sound that speaks to spaciousness, surveillance, identity, desire, and transcendence. Influenced by everyday moments of Washington, DC living, the poems live outside of the outside and beyond the language of categorical difference, inviting anyone listening to listen a bit closer. Inheritance is about the self’s struggle with definition and assumption.”

Loved and Wanted
By Christa Parravani
November 10, 2020

Henry Holt & Company: “Christa Parravani was forty years old, in a troubled marriage, and in bad financial straits when she learned she was pregnant with her third child. She and her family were living in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she had taken a professorial position at the local university. Six weeks into the pregnancy, she requested an abortion. And in the weeks, then months, that followed, nurses obfuscated and doctors refused outright or feared being found out to the point of, ultimately, becoming unavailable to provide Christa with reproductive choice. Loved and Wanted is the passionate story of a woman’s love for her children, and a poignant and bracing look at the difficult choices women in America are forced to make every day, in a nation where policies and a cultural war on women leave them without sufficient agency over their bodies, their futures, and even their hopes for their children’s lives.”

A Simple Justice:
Kentucky Women Fight for the Vote

By Melanie Beals Goan
November 12, 2020

University Press of Kentucky: “In A Simple Justice, Melanie Beals Goan offers a new and deeper understanding of the women’s suffrage movement in Kentucky by following the people who labored long and hard to see the battle won. Women’s suffrage was not simply a question of whether women could and should vote; it carried more serious implications for white supremacy and for the balance of federal and state powers — especially in a border state. Shocking racial hostility surfaced even as activists attempted to make America more equitable. Goan looks beyond iconic women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to reveal figures whose names have been lost to history. Laura Clay and Madeline McDowell Breckinridge led the Kentucky movement, but they did not do it alone. This timely study introduces readers to individuals across the Bluegrass State who did their part to move the nation closer to achieving its founding ideals.”

One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

By Catherine Coleman Flowers
November 17, 2020

New Press: “MacArthur ‘genius’ Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that’s been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once the epicenter of the voting rights struggle, today it’s Ground Zero for a new movement that is Flowers’s life’s work. It’s a fight to ensure human dignity through a right most Americans take for granted: basic sanitation. Too many people, especially the rural poor, lack an affordable means of disposing cleanly of the waste from their toilets, and, as a consequence, live amid filth. Flowers calls this America’s dirty secret. In this powerful book she tells the story of systemic class, racial, and geographic prejudice that foster Third World conditions, not just in Alabama, but across America, in Appalachia, Central California, coastal Florida, Alaska, the urban Midwest, and on Native American reservations in the West.”

Nights When Nothing Happened
By Simon Han
November 17, 2020

Riverhead Books: “From the outside, the Chengs seem like so-called model immigrants. Once Patty landed a tech job near Dallas, she and Liang grew secure enough to have a second child, and to send for their first from his grandparents back in China. Isn’t this what they sacrificed so much for? But then little Annabel begins to sleepwalk at night, putting into motion a string of misunderstandings that not only threaten to set their community against them but force to the surface the secrets that have made them fear one another. How can a man make peace with the terrors of his past? How can a child regain trust in unconditional love? How can a family stop burying its history and forge a way through it, to a more honest intimacy? Nights When Nothing Happened is gripping storytelling immersed in the crosscurrents that have reshaped the American landscape, from a prodigious new literary talent.”

Lord the One You Love Is Sick
By Kasey Thornton
November 17, 2020

Ig Publishing: “Gentry Coats’ fatal overdose stuns a small community in North Carolina, triggering a series of tragic events that threaten the town’s traditional values. It triggers a mental breakdown in his best friend, a police officer, whose wife grapples with the burden of her vows in the face of her husband’s disturbing behavior. Bitter and lonely, Gentry’s mother struggles to place blame surrounding the death of her oldest son, while her younger son retreats into a strange and devastating isolation. And, on the outskirts of town, an eight-year old girl and her older sister cope with an unspeakable secret. All the while, the patriarchs of the community sit together gossiping at the local diner, trusting the Lord to heal the afflictions that haunt their beloved town.”