The Best Southern Books of May 2022

Happy May friends! It’s officially hot in Tennessee with some of our first days in the 90s, which means it’s time for summer reading! I doubt summer reading will ever feel as good as it did when I was a kid in the backseat trying to tune out my parents singing along to The Beach Boys, but some of these great books might come close.

A Year Without Months
By Charles Dodd White
May 1, 2022

West Virginia University Press: “This collection of fourteen essays by Charles Dodd White — praised by Silas House as “one of the best prose stylists of Appalachian literature” — explores the boundaries of family, loss, masculinity, and place. Contemplating the suicides of his father, uncle, and son, White meditates on what it means to go on when seemingly everything worth living for is lost. What he discovers is an intimate connection to the natural world, a renewed impulse to understand his troubled family history, and a devotion to following the clues that point to the possibility of a whole life.”

By Fernando A. Flores
May 3, 2022

MCD x FSG Originals: “No one captures the border — its history and imagination, its danger, contradiction, and redemption — like Fernando A. Flores, whose stories reimagine and reinterpret the region’s existence with peerless style. In his immersive, uncanny borderland, things are never what they seem: a world where the sun is both rising and setting, and where conniving possums efficiently take over an entire town and rewrite its history.”

I Kissed Shara Wheeler
By Casey McQuiston
May 3, 2022

Wednesday Books: “Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and the puritanical administration of Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny. But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes. On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought.”

By Holly Goddard Jones
May 10, 2022

University of Iowa Press: “These stories and more contemplate our current reality with both frankness and hard-earned hopefulness, realism and fabulism, tackling parenthood, environment, and the absurd-but-unavoidable daily toil of worrying about mundane matters when we’ve entered “an era of unknowability, of persistent strangeness.”

Saint Sebastian’s Abyss
By Mark Haber
May 10, 2022

Coffee House Press: “Former best friends who built their careers writing about a single work of art meet after a decades-long falling-out. One of them, called to the other’s deathbed for unknown reasons by a “relatively short” nine-page email, spends his flight to Berlin reflecting on Dutch Renaissance painter Count Hugo Beckenbauer and his masterpiece, Saint Sebastian’s Abyss, the work that established both men as important art critics and also destroyed their relationship. A darkly comic meditation on art, obsession, and the enigmatic power of friendship, Saint Sebastian’s Abyss stalks the museum halls of Europe, feverishly seeking salvation, annihilation, and the meaning of belief.”

In the Lonely Backwater
By Valerie Nieman
May 10, 2022

Fitzroy Books: “All seventeen-year-old Maggie Warshauer wants is to leave her stifled life in Filliyaw Creek behind and head to college. An outsider at school and uncertain of her own sexual identity, Maggie longs to start again somewhere new. Inspired by a long-dead biologist’s journals, scientific-minded Maggie spends her days sailing, exploring, and categorizing life around her. But when her beautiful cousin Charisse disappears on prom night and is found dead at the marina where Maggie lives, Maggie’s plans begin to unravel.”

South Writ Large
Edited by Bellers, Doss, Miura, Serageldin
May 15, 2022

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: “South Writ Large: Stories from the Global South is an anthology of personal essays, articles, poetry, and artwork that explores the culture of the U.S. South and its extensive connections to other regions of the world. The collection is composed of articles published over the past ten years in the online magazine South Writ Large, which examines the changing South in its symbolic and psychological complexity to stimulate conversation about the culture of the South at home and abroad.”

Heaven’s Burning Porch
By James Dunlap
May 24, 2022

Texas Review Press: “In Heaven’s Burning Porch, James Dunlap reckons with the legacy left to him: one of pain, gratitude, violence, and salvation. In turns dark, humorous, lyric and narrative, Heaven’s Burning Porch explores what it means to grow up in rural Arkansas under the weight of his rough inheritance.”

The Crocodile Bride
By Ashleigh Bell Pederson
May 24, 2022

Hub City Press: “During a hot summer of June moods, grubworms, and dark storms, Sunshine discovers stones in her chest — and learns the dangers her coming-of-age will bring about in the yellow house she shares with her father. Without the vocabulary to comprehend Billy’s actions or her own changing body, Sunshine turns to an apocryphal story passed down from her grandmother: in the dark waters of the Black Bayou lives a crocodile with an insatiable appetite and a woman with a mysterious healing gift. As Sunshine’s summer unspools, she turns to the one person who will need no explanation of the family secrets she carries — the crocodile bride.”

The Golden Season
By Madeline Kay Sneed
May 31, 2022

Graydon House: “This lush, gorgeously written debut is a love letter to the places we call home and asks how we grapple with a complicated love for people and places that might not love us back — at least, not for who we really are. The Golden Season is a powerful examination of faith, queerness and the deep-seated bonds of family, and heralds the arrival of a striking new voice in fiction.”