The Best Southern Books of March 2023

Hello March! There was a brief period of too-early spring in Tennessee and I was reminded that I am an entirely different person when the sun’s shining. Though it’s chilly again now, I’ll still bundle up with a blanket in my hammock and read one of these fantastic new releases.

What Things Cost: An Anthology for the People
Edited by Rebecca Gayle Howell and Ashley M. Jones
March 7, 2023

The University Press of Kentucky: “What Things Cost collects stories that are honest, provocative, and galvanizing, sharing the hidden costs of labor and laboring in the United States of America. Voices such as Sonia Sanchez, Faisal Mohyuddin, Natalie Diaz, Ocean Vuong, Silas House, Sonia Guiñansaca, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Victoria Chang, Crystal Wilkinson, Gerald Stern, and Jericho Brown weave together the living stories of the campaign’s broad swath of supporters, creating a literary tapestry that depicts the struggle and solidarity behind the work of building a more just America.”

The Farewell Tour
By Stephanie Clifford
March 7, 2023

Harper: “As the novel crisscrosses eras, moving between Lillian’s youth — the Depression, the Second World War, the rise of Nashville — and her middle-aged life in 1980, we see her striving to build a career in the male-dominated world of country music, including the hard choices she makes as she tries to redefine music, love, aging, and womanhood on her own terms.”

The Last Suspicious Holdout
By Ladee Hubbard
March 7, 2023

Amistad: “The 12 gripping stories in Ladee Hubbard’s The Last Suspicious Holdout deftly
chronicle poignant moments in the lives of an African American community located in a
‘sliver of southern suburbia.’ The stories are set between 1992 and 2007, a period
which lauded the emergence of a new Black middle class even as images of ‘welfare
queens,’ ‘super predators,’ and ‘crack babies’ abounded in the media.”

Black Chameleon
By Debora D.E.E.P. Mouton
March 7, 2023

Henry Holt and Co.: “Mouton’s memoir is a praise song and an elegy for Black womanhood. She tells her own story while remixing myths and drawing on traditions from all over the world: mothers literally grow eyes in the backs of their heads, children dust the childhood off their bodies, and women come to love the wildness of the hair they once tried to tame. With a poet’s gift for lyricism and poignancy, Mouton reflects on her childhood as the daughter of a preacher and a harsh but loving mother, living in the world as a Black woman whose love is all too often coupled with danger, and finally learning to be a mother to another Black girl in America.”

Dear Medusa
By Olivia A. Cole
March 14, 2023

Labyrinth Road: “Sixteen-year-old Alicia Rivers has a reputation that precedes her. But there’s more to her story than the whispers that follow her throughout the hallways at school — whispers that splinter into a million different insults that really mean: a girl who has had sex. But what her classmates don’t know is that Alicia was sexually abused by a popular teacher, and that trauma has rewritten every cell in her body into someone she doesn’t recognize. To the world around her, she’s been cast, like the mythical Medusa, as not the victim but the monster of her own story: the slut who asked for it.”

A Manual for How to Love Us
By Erin Slaughter
March 14, 2023

Harper Perennial: “In these unconventional and unpredictably connected stories, Erin Slaughter shatters the stereotype of the soft-spoken, sorrowful woman in distress, queering the domestic and honoring the feral in all of us. In each story, grieving women embrace their wildest impulses as they attempt to master their lives: one woman becomes a ‘gazer’ at a fraternity house, another slowly moves into her otherworldly stained-glass art, a couple speaks only their basement’s black box, and a thruple must decide what to do when one partner disappears.”

Take What You Need
By Idra Novey
March 14, 2023

Viking: “Set in the Allegheny Mountains of Appalachia, Take What You Need traces the parallel lives of Jean and her beloved but estranged stepdaughter, Leah, who’s sought a clean break from her rural childhood. In Leah’s urban life with her young family, she’s revealed little about Jean, how much she misses her stepmother’s hard-won insights and joyful lack of inhibition. But with Jean’s death, Leah must return to sort through what’s been left behind.”

A House with Good Bones
By T. Kingfisher
March 28, 2023

Tor Nightfire: “A haunting Southern Gothic from an award-winning master of suspense, A House With Good Bones explores the dark, twisted roots lurking just beneath the veneer of a perfect home and family. To find out what’s got her mom so frightened in her own home, Sam will go digging for the truth. But some secrets are better left buried.”

Above Ground
By Clint Smith
March 28, 2023

Little, Brown: “Clint Smith’s vibrant and compelling new collection traverses the vast emotional terrain of fatherhood, and explores how becoming a parent has recalibrated his sense of the world. Above Ground wrestles with how we hold wonder and despair in the same hands, how we carry intimate moments of joy and a collective sense of mourning in the same body.”

The Songs of Betty Baach
By Glenn Taylor
March 31, 2023

University of Massachusetts Press: “Set in West Virginia, The Songs of Betty Baach is a magical guide to resisting despair and a compendium of wisdom and rhythms by which to fortify oneself. The lives of the Baaches of Keystone and the Knoxes of Mosestown twist and connect in a tale of survival and retribution that crosses three centuries — moving from Betty’s girlhood in colonial America to a future warped by environmental collapse and political unrest. Refusing the erasure of the lives of women, Indigenous peoples, and Black people who have always called this region home, this eloquent and distinctive novel is a necessary remedy for the continued distortion of a land and its inhabitants.”