Good Minds Suggest: Tayari Jones' 5 Books About the New South

January, 2018
Tayari Jones

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Atlanta native Tayari Jones is the author of three novels, including this month's An American Marriage. Although she now lives in Brooklyn, New York, she says Georgia is always on her mind.

In An American Marriage, newlyweds Celestial and Roy could not be more delighted with life and with each other. She's an artist on the rise, and he is a young executive. All of this is put in jeopardy when Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit. His sentence of 12 years is eight times as long as they have been married. After five years, Roy finally receives justice, but will he and Celestial be able to pick up where they left off?

Like all of Jones' other work, this novel is set in her hometown of Atlanta, and the city is so vivid that it seems like another character. Jones says she's on a mission to celebrate literature of the new South. "When people hear the term 'Southern literature,' they think about the Civil War, grandmothers, and mules. But the South is more than our past. We are writing about the here and now—blazing into the future but still being true to the way we do things down here."

Here are her five picks for books about the new South.

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"The plucky young girl is a mainstay of Southern literature, and 12-year-old Harriet is as smart and precocious as Harper Lee's Scout. This book is darker, moodier. Some people call it 'Southern Gothic,' but I just call it brilliant. It's an international bestseller for a reason."


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"This novel is so funny and so, well, weird that it only makes sense set in the new South. Imagine a black boy, orphaned at age 11 but inherits a boatload of stock in Turner Broadcasting Company. There are serious matters at stake here—namely, the changing social hierarchies in a South that is changing but not fast enough. But it's thigh-slapping funny. Everett, a South Carolinian, tells a story like he's sitting on the front porch telling lies."


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"This beautifully sad memoir is an elegy to the fathers, sons, brothers, and friends cut down in their prime in the author's Mississippi hometown. It is impossible to read this stirring and important book and not mourn so much lost potential. This is not an easy read but an essential one."


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"Family is the focus of this engrossing multigenerational novel set in New Orleans at the beginning of WWII and continuing through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Sexton leaves the tourist traps behind, guiding you through the city and its history as only a native can."


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"I have been a fan of Lee Smith's novels since I was a teenager, but this work of nonfiction is my favorite. The South of Smith's childhood is no more; the dimestore of the title has been replaced by a Walmart. This complicated remembrance is poignant without being overly sentimental, and, as with all of her work, Lee Smith's voice is clear as water and steeped in the language and tradition of Appalachia."


Want more book recommendations from authors? Check out our Good Minds Suggest series.

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie I haven't read this author but I look forward to reading her first novel. She has some excellent choices for reading as well.


message 2: by Ursula (new)

Ursula Heinrich I read Silver Sparrow. The opening line, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” keeps you interesting right from the beginning. Witherspoon's deception, the dynamics of the family, and the teens that are totally caught in the middle makes for a complex story.


message 3: by Maria (new)

Maria Angus Love love her books! Cannot wait to read American Marriage!


message 4: by Anna (new)

Anna Townsend Thanks for these recommendations. I'm about to move to Alabama from the UK and these will be a great introduction to the South.


message 5: by Leah (new)

Leah DeCesare Maria wrote: "Love love her books! Cannot wait to read American Marriage!"

Ditto! I was so happy to meet her and have her sign my copy of American Marriage at Book Expo. She's a beautiful writer!


message 6: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Weiner More helpful if you have actually read the book! Otherwise it is like a recipe review: This sounds good, can't wait to make it!


message 7: by Paula (new)

Paula Looks good and I like her reading recommendations!


message 8: by Wanda Taylor (new)

Wanda Taylor I think I'm going to like this ap!


message 9: by Carole (new)

Carole I read "Silver Sparrow" as well and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to reading her newest! I'm also interested in reading "I'm Not Sidney Poitier."


message 10: by Holly (new)

Holly Anna wrote: "Thanks for these recommendations. I'm about to move to Alabama from the UK and these will be a great introduction to the South."

That is a bit of a culture shock, depending on where in Alabama..we are in Georgia and have had several students here that we helped who were all from the UK. They did very well and enjoyed their time here. Hope you have the same experience!
Holly


message 11: by Tran (last edited Feb 07, 2018 07:03PM) (new)


message 12: by Nonie (new)

Nonie Sanders Re “Dimestore” comments: as an Appalachian girl who moved to SC as a child I’d like to caution readers against assuming they had much in common. The deep mountains were a long way from the Deep South. You’ll see when I finish my book.


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