Being A Good Southerner, Part One: Be Well Read

You've heard the stereotypes. You know the dated jokes.

But what is it really like to be a Southerner? And, better yet, what does is it mean to be a good Southerner in the modern South?

We have ideas. That's why we're putting together our Modern Guide to Being a Good Southerner. Over the course of 2019, we'll post a series of blogs on this topic--addressing all sorts of angles on what it means to be a modern Southerner, and what exactly that should look like from our perspective.

From just being generous and hospitable to knowing your way around a plate of fried chicken, we’ll cover all things that we believe makes a good, modern Southerner.

All that to say we’ll start this series with Part One: Being Well Read. So with that, here are 5 books that every modern Southerner needs on their bookshelf.

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Letter from Birmingham Jail - Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Every single human should have to read Letter from Birmingham Jail before they turn 18. In what is probably his most famous writing, MLK lays out why he believes nonviolent resistance is a worthy strategy in the face of racism. While in jail, King wrote the essay in the margins of a newspaper--which was the only paper he had available. His lawyers and friends compiled and edited the writing--leading to it eventually becoming one of the most important documents of the Civil Rights Movement. Letter from Birmingham Jail is just as important and meaningful today as it was in 1963.

The Last Gentleman - Walker Percy

"What happens to a man to whom all things seem possible and every course of action open? Nothing of course."

Walker Percy was a southern novelist from Louisiana. He overcame losing both of his parents early in life to write some powerful and insightful novels, including The Last Gentleman, which may be his best. The story follows Will Barrett, an Alabama native and Princeton dropout, working as a night janitor at the YMCA in New York City. The novel has a dark quality to it, intermingled with questions of faith and meaning. And like most modern novels, don't expect the story to wrap up in a nice little bow at the end. Percy will leave you thinking.

The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway

"But man is not made for defeat,” he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

Hemingway was one of America's most iconic authors, and this is perhaps his most iconic book. This is the novel that put him on the map. At only 127 pages, The Old Man and the Sea is a quick read, telling the story of an aging fisherman and his determined pursuit of a large marlin. The novel won both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize for Literature. It continues to be taught in schools across the world. If you've never read The Old Man and the Sea, do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy.

The World's Largest Man - Harrison Scott Key

"The South is a strange place, one that can't be fit inside a movie, a place that dares you to simplify it, like a prime number, like a Bible story, like my father."

This is the only nonfiction on this short list, and it's quite the memoir. Harrison Scott Key grew up in the heart of Mississippi, in the Deep South, surrounded by manly men who loved beer, guns, trucks and Jesus. Key's dad was one of those men. The World's Largest Man tells Key's story of growing up with very little in common with his father. And, later, reconciling the fact that he was more like his dad than he thought. Great read. Great memoir.

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To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view."

No list of great Southern books is complete without To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus. Scout. Jem. Dill. All of these characters are unforgettable and have become part of Southern folklore. The themes in the novel--the struggle against racism and injustice--are timeless and as relevant today as ever. To Kill a Mockingbird is not just a southern classic--it's a true classic in literature. And it's a must-have on anyone's bookshelf.

We could go on for pages and pages about other great Southern books. But this short list will give you a good idea of where to start in becoming a well-read Southerner.

Enjoy. And let us know what you think!