Reckon’s 2021 Southern Summer Reading list

As we head into the July 4 holiday weekend, here’s a quick recap of some of the books we’ve talked about this season on the Reckon Interview podcast. Click the links to hear our conversation with each author. If you want new recommendations each week about the best Southern books, music, movies and art, sign up for the The Conversation, our weekly newsletter. 

“Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South” by Regina N. Bradley. You can’t understand the modern South without understanding the rise of Outkast and Souther n hip-hop. Bradley’s gives Southern rap its long overdue respect. Listen

“Down Along with That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy” by Connor Towne O’Neill. This book may offer the key to understanding the modern hysteria surrounding “Critical Race Theory.” So much of Southern identity has been mythologized in the Confederate monuments that litter the countryside. This book is a great pairing with Clint Smith’s new book “How the Word is Passed.” Listen.

“Magnified” by Minnie Bruce Pratt . As Southern legislatures go to war over anti-trans legislation, this beautiful collection of poetry reminds you of the very real impact these laws have on people’s lives. Minnie Bruce lost her spouse, Leslie Feinberg, to complications of Lyme disease. If our healthcare system treated trans patients with more compassion, she may have had years added to her life. Listen.

“Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution” by John Archibald. I’ve read John’s book three times now. It’s a beautiful examination of the Southern church and Southern families. Right now, we’re seeing Southern Baptists, Southern Methodists and Southern Catholics fight public, messy cultural battles. John’s book shows us the origins of some of these fights and reminds us what courage looks like. Listen. 

“Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ” by Rodney Scott and Lolis Eric Elie. If you’re planning to spend your July 4 weekend smoking pork, chicken or beef, you’ll want this guide from Rodney Scott. It’ll pair nicely with “Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue” by Adrian Miller which chronicles the overlooked history of Black pitmasters and restaurateurs. Listen.

“Southbound” and “The Parted Earth” by Anjali Enjeti. In our conversation with Ajali Enjeti, she made a stirring case for expanding our definition of “Southern literature.” These two works, one a collection of essays and the other a novel, offer a glimpse into the lives of Indian immigrants in the Deep South, as well as a small taste of the thousands of stories out there waiting to be told. If you like these two, pick up “Gold Diggers” by Sanjena Sathian. Listen.

“Long Division” by Kiese Laymon. You can’t have a conversation about Southern literature without discussing the impact of Kiese Laymon. On our podcast, Kiese talked about his decision to buy back the rights to his earliest works and republish new and revised versions. The updated edition of “Long Division” somehow manages to improve on a modern classic. Buy a physical copy of this one if you’re able to. Listen. 

“The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America” by Carol Anderson – Carol Anderson’s Bloomsbury trilogy (which also includes “One Person, No Vote” and “White Rage”) are important additions to our understanding of Southern/American history and what she calls the “fractured citizenship” of African Americans. After learning about the killings of Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice or Philando Castille, if you’ve found yourself wondering whether Black people actually have Second Amendment rights, this is the book for you. Listen. 

“The Plague Year” by Lawrence Wright – If you’re still trying to make sense of how things went so poorly for Americans during COVID-19, this is the single best explanation I’ve read. The author of “God Save Texas” and “The Looming Tower,” Lawrence has a gift for explaining dense subjects through vibrant characters. Listen.

What’s on your reading list? Email me your recs at

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