The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!


Leslie F*cking Jones by Leslie Jones

I will forever love Leslie Jones and this book just solidified that for me. It’s equal parts hilarious and touching and there are so many laugh-out-loud moments I could not keep it together. Jones has always been true to herself and who she is and I love the example that she sets in standing up for herself and her coworkers. This book is a true gem by a true gem.

Leslie F*cking Jones by Leslie Jones, (List Price: $30, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538706497, September 2023)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay

Ross Gay is an ambassador of pure joy—not the sugar-coated, roll-your-eyes kind of happiness, but the subversive, wink-and-nod kind of delectation. Whether he is comparing clusters of harvested sweet potatoes to snuggled bunnies or finding beauty at his aunt’s funeral, Gay’s eye for the oft-overlooked wonders of life is unrivaled, and his conversational, familiar delivery is perfection. Each tiny essay in this beautiful book digresses again and again, which, no surprise, makes it all the more delightful. Do we need a book of more delights? Yes, yes, yes. This book is a ray of sunshine, a juicy peach, a warm hug, a sunflower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk.

The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay, (List Price: $28, Algonquin Books, 9781643753096, September 2023)

Reviewed by Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge by Helen Ellis

A June 2023 Read This Next! Title

Helen Ellis is back with a collection of essays about my marriage…sorry about her marriage. These hit so close to home on so many levels: snoring…yep my husband does that and I have threatened his life, grudges…yeah I will cut people out of my life for being slightly rude to my husband or my friends, ridiculous letter to the person caring for my pets…check. Hilarious and touching, this is a great portrait of a marriage

Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge by Helen Ellis, (List Price: 26, Doubleday, 9780385548205, June 2023)

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

Abortion by Pauline Harmange

This is exactly what we need more of in the ongoing discussion around abortion; nuanced personal accounts of abortions. While Harmange makes no apologies for her decision to terminate her pregnancy, she does describe in clear detail the grief that accompanied her decision and the shame she experienced. The decision to end a pregnancy is never made lightly even when it is absolutely the right choice and it should not be an experience filled with shame that goes untalked about.

Abortion by Pauline Harmange, (List Price: 16, Scribe US, 9781957363295, May 2023)

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, Bookseller in Savannah, Georgia

How Far The Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler

Last year, I read a sweet little debut novel by Shelby Van Pelt called Remarkably Bright Creatures. You might remember it because I talked about it here and sang the praises of our octopus narrator, Marcellus. Still one of the best characters in fiction I read last year. That book led me to My Octopus Teacher, a documentary on Netflix, and several other sea creature ventures. It eventually led me to Sabrine Imbler’s memoir, How Far the Light Reaches, a memoir I didn’t know I needed.

I consider myself fairly progressive. I love a good gay rom-com and work hard to promote voices that are often found in the margins. Imbler’s book was not only a thoughtful and well written tapestry, weaving together personal experience with life under water, but it very gently allowed me inside the mind of a trans person. They are graciously and carefully sharing experiences with the reader that are so personal but at the same time so universal. Imbler covers every highlight of growing up and learning about her own body, from childhood through those terrible teenage years and into adulthood, and it was such an eye opening experience – for both of us!

The book chronicles the life of a queer, mixed race writer working in a largely white, male field. Imbler is a science and conservation journalist who has always been drawn to the mystery of life in the sea. Each essay weaves together a sea creature and Imbler’s own life experiences. These stories show us seemingly radical models of family, community, and care, but upon deeper reflection, these stories are a lot like our own stories. Stories of finding comfort with our own bodies, cultivating relationships that are important to our own survival, and adapting to severe life changes. In this book, Imbler shows us the ways in which our world – even the parts of it that we know little about or don’t quite understand, is full of miracles.

How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler, (List Price: $27, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316540537, December 2022)

Reviewed by Sara Putman from Bookish: An Indie Shop For Folks Who Read in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Whorephobia by Lizzie Borden

A gorgeously done collection of all things stripping and sex work told by those who know it best. With stories told by 20-some contributors to this essay collection, the lessons and experiences recounted in this span decades. Focused first on the strip clubs that populated New York City in the late 80s and 90s, the switch to more modern accounts is refreshing and makes this a current and fantastically well-done anthology on pro-sex work.

Whorephobia by Lizzie Borden (List Price: $21.95, Seven Stories Press, 9781644212271, December 2022)

Reviewed by Grace Sullivan, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler

A 2022 December Read This Next! Title

Wholly original, astonishingly informative, and powerfully written. Imbler describes marine life with reverence and compelling detail, and deftly intertwines the lives of the sea creatures with stories of their own experiences with gender, queerness, and identity.

How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler (List Price: $27, Little, Brown and Company, 9780316540537, December 2022)

Reviewed by Sarah Arnold, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

The World Record Book of Racist Stories by Amber Ruffin

Ruffin and Lamar are back with more hilarious-in-a-terrible-way stories of things that they and their family have dealt with. You’ll laugh and cringe at this book – the sisters write as they speak and their chemistry makes for a perfect read.

The World Record Book of Racist Stories by Amber Ruffin, (List Price: $29, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538724552, November 2022)

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

The World As We Knew It by Amy Brady

A phenomenal collection of essays from fiction writers reflecting on the existential crisis that is climate change. It’s all excellent writing and full of the attention to the human condition you might expect from these literary powerhouses, but what really strikes me is how in every one of these essays I felt a deep sense of love, curiosity, and excitement about the natural world. These writers do not let their profession stop them from being interested in the natural sciences, and the inspiration they draw from them, even in the face of inevitable doom, is a gift to read.

The World As We Knew It by Amy Brady, (List Price: $16.95, Catapult, 9781646220304, June 2022)

Reviewed by Akil Guruparan, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Dirtbag, Massachusetts by Isaac Fitzgerald

Darkly funny and brutally honest, this memoir about surviving a chaotic childhood is a page-turner. The author is a natural storyteller who also offers insight into his motivations and those of his parents. (And I can attest to the accuracy of his descriptions of high school, since we attended the same one, though at different times!)

Dirtbag, Massachusetts by Isaac Fitzgerald, (List Price: 27, Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635573978, July 2022)

Reviewed by Anne Peck, Righton Books in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia

A Girlhood by Carolyn Hays

While I suppose no book is perfect, I think A Girlhood: Letter to My Transgender Daughter is about as perfect as they come.

It’s part memoir, part research project, part confessional. The writing is personal, tender, and fierce. I found so much that resonated about parenting in general, the way we love our kids and try to help them find the most joy possible in this life. And, as the wife of a trans guy, I also found kinship in the experience of watching someone transition and find their true selves. It’s beautiful. Sometimes frightening. And often hard for a host of reasons. But ultimately, joyful.

A Girlhood will be my go-to recommendation for anyone trying to understand gender identity or transness. And for parents of gay kids, trans kids, cis kids, gender non-conforming kids–parents of humans. I cannot think of anyone I wouldn’t recommend it to. As a person in the queer community who didn’t have a stellar coming out experience with my parents, I find narratives about parents who support and champion their LGBTQ kids to be a balm. Because I always believed I deserved better than I got–and seeing other kids get that kind of support is healing and hopeful. Because I was right. We do deserve better. And always have.

There’s lots of LGBTQ history mixed in to the narrative. And the writer is Catholic–so there’s also this gorgeous arc of what Catholicism can be. There’s a lot of hype there. But also a lot of realism. The author is constantly acknowledging her privilege and unpacking difficult social construction and religious dogma.

I am 100% enamored of Carolyn Hays’ intellect, compassion, and fierce love for her kid. This is a must read.

A Girlhood by Carolyn Hays, (List Price: $28.95, Blair, 9781949467901, September 2022)

Reviewed by Kendra Gayle Lee, Bookish Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia

The Unwritten Book by Samantha Hunt

With a heavy heart and a recently missing cat (wringing out the old year, hearing the ringing of the new through my poorly insulated walls), I started a book that followed me home from work. For years, Samantha Hunt novels, on glancing and flipping, have always looked to be in the “Alley (up my)” or “Wheelhouse (in my)” genres, but this is my first and, by golly, I can’t stop rambling, deleting, rambling, deleting this review. She lets grief, family, empathy, childhood, alcohol, a boy band, authority, loss, parenthood, faith (and much much more) drop, all at once, into the top of the Plinko board, amazingly not jamming the derned thing up. What settles at the bottom is a nice, orderly, call for all to relish the unknown, hold tight to loss, and madlib the half-assed answers to life’s half-asked questions. I, for one, am retooling “rut” and giving a new shine to “stuck in a.” However, as newly-formed fanboy insecurities blossom, the Samantha Hunt in my mind says “well, YOU sure missed the point on the head.” But surely the fact that I got what I wanted out of [the book, which I forgot to mention is a work of nonfiction] was surely the point of it exactly. Or at least that’s what I got out of it. Surely.

The Unwritten Book by Samantha Hunt, (List Price: $28, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374604912,  April 2022)

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

You Don’t Know Us Negroes by Zora Neale Hurston

The gift of Zora Neale Hurston and her multifaceted works shine beyond decades. You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays covers the timelessness of her work. Zora Neale Hurston’s work holds an essential space in piecing the histories of America and the visibility of the lives of Black Folk. Hurston honors the language, spirit, and progressive movements that are exhibited in our history and heritage. This book gives us a deeper understanding of Hurston and her legacy.

You Don’t Know Us Negroes by Zora Neale Hurston, (List Price: $29.99, Amistad, 9780063043855, January 2022)

Reviewed by Jasmine from Cafe Noir, in Memphis, Tennessee

Graceland, At Last by Margaret Renkl

Margaret’s weekly New York Times columns about culture in The South call out our many failures while describing in beautiful detail what makes our part of America so beautiful. Just when I think there’s no possible way to capture the tension between the terrible and the special, Margaret’s words are there to express what I am feeling.

Graceland, At Last by Margaret Renkl, (List Price: $26.00, Milkweed Editions, 9781571311849, September 2021)

Reviewed by Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

Letter to a Stranger by Colleen Kinder

As the season changes, I find myself drawn to books that I can pickup, read however much I want whether it be a page or fifty, and then put back down and not worry about losing my spot or anything like that. I want digestible, but not fluff, I still want the grit and strong storytelling. This book is the cure for this predicament. Colleen Kinder sent out an email to authors everywhere, simply asking them to write a letter to a stranger who haunts them. The result is this intimate collection of letters from some of the most beloved authors of our time, and perfect is an understatement. The book is broken up by emotional prompt, which I like but was wary as books similar to this can be sort of repetitive with the themes of stories in them, but this next level. The sections are symmetry, mystery, chemistry, gratitude, wonder, remorse and finally, farewell. This is what makes this book so strong, it’s not just emotions of love or pain, it’s so much more than that. It’s funny, startling,and at times heartbreaking. A book that has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf, and one I do not think I will ever get tired of skimming through.

Letter to a Stranger by Colleen Kinder, (List Price: $19.95, Algonquin Books, 9781643751245,  March 2022)

Reviewed by Grace Sullivan, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

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