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The Best Southern Novels of All Time
Ocford American ^ | August 27 2009

Posted on 09/15/2009 7:53:27 AM PDT by Borges

# 1 ABSALOM, ABSALOM! by WILLIAM FAULKNER (1936) (120 votes)

A profound exploration of race and all its attendant complexities. Faulkner’s rendering of the Southern “class” struggle through the life of one figure, Thomas Sutpen, makes Absalom, Absalom! the only serious rival to Melville’s Moby-Dick as the great American novel. —Richard King

# 2 ALL THE KING’S MEN by ROBERT PENN WARREN (1946) (80 votes)

Robert Penn Warren’s book is an unqualified masterpiece. It is all-encompassing and eclipses everything else on the list. One could make a reasonable case for its being the greatest American novel ever written. Seemingly nothing escapes its scope or ambition. —Ben George

All the King’s Men is a terribly ambitious and sometimes maddening novel, five or six novels crammed into one. It is cumbersome, perhaps, but it is a generative novel, a novel that is so innovative it changed the novels that followed, or made them possible. Descendents of All the King’s Men are various—from popular political novels to, oddly, road novels like Kerouac’s (there is a whole Beat sequence in Warren’s book—a trip to California). And, in the weary voice of Jack Burden, we hear the slow, cosmic disappointment of Binx Bolling, who came after. —Moira Crone

# 3 THE SOUND AND THE FURY by WILLIAM FAULKNER (1929) (64 votes)

This stylized and ultra-literary concoction still manages to engage us. We work our way through four hundred pages of convoluted, sometimes impenetrable prose—and the members of the Compson family appear before us in all their appalling egoism, fear, greed, innocence, and hubris. Reading, you almost forget that this is fiction—the characters are so fully realized. As the final dissolution of the family comes to pass, you want to avert your eyes but you keep turning the pages—in fear and trembling. An unbearable tragedy, yet simultaneously a joy—as we recognize that the thirty-year-old, small-town author has gone the limit, investing his mind, soul, passion, psyche, everything, in the novel’s creation. —William Caverlee

# 4 THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by MARK TWAIN (1885) (58 votes)

If you can discern anything about the greatness of a book by how often someone has either banned it or tried to have it banned, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn surely must be the greatest Southern novel of all time. Critics can say what they want about the book’s ending, but I challenge anyone to come up with an American writer who was braver, funnier, and more eerily perceptive than Mark Twain. —Bronwen Dickey

Huck, the battered child, and Jim, the runaway slave, are capable of feeling painful sympathy, for each other and for others. Others aren’t so burdened. Huck wishes he weren’t. Others, including the King, the Duke of Bilgewater, Tom Sawyer, a justly popular undertaker, and the River itself, can put on a show. It’s the funniest great book there is. —Roy Blount, Jr.

# 5 TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by HARPER LEE (1960) (57 votes)

Okay, this is kind of like voting for Albert Pujols as best hitter—really predictable. But who doesn’t love this novel for its descriptions, its drama and humor, its characters that are now ingrained in the American psyche, and its explorations not only of race in the South but also of femininity and class? Even the questions that hover around the book (why did Harper Lee not write another? just what was Truman Capote’s role?) have become part of its lure. —Hope Coulter

Even though it simplifies race relations in the South, and even though Atticus really could have done more to save an innocent man’s life, almost every American remembers reading this book as a watershed moment. —Michael Kreyling

# 6 THE MOVIEGOER by WALKER PERCY (1961) (55 votes)

In Percy’s classic tale of love and longing in New Orleans, Binx Bolling woos his secretary, falls for his cousin, and muses lyrically on the nature of the search. This book has kept me company in China, Slovenia, Argentina. When I’m going to be away from home for any extended period of time, The Moviegoer is as essential a part of my travel kit as my toothbrush. I can open it to any page and instantly feel calmed. “To become aware of the possibility of a search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.” —Michelle Richmond

If a better book than The Moviegoer has been written, I’ll cut off my little toe. —Ada Liana Bidiuc

# 7 AS I LAY DYING by WILLIAM FAULKNER (1930) (52 votes)

I once heard a poet say she never reads novels. When asked why, she said, “Because I always get about twenty pages in and then I realize, hmm, THIS isn’t As I Lay Dying.” In comparison, everything else is a bit of a disappointment. —Keith Lee Morris

# 8 INVISIBLE MAN by RALPH ELLISON (1952) (47 votes)

Write a novel this good and this significant that doesn’t die in the pursuit of significance but, instead, comes alive. Go on. We’ll wait. —Wyatt Mason

# 9 WISE BLOOD by FLANNERY O’CONNOR (1952) (44 votes)

Flannery O’Connor’s seriously dark comedy Wise Blood is among the finest American novels squarely about religion—awash with street preachers, yearning rustics, fake and genuine self-inflicted blindness, roaming pigs, a stolen mummy pressed into service as a faux Holy Child, descriptions of an allegorical sky no one ever seems to see, a soul-consuming gorilla costume, and a battered black Essex automobile as pregnant with meaning as the Pequod in Moby-Dick. It is also a brilliant critique of what O’Connor called the “American tendency to address a problem by changing its appearance.” —Mark Winegardner

Didn’t she turn over a rock with this one? And she didn’t flinch one bit. Renders the surreal believable. —Melissa Delbridge

# 10 THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by ZORA NEALE HURSTON (1937) (41 votes)

Janie springs to life from the pages of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and her half-understood yearning, her wordless understanding, grabs our hearts. Zora Neale Hurston, through her Janie—who, pondering under a pear tree, begins to understand what it means to try to live a fulfilled life—speaks for some of us in words, desires, and thoughts that we did not know could be articulated. She not only lives our experience, she makes it sing. —Jesmyn Ward

11. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers (32 votes) “Almost a laboratory for examining the effects of alienation characteristic of the wider America.” —Thomas Bonner, Jr.

12. A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES by John Kennedy Toole (27) “Just to know that Ignatius J. Reilly is out there somewhere, sucking the jelly out of a dozen jelly doughnuts or screaming insults at a downtown movie screen, has saved me untold psychiatrist’s bills.” —William Caverlee

13. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner (26)

14. A DEATH IN THE FAMILY by James Agee (25)

15. LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL by Thomas Wolfe (24)

16. BELOVED by Toni Morrison (22) “Though Morrison is an Ohioan and the bulk of BELOVED takes place across the river Eliza Harris crossed so memorably in UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, the novel is ‘Southern’ in that it is in profound conversation not only with UNCLE TOM’S CABIN but also Faulkner’s GO DOWN, MOSES, ABSALOM, ABSALOM!, and THE UNVANQUISHED (among others). Morrison makes authentic the voice of the slave…. Besides, as Henry Louis Gates has said of African Americans, no matter where they were born, ‘we are all Southerners’.” —Diane Roberts

17. THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin (21)

18. THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker (18)

19. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright (16)

Tied for #20 with 15 votes each

THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER by Eudora Welty

SUTTREE by Cormac McCarthy “Oprah loved THE ROAD, and everybody loved his cowboy books, but this one—a Knoxville Ulysses—is McCarthy at his best.” —John Grammer

Tied for #21 with 14 votes each GO DOWN, MOSES by William Faulkner

GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell

22. THE GOLDEN APPLES by Eudora Welty (13)

Tied for #23 with 12 votes each CANE by Jean Toomer “Full of blood-burning moons and unvarnished truths, beguiling and stark.” —Catherine Clinton

THE KNOWN WORLD by Edward P. Jones

Tied for #24 with 11 votes each BLOOD MERIDIAN: OR THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST by Cormac McCarthy

DELIVERANCE by James Dickey

THE LAST GENTLEMAN by Walker Percy

A LESSON BEFORE DYING by Ernest J. Gaines

Tied for #25 with 10 votes each BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA by Dorothy Allison

THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER by William Styron “What a brave act it was to step into Mr. Turner’s skin and show us something new about the way slavery perverted faith, loyalty, and courage.” —Melissa Delbridge


TOPICS: Books/Literature
KEYWORDS: blackkk; bookreview; dixie; faulkner; huckleberryfinn; marktwain; samuelclemens
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The rest at the site.
1 posted on 09/15/2009 7:53:27 AM PDT by Borges
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*


2 posted on 09/15/2009 7:54:22 AM PDT by TornadoAlley3 (Obama is everything Oklahoma is not.)
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To: Borges

Carter Willingham’s End as a Man.


3 posted on 09/15/2009 7:56:33 AM PDT by kalee (01/20/13 The end of an error.... Obama even worse than Carter.)
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To: Borges

Bogus. Where’s “Tales of Uncle Remus?”


4 posted on 09/15/2009 7:59:43 AM PDT by Lonesome in Massachussets (Don't anthropomorphize the robots. They hate that.)
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To: Borges

Probably considered too low brow for most literary snobs but I like these

The Last Picture Show - Larry McMurtry

Saratoga Trunk, Show Boat, Giant - Edna Ferber


5 posted on 09/15/2009 8:03:18 AM PDT by slumber1
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To: Borges

What about “Chiefs” by Stuart Woods? One of the networks turned it into a miniseries back in the 80’s, but even with Charlton Heston in it, the novel was better.


6 posted on 09/15/2009 8:08:51 AM PDT by Joe 6-pack (Que me amat, amet et canem meum)
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To: Borges

7 posted on 09/15/2009 8:09:05 AM PDT by JoeProBono (A closed mouth gathers no feet)
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To: Lonesome in Massachussets

I think they were going with novels only.


8 posted on 09/15/2009 8:11:26 AM PDT by Borges
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To: Borges

The Prince of Tides


9 posted on 09/15/2009 8:14:35 AM PDT by ▀udda▀udd (7 days - 7 ways Guero >>> with a floating, shifting, ever changing persona.....)
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To: Borges

For my money Eudora Welty eclipses them all for talent.


10 posted on 09/15/2009 8:16:56 AM PDT by Sudetenland (Slow to anger but terrible in vengence...such is the character of the American people.)
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To: Borges

Sound and Fury is abysmal. As far as I can tell its popularity among critics is based on the stream of conciousness style rather that the actual story...technique is not art.


11 posted on 09/15/2009 8:19:58 AM PDT by Sudetenland (Slow to anger but terrible in vengence...such is the character of the American people.)
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To: Sudetenland

It’s a great and very moving novel. It demands at least one re-read and it falls together just fine.


12 posted on 09/15/2009 8:21:24 AM PDT by Borges
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To: Borges

Will other FReepers identify which books would be considered “Southern Apologetics” so i may avoid them.
Mockingbird being one of them. I also have a list of
Southern Gothic i will need to strart soon.


13 posted on 09/15/2009 8:29:51 AM PDT by urtax$@work (The best kind of memorial is a Burning Memorial.........)
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To: Lonesome in Massachussets

Not a novel.


14 posted on 09/15/2009 8:31:19 AM PDT by B-Chan (Catholic. Monarchist. Texan. Any questions?)
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To: raven92876

ping


15 posted on 09/15/2009 8:34:45 AM PDT by stylecouncilor (What Would Jim Thompson Do?)
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To: kalee

oops. Should be Calder Willingham.


16 posted on 09/15/2009 8:37:07 AM PDT by kalee (01/20/13 The end of an error.... Obama even worse than Carter.)
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To: Borges

Dead Solid Perfect-Dan Jenkins

Replay-

One Second After-

Alas, Babylon-


17 posted on 09/15/2009 8:42:20 AM PDT by erman (Give a man a fire, warm him for one night. Set a man on fire, warm him for the rest of his life.)
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To: Sudetenland

Sound and Fury is abysmal. As far as I can tell its popularity among critics is based on the stream of conciousness style rather that the actual story...technique is not art.
______

Completely disagree. My favorite Faulkner, and the stream of consciousness adds, IMO, to the immediacy of the work.

And the first paragraphs of the 2nd section “and then I was in time again”, may be among my favorite written words of all time.

But, the high school teacher for whom I first read this book absolutely brought all of the characters to life, so I could be biased. That was in 1975.


18 posted on 09/15/2009 8:43:26 AM PDT by dmz
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To: Borges

Great Post- I thought I read a lot, many of these I haven’t even heard of.


19 posted on 09/15/2009 8:55:30 AM PDT by orlop9
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To: slumber1

Larry McMurtry is only on the expanded list for Lonesome Dove.

And Terry Southern does not appear at all.


20 posted on 09/15/2009 9:00:08 AM PDT by a fool in paradise (I'm no racist, I oppose the political agenda of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Bill Ayers as well.)
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