Tennessee: home of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Wilma Rudolph and bachelorette parties. (I kid you not. Nashville is one of the most popular bachelorette party destinations in the country and I’ve witnessed it from a balcony in 12 South.) Tennessee has a special place in my heart — mostly because I actually live about 30 minutes away from it and we’ve enjoyed a lot of time there. This list of books set in Tennessee explore the history and culture of Tennessee — from country music to Civil Rights — and give you a picture of what the New South looks like.
Whether you are wanting to learn more about Tennessee or are dreaming of a trip to the South, we hope you’ll find a book on this list that is just right for you!
Novels Set in Tennessee
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
This quirky book set in Tennessee has an unusual (and bizarre) premise: two children, the children of an important politician no less, spontaneously combust when they get angry. Lillian gets called in by her friend Madison (who is also the politician’s wife) to care for these children and hopefully to keep their bad habit out of the public eye. And while this novel is fun to read, it’s also an examination of wealth, privilege, and class. For fans of contemporary fiction.
The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
When he is admitted into an elite Nashville private school, Charlie Boykin is entranced by the wealth and privilege. He becomes friends with upperclassman Archer Creigh and enjoys being a part of society where worrying about money isn’t an issue. But when push comes to shove, is Charlie willing to overlook what he knows is wrong in order to be part of privileged society? For fans of contemporary fiction.
A Death in the Family by James Agee
One of the classic Tennessee books, A Death in the Family was published in 1957 and is set in Knoxville. In the story, Jay Follet is killed in a car accident, and what follows is an examination of grief for his young family. This is also an autobiographical novel, as Agee’s own father was killed in a car accident when Agee was six. For fans of classics and reflective books.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
In rural Tennessee, our protagonist, Dellarobia, witnesses a natural phenomenon that changes her life. Kingsolver’s story brings together faith, science, climate change and butterflies, as the results of Dellarobia’s vision reverberate through the community and her own life. For fans of contemporary fiction.
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Nashville + baseball + romance reads combine in this popular series. Gavin Scott’s marriage is in trouble, and he hopes that the new book club he joins — a book club of men reading romance novels — can help him save it. For fans of romance.
The Firm by John Grisham
John Grisham’s famous legal thriller The Firm is set in Memphis, Tennessee, where Mitch McDeere gets a job with a law firm that seems too good to be true. When the FBI starts investigating his law firm, he discovers that maybe it is. For fans of legal thrillers and mysteries.
Non-Fiction Books About Tennessee
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Oak Ridge, Tennessee was a major site for the Manhattan Project (the development of the atomic bomb during WWII). But the men and women working on it didn’t know what they were doing — they were only told just enough to do their job well but not to understand the true extent of the project. This book traces the history of Oak Ridge, Tennessee and the development of its community, particularly through the eyes of the women who worked there. For fans of narrative non-fiction.
I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott
While not exactly a book about Tennessee, Mary Laura Philpott is a Tennessee author and I wanted to include her book in this list of Tennessee books because it is one of my favorites. Both laugh-out-loud funny and wonderfully reflective, Philpott examines what happens in life when you’ve always had all the answers and suddenly…you don’t. I also especially enjoyed her thoughts about changing her life by moving to Nashville. This book is for fans of essay collections and definitely for recovering perfectionists.
Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl
Margaret Renkle is a Tennessee author, and here she reflects on her Alabama childhood, the wildlife of her Tennessee backyard, and the loss of those she loves. This is a beautiful and reflective book with absolutely poetic writing. For fans of thoughtful essays and memoir.
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
While John Lewis maybe best known for his involvement in the March on Washington, the March from Selma to Montgomery, and his time as one of Georgia’s most prominent Congressmen, he actually began his involvement in the Civil Rights movement with lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville. This entire graphic novel series is worth reading, and the last part of Book One and the first part of Book Two particularly focus on his time in Nashville.
Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick
You can’t have a list of books set in Tennessee without somehow including Elvis. This biography, widely accepted as the definitive biography of Elvis, recounts the first 24 years of his life — from his childhood to his early recordings. It examines how he rose to fame and how his music changed the world. This is part of a two book series. The second book, taking you through Elvis’s life from 1958 to his death in 1977 is Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. For fans of music and biographies.
Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Robert K. Oermann
Dolly Parton is one of Tennessee’s most famous and beloved residents, and here she tells the story of her life through her songs. In this book, she gives us the lyrics to her songs along with their backstory, her personal memories, and photographs. For fans of celebrity books, music, and Dolly (of course). This also would make a great gift book or coffee table book.
Nashville – Scenes from the New American South by Ann Patchett, Photographs by Heidi Ross, Foreword by Jon Meacham
Combining essays and photography, this beautiful book celebrates the culture, landmarks, and history of Nashville. This would make a great gift or coffee table book for people who call Nashville home, and maybe especially for someone who has recently moved to Nashville.
For more books set in the South, check out our list of Books Set in + About Florida!
Children’s Books Set in Tennessee
Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton, Illustrated by Brooke Boynton
The lyrics of Dolly Parton’s famous song “Coat of Many Colors” is warmly illustrated here with depictions of her early life. The story explains how her mother sewed scraps together to make her a coat, and how it made her feel so very loved. Recommended ages: 3-7 years.
Lorraine by Ketch Secor, Illustrated by Higgins Bond
Lorraine loves making music with her grandpa in the Tennessee hills. But when their instruments disappear during a storm, will they still be able to find the joy of music? Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Luck with Potatoes by Helen Ketteman, Illustrated by Brian Floca
Clemmon Hardigree has had bad luck as a farmer — that is, until he plants potatoes and they grow so big that they might just change his luck. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Daniel’s Duck by Clyde Robert Bulla, Illustrated by Joan Sandin
This classic “I Can Read” book from 1979 is set in the pioneer days of Tennessee where Daniel carves wood into special gifts. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller, Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee, just like Wilma Rudolph once was, and she can’t wait to see Wilma Rudolph in the parade. But when a new kid shows up, her “Quickest Kid” title may be challenged. Recommended ages: 5-8 years.
Count on Us: A Tennessee Number Book by Michael Shoulders, Illustrated by Bruce Langton
This counting book uses famous Tennessee landmarks and icons to teach kids both numbers and facts about Tennessee. From flowers to fish to waterfalls, explore Tennesee while counting. Recommended ages: 5-10 years.
A Band of Angels by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by Raúl Colón
A Band of Angels tells the story of Ella Sheppard Moore and The Jubilee Singers, a vocal group who traveled the world singing the songs of slavery. Their tours raised money for their school, Fisk School in Nashville, which was opened as a school for former slaves. Today, Jubilee Singers at Fisk University still perform. Recommended ages: 6-10 years.
Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Set in Tennessee
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
The town of Midnight Gulch, Tennessee used be magical; at least, until it was cursed. Now Felicity — a girl who can see words — is moving there with her brokenhearted mother, hoping to find where they belong. But first, they need to bring back the town’s magic. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O’Shaughnessy
In this road trip novel for middle grade readers, Maybelle is on her way to Nashville in the hopes of meeting her dad, who is supposed to be judging a singing contest. But her road trip companions — a woman from her trailer park neighborhood and the local bully — aren’t really what she had in mind. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
Who Is Dolly Parton? by True Kelley, Illustrated by Stephen Marchesi
Here Dolly Parton’s biography is written for kids, from her upbringing in rural Tennessee with her sharecropping family to her music fame and her philanthropy work. So many kids love the “Who Was?” series, making this a popular choice. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd
In 1925, all eyes were on Dayton, Tennessee and the Scopes trial. This book fictionalizes the drama for young readers, as 13-year-old Frances’s dad has John Scopes arrested for teaching evolution. What follows is a story not just of a trial, but also of a young girl coming-of-age. Recommended ages: 11 and up.
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
After being dumped 19 times, Colin Singleton and his friend Hassan take a road trip to the fictional town of Gutshot, Tennessee. Colin is a prodigy, and wants to prove his theory about relationships, but, of course, he’ll really end up discovering himself. Recommended ages: 12 and up.
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