Share A Definitive Reading List for Fans of the S-Town Podcast

A Definitive Reading List for Fans of the S-Town Podcast

What follows contains spoilers for the podcast “S-Town.”

Since its debut, “S-Town” has been captivating listeners and sparking endless discussions. This comes as no surprise, considering “S-Town” has the same producers as “Serial” and “This American Life.” The premise of their new project began with an email from a rural Alabama clock maker, John B. McLemore, to journalist Brian Reed, asking him to investigate a murder, but it turned into so much more. “S-Town” is a modern Southern Gothic, a family drama, a look at small-town America, and most of all, a fascinating character study of a brilliant yet troubled man.

If you binged on every episode of “S-Town” and now wish there were a way to recapture the same excitement, mystery, and intrigue, here’s the reading list for you.

Hillbilly Elegy
by J. D. Vance

Part of John’s allure is his need to live off the grid in the small town of Woodstock, Alabama. The podcast shines a spotlight on rural America that can be both fascinating and at times shocking. In J.D. Vance’s memoir of small town life he offers another peek behind the curtain of working class people living in near poverty and trying to navigate where they fit into America’s modern tapestry.

Why Time Flies
by Alan Burdick

John showed his brilliance in many ways, but the one major focus was his trade and enthusiasm in the world of horology (making clocks and watches and studying time). In WHY TIME FLIES, Alan Burdick takes a deeper look into the meaning of time: how we track it (more clock talk!) and why it affects us so greatly.

The Lottery
by Shirley Jackson
Most people would not describe the works of Shirley Jackson as “bedtime reading,” but John is not most people, and he asked Brian to read this story. In the short story “The Renegade,” the Walpole family moves to a new town, but are soon informed by their neighbors that their dog, Lady, has been killing chickens and that she must be punished. Their suggestions for punishments become increasingly disturbing.

The Necklace and Other Tales
by Guy De Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant is not only famous for his short stories but has been credited with inspiring such greats as Chekhov and O. Henry. Several of his works embraced a more cynical view of the human race, and John may have found a kindred spirit in this French author.

A Grand Complication
by Stacy Perman

If you were fascinated by the horologists and collectors talking about the complex and valuable timepieces that John so expertly restored, this immersive narrative will take you even further into that world. In A GRAND COMPLICATION, two powerful men of the early nineteenth century push the boundaries of mathematics, astronomy, and craftsmanship as they compete to create the most remarkable watch in history.

Winesburg, Ohio
by Sherwood Anderson

If you enjoyed the array of personalities in the podcast—the troubled young man, the suspicious distant relatives, the crew at the tattoo parlor, and the outsider observing it all—pick up Sherwood Anderson’s moving collection of interrelated stories, WINESBURG, OHIO. Ohio-born Anderson illuminates the loneliness and frustration—spiritual, emotional, and artistic—of life in a small American town.

Read a review of WINESBURG, OHIO here.

by Louis Sachar

When describing his hunt for buried gold on John’s property, Tyler references Louis Sachar’s HOLES. In this strange and quirky novel, Stanley Yelnats blames a family curse for the misunderstanding that landed him at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center where the inmates are forced to dig holes in the desert daily. But what are they digging for?

An Inconvenient Truth
by Al Gore

Among the imminent dangers plaguing our world, John was particularly troubled by climate change and the refusal by many to acknowledge it. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is Al Gore’s groundbreaking battle cry in which he explains with alarming clarity that the consequences of global warming for the world we live in will be disastrous if left unchecked.

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
by Edgar Allan Poe

In Edgar Allan Poe’s popular Gothic short story “Berenice,” Egaeus is an obsessive man destined to marry his cousin. When she falls ill from a degenerative disease, he cannot help but become fixated on her perfect teeth. It is hard to say why John loved this story so much, but one could make the case that he identified with the obsessive man who became fixated on a single thing and could not let it go.

Brokeback Mountain
by Annie Proulx
It’s no secret the massive impact Annie Proulx’s story (and Larry McMurtry’s screenplay) had on the gay community. The story of two cowboys torn apart by a forbidden passion didn’t escape John’s attention, either. “S-Town” served as a helpful reminder to revisit the short story in Proulx’s CLOSE RANGE and then watch McMurtry’s fine work for the film. You’ll be reminded why John called it the grieving book.

The Illustrated Man
by Ray Bradbury
The short-story collection THE ILLUSTRATED MAN is framed by the story of the titular man, who is cursed with tattoos all over his body that move and play out wondrous and frightening stories. John had a distaste for tattoos but was heavily illustrated himself—and those tattoos had many stories to tell.

Charming Billy
by Alice McDermott

In an equally heartwarming and heartbreaking episode, John’s horologist friends share their memories of him with host Brian even though they weren’t invited to his funeral. In a similar fashion, Billy Lynch’s friends and family gather to pay their respects in Alice McDermott’s striking novel. CHARMING BILLY is a study of the lies that bind and the weight of familial love, of the way good intentions can be as destructive as the truth they were meant to hide.

Read a review of CHARMING BILLY here.

Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner
by William Faulkner

Possibly the worst part of any “S-Town” episode (or arguably, the best) is when the Zombies’s literary ditty “A Rose for Emily” kicks in and the reality of a shameful binge sets in. In William Faulkner’s Southern Gothic short story “A Rose for Emily,” the titular character has a bit in common with “S-Town’s” John: for one, their fellow townspeople find them peculiar.

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