Notes From Ann: Less Is More

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I recently read Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  This is a perfect book for Parnassus. After all, we are a business founded by two introverts (Karen Hayes and myself), staffed with introverts (probably everyone in the store except Niki and Lauren who run events and therefore really can’t be introverts). We feature a product mostly created at home by introverts (books), which we then sell primarily to introverts (readers). In short, it’s our kind of book.  I was talking about this to Sissy Gardner, a charming and super-friendly introvert bookseller, who said she liked Quiet but thought it dragged on (I agree). She then pointed me to a similar sort of book which she considered to be superior, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain, by Nicholas Carr, and because I admire Sissy in all matters, I bought the book, took it home, and read it.

Now this is a book to shake up the world, to make us put down our iPhones and head back to the bookstore. Carr explains how the brain can be reshaped by our activities. Great news, unless your activity is playing video games all day. There was a lot in the book about how there are people who no longer actually read; instead, they scan, hit the hyperlinks, and  hop around. It made me think my book reports have all been too long.

Let me try to get to the point — I’ve been reading a lot.

Let me touch one more time on the subject of Father’s Day, which I thoroughly exhausted in my last entry. Add Philippe Petit’s Why Knot? to the list of books Dad cannot do without. Petit, who made a freakishly daring and highly illegal walk between the twin towers in the 1970’s and was later the subject of the Academy Award winning film, Man on Wire, has written a smart and extremely user friendly book on how to tie knots. I read the entire book aloud to my father while my sister sat there and tied all the knots with the piece of red cord that is included for just this purpose. It’s a fascinating book. When I finished reading Dad’s book I got a copy for myself.  It turns out my sister has taught a knot tying course for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The things we never knew about our own family.

I also read Caroline Kennedy’s The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis to my father, which is a beautiful little collection, a very comforting sampler of Frost and Shakespeare and Yeats. It’s the kind of book I always mean to read, and when I did I felt my soul settle down.

While I was scouring Parnassus for potential birthday presents for my father, I found a lot of strange and appealing books in the store, books you would never imagine you would love until you picked them up and opened them. A perfect example is Maddie on Things, by Theron Humphrey, which I have bought five copies of to date. Humphrey, a professional photographer whose life was in the dumps, decided to take a year off and drive around the country to find himself. Just before he left town, he stopped by the pound to get a dog. Unbeknownst to him, the dog he got, Maddie, a red coon hound, was a genius. You must come by and flip through this book. I am thrilled to report that Maddie and Humphrey will be in the store on June 29th. I’ll be in the front row.

James Patterson, the man who needs no introduction, was in the store last week for the kick-off to World Book Night. We talked about books and reading in front of a happy Parnassus crowd and Patterson said that he would like to see World Book Night be expanded to include people giving a book they loved to someone else, just one book to start, in order to promote reading. He then proceeded to hand me a copy of Maria Semple’s, Where’d You Go, Bernadette.  He said it was his favorite book of the year. I went home and devoured it. I don’t read enough fun books. This is a real shortcoming of mine. But this book was a knockout. If David Foster Wallace had written a Nancy Drew mystery, it would be something along the lines of Where’d You Go, Bernadette. I highly recommend it for long plane trips or staying up all night. Smart teenaged girls would also love this book (and if that’s sexist, forgive me.)

It stands to reason I should put together a list of books for Mother’s Day now, and certainly Caroline Kennedy’s collection would be perfect, but let me also offer Flora, by Gail Godwin. I know that mothers would love it because I road tested it on my own mother. The minute I finished the book I took it straight to my mother and she read it immediately and loved it. It’s about a ten year old girl at the end of World War II who is smarter and more worldly than the twenty year-old cousin who has come to take care of her for the summer. The circumstances do not bring out the best in Helen, the child, and continually bring out the best in Flora, her caretaker. It’s a beautiful novel, full of all the grace and intelligence that have made Gail Godwin a great writer for so long.

If book reports had sound effects, and I’m glad they don’t, I’d put in a drum roll here. I read Anthony Marra’s first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, such a long time ago that I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to have copies to give to people. Finally, it will be published on May 7th, and Tony will be at the store on May 18th. I know the year isn’t half over but this is my favorite novel of 2013. Set during the war in Chechnya, he has created a miraculous book out of some of history’s more painful events, and yet I never for a minute wanted it to end. Here’s what I said on the jacket: “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular. Not since Everything is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized. If this is where Anthony Marra begins his career, I can’t imagine how far he will go.”

And I mean it.

Alas, I tried to be shorter and I have completely failed. I’ll assume you scanned all of these recommendations on your iPhone. But maybe you didn’t. Maybe you like to read as much as we do at Parnassus. Come on in and let us know.

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$16.00

ISBN-13: 9780307352156
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Broadway Books, 1/2013


$15.95

ISBN-13: 9780393339758
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company, 6/2011


$19.95

ISBN-13: 9781419706769
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Harry N. Abrams, 4/2013


$19.99

ISBN-13: 9781401302481
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Hyperion, 9/2005


$15.95

ISBN-13: 9781452115566
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Chronicle Books, 4/2013


$14.99

ISBN-13: 9780316204262
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Back Bay Books, 4/2013


Flora (Hardcover)

$26.00

ISBN-13: 9781620401200
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Bloomsbury USA, 5/2013


$26.00

ISBN-13: 9780770436407
Availability: Special Order – Subject to Availability
Published: Hogarth, 5/2013


$15.99

ISBN-13: 9780060529703
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Harper Perennial, 4/2003