A Basketful of Great Reads

put the book in my basket

What to toss in your to-read basket? Well, it’s still April, and that means it’s National Poetry Month, so there’s plenty of poetry among this month’s recommendations. (Prose people, don’t fret — you’ll also find brilliant short stories, sexy novels, hilarious non-fiction, and more.)

the public libraryThe Public Library, Robert Dawson
This is such a beautiful book for someone who loves books or libraries or great photography or (this one is big) our country. This book presents such a stunning portrait of the United States as seen through our libraries. The essays aren’t bad either. Flip to page 75 and read the one written by Amy Tan when she was eight. It’s killer. – Ann Patchett




color wheelThe Color Wheel, Katie McDougall
Don’t be put off by the plain cover for this book. This is a local author who is looking for a publisher and I’m hoping that we can support her by reading her fabulous book. Missy Burbank was raised by her loving father and aunt, but always wondered about her mother. What happened to her?  What was she like?  Then one day her mother shows up and sends everyone into a tailspin. The novel deftly moves back in forth over four decades starting in the seventies to slowly reveal the layers of the story. I hope you will also be completely engrossed by this book like I was. Maybe we can all create a little noise and get this talented author the publishing deal she deserves. – Karen Hayes


field workField Work, Seamus Heaney  
Give your graduate poetry – this poetry, for instance, or Decolo’s book (below), or head to our poetry section for some other necessary volumes. William Carlos Williams: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack of what is found there.” – Margy Roark




thievesThieves in the Afterlife, Kendra Decolo 
From the publisher: “Part battle cry and part striptease, Thieves in the Afterlife targets the culture of commoditization and violence, articulating the pain, joy, and bravery needed to resist categorization in what Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize judge, Yusef Komunyakaa, calls ‘a hardcore reckoning.’” – Margy Roark




love and treasureLove and Treasure, Ayelet Waldman 
Here’s one of the 50 or so books I’m taking to the beach. Art, intrigue, WWII. – Margy Roark






idiotMy Heart Is an Idiot: Essays, Davy Rothbart 
Also to the beach. – Margy Roark






off courseOff Course, Michelle Huneven 
I heard this has well-done, erotic sex scenes – which are hard to find these days – so I’m all over this, baby. Oh, it also has a complicated and sympathetic protagonist. – Margy Roark





thunderstruckThunderstruck & Other Stories, Elizabeth McCracken
This hits that sweet spot — where literary and entertaining overlap perfectly. Each sentence is so carefully crafted, sparks fly off the page; and the characters and their quandaries grip you from the beginning. It’s delicious not to have to choose between writing that’s good for your brain and stories you really want to read. This is your veggies and your dessert, all at once. (Also: My favorite book cover so far this year.) – Mary Laura Philpott




commercialfictionCommercial Fiction, Dave Housley 
Such a clever concept: Each of these short stories is built around the characters in a popular television ad — the Cialis couple in their two outdoor bathtubs, the bros from the Miller Lite spots, etc. I expected this to be slapstick and silly, but there’s thoughtfulness, even pathos, mixed in with the wit and satire of these stories. – Mary Laura Philpott




storied lifeThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin 
The perfect book for people whose greatest fear is being “bookless.” The sign in A.J. Fikry’s bookshop, “No Man Is An Island; Every Book Is a World,” needs no explanation to these people. The irascible protagonist finds that human connections are what give life its true meaning. Humor, romance, a touch of mystery, and good writing fill the bill of qualifying this as “the perfect book.” – Mary Grey James




thoughtThe Poetry of Thought, George Steiner
I was delighted to learn recently that the novelist A.S. Byatt describes George Steiner as a “late, late, late Renaissance man.” This is, given the nearly overwhelming scope of Mr. Steiner’s many books, an apt description. Ours is an age in which information is typically transmitted in bytes, and thought is too often reduced to the “sound bite” or delegated to the “expert.” To be human is to be a thinking creature. If our thinking were to atrophy would we become less human? Surely we do not want to find out! The Poetry of Thought provides us with an opportunity to remain both grounded and engaged. – Nathan Spoon



opposite of lonelinessThe Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan
Brimming with jostling, careening, bumptious flavors that are what I look for in a book. It’s the sardine’s whiskers, the canary’s tusks, the butterfly’s book. Read it! — Nathan Spoon





adviceAdvice to Little Girls, Mark Twain, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Subversive advice for smart little girls (and everyone else), as only Twain could render it. Harper Lee probably read it. You should, too. – Miriam Mimms





redeploymentI’m keeping Redeployment by Phil Klay – Tristan Hickey

(Tristan’s recommendation from last month: It’s oftentimes harder to sell a short story collection than to sell a novel, but sometimes a collection comes along so beautifully crafted that the entire pitch is having you open the book. This is my request: openRedeployment to any page you like and start reading. Klay’s enviable talent for telling the most tragic, interesting, and comic stories in as few words as possible places him alongside the best writing in the history of the genre. That’s the second most impressive thing about him; the first is that Redeployment is his debut. All of our copies are signed first editions.)


sparkySparky, Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans
I like sloths. This book is melancholy and touching. – Sissy Gardner






moms are nutsMoms Are Nuts, edited by Amy Vansant
A witty collection of essays, just in time for Mother’s Day, got me laughing so hard the other day that even my kids stopped laying a Lego soft-tissue-injury trap long enough to ask what was so funny. I had to reply, “You’ll understand one day.” This is the perfect gift. You will want to pick up a copy for yourself; your best friend who commiserates with you about motherhood (and your mothers); and a copy for your own mom to say thank you and to affirm that you contributed to her own personal style of crazy. At $9.99 you won’t mind picking up a copy for your mother-in-law as well. – Amy Shepard



benedictThe Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
Sure, this is a middle grade novel, but truly, it’s fantastic. It’s smart, thoughtful, and has enough mystery to keep kids and adults alike engaged. I loved the first one so much that I’m now halfway through the series. — Niki Coffman




the childrenThe Children, David Halberstam
Published in 1998, this is David Halberstam’s recounting of the civil rights struggles he covered as a young reporter for The Tennessean. He describes Dr. Martin Luther King’s recruitment of James Lawson to teach students of Nashville the techniques of non-violence. Halberstam was not much older than the students whose lunch counter protests he covered. Diane Nash, John Lewis, Gloria Johnson, Bernard Lafayette, and James Bevel are some of those students whose efforts to segregate Nashville’s downtown business are told here. Halberstam follows them on the Freedom Rides into Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma and shares what became of these children who changed the course of history. One of Halberstam’s best and most personal. — Andy Brennan



Pick up a copy of the latest Nashville Arts Magazine for more recommendations from Parnassus Books in the “Bookmark” section!