Great September Reads: What Our Staff Loves Right Now

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Anyone who’s been in Nashville lately knows that after an unseasonably mild summer, we’ve gotten walloped with an oppressive heat wave. It’s enough to make a person take to the indoors… and if you do, you’ll need something good to read. Here are our latest favorites. (PS – May we ask a favor? Scroll all the way to the end if you have a sec. Thanks!) 

This is very much in the David Foster Wallace school of fiction, but it’s more accessible than a lot of Wallace’s work. It’s fast and very funny and smart and just when I thought it might only be clever, it wound up being a lot more than clever. I also admired it because it takes place entirely in an office setting. It may well be the great cubicle novel for the ages. Recommended for anyone who has a job, has had a job, or is thinking about getting a job. – Ann Patchett
This book is smart, engrossing, and tremendous fun. It’s the story of the five nominees for Best Picture in 1967 — Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Dr. Doolittle — how the films were made, and how they changed the film industry in this country. I am a modest cinephile at best but I can’t imagine who wouldn’t love this book. It’s a complete joy. (I’m watching all the movies now, except for Dr. Doolittle.) – Ann Patchett
We are blessed to have some very talented writers in this town, and Mr. Earley is one of the very best. His new short story collection reaffirms that fact. Earley writes about everyday life and somehow effortlessly brings in the fantastical. From scenes of a marriage to an evening spent with Jack the Giant Killer, these are stories you will savor. – Karen Hayes
Paul Celan is my favorite poet of the last century — in any language (sorry Robert, Rainer, Wallace, and Pablo). His remarkable neologisms and portmanteau, his fecund compression of language, his meditation on “the Abyss” (what Emily Dickinson–whose poetry he loved and translated–metaphorically termed “Death”) are all aspects of his poems I adore. As a lover of poetry, I need to read Celan. Perhaps you do too. – Nathan Spoon

How do you fall in love with an elephant?

In 1920 James “Billy” Williams went to colonial Burma to work for a British teak company. He was fascinated with the great elephants who hauled the teak logs out of the forest. He admired their intelligence, humor, and courage. He felt that association with them made him a better person. Over the years he became known as a gifted “elephant wallah.” He was skilled at treating their illnesses, and started a humane training “school.”

When Japanese forces invaded Burma in 1942, the elephants supported the Allied forces in the jungle, carrying supplies and building bridges. Then Williams and his elephants made an unbelievable trek over mountain ranges to reach the safety of India while carrying a group of sick refugees.

What a life Billy Williams led! Elephant Company is a heartening tale of heroes — men and elephants. – Donna Nicely

In the whirlwind of superheroes and supervillians, Gotham Central takes a look at the ordinary humans caught in the crosshairs — the men and women of Gotham’s Special Crimes Unit. One of the best projects to come out of DC recently, and a fascinating look at the “real” people of Gotham. If you love comics or even just a good police procedural, this is an incredible read. – Grace Wright

This is one of my all time favorite love stories — up there with the classics. Maroh stunningly captures the essence of first love — as well as love many years past the first spark and love shot through with pain and betrayal. Her writing and images work together perfectly to capture moments we’ve all felt and tell a beautiful story that will tear at your heartstrings. (I would point out that this is definitely not for kids.) – Grace Wright

Any well-written book about Kim Philby, arguably the greatest double agent in history, should make for good reading. However, the amount of suspense and secrecy packed into A Spy Among Friends often made me feel as if I should’ve been reading it under the covers with a flashlight. You’ll find everything you would want in a spy novel: secrets, betrayals, lies. Yet it’s the humanity and intimacy of a friendship that makes this book so remarkable. To say this is one of the best spy books I’ve read in a while wouldn’t suffice. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. – Ashton Hickey
Unconventional lifestyles and love stories form the frame of this story set in 1960’s Chicago as a single mother and her 10 year old daughter live their lives in a jazz nightclub. A very moving picture of a little girl wise beyond her years and the earnest but self-absorbed mother she loves. I really liked this one! – Kathy Schultenover
This is one of those books whose importance strikes you immediately. Grab a signed first edition while you can — it’s a gem beyond description. – Tristan Hickey
These essays are not only important to us (as a culture and as individuals) but are insanely entertaining and funny. Roxane Gay unfailingly hits home on every page, but true to her self-given label as a “bad feminist” never seems to be pointing her finger at what she sees without incriminating herself. She makes feminism a belief and lifestyle I am proud to strive toward with her. – Catherine Bock
(L-R) Bookseller Cat Bock, Author Hampton Sides, Author & Parnassus Co-Owner Ann Patchett, and Store Manager Andy Brennan getting ready for an author/reader visit.
(L-R) Bookseller Cat Bock, Author Hampton Sides, Author & Parnassus Co-Owner Ann Patchett, and Store Manager Andy Brennan getting ready for an author/reader visit.

This is easily one of the best books I have ever read, fiction or nonfiction. Hampton Sides manages to take an Arctic expedition I had never heard of during a time period I think little about and make the USS Jeannette expedition take over my thoughts and energy for the duration of my reading and have it haunt me even after I have finished.

Before you get this book make one solemn promise to yourself: “I will not look up the Jeannette expedition using any information source before I read this book.” Trust me, you will thank me when the tension mounts and you find yourself wondering how the men will fare in the unforgiving Arctic. The adventure of the expedition and the life-threatening danger is worth the ignorance you will have to endure. – Catherine Bock

Francine Prose manages to write in the much-used setting of Paris during the Nazi Occupation and make it something odd and new. That is no small feat. The characters she creates are both clearly based on real-life people from the time we all know (cough, Hemingway, cough) and other we are less familiar with (a lesbian race car driver/torturer/Nazi spy). Told in memoirs, letters, and biographies, the narrative is somehow seamless and I loved getting to know the characters both in their own eyes and through other’s memories of them. The Chameleon Club is like your neighborhood bar gone fabulous, and the drama that unfolds throughout the story matches. That, and the mother of all unreliable characters makes for a great twist at the end. – Catherine Bock
A strong young adult debut novel, this tells the story of a young girl hiding a devastating secret and the boy in her life who brings her out of her self-destructive spiral. Brutally honest, it doesn’t promise a fairy tale ending, but there is a “Dear Reader” section at the end in which the author offers “dimes of truth” to fortify anyone who is seeking ways to be brave. This is an author to watch! – Mary Grey James
I’m surprised I like this book as much as I do because it is definitely from a male perspective in which the female characters aren’t always cast in the best light. Get past the raunchy beginning, though, and you will find familial truths that will make you laugh out loud, as well as perhaps shed a tear or two. About to hit the big screen as a movie starring Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, the book is bound to be better… it always is. – Mary Grey James
In the growing genre of picture books aimed at families experiencing the arrival of a second child, this is one of the most appealing. Hazel can’t wait until her baby brother is born but soon discovers she must wait even longer for the thing that matters — his first word. When that word turns out to be the inevitable “NO!,” she must wait even longer. It’s worth the wait! – Mary Grey James
Yes, I know it’s silly. I don’t care. Page 141 is my favorite. – Mary Laura Philpott

This is the best book about middle school I’ve ever read. Hilarious and touching. – Sissy Gardner

100 Sideways Miles is the story of Finn Easton, a 16-year-old boy whose circumstances have given him an unusual perspective on the world and his place in it; Finn’s best friend, Cade Hernandez, a foul-mouthed trickster whose friendship with Finn is more important than either boy realizes; and Julia Bishop, the first girl Finn will ever love. It’s profane, profound, and more than once made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe. It’s also one of the most honest representations I’ve ever read of teenage boyhood in all its irreverent, sensitive, frustrating, and contradictory glory. – Steph Appell

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