For Your Beach Bag: Summer Reads

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Are you one of those folks who reads more during the summer than at any other time of year? We hear you. And we know it can be hard to come up with what to read next after you’ve made it to the bottom of your beach stack. Here are a few we’ve loved lately, plus the most recent picks from our First Editions Clubs, Book Clubs, and more!

The Raven Boys 

Think The Dead Poets Society meets Alice Hoffman. I want you to discover the plot here on your own, so instead I’m going to tell you that these characters are some of the most complicated and endearing I’ve ever encountered; the way that Stiefvater builds both mythology and suspense is masterful; and the small Blue Ridge Mountain town of Henrietta, Virginia, is so well-drawn you feel like you’ve moved there yourself. This is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. It’s downright magical. — Stephanie Appell

99 Days 

Molly Barlow made a huge mistake. But she never expected that her novelist mother would turn her huge mistake into her next bestseller. Now Molly has to spend one last summer in their small town (where everyone knows exactly what a huge mistake she made and isn’t afraid to tell her what they think of her) before college. Molly has 99 days to try to move forward. Katie Cotugno isn’t interested in simple characters or easy emotions, and she writes warmly, wisely, and skillfully of the mess that is the human heart. What a glorious mess it is. — Stephanie Appell

The Distant Marvels 

Chantel Acevedo is hands down one of the best storytellers I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Here she takes us to Cuba during Hurricane Flora in 1963. To distract her fellow evacuees from the storm raging around them, Maria Sirena begins telling the story of her life during Cuba’s Third War for Independence. It is so much more than that but I’ll let you enjoy watching the story unfold. — Catherine Bock

The Book of Speculation 

This debut is stocked full of fun, dark, and imaginitive things: a family curse, tarot cards, traveling circuses, and a main character who is a librarian. This book will be my go-to recommendation for Halloween, but really I say any time is perfect to curl up with such an amazingly crafted novel. — Catherine Bock

The Little Paris Bookshop

A delicious, rollicking, heartbreaking read about a bookseller who can heal everyone but himself with the right book, a frustrated author who doesn’t want to be a one-hit-wonder, and a lovelorn but vibrant chef. Held together by a barge of books and the certainty that all you need is the right narrative, these characters will take a permanent place in any booklovers heart. — Grace Wright

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

If you missed this book when it first came out like I did, don’t miss it now! One of the sweetest love stories I’ve ever read mixed with a dash of gossipy subplot and subtle social commentary – a perfect summer read. — Grace Wright

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

Written by an insider-outsider (Deresiewicz attended Columbia and taught at Yale for a decade before breaking up with the Ivies), this book offers a provocative assessement of higher education. Deresiewicz notes how, since the 1960’s, the WASP aristocracy has given way to a new model of meritocracy, and claims this current focus on merit is inhibiting the ‘passionate wierdness’ essential to higher education. His suggestion to attend one of the smaller liberal arts colleges like Wesleyan, Kenyon or Sewanee is constructive. Excellent Sheep is essential reading. — Nathan Spoon

Between the World and Me 

Ta-Nehisi Coates has proven himself to be one of the most reliable voices in American journalism at least a hundred times over. And now he has graced us mere mortals with a book. You should read it, and then you should tell your mom, your dad, your mom’s dad, your dad’s mom, your loony aunt, your best friend, your pizza delivery guy, and anyone in between to read it. — Lindsay Lynch

The Art of Fielding

This is my favorite book to give to the sports-loving men in my life and see how long it takes them to realize I’ve tricked them into reading a heartfelt novel about male friendship, mid-life crises, and Herman Melville. — Lindsay Lynch

Rubyfruit Jungle 9781101965122

In light of last month’s SCOTUS ruling, Bantam couldn’t have chosen a better time to republish this groundbreaking, Lambda Literary Pioneer Award winner. This rollicking coming of age story is the book that launched Rita Mae Brown’s career in 1973. Molly Bolt is a larger than life character and this book of her adventures is the perfect read to accompany you on your summer adventure. — Karen Hayes

The Jezebel Remedy

This smart, humorous mystery has everything you’d want in a summer read: suspense, romance, quirky characters, and a great dose of fun. — Niki Coffman

The Shapeshifters 

Creepy Nordic mythology meets realism in a modern-day setting. The descriptive passages in this literary thriller are enjoyable to read, until the atmosphere builds. — Nathan Spoon


I loved this book. A book about family and baseball and strangers who happen to change your life. — Ginger Nalley

The Shining Girls

Harper Curtis is already a broken human when he finds the House, unmoored from the present and drifting through time. There are names of women on the walls. Women shining with the light of their own potential. Harper will kill them all. Not only because the House demands it–it’s just the creature he is. So he’ll murder every one of them. Except for Kirby. And then, Kirby will come for him. – Tristan Charles

The New Neighbor

Here’s a fun read for anyone who likes complex characters, a bit of mystery, and/or stories set in Sewanee. – Mary Laura Philpott

Three Story House

Warm, humorous, uplifting book about three cousins whose stories are revealed as they renovate a three-story family home in Memphis. Old secrets and truths are revealed as the women grow closer in love and friendship. An easy and satisfying read! – Kathy Schultenover

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life 

Simply put, William Finnegan has authored the best book ever written about surfing. It’s so many things at once: a memoir, a travel narrative, and an anthropological study of the many cultures Finnegan encountered in his quest for the perfect wave. Finnegan, who is now a staff writer for the New Yorker, writes about those who see surfing not as a sport but as a “path.” What better book to read on the beach this summer? — Andy Brennan

Stormy Weather 

Pure beach read material. Hiaasen is at the top of his game, describing Southern Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. — Andy Brennan

The Mountains of California 

Muir recounts the ten years he spent exploring the Sierra Nevada. His love of the land and all that he found comes through on every page. — Andy Brennan

Parnassus First Editions Club — July Selection

Love May Fail 

You know how comparisons can be useful when you’re recommending a book? Like, “If you enjoyed Gone Girl, you’ll love The Girl on the Train.”

It’s tough to do that with Matthew Quick’s books.

Really, the only thing a Matthew Quick novel reminds me of is another Matthew Quick novel. As I was considering how to describe his newest work, Love May Fail, I realized that the two other books I wanted to compare it to were The Silver Linings Playbook and The Good Luck of Right Now. This one, like those, showcases Quick’s distinctive style, voice, and knack for weaving together literary and pop-culture references to hilarious effect. (Like those others, this one has already been optioned for film, too.) That’s why I believe everyone needs to read at least one Matthew Quick book. You can’t get this writing from anyone else, and you won’t know whether you like it until you try it.

One thing you’ll find in every Quick book is quirk — loads of it. He specializes in offbeat characters who’ve been knocked down but won’t stay down. This time, it’s four people taking turns narrating the story of how they lose their footing in life but ultimately save one another. Irreverent and inspiring, both profane and profound, it’s a touching, upbeat read that belongs in every beach bag this summer. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Yours in reading,
Mary Laura Philpott
Social Media Director and Editor of MUSING

Every member of our First Editions Club receives a first edition of the selected book of the month, signed by the author. Books are carefully chosen by our staff of readers, and our picks have gone on to earn major recognition including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. There’s no membership fee or premium charge for these books; just the monthly cost of each book (+ shipping if you’d like yours mailed to you). Build a treasured library of signed first editions and always have something great to read! Makes a FABULOUS gift, too. 

Young Adult First Editions Club — July Selection

More Happy Than Not  

There is this incredible poem by Mark Strand called “The Remains.” It’s only twelve lines long, but it’s still a bit much to put the whole thing in this letter. It’s easy to find online though. You should go find it. The poem concludes with these lines:

Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same.

I empty myself of my life and my life remains.

I’m telling you about this poem because those words are the visceral pounding heart of Adam Silvera’s gut-wrenching debut novel, More Happy Than Not, our July 2015 YA First Editions Club selection. How do you become who you are? Why do you love who you love? Can you change who you are by erasing where you’ve been? If you empty yourself of your life, what remains?

Silvera explores these questions through the story of Aaron Soto, a young man from the Bronx. Silvera paints Aaron and his friends, family, and neighborhood with an easy and intimate brush, in prose both familiar and conversational. The writing is buoyant, the reading effortless. The story itself is nothing new: Person A loves Person B. Enter Person C. Now what? But the “now what” here is stunningly original, and you’ll soon find yourself racing through Silvera’s pages, frantic to discover what will happen to characters you fell in love with when you weren’t paying attention.

More Happy Than Not will remove your heart from your ribcage, break it into little pieces, and then put it back together again, not quite the same as before. Silvera’s accomplishment is that you’ll be glad it did.

Yours in reading,
Stephanie Appell
Manager of Books for Young Readers

Parnassus Books

Every member of our YA First Editions Club receives a first edition copy of the selected book of the month, signed by the author. There is no cost to join the club other than the monthly cost of each book (+ shipping if you’d like yours mailed to you). When the hottest new books come out, you’ll have them… autographed! Choose a 3, 6, or 12-month membership for yourself or as a gift.

Parnassus Book Club

undermagcoverJuly – Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes
Monday, July 13 at 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 16 at 10 a.m.

August – Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Monday, August 17 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, August 19 at 6:30pm
Thursday, August 20 at 10am

Classics Book Club

August – For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Monday, August 24 at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Are you a member of our store book club? Would you like to be? Parnassus Book Club meetings are free and open to anyone. Buy the book, read along, and join the discussion!

“It’s All About the Book”

More thoughts on reading from Kathy Schultenover, Parnassus Book Clubs Manager:

1975, Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi: A newly formed book club of young mothers discusses the hottest novel around, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. The discussion focuses on the life story, sad marriage, and death of the author. Particular rage is reserved for her husband, Ted Hughes, and his abandonment of her and their little children. Further anger is expressed when women’s roles and society’s expectations are brought up and explored at length. Feminism is alive and on everyone’s mind. This was the first of many book clubs I started in cities I moved to, and the first book I would choose to stimulate discussion. It was a no-fail choice.

2015, Nashville, Tennessee: Here we are again, with our most recent Classics Book Club choice of The Bell Jar. Although it has been consistently on lists of best books in American literature since its release, in choosing this I wondered how the book would be received and perceived 40 years later. What would be the focus of discussion now? How would the people of various ages who come to our meetings feel about the book? How would I judge the book now? It turns out that the women, men, and students who came to talk about The Bell Jar at Parnassus made for a wholly different group from years ago. Of course! Forty years has made a tremendous difference in our society. This time talk centered around mental illness, its perception in society today, and new treatments for people like Sylvia Plath. Most agreed that she would have been helped more readily today with medications now available for depression. Also, our discussions dealt with prescribed roles for women’s lives then and how these roles and rules have changed. Most older women marveled at the changes since the early 1950s when the book is set; many younger women acknowledged how these changes are now taken for granted. The anger that dominated earlier discussions of this book (and of Ted Hughes) never appeared.

Personally, it was easier for me to read this book more objectively, less emotionally, this time around. What struck me now was how restricted many women’s lives were, both sexually and economically, in the 1950s. Also, it amazed me how determined the main character, Esther (pretty obviously based on Plath herself) was to commit suicide. As Esther acknowledged at the end, the bell jar of suicidal depression would probably descend again. It turns out that on February 11, 1963, it did; Sylvia Plath took her own life. I’m fascinated to see how her novel still resonates with readers today, more than 50 years after its publication, with different interpretations and meanings for different generations of readers. — Kathy


Need more? Don’t miss the “Summer Reading List for Grownups” on 12th & Broad, plus our Bookmark column in Nashville Arts Magazine for June and July!