New Year, New List: Our Favorite Books

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Remember how the Internet freaked out a couple years back about Esquire magazine’s list of books all men should read (and then last year Lit Hub published the clever 80 Books No Woman Should Read)? Now there’s a new list from Esquire80 Books Every Person Should Read. “What can we say?” the magazine explains, “We messed up. Our list of 80 Books Every Man Should Read, published several years ago, was rightfully called out for its lack of diversity in both authors and titles. So we invited eight female literary powerhouses, from Michiko Kakutani to Anna Holmes to Roxane Gay, to help us create a new list.” Nice save.

The world loves a list, especially when the calendar flips from one year to the next. One of the most creative lists we’ve seen lately is a fill-in-the-blank aspirational list created by the blogger known as The Modern Mrs. Darcy. You pick a book to fit each of 12 categories, ranging from “a book published this year” to “a book you previously abandoned,” then get to reading. One of our Instagram followers posted her version here:

Instagram @mfrankline
Instagrammer @mfrankline posted her list for 2016 along with a request for a suggestion: Can anyone recommend a “book that intimidates you”?

Suckers for lists that we are, the avid readers who work here are back to making monthly lists of our favorites. Meanwhile, don’t miss Ann’s latest recommendations here and here (she absolutely insists you read When Breath Becomes Air). Our current reads:


My Life on the Road

Ann told me to drop whatever I was reading and pick this memoir up, and boy was she right. Steinem is a captivating storyteller with an incredible history in activism. Reading her work feels like listening to all of the most compelling stories from your most interesting and delightful friend. – Niki Coffman

The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir

Remember The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls? If you liked that, you might like this harrowing true story that likewise never tips into maudlin territory. Ruth Wariner shows amazing sentimental restraint in recounting her years as a poor, hungry, confused, and often terrified child growing up in a fundamentalist (and polygamous) religious colony in rural Mexico. Amazing. – Mary Laura Philpott

My Name Is Lucy Barton

Everyone else can stop writing sentences and paragraphs and even books now, because it’s impossible to beat these. Compared to this perfectly distilled little novel, bigger books seem waterlogged. If you’re a human with a family, read it. – Mary Laura Philpott

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Tarkington knows how to plot a story. I read this debut novel in just a few days, because I had to know what happened. – Sissy Gardner

Paper Wishes

Ten-year-old Manami’s family is forced to relocate to a camp for Japanese Americans during WWII. She tries to sneak her dog, Yujin, into the camp, but is caught by the soldiers. Manami doesn’t speak in the prison village. She writes paper wishes that she hopes will sail through the air to her dog. This is a beautifully written story about family and survival, perfect for young readers interested in WWII history. – Rae Ann Parker


Hedgehogs are all the rage in 2016. Even in picture books! In this adorable story, hedgehogs Horace and Hattie are BFFs. But they can’t hug because they’re too spiky. Will they find a way to overcome their spikiness? – Rae Ann Parker

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Taking place during the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle, this debut was so striking and tense that I couldn’t put it down. A brutally human look at all sides of conflict — not just from a political standpoint, but from a personal one as well. – Catherine Bock

Worm Loves Worm

By J. J. Austrian, Mike Curato (Illustrator)

Love is Love. It’s not as complicated as we make it. The simplicity of this tale will delight kids and adults! – Sissy Gardner

The World Is on Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse

To celebrate the new year, I took a break from reading novels about the endtimes and read some essays about the endtimes. Joni Tevis turns a critical eye to all thing apocalyptic, forgotten, or lost, and weaves them together in this lovely collection of personal essays. – Lindsay Lynch

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Available for grownups or kids: Adult Paperback Edition  / Young Readers Edition

An incredible story of a 14-year-old boy whose African village is devastated by drought. Reading in the little village library and scavenging for parts he accomplishes the impossible. I loved this book when it first came out in 2009, and now a young readers edition has just been released in paperback. Truly inspirational, the author demonstrates that anything is possible with education and determination. – Andy Brennan

Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision…

Simon Winchester  takes on the Pacific Ocean in his latest popular history. To tackle a topic that is too big to adequately cover in a one volume, Winchester instead tells 10 different stories that all have the Pacific as a common thread. From nuclear testing on Bikini Island to the transfer of Hong Kong from Britian to China, Winchester illustrates the wide and varied impact the Pacific has had and continues to have on our planet. Whereas the Mediterranean was the focus of the ancient world and the Atlantic the center of current times, the author convincingly argues that the Pacific will be the most important ocean in our future. – Andy Brennan

When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put

This charming, original book was precisely what I needed to kick off the New Year and embrace the precious possibilities of my daily life. – River Jordan

The Night Circus  

Sometimes in winter, I like to reread something I’ve loved in the past. Whenever I get that inkling, this perfectly enchanting novel is my go-to. It’s got just the right balance of magic, mystery, and love to shake off my January blues. – Niki Coffman

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Sets the page on fire with the raw truth of what it means to remain human in this cruel and beautiful world. – River Jordan

War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad

Christopher Logue did not know Greek. Yet he somehow knew Homer and the spirit of this monumental Greek poem. Logue’s Homer is both comparable to and—for being current—more preferable than the now dusty Homer of Chapman and Pope. – Nathan Spoon

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime: Comfort Classics, Freezer Food, 16-Minute Meals, and Other Delicious Ways to Solve Supper!

I wanted this for Christmas and I got it. I love the step-by-step directions for preparing real food. The Mexican Tortilla Casserole is delicious! – Kathy Schultenover

Star Wars: A New Hope the Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy

By Alexandra Bracken, Iain McCaig (Illustrator)

An enchanting read for any Star Wars fan. If the gorgeous illustrations don’t win you over, read the first pages and let the narration seal the deal. Even better, Alexandra Bracken will be here Jan. 21 for a reading and signing of her new book Passenger! – Grace Wright

The Country of Ice Cream Star

New Year’s Resolution: Buy this book. Read it. Understand why I recommend this book to everyone I meet. Through the main character’s vivid storytelling you will be consumed by a world both familiar and foreign, horrifying and resplendent. – Grace Wright

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

This book was inspired by the “plague village” that closed its borders to keep the plague from spreading to the outside.  I love Geraldine Brooks, and this is by far my favorite book that she has written. – Ginger Nalley

Mother Bruce

After a season in which one is traditionally surrounded by family, whether one wants to be or not, you may find much with which to identify in this story of a very grumpy bear and the goslings to whom he finds himself the unwilling parent. On these gray January days, the importance of a good chuckle should not be underrated, and Mother Bruce will provide them in droves. – Stephanie Appell

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

Another great one from Bill Bryson (the sequel to Notes from a Small Island), this is equally funny. And no, there isn’t a village named Little Dribbling, but I had to check! – Bill Long-Innes

Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us the Way

If you don’t love Hoda, you should! Enjoy these inspirational stories from people who discover their lives’ callings in unexpected places. And meet Hoda at the downtown Library on January 31. Yay! – Bill Long-Innes

The Woman in White

By Wilkie Collins, Matthew Sweet (Introduction by), Matthew Sweet (Notes by)

For those of you who, like me, crave British intrigue and mystery in between hits of Sherlock episodes: here’s your huckleberry. Suspense, masterful plotting, gothic overtones, and psychological realism all make for a perfect wintery read. – Margy Roark

View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems

Polish poet Szymborska makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar. Strangeness and surprise and a light touch mark these poems on subjects ranging from Hitler’s first photograph; the lameness of pornography; to a postcard from a non-literary sister. – Margy Roark

American Housewife: Stories

Did you catch “Dead Doormen,” the excerpt from American Housewife on Lit Hub this week? We’ve got signed copies of this new book of darkly funny stories — while they last. – Karen Hayes

First Editions Club — January Selection

My Name Is Lucy Barton

I’m sending this book out with a warning: whatever it is that needs doing, do it now. I’m talking about feeding your family, walking the dog, finishing a project for work. Don’t start reading My Name Is Lucy Barton before getting those things done. And don’t start it right before you plan to go to sleep either. You’ll be up half the night. This is one of those books that grabs you fast and hard, and by the time you’re 10 pages in you’re not going to notice the world around you. You’re only going to care about the world of this novel.

Opening this book is like having someone you love walk into the room, pick up your hand, look you in the eye, and say, OK, there’s something I have to tell you. You want to listen to every syllable of what this person has to say. How Elizabeth Strout makes you care so immediately about Lucy Barton and everything she needs to tell us is a mystery to me, but she does it. I fell into this book as if falling down an open manhole cover. One second I was in my world, the next second I was in hers, utterly and completely, and even though the world of Lucy Barton can be a tough place, I didn’t want to leave it, not even after I was finished.

Sometimes we might think we’ve seen the very best a writer can do. A lot of people would have thought that Elizabeth Strout could never write a book better than Olive Kitteridge. How could such a thing even be possible? But it is. This new book is my favorite Strout novel by far. And the most exciting thing about that is the idea that she might surprise again in the future. What My Name Is Lucy Barton proves is that there really isn’t anything Elizabeth Strout can’t do.

Yours in Reading,
Ann Patchett

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. 

ParnassusNext — January Selection


Prepare to be swept away by Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger, a whirlwind story of secrets, passions, and more than a bit of time travel. Violin prodigy Etta Spencer’s world is upended when, on the night of her professional debut, she finds herself transported back in time, blackmailed into a breakneck quest for an object of unimaginable power. Accompanying her is Nicholas, a fellow time traveler, who may have his own motives for joining Etta on her journey.

In addition to being a masterfully constructed and deliciously complicated narrative puzzle, Passenger is also a deeply thoughtful exploration of family, desire, and destiny. As Etta and Nicholas discover truths within the past — and truths within themselves — the future they’ve always imagined begins to change. Although Etta and Nicholas encounter fantastical circumstances along their journey, Bracken ultimately roots the heart of Passenger in something quite simple and even more extraordinary than time travel: Two people, against all odds, with no way to know what the future holds, falling in love.

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

Parnassus Book Club


FC9780143108399January — The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
Monday, January 18 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, January 20 at 6:30pm
Thursday, January 21 at 10am


February — Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar
Monday, February 15 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, February 17 at 6:30pm
Thursday, February 18 at 10am

Classics Book Club  – The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
Monday, March 21, at 10am and 6:30pm

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:

 Lists, lists…we’ve been inundated with lists. It’s so much fun to read and compare what we’ve read or haven’t read with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, etc. After a while I start to feel inadequate, especially if I haven’t read many of their selections or am hardly even familiar with some. Nonetheless, they do provide good selection materials when making up your own 2016 book club lists. If a book appears on many lists, it makes you want to consider it for your own club, doesn’t it?

I’m not doing a year-end / best-of list. But I did take a year-end survey of all 178 members of the Parnassus Book Clubs to ask them 1.) their favorite book we’ve read, and 2.) their favorite meeting we held. In a year with some great reads and with author-led sessions by Nickolas Butler (Shotgun Lovesongs), Lily King (Euphoria), and James Scott (The Kept), it was not an easy choice. But overwhelmingly the vote went to Nickolas Butler for Shotgun Lovesongs as the favorite book and favorite meeting. The vote for best classic we read went to Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, but people liked the discussions around To Kill a Mockingbird best.

Many left extra comments in the survey about the book club such as: “the discussions helped me process what I read,” “these are books I might not have known about without the book club,” “grateful to have a place to talk about what I read,” “it’s good to have new perspectives on a book.” — and my favorite comment: “Book club has added extra years to my life!” I hope that you can say the same about your club, and that in 2016 you’ll check out the Parnassus book club selections.

— Kathy


Want more? Catch our monthly Bookmark column in Nashville Arts Magazine each month.

Wondering what your neighbors are reading? Don’t miss the Music City Word Beat in the Nashville Scene for the best-selling and highest-circulating books in town!

Parents, teachers, librarians, and anyone who knows a kid or teen reader: Check out the amazing authors and books for young readers honored with ALA Youth Media Awards!