26 Books We Strongly But Politely Insist You Read


So many good books, so little time. These are the books our booksellers are reading in their downtime, and they’d like you to read them right now. Or as soon as you can. At your convenience really. But soon, please. Thank you.

Recommended by Ann

The Association of Small Bombs Cover ImageThe Association of Small Bombs

Named as one of the 10 best books of 2016 by The New York Times and long-listed for the National Book Award, this story of the aftermath of a small bombing in an Indian marketplace and its far-reaching implications has a light and breezy style for conveying a devastating host of facts. It’s a remarkable book, worthy of many long conversations. (Book club, anyone?)

Recommended by Ann

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Cover ImageHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

I’m late to the party on this, but there’s a reason this is the number one book in the country. It gives a first-hand nonfiction account of the trials and exploits of Appalachian people. I listened to the audio (thanks, Libro.fm!), and the author does a solid job in his narration.

Recommended by Karen


Lincoln in the Bardo (audiobook)

By George Saunders
There are 166 narrators on this extremely entertaining audiobook. 166! And the two main characters are narrated by Nick Offerman and David Sedaris — that by itself is enough to win me over. If you haven’t discovered Libro.fm yet this the perfect time give them a try and download the audiobook. (Just remember to follow this link to our Parnassus Books Libro.fm store or choose Parnassus as your bookstore when you check out!)

(Ann says: May I just echo Karen here? This is a brilliant, unconventional, essential read — history meets Buddhism meets surrealism — that somehow has everything to teach us about this present moment. Great on audio, and great on paper too.)

Recommended by Ann

Traveling with Ghosts: A Memoir Cover ImageTraveling with Ghosts: A Memoir

Shannon Fowler and her fiance Sean are global citizens, traveling the world for work and for love, when Sean is stung by a jellyfish off the coast of Indonesia and dies in a matter of minutes. Shannon tries to recover and then stops trying. She wanders the world alone, her grief cutting her off from everything and everyone she knows. This book is a heartbreaker, but so beautiful, both haunted and haunting. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

Recommended by Kathy

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta Cover ImageDispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

An award-winning adventure writer and his girlfriend (both Yankees) move to an old plantation house in Pluto, Mississippi, in the heart of the Delta. Adventures, both humorous and touching, ensue.

Recommended by Kathy

Maisie Dobbs Cover ImageMaisie Dobbs

Ten years after she was a British nurse in the Great War, Maisie opens her own detective agency. This is the first in an incredibly popular series where a woman detective applies her brilliant mind to nefarious cases typically handled by men.

Recommended by Lindsay

Look: Poems Cover ImageLook: Poems

Would you like to join the “I frankly don’t understand poetry but nevertheless find it very beautiful” book club? The members are me and anyone else who buys this gorgeous collection from Solmaz Sharif. We meet at your favorite bar and we never discuss scansion.

Recommended by Lindsay

Autumn Cover ImageAutumn

Don’t miss this quiet novel. The first in a quartet, Autumn is a beautiful rumination on art and loss in post-Brexit England. Ali Smith’s prose is, as always, concise and brilliant.

Recommended by Mary Laura

A Separation Cover ImageA Separation

Jenny Offill calls this “a slow burn,” which is an apt description and a hint at a good comparison, because this novel (like Offill’s Dep’t. of Speculation) offers an observant portrait of a woman who’s not sure she knows her husband or herself as well as she thought. It also compares in ominous tone to The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor. So good.

 Recommended by Mary Laura

300 Arguments: Essays Cover Image300 Arguments

It’s like a notebook of brilliant sayings you jot down whenever you hear them, but they’re all said by one person.

Recommended by Mary Grey

Judas Cover ImageJudas

A novel of ideas with an anti-hero moderating an unending, unsolvable debate normally would not make for captivating reading, but at the hands of the masterful Amos Oz — arguably Israel’s greatest author — it becomes timely, important, beautifully written literature.

Recommended by Sissy

A Book of American Martyrs Cover ImageA Book of American Martyrs

Having never read Oates, I had no idea what to expect. The first narrator in this hefty book is an evangelical American male who shoots an abortion doctor and whose voice has the rhythm and style of the King James Bible. I could not put it down (except to rest my arms).

 Recommended by Catherine

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit Cover ImageThe Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

For those who haven’t heard about the Maine Hermit: this man walked out on civilization in 1986. (Seriously, he just walked into the Maine woods not far from his childhood home . . . and stayed there for 27 years.) This is the story not only of how he pulled it off but of humanity’s historical view on hermits, isolation, and solitude. (Available March 7.)

 Recommended by Niki

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Cover ImageJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

If you’re like me, you’re searching for books that will help you expand your empathy and encourage you to contemplate the meaning of justice and mercy in our present age. Bryan Stevenson’s moving experiences with working with prisoners on death row will do exactly that.

Recommended by Peter T.

An Artist of the Floating World Cover ImageAn Artist of the Floating World

Ishiguro tells a story of guilt, honor, and family through a Proustian lens on post-war Japan, along the way creating some of the finest meditations on beauty and change I have ever read.

Recommended by Tristan

Anno Dracula Cover ImageAnno Dracula

London, 1888: The Ripper stalks Whitechapel, hysteria grips the streets . . . and Queen Victoria has just married Count Dracula, ushering in a new reign of terror. I know this sounds stupid, but there’s a lot of wisdom hidden in this story of violence and discrimination wed to state power.

Recommended by Halley

Behind Her Eyes: A Suspenseful Psychological Thriller Cover ImageBehind Her Eyes: A Suspenseful Psychological Thriller

I stopped reading mysteries because they no longer surprise me. This book is an exception. It is truly thrilling.

Recommended by Grace

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening Cover ImageMonstress, Volume 1: Awakening

It is a rare and wonderful delight to find a story as enrapturing as Monstress. Marjorie Liu’s weaves complex storytelling together with Sana Takeda’s gorgeous art in a way that enhances them both.

Recommended by Margy

Bright Dead Things: Poems Cover ImageBright Dead Things: Poems

I need poetry more than ever now — for its fierce truth-telling and its radical tenderness for what is. (And Limón is reading at Vanderbilt on April 20!)

Recommended by Andy

Age of Anger: A History of the Present Cover ImageAge of Anger: A History of the Present

Pankaj Mishra illustrates the anger, humiliation, and rage of those left behind by the march to modernity. Since the 19th century these fears have given rise to demagogues and dictators. Age of Anger shows us how we got to where we are and how we can rise to the challenges of the modern world.

Recommended by Andy

The Other Side of Silence Cover ImageThe Other Side of Silence 

Kerr’s Bernie Gunther has taken up residence on the French Riviera under an assumed name. Asked to be a fourth in a bridge game including Somerset Maugham, Bernie finds himself involved in a case of blackmail and intrigue. Filled with plenty of history (Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess make appearances), this is one of Kerr’s best — and it’s out in paperback on March 7!

 Read on for a recommendation of Exit West, a book so many of us fell in love with that we made it our First Editions Club pick! Here’s a little more about it from The New York Times, too.

First Editions Club — March Selection

Every so often, the right author, the right story, and the right moment converge for an altogether perfect reading experience— I’m happy to tell you Mohsin Hamid is that author, Exit West is that story, and this is the moment.

Exit West follows two young lovers, Nadia and Saeed, as they navigate their way through life in a war zone. While their city crumbles outside, they go to their jobs, they sneak into each other’s apartments, they play records, and they fall in love. They begin to hear rumors of doors to faraway places. In hopes of finding a better life, Nadia and Saeed take one.

The thing I admire most about Hamid’s writing is his insistence that humanity does not end in times of conflict— if anything, it thrives. Nadia and Saeed’s story is a testament to that, and I’m so excited to share it with you.

Yours in reading,
Lindsay Lynch

Parnassus Book Club

FC9781603093002.JPGMarch March (vol.1) by John Lewis (the 2017 Nashville Reads book)
Monday, March 13 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, March 15 at 6:30pm
Thursday, March 16 at 10am

AprilHeat and Light by Jennifer Haigh (Note: Meetings are one week later than usual in April. More about the book in this interview.)
Monday, April 24 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, April 26 at 6:30pm
Thursday, April 27 at 10am

Classics ClubSo Big by Edna Ferber
Monday, March 27 at 10am and 6:30pm

Classics Club Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
Monday, May 22 at 10am and 6:30pm

Are you a member of our store book club? Would you like to be? Parnassus Book Club and Classics 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:

FC9781400030538.JPGSometimes an author just slips under the radar and his works don’t get the widespread attention they deserve. I think Tim Gautreaux is one such author, and I’d like to see more book clubs check him out. We read his book The Clearing a few years ago in the Davis-Kidd Book Club; it remains one of my favorites as a book club leader. It’s a story of two brothers from Pennsylvania, heirs to a timber empire, who end up after World War I in a remote Louisiana mill town in the middle of a cypress swamp. The settlement is populated by characters with bad habits and few interests beyond drunken Saturday night brawling and gambling. The brothers’ relationship is complicated, and further trouble ensues when they become embroiled in a lethal feud with a powerful gangster. The presence of women adds another layer to this exciting and mesmerizing story.

In my hardcover copy, there are testimonials for The Clearing from authors Kent Haruf, Charles Frazier, Larry Brown, Rick Bass, and William Gay, plus this from Richard Russo: “The Clearing presents the reader with an interesting dilemma: do you give in to the stifling suspense and read quickly to find out what happens to the novel’s vivid characters, or do you go slow, savoring each delicious sentence, and thereby risking, by the climax, a nervous breakdown?” Robert Olen Butler’s blurb reads: “As with Mississippi and Faulkner, Northern California and Steinbeck, Georgia and O’Connor, when I think of Louisiana, I will hear the voice of Tim Gautreaux.”

FC9780451493040.JPGThis past month, I had the delightful opportunity to have dinner with Tim Gautreaux, and in advance of the evening, I acquainted myself with his latest book, Signals, New and Selected Stories. I am generally lukewarm on short stories, but I had great fun with these. Many are set in South Louisiana and the language is colorful and vivid. Images of “mildewed trailers,” “a swampy two- acre yard,” “sopping red clay with run-off from a septic tank” suggest a region that modern progress has largely passed by. Cajun names like Breaux, LaLonde, and Arcineaux harken back to the Cajun origins of the Louisiana backcountry. These stories were laugh-out-loud funny and at times deeply touching, too. I think the collection will please lovers of Southern fiction, fans of the HBO series True Detective, and even readers like me who tend to avoid short stories.

Change things up and try The Clearing or Signals with your book club!

— Kathy


Meanwhile, over at Vanderbilt: Gary Shteyngart discusses Little Failure at the First Amendment Center tonight (March 2, 2017) at 7 p.m. Read more about Shteyngart in his interview with Chapter 16 / Humanities Tennessee.

Ticket alert: Have you reserved your spot at Mercy & Magic with Wally Lamb and Mary Gauthier yet?

Don’t miss Nashville Public Television’s A Word on Words! The latest literary chat features espionage master Alan Furst — and here’s a peek at an upcoming interview with The Nest author Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney!

Love audiobooks and want to support your indie bookstore, too? Great! Memberships are now available at the new Parnassus Libro.fm store, where you’ll find more than 70,000 titles you can listen to on your iPhone, Android device, or PC. (Get your first download for $.99, and an audiobook a month for $14.99. Just create an account to see your options!)

And as always, you’ll find our Bookmark column in Nashville Arts Magazine

Coming up next: Parents, don’t panic. We’re making you a list of books for kids of all ages to take on spring break.