Required Reading, Part One: Must-Reads for Adults

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Remember mandatory summer reading? The list from school, the inevitable back-to-school book report . . . Ah, memories. We got to talking about it in the back room of the bookstore the other day (cue Lord of the Flies flashbacks), and our booksellers had some ideas for what books they’d put on a must-read list for adults.

Here they are — no book reports required.

Ann recommends:

David Copperfield Cover ImageDavid Copperfield 

I recently had a conversation with one of the best-read people I know and it turns out she had never read David Copperfield. If you haven’t read it I promise you that enormous joy awaits. It’s the perfect book for a very smart 12-year-old and every age thereafter. It will rivet you, keep you up at nights, and fill your heart with terror and joy. I promise.

Ann recommends:

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Cover ImageEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City 

I know I’ve recommended this book before, but it’s just out in paperback, has won the Pulitzer, and is absolutely required reading. Take a look at how other people are living. Let your compassion motivate you to action. Admire Matthew Desmond’s brilliance.

Ann recommends:

Trajectory: Stories Cover ImageTrajectory: Stories 

This one is required reading for all the millions of Russo fans out there. It’s a small book — four long stories coming in at under 250 pages — but it’s full of intensity and depth. Each story contains all the pleasures of a sprawling Russo novel and can be read in just a fraction of the time. Hello, summer!

Karen recommends:

The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South Cover ImageThe Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South 

Edge is the Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which is associated with the University of Mississippi. This book is new, but I think you will see it become a book that will be adapted for classrooms, because it isn’t just about food — it’s a fascinating cultural history of the South. Plus, it’s full of rich personalities, from Fanny Lou Hamer to Sean Brock.

Katherine recommends:

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar Cover ImageTiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar 

I wish this book had been thrust into my hands as soon as I entered my 20s. Books that contain wisdom that forces us to examine both the messiest and most beautiful parts of ourselves are the ones that ought to be required. Tiny Beautiful Things is one such book; to me, it is essential.

Katherine recommends:

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace Cover Image

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace 

Required reading for the cook who seeks equanimity and peace both in the kitchen and in life. Tamar Adler is a modern-day MFK Fisher.

Mary Laura recommends:

The Glass Castle: A Memoir Cover ImageThe Glass Castle: A Memoir 

Before you see the new film adaptation, make sure you’ve read (or re-read) the now-classic memoir. It’s an essential exercise in empathy and gratitude.

Mary Laura recommends:

Exit West Cover ImageExit West 

I’m on a mission to get every human being to read this book. Go in with no expectations, and let it surprise you. (And find out why it was just long-listed for the Man Booker Prize!)

Keltie recommends:

Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Cover ImageHappiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After 

On the surface, this narrative could come off as the pregnant woman abandoned by heartless cad who only realizes the error of his ways when . . . BUT THIS IS NOT THAT STORY. It is required reading for anyone who came to parenthood and family in something other than the storybook way (which is pretty much everyone I know). Plus, it’s a helluva read.

Keltie recommends:

Tornado Weather Cover ImageTornado Weather 

For everyone who read Hillbilly Elegy in an attempt to understand WHY, here’s a ghost story companion book (yes, a ghost story!). Tornado Weather is the fictional autobiography of a specific place, at a specific moment — but is utterly universal (and recognizable to anyone like me who grew up in Small Town Anywhere, USA). The story builds (yes, like the weather!) until everything you thought you knew is blown sideways.

Andy recommends:

The 42nd Parallel Cover ImageThe 42nd Parallel 

I first read this classic as required high school reading, and I go back and reread it every few years. The first book of the USA trilogy uses four methods of narration to illustrate life in the US at the beginning of the 20th century.

Halley recommends:

Giovanni's Room Cover ImageGiovanni’s Room 

I consider this a perfect novel. Consider it assigned.

Kathy recommends:

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage Cover ImageEndurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage 

An inspirational account of one of the most remarkable feats of human courage and resilience.

Niki recommends:

Lolita Cover ImageLolita 

I never read any of the Russians in school, and decided to finally remedy that with the most approachable: Lolita. It was creepy, sure, but I was genuinely surprised at how FUNNY it is. If you’ve never read it, consider now your moment.

Catherine recommends:

A Room with a View Cover ImageA Room with a View 

I find Forster to be delightful and think everyone should read at least one of his books. A Room with a View happens to be my favorite. He creates wonderfully human characters and writes with both depth and concision. I am always in awe.

Catherine recommends:

A Three Dog Life Cover ImageA Three Dog Life 

Abigail Thomas is one of the most shameless memoirists of our time. And not in a “look how scandalous I am” way. Just in a “this is how my life is and how I am reacting to things, and what you think has no bearing on me” way. She is admirable. We all have, or will have, our own unthinkable times to get through. Let Thomas impart her experience and you will grow wiser for it.

Tristan recommends:

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays Cover ImageConfessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays 

Kingsnorth is better known in America for his strange fiction (The Wake), but he’s also a very divisive figure among environmentalists in the UK due to his insistence on abandoning the sustainability movement and instead seeking to protect nature for its own sake. Don’t save the moors because they can be a great spot to plant wind turbines; save them because they deserve to exist, etc. He lays out his case for “dark ecology” in this brilliant collection of essays on the environment and environmentalism, on the sacred and the sustainable, on rapture and disenchantment.

Sissy recommends:

Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life Cover ImageOf Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life 

The Progressive Christians are my tribe — always stirring it up. None of them are as funny as Jen Hatmaker. She keeps our minds open, questioning, seeking, and laughing. (Available August 8; reserve your copy now.)

Grace recommends:

Meddling Kids Cover ImageMeddling Kids 

Required reading. Period. (Doubly required if you love any of the following: Scooby-Doo, The Cabin in the Woods, dogs that are Very Good Boys, evil spirits, and/or great romances.)

Grace recommends:

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art Cover ImageUnderstanding Comics: The Invisible Art 

This is required for anyone who loves comics, wants to love comics, or just wants to understand what all the fuss is about.

Grace recommends:

Jessica Jones, Volume 1: Uncaged! Cover ImageJessica Jones, Volume 1: Uncaged! 

Required for all fans of this deeply flawed but compulsively lovable heroine — and/or anyone who loves a great anti-hero. Jessica is one of the best, and Brian Michael Bendis does her lovely justice.

Peter recommends:

The Marriage Plot Cover ImageThe Marriage Plot 

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author (and professor at my school!), this book is required reading for anyone who just loves books and wants to read about characters who also love books.

Peter recommends:

Love in the Time of Cholera Cover ImageLove in the Time of Cholera

Required reading for anyone who loves a beautifully told, painfully wonderful story about what compels us to love.

Sarah recommends:

Another Brooklyn Cover ImageAnother Brooklyn 

Woodson’s unique lyrical prose explores the joys and burdens of youth, friendship, loss, and memory. You will get so much more out of it than the page count would lead you to believe. It is not to be missed.

The First Editions Club: August Selection


Mrs. Fletcher Cover ImageMrs. Fletcher

By now, Tom Perotta is something of a household name. Whether you’ve been swept up in The Leftovers or charmed by the dark comedy of Election, chances are his brilliant work has crossed your path in one form or another. Now he has outdone himself (again) with Mrs. Fletcher, a story that begins when lovably gauche protagonist Eve Fletcher drops her son off at college.

It is not often that someone hands me a book with a disclaimer of, “This is racy.” So I began this novel not quite knowing what to expect. I was caught completely by surprise — surprise at Perrotta’s talent for perfectly capturing not only his characters’ voices, but also their unrelenting humanity. Many books have attempted to do what this novel does so well, but they have only skirted the perimeter of Mrs. Fletcher’s central conflicts: what it means to truly communicate, to misread signals, to be misread.

There is something uniquely satisfying about completing a book like Mrs. Fletcher. You will have squirmed a bit in your chosen reading chair; you will have thrown your head back and laughed; you will have cringed. And you will have ultimately emerged with great sympathy for two people learning how to navigate their own lives and often failing miserably at it.

Some consider Perotta to be a master of satire, but the line he walks in this novel is a thin one between satire and hyper-realism. Wherever you choose to categorize it, we are delighted to place it in your hands with the disclaimer that, yes, this novel is a little racy, and we hope you adore it as much as we do.

Yours in reading,
Halley Parry
Parnassus Books

“It’s All About the Book”

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

FullSizeRender 306.jpgIs your book club searching for a meeting idea that’s quick and easy to pull off this summer? Oftentimes, by mid-year, book groups get a little tired of the same stale format of read/discuss, read/discuss, etc. Here’s something I organized in a neighborhood club a few years ago to great success:

Each participant was asked to comb their cookbook shelves and to choose a favorite cookbook comprising more than just recipes. It might have elements of history, travel, lifestyle, decorating, or even memoir. (I brought a classic, Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee by Daisy King, James Crutchfield and Winette Sparkman, which is full of vignettes of the history, places, and famous people of the state.) Everyone brought her favorite cookbook, one prepared dish from that book, and copies of the recipe to distribute to all. Each member told the group what made the cookbook unique and a worthy addition to a culinary collection. Afterwards, we got to flip through each others’ cookbooks and sample the food with a glass of wine (and be reminded why there will always be a place for beautiful cooking narratives). This meeting required just a little preparation and thought about why each book was special. Everyone had a good time and enjoyed having a month off from the usual reading list!

— Kathy

Parnassus Book Club


159843August — The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Monday, August 14 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, August 16 at 6:30pm
Thursday, August 17 at 10am

September — News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Monday, September 18 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, September 20 at 6:30pm
Thursday, September 21 at 10am

Classics Club — The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
Tuesday, September 26 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!


Want more? Don’t miss our monthly roundup of great reads in the Bookmark column of Nashville Arts Magazine.

It’s hot outside, but cool in the bookstore. Check our events calendar for upcoming occasions and come join us indoors!