Get Ready to Meet Your New Favorite Books: 38 Fiction and Nonfiction Reads We Love

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Do you know what booksellers do all summer long? We read early copies of the books coming out in the fall, so we’ll be prepared to recommend the ones you’ll love most, as soon as they come out. So here it is: our latest list of beloved books, including many that are freshly published as of this week. Enjoy!

(By the way, what are YOU reading? Chime in on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram to let us know.)

FICTION
Recommended by Karen

Transcription: A Novel Cover ImageTranscription

The reason my book group always chooses to read a new book from Kate Atkinson is that she never disappoints. In shifting time periods, this novel tells the story of Juliet, who was an 18-year-old MI5 spy during World War II — and who finds that mystery follows her into her later life.

Recommended by Karen

Killing Commendatore: A novel Cover ImageKilling Commendatore

A portrait painter finds himself unable to put brush to canvas after his life is upended by his wife asking for a divorce. He finds himself living in a secluded mountain home full of secrets that start revealing themselves to him. As he gets to know his neighbors, he starts painting again, but in a completely different way. Once again, Murakami takes us on a satisfying, surreal ride.

Recommended by Kathy

So Much Life Left Over: A Novel Cover ImageSo Much Life Left Over

A group of childhood friends whose lives are forever changed by World War I must learn to navigate the changing world of Europe in the 1920s and ’30s. This is Downton Abbey with more depth — and it might be my favorite book of 2018 so far.

Recommended by Rae Ann

November Road: A Novel Cover ImageNovember Road

A New Orleans mob boss evading a hit man in the aftermath of the JFK assassination. A woman fleeing an abusive relationship with two daughters in tow. The two parties meet. Is their meeting the perfect cover story for one another or a death sentence for both? This is a page-turning literary mystery.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis Cover ImageBecoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis 

Based on the lives of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis, strangers who became friends through their letters, this is a thoroughly researched story of two writers whose work influenced each other — and a love story of opposites.

Recommended by Katherine

The Witch Elm: A Novel Cover ImageThe Witch Elm

Curling up with a Tana French crime novel is like being whisked away to Ireland for a hot cup of tea. Her newest standalone mystery combines her trademark elegant prose with an evocative sense of place that puts you right into the story and doesn’t let you go. Spooky and witty, The Witch Elm is a book I looked forward to reading night after night and missed when it was over.

Recommended by Katherine

Foe: A Novel Cover ImageFoe

This is one of the creepiest, most intriguing books I’ve read in a long time. I picked it up because I loved Reid’s first book, I’m Thinking of Ending Things; but Foe is even better. Set in the near future, the story begins when a traveling salesman-like government figure makes a cosmic offer to a couple on an isolated farm. What unravels their comfortable, domestic life on Earth will send a chill up your spine.

Recommended by Steve

Sea Prayer Cover ImageSea Prayer 

Sea Prayer takes its inspiration from Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned while his family attempted to reach Greece. A beautiful and heartrending tribute, it is a story of our time but has the timelessness of prayer or song.

Recommended by Steve

Washington Black: A novel Cover ImageWashington Black

The story here is rich and far-reaching — it begins on a brutal Barbados slave plantation, soars into the sky on an unlikely contraption, crosses oceans, and veers into the wilds of the Arctic and desert alike. But on top of that, the writing absolutely sings. Teeming landscapes practically jump to life in sentences that are so often just startling and perfect.

Recommended by Sissy

We Sold Our Souls: A Novel Cover ImageWe Sold Our Souls

All she wanted was to be the best heavy metal guitarist of all time. This horror novel describes what went wrong. It’s hilarious and moving and scary, just as My Best Friend’s Exorcism was.

Recommended by Catherine

Bitter Orange Cover ImageBitter Orange 

Have you been searching for a tense novel with a *possibly* unreliable narrator, set in an English countryside manor house in disrepair? Look no further!

Recommended by River

Gone So Long Cover ImageGone So Long 

Dubus is a master of the tragic landscape of the soul and in powerful prose renders characters that draw our empathy forward in spite of their sins.

Recommended by Devin

The Color Purple Cover ImageThe Color Purple 

This modern classic made it into the Great American Read — the PBS list of America’s favorite novels — for good reason. It begins with Celie as a teenager and follows her through the early 1900s as she breaks out of the barriers meant to confine her. A story about female friendship and empowerment, finding the Something larger than us, and making a stand, this is a book I will forever come back to.

Recommended by Joy

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One Cover ImageThe Neopolitan Novels

The extraordinary success of these four pseudonymous novels means an HBO adaptation — the network’s first foreign-language original series — comes out in November. Let this be the reason you read (or re-read) them. No other place and no other friendship between two women has been evoked so brilliantly in literature as the friendship between Lila and Lenu, two girls from a rough neighborhood in 1950s Naples.

Recommended by Niki

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel Cover ImageEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

I finally picked this up after seeing it EVERYWHERE, and I’m really glad I did. It’s quirky and funny and moving and tender. Perfect for readers of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and The Rosie Project.

Recommended by Betsy

Crossing to Safety (Modern Library Classics) Cover ImageCrossing to Safety 

Recently, I had a craving for verbose language and an ordinary story that sweeps across years of relationships. I wasn’t even aware of my craving until four people in the same week (including fellow bookseller John) told me to read this classic I’d somehow never read before. Two couples meet in their twenties. They grow up together. It’s so much more than that. I will return to this story for the rest of my life.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 2.54.13 PM.pngThe Dinner List: Audiobook

My favorite audiobook this month. You know the question: Who are the five people, living or dead, you would invite to dinner? Sabrina arrives at her 30th birthday dinner to find her five people (living AND dead, including Audrey Hepburn) waiting to celebrate with her.

(Also available in hardcover, of course.)

NONFICTION
Recommended by Ann

The Baltimore Book of the Dead Cover ImageThe Baltimore Book of the Dead 

Trust me on this one: these tiny vignettes about people who have died are the literary equivalent of a fabulous box of chocolates. Winik is so tender and insightful you’ll just want more and more.

Recommended by Ann

Leadership: In Turbulent Times Cover ImageLeadership: In Turbulent Times 

Feeling nostalgic for a time when leaders were brave visionaries who moved the country towards what was moral and just? Read this book. It gave me great solace and was a great read.

Recommended by River

Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy Cover ImageOur Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy 

A gorgeous collection from best-selling authors and personal friends sharing their most intimate stories of one of America’s greatest writers, Pat Conroy. A perfect gift!

Recommended by Jenn

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals Cover ImageHow to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals 

Part memoir, part homage to 13 unforgettable creatures, Sy Montgomery’s book inspires tears, laughter, and nostalgia — while Rebecca Green’s beautiful and whimsical illustrations bring these endearing creatures to life. Each narrative delicately emotes wonder, enthusiasm, and gratitude. We humans have much to learn from the beautiful diversities found in all species, including how to be a good creature.

Recommended by Mary Laura

The Reckonings: Essays Cover ImageThe Reckonings: Essays 

As I read this book, my phone filled up with pictures of text. Page after page, paragraph after paragraph — I kept photographing Johnson’s words so I could remember and carry them with me. Her essays about justice, anger, and resilience in the face of callousness and cruelty couldn’t possibly be more timely. “More than anything else, what I want is a reckoning,” Johnson writes. Read this, please.

Recommended by Mary Laura

What If This Were Enough?: Essays Cover ImageWhat If This Were Enough?: Essays

YES. This book feels like a revelation! Advice columnist, cultural critic, and all-around observant human being Heather Havrilesky writes entertainingly about our inability to be satisfied — and how we might shift our thinking to be happier how we are. I want everyone I know to read it.

Recommended by Mary Laura

The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing Cover ImageThe Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing

I read this book on a train and it made me say, “WHAAAAT?” so loudly, my fellow train-riders all looked at me funny. Think you know the origins of the Meyers-Briggs? I bet you didn’t know all this about the women who created it — and why they did.

Recommended by Steve

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir Cover ImageAll You Can Ever Know: A Memoir

When Nicole Chung decided to search out her birth parents, she didn’t know what she’d find, or whose lives she might upend. She writes about the experience beautifully and with such compassion — turning this very personal story into something more than just a memoir: a deeply resonant and poignant exploration of what it means to be a family.

Recommended by Joy

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World Cover ImageThe Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World 

An extensively researched and annotated narrative of the true story that inspired Nabokov’s classic, this book is an academic treatise that reads like a crime novel. I was fascinated by the mostly unknown real-life case that Weinman convincingly argues inspired the novel: the abduction of Sally Horner in 1948. I will never read Lolita in the same way again.

Recommended by Betsy

Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free Cover ImagePure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

Part memoir, part journalism, Pure explores the evangelical Christian purity movement — plus its crossover with politics and education and its shaming impact on millions of young women from the 1980s into the early 2000s. I’ve been waiting for this research to come together for a long time. Absolutely necessary if you’re building a feminist library.

(Meet the author on October 19 here at Parnassus!)

Recommended by Andy

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War Cover ImageThe Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War 

In A Spy Among Friends, Macintyre told of Kim Philby’s defection from Britain to the Soviet Union. This time out, Oleg Gordievsky — the highest-ranking KGB agent in London — defects to the West, secretly sharing Russian information with the English during the twilight of the Cold War. This powerful work of narrative nonfiction delivers an ending as exciting as any spy novel.

Recommended by Keltie

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth Cover ImageHeartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth 

We throw around the phrase “working poor” casually, in service to political punditry and lazy categorization. This is an inspiring, wrenching story of what it means to hustle to put bread on the table while living in the “breadbasket of the world.” Writing love letters to the imaginary child she never had, Smarsh tells us how she left the life she knew to find the life she imagined. A Hillbilly Elegy of the plains.

Recommended by Catherine

The Lost Words Cover ImageThe Lost Words 

When Robert McFarlane found out that a UK children’s dictionary was omitting a slew of words related to the natural world in favor of ones relating to technology, he decided that was too much and created this book with Jackie Morris. Each word in it is one of the words removed from the dictionary, and it’s a fantastic tribute to nature for readers young and old.

Recommended by Joy

Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism Cover ImageRead & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism 

If, like me, you refuse to let apathy and indifference win, this book is for you. It is not your average poli-sci reader, but then neither are Pussy Riot your average “call your senator” activists. Advice like “make your government shit its pants,” “commit an art crime,” and “break out from prison” will have you laughing, crying, and resisting all at the same time.

Recommended by Kevin

Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious Cover ImageLife’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious 

Spinning diverse pop culture references and illustrative personal anecdotes, Dark makes the case that practicing religion is unavoidable. It’s in the stories we tell, the values we profess, the relationships we form, the world we create. Sobering and hopeful, this book is for you.

Recommended by Ben

Interior States: Essays Cover ImageInterior States: Essays 

In these thoughtful, conversational essays, a formerly religious Midwesterner explores the spiritual and cultural landscape around her. With equal parts irony and longing, she—true to the title—gets at the heart of things in our country and within herself.

Recommended by Keltie

Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery Cover ImageEndurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk. I went to Space Camp with my eight-year old this summer and loved watching him become inspired by the cowboy bravery of the Apollo 11 astronauts. When I read Endurance, I, too, became inspired — by Mark Kelly’s story, which shows just how much of that spirit lives in the men and women who still seek the next frontier.

First Editions Club: October Selection

9780802128782.jpgVirgil Wander

I’ll get right to it: This is an all-around great book and I just could not be happier to send out signed first editions to our members this month.

The characters? Multi-dimensional, quirky, memorable.
The setting? A character in itself, just how I like it.
Our narrator, Virgil? Conversational, full of funny and poignant observations. And his attachment to his movie theater hits very close to home for someone who works in a bookstore. Thankfully the ceiling at Parnassus doesn’t leak.

I’m not the only staffer here who loved it. You’ll find it up front in our store with River’s shelf talker, which reads, “A small midwestern town, an old movie theater, a dash of romance (with just the right touch of magical realism) all combine for a truly pleasurable read. I needed this story right now to smooth out the rough edges of life.”

In order not to take up any more of your valuable reading time, I’ll stop there and let you get right to it, too. Once you finish, expect to feel a strong urge to push the book into your best friend’s / book club buddy’s / co-worker’s hands because you can’t wait for them to love it as much as you did. That’s normal.

Yours in reading,
Catherine Bock
Inventory Manager

Join the First Editions Club now, and you’ll automatically reserve your signed copy. And don’t miss meeting author Leif Enger when he visits Parnassus Books on November 14!

More about our First Editions Club: Every member 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. Plus, there’s no membership fee or premium charge for these books. Build a treasured library of signed first editions and always have something great to read! Makes a FABULOUS gift, too. 

Parnassus Book Club — Upcoming Meeting Schedule  Take note of dates. Some of these days fall later than our usual monthly book club meetings.

October — Sunburn by Laura Lippman (Note: Dates are one week later than usual.)
Monday, October 22 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, October 24 at 6:30pm
Thursday, October 25 at 10am

November — Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (Note: Dates are later than usual.)
Monday, November 26 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, November 28 at 6:30pm
Thursday, November 29 at 10am

Classics Club – Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
Monday, November 12 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:

It’s October, the best month of the year. This weekend, October 12-14, is THE weekend for all readers and book clubs! Each year the Southern Festival of Books is full of author talks and panel discussions, but how to choose what to see? Organizing it in the following way might help you plan your schedule for the weekend:

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 3.09.24 PM1.) Well-known names — 2018’s line-up has plenty of authors whose books have appeared on bestseller lists, like Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere), Kevin Powers (A Shout in the Ruins), Tayari Jones (An American Marriage), Sonia Sotomayor (Turning Pages: My Life Story), Luís Alberto Urrea (The House of Broken Angels), and Rick Bragg (The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table), among several others. Their sessions will be popular and undoubtedly super-interesting.

2.) Lesser-known or debut authors — This includes a wide variety of writers you may be unfamiliar with, but whose books sound interesting to you. I encourage you to try at least one of these. Last year, I attended the session for Susan Rivers (The Second Mrs. Hockaday) and Eleanor Henderson (The Twelve-Mile Straight), both new to me. After hearing Susan talk about her discovery of the story which led to her book and the reaction she received to its publication, I decided to feature it for our January Parnassus Book Club. It turned out to be one of our most popular books of 2018. And The Twelve-Mile Straight is now on my list!

3.) Local authors — As always, many of our area’s writers participate in the festival, and this is a great opportunity to acquaint your book group with their books. Many of them would be glad to come to your club’s meeting to discuss their books with you. This year’s list includes Ariel Lawhon (I Was Anastasia), Lisa Patton (Rush), and J.T. Ellison (Tear Me Apart), among many others.

4.) Coffee With Authors — A highlight of the festival, this panel discussion on Saturday morning features four authors in conversation with Parnassus’s own Mary Laura Philpott, an author herself (I Miss You When I Blink, coming April 2019). This year’s stellar participants are Rebecca Makkai (The Great Believers), Abigail DeWitt (News of Our Loved Ones), Wayétu Moore (She Would Be King), and Alexander Chee (How to Write an Autobiographical Novel). Panel talk invariably turns to book clubs, so this is an event you truly don’t want to miss.

With a little advance planning, a book-lover can make the most of this great weekend. Mark your calendars now, take a look at all the great offerings, and plan a trip down to Legislative Plaza for the festival. There’s so much to offer you and your book club!

Is your club part of our book club registry? Local book groups can order and purchase their club’s reading selections at a discount! Your club’s chosen titles are also displayed in the store on the book club shelf with the club’s name, so members can come in and find their selections easily. Registered clubs also receive notices of special book-club-related author events and seminars. To register a club, simply stop by the store and fill out a short form at the counter.

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Check out our Southern Festival of Books preview and download the app to plan your itinerary of literary fun for this weekend. Taking Lyft to get downtown to/from the festival? Get $5 off two rides at this link or download the Lyft app and enter code PARNASSUS18. (Already have Lyft? Save 15% off two rides with code PARNASSUS1012.)

Coming up next on Musing: Spooky booooooks and other favorites for young readers!