27 Reads We Love (And Your Mom Might, Too)


May is here! We’ve rounded up a new batch of titles that would not only make the perfect spring treat-yo-shelf gifts for you, but might also make great gifts for the moms in your life.* Whether you’re looking for an essay collection on grandparenthood, a primer on gardening, or the latest fiction release, this month’s collection of books should fit the bill.

* On that note: If you’d like us to send any of these books as Mother’s Day gifts, be sure to order by midnight TONIGHT — Tuesday, May 7 — and select PRIORITY SHIPPING, so they’ll get there in time. Also let us know in the notes section at checkout if you’d like us to gift wrap them, free! (The priority shipping part is really important, especially because media mail doesn’t allow anything but the book in the package, including gift wrap.)

Recommended by Katherine

Normal People: A Novel Cover ImageNormal People

Reviewers are calling it Great Millennial Fiction, but I’ll just go ahead and call it a comedy of errors set in present-day Ireland. If you like the writing of Rachel Cusk mixed with a touch of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, this is a novel you should read. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Recommended by Kathy

The Guest Book: A Novel Cover ImageThe Guest Book

I agree with all the advance reviews. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read. A family saga written in beautiful prose… don’t miss this!

Recommended by Keltie

Women Talking Cover ImageWomen Talking 

This compact novel left me at a loss for words. I have tried to convince every patron looking for their Next Great Read to try it, but vocabulary fails me. Based on a true crime of almost unspeakable sexual violence, set in a colony of religious separatists, and told through the minutes taken as eight women meet to debate their fates, this book asks the questions everyone faces in some way: to stay? to fight? to leave?

Recommended by Kevin

China Dream Cover ImageChina Dream 

This is an absurd and surreal vision of a corrupt bureaucrat in the Chinese Communist Party whose pipe dream of a device that would supplant the population’s dreams with state propaganda uncorks his own repressed memories. Wild!

Recommended by Lauren 

Walking on the Ceiling: A Novel Cover ImageWalking on the Ceiling

This elegant, compact debut explores how we’re shaped by the people and places that raise us. As Nunu walks the streets of Paris, she examines the points where stories and memories intermingle and diverge. When she asks who she’s been — and who she’s becoming — a mysterious friendship illuminates Nunu’s path back to herself, and ultimately, the path back home. I was captivated.

Recommended by Steve

The Parisian Cover ImageThe Parisian 

The rich, immersive tale of Midhat, a stranger dispatched to France, who then returns to Palestine, the place that made him, only to find it becoming stranger by the day under the pressures of war and colonialism. Written in a throwback realistic style where every detail and mannerism rings with significance, The Parisian carries the heft of history and the feel of a classic.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Lost Roses: A Novel Cover ImageLost Roses 

I thoroughly enjoyed the intertwined stories of the women in this prequel to Lilac Girls. Book clubs will love this one!

Recommended by Cat

Light from Other Stars Cover ImageLight from Other Stars 

The perfect blend of a little sci-fi, coming-of-age, and family relationships from the ever masterful Erika Swyler. This one is for those of you who hated post-apocalyptic novels but fell in love with Station Eleven.

Recommended by Kay

Spinning Silver: A Novel Cover ImageSpinning Silver 

Spinning Silver is about the things we owe, the things we give, and all the bargains we make in between. From beginning to end, it’s beautiful and exceptionally clever — truly one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in years.

Recommended by Rae Ann

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Cover ImageThe Book Woman of Troublesome Creek 

Told through the lives of the Kentucky Pack Horse librarians and the Blue People of Kentucky, The Book Woman is a searing portrait of poverty and the hope that books can provide.

Recommended by Ann

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine Cover ImageBlack Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine 

Gorgeous and important essays on matters of race, marriage, motherhood, and friendship. I want to give this book to everyone I know.

Recommended by Ann

Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family Cover ImageMostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family 

The entire Pollan clan has put together a cookbook I am presently obsessed with. “Eat food, not too much of it, mostly plants.” Here are the recipes to do it.

Recommended by Ann

A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season Cover ImageA Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season 

A gorgeous, helpful, and tenderly funny book for anyone who likes putting plants in the ground. I love the fact that it’s “A Way to Garden” not “THE Way to Garden.” Less hubris, more mulch.

Recommended by Mary Laura

Southern Lady Code: Essays Cover ImageSouthern Lady Code

Helen Ellis zigs and zags from deeply personal stories (see: the essay on her decision not to have children) to hilariously weird concept pieces (see: “Today Was a Good Day!” in which she counts such daily blessings as, “I didn’t choke on a cupcake for breakfast”). Enjoy wit, introspection, and subversion mixed together in a blend that could only come from Ellis’s mind.

Recommended by Mary Laura

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say Cover ImageTell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say 

Newly available in paperback (and perfect for stashing in a purse or the car or taking on a plane), Tell Me More is celebrated writer Kelly Corrigan’s guide to making truer connections with the people we love, the people we don’t love so much, and even strangers. The gist? It all comes down to what we say. (For example: “I was wrong” carries greater and different weight than “I’m sorry.”)

Recommended by Mary Laura

Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting Cover ImageNanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting 

Do you have a cool woman in your life who has recently become a grandmother? Give her this. It’s Anna Quindlen. It’s about nana-hood. What more perfect gift could there be?

Recommended by Sissy

#IMomSoHard Cover Image#IMomSoHard 

If you know a new mom, get her this book. A hilarious look at the real struggles of women who are trying to conceive, trying to parent, or just trying to survive.

Recommended by Niki

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool Cover ImageCribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool 

Despite being a parent, I’m not one for parenting books. But I was totally and completely enthralled with this one, which breaks down child-related data like the statistical impact of sleep training or the median age of successful potty training. Oster helps parents see the bell curve of baby and toddlerhood in a whole new reassuring way.

Recommended by Devin

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee Cover ImageFurious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee 

A family is murdered in Alabama, and Reverend Willie Maxwell, related to the deceased, is put on trial for the crimes. After hearing about the case, Harper Lee returns to Alabama to watch the trial. Maxwell is spared when a savvy lawyer takes his case and wins. The reporting of the crimes reads like a Southern gothic, while the biography of Lee is extraordinary and the most detailed I’ve read on the private author.

Recommended by Keltie

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells Cover ImageAutumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells 

I am late in finding Pico Iyer. He is a British-born American of Indian descent but has spent the last 30 years mostly in Japan with Hiroko, his “ultra-chic, motorbike-riding wife.” This memoir is a brief account of the time following the death of Hiroko’s father. Iyer sees himself as outside of “place,” but this beautiful tome feels Japanese in its unadorned elegance: “Autumn is the season when everything falls away.” I swoon.

Recommended by Katherine

Walking: One Step At a Time Cover ImageWalking: One Step At a Time 

Committing to walk every single day changed my life (see: me gushing over Bonnie Smith Whitehouse’s brilliant guided journal Afoot and Lighthearted a month ago). Erling Kagge has gifted us a meditation on what we are designed to do on a most basic level: put one foot in front of the other. It’s just that simple, but let yourself find it profound and ancient, because it is.

Recommended by Keltie

Booked: A Traveler's Guide to Literary Locations Around the World Cover ImageBooked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World 

My childhood was a world tour of literary locations. Disneyland for me? NO SIR. But at age eight, I did walk for hours through London to see every place mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Mom preferred Cornwall, to follow in the footsteps of Daphne du Maurier. This book is the perfect gift for any mom who thinks a reading of Anne of Green Gables might best be paired with a visit to Prince Edward’s Island!

Recommended by Sissy

A Sin by Any Other Name: Reckoning with Racism and the Heritage of the South Cover ImageA Sin by Any Other Name: Reckoning with Racism and the Heritage of the South 

Charlottesville ignited passions about Southern culture all over our nation. Reverend Rob Lee reminds us that the past is past, and moving forward is going to require a completely different attitude. Understanding the problems of the South will require both intense listening and action.

Recommended by Andy

Working Cover ImageWorking 

Robert Caro is known for his Pulitzer Prize winning biographies about Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. In this short memoir, Caro shares his writing process, from his legendary research to his handwritten first drafts and subsequent rewrites. His attention to detail allows Caro to “show rather than tell” and to make his readers understand and feel the complexities of power.

Recommended by Mary Laura

Brute: Poems Cover ImageBrute: Poems 

Give this poetry collection to anyone who has come out on the other side of a toxic relationship. Skaja, who credits Sylvia Plath as an influence, won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, and as you absorb the balance of rage, wisdom and even humor in each exquisitely constructed poem, you’ll understand why. My favorite is, “No, I Do Not Want to Connect With You On LinkedIn.”

Recommended by Ben

How to Love a Country: Poems Cover ImageHow to Love a Country: Poems 

In this accessible yet profound collection, presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco puts faces and emotions to our country’s complicated history while affirming hope and beauty. Anchored by the central Whitmanesque poem “American Wandersong,” he blends personal experiences with broader social contexts (such as immigration, gun violence, and LGBTQ issues), giving close attention to image and sound.

First Editions Club: May Selection

Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide Cover ImageSpying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide 

Fredrick Law Olmstead’s impact on American public places is well documented. Central Park, the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol are just a few of his projects that have helped change the perception of public spaces. What is not as well documented is just how he came to his philosophy of design.

Tony Horwitz, author of the acclaimed Confederates in the Attic, retraces Olmstead’s journey from New York City to Mexico and all points in between, contrasting today’s South with what Olmstead found in the 1850s. He parallels Olmstead as much as possible, even using the same modes of transportation. This requires some creativity at times, like when Horwitz attends the Louisiana “Mudfest” in order to experience the lamentable mud that Olmstead described from his travels.

Horwitz provides a fair and honest assessment of the South. Spying on the South is incredibly perceptive of the complexities of the region. At the same time, it can be hilariously funny. Horwitz’s attempt to mimic Olmstead’s mule ride in the Texas Hill Country involves a hospital visit!

Spying on the South looks at a country divided in ways not too different from the time prior to the Civil War. I think you will enjoy following Horwitz as he retraces Olmstead’s journey that helped develop his philosophy of common green areas and the positive psychological effect that a pleasing landscape can produce.

–Andy Brennan
Store Manager

(Note: This book will be published on May 14, 2019. Signed copies will go out after Tony Horwitz’s visit on May 21.)

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  

May – The Only Story by Julian Barnes
Monday, May 13 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, May 15 at 6:30pm
Thursday, May 16 at 10am

Classics Club – Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Gray
Monday, May 20 at 10am and 6:30pm

June – A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Monday, June 17 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, June 19 at 6:30pm
Thursday, June 20 at 10am

Classics Club – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Monday, July 29 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!

Reminder: Don’t miss Tony Horwitz, author of this month’s First Editions Club pick, Spying on the South, when he joins us in the store Tuesday, May 21, at 6:30pm. This event is free and open to the public.