And we’re back! After taking off the first month of 2020, Staff Picks are here once more, with no shortage of great new reads to add to your shelves. We’ve got everything from fiction to memoir, sci-fi to true crime, history to artificial intelligence, and if you’ve been waiting to get started on that new-year reading resolution, there’s no time like the present!
|Recommended by Cat
By Gish Jen
Pick this up if you love Station Eleven. In a not-too-distant dystopia, America has become AutoAmerica, the internet governs society, and half the world is underwater. One “Surplus” (read: have-not) family becomes our protagonists and it is through their eyes and love of baseball that Gish Jen masterfully draws the reader into this propulsive, funny, and uncomfortably recognizable world.
(Don’t miss Gish Jen at Parnassus on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at 6:30pm, in conversation with Ann Patchett!)
|Recommended by Keltie
Such a Fun Age
By Kiley Reid
The opening scene is either benign or fraught: a black teenage babysitter in a tight dress, with a white toddler, in an upscale grocery at 11pm. You may guess what happens in the next 20 minutes at Whole Foods, but you have no idea where this is going. I had sympathy and found fault with every character, to varying degrees. Friends have strongly disagreed with my view. This is a book to talk about, because we must.
|Recommended by Jordan
This book will break your heart in the most wholesome way. Follow the story of Edward, a young boy who was the only survivor of a plane crash that killed almost 200 people, including his family. Yes, it is sad, but it is also an uplifting and unique story.
|Recommended by Ben
A Long Petal of the Sea
Isabel Allende has given us another stunning novel, spanning decades and continents as she follows Roser and Victor from the Spanish Civil War through Chile’s military dictatorship. I found myself learning so much while simply enjoying the story. Love, struggle, longing, exile, hope — it’s all here, expertly paced and with fully realized characters. Fans of beautifully crafted historical fiction will rejoice.
|Recommended by Erin
The Cactus League
By Emily Nemens
This delightful debut from the editor of The Paris Review is a kaleidoscope of a novel, set against the backdrop of spring training in the Arizona desert. Not a baseball fan? I promise that Nemens’ quirky story — by turns hopeful and melancholy — and its eccentric cast of characters will have you seeing America’s pastime in a whole new light.
|Recommended by Sydney
When We Were Vikings
Born with fetal alcohol syndrome, Zelda is a high-functioning 21-year-old woman with a Viking obsession. She lives with her brother Gert, who is struggling to keep them afloat financially. When Gert involves himself with a dangerous gang to make some extra cash, Zelda takes it upon herself to bail her brother out of trouble. Pick this up if you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog.
|Recommended by Marcia
Meg and Jo
If the movie has you wanting more Little Women, you’ll love this modern re-telling, with a focus on the two oldest March sisters.
|Recommended by Chelsea
Onyebuchi’s adult debut hits hard and never flinches, using a dystopian near-future to explore the present-day effects of systemic racism. The prose is both taut and powerful, and this book embodies the reason I read sci-fi: It leaves me looking at my world (and the problems within it) with fresh eyes.
|Recommended by Kay
The Vanished Birds
The lives of several characters from across time and space become unexpectedly intertwined when spaceship captain Nia Imani is hired to transport a mysterious boy with a painful past. For the ship’s misfit crew, their trips back and forth across the galaxy appear to take months, while in reality decades pass on the worlds they leave behind. The result is a beautiful story about the fragility of human connections in a universe where the vastness of time and space constantly threaten to destroy them.
|Recommended by Kathy
Daughter of Moloka’i
You don’t have to have read Moloka’i years ago to enjoy its companion book, now out in paperback. This is also a wonderful story of injustice and perseverance, love and family.
|Recommended by Sissy
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir
I love a mix of memoir and biography. Anyone can paint a broad outline of a writer’s life, but Shapland reveals Carson McCullers in a fresh way. She gathers never before studied material and mulls it over slowly, while she’s discovering things about herself as well. I was so engrossed in the book I felt like I was a part of the process.
(Don’t miss Jenn Shapland’s upcoming appearance at Parnassus for a book signing on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, at 6:30 p.m.)
|Recommended by Keltie
The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia
True crime at its most confounding and messy meets Hillbilly Elegy. Two “hippie chicks” are shot dead on their way to the West Virginia Rainbow Gathering in 1980, and the next decade is a winding road of characters, suspects, false memory, recantation, and confession. A local story mired in the socio-economic ills of Appalachia, then revealed to be a bigger tale of the violence lurking just below the poverty line anywhere.
|Recommended by Keltie
The Impossible First: From Fire to Ice — Crossing Antarctica Alone
In this modern adventure story, Colin O’Brady sets out to be the first person to make a solo unsupported crossing of Antarctica, calling it The Impossible First. The science of his harrowing journey is fascinating, from the art of high performance in below-zero to live geo-tracking. This memoir is an ode to the soul of the explorer and what it takes to do what has never been done before.
|Recommended by Kim
You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington
By Alexis Coe
Did I need a George Washington biography in my life? No. But did I need one written by a woman? Yes. Alexis is a woman American historian, of which there are few. This book is like having your smartest friend tell you about our first president. Whatever you’ve heard or learned about Washington, you’ve undoubtedly heard from a male perspective. Trust me, you want to hear a woman’s recounting.
|Recommended by Sissy
Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump — and Democrats from Themselves
By Rick Wilson
An apostate Republican strategist with a kind of filthy mouth wants the Dems to know what current Trump strategists have in store. This book is HILARIOUS and terrifying.
|Recommended by Andy
Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases
By Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman (Editors)
Fight of the Century is a thought-provoking collection of essays about landmark cases of the ACLU. Authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman have assembled an incredible list of prominent writers including Marlon James, George Saunders, Geraldine Brooks, William Finnegan and Ann Patchett, who reflect on the cases the make up our rule of law and shape the world we live in. Famous and obscure cases are reviewed, and in true ACLU fashion, one of the most powerful pieces, by Scott Turow, criticizes the organization for its stance on campaign finance.
|Recommended by Suzanna
You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place
A delightful dive into the current state of AI! Shane uses engaging examples, helpful illustrations, and extensive research to unpack a subject area that’s often daunting, if not downright alarming. By the end of this read, you’ll find yourself giggling over the enthusiastically (and drastically!) rule-abiding machines, as well as gaining a greater understanding of the humanity behind it all.
|Recommended by Steve
The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir
By E. J. Koh
It’s hard to neatly encapsulate this wonder of a book. Koh translates her mother’s letters from Korean, written during a time when the two were living in the U.S. and South Korea respectively. The rest is memoir drawn from that time but also reaching far back into family history. It’s so much more than a sum of its parts, and its quiet, piercing intelligence has stayed with me.
|Recommended by Sissy
You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters
By Kate Murphy
I’m a sucker for a self-help book, and I thought I might be in for the same comforting, uplifting stuff I read year after year. Nope. Murphy goes beyond the well-worn, “Nod your head and don’t interrupt.” We know when we’re being merely tolerated and not heard. Those speaking to us know when we are not interested. How to we reconnect and get interested again? Murphy’s conversations with a former CIA chief interrogator are especially enlightening. Apparently thinking you know what someone is going to say kills your ability to hear and connect. Familiarity and assumption are both the enemy of listening.
|Recommended by Becca
Ultimate Veg: Easy & Delicious Meals for Everyone
By Jamie Oliver
This is an ideal cookbook for anyone looking to add more vegetables to their weekly routine. Jamie Oliver provides a variety of fairly simple recipes, with a focus on warm, hearty meals like curries and tray bakes that are perfect for cold winter nights. I personally recommend the Comforting Congee Bowl!
|Recommended by Karen
Nashvillians of Note
By Bryce McCloud (editor)
Nashvillians of Note started as a permanent art installation at the beautiful Noelle Hotel downtown. Twelve local artists contributed portraits of over 100 of Nashvillians who have made helped make the city great. Bryce McCloud is the artistic director for this amazing installation. The book featuring the art and bios was printed at his famous Isle of Printing letterpress studio.
First Editions Club: February Selection
By Gish Jen
Have you ever wished you could save the world, or at least alert people to the dangers surrounding us that seem to be met with either denial or complacency?
I’ve been talking about The Resisters by Gish Jen ever since I read it in manuscript six months ago, and now that it’s finally here I want to put it in the hands of everyone I know. It’s a look into the not-too-distant future in which the collapse of both society and the planet is met with (guess what!) denial and complacency. Our greatest hope for a better outcome rests on the strong shoulders of Gwen, a teenage baseball prodigy who is not allowed to play baseball.
As your heart beats faster and faster with recognition, please take a moment to notice Jen’s choice of a narrator — Gwen’s father, whose calm demeanor borders on meekness, who is the person with the least access to what’s going on. Picking him to lead us through this story is a stroke of genius.
For this book to affect social change it must be read, so when you’re finished, pass The Resisters on to a friend, or buy another copy for that friend. Let’s do what we can to help Gish Jen save us all.
Yours in reading,
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
February — The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
March — Little Faith by Nicholas Butler
Classics Club — Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
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:
I’m a big decorator for holidays — heart wreaths, Easter bunnies, pumpkins, Snow Village scenes. Recently, as I was taking down my Christmas thing,s I noted again all the pieces I never put out this year. I had decided early in the season to give my oversize Santas, snowy pine garlands and backyard snowman a rest this year. It felt good, and turned out to be OK. The house and back patio looked festive with what I had used anyway. The whole thing sparked me thinking about the idea of rest and change-up. We all need it in our lives, even our reading lives.
Many book clubs, including mine at Parnassus, take a hiatus over the Christmas holidays, providing a two-month period “to read whatever we want.” I overheard a book club member commenting after our November meeting that she was looking forward to reading her magazines and a romance novel or two. She needed a rest and change from the more literary fiction she usually reads for book club. The break is a great opportunity for refreshment and relaxation. If your club doesn’t take a break from your usual routine at some point, try it in 2020. It can “decorate” and refresh your club in a new way this year.