Here Comes Ann-ta Claus: 21 Great New Reads for November

Before we dig into this month’s Staff Picks, we just want to let you know that for the first time, our Parnassus Holiday Special is going virtual! What is the Special? Well, it’s when Ann Patchett, aka Ann-ta Claus — along with store manager Andy Brennan, Inventory Manager and Adult Buyer Cat Bock, and Director of Books and Events for Young Readers Rae Ann Parker — give their personal book recommendations for everyone on your holiday lists! And since it will be online this year, you can tune in no matter where you live for a donation amount of your choice. It’s a little earlier than we usually do it, but with so much uncertainty this year, we wanted to do it sooner rather than later. Join us next Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 6pm Central!

And now, on to November’s hand-picked staff favorites …

FICTION
Recommended by Ann

The Lying Life of Adults Cover ImageThe Lying Life of Adults

By Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

Is Giovanna really like her aunt Vittoria? Could anything be worse? For those of us who’ve longed to return to the lying, cheating, hateful world of the Naples we loved in Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels, this book is a huge gift.

Recommended by Karen

The Cold Millions: A Novel Cover ImageThe Cold Millions: A Novel

This book’s setting could not be more different than Walter’s delightful and touching Beautiful Ruins. Set during 1909-10 in Spokane, it depicts the rise of the labor unions through the eyes of two brothers and the true to life figure of the teenage activist, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The setting is dark, but the cast of characters will draw you in and keep you turning the pages. Walter is a master storyteller.

Editor’s Note: Our First Editions Club selection for December!

Recommended by Cat

The Pull of the Stars: A Novel Cover ImageThe Pull of the Stars: A Novel

Over the course of three days in a Dublin maternity ward, in the midst of the 1918 flu pandemic, one nurse must work with the meager resources at her disposal to tend to her patients and navigate the complex social structure of the hospital. It’s devastating and full of the best and worst of humanity. I was riveted.

Recommended by Sissy

Plain Bad Heroines: A Novel Cover ImagePlain Bad Heroines: A Novel

By Emily M. Danforth & Sara Lautman (Illustrator)

Did you love Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl? Were you disappointed in Night Film? This is the book you wanted. Ghosts (real? imagined?) are flitting between 1902 boarding school girls and 2020 writers and film starlets. Haunting, funny and gripping.

Recommended by Chelsea

Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky) Cover ImageBlack Sun (Between Earth and Sky)

Roanhorse’s expansive worldbuilding and pre-Columbian inspired mythology wowed me. I immediately wanted the next book.

Recommended by Jordan

Butter Honey Pig Bread Cover ImageButter Honey Pig Bread

This debut novel by Francesca Ekwuyasi spans three continents. Following a series of traumatic events, Kambirinachi and her twin daughters Kehinde and Taiye become estranged. After more than a decade, the twins return home to Lagos to care for their mother, and the three women must face the wounds of the past. This is a story of faith, family, and love with complex dynamics and strained relationships.

Recommended by Andy

V2: A novel of World War II Cover ImageV2: A novel of World War II

The master of historical fiction does it again. Harris brings to life both those launching V2 rockets and those receiving them. His attention to historical detail makes his storytelling come alive.

Recommended by Kay

The Once and Future Witches Cover ImageThe Once and Future Witches

Harrow’s second novel is a ferociously feminist story of witchcraft and women’s suffrage that had me spellbound the whole way through. Three sisters, each with challenges and traumas her own, must seek out the hidden remnants of lost magic in order to reclaim the power society has systematically denied to women in countless ways. Harrow’s gorgeous prose is equal parts beauty and bite, an absolute dream to read.

Recommended by Rae Ann

The World That We Knew: A Novel Cover ImageThe World That We Knew: A Novel

Alice Hoffman tells a unique World War II story of the human and the mystical. Now in paperback, The World That We Knew is the journey of three women trying to survive in a world where the Angel of Death follows their steps, love means sacrifice, and connection is everything.

Recommended by Chelsea

Ninth House Cover ImageNinth House

The wonderful thing about Ninth House (now in paperback) is that protagonist Alex Stern is a normal person thrust into a crazy situation, and that crazy situation is a free ride to Yale to monitor its secret societies. This first installment of Alex’s story is full of hidden magic, plot twists, and the examination of friendship.

NONFICTION
Recommended by Karen

Greetings from New Nashville: How a Sleepy Southern Town Became It City Cover ImageGreetings from New Nashville: How a Sleepy Southern Town Became It City

By Steve Haruch (ed.)

Steve Haruch’s first edited book was a posthumous collection of the beloved Jim Ridley’s writings. This new collection features essays from some of Nashville best journalists and authors (like Ann Patchett) writing about the people, places, and issues that make Nashville the city it is today. I found out so much I didn’t know about the city I love.

Recommended by Ben

The Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change Cover ImageThe Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change

Blending the in-depth research and storytelling the New Yorker is known for, these essays discuss how a changing climate is altering the planet we love, and what we can do about such a dire shift. Exploring topics as varied as golden frogs in Panama, Iñupiat whalers in a remote Alaskan village, and megafires on the Great Plains, the collection is fascinating, terrifying, and ultimately galvanizing.

Recommended by Becca

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants Cover ImageBraiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

This beautiful new edition of a modern classic features embossed cover art, five gorgeous new color illustrations, deckled page edges, and a ribbon bookmark. Kimmerer draws on her experience as an indigenous scientist, mother and woman to reveal the gifts and lessons of nature. This book, in celebration of Milkweed Editions’ 40th anniversary, would make a thoughtful gift for any nature lover in your life.

Recommended by Kathy

In Faulkner's Shadow: A Memoir (Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography) Cover ImageIn Faulkner’s Shadow: A Memoir

Lawrence Wells was married to Dean Faulkner, William Faulkner’s niece. This memoir is full of stories of famous Southern authors, their lives, and the whole literary scene in Oxford, Miss., for the last 40 years. Fascinating!

Recommended by Becca

In Bibi's Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean [A Cookbook] Cover ImageIn Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean

Fans of Bon Appétit may recognize Somali chef Hawa Hassan from the magazine, as well as the BA YouTube channel. In this book, she works with renowned food writer Julia Turshen to present 75 recipes from grandmothers from eight different East African countries. These comforting, flavorful recipes are accessible enough for even the least experienced home cook.

Recommended by Ben

The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently Cover ImageThe Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently

These professors break down how Jews and Christians can look at the same texts and come to wildly different conclusions due to linguistic translation, theological emphasis or traditional interpretation. Showing how “polemic can be turned to possibility,” they’ve penned a bold thesis for understanding and empathy between Jews and Christians, as well as those of any faith and culture. Scholarly and insightful.

Recommended by Patsy

Having and Being Had Cover ImageHaving and Being Had

In this delightful collection of essays, ostensibly reflections on her recent purchase of an older house, Eula Biss ponders the nature of capitalism and consumerism as encountered in everyday life, questioning the value system of the world she inhabits. This book makes the perfect gift for readers who appreciate both beautiful prose and big ideas.

Recommended by Patsy

The Book of Delights: Essays Cover ImageThe Book of Delights: Essays

The poet Ross Gay spends a year noting bright moments in his days. The collection of reflections is pure comfort to the soul for, as he writes, “Delight grows as it is shared.”

POETRY
Recommended by Ben

Negotiations Cover ImageNegotiations

In this unflinching powerhouse of a debut, Birdsong mines her experiences of assault, disease, rage, assertiveness, and longing as a Black woman. Grounded in the body, both personal and communal, she takes form, meter, and imagery to fresh and thoroughly unexpected places. These poems are fearless and fierce as she transcends trauma, tender and contemplative as she creates joy.

Recommended by Ann

Whale Day: And Other Poems Cover ImageWhale Day: And Other Poems

Anyone who thinks that poetry isn’t for them just needs to read Billy Collins.

First Editions Club: November Selection

Memorial: A Novel Cover ImageMemorial

I first heard of Bryan Washington about two years ago at a bookseller conference. One night, the publisher brought a number of its authors together with some booksellers at a dinner — to get their new books on our radar so we could read and then recommend them to you, lovely readers.

As is usual at these dinners, Bryan Washington addressed the room and gave a quick pitch for his book, a collection of stories called Lot. He also talked about who he was as a writer and what he hoped his work would accomplish in the world. Every author’s pitch that night was engaging, but I was really stuck by Washington’s vision for what he wanted to write: stories centered his hometown of Houston, with great food as a central theme, featuring lots of characters who looked like him and the variety of people he saw in his daily life. That doesn’t necessarily sound radical, and yet something about the way he presented it, with such clarity and certainty, was wonderful.

The stories in Lot truly did feel radical and necessary, and so when I saw earlier this year that Washington had a novel coming out, I was elated. After reading it, I knew this was a story we would want to share with as many people as possible. His writing about food is mesmerizing and the complex relationships he is able to evoke with his sparse language feel true and unapologetic in their imperfection. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Yours in reading,
Catherine Bock
Inventory Manager

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.