Lean into Love: 26 New Reads for February

Happy February, book lovers! It’s the season of love, and in our humble opinion, there’s no better love than the one between a reader and their favorite books. Books hold cherished characters, timeless stories, and endless knowledge. They allow us to step into others’ shoes, explore places we’ve never been, and see the world through a new lens. Simply put, books are essential. You may have heard in the news that some Tennessee school systems think certain books are less essential than others. We couldn’t disagree more. Neither can our friend Katherine Applegate. We hope this month’s staff picks will bring you knowledge, inspiration, and maybe even a new favorite book.

Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.” -Laurie Halse Anderson

Recommended by Lindsay

Fiona and Jane Cover ImageFiona and Jane

By Jean Chen Ho

I’m always an easy sell on stories of female friendship, and Jean Chen Ho’s Fiona and Jane is one of the best. In these interlinked stories, Ho captures the complicated intimacy of women’s relationships–the raw messiness of early adulthood, the unassailable loyalty that comes from years of shared history, no matter how fraught. It was such a gift to have these glimpses into Fiona and Jane’s lives.

Recommended by Elyse

Mercy Street: A Novel Cover ImageMercy Street: A Novel

By Jennifer Haigh

Storms are raging in the Boston area, literally and figuratively, in this insightful novel that delves into current issues. The opposing passions and intersecting lives of Haigh’s desperate characters create a story that keeps you in its grip until the last page.

Don’t miss our virtual event with Jennifer Haigh in conversation with Jess Walter on Monday, Feb. 7 at 6:00pm CST!

Recommended by Chelsea

How High We Go in the Dark: A Novel Cover ImageHow High We Go in the Dark: A Novel

By Sequoia Nagamatsu

This incredible novel deals with a plague, but it’s the pandemic novel everyone needs to read. Both the depth and the breadth of this novel are impressive, and chapters are so tender and heartfelt that they truly restored my faith in humanity. This is a novel I will press into the hands of all readers and revisit when I need hope restored.

Recommended by Lindsay

Other People's Clothes: A Novel Cover ImageOther People’s Clothes: A Novel

By Calla Henkel

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what might happen if two art students studying abroad in the early 2000s got way too into the Amanda Knox case, look no further than Other People’s Clothes. Calla Henkel’s debut novel is one of the most clever and compelling portrayals of toxic female friendship that I’ve ever read. You’ll pick it up for the early aughts nostalgia, but stay for the plot twists.

Recommended by Sydney

Recitatif: A Story Cover ImageRecitatif: A Story

By Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s classic, empirical short story (originally published in 1983) has finally been released in a well-deserved, stand alone edition. With an introduction from Zadie Smith, Morrison’s enthralling essay is as paramount as ever.

Recommended by Chelsea

Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead: A Mystery Cover ImageFinlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead: A Mystery

By Elle Cosimano

I squealed with glee when I got my hands on this much-anticipated sequel! Finlay is back with even more hijinks and is the same hot mess that I love so much. This is perfect for readers who want some hilarity in their whodunnit.

Recommended by Kathy

Tenderness Cover ImageTenderness

By Alison Macleod

Centered on D.H. Lawrence and the origin story of his writing of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, this book probes his psyche, sexuality, marriage and politics. It’s juxtaposed with Jackie Kennedy and J.Edgar Hoover’s involvement in the book in the U.S. This book is loaded, delicious, and a treasure!

Recommended by Sarah

Brown Girls: A Novel Cover ImageBrown Girls: A Novel

By Daphne Palasi Andreades

Fans of Jacqueline Woodson will love this lyrical, poetic story told from the collective perspective of a group of friends growing up in Queens. It’s about race, American society, immigration, traditional values, and so much more, and somehow, Andreades is able to explore it all in this slim novel. It’s a stunning debut.

Recommended by Chelsea

The Fields: A Novel Cover ImageThe Fields: A Novel

By Erin Young

Debut author Erin Young delivers a twisted mystery that involves agricultural terrorism, small town politics, and a young detective who is trying to keep her past buried. This was a dark, wild ride that kept me guessing until the very end.

Recommended by Ben

Violeta [English Edition]: A Novel Cover ImageVioleta [English Edition]: A Novel

By Isabel AllendeFrances Riddle (Translated by)

Allende chronicles the remarkable life of a woman born during one pandemic in 1920 and dying during another in 2020. Between those years, she lives a bursting life in cities and countrysides, suffers and thrives, has many loves—sterile, destructive, practical, joyous—survives political turmoil, and seeks the meaning in all of it. The book is addressed to a “Camilo,” but it’s also written for you and me.

Recommended by Sissy

The Accomplice: A Novel Cover ImageThe Accomplice: A Novel

By Lisa Lutz

Lutz has such a natural writing style – her dialogue is smooth, and her characters are beautifully drawn and complex. This whodunnit has a plot in the present day and a second mystery from the characters’ college days. I was hooked on the setting, the motives, and the humanity of all involved. I knew someone was guilty but I was so scared to find out who it really was!

Recommended by RJ

Love & Other Disasters Cover ImageLove & Other Disasters

By Anita Kelly

This queer romcom features two amateur chefs competing on a reality cooking competition with $100,000 on the line. Well-paced with an excellent balance of drama and hijinks, this story is sweet, spicy, and everything in between.

Recommended by Ben

Manywhere: Stories Cover ImageManywhere: Stories

By Morgan Thomas

These compact, descriptive short stories are deftly ambitious with voice and form as they illuminate the inner lives of queer characters in the south, from the Gulf Coast to Arlington to Louisiana and beyond. Dazzling, structurally confident, and unafraid to takes risks, the most impressive stories in the batch tie ingeniously into the lives of queer people from the past.

Recommended by Aly

The Latinist: A Novel Cover ImageThe Latinist: A Novel

By Mark Prins

Oxford scholar Tessa has devoted everything to her career and her advisor. When it seems she is getting closer to a breakthrough with the mysterious poet who first inspired her, why does the story of Apollo chasing Daphne begin to hit a little too close to home? Beautifully told and eerily realistic, this story will leave you considering the true meaning of poetic justice.

Recommended by Patsy

Joan Is Okay: A Novel Cover ImageJoan Is Okay: A Novel

By Weike Wang

Chinese-American Joan is a committed teaching physician who is more comfortable around machines than people. Wang’s clever and often unwittingly funny writing delves into the immigrant experience, the multi-layered meanings of home and family, and the role of work in a woman’s life. Joan is a singular character, kin to Olive Kitteridge and Eleanor Oliphant, who is a joy to get to know.

Recommended by Hannah

Notes on an Execution: A Novel Cover ImageNotes on an Execution: A Novel

By Danya Kukafka

The story of the serial killer is one we all know by heart… but how well do we know the stories of those left in their wake? This breathtaking novel questions our culture’s romanticization of men who kill by following the lives of the women in a killer’s life, those irrevocably changed by his actions. This story belongs not to the inmate on death row, but to these women upstaged by his crimes.

Recommended by Jordan

The School for Good Mothers: A Novel Cover ImageThe School for Good Mothers: A Novel

By Jessamine Chan

In this chilling, somewhat dystopian novel, one parenting mistake changes the life of overwhelmed single mother, Frida. After being sent to the school for good mothers for a whole year, will she receive custody of her young daughter again?

Recommended by Ann

The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life Cover ImageThe Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life

By Mark Epstein, M.D.

Don’t be put off by the title. This book offers an emotion and spiritual tune-up. I found it to be packed with helpful insights. Be prepared to underline.

Recommended by Karen

All About Me! by Mel BrooksAll About Me!

By Mel Brooks

If you grew up with Mel Brooks, you know his voice and can probably read this delightful book with him narrating it in your head. But why not let him actually read his memoir to you? If you want something that will have you laughing out loud you should download this audio today.

We recommend using Libro.fm for audiobooks! Use this link to support Parnassus with every audiobook purchase through Libro.fm.

Recommended by Karen

Let Me Tell You What I Mean (Vintage International) Cover ImageLet Me Tell You What I Mean 

By Joan Didion

The first Didion book I read was The Year of Magical Thinking and I followed up with Blue Nights when it came out. Her recent death prompted me to pick up this most recent collection of essays, which spans five decades and an amazing variety of subjects from Ernest Hemingway to Martha Stewart. There was no one that writes like her. The White Album is next.

Recommended by Jenny

Say Yes: Discover the Surprising Life Beyond the Death of a Dream Cover ImageSay Yes: Discover the Surprising Life Beyond the Death of a Dream

By Scott Erickson

Artist Scott Erickson (known as @scottthepainter on Instagram) writes on the spiritual journey that takes place when we face the death of a dream. For anyone who has met a low point, Erickson illuminates a path to not only survive but to resurrect. A cross between a spiritual guide and personal growth, Say Yes is a great start to the New Year.

Recommended by Sissy

The Eye Test: A Case for Human Creativity in the Age of Analytics Cover ImageThe Eye Test: A Case for Human Creativity in the Age of Analytics

By Chris Jones

Jones, a GREAT storyteller, looks back on a journalism career, revealing a truth he’s learned: analytics are helpful, but human passion, experience, and imagination are what count in the end. Effective specialists learn, watch, then act in a way that elevates society. Formulas help, but are limited because they rely on what’s happened before. When new and crazy things happen, look to the creatives.

Recommended by Ben

White Bull (Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry) Cover ImageWhite Bull (Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry)

By Elizabeth Hughey

Hughey’s collection won a prize I also submitted to, and now I know why I lost: because these pages are incredible. Every word in them was uttered or written by the infamous, racist “Bull” Connor of Birmingham, Alabama. By subverting and repurposing language, unexpected images bloom and beauty is built from the wreckage. As I was reading I kept thinking: How the heck did she do this?!

Recommended by Jordan

This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown Cover ImageThis Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown

By Taylor Harris

When Taylor Harris’ young son woke up one morning showing signs of a mysterious illness and acting out of character, she did not know something big was about to change their lives and their family forever. The Harris family jumps through every hoop imaginable to find support and answers and to advocate for their young Black boy with special needs. This is a memoir of faith, family, and motherhood.

Recommended by Ben

A Different Distance: A Renga Cover ImageA Different Distance: A Renga

By Marilyn HackerKarthika Naïr

Written by two poets and friends living in Paris during the COVID-19 lockdown, each poem responds to the preceding one, enlarging the other’s ponderings and vision. These spare, cleaving stanzas land on images that bring interiorities to life, and while there is isolation, longing, disaster, loss, there also exists hope, memory, moments of undeniable beauty and connection.

First Editions Club: February Selection

Thank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories Cover ImageThank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories

By Gish Jen

Dear friends,

Early in the pandemic (and honestly, even before that), people started asking us to recommend books that wouldn’t destroy them. They weren’t looking for something silly, but they hoped to find respite from the devastations of their day. It’s a reasonable request, but at the same time, the book they had in mind was something of a unicorn: smart, cheerful, funny, upbeat, not silly. Go ahead, make a list.

And then there’s the fact that some very serious things going on in the world require our consideration. Is it okay to only read books about surfing in Malibu, or does that solution wind just up being uncomfortable in an entirely different way?

Enter Gish Jen, a writer who manages to be charming, funny, brilliant and socially responsible all at the same time. Thank You, Mr. Nixon is a collection of stories that reads like an extremely engrossing novel, a novel about U.S.-China relations no less, in which the pages fly, I laughed out loud, and felt that I was suddenly understanding things I’ve never understood before. I was moved and amazed.

Of course, Gish is no stranger to mixing lightness with heft. Her last novel, The Resisters, was about a scrappy young girl baseball prodigy living in a dystopian future of climate disaster, complete government control and an Alexa-like device that monitors your every word and deed. It was incredibly funny.

I don’t think anyone else knows how to do this. It’s just Gish Jen. I am so grateful that she’s here.

Yours in reading,

Ann Patchett