An Essay by Ann Patchett
Now that I co-own Parnassus Books in Nashville, I know that there are plenty of books that sell themselves, while other books might require an introduction. Here are three brilliant and necessary books I’d like to set you up with:
Susan Faludi, journalist, winner of the Pulitzer prize, and the author of Backlash, had a violent and bullying father. They had been out of touch for 25 years when she got an email from him saying that he had undergone a sex change and was now a woman named Stefanie. Maybe Susan would like to write a book about her? And so she did. Based on more than ten years of research and interviews, In the Darkroom is nothing short of astonishing. But while the book explains more than I ever knew about the transgender experience, it’s also an exploration of the Jews in Hungary, the fascinating history of her family, and the atrocities of the second world war. It addresses deep questions about gender identity and gender roles. The whole thing is riveting. I would recommend it to anyone.
The second book I’d like to introduce you to is Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines, which is set in a present day America in which the Civil War was never fought. Four slave states (known as the “hard four”) are still intact. It’s Victor’s job to infiltrate the underground airlines, a series of helpers and hand-off points through which slaves escape, and catch them. The problem is Victor is black, and he’s an escaped slave himself. Trying to experience the life of someone else (or reading about it) is an empathetic act, and Underground Airlines is an empathetic novel in the extreme. It’s also a very good novel. When Time magazine asked me to pick one book by an American author that I thought every American should read, I picked Underground Airlines. Book clubs: if you want to really talk about something that matters, this is your novel.
My last hard sell of summer is tough not because of its content but because of its form. The Dream Life of Astronauts by Patrick Ryan is a collection of nine short stories, and some people just seem to be allergic to short stories. Set in Florida in the 70s and 80s in a world that revolves around the space program like the earth revolves around the sun, The Dream Life of Astronauts is one of the best books of short stories, and just one of the best books, I’ve read in a long time. Ryan is overloaded with both talent and compassion, and he brings these gifts to bear on lives that at first appear to be ordinary and small, but as each story unfolds, the reader is reminded that every life is in fact a masterpiece. So please, break out of your rut if you’re in one and give this collection a try.
And if you need any other recommendations for great books you may be missing, just ask your local independent bookseller. We’re reading all the time.
ANN PATCHETT is the bestselling author of seven novels that include Bel Canto, Run, State of Wonder, and now Commonwealth that comes out September 13. In 2011, Ann opened Parnassus Books in Nashville with her business partner Karen Hayes. She has since become a spokesperson for independent booksellers, championing books and bookstores. Ann has kindly written up her 3 favorite books to sell this summer for the Books Inc. newsletter. Ann will be in San Francisco at City Arts and Lectures on
Written for Books Inc.'s September 2016 Newsletter