“The books I love the most are the ones fresh out of the gate,” says Patchett, the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville as well as the author of several novels, including Bel Canto and, most recently, Commonwealth. Since opening her bookstore in 2011, Patchett has made a name for herself as much for her vocal support of independent bookstores as for her stellar writing. Here, the author, whose new novel, The Dutch House, is out September 24 from Harper, shares the recently published books she’ll be encouraging everyone to read in the coming months.
Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, by Margaret Renkl
I could stand on a street corner and proselytize about Margaret Renkl’s Late Migrations. Renkl, who is a regular contributor to The New York Times, writes about the birds in her backyard, her dogs, parents, in-laws, childhood, motherhood, plants—you name it. She takes the life at hand and shapes it into works of meticulous beauty and insight. What amazes me most is the book’s impeccable shape. The tiny mosaic chips come together to form an indelible whole. As much as I loved each separate essay, I was completely unprepared for the punch the book delivers in the end. Do not miss this one.
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
I’ve read Colson Whitehead devotedly since his first novel, The Intuitionist, a book I’ve really never gotten over. If Whitehead has a defining feature as a writer, it’s his wide range of interest and his willingness to stare down the things other people turn away from. The Nickel Boys follows his National Book Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning The Underground Railroad, and it lives up to its predecessor admirably. In fact, there are ways in which The Nickel Boys is even more urgent and necessary, as the subject—a notoriously cruel boys’ reform school in Florida that was closed in 2011—speaks to the injustices of the world we live in now. The tenderness and high ideals that the hero, Elwood, displays in the face of injustice will inform you and change you.
City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Once you’ve finished the above two slim, life-defining books, you might be in the mood for something expansive and wildly entertaining, in which case I would direct you to Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls. Gilbert exercising her considerable talent on a group of bedazzled showgirls living a fleabag existence in 1940s New York is a bit like Jane Austen writing about young women in manor houses who wish to marry. You might wonder why such a lavishly gifted writer would take on such small potatoes, but before the thought has fully formed, the book has swept you up and away. Reading City of Girls is like seeing someone toss a bolt of bright-blue silk down a marble staircase. It’s just so gorgeous, watching it spread out. It’s a gift.