The Avid Reader

Born and raised in Columbus, avid reader Lauren Bardwell credits “Miss Faye” (Faye Eads) of the Montessori school with teaching her to read. By 4 she was hooked. Now a ninth-grade English teacher (much like her favorite high school English teacher, George Hazard) and a bookseller at Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn., Lauren says she has the best jobs in the world. “I get paid to talk about great books.”

Book_AbsalomAbsalom1. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner — It’s the book that completely changed my reading experience and literary preferences. Before, I’m fairly sure I read books for their plots and characters; but when I read this novel in college, I was amazed at how deciphering Faulkner’s famously difficult narrative style could be a reader’s reward in itself. His twisted Southern gothic family sagas are just the bonus. My admiration for Faulkner runs so deep my dog is his namesake.

2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace — A genius of the English language, Wallace can spin a sentence more beautifully and perfectly than any other writer I’ve encountered. And if that isn’t enough, his sharp wit and astute commentary on contemporary society make him a pillar of the literary scene. If the vastness of this book is too intimidating, start with his essays, as I did; you will not be disappointed.

Book_SotWeedFactor3. The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth — If you like brilliant satires, this book’s for you. Though published in 1960, the novel is set in the 1600s as our naive, Candide-like protagonist Ebenezer Cooke takes some unexpected detours on his journey from England to Maryland. This parody of the historical novel had me laughing out loud as I read, and Cooke is one of the most endearingly oblivious and ridiculous characters I’ve ever met.

4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell — This ambitious and beautifully written novel explores the fragile interconnectedness of the world. It’s comprised of six very different narratives carefully intertwined with one another and spanning a setting of several hundred years. Each previous story subtly impacts the characters in the next. While postmodern, Cloud Atlas is a breathtaking and effortless read, and its ethereal beauty will linger with you.

Book_BillyLynnsLongWalk5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain — This debut novel couldn’t be timelier. It’s been labeled the Catch-22 of the Iraqi War, deservedly so. Fountain’s protagonist is a 19-year-old soldier on leave for a two-week celebratory “victory tour.” We follow Billy as he tries to reconcile the over-the-top glitz and glamour of this “celebration” with the harsh and gritty reality of the war to which he will soon have to return. Fountain’s combination of humor and insight provide an engrossing read.