Books

10 best books of September: the Monitor's picks

From Tsarist Russia to Trump's America, and from evocative short stories to the best of expository prose, here are the 10 September releases most highly recommended by the Monitor's book critics.

  • Monitor staff

1. 'Draft No. 4,' by John McPhee

When a master of his craft offers advice, it’s folly not to listen. Which is why no one with any interest in writing should fail to pick up this collection of eight essays by longtime New Yorker writer John McPhee. McPhee walks readers through what it means to be a nonfiction writer, dishes up heaps of good advice, and manages to be delightfully good company as he goes.

2. 'Alone,' by Michael Korda

Historian and novelist Michael Korda tells the story of the dark days of the British people, from the start of World War II up through the battle of Dunkirk. Korda, whose family fled Britain during the war, blends his own personal experience with his typically detailed and superb reportage of battle and war movements.

3. 'Istanbul,' by Bettany Hughes

Historian and documentary filmmaker Bettany Hughes has enjoyed what she calls a 40-year “love affair” with Istanbul. Here she delves deep into the city’s history. Hughes has said that she doesn’t intend her book to be “a catch-all catalogue of Istanbul’s past” but rather hopes to deliver something more personal and impressionistic. According to Monitor reviewer Steve Donoghue, with this book, Hughes “easily accomplishes both.”

4. 'Nomadland,' by Jessica Bruder

This book grew from Bruder’s excellent cover story for Harper’s about Americans – many of them past retirement age – who have become “houseless” and move from locale to locale in search of seasonal work. Bruder’s work is an excellent piece of immersion journalism and also a glimpse into an unexpected slice of American life.

5. 'Border,' by Kapka Kassabova

Memoirist and poet Kapka Kassabova returns to her native country, Bulgaria, for the first time in 25 years and finds her hometown at the crossroads of Turkey and Greece to be both greatly altered and much the same. Once a refuge for fleeing East Germans, she now meets desperate Syrian refugees and offers a compassionate reflection on lives upended by politics.

6. 'Sing, Unburied, Sing,' by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award-winning “Salvage the Bones” tells the story of a black mother and her two children, driving toward a prison where they plan to pick up the children’s white father. Ward weaves themes of race, family, and history into a powerful, wrenching, and deeply thoughtful narrative.

7. 'A Disappearance in Damascus,' by Deborah Campbell

Award-winning journalist Deborah Campbell has written a powerful and gripping tribute to Ahlam, the courageous and talented Iraqi woman who helped her when she was covering the aftermath of the Iraq War. When Ahlam disappears suddenly one morning, Campbell is determined not to give up on her. Although Ahlam’s story is often difficult to read, this is also an inspiring profile of a remarkable woman.

8. 'George & Lizzie,' by Nancy Pearl

Celebrity librarian and NPR commentator Nancy Pearl has long been on the reviewer side of the book-to-critic relationship. But now she crosses over with her first novel, a charming story about a married couple and the wife’s difficulties in surmounting the emotional walls she has built around herself. Monitor reviewer Rebekah Denn calls this “a surprisingly delicious read.”

9. 'The Last of the Tsars', by Robert Service

Distinguished Oxford historian Robert Service offers a detailed, thoughtful look at the time between the abdication of Russian Czar Nicholas II in March 1917 and his murder 16 months later. According to Monitor reviewer Terry Hartle, “Service’s books are authoritative, definitive, and tell a compelling story, and this is no exception.”

10. 'Five-Carat Soul,' by James McBride

The short stories in this collection from National Book Award winner James McBride (“The Good Lord Bird”) range widely, from the Civil War to the Vietnam War and from the animal world to a toy train set, but all are poignant, imaginative, and “literary” in the best sense of the word.

 

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