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10 best books of August: the Monitor's picks

The Silk Road from a bicycle seat. A satirical novel with Shakespeare as a character. Iraq and Afghanistan through the experiences of six service members. The genius of Chopin. All are among our picks for the best books of August. 

'Lands of Lost Borders' is by Kate Harris.

1.  Lands of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris
Few have the guts or the stamina to bicycle the famed Silk Road, the ancient route of Marco Polo. Fewer still possess the considerable talent of Kate Harris that allowed her to write of her adventures – about everything from the hospitality of the Turkish people to the frustration of negotiating a visa to enter Azerbaijan. Harris shares her experiences, but she also explores the very concept of “borders,” both personal as well as geographic.
2.  Chesapeake Requiem, by Earl Swift
In a masterly narrative of place, people, and nature, journalist Earl Swift studies Tangier Island and its residents. Tangier Island is a dwindling pancake of land, surrounded by the unruly waters of the Chesapeake Bay, and perhaps doomed to be one of the first United States communities eliminated by climate change as waters climb higher and threaten to engulf the 1.3-square-mile island.

3.  The Shakespeare Requirement, by Julie Schumacher
Anyone with a soft spot for academia will discover familiar territory in Julie Schumacher’s satirical novel. Whether identifying with the chairman of the econ department who sees no value in a degree in English or with the view of the aging scholar who argues that one semester of Shakespeare is imperative for any learned person, readers will recognize everything they love and hate about these august institutions.
4.  The Fighters, by C.J. Chivers
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist C.J. Chivers tells the story of the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan through the experiences of six servicemen. Chivers did a massive amount of firsthand reporting, and the narrative he weaves is not only compelling but may change what you think you know about the American military experience in these two countries.
5.  A Life of My Own, by Claire Tomalin
Famed British biographer Claire Tomalin finally tells her own life story in this candid and revealing memoir. While some may find the book a bit too gossipy, it’s a literary treat and also offers insight into life in 20th-century Britain.
6.  Chopin’s Piano, by Paul Kildea
Composer and pianist Paul Kildea finds an original way to explore the genius of Chopin by considering the pianos he used as he created some of his great compositions. The book is a meditation not only on the life and work of Chopin but also on music itself.
7.  Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, by Anne Boyd Rioux
This delightful look at a great American  classic (Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”) tells the book’s history, explores its abiding appeal, and considers its influence on generations of readers and writers since. It goes without saying that lovers of that book will adore this book. But even those who haven’t read “Little Women” will enjoy learning about the literary history behind it.
8.  Our Homesick Songs, by Emma Hooper
Set mainly in an abandoned Newfoundland fishing village once occupied by quirky, tightknit folks, this beautifully rendered lyrical tale is told through the eyes of the Connor family. Shifting from present to past, the story weaves together fables, songs, mystery, and mermaids. Brave and romantic, the Connors’ journey is uniquely nostalgic and magical, illuminated with childhood wonder, ingenuity, and love.
9.  Dopesick, by Beth Macy
Author and journalist Beth Macy puts a human face on America’s opioid crisis by traveling the United States to meet its victims (both drug users and the grieving loved ones they have left behind). The stories she tells may shock, but her book is an important examination of the crisis – how it started, why it grew, who it has most damaged, and what can be done to prevent more tragedy.
10.  The Spy of Venice, by Benet Brandreth
This fast-paced and entertaining novel imagines a young Will Shakespeare as an (unwilling) spy for Her Majesty’s government in Venice in 1585. He trades barbs (verbal and otherwise) with countesses and assassins as he tries to decipher the plots and intrigues that threaten to engulf him. Brandreth, who is the rhetoric coach to the Royal Shakespeare Company, takes a risk by putting words in the mouth of Shakespeare, but he is successful here on all fronts: dialogue, plot, and characters.

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