They persisted: Tales of endurance lead the 10 best books of September

Why We Wrote This

Resilience is a quality threaded through much of the fiction that made our list in September. Tales of hardship overcome, of rising up out of limitations; these are the stories that see people through difficult days. Among the two nonfiction selections, a new biography digs deeper into Abraham Lincoln's leadership during the Civil War, and a history of refugee camps captures the plight of displaced people after World War II.     

Courtesy of Penguin Random House and Workman Publishing
“Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times” by David S. Reynolds, Penguin Press, 1088 pp.; and “His Only Wife” by Peace Adzo Medie, Workman Publishing, 288 pp.

Novels dominate the rich offerings as summer yields to autumn and publishers roll out their more “serious” literature. A new book about Abraham Lincoln and another about displaced persons after World War II bring new insights in the nonfiction genre.

1. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Nora’s life is burdened by regrets. Then she stumbles on a library with books that enable her to test out the lives she could have led, including as a glaciologist, Olympic swimmer, rock star, and more. Her discoveries ultimately prove life-affirming in Matt Haig’s dazzling fantasy.

2. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Ghana-born American writer Yaa Gyasi follows her award-winning debut “Homegoing” with the affecting story of Ghanaian immigrants struggling to realize the American dream in the face of racism and the opioid crisis. Told by the daughter, Gifty, it is also the story of a young woman’s spiritual journey to reconcile her calling as a neuroscientist with her evangelical Christian faith.

3. His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Peace Adzo Medie tells a story of strong women in the midst of a patriarchal culture. The book focuses on Afi, a young seamstress in Ghana who agrees to an arranged marriage to help her family. As the story unfolds, she develops a sense of herself and realizes just how strong she truly is.

4. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The backdrop for this charming and cleverly written “cozy mystery” is an upscale British retirement community.  At first, the septuagenarians tackle cold cases, but when one of the developers of their community is murdered, the little club serves up lemon drizzle cake and looks for answers.

5. Monogamy by Sue Miller

Sue Miller’s novel tracks a woman’s evolving, conflicted feelings following her magnetic husband’s sudden death, especially after learning of a recent infidelity. Underlying this emotionally astute tale are questions about what makes a good marriage.

6. Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Courtesy of Macmillan Publishers
“Jack” by Marilynne Robinson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pp.

In the fourth novel of her acclaimed Gilead series, a prequel set in St. Louis in the late 1940s, Marilynne Robinson hones in on Jack Boughton’s interracial relationship with Della Miles. Longtime readers who know the outcome can focus on Robinson’s deeper look at humanity and history, full of torment but also abiding kindness and grace. Readers new to Gilead may find the narrative disorienting at first, but no less rewarding once they settle in.

7. All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

Inspector Gamache endeavors to uncover a sinister web of crime in the City of Light, ignited by the attempted hit-and-run of his beloved godfather. Sparkling with psychological suspense, secrets, danger, and levity, this masterful addition to Penny’s “Three Pines” crime mystery series also celebrates the enduring gift of love and family.

8. Just Us by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine follows her prize-winning “Citizen: An American Lyric” with a brilliant and timely examination of whiteness in America. This consciousness-raising, bravura combination of personal essays, poems, photographs, and cultural commentary works on so many levels and is a skyscraper in the literature on racism.

9. Abe by David S. Reynolds

Abraham Lincoln had less than a year of formal education; he has often been portrayed as inexperienced and unprepared to lead. David S. Reynolds’ monumental, reverential biography rejects that narrative, arguing that Lincoln’s immersion in the high and low culture of 19th-century America, along with his deep moral convictions, equipped him to steer the Union through the Civil War.

10. The Last Million by David Nasaw

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
“The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War” by David Nasaw, Penguin Press, 672 pp.

David Nasaw tells the story of Holocaust survivors and many other displaced persons who landed in the first modern refugee camps. Nasaw shows how the United States remained reluctant after World War II to take in Jewish refugees, who were tarred as potential communist subversives.

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