Mystery, movies, and Arthur Miller enliven November’s 10 best books

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“Each book was a world unto itself, and in it I took refuge,” writes Argentine Canadian author Alberto Manguel in his 1996 book, “A History of Reading.”

The books our reviewers like best this month create their own intriguing, immersive worlds.

Why We Wrote This

Our reviewers’ picks for this month include a novel about the tensions between individuality and idealism, a Muslim American mystery, and a biography that unfolds contradictions in the lives of two abolitionist sisters.

They range from a novel about the pitfalls of utopias to a mystery that features a female Muslim American police detective.

The nonfiction titles include a biography of American playwright Arthur Miller as well as an examination of the lives of the famous Grimke sisters, white abolitionists in the 19th century. 

1. The Magic Kingdom, by Russell Banks

Measured and thoughtful, the latest novel from Russell Banks details the promises – and limitations – of utopias. In 1902, Harley Mann and his family find belonging amid the Shakers of rural central Florida. “We were being welcomed back into Paradise,” he muses, and indeed life is good ... until infatuation and doubt upend Harley’s world. Banks effectively explores the tensions between individuality and idealism.

2. Blackwater Falls, by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Why We Wrote This

Our reviewers’ picks for this month include a novel about the tensions between individuality and idealism, a Muslim American mystery, and a biography that unfolds contradictions in the lives of two abolitionist sisters.

Denver Police Detective Inaya Rahman – a devout Muslim – investigates the murder of a Syrian teen. She faces
a wall of resistance, including racist officials, as well as a terrified Muslim community. The story examines our current political moment with freshness, nuance, and compassion. 

3. Gilded Mountain, by Kate Manning

It’s 1907 in Moonstone, Colorado. Quarrymen toil in the perilous marble mine while their families, like 16-year-old Sylvie’s, scrape by. But Sylvie escapes, first to the local paper run by a fearless woman, and then to the mine owner’s manor to work for his frivolous wife. A steady-eyed look at the costs of justice, Kate Manning’s latest novel is a solid, sweeping read.

4. Godmersham Park, by Gill Hornby

Gill Hornby, who wrote “Miss Austen” in 2020, follows governess Anne Sharp as she navigates upstairs and downstairs at the family home of Jane Austen’s brother. Thoroughly immersive, witty, and moving, Hornby’s novel features sparkling prose that makes this novel unputdownable.

5. A World of Curiosities, by Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s 18th Chief Inspector Gamache mystery is simply outstanding. It’s springtime in Three Pines when past and present criminal cases collide. Danger threatens Gamache’s home, friends, and family, but thankfully, Penny’s gift for intelligent and transcendent storytelling delivers light, bringing themes of forgiveness and redemption to society’s darker moments.

6. Flight, by Lynn Steger Strong

A large family comes together at Christmastime to divide its matriarch’s estate. Lynn Steger Strong brings illuminating prose and nuance to the familiar themes of loss, marriage, parenthood, relationships, and art. When the family bands together to help a mother and daughter in crisis, love fuels joy, hope, and new beginnings.

7. Winterland, by Rae Meadows

Rae Meadows’ captivating 1970s Soviet-era tale echoes the stark landscape of its Siberian setting. A ballerina goes missing; her husband pieces his life together, as their young daughter is ushered into the grueling sport of Olympic gymnastics. Meadows testifies to the invincible human spirit.

8. Arthur Miller: American Witness, by John Lahr

John Lahr’s slender, sharp biography offers an engaging account of the playwright’s life, beginning with his New York childhood. Lahr also provides a penetrating interpretation of Arthur Miller’s canonical works, including “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible.” 

9. Hollywood: The Oral History, by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson

Two film historians sifted through nearly 3,000 interviews archived at the American Film Institute. Weaving together recollections from directors, writers, actors, and more, they’ve created a delightful and illuminating account of moviemaking from the silent era to the present.

10. The Grimkes, by Kerri K. Greenidge

The collective biography of the Grimke family covers not only the famous white abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina but also their less well-known Black relatives, born to their brother and a woman he enslaved. The result is a searing examination of a family’s intergenerational racial trauma.

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