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Signal Boost: September Reads
I loved these new September releases.
Last month after posting my first installment of this monthly books column, I went a little book-crazy. I started looking through the fall catalogues of my favorite smaller presses and felt like I was re-connecting with the world of authors and books in ways that I hadn’t in a long time. This month I want to recommend three nonfiction books coming out from smaller presses that I enjoyed and think you will, too.
For when you want to think…
The first is On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint, by Maggie Nelson, out September 7th from Graywolf Press. Through four chapters broken up into smaller subsections, Nelson explores the concept of freedom through the lens of art, sex, drugs, and the climate crisis, bringing her trademark brilliance and intellectual modesty to each. I found the first sections on art and sex especially good, and kept feeling the need to highlight whole paragraphs. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such nuanced and interesting takes on concepts such as who has “the right” to tell which stories in art, the #MeToo movement, and our understanding of individual sexualities through the framework of feminism. I consider it required reading.
For when you want to be transported…
Next I want to recommend No. 91/92: A Diary of a Year on the Bus, by Lauren Elkin, out September 14th from MIT Press in the US and Les Fugitives in the UK. This book fell into my lap like a magic fruit, exactly when I needed it. It’s a short book, easy to read in one sitting, that is presented in a format very close to how it was written: as mostly brief entries in the author’s smartphone Notes app while riding the bus for her Paris commute. Even things like a lack of punctuation, typos, or autocorrected words have been preserved in places, which give the reader a somewhat voyeuristic experience, without detracting from its readability. Though the premise may seem mundane at first glance—a simple bus commute—the result is anything but, with a thrilling tribute to the importance of everyday living, and a window into life’s big and small tragedies, from terrorism to the loss of a wanted pregnancy.
For when you want nonfiction as vivid as a novel…
My third pick, Karachi Vice: Life and Death in a Divided City, by Samira Shackle, out September 7th from Melville House in the US (and available since February from Granta in the UK), is a stunning debut. Shackle, an award-winning British journalist, has a Pakistani-born mother, and her extended family members still live in Defense and Clifton, Karachi’s more affluent neighborhoods. The book offers a fascinating portrait of a vital city seldom seen by non-Pakistanis, as told through the lives of an ambulance driver, a “street school” teacher, a cartographer, a schoolgirl, and a crime reporter. This is excellent writing, with gorgeous, cinematic prose, weaving lives together in such a way that reminded me of Manil Suri’s 2001 novel The Death of Vishnu, where a story is told through different yet interlocking perspectives. What Shackle has accomplished here is truly remarkable.
I hope you all have a great start to your week.