12 Must-Read Books of September – Chicago Review of Books


School is officially back in session, so what better time to hit the books? 

September often signals both the end of summer and the start of something new, which makes it the perfect time to try something new. With this month filled with exciting releases from debut authors and literary stars alike, we’re here to encourage you to dig into something new before the leaves start to fall.

Toño the Infallible
By Evelio Rosero
Translated from the Spanish by Victor Meadowcroft and Anne McLean
New Directions

Written by one of Colombia’s modern literary stars, Evelio Rosero, Toño the Infallible has a gripping premise: it’s a novel about an intense relationship between a writer and a sociopath. Mysterious, cerebral, and utterly captivating, Toño the Infallible combines the best of Roberto Bolano’s fiction and Alfonso Cuarón’s films to create an unforgettable portrayal of the character of Toño—who uses his charm, wealth, and reported magical powers to manipulate others.

Book of Extraordinary Tragedies
By Joe Meno
Akashic Books

We’re longtime fans of Chicago author Joe Meno, whose work such as Hairstyles of the Damned and The Great Perhaps helped put the city on the literary map in the early 2000s. Book of Extraordinary Tragedies follows siblings and former classical music prodigies Aleksandar and Isobel as they navigate their messy, unfulfilling twenties and their abandoned ambitions. When an illness forces Isobel to return to their childhood home on the Far South Side of Chicago, she revisits her love for playing cello and opens a new world of possibility and wonder for her complicated family.

What We Fed to the Manticore
By Talia Lakshmi Kolluri
Tin House Books

Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s debut collection is set to take its rightful place among some of the best environmental fiction in recent memory. Her stories explore the themes of environmentalism, conservation, identity, belonging, and loss with resounding tenderness, but it’s the point of view that really stands out. In fact, all nine stories are told from animal perspectives, from a committee of vultures seeking meaning while attending to a deceased antelope to a donkey whose loyalty to its zookeeper in Gaza is put to the ultimate test.

The Family Izquierdo
By Rubén Degollado
W.W. Norton & Company

Rubén Degollado brings incredible warmth and humor to his debut novel about three generations of a Mexican American family. At a time when misfortune takes hold of the tight-knit Izquierdo family, eldest son Gonzalo digs up a strange object in the backyard of their home, which makes him believe that their jealous neighbor has cursed them. For those who love intimate and genuinely told family dramas, The Family Izquierdo is a can’t-miss book.

Normal Distance
By Elisa Gabbert
Soft Skull

New from The New York Times poetry columnist Elisa Gabbert is Normal Distance, a collection that has a remarkable ability to make readers ask questions big and small, funny and existentially traumatizing, and more. In witty and sharp language, Gabbert poses just how bored dogs are, how we suffer “gladly,” and whether it’s more frightening to experience nothing or empty space. Filled with philosophical breadcrumbs to savor throughout, these poems continue to reward on a second, third, and fourth read.

Sacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World
By Karen Armstrong

Where has our collective wonder for nature gone, and how can we reclaim and harness it in the era of advancing climate change? In this deeply powerful book, historian Karen Armstrong examines humankind’s long legacy of viewing the natural world and the divine as one. Drawing on a number of the religious traditions, she argues for ways to once again find something greater than ourselves in the world around us and re-sacralize nature at a time when we need it most.

Both Sides of the Fire Line: Memoir of a Transgender Firefighter
By Bobbie Scopa
Chicago Review Press

Bobbie Scopa spent close to five decades working through nearly every challenge a firefighter can face, including mountain rescues, city fires, mega-wildfires, and more. Both Sides of the Fire Line is a remarkable memoir that details Scopa’s experience serving at some of the largest disasters in American history—including Ground Zero immediately after 9/11—as well as the emotional turmoil she faced as she decided whether to maintain the image of herself that everyone expected of her or live as her true self. 

By Alyssa Quinn
Dzanc Books

Fans of Brian Evenson rejoice, because Alyssa Quinn’s new book is here to horrify and delight. Habilis is a surreal and innovative story about a young woman who finds herself thrust into a mysterious anthropology museum that converts into a disco club each night. Moving through the labyrinthine galleries and the dark histories they hold, Quinn takes readers on a haunted historical reconstruction that’s part ghost story, part creation, and completely innovative.

See Also

Woman Without Shame
By Sandra Cisneros

It’s been twenty-eight years since The House on Mango Street author Sandra Cisneros published a book of poetry, so this is certainly a gift for readers. This moving collection of songs, elegies, and declarations explores the themes of memory and self-awareness. But more than anything, Woman Without Shame can be seen as a culmination of her long search for home. 

Alive at the End of the World
By Saeed Jones
Coffee House Press

Following the immense success of his memoir How We Fight for Our Lives, Saeed Jones is back with a powerful poetry collection about the public and private betrayals of life as we know it. Jones digs deep into personal and collective histories of grief to confront the perils of white supremacy and the cracked ideological foundation that the United States sits on. Drawing from memoir, fiction, and unreliable narration, he argues that we don’t have to look to the future to find our apocalypse—it’s already our state of being.

Hysterical: A Memoir
By Elissa Bassist
Hachette Books

Between 2016 and 2018, Elissa Bassist saw over twenty medical professionals for a variety of mysterious ailments. Trapped in a system that undercuts and silences women’s pain, she finally found support from an acupuncturist who suggested that some of her physical anguish could be caged fury finding expression. Weaving together medical mystery with cultural criticism, Hysterical is a necessary work of nonfiction that encourages others to unmute their voice, listen to it above all others, and use it without regret. 

Bliss Montage
By Ling Ma
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

We’re big admirers of Ling Ma and her breakthrough novel Severance, so we’re thrilled to see her new short story collection Bliss Montage enter the stage. Ma blends magical realism and intimate humanism in eight entertaining stories that smash our sense of reality. From a woman who lives in a house with all of her ex-boyfriends to an ancient ritual that might heal you of anything if you bury yourself alive, Bliss Montage reveals the absurdity behind everyday heartbreak. 


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