The Water Dancer (Oprah's Book Club)
In the antebellum South, as the economy grew on the backs of enslaved people, those seeking freedom knew one way to evade the dogs sent after them was to get into waterways. Hiram Walker, enslaved and motherless, is barely a man when he learns of his particular affinity with this element, an ability to magically travel across and along rivers and lakes. He uses his newfound Conduction to flee, leaving behind the woman who raised him and the girl he was raised alongside. Joining the Underground Railroad, Hiram doesn’t rest until he can emancipate his beloveds as well.
In this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood again uses the voices of women to witness the horrors rained upon them. Except this time, some witnesses are complicit—or worse, in the theocratic and misogynist regime that’s stripped women of their rights to read, vote, or have control over their own destinies. From Agnes, who doesn’t want to marry the man her parents have chosen but still believes in the mission of Gilead, to Aunt Lydia, that infamous trainer (and breaker) of handmaids, to Daisy, an outsider to Gilead living safely in Toronto, these new perspectives are strong-willed and vital.
Year of the Monkey
Born on December 30, Patti Smith had just turned 69 when the year turned over into 2016, a year that for many—including Smith—meant facing a political divide in the nation. But life doesn’t stop when political strife arises; that same year, Smith mourned her friend, producer, and manager Sandy Pearlman, while watching another dear friend, Sam Shepard, grow sicker. In this stunning memoir, Smith travels around California, finds her footing among the mystical as well as the realistic, faces her own mortality along with that of her dear friends, and ultimately emerges hopeful.
The Israeli flash-fiction master, Etgar Keret, experiments with slightly longer works in this short story collection, full of witty observations about the absurdities of family, politics, and more. In the title piece, a child incessantly begs his father for ice cream even as the father is trying to prevent a person from jumping off a building; in another, three kids faithfully believe their dad has been turned into a bunny; in yet another, a man attempting to buy weed to impress a woman becomes an unwilling participant in a host of dramas. These stories are funny, tender, and human.
Red at the Bone
A legacy of choices made and taken away stretches back through time as a 16-year-old, Melody, prepares to dance into adulthood in her grandparent’s Brooklyn brownstone. At this coming-of-age ceremony, Melody wears the same dress designed for her mother, Iris, 16 years prior—except Iris never got to celebrate. With a toddler living at home with a man named Aubrey, Iris went to Oberlin College, where she found herself yearning for another woman. Back further, Iris’s and Aubrey’s parents both make difficult choices, too. Unfolding over nearly a century, Woodson carefully knits this family together.
In this wicked satire of American politics, corruption, and our obsession with fame, an aging man long employed by his cousin’s pharmaceutical company is let go. In love with Salma R., a woman on TV, the man dubs himself Quichotte and sets off on a cross-country road trip with the belief that getting through an adventure will surely lead to his lady love. His morally bankrupt cousin, meanwhile, might just be the key to bringing them together. Meanwhile, both of these men are being written by Sam DuChamp, author of so-so spy thrillers. Stories in stories, Rushdie at his best.
The Secrets We Kept
Doctor Zhivago, the novel (later adapted into a film by the same name) by Boris Pasternak, sits at the heart of this story of art and resistance. At the start of the Cold War, two typists for the CIA in Washington, DC, are given an assignment that reveals the real reason they were hired: they’re to go to the USSR and smuggle out Pasternak’s manuscript, suppressed by the Russian government, and help get it published. Meanwhile, Pasternak’s beloved Olga Ivinskaya—their love affair the inspiration for the novel—is sent to the Gulag over her loyalty to the artist.
Night Boat to Tangier
On an October night in 2018, two Irishmen settling into middle age, Maurice and Charlie, sit inside a ferry terminal in Algeciras, Spain, and wait the arrival of Maurice’s daughter Dilly. Years ago, the men were partners in smuggling hash into Ireland, and as they sit and wait, they unfold their histories, from their prime gangster days to Maurice’s marriage and its difficulties, to Charlie and Maurice’s own falling out. The conversations between the two men on their long vigil brings a whiff of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, though their personalities and histories are all their own.
In 2017, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey began investigating what they soon learned was an open secret among Hollywood women—producer Harvey Weinstein was known for sexually assaulting and raping women who worked for him, but at any hint of prosecution, he pressured them into settling out of court and exchanging money for silence. Breaking through his network of close-knit contacts who covered for him and the people he hired to interfere with their investigation, Kantor and Twohey broke the story. But the work isn’t over, they know, as showcased by Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of Brett Kavanaugh.
Randall Monroe, author and cartoonist of the popular webcomic xkcd, uses his scientific knowledge to give wonderful and impractical advice for common yet often improbable problems. Whether it’s using your Facebook photo pixels to predict the weather or how to get water into a pool you haven’t yet built, Monroe’s solutions provide comic relief, yes, but also something more: an exploration of what it means to take a problem to its furthest reaches of possibility and find what might exist there. For the curious and imaginative, this is a guide to MacGyvering on an epic and preposterous scale.
Frankly in Love
Frank Li is a high school senior, the son of Korean immigrants who run a convenience store in Southern California, and the brother of a now-disowned older sister who fulfilled her parents’ dreams by going to Harvard and then dashed them by marrying a Black man. Frank is also in love, with a white classmate, and having seen what his sister went through, he’s determined to keep his girlfriend under wraps. So he concocts a plan with Joy, the daughter of Korean family friends: they’ll pretend to be in love and date whoever they want. What could possibly go wrong?
Juliet Takes a Breath
Juliet Palante is ready to come out to her Puerto Rican family—well, sort of. She leaves it till the last minute, right before she heads to Portland, Oregon, to start an internship with the feminist lesbian author Harlow Brisbane. So when it doesn’t go well, Juliet can at least give her family, and herself, some space. But in Portland, though she’s interning with her idol, Juliet starts to learn that not all lesbian experiences are created equal. What does it mean for her, a brown girl from the Bronx, to come out? Finding family, queer and chosen, Juliet finds herself, too.
The Other's Gold
The Accident, the Accusation, the Kiss, and the Bite—each section of this debut novel hints at the trials and traumas of four women who share a suite during their freshman year of college. Lainey, Ji Sun, Alice, and Margaret start out as friends and fast confidantes, but time, growing up, and different experiences complicate their relationships into adulthood. As they take on new roles as wives and mothers, they learn again how their choices can impact those they love most. After all, these women are human, prone to imperfections, but also capable of deep love.
The Sweetest Fruits
Nineteenth-century author Lafcadio Hearn was one of the first writers from the West to write about Japan as well as its people’s legends and ghost stories. But this novel is not about him, or not exactly—instead, it’s about three women: Rosa, his mother, who had to give him up when was a toddler; Alethea, his first wife, a formerly enslaved African American woman who met Hearn in Cincinnati, where she was employed as a cook at a boarding house he stayed in; and Setsu, Hearn’s second wife, who met him in Japan and became his collaborator.
A Single Thread
Violet Speedwell and her mother are mourning Violet’s brother as well as her fiancé, both dead in the Great War that took the lives of so many Englishmen. The Lost Generation of men left the so-called surplus women behind, unmarried and without prospective husbands, meaning they had to fend for themselves in a world still reluctant to allow them into the lucrative or skilled workforce. Moving out of her mother’s house and attempting to make a life for herself, Violet finds unexpected solace with a group of embroidering women, and in forging friendships, she finds love, too.
Guest House for Young Widows
For many in the West, it’s difficult to understand why women would join the ranks of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). In her new book, journalist Azadeh Moaveni takes a deep dive into the propaganda used to lure women into what they believed would be a fight for freedom, for being able to live their faith without discrimination, and for the good of other women. Coming from all classes, walks of life, and around the globe, the women who joined the Islamic State often found themselves instead subject to forced marriages and violence. Moaveni humanizes these women with nuance.
Taína is pregnant, but Julio doesn’t care—he’s in love with her, and he’s pretty much the only one who believes her claim that she’s a virgin, to boot. Julio may be a bit naive, but he’s willing to put in the work for his love, whose uncle, Salvador, offers him work in order to allow Julio to help support Taína. Salvador is an ex-con—he claims he’s the legendary Capeman, a gang member who murdered two teenagers in the 1950s—and Julio might be in over his head. But with heart and time, maybe he’ll find his way.
What if instead of becoming a democratic republic, the United States had started out with Washington accepting a crown and a royal title? The result is this alternate history in which House Washington still sits atop the throne, with Princess Beatrice set to be the first woman to directly inherit the throne. Her younger twin siblings, Princess Samantha and Prince Jefferson, may be the spares, it’s true, but they’ve got plenty to keep them occupied, from exes to new suitors (in the form of commoners no less). And don’t worry, the fun doesn’t end here—there are more installments coming.
The Penguin Book of Migration Literature
Migration is far from a new phenomenon, and yet this is shockingly the first anthology to explore global migration. From the 18th and into our own 21st century, varying in genre, the authors and pieces found here explore what it means to be a migrant, what it means to move from one place to another, to become a stranger in one’s own home as someone takes it over, or to become a stranger when one leaves it. With entries from authors such as Phillis Wheatley, Sam Selvon, Edwidge Danticat, Marjane Satrapi, Zadie Smith, and more, this volume is a must.
Know My Name
On a January night in 2015, a college student known only as Emily Doe was sexually assaulted by another student, Brock Turner, who was discovered and chased off in the act. A year and a half later, she read in court—and soon shared with the world—her victim impact statement, which gave voice to the frustration, rage, and fear experienced by so many whose agency is taken away through sexual violence. Doe no longer, Chanel Miller shares not only her name but a powerful memoir about the assault, its aftermath, and the many ways sexual assault survivors are failed by systems of power.
As fall rolls around with its orange-and-red leafy glory (or evergreen sunny weather for some), we recommend taking a break from lusting over flannel and scarves to catch up on reading. Below, you’ll find our September favorites, from the first volume of international migration literature to the charming and asthmatic Puerto Rican lesbian teen, Juliet; from a nonsensical yet hilarious how-to guide for everyday problems to the nuanced exploration of how and why women join the Islamic State; from Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale to an alternate history in which the U.S. has a royal family—and so much more!