Let me start with a big claim: In what has already been a fantastic year for readers, September may just be the most exciting month of new releases yet.
As our team sat down to prepare for this month, we were astounded to see so many books we couldn’t wait to read coming out in the span of thirty days. For one thing, September sees the return of an absolutely astounding list of authors we’ve desperately missed, including Zadie Smith, Lauren Groff, J.M. Coetzee, and Nathan Hill, to name a few. It’s not just that there are new releases from big names; dig down deeper and you’ll find works in every genre and from every type of publishing house that will leave you with a lot to look forward to.
It’s certainly been a long, hot, and at times exhausting summer. But as we look ahead to September, I’m excited to say that the present and future for booklovers is looking incredibly bright.
From Dust to Stardust
By Kathleen Rooney
Lake Union Publishing
Kathleen Rooney is a master of historical fiction, and her latest release is one of her most exciting journeys into the past yet. Following one of the brightest silent movie era stars, Doreen O’Dare (a fictionalization of the actress Colleen Moore), From Dust to Stardust takes readers through the early days of Hollywood, the hustle of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, and the turbulence of the Great Depression. Although the novel doesn’t shy away from the tragedy of ambition and circumstance, Rooney elicits wonder like few other writers can, making every new chapter an absolutely enchanting read.
Land of Milk and Honey
By C Pam Zhang
Sensuous and sharp in its critique, Land of Milk and Honey delivers a powerful rebuke of how far the privileged will go to retain a level of comfort amid climate catastrophe. After a global smog leads to a food shortage, a talented chef gets a job at an exclusive mountaintop community for the ultrawealthy. While most sources of food have collapsed throughout the world, she discovers that her employers have access to some of the last delicacies of fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. But as her relationship with the businessman’s daughter deepens, she must weigh the ethics of her decisions. A knotty read from start to finish, C Pam Zhang’s latest is sure to stay with you for a long time.
By Nathan Hill
Knopf Publishing Group
It’s been six years since the release of Nathan Hill’s breakout novel, The Nix, so it’s no surprise that we can’t wait for Wellness. Spanning the gritty and thriving underground art scene of ‘90s Chicago to modern suburbia, Wellness follows Jack and Elizabeth as they struggle to recognize one another while growing older. Filled with cults disguised as mindfulness support groups, dysfunctional families, polyamorous would-be suitors, and plenty of Chicago, Nathan Hill highlights his incredible talent for humor and heart in his writing.
Enough to Lose
By RS Deeren
Wayne State University Press
When you think about modern working class literature, authors such as Bonnie Jo Campbell, Jesmyn Ward, or Richard Russo may come to mind first. But it’s time to add RS Deeren to that list. Set in and around the small town of Caro in the thumb of Michigan, Enough to Lose explores the lingering traumas of economic, climate, and political disasters and the ways in which working class individuals and rural communities struggle to carry on. As a writer, Deeren’s insightfulness is only matched by his generosity, as he honors the humanity of his characters while never shying away from the systemic problems that exist in rural America. Enough to Lose is a gem of a short story collection from an exciting new voice in literature.
By Yiyun Li
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
From her award-winning The Book of Goose to the emotionally devastating Where Reasons End, Yiyun Li understands how to navigate loss and life in her writing. The stories in Wednesday’s Child are testaments to the meaning that exists just below the surface of the ordinary, where characters must come to terms with death, violence, and estrangement amid moments of genuine tenderness and dark humor. In one story, a grieving mother makes a spreadsheet of everyone she’s lost, while in another a professor develops a troubled intimacy with her hairdresser. In total, Li creates a collection that speaks to the fragility of our existence and the clarity that comes with connection.
The Burning of the World: The Great Chicago Fire and the War for the City’s Soul
By Scott W. Berg
There are a number of books out there that chronicle The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but what truly separates Scott W. Berg’s The Burning of the World is its focus on the power struggles that emerged in its aftermath. As Berg notes, out of the ashes rose not just new skyscrapers, tenements, and homes, but also a new political order built by the city’s elite, who saw an opportunity to rebuild Chicago on their terms. The Burning of the World is a fascinating look at the long history of political struggle in the city, which saw the working class at odds with forces wanting to profit off of one of the nation’s most infamous calamities.
By Zadie Smith
2023 has been a remarkable year for literature for many reasons, including the long-awaited return of Zadie Smith. Her first novel since 2016’s Swing Time, The Fraud follows Mrs. Touchet, a skeptical woman who becomes entranced by an infamous trial in which a lower-class butcher from Australia claims he is the rightful heir of a seizable estate and title. While many have their own opinions on the trial, Mrs. Touchet finds no easy answers in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception. Based on real historical events, The Fraud is a captivating look into the fraudulent and the authentic.
Strange Attractors: The Ephrem Stories
By Janice Deal
New Door Books
Set in the fictional Ephrem, Illinois, Janice Deal’s short story collection explores the complicated lives that often go unnoticed behind the guise of a friendly town. Strange Attractors features a memorable cast of everyday characters with troublingly complex and traumatic inner lives. These intricately written stories come together to shed light on the uncertainties that exist in the modern American heartland.
The Vaster Wilds
By Lauren Groff
A servant girl escapes from a colonial settlement into the wilderness, carrying nothing but her wits, a few possessions, and the spark of god that burns hot within her. But what she finds makes her rethink everything her own civilization has taught her. Part fable about America’s colonialism and part intimate character study, The Vaster Wilds may just be Lauren Groff’s most ambitious and remarkable novel yet.
By J.M. Coetzee
Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee is back, bringing his exacting and unpredictable style to a haunting novel about passion and power. The Pole tells the story of Wittold Walccyzkiecz, a Polish pianist who becomes infatuated with Beatriz, a married woman and stylish patron of the arts. As their unlikely relationship blossoms amid Wittold’s attempts to ingratiate himself to Beatriz, readers are left to question whether their love should be defined by her attempts to control her emotions or his desire to force his dream of love into existence.
By Etaf Rum
After Yara is placed on probation at work for fighting with a racist coworker, her Palestinian mother claims that the provocation and all that’s come after were the result of a family curse. While Yara is skeptical, the statement makes her reconsider her own upbringing and her complicated relationship with her mother. Evil Eye is an electric followup to Etaf Rum’s debut novel, A Woman Is No Man, delving deep into the aftershocks of intergenerational trauma through the lens of two complicated and unforgettable characters.
By Ben Lerner
Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Ben Lerner has never been confined by genre. As a fiction writer, poet, and frequent collaborator with visual artists, Lerner’s work across forms often carries familiar themes and thoughts. The Lights follows the success of his novels 10:04 and The Topeka School, bringing together a constellation of verse and prose, voicemails and vignettes, songs and felt silences that bring the personal and the collective into startling relation. Written over the span of fifteen years, this collection of poetry reads like a cumulation of an accomplished writer’s career up to this point.
Michael Welch is the Editor-In-Chief for the Chicago Review of Books. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Electric Lit, Iron Horse Literary Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. Find him at www.michaelbwelch.com and @MBWwelch.