September is halfway over, which means it’s almost time to trade in that beach chair for a cozy reading chair. Fall is one of the best seasons to get back into reading, so we checked in with Tim Ehrenberg – local Nantucket bookworm and marketing wizard for Nantucket Book Partners – to get his top seven picks for September. These books take us from the Underground Railroad in the Antebellum South to Auschwitz during the Holocaust, from the 1968 Chicago Riots to 1888 with the invention of the light bulb, and from the very real operating rooms in the 1950s to the fictional, isolated village of Three Pines. With something from everyone, fiction and nonfiction, mystery and history, read on for Tim’s 7 for September!
The Nix by Nathan Hill
A Nix can take many forms. In Norwegian folklore, it is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse that steals children away. In Nathan Hill’s remarkable first novel, a Nix is anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart. It’s 2011 and college professor/stalled writer Samuel Andresen-Anderson has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades – not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy – and now she’s re-appeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the internet, and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.
Tim says: I just finished this debut novel and was so impressed with the scope of the story. It has a little bit of everything… from video game addiction to unrequited love, from hilariously memorable characters in 2011 to touching historical moments in 1968. Although cliché to mention, I laughed, I cried, and I read way past my bedtime! It’s one of the more talked about books right now so don’t miss the conversation.
Mischling by Affinity Konar
It’s 1944 when twin sisters Pearl and Stasha Zagorski arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, the girls take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood. As part of the experimental population of twins known as “Mengele’s Zoo,” the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others and find themselves stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain. That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks – a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin – travel through Poland’s devastation on a quest to find justice.
Tim says: Truly beautiful sentences create a fairy tale-esque story about such a horrific time in human history. Holocaust novels are nothing new on book shelves, but this one creates such beautiful characters that it will stay in your memory. Even the first paragraph is a study in lyrical prose.
Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, & Family Secrets by Luke Dittrick
In 1953 a twenty-seven-year-old factory worker named Henry Molaison, who suffered from severe epilepsy, received a radical new version of the then-common lobotomy. The operation failed to eliminate Henry’s seizures, but it did have an unintended effect: Henry was left profoundly amnesic, unable to create long-term memories. Over the next sixty years, Patient H.M., as Henry was known, became the most studied individual in the history of neuroscience, a human guinea pig who would teach us much of what we know about memory today. Patient H.M. is, at times, a deeply personal journey. Author Luke Dittrich’s grandfather was the brilliant, morally complex surgeon who operated on Molaison and thousands of other patients. The author’s investigation into the dark roots of modern memory science ultimately forces him to confront unsettling secrets in his own family history, and to reveal the tragedy that fueled his grandfather’s relentless experimentation that would revolutionize our understanding of ourselves.
Tim says: School is back in session, which gets me in a studious mood. Why not read up on the true story of the most “studied” human of all time? I love a good nonfiction that reads like a novel, and Patient HM is truly fascinating. Reminds me of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” another nonfiction favorite of mine. It’s a study in science, mystery & family secrets!
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora, who is an outcast even among her fellow Africans. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned, and though the manage to find a station and head north, they find themselves being hunted with a relentless slave catcher close on their heels. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage, and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Tim says: Oprah picked this book for her 2016 book club and you can see why. In it, The Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor, but a real secret network of tracks and tunnels under the southern soil. However, this historical literary twist doesn’t change the horrors of slavery in our country at the time.
From the author of The Power of Habit comes a fascinating book exploring the science of productivity and why managing “how” you think is more important than “what” you think. At the core of Smarter, Faster, Better are eight key productivity concepts, from motivation and goal-setting to focus and decision-making, that explain why some people and companies get so much done. Drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics as well as the experiences of CEOs, educational reformers, four-star generals, FBI agents, airplane pilots and Broadway songwriters, this painstakingly researched book explains that the most productive people, companies, and organizations don’t merely act differently… They view the world, and their choices, in profoundly different ways.
Tim says: Nantucket is filled with entrepreneurs and after a busy summer season, we all need some fresh inspiration for our business and personal lives. The author, Charles Duhigg, will join us on Nantucket for The Nantucket Project next week and I can’t wait to hear his talk on being “Smarter, Faster, Better.
The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country? The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society, the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal: private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?
Tim says: Historical fiction at its finest. Based on actual events surrounding the invention of the light bulb, author Graham Moore takes us back to those last days of night. I loved the setting and the way the author presented these great thinkers and inventors of the day.
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes. Given to Armand Gamache as a gift on the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets, to an old friend, and to an even older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Surete du Quebec to places even he is afraid to go… but must. And there he finds four young cadets in the Surete academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map. Everywhere Gamache turns, he sees Amelia Choquet, one of the cadets. Tattooed and pierced, guarded and angry, Amelia is more likely to be found on the other side of a police line-up. And yet she is in the academy. The focus of the investigation soon turns to Gamache himself and his mysterious relationship with Amelia, and his possible involvement in the crime. The frantic search for answers takes the investigators back to Three Pines and a stained glass window with its own horrific secrets. For both Amelia Choquet and Armand Gamache, the time has come for a great reckoning.
Tim says: I crave a good literary mystery and Louise Penny consistently delivers in this genre. This book is number 12 in her Three Pines / Detective Armand Gamache series that I have been reading since the beginning. While these books don’t necessarily have to be read in order, you may be racing back to Mitchell’s to get the first book once you get a taste of these characters and their village.