Four Recommended September Releases

Here are four enjoyable books due out this month that I was lucky enough to read early. The first two are memoirs that are linked by a strong theme of mothers and children, though one has a primary topic of mental illness; the third is a quirky bibliomemoir partially written in letters; and the last is an elegant poetry collection. I’ve pulled 150–200-word extracts from my full reviews and hope you’ll be tempted by one or more of these.


Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love, by Zack McDermott

(Coming from Little, Brown [USA] and Piatkus [UK] on the 26th)

As a public defender in New York City, Zack McDermott worked with seemingly crazy people every day at Legal Aid, little knowing that he was on his way to a psychotic break himself. Soon he’d covered the walls of his apartment with marker scrawl and fully taken on his stand-up comedian persona, Myles. Convinced that he was in a Truman Show-style reality show, he ended up half-naked and crying on a subway platform. That’s when police showed up to take him to Bellevue mental hospital.

McDermott takes readers on a wild tour through his life: from growing up with a no-good drug addict father and a Superwoman high school teacher mother in Wichita, Kansas “a baloney sandwich throw from the trailer park” to finally getting medication and developing strategies that would keep his bipolar disorder under control. His sense of pace and ear for dialogue are terrific. Despite the vivid Cuckoo’s Nest­-style settings, this book is downright funny where others might turn the subject matter achingly sad. It’s a wonderful memoir and should attract readers who don’t normally read nonfiction. (An explanatory note: “Gorilla” is McDermott’s nickname and “The Bird” is his mother’s; she’s the real hero of this book.)

My rating:


Landslide: True Stories, by Minna Zallman Proctor

(Coming from Catapult on the 19th)

This gorgeous set of autobiographical essays circles through some of the overarching themes of Proctor’s life: losing her mother, a composer – but only after three bouts with cancer over 15 years; the importance Italy had for both of them, including years spent in Tuscany and her work as a translator; a love for the work of Muriel Spark; their loose connection to Judaism; and the relentless and arbitrary nature of time. She ponders the stories she heard from her mother, and the ones she now tells her children. “We all have totemic stories. The way we choose them—and then choose to tell them—is more important ultimately than the actual events.” Proctor provides a fine model of how to write non-linear memoir that gets to the essence of what matters in life.

Another favorite line:

“I was never good at making stuff up; I’m much more interested in parsing the density, inanity, confusion, and occasional brilliance of life around me.”

My rating:


Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, by Annie Spence

(Coming from Flatiron Books on the 26th, and in the UK on Oct. 13th)


Dear Annie Spence,

You’re on your way to being the next Nancy Pearl, girlie. Your book recommendations are amazeballs! How have you read so many books I’ve never even heard of?! Thanks to you I’ve added 13 books to my TBR when I’m desperately trying to cull it. Argh!

Anyway, gotta be honest here: I wasn’t digging the snarky, sweary style of the letter section of your book. True, it’s super clever how you use the epistolary format for so many different purposes – to say sayonara to books weeded from your public library’s stock, declare undying love for The Virgin Suicides and other faves, express mixed feelings about books you abandoned or didn’t get the appeal of, etc. – but, I dunno, the chatty, between-girlfriends style was irking me.

But then I got to Part II, where you channel Ms. Pearl and the authors of The Novel Cure with these original suggestions for themed and paired reading. Here’s books to read after making various excuses for not joining a social event, recommended sci-fi and doorstoppers (aka “Worth the Weight”), etc. I freakin’ loved it.

When’s your full-length Book Lust-style thematic recommendations guide coming out??

Happy reading until then!

Bookish Beck


My rating:


Panicle, by Gillian Sze

(Coming from ECW Press on the 19th)

Gillian Sze is a Montreal poet with five collections to her name. Panicle contains many responses to films, photographs, and other poems, including some classical Chinese verse. Travel and relationships are recurring sources of inspiration, and scenes are often described as if they are being captured by a camera. There are a number of prose paragraphs, including the “Sound No. 1–5” series. As lovely as the writing is, I found few individual poems to latch onto. Two favorites were “Nocturne,” which opens “When I can’t sleep  I think of the lupines that grow in the country, their specific palette, a mix of disregard and generosity” [the line breaks are unclear in my Kindle book], and “Dawning.” My favorite lines were “memory is a wicker chair that creaks in the wind” (from “To the Photographer in the Countryside”) and “I age / as it is typically done: slowly / unconsciously / surprisingly” (from the title poem).

My rating:


In case you’re curious, here are some September releases I can’t recommend quite as highly, with links to my Goodreads reviews:


Have you read any September releases that you would recommend? Which of these appeal to you?

17 responses

  1. The Spence’s has gone straight on the list. Thanks for the heads up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Essays! Something else I ought to read more of.


    1. Landslide is a hard one to categorize. You could just call it a memoir, yet the chapters are also distinct essays that sometimes overlap in theme. I do love essay collections, but don’t often pick them up. Perhaps, like with short stories, I should intersperse individual essays with other reading.


      1. I like your idea of a short/story or an essay in between full length novels but as I usually have two or three books for different purposes on the go at the same time I’m not sure if I can make it work. Or am I just looking for excuses?


    2. I suppose it’s just a matter of what you’re used to. I regularly read 10-15 books at a time, a mix of fiction and non-.


  3. The September release I’m looking forward to is ‘Oi cat!’ 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That cover of Landslide looks weird. What is the image – I can’t tell exactly but it could be some kind of bear??


    1. Yes, I believe it is a grizzly bear. I’d have to go back through the book to remind myself why it’s on the cover…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Gorilla and the Bird appeals to me. I welcome a book that champions a mother. We are too often Mommie Dearest.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love that quote about totemic stories from Proctor. Love it enough to make me buy the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent! I’m glad to hear that. This is an under-the-radar book that could probably use all the support it can get. I’m also interested to read her memoir about her father’s midlife religious experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. (In case it wasn’t obvious, my review of the Annie Spence is written as a pastiche of her style — especially in the letters portion of the book.)


  8. […] Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach: Set in 17th-century Amsterdam and with an art theme (there are some full-color plates of works by Dutch masters); this was recommended by Annie Spence. […]


  9. I’m still mostly in backlisted country so I can’t recommnend a Septembe release, so which of the ones you’ve read would I prefer? Well, you’ve gone and put some other contenders in the mix but none of them matter when there’s something like Dear Fahrenheit 451 in the assortment, so that’s defintiely my pick. Thanks for adding it to my list!


    1. For a fellow bibliomemoir fan, the Spence for sure — just bear in mind the tone I’ve mimicked. The other two memoirs are very good as well. I wondered if you’d know Sze’s name as she’s a Canadian poet.


  10. I’ve just read Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows which was good if … erotic. Also Every Word is a Bird we Teach to Sing by Daniel Tammet, for Shiny, so mini-review coming soon. Some interesting ones here as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. […] Landslide: True Stories by Minna Zallman Proctor: This gorgeous set of autobiographical essays circles through some of the overarching themes of the author’s life: losing her mother, a composer; the importance Italy had for both of them; a love for the work of Muriel Spark; their loose connection to Judaism; and the relentless and arbitrary nature of time. Proctor provides a fine model of how to write a non-linear memoir that gets to the essence of what matters in life. […]


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