24 Books to Pick Up This September

The Distancers: An American Memoir

The Distancers: An American Memoir

224 pages; Vintage
Most memoirs tell the history of a person. This one—written by the lyrical Lee Sandlin—tells the history of generations of an American family who lived in the downstate Illinois farmhouse built by his great-great-grandfather. Each summer, he and his many cousins were sent there to graduate "from a tricycle to a bicycle, and from softball to hardball" and to live by the rule that "the only thing more offensive than asking a personal question is answering one." Spanning the years from 1850 to 1996, the story follows a cast of eccentric, endearing characters (some of the best: the boxcar-riding uncle, the beer-brewing great-uncle, the ever-angry, movie-loving aunt), as well as bewitchingly recreates the Tom Sawyer-style countryside where "on the clearest days you could see the glittering dragon tail of the great river." But it's Sandlin's musings on who of us flounder—and who of us flourish—under the family tradition of reticence, that makes the book so poignant.
— Leigh Newman