E-reader or paper?

Whatever the medium, a book is still a book, and a lot of good ones are coming this fall.

Jonathan Franzen has gotten the new season off to a brilliant start with Freedom, which critics say establishes him as one of America's best young fiction writers.

Some familiar names are back, including John le Carré, poking down dark alleyways with another tale of espionage and moral ambiguity. And there's a new translation of Boris Pasternak's classic, Dr. Zhivago.

The nonfiction side has much to offer too, from a history of the great internal migration that saw tens of thousands of African Americans leave the South for the cities of the North and West, to a biography of the great Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle.

Here are some of the season's top titles.

Fiction

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, September). Already in bookstores, Franzen's sardonic dissection of love and marriage is "a tour de force [that] should secure Franzen's reputation as one of the finest novelists of his generation," wrote Inquirer reviewer Glenn C. Altschuler.

The Elephant's Journey, by José Saramago (Houghton Mifflin, September). Nobel laureate José Saramago, who died last month, was not known for whimsy, but The Elephant's Journey is a playful little tale, based on a true story, of an elephantine wedding present, fit for royalty.

Ape House, by Sara Gruen (Spiegel & Grau, September). Gruen's tale of a band of bonobos liberated from an animal lab and turned into the stars of a TV reality show is a funny, sad, sympathetic story of human and simian nature.

The Good Daughters, by Joyce Maynard (William Morrow, September). Maynard's latest is another version of the parallel-lives story - two people, of different background and personality, are linked by a random event (in this case, being born in the same hospital on the same day). Maynard makes it work to perfection.

C, by Tom McCarthy (Knopf, September). How many words that begin with the letter "C" can you think of? McCarthy can think of quite a few as he tells the story of Serge Carrefax in his latest experimental fiction foray.

Nashville Chrome, by Rick Bass (Houghton Mifflin, September). Bass returns to fiction, but fiction based on reality, with this poignant story of the singing Brown siblings, who performed as a country music trio in the 1950s.

Our Kind of Traitor, by John le Carré (Viking, October). Once again, le Carré leads us down dark and dangerous moral alleyways, this time in the company of a vacationing couple and the Russian money launderer who wants them to help him defect.

Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Pantheon, October). This is the first English translation of Pasternak's masterpiece since the original was published in 1958. The translators warmed up for the task with award-winning renditions of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Sunset Park, by Paul Auster (Henry Holt, November). Opening with a bleak vision of Florida in recession, postmodern puzzle master Auster gets down and dirty with the gritty realities of economic crisis and war in Iraq.

Luka and the Fire of Life, by Salman Rushdie (Random House, November). Rushdie is out to work magic again with a charming fable for his younger son, Milan, designed as a companion to an earlier book, Haroun, that was written for his older son.

Nonfiction

The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, by Kwame Anthony Appiah (Norton, September). In a fascinating study of moral evolution, Princeton professor Appiah finds that honor is the engine that drives moral change.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, September). Wilkerson, the first African American female journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize, chronicles the massive migration of black Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North and West between 1915 and 1970. She focuses on three individuals to tell the story of a silent population shift that changed the face of the country.

Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq, by John W. Dower (Norton, September). Dower, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, compares America's wars on Japan, terrorism, and Iraq and finds a culture of war that blindly venerates "brute force" at the expense of flexibility and imagination.

The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood, by Jane Leavy (Harper, October). Former Washington Post sportswriter Leavy wonders who Mickey Mantle really was, "an authentic human being or a synthetic construct of memory and imagination?" She draws on her own memories of Mantle and hundreds of interviews to figure it out.

Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, by Pauline Maier (Simon & Schuster, October). The ratification of the U.S. Constitution was far from a sure thing. To take effect, it required the approval not of state legislatures, but of special conventions chosen by the people. Maier traces the difficult path the document had to travel to win the people's approval.

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell (Simon & Schuster, October). Americans have become polarized along religious lines, argue Putnam and Campbell. The ranks of religious moderates have shrunk, while the numbers of religious conservatives and secular liberals have grown, yet tolerance endures. Putnam and Campbell show how.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson (Doubleday, October). Bryson, a very astute observer and a wickedly funny writer, can find inspiration anywhere. Wandering from room to room of the Victorian parsonage where he lives in England, Bryson has managed to write "a history of the world without leaving home."

The Mind's Eye, by Oliver Sacks (Knopf, October). Neurologist Sacks, who describes himself as "both a physician and a storyteller," deals this time with how we see and how we compensate when our ability to see is compromised.

Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life, by Richard Cohen (Random House, November). There's no getting away from the sun. After all, it makes up 99.8 percent of the solar system's mass, and without it, we couldn't exist. Cohen leads us on a tour of mankind's relationship with our very own star.

What a Difference a Dog Makes: Big Lessons on Life, Love and Healing from a Small Pooch, by Dana Jennings (Doubleday, November). Jennings, who writes so movingly in his New York Times blog about his experiences with an aggressive prostate cancer, shares the role that his family's 12-year-old miniature poodle played in helping him and his son, also seriously ill, cope with disease.

Local authors

Love Like Hate, by Linh Dinh (Seven Stories, September). From Saigon to Philadelphia, the characters in this first novel from Philadelphia poet and short-story writer Dinh, a Saigon native, struggle with the tangled ways of the human heart while coping with the wrenching results of military defeat.

What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper, by Paula Marantz Cohen (Sourcebooks Landmark, September). Alice James teams up with her famous brothers, Henry and William, to track down Jack the Ripper in this novel from Cohen, a professor of English at Drexel University.

Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, by Murray Dubin and Daniel R. Biddle (Temple University Press, September). Pulitzer Prize-winning Inquirer journalist Biddle and former Inquirer staff writer Dubin chronicle the life of Octavius Catto, a Philadelphia educator and 19th-century civil rights pioneer who was slain during an Election Day race riot in 1871.

Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969, by David Eisenhower and Julie Eisenhower (Simon & Schuster, November). Ike's grandson, whose previous book about his grandfather, Eisenhower at War 1943-1945, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, recounts the final years of the former president and general.

Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities, by Witold Rybczynski (Scribner, November). The University of Pennsylvania urbanism expert muses on the past of American cities to predict what the future may hold.

Contact staff writer Michael D. Schaffer at 215-854-2537 or mschaffer@phillynews.com.