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30 books we can't wait to read this fall

Jul 31, 2023

With Hollywood on strike, fall may be the best moment to dive into printed ink (tomorrow’s screen adaptations today!). And there is no shortage of hotly awaited books to fill the gap: New historical novels from heavyweights Zadie Smith and Jesmyn Ward; the return of still-rising stars Bryan Washington, C Pam Zhang and Benjamin Labatut; memoirs from Viet Thanh Nguyen, Sly Stone and Werner Herzog; and major biographies beginning with Walter Isaacson’s valiant effort to explain Elon Musk.


Wednesday’s ChildBy Yiyun LiFSG: 256 pages, $27

From the award-winning author of “The Book of Goose” comes a collection of short fiction with unexpected power, though its economy is no surprise: Li’s elegant prose gives no quarter to the superfluous. We meet a woman helping to deliver a baby on a train to Brussels, a heartsick divorcée visiting China and several others on unusual missions, all achingly real and needy and yet mysterious in the ways we humans always are to each other. (BP)

The FraudBy Zadie SmithPenguin: 464 pages, $29

Smith’s first historical novel, set in 19th-century London, focuses on the real-life “Tichborne Trial,” during which an Australian butcher claimed to be heir to an English estate. The author, never afraid to display — or debate — her influences, gives Charles Dickens a cameo even as she demonstrates how many people at the margins were ignored in the works of literature we regard as classic. (BP)

SEPT. 12

Gangsters Don’t DieBy Tod GoldbergCounterpoint: 384 pages, $28

The final book of Goldberg’s trilogy finds David Cohen, a Chicago gangster masquerading as a Las Vegas rabbi, contemplating the imminent collapse of his empire. As ever, Goldberg is adept at writing about mob hits, explosions, corpses and other cases of criminal bad news with a smirking, noirish tone. But he writes with sensitivity too, from painterly depictions of the Palm Desert and Salton Sea to riffs on the Talmud that suggest Cohen’s faith isn’t entirely a put-on. (MA)


Gurba’s essays, collected in ‘Creep,’ showcase an unblinking gaze at gender-based violence and other cruelties, which the author would rather be known for.

Aug. 28, 2023

How I Won a Nobel PrizeBy Julius TarantoLittle, Brown: 304 pages, $27

Taranto’s sharp debut is set at the Rubin Institute, an East Coast think tank that’s one part MIT, two parts Elon Musk’s Twitter feed: Its faculty of cancelees crows about finding a safe haven from woke culture. Helen, the narrator, is a brilliant scientist who’s grudgingly followed her advisor there, generating all manner of crises for her marriage, research and sense of ethics. It’s a fine launchpad for a satire of the culture wars. (MA)

SEPT. 19

The Wolves of EternityBy Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Martin AitkenPenguin: 800 pages, $35

In his second epic novel since his autobiographical blockbuster, “My Struggle,” Knausgaard tells the story of two long-lost half-siblings, one a Norwegian man stumbling into adulthood in the ’80s and the other an accomplished biologist in present-day Russia. The nature and possibility of immortality is a recurring theme, and digressions abound — communicating trees, broken families, Chernobyl, death, etc. But by sticking close to his characters, Knausgaard addresses those heady topics with an easy-going grace. (MA)

Beyond the Door of No ReturnBy David Diop, translated by Sam TaylorFSG: 256 pages, $27

The French author’s follow-up to 2021’s “At Night All Blood Is Black,” which won the International Booker Prize, is set in 18th-century colonial Senegal and Paris. French botanist Michel Adanson records his journey to Senegal to gather specimens, also documenting his obsession with a young woman born into royalty who returned from the sea after being kidnapped into slavery. In poetic prose, Diop explores fantastical fables and the brutal history of French imperialism. (LB)

SEPT. 26

Land of Milk and HoneyBy C Pam ZhangRiverhead: 240 pages, $28

Earth’s living resources have all but died out, so when a 29-year-old American chef, exiled in London, gets the chance to hole up in an Italian mountain filled with vanished flora and fauna (from semolina flour to strawberries), she can’t resist. Of course, what she finds there is not just thrilling but also deeply chilling. The questions she asks herself will soon be on all our lips. (BP)


Safiya Sinclair was raised to be Rastafari; instead, she became a poet. Why it took her more than a decade to write the lyrical memoir ‘How to Say Babylon’

OCT. 3

The ManiacBy Benjamin LabatutPenguin: 368 pages, $28

Labatut’s 2021 debut, “When We Cease to Understand the World,” was a surprise critical and commercial success; who knew so many readers would be game for melancholy fictional studies of quantum scientists? This time, Labatut explores the genius and pathos of the likes of John von Neumann, a polymath who worked on the Manhattan Project, and the creators of an AI bot that in 2016 bested the world champion of the board game Go. Intellectual nightmare fuel for those who fear the machines coming for us all. (MA)

OCT. 10

Family MealBy Bryan WashingtonRiverhead: 320 pages, $28

In this sequel of sorts to 2020’s “Memorial,” Cam returns from Los Angeles to Houston after the death of his partner, Kai; he runs into his estranged longtime friend TJ, and they consider a new relationship. But Kai’s ghost keeps visiting Cam, who wonders if he even knows how to love in any way after such a loss. Full of hauntings and other returns, “Family Meal” closes the circle between loved ones beautifully, and draws it wide. (BP)


“Memorial,” Washington’s followup to his acclaimed story collection, “Lot,” pays homage to Houston, Osaka, and the bonds of unconventional family.

Oct. 28, 2020

OCT. 17

Vengeance Is MineBy Marie Ndiaye, translated by Jordan StumpKnopf: 240 pages, $28

Maître Susane, an attorney in Bordeaux, finds her uneventful life disturbed after a man named Gilles Principaux asks her to defend his wife against charges of a horrendous crime. M. Susane begins to break down over recovered memories of Principaux, shown through her strained relationship with her Mauritian housekeeper, Sharon. As Ndiaye has done before (in “The Cheffe,” for example), she sets a slow burn going and watches it almost disinterestedly until a final explosion that demonstrates the long aftereffects of childhood damage. (BP)

TremorBy Teju ColeRandom House: 256 pages, $28

No other writer walks a high-wire act the way Cole does. His 2011 novel, “Open City,” made many readers hungry for his next, and “Tremor” is worth the wait. Once again, ephemeral discoveries (in this case, a young professor’s find of a Nigerian chi wara mask in an antiques store) lead to gorgeous fractals of thought on culture, race and history, revealing inner currents of anger, memory and hope. (BP)

OCT. 24

Let Us DescendBy Jesmyn WardScribner: 320 pages, $28

Two-time National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward (the first woman and the first Black American to achieve that feat) follows her fierce and tender novel “Sing, Unburied, Sing” with a historical narrative about survival, iron will and spiritual rebirth. Taking its title from Dante’s “Inferno,” the story follows Annis through the hell of enslavement and the saving grace of ancestral memories. (BP)

OCT. 31

AbsolutionBy Alice McDermottFSG: 336 pages, $28

Across her four-decade career, McDermott has specialized in well-mannered people thrust into tight ethical spots. Here, that’s Tricia, the wife of an attorney stationed in Vietnam in 1963 as the war there intensifies. McDermott’s writing is often called “gemlike,” but that speaks to pressure as much as prettiness, as Tricia navigates war, marital strife and the increasing oppressiveness of the crowd of military wives that surrounds her. (MA)

DEC. 5

Songs on Endless Repeat: Essays and OuttakesBy Anthony Veasna SoEcco: 240 pages, $28.99

Before his death in 2020 at 28, Cambodian American writer So was poised for greatness on a number of fronts: He was an irreverent writer about immigrant enclaves, queer life and the Bay Area’s nether reaches. This book, the follow-up to his posthumous story collection, “Afterparties,” collects excerpts from his unfinished novel, “Straight Thru Cambotown,” and a clutch of essays on “Queer Eye,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and more that demonstrate he was also a stellar cultural critic in the making. (MA)

OrbitalBy Samantha HarveyAtlantic Monthly Press: 193 pages, $24

Harvey’s last novel, “The Western Wind,” was an ingenious murder mystery set in the 15th century. In “Orbital,” she zips ahead to a very near future in which six people from different countries work together on a space station. Their otherworldly environs only serve to heighten their essential and shared humanity as they contemplate six days’ worth of trips around the earth. (BP)


Sleepless: A Memoir of InsomniaBy Marie Darrieussecq, translated by Penny HuestonSemiotext(e): 288 pages, $17.95

The French writer (“Being Here Is Everything,” “The Baby”) returns in an English translation by Penny Hueston. Darrieussecq, like Marguerite Duras, knows that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who sleep and those who cannot. Fans of Eula Bliss and those interested in the lives of artists will love this book. Save it for a late night. (JF)

SEPT. 12

Elon MuskBy Walter IsaacsonSimon & Schuster: 688 pages, $35

Isaacson takes on subjects with enormous ambitions and egos to match (Steve Jobs, Henry Kissinger, Leonardo da Vinci). His latest is the life of the controversy magnet who cracked the electric car market with Tesla; whose Space X is a major player in space exploration; and whose latest project is his overhaul of Twitter into his own troll-ish, chaotic right-wing image. There’s not much middle ground on Musk — people love him or hate him — but Isaacson is best positioned to figure out what makes him tick. (MAG)


McMurtry, who died last week, made it his mission to redefine Texas as a crucible of modern conflicts. His early novels succeeded stunningly.

March 29, 2021

Larry McMurtry: A LifeBy Tracy DaughertySt. Martin’s: 560 pages, $35

Daugherty writes the first big posthumous biography of McMurtry: a Texan who became a bestselling author; a novelist whose epic “Lonesome Dove” won a Pulitzer and became an Emmy Award-winning television series; a screenwriter who excelled at adaptations (“The Last Picture Show,” “Terms of Endearment,” “Brokeback Mountain”); and a bibliophile who opened a gigantic bookstore in his hometown. Daugherty has also been around the block; he is the author of biographies of Joan Didion, Joseph Heller and Donald Barthelme. (MAG)

SEPT. 19

Father and SonBy Jonathan RabanKnopf: 336 pages, $28

In a posthumous memoir, the acclaimed travel writer and essayist (“Passage to Juneau,” “Bad Land”) chronicles his struggle to recover from a debilitating stroke, using his parents’ love letters during World War II to summon strength and inspiration. Raban skillfully uses the work of different historians to put his father’s ordeals in context, coming to a better understanding of what he endured and how it shaped him. (MAG)

Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines and the Health of NationsBy Simon SchamaEcco: 480 pages, $32.99

The politicization of public health is not as novel as we like to imagine. Schama, an acclaimed historian and documentarian, shows how science, politics, religion and prejudice have shaped the fight against plagues and pandemics over the centuries, highlighting the stories of scientists and activists who fought for inoculation against disease in the face of opposition from government leaders, religious reactionaries and self-interested physicians. (MAG)


Authors Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley on ‘Until Proven Safe,’ a history of disease quarantine and a study of our failure to properly deploy it.

July 19, 2021

SEPT. 26

American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15By Cameron McWhirter and Zusha ElinsonFSG: 496 pages, $32

When Eugene Stoner, an ex-Marine and low-level engineer at Armalite, developed the AR-15 in the mid-1950s, he was simply trying to help his employer land a lucrative contract — the Army was eager to find a light, reliable, high-powered combat rifle. Mission accomplished, for better and for worse: Stoner’s invention has been the source of controversy and tragedy in the decades since. The authors weave Stoner’s story alongside a propulsive, often wrenching tale of politicking and ever-escalating rhetoric. (MA)

OCT. 3

Lou Reed: The King of New YorkBy Will HermesFSG: 560 pages, $35

Lou Reed, who died in 2013, was among rock’s most mercurial figures, capable of smart, savvy pop songwriting and prone to lyrical and musical provocation. Veteran music journalist Hermes has plenty of drug-fueled and sexual transgressions to work with. Beyond the dish, though, he puts Reed’s music in the context of a host of art movements, establishing him as a pioneering, relatively unsung LGBTQ icon as well. (MA)

A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, a History, a MemorialBy Viet Thanh NguyenGrove: 400 pages, $28

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Sympathizer” examines his own life through the prism of the refugee experience and the fraught histories of both Vietnam and America. The HBO Max series based on “The Sympathizer,” starring Robert Downey Jr., Hoa Xuande and Sandra Oh, is slated for release next year. (MAG)

OCT. 10

Every Man for Himself and God Against All By Werner Herzog, translated by Michael HofmannPenguin: 368 pages, $30

Herzog is a virtual monolith of film and a beloved pop culture icon. He is also no stranger to writing. With 12 books of poetry and prose under his belt, he is finally out with a fleshier memoir. If the first pages of this book are any indication — like the rest of Herzog’s work, they dive headlong into the creative spirit and its ability to morph into a self-destructive obsession — this memoir will be as epic and chaotic as his best films. (JF)

OCT. 17

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)By Sly Stone, with Ben GreenmanAuwa: 320 pages, $30

By the early ’70s, Sly Stone (born Sylvester Stewart) established himself as a proto-Prince, building his band the Family Stone into an outfit with gobstopping fluidity in rock, funk and R&B. But by the end of the decade, he was written off as a casualty, laid low by drugs and cultural shifts. Stone recalls celebrity run-ins and rehab stints with wit and candor. “I would say that drugs didn’t affect me too much,” he recalls, “but I didn’t have to be around me.” (MA)

The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts: The True Story of the Bondwoman’s NarrativeBy Gregg HecimovichEcco: 432 pages, $40

A Furman University professor recounts how he and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. confirmed the identity of the fugitive slave who wrote the earliest known novel by an African American woman. Then Hecimovich dug deeper into family genealogy, property records and interviews with family members to put together an authoritative account of the life of Crafts, who escaped slavery, forged a new identity and wrote what would become a masterpiece of Gothic literature. (MAG)

Determined: A Science of Life Without Free WillBy Robert M. SapolskyPenguin: 528 pages, $35

Sapolsky, a primatologist and behavioral scientist whose 2017 book “Behave” surveyed the whole of human behavior in search of what makes us who we are, extends his quest and concludes that, when it comes to human beings, free will is an illusion. From there he considers the implications — on the rules we make and the way we live — of a deterministic world. (MAG)

OCT. 24

Emperor of Rome: Ruling the Ancient Roman WorldBy Mary BeardLiveright: 512 pages, $39.99

Beard, an acclaimed professor of classics at Cambridge anointed “the world’s most famous classicist” by the Guardian, sets aside the typical chronological account of the lives of Roman rulers to look at their lovers and enemies, what power they wielded and how they really lived. Who did the cooking? Who balanced the books? What were the everyday rituals, sacred and mundane, that kept the wheels of empire turning? (MAG)


Steinbeck meets climate crisis in Daniel Gumbiner’s fall novel “Fire in the Canyon.” As head of the revived Believer magazine, he knows about surviving disaster

NOV. 7

Touching the ArtBy Mattilda Bernstein SycamoreSoft Skull: 304 pages, $27

When Sycamore was a kid, her grandmother Gladys nurtured everything that made her different: “She was an abstract artist, and she wanted to set me free.” Sorting through Gladys’ belongings after her death, Sycamore expands her memoir to look closely at the creative impulse in society and its role in her own work, and to examine her late grandmother’s life against a culture that dismisses women’s creative arts. (LB)

The Sisterhood: How a Network of Black Women Writers Changed American CultureBy Courtney ThorssonColumbia University: 296 pages, $28.95

The mere mention of the name Toni Morrison would be enough to make a “must-read,” but the Nobel laureate is only one link in the chain of Thorsson’s “Sisterhood.” Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, Margo Jefferson and others figure into her deep connected history, which works to articulate how the collaboration and community among these literary legends changed not only American writing, but also feminism as a whole. (JF)