23 hot picks for cool fall books
“My Struggle: Book Six,’’ Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Martin Aitken (Archipelago)
This last piece of the celebrated series has been so long in coming to America that Knausgaard has written, completed, and published a whole cycle of books in the meantime (ending with “Summer,” out last month). And just in time, for his thoughts on evil and figures like Hitler in an era of school shootings, white nationalism, and virtue-signaling will provoke questions that cut to the core of civic life today.
“The Piranhas: The Boy Bosses of Naples,” Roberto Saviano, translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Journalist Saviano’s extraordinary television adaptation of his harrowing organized-crime book, “Gomorrah,” is one of the finest series available on any topic today. Working on it also apparently made him a novelist, and now he’s releasing a swift, ruthless tale about a 15-year-old in Naples who gathers nine friends, forms a gang, and sets out to run his town.
“Your Duck Is My Duck,” Deborah Eisenberg (Ecco)
Were it not for their infrequency, Eisenberg’s short stories would be among the form’s most dependable providers of pleasure. Her first new collection in a dozen years thrums with the nervy desperation and yearning of characters who feel so lived in it’s hard to believe they were ever made with a pen
“Killing Commendatore,” Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Ted Goosen and Philip Gabriel (Knopf)
Murakami’s latest involves a man abandoned by his wife, an obscure artist, and a quest that will lead him into the dark corners of his own heart. In other words, this 700-page novel promises more of Murakami’s magical mist, but its size, beauty, and concerns with lust and war bring us back to the vividness and scale of his 1997 epic, “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.’’
“Unsheltered,’’ Barbara Kingsolver (Harper)
Kingsolver’s first novel in six years conjures an editor named Willa Knox whose magazine has folded at the same time her husband’s college has shut up shop. She has, however, inherited a ramshackle New Jersey home that as she peels away layers of history (and paint) draws out a connection with the great scientist and enlightenment figure Charles Darwin.
“We All Loved Cowboys,” Carol Bensimon, translated from the Portuguese by Beth Fowler (Transit)
A coming-out story, a road trip, and a love letter to female friendship all in one, this short but profoundly moving novel by the young Brazilian writer is one of the finest explorations of love you will find anywhere this year.
— JOHN FREEMAN, Editor of Freeman’s, former editor of Granta, and author, most recently, of “Maps,’’ a collection of poems
“Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return,’’ Martin Riker (Coffee House)
Riker, a stellar critic, cofounder of Dorothy: A Publishing Project, and former muckety muck at the Dalkey Archive Press, makes his fiction debut with a novel about a soul that bounces from body to body.
“Hardly Children,’’ Laura Adamczyk (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
If Adamczyk’s award-winning story, “Girls,” is any indication, this debut collection will be super weird, super unsettling, and super great.
“Past Tense,’’ Lee Child (Delacorte)
Reacher Creatures rejoice! Child’s latest thriller explores the man with no middle name’s family history.
“The New Order,’’ Karen E. Bender (Counterpoint)
The National Book Award finalist returns with a story collection guaranteed to unnerve.
“Evening in Paradise,’’ Lucia Berlin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Berlin’s first posthumous story collection, “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” made Hawaii-caliber waves, and so will this second installment of previously unpublished material.
— EUGENIA WILLIAMSON
Chicago-based writer and editor
“The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World,’’ Sarah Weinman (Ecco)
A sensitive look at the troubling crime that influenced Vladimir Nabokov’s most notorious book; Weinman writes with insight and empathy about both the famous author and the now-forgotten girl whose story intrigued him.
“These Truths: A History of the United States,’’ Jill Lepore (Norton)
Lepore’s New Yorker essays, which often illuminate obscure historical people and events, provide a glimpse of what she does here, chronicling a sweeping history of our contradictory country. Underlying it all is the question that still burns bright: Will we ever live up to the ideals on which we were founded?
“The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing,’’ Merve Emre (Doubleday)
Anyone who’s ever taken an online quiz and wondered why they’re branded an ENTJ or an ISFP will be fascinated by Emre’s deep dive into the history of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Her story ranges from a frustrated, Jung-obsessed housewife to the birth of the CIA, and the admissions offices of elite medical schools.
“There Will Be No Miracles Here,’’ Casey Gerald (Riverhead)
A deeply spiritual memoir about growing up black, poor, and gay in evangelical Texas; Gerald has become a superstar as a TED talker and MBA powerhouse, but this book is quiet and reflective, a document of fearless humility.
“Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs From a Year in Space,’’ Scott Kelly (Knopf)
The visual chronicle of astronaut Kelly’s record-breaking year living on the International Space Station, the photos reflect a perspective the rest of us will never see.
“All You Can Ever Know,’’ Nicole Chung (Catapult)
A Korean American adopted by white parents in Oregon, Chung writes movingly of her search to find her birth parents; her personal quest leads not only to her own story, but also to meditations on race, parenthood, and the construction of identity.
Writer, editor, and president of the National Book Critics Circle
“American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment,” Shane Bauer (Penguin Press)
One of the most incisive — and damning — investigations into prison culture and business in recent memory, Bauer’s illuminating hybrid memoir and sociological study shines much-needed light into some dark corners of the criminal justice system.
“Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)
The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian returns with a discerning look at four presidents and how their unique leadership led the country through crises. Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson all come fully alive, as we’ve come to expect from this master biographer.
“The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War,” Ben Macintyre (Crown)
Readers seeking a page-turning spy story, look no further. The author of “A Spy Among Friends” and “Agent Zigzag,” among others, does it again, this time delivering a Cold War espionage story for the ages. If you enjoyed his previous book, this is another can’t-miss account of intrigue and intelligence.
“The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968,” George Howe Colt (Scribner)
Just in time for football season, Colt’s recounting of this significant college game also resounds with significant cultural commentary on a tumultuous period. It’s a well-blended narrative packed with top-notch reporting and even relevance for our own time.
“Heavy,” Kiese Laymon (Scribner)
One of the most dynamic memoirs of the year, this coming-of-age tale packs themes of race, class, politics, sexuality, self-esteem, and family into a magnificently unique — and often unsettling — package. Laymon’s challenging tale of growing up black and obese amid white privilege, with a mother who pushed him to his breaking point, is exemplary.
“The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created,” Jane Leavy (Harper)
Leavy follows up her outstanding biography of Mickey Mantle with another winner, this time about the most important baseball player of all time. The author covers all aspects of Ruth’s massive life, bringing true empathy and impressive depth of knowledge to her complex subject.
— ERIC LIEBETRAU
Managing editor and
nonfiction editor of Kirkus Reviews