Fall has long been the most eventful season for readers and publishers alike. This year is no exception, but it is exceptional for the number of exalted novelists about to loose the latest bestsellers upon the world. Survivors of film adaptations, notorious recluses, and winners of the Pulitzer Prize will all have his or her turn in bookstore windows, airport kiosks, and unwieldy cardboard displays throughout the land. Outstanding books abound — from essayists, biographers, local scholars, and literary authors with name recognition — each of which will do their part to battle against flat publishing sales.
“It’s a really strong new-fiction season,” says Rachel Cass, head buyer for Harvard Book Store. “There are a lot of big fiction titles from people who haven’t published in a while.” Those interested in nonfiction can look forward to “a lot of really big names that people will know and be excited about.”
Among the most hotly anticipated forthcoming novels is Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Lowland” (September)— her most recent short-story collection, “Unaccustomed Earth,” debuted at number one on The New York Times bestsellers list. Another contender is “Joy Luck Club” author Amy Tan, the country’s foremost chronicler of Chinese-American family sagas, whose latest, “The Valley of Amazement” (November), follows three generations of women in Shanghai and San Francisco. Oprah’s Book Club favorite Wally Lamb (“I Know This Much is True”) throws in with “We Are Water” (October), a story of a middle-aged lesbian whose approaching marriage unnerves her children. And Donna Tartt, revered author of “The Secret History,” will drop “The Goldfinch” (October), a 784-page novel of art and suspense, her first in 10 years.
No gathering of critical darlings would be complete without Thomas Pynchon, who’s out with “Bleeding Edge” (September), a saga set in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley at the turn of the millennium. McSweeney’s Press founder and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dave Eggers also tackles tech in “The Circle” (October), a novel that features an Internet behemoth that sounds unnervingly like Google. Best-selling National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Jonathan Lethem (“Motherless Brooklyn,” “The Fortress of Solitude”) chronicles an altogether different demographic in “Dissident Gardens” (September), a book about lonely radicals. Writer’s writer Andre Dubus III follows his best-selling memoir, “Townie,” with “Dirty Love” (October), a collection of linked novellas set on the North Shore. Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee puts forth “The Childhood of Jesus” (September), a novel that isn’t actually about Jesus. Readers are already aflutter over National Book Award-winner Alice McDermott’s latest, “Someone” (September), which chronicles the life of an ordinary woman in extraordinary prose.
But if publishing seasons were episodes of “Sesame Street,” this fall’s fiction would be brought to you by the letter “S”: Sequels abound. The one that has the most people drooling in anticipation is Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep” (September), a follow-up to “The Shining” some 36 years later. Margaret Atwood contributes “MaddAddam” (September), thus completing the plague-ridden trilogy she began 10 years ago with “Oryx and Crake.” In “Never Go Back” (September), the 18th installment of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, Reacher goes back. Bridget Jones returns, too, in “Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy” (October), Helen Fielding’s first dalliance with her famous protagonist since 1999’s “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.” Sue Grafton races ever nearer to the end of the alphabet with “W is for Wasted” (September).
Even literary fiction has its sequels: Nicholson Baker, best known for highly literate pornography, reuses the philosopher-poet who narrates “The Anthologist” in his new novel, “Traveling Sprinkler” (September); in “Enon” (September), Paul Harding revisits the family he introduced in “Tinkers,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut.
Novelists aren’t the only ones stepping out this season: Several of nonfiction’s biggest names are soon to release inevitable bestsellers. Bill Bryson details the outlandish number of significant events that took place in “One Summer: America, 1927” (October). Richard Dawkins remembers his early life as a budding skeptic in “An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist” (September). And Malcolm Gladwell does whatever it is that he does — again — in “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” (October). The most anticipated of these likely belongs to Doris Kearns Goodwin, who’s soon to release “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” (November).
But Goodwin is hardly the only local scholar with an engaging new work aimed at general readers. The Harvard Book Store’s Cass is looking forward to Barnard College president Deborah Spar’s “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection” (September).
“It looks really promising, and I think it’s going to be huge,” she says, likening it to the feminist cultural studies’ answer to “Lean In.” Also high on Cass’s list: Northeastern University literature professor Carla Kaplan’s social history, “Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance” (September), and Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s “Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin” (October), a passionate biography of Ben’s sister. Those with a hankering for a polemic on domestic policy can turn to Boston University’s Andrew Bacevich, who makes the case for the draft in “Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country” (September).
The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination has already occasioned a number of books this year, and the flurry continues apace throughout the fall. Oft-quoted political scientist Larry J. Sabato weighs in with “The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy” (October). Never-before-seen work of Kennedy’s official photographer, Jacques Lowe, will appear alongside the shutterbug’s recollections in “The Kennedy Years: A Memoir” (September). Investigative reporter Philip Shenon promises to rewrite history with “A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination” (October). In “Dallas 1963” (October), Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis explain why Kennedy might have wanted to avoid that city at that time.
Dale Szczeblowski of Porter Square Books in Cambridge is most looking forward to Robert Dallek’s “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House” (October). “He’s a very prominent presidential scholar, and I think it’ll be one of the most worthy,” he says.
Those seeking books about baby-boomer icons of the musical variety might turn to Linda Ronstadt’s “Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir” (September). “All these aging rock ’n’ roll stars are writing memoirs — everyone from heavy metal guys to Carole King,” Szczeblowski says. “Neil Young’s autobiography has done very well here. Judy Collins did one, too, and now Linda Ronstadt. They’re all getting to that age.”
Essay enthusiasts of any age will have their pick of worthy offerings in the coming months. In “How to Read a Novelist” (October), former Granta editor John Freeman spins his interviews with authors into a guide to the literary landscape. Norah Ephron fans — of which there are plenty — will rejoice at “The Most of Nora Ephron” (October), a 576-page omnibus of the late wit’s writings.
Novelist and Emerson College writing professor Steve Yarbrough can’t wait for “White Girls” (November), the forthcoming essay collection from New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als. “There’s a long essay on Flannery O’Connor. It’s the best thing I’ve ever read about her,” he says. “Anything [Als] writes, I’m going to want to get my hands on.”
Even readers completely devoid of interest in the literature of the current century will have their pick of titles this fall: Two famous contemporary novelists have turned their attention to their forebears. Mystery scribe Alexander McCall Smith explains to us “What W.H. Auden Can Do For You” (September), an appreciation of the poet that should appeal even to those only familiar with his work via “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
“I would expect that we’ll need to order more Auden, but we’ll probably sell more of the McCall Smith book, at least initially,” Szczeblowski says. “[Sarah] Bakewell’s biography [‘How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer’] brought attention to Montaigne — we’ve had steady sales of his essays for a year or two after. And ‘The Swerve,’ [Stephen] Greenblatt’s book about the poems of Lucretius . . . [made] people all of a sudden turn to Lucretius. I imagine Alexander McCall Smith will turn more people on to Auden.”
More than a decade ago, Jonathan Franzen did the same for novelist Paula Fox when he wrote an impassioned introduction to the reissue of her book, “Desperate Characters.” This fall, Franzen hopes to revive the career of Karl Kraus, the premiere Viennese satirist of World War I, whose essays he edits and extensively annotates in “The Kraus Project” (October). The Brookline Booksmith’s Mark Pearson, for one, thinks Franzen may succeed. “Kraus was an influence on Walter Benjamin,” he says. “He was probably as annoying to people then as Franzen is now.”
Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached at email@example.com.