In his Pulitzer-winning novel Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) writes:
“That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air… Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.”
The beginning of fall almost always feels more than a seasonal transition to me. It is, indeed, another turned page– a clean slate, if you will.
In a conversation I had with one of my close friends this morning, she told me that September is a month of new beginnings, but it’s also a month that can bring challenges with grief and loss. This does make sense; after all, without endings there is no new beginnings.
I see fall as a season of contradictions. To bring balance into my life during this transition, I, perhaps like most, often seek solace in the gorgeous foliage, blankets, comfy sweaters, and cozying up with my cats and hot coffee with a good book in my hands (I especially love how you can have it ALL at the same time!). Unfortunately, I can’t give you any suggestions about where to go for a magical foliage or where to buy the best sweater, but I can most certainly give you an exciting list of books with which you can cozy up this fall.
There are many, many brilliant literary texts coming out in the fall, but here are the ones I cannot wait to read. Some are Halloweeny and exciting, and some are grounding—just like the fall.
And no, I don’t even regret that simile.
Okay, I’ll stop–let’s get to it.
P.S.: As you may know, pre-ordering books can help writers immensely, since it clearly shows the publisher that the writer and their writing are in demand. If you can, pre-order books to support writers.
1) Homeland Elegies: A Novel by Ayad Akhtar
Release Date: September 15, 2020
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
In Homeland Elegies, Muslim American Pulitzer-winning novelist and playwright Ayad Akhtar explores identity, race, family, religion, and belonging in Trump’s America. I’m curious to see how Akhtar’s unique narrative voice, as recognized in his previous works Disgraced and American Dervish, plays out in Homeland Elegies.
In the novel, “the reader encounters a range of memorable characters,” The Kirkus Reviews writes, “Akhtar’s father, an immigrant doctor who supports the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, a former patient; his mother, a melancholy woman who pines for Pakistan and the medical school classmate she wishes she had married instead of Akhtar’s father; and Riaz Rind, a Muslim hedge fund manager who takes Akhtar under his wing and offers an education in the cold realities of capital. One comes to this book not for the pleasures of conventional narrative fiction (though Akhtar certainly can spin a tale); this is a novel of restless exploration that finds no pat answers about what it means to be a Muslim American today.”
A deeply personal work about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.
Ayad Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and the gods of finance rule, where immigrants live in fear, and where the nation’s unhealed wounds wreak havoc around the world. Akhtar attempts to make sense of it all through the lens of a story about one family, from a heartland town in America to palatial suites in Central Europe to guerrilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan, and spares no one — least of all himself — in the process.
2) Leave the World Behind: A Novel by Rumaan Alam
Release Date: October 6, 2020
Rumaan Alam‘s Leave the World Behind is dark, suspenseful, and thrilling. I’ve heard so much about Alam’s previous novels too, so I look forward to reading his latest. I usually shy away from claustrophobic, end-of-the-world stories, but it sounds like Leave the World Behind will be a good choice for Halloween, one of my favorite holidays.
A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong.
Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.
Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other?
Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.
3) Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Release Date: September 8, 2020
Publisher: Atria Books
Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s Folk med ångest was originally published in 2019, and the English translation (by Neil Smith) is coming out next week.
Anxious People tells the story of seven people held hostage by a so-called bank robber. It is heartwarming, witty, and dramatic, and I look forward to reading it (will be my first Backman!).
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and “writer of astonishing depth” (The Washington Times) comes a poignant, charming novel about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.
Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.
Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.
Rich with Fredrik Backman’s “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope—the things that save us, even in the most anxious times.
4) The Harpy by Megan Hunter
Release Date: November 3, 2020
Publisher: Grove Press
Megan Hunter’s second novel The Harphy offers an insight into the complexities of marriage, family, and infidelity. This, however, is not a typical infidelity story, and here’s a glimpse into its intriguing plot:
Lucy and Jake live in a house by a field where the sun burns like a ball of fire. Lucy has set her career aside in order to devote her life to the children, to their finely tuned routine, and to the house itself, which comforts her like an old, sly friend. But then a man calls one afternoon with a shattering message: his wife has been having an affair with Lucy’s husband, Jake.
The revelation marks a turning point: Lucy and Jake decide to stay together, but make a special arrangement designed to even the score and save their marriage—she will hurt him three times.
As the couple submit to a delicate game of crime and punishment, Lucy herself begins to change, surrendering to a transformation of both mind and body from which there is no return.
Told in dazzling, musical prose, The Harpy is a dark, staggering fairy tale, at once mythical and otherworldly and fiercely contemporary. It is a novel of love, marriage and its failures, of power, control and revenge, of metamorphosis and renewal.
5) Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land by N. Scott Momaday
Release Date: November 3, 2020
Publisher: Harper Collins
Kiowa writer Navarre Scott Momaday returns with another genre-binding collection of poems, essays, and stories about our connection to the Earth. His exploration of his Native American heritage, its oral traditions, and relationship to the land is also a tribute to his native Southwest. This piece will be a guide for all of us at this time when we are collectively and globally reconsidering our connection to each other, as well as to our planet.
One of the most distinguished voices in American letters, N. Scott Momaday has devoted much of his life to celebrating and preserving Native American culture, especially its oral tradition. A member of the Kiowa tribe who was born and grew up on Indian reservations throughout the Southwest, Momaday has an intimate connection to the land he knows well and loves deeply.
In Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land, he reflects on his native ground and its influence on his people. “When I think about my life and the lives of my ancestors, I am inevitably led to the conviction that I, and they, belong to the American land. This is a declaration of belonging. And it is an offering to the earth.” he writes.
Momaday recalls stories of his childhood, stories that have been passed down through generations, stories that reveal a profound and sacred connection to the American landscape and a reverence for the natural world.
In this moving work, he offers an homage and a warning. Momaday reminds us that the Earth is a sacred place of wonder and beauty; a source of strength and healing that must be protected before it’s too late. As he so eloquently yet simply expresses, we must all be keepers of the Earth.