There’s a lot more than pumpkin-flavored everything to look forward to this fall, starting with a particularly impressive crop of new books. Beloved authors like Kate Atkinson, George Saunders, Dani Shapiro, and Annie Proulx are returning—and former First Lady Michelle Obama has written another book that promises to be a must-read. There are also exciting debuts on the way from authors like Ryan Lee Wong, who delivers an activist’s coming-of-age story, and Jessi Hempel, who writes about the relief of revealing your true self.
Here, the 33 best books to read this fall.
If I Survive You, Jonathan Escoffery (Sept. 6)
Jonathan Escoffery’s sharp debut explores longing and belonging through a series of intertwined stories focusing on one family’s quest to find home. Centering on the experiences of Trelawny, the nerdy but lovable son of two Jamaican immigrants who moved to Miami after rising political violence in Kingston forced them to vacate, the stories explore the challenges that he and his family face as they attempt to square two vastly different cultures and survive disasters both natural, like Hurricane Andrew, and man-made, including the 2008 recession and capitalism at large.
The Marriage Portrait, Maggie O’Farrell (Sept. 6)
Little is known about Lucrezia de’Medici, the noblewoman who died at the age of 16 in 1561, but her mysterious death, rumored to be caused by poisoning at the hand of her husband, allegedly inspired the poet Robert Browning to write the foreboding monologue, “My Last Duchess.” In The Marriage Portrait, Maggie O’Farrell, author of the celebrated 2020 novel Hamnet, takes her own swing at Lucrezia’s story. She sets aside the young woman’s imminent death, instead focusing on imagining a rich interior life for the duchess that highlights the tragic contrast between her big hopes and dreams and the stark limitations of her time.
On the Rooftop, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (Sept. 6)
It’s the 1950s in gentrifying San Francisco, and widower Vivan’s three daughters are aspiring musicians who perform at local bars and nightclubs. She wants them to make it big—but as the girls turn into women, they begin pursuing paths that will lead them away from music and their mother’s dreams. The family unit begins to splinter in parallel with their historically Black neighborhood. On the Rooftop jumps between four narrators—Vivian and each of her daughters—and beautifully captures the complicated emotions that arise when a parent realizes that what she wants for her kids doesn’t necessarily align with what they need.
People Person, Candice Carty-Williams (Sept. 13)
Dimple Pennington didn’t exactly hit the jackpot in the family department—she barely knows her four half-siblings, and her absent father is a people person who enjoys fraternizing with everyone but his own kids. But when she lands in a sticky situation that could lead directly to prison, help comes from a surprising, familial place. As Dimple and her siblings band together, they get to know each other for the first time as adults and begin to come to terms with the role their father might, or might not, play in their lives. The novel—Candice Carty-Williams’ second, after her acclaimed 2019 debut Queenie—is a big-hearted reminder that a messy family is still a family.
Woman Without Shame, Sandra Cisneros (Sept. 13)
Sandra Cisneros returns with her first book of poetry in 28 years with Woman Without Shame, an electrifying collection of meditations on her life and work as an artist, paying tribute to her Mexican ancestors and the legacy she carries. The author, who made her writing debut in 1983 with The House on Mango Street, looks back on both her personal and artistic experiences as a way of freeing herself for the future, revisiting past loves and family trauma while dissecting topics like politics and religion. Unapologetically passionate, sensual, and expansive, Cisneros’ poems are a tribute to her journey as a creative.
Revolution and Dictatorship, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way (Sept. 13)
Many political scientists have puzzled over how and why dictatorships that stem from social revolution—like those in China, Cuba, and Iran—are so durable. In Revolution and Dictatorship, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way argue that the counterrevolutionary conflict triggered by these violent uprisings leads to the kind of solidarity and state-building that allow authoritarianism to flourish. The nearly 700-page book is a clear and comprehensive analysis from the duo who previously authored Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War.
Bliss Montage, Ling Ma (Sept. 13)
Ling Ma follows up her prescient and popular 2018 debut novel Severance with Bliss Montage, a collection of short stories that finds the fantastical within the mundane. In eight captivating tales that blur the lines between reality and delusion, Ma harnesses the pulsating desire and power dynamics present in all relationships, from intimate friendships and haunting romantic entanglements to motherhood and the invisible yet omnipresent ties of ancestors.
Drunk on Love, Jasmine Guillory (Sept. 20)
Jasmine Guillory’s wine-fueled new romance novel, Drunk on Love, offers top notes of heady flirtation and a satisfyingly rich finish. Protagonist Margot Noble is deeply stressed running the family’s Napa Valley winery alongside her brother, but she finds release in a hot one-night stand with Luke, a handsome stranger and former Silicon Valley techie who just happens to be, unbeknownst to Margot, the winery’s newest employee. As they abruptly transition from lovers to colleagues, Luke and Margot must contend with their simmering attraction and unexpected feelings for each other.
Less Is Lost, Andrew Sean Greer (Sept. 20)
Arthur Less is back for more. Readers met the gay, middle-aged, fictional novelist in Andrew Sean Greer’s novel Less, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018. Now, Less is channeling his emotions over his former partner’s death into a U.S. road trip, bouncing from literary gig to gig. Along the way, expect him to transform in surprising—and inevitably amusing—ways. Less Is Lost is a satisfying sequel about resilience and choosing love.
The Book of Goose, Yiyun Li (Sept. 20)
The deep bond between two girls with drastically divergent destinies lies at the heart of The Book of Goose, which traverses rural France, Paris, London, and Pennsylvania in the years following WWII to tell a tale that twists and turns through immense fortune and devastating loss. Despite their different upbringings and personalities, Fabienne and Agnés share a friendship that’s strengthened by their secret game, the writing of their own narratives. Their relationship is challenged when Agnés leaves for finishing school and, later, a stint in the publishing world. But when she learns of Fabienne’s unexpected death after nearly a decade of physical and emotional separation, it prompts her to tell the stories that they wrote in order to keep her friend’s memory alive.
Lucy By the Sea, Elizabeth Strout (Sept. 20)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout revisits one of her most unforgettable characters, the titular heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton and Oh William!, its sequel. Lucy By the Sea is another Barton installment that confronts the deep and familiar tangles of intimate relationships. As the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold, Lucy and her ex-husband William, with whom she shares a complex friendship, hunker down in a remote town in Maine, away from her life in New York City. Through this complex and isolating time, Lucy plumbs the nuances of human connection.
Shrines of Gaiety, Kate Atkinson (Sept. 27)
For nearly three decades, Kate Atkinson has reliably shuttled readers back through time, often to the years during—or between—wars. In her new novel, Shrines of Gaiety, she takes on London in the 1920s, masterfully capturing both its shimmer and its seediness. Atkinson introduces Nellie Coker, an ambitious nightclub owner with six children who’s just been released from prison. The narration shifts between an eccentric cast of characters, including Nellie, her kids, a detective determined to bring her down, two young runaways, and an unassuming librarian trying to unravel a mystery. It’s a deliciously fun, absorbing read.
Stay True, Hua Hsu (Sept. 27)
In Hua Hsu’s poignant new memoir, Stay True, a coming-of-age friendship provides the catalyst for clear-eyed recollections. Hsu describes how a friendship struck with Ken, a student whose preppy, stereotypically masculine interests were a far cry from his own counter-cultural tastes, became a deep kinship rooted in their exclusion from American culture. Though their backgrounds differed—Ken came from a long line of Japanese Americans, while Hsu is the child of Taiwanese immigrants—they found common ground. After Ken’s unexpected and violent death, Hsu kept his memory alive by writing. The result is this bittersweet memoir, a reflection on the power of friendship and how we can find connection in the most unexpected of places.
Fen, Bog, & Swamp, Annie Proulx (Sept. 27)
Novelist Annie Proulx—author of the short story Brokeback Mountain, in addition to such titles as The Shipping News and Barkskins—has always written carefully and compellingly about the environment. In Fen, Bog, & Swamp, she turns her attention to peat-making wetlands. Proulx brings fens, bogs, swamps, and marine estuaries to life with detailed descriptions of their importance, their history, and how they’re now being exploited. It’s a fascinating deep dive that doubles as a call to action to protect wetlands from climate change.
The Furrows, Namwali Serpell (Sept. 27)
The fluctuating but omnipresent nature of grief and the unreliability of memory inform Namwali Serpell’s affecting new novel, The Furrows. Protagonist Cassandra’s world is forever changed when her younger brother Wayne tragically drowns at the beach as a child, his body never found. Her family copes with the loss in devastating ways: her mother can’t acknowledge the death, her father leaves to start a new life and family, and Cassandra can’t help but see her brother’s face everywhere, a recurrence that takes on a curious new bent after she meets a mysterious man also named Wayne. With warmth and dexterity, Serpell has crafted a narrative that underscores how loss can show us the depths of our love.
The Family Outing, Jessi Hempel (Oct. 4)
Journalist Jessi Hempel was the first person in her family to come out—but she was not the last. In her memoir, Hempel recalls growing up in veiled dysfunction. Looking back, she realizes that everyone in her outwardly perfect household was hiding something. Today, everyone in the family has come out: Hempel as gay, her sister as bisexual, and her brother as transgender. Her father revealed that he is gay, and her mother opened up about traumatic experiences that shaped her life. The Family Outing is a mesmerizing debut that shines with empathy.
Our Missing Hearts, Celeste Ng (Oct. 4)
In Our Missing Hearts, Celeste Ng imagines a terrifying dystopian future where Asian Americans are treated as suspicious threats by the government and citizens, where the children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, can be “relocated,” and where art is under siege for being unpatriotic. For 12-year-old Bird, countless questions swirl around his family’s complicated history. His mother, a Chinese American poet, left when he was 9 years old under murky circumstances after her work became a rallying cry for dissenters protesting the government’s Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act. In the years since, he’s learned to disavow both her name and her art. But when Bird receives a mysterious drawing in the mail, he’s certain it’s from his mother—and he becomes determined to find her, uncovering dark truths about his world in the process.
When They Tell You to Be Good, Prince Shakur (Oct. 4)
In his searing debut memoir, When They Tell You To Be Good, writer and activist Prince Shakur reckons with his self-actualization in a world inherently hostile to his identities as a queer, Black radical in America. Starting with his experiences as the young son of Jamaican immigrant parents in Ohio, Shakur details his struggles with familial homophobia and the aftermath of his father’s murder. In college, he finds community and political organizing that speak to his values, but realizes there is no easy answer to structural oppression in the U.S; his travels around the world both during and after college reveal to him that the prejudice he has experienced is not exclusively American, though his trips to Ferguson, Mo., where he protested for Black Lives Matter, and to the Dakotas, where he stood alongside activists at Standing Rock, were among his most meaningful. The story of Shakur’s life is a deeply personal reflection that celebrates self-discovery in the face of intergenerational trauma and a violent colonial legacy.
Which Side Are You On, Ryan Lee Wong (Oct. 4)
In Ryan Lee Wong’s debut novel, Reed, an Asian American college student, is ready to drop out to devote himself full-time to the Black Lives Matter movement. But his mother, who once led a Korean-Black coalition, challenges him to rethink what it means to be an ally and self-proclaimed radical. Over the course of a few days, when Reed is back at home in Los Angeles, his eyes open to what it really takes to create positive change. Which Side Are You On is a thought-provoking and poignant coming-of-age story.
Making a Scene, Constance Wu (Oct. 4)
In 2019, Constance Wu, one of the most visible Asian American actors in Hollywood, experienced intense backlash after complaining on social media about the renewal of Fresh Off the Boat, the trailblazing sitcom that helped catapult her to fame. The actor gives the situation fresh context in her bold new memoir, Making a Scene. Through a series of candid and relatable essays, Wu details how a lifetime of acting, from community theater to major projects like Crazy Rich Asians, has helped her express the big feelings and strong personality she was always taught to repress. Her voice is forthright and clear as she delves into experiences of sexual assault, racial discrimination, and heartbreak.
Signal Fires, Dani Shapiro (Oct. 18)
Dani Shapiro, who most recently authored the 2019 memoir Inheritance, is releasing her first novel in 15 years. Signal Fires is a complicated family drama that opens in 1985, when three teenagers are involved in a terrible car accident that will alter their families’ lives for years to come. Shapiro’s characters’ interweaving stories grapple with the ways that guilt festers when it’s not dealt with—and, ultimately, the unexpected paths that can lead to healing and redemption.
Liberation Day, George Saunders (Oct. 18)
George Saunders—who’s been described as “the best short-story writer in English”—is returning with his first collection of stories since 2013’s Tenth of December. One piece transports readers to the hell-themed section of an underground amusement park; another to a hailstorm on Mother’s Day, as two women who loved the same man reach their breaking point. Other stories explore authoritarianism, obedience, rebellion, and freedom. Liberation Day is an immersive, inventive treat full of dark humor and uncomfortable truths.
Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman, Alan Rickman (Oct. 18)
You might know Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, or Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter. You’ll know him much better, in many more dimensions, after reading his diaries, which he began writing in the 1990s. By the time he died in 2016, there were 27 volumes; Madly, Deeply distills them into nearly 500 pages of wit and passion. Expect heartfelt musings on the craft of acting, politics, friendships, and the meaning of life.
Readme.txt, Chelsea Manning (Oct. 18)
It’s been more than a decade since Chelsea Manning—a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst—smuggled military and diplomatic documents out of Iraq and released them to WikiLeaks. After being charged with the unauthorized possession and distribution of classified military records, she was sentenced to 35 years in military prison; while incarcerated, she announced that she is a transgender woman. In 2017, President Barack Obama commuted her sentence, and she’s since been released. Though Manning’s story has inspired an opera and off-Broadway play, on top of plenty of headlines, her new memoir, README.txt, marks the first time she’s telling her full story in her own words.
The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy (Oct. 25)
Cormac McCarthy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Road, delivers one of the most anticipated literary novels of the fall. The Passenger introduces readers to Bobby Western, a salvage diver investigating a private plane crash shrouded in mystery: everyone is dead, with the possible exception of one passenger who’s unaccounted for, and the black box is missing. As Bobby gets caught up in an increasingly tense situation, he continues to be haunted by the death of his sister and the legacy of his father, who worked on the atomic bomb. The second volume, Stella Maris, will be released on Dec. 6.
The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On, Franny Choi (Nov. 1)
The threat of the end times has long been spun into cautionary tales, but Franny Choi asks readers to consider what it looks like for those who have already experienced an apocalypse. In their arresting poetry collection, The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On, Choi considers the many ways in which the unthinkable has already happened for the most marginalized around the world by way of catastrophe, war, and devastation. Touching on everything from Korean comfort women during WWII to the very present climate crisis, Choi draws attention to the traumas that people have already experienced and calls for solidarity for the future.
The World We Make, N.K. Jemisin (Nov. 1)
The New York City mayoral race has long been a point of contention for its residents, something that takes on even greater consequences in The World We Make, N.K. Jemisin’s anticipated sequel to The City We Became. In a dystopian future, New York City and its human avatars Brooklyn, Manny, Bronca, Venezia, Padmini, and Neek have prevented an invasion by the “Enemy,” an evil force that threatens to destroy the essence of the city—and possibly the universe along with it. But a new mayoral candidate, dead-set on using gentrification, xenophobia, and “law and order” to gain power in New York, may disrupt the tenuous peace of the city, unless the avatars can intervene.
Saha, Cho Nam-Joo, translated by Jamie Chang (Nov. 1)
Cho Nam-Joo’s Saha opens on a chilling scene in a dystopian future: In the rich and privileged country of Town, a doctor named Su is found dead in an abandoned car. The authorities believe the only place where such violence could have taken place is the Saha Estates, a slum where they happen upon the main suspects, Do-Kyung and his sister Jin-Kyung. But after Do-Kyung mysteriously disappears, Jin-Kyung’s quest to discover what happened to him reveals a truth that could change the course of life not only for the residents of Saha, but also for the rest of Town.
Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Matthew Perry (Nov. 1)
It’s the one with reflections: when Matthew Perry—who portrayed Chandler on the beloved sitcom Friends—announced that he had finished writing his memoir, he noted it was about time he reclaimed his story. “The highs were high, the lows were low,” he wrote. “But I have lived to tell the tale, even though at times it looked like I wouldn’t.” In Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Perry recounts his childhood, TV career, struggles with addiction, and path to sobriety. Expect plenty of the actor’s signature humor and warmth.
Art Is Life, Jerry Saltz (Nov. 1)
For over four decades, Jerry Saltz’s voice has been one of the most valued in the art world as both a critic and a champion of artistic works and their creators. Now, the Pulitzer Prize and National Magazine award winner takes stock of the cultural landscape over the last two decades to make the case that art in all its forms, from the provocative to the political, is vital for our existence. His latest book, Art Is Life, covers everything from the trailblazing career of Kara Walker and the controversial work of Jeff Koons to Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s groundbreaking portraits of President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Now Is Not the Time to Panic, Kevin Wilson (Nov. 8)
Kevin Wilson’s most recent novel, 2019’s Nothing to See Here, centered on two children with the unique ability to spontaneously combust. He returns with another quirky offering, this time about teenage misfits Frankie and Zeke, who create a cryptic poster and hang hundreds of copies around town. The poster takes on a life on its own, with rumors swirling that it was designed by kidnappers or Satanists—and incites a panic with deadly consequences. Frankie and Zeke hide their involvement and their friendship dissolves. But years later, Frankie receives a call from a journalist who’s digging into the events and claims to know who was responsible for the poster, threatening to turn her carefully constructed life upside down.
The Light We Carry, Michelle Obama (Nov. 15)
Four years after her blockbuster hit Becoming, Michelle Obama is releasing another book: The Light We Carry, which promises to dispense advice on staying hopeful in challenging times. The former First Lady, who will also narrate the audio version of the book, has said she’ll describe her most beneficial habits, like “starting kind” and assembling a “kitchen table” of confidantes. It’s arriving just in time for book clubs to adopt it as their last read of the year.
Butts: A Backstory, Heather Radke (Nov. 22)
With Butts: A Backstory, journalist and Radiolab contributor Heather Radke invites readers to look back at it—that is, a nearly two-century history of obsession with the female posterior. From 19th-century bustles to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back,” women’s backsides have been a point of cultural fascination, criticism, and praise. Delving into this history, Radke provides fresh insights into why butts hold such sway over society—and what that says about our relationships to race, class, gender, and power.
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