The Fall's Essential Books

Fall means auburn-colored leaves, a chill in the air — and the finest selections publishing houses have to offer, including works by Donna Tartt and Jhumpa Lahiri.

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Fall means auburn-colored leaves, a chill in the air — and the finest selections publishing houses have to offer. We've already covered the early September releases by Margaret Atwood, Thomas Pynchon and Jonathan Lethem in our summer preview. Regardless, the fall will feature plenty to keep readers busy, from campy restaurant reviews to tales of literary machismo. Below, the titles we're most eagerly anticipating.

Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture, Dana Goodyear

Dana Goodyear may be our finest longform food journalist. The New Yorker staff writer — who is also an acclaimed poet — has written for that magazine on California’s unpasteurized milk movement and Los Angeles’s underground Wolvesmouth restaurant. She does not disappoint here, in an exploration (partly culled from her New Yorker pieces) of what she calls “the outer bounds of food culture,” which includes everything from the Las Vegas food scene (a frightening notion) to head-to-tail butchering. Anyone who writes about eating "stinkbugs" is worth reading. (Riverhead, Nov. 14)

Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books, Claudia Roth Pierpont

Roth Pierpont, a staff writer at The New Yorker, met Roth (no relation, as far as we know) at a party in Lower Manhattan some ten years ago. The two apparently became friends, and Roth — who recently announced he would no longer write novels — cooperated for this book, which is less a biography than, as the introduction says, "an examination of Roth's development as a writer." Nevertheless, that development so closely traces the author's own life that Roth Pierpont can't help but include the juicy bits, from his debilitating addiction to pain killers to longstanding allegations of misogyny. Oh, and he wrote some pretty good books, too. Among the amusing afterthoughts Roth Pierpont includes at her book's conclusion is this veritable gem: "He sometimes quotes the last lines of The Great Gatsby, but admits that he has some reservations about the book." We'd be almost more surprised if he didn't. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 22)

The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri 

Lahiri is an eloquent chronicler of the Indian-American experience, and The Lowland may be her most promising book since Interpreter of Maladies, the 1999 collection that won her the Pulitzer Prize. The story is of two brothers, one of whom becomes a radical crusader in India, while the other travels to America, where he becomes a well-to-do chemical oceanographer. But after the former dies, the remaining brother must travel to India and confront the past he'd thought he left behind for good. Notoriously tough Kirkus says in an early, starred review that this novel is "masterful" and "rendered with devastating depth and clarity." (September 24, Knopf)

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Any new novel by Tartt is a big deal, considering that she has published only two thus far — the second of those, The Little Friend, came 11 years ago, which makes Thomas Pynchon look like a veritable speedwriter by comparison. It is, of course, Tartt's 1992 debut, The Secret History, that rightly made the Bret Easton Ellis acolyte and fellow Bennington College graduate world famous. The Little Friend could not ascend to such heights, which makes the stakes for The Goldfinch — a story about a young boy in possession of a Dutch masterpiece — that much higher. Early reviews are encouraging, if not ebullient, with Publishers Weekly writing that The Goldfinch is "unwieldly" at close to 800 pages but nevertheless a "pleasure to read; with more economy to the brushstrokes, it might have been great." (Little, Brown. October 22)

The Dark Path: A Memoir, David Schickler

David Schickler loved God as a young man — but he loved women, too. For one who wants to become a Catholic priest, this is a problem. In this memoir of religion, Schickler tries to reconcile his complicated feelings about Christianity. His writing can be lighthearted yet lyrical. Noting his personal opposition, for example, to the creed that “Jesus is the Light of the World,” Schickler writes, “My problem is, I like abiding in the darkness. I like the dark path, the low, forever shadows among the trees. For me, God is in that darkness.” Elsewhere, he intones, “fuck You, God, or Lack-of-God, or Whoever the Fuck You Are.” Nobody said that faith was easy. (Riverhead, September 12)

Norman Mailer: A Double LifeJ. Michael Lennon

Lennon met Mailer in 1972, and the two would become friends, with Lennon serving as Mailer's archivist and, eventually, biographer. Here, he tells of Mailer's journey from Brooklyn to Harvard to the Philippines during World War II to fame with The Naked and the Dead, with plenty of notoriety in between, rightly earned for boozing and brawling in a fine imitation of Ernest Hemingway. It's hard to ignore a book that bears a chapter titled "General Marijuana and the Navigator" — or a story about Mailer drinking with Jake "Raging Bull" LaMotta at the famed P.J. Clarke's on the East Side. (Simon & Schuster, October 15)

How Are You Feeling? At the Centre of the Inside of the Human Brain’s Mind, David Shrigley

I have no idea how to describe this book. Maybe this is what it feels like to be mad — or maybe just human. Shrigley is an immensely talented graphic artist. These are the beautiful, grotesque insides of his head. (W.W. Norton, September 32)

Actors Anonymous, James Franco

Some people really hate James Franco: for his acting, his directing. his intellectual aspirations. Some people even want him to stop entirely. Well, that’s not going to happen, not with Franco on the cusp of his novelistic debut. Actors Anonymous has a requisite blurb from Gary Shteyngart (a one-time professor of Franco’s) calling the novel “subversively funny and provocatively funny.” It contains the following sentence, at the very least: “I was alive when Shakespeare wrote all that crap. It was good then, but it wasn’t Shakespeare.” Okay, we’re hooked. (Amazon Publishing, October 15)

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations, Mary Beard

Many people have defended the classics; few have done it with the eloquent wit of Mary Beard, a Cambridge professor who also frequently writes for The New York Review of Books. Here, Beard argues that "the study of the Classics is the study of what happens in the gap between antiquity and ourselves." Beard is both an easygoing and knowledgeable guide through ancient Rome and Greece, comparing, for example, Augustus's wife Livia to Nancy Reagan. And her chapter on Aeschylus opens with Robert F. Kennedy quoting from Agamemnon upon learning that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated. The ghosts of the ancients are still with us, it seems. (W.W. Norton, September 17)

A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic, David N. Dinkins with Peter Knobler

David Dinkins is not remembered as one of New York’s finest mayors, which is precisely what should make this book worth reading. It has already been the subject of media attention, as The New York Times revealed over the summer that A Mayor's Life claims that the successful campaign Rudy Giuliani ran against Dinkins in 1993 was laced with racism. There’s a lot more, here, too, from Dinkins’ ascent through the Harlem elite to his handling of crises like the Crown Heights riots. The New York of the early 1990’s may not have been the corporate metropolis of 2013, but it is important to remember the challenges it faced then and could easily face again. (Public Affairs, September 17)

Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Review, Marilyn Hagerty

Depending on how you look at it, Hagerty is either the unsuspecting victim of an ironic, jaded media culture or the symbol of what remains good and true about the Heartland. In 2012, she published a review of an Olive Garden in the Grand Forks Herald of North Dakota, for which she had been writing for years. The review went viral because, well, anyone who says “The place is impressive” about the Olive Garden deserves to have her voice heard. In this book — published by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s imprint — you can hear Hagerty’s charming Midwestern voice over and over in your head as you read about how “Mr. Steak Aims to Be the Gathering Place for Birthdays” and the fine pizzas at Señor Howard's. (Ecco, August 27)

The Circle, David Eggers

To borrow from the inimitable Joe Biden, this is a big effin' deal. The book world didn't even know that an Eggers novel was in the works until earlier this month, when word leaked that Knopf was preparing for a fall release. The novel by the man who can be rightly called Gen X's finest writer will describe the role of a woman in an Internet start-up. According to the publisher's summary, "What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge." Way off the record and just between us, we hear the novel is fantastic. (Knopf, October 8)

Salinger, David Shields and Shane Salerno

We know even less about this book than Eggers's new novel — pretty much every report on Private War and Salerno's accompanying documentary employs the adjective "secretive" to describe the twin projects, and galleys have not been sent out to reviewers. Except, that is, to The New York Times's Michiko Kakutani, who didn't like the book. But that will hardly dampen excitement for a biography of one of the most popular and secretive writers of postwar America. (Simon & Schuster, September 3)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.