The only consolation to the waning days of summer is the arrival of all of this fall's new books. Even though it's been many years since we thought of September as a time to go back to school, that doesn't mean we're immune to the charms of that new book smell, and the slippery feel of previously unturned pages. This year, there are plenty of big book launches bound to make everyone excited, from Haruki Murakami's latest novel, Killing Commendatore, to essay collections from comedic geniuses Phoebe Robinson and Abbi Jacobson, to the memoir we've all been waiting for: Becoming by Michelle Obama. The latter is set to come out a couple of weeks after this year's midterm elections, so we can only hope we'll be reading it while still in celebration mode.
For a look at 21 other books that we recommend checking out this fall, check out our list, below.
Vanishing Twins: A Marriage by Leah Dieterich (available September 4) Is there any more agonizing search than the one undertaken to find yourself? Not least because you can't help but be aware that this particular search might well have no end. And you might not even be aware of when it began. Leah Dieterich's memoir, Vanishing Twins, is filled with that specific sharp agony; it echoes with longing, vibrates with the effort Dieterich undergoes as she pushes the boundaries of who she is, both as an individual and within the context of her marriage. Within both realms—the individual and the partnered—Dieterich explores what it means to have options and to choose one thing over another; she and her husband open their marriage, and she explores what it means to expand and maintain connections to another person and to herself. All of this exploration is done in the kind of beautifully written fragments that lodge inside you after reading, so that you carry these thoughts around inside of you, exploring the themes until they become, if not your own, then something shared, and elevated, because of it.
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (available September 4) A funny thing about motherhood is that it is a process by which a woman transforms herself into a home; suddenly, you are not just a person, but also you are a place, a sanctuary, a retreat, a destination. It can feel, sometimes, that you don't have as much room to be a person, anymore. Or at least not the person you once were. Motherhood and home are two of the themes with which Lydia Kiesling grapples in The Golden State, a lucid, lyrical look at the often alienating, disorienting experience of early motherhood, the way in which it frays at already unraveling nerves, and the way in which external realities contribute to that fraying, that fuzziness, when the fragility of the world around and within us becomes all too apparent.
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart (available September 4) I can understand anyone's knee-jerk resistance to a book about an ultra-wealthy (he works in finance, naturally) married man who abandons it all—including his wife and child—in order to, like, find himself, but there is nothing easy to dismiss about Gary Shteyngart's complex, hilarious novel, which is an incisive portrayal of the ways in which the American Dream has failed everyone, leaving us grasping for meaning and unable to address those problems which money can't easily solve. It's a novel of jarring contradictions and the kind of absurd juxtapositions that are everywhere you look in our wildly unbalanced society, and Shteyngart navigates them with a fluidity and humor that is in turns cutting and compassionate, but always clear-sighted.
Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal (available September 11) Can you imagine a world with no men? Don't worry if you can't; Aminder Dhaliwal does it for you in this smart, funny look at a dystopia (men have been wiped out by a birth defect) that actually kind of resembles something verging on utopian, as women are able to live free of the constraints of anything resembling the patriarchy, and can tell their own stories, make their own rules, and determine for themselves what it means to be happy, to be human, to be alive.
She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore (available September 11) This stunning debut straddles the worlds of historical fiction and magical realism, interweaving the stories of three distinctly memorable characters as they navigate their respectively treacherous worlds, moving toward a place and time where they will meet one another and work out what it means to be free and to create your own future. The West African Gbessa, told by the wind, "If she was not a woman, she would be king"; Virginia plantation-born June Dey; and Jamaican Norman Aragon, the son of a slave and a British colonizer, all meet in Monrovia, the capital of the new nation of Liberia. It is an epic narrative, weaving together themes of diasporic conflict, the legacy of bondage, isolation, and community, and it offers a transcendent, important look at the ways in which the past is never fully behind us, and instead echoes throughout everything we do.
The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman (available September 11) Despite the fact that Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is one of the most famous (and infamous) novels of the last 100 years, few people are aware of its real-life parallel: the kidnapping of Sally Horner, an event which Nabokov denied being inspired by, but which journalist Sarah Weinman has investigated in detail in this fascinating new book, offering new insight not only into the abduction of Horner but also the fascinating genesis and composition of Lolita. Weinman's book works brilliantly as both detective narrative and cultural history; she traveled around the country, visiting the places where Horner's kidnapper brought the young girl, as well as the many roadside motels where Nabokov and his wife stayed while he wrote (he composed his novels on index cards, which his wife then typed out) and hunted for butterflies. Weinman does uncover evidence of "what [Nabokov] knew about Sally Horner and when he knew it," but perhaps more importantly, she never loses sight of Horner as a person, she never reduces Horner into a simplistic version of a victim or an underage temptress. It might seem a small thing, to make clear that a girl or woman is more than just a victim, but it is a courtesy rarely extended by writers, and Weinman does more than just that: She gives us brilliant insight into a tragic story, but also a nuanced, empathetic look at the young girl at its center.
Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll (available September 18) In this charming, witty YA debut, author Jen Doll introduces us to three teenagers in a small Alabama town whose lives collide thanks to their summer jobs at a store that resells the lost luggage that goes unclaimed at airports around the country. (Which, did you even know those stores existed?? I didn't, but am now fully committed to visiting one and seeing what I can find. Anyway.) Doris is a committed liberal who has never felt like she fit in—not only because she's surrounded by church-going conservatives, but also because a horrible experience she suffered at a formative age left her feeling ashamed and alone. While Doris is a social outcast, Grant is the opposite: a star quarterback with the perfect girlfriend. His life, though, is crumbling, because of a drinking problem whose roots are not being properly explored. Doris and Grant are joined by Nell, a recent transplant from Chicago who resents being made to leave her boyfriend for a new home; the three teens work together unpacking and reclaiming baggage both literal and figurative, and move to a profound understanding of the meaning of friendship and the importance of being honest with each other and with ourselves. Doll deftly navigates difficult topics like alcoholism, sexual assault, and racism with a compassion for her characters and her audience, making for a deeply engaging read that beautifully balances life's more profound moments with ones of levity and frivolity.
Passing for Human: A Graphic Memoir by Liana Finck (available September 18) "Once upon a time, I lost something. Let's call it my 'shadow.'" So begins Liana Finck's strange, beautiful, pathos- and joy-filled graphic memoir, in which she explores what it means to be an artist, a daughter, a woman, a human; to be alive and to be yourself. It's a coming-of-age story and creation myth all wrapped up into one, and Finck fills it with moments that feel quietly miraculous, sublime in the manner of a lightning storm seen in the distance.
Night Moves by Jessica Hopper (available September 18) Allow yourself to be taken back to the time in your life when you felt the most free, as if every moment were that point where you lift your arms up into the air, as you descend down a slippery hill on a bike, locking eyes with your friend who is riding right next to you. That type of abandon, made all the more potent by the intimacy of experiencing it with friends, is perfectly captured in Jessica Hopper's Night Moves, in which she recounts in diaristic detail her time as a DJ in Chicago, as she went to underground parties and punk shows, when such a thing was still possible in parts of the city that have now been redefined by development. It's the perfect book for recapturing that lightning-like feeling of being young and wild and free, of feeling music in every part of your body.
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung (available October 2) For so many of us, our identity is inextricably tied up with that of our family and our family's history. For Nicole Chung—born in Seattle to Korean parents, adopted as an infant by white parents, and raised in mostly white, rural Oregon—identity was not implicitly understood, it was a constant questioning and navigation of experience and foundational myths, a search for an elusive truth, and a realization that "truth" can be more than one thing. With clarity, grace, and no small amount of courage, Chung has written a powerful memoir about her experience as an adoptee, an Asian-American, a daughter, a sister, and a mother. All You Can Ever Know is a candid and beautiful exploration of themes of identity, family, racism, and love. And while the answers Chung finds in her search for the birth family she never knew are fascinating, the power of this book lies in Chung's willingness to "question the things [she'd] always been told," even while knowing that she might find unsettling truths and an origin story unlike what she'd always thought had existed. Though this book is specific to Chung's experience and an important example of the complexities inherent to transracial adoption, its words will resonate deep within the core of anyone who has ever questioned their place in their family, their community, and the world.
Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan (available October 2) A story collection designed to unsettle in the most incisive, breathtaking way, May-Lan Tan's Things to Make and Break is a razor-sharp example of the strange behaviors of human beings. Themes of twinning and doubles abound in each of the stories, and there's a violence to many of the narratives that can feel viscerally brutalizing. But who doesn't want art to hurt them a little? This book is for someone who seeks out excitement, even while they're aware of the pain that comes along with it.
Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker (available October 9) It's hard to believe this brilliant collection of stories is a debut, so beautifully does Camille Acker navigate difficult fictional terrain and complicated themes, including issues like gentrification, race, and "respectability" politics. Primarily set in Washington, D.C., Training School offers insights into the times in life where we learn the truths that define our path forward, that make us who we are. Acker perfectly captures the varied experiences of her characters, refusing to offer up some easily digestible idea of what it is to be a black girl or woman, making clear that each of her characters' lives is worth exploring individually, and valued as being one shining part of the ocean of human experience.
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller (available October 9) After reading Claire Fuller's last novel, Swimming Lessons, it became clear to me that Fuller is a master of the quietly eerie; she's excellent at creating an aura of pervasive dread—and sustaining it till the very last page. In her latest, Fuller's done it again, with a tale of a hedonistic young couple who move into an apartment below that of a lonely woman. The relationship that forms between the three of them is dazzling at first, but all that sparkle belies darker truths.
That Was Something by Dan Callahan (available October 15) For his first novel, Dan Callahan has written a compelling, propulsive look at obsession and desire and the ways in which it's sometimes easier not to mind when the two things become intertwined. Callahan, who has written extensively about cinema and its stars (including for NYLON), has set his narrative in late-'90s New York, a time that feels trapped in amber—dark and dangerous, full of blood and spit and all things viscous. The story follows Bobby Quinn, Ben Morrissey, and Monika Lilac (Callahan has a gift for names), as they navigate a dying nightlife scene and an era that was about to come to a close. It's a story about truth and lies, about what it means to be not a fake, but a real fake, and how we reconcile life's often absurd juxtapositions in an effort to make some sense of a deeply nonsensical world.
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (available October 16) Kiese Laymon is one of the most dazzling, inventive, affecting essayists working today, and his memoir lives up to the dizzyingly high expectations set for it. In Heavy, Laymon explores his tumultuous relationship with his brilliant mother, what it meant to grow up as a fiercely smart, rebellious black man in Mississippi, and his trouble with addiction in various forms. Laymon is fearless in his willingness to go to the darkest, the most tender, the most raw spaces of his life, and of our shared lives in the fragile experiment that is America. His writing will shock and comfort you, make you realize you are not alone, and stun you with its insights about desire, need, and love.
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (available October 23) In his stunning debut collection of short stories, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah grapples with many of the most complicated, essential issues of today, from the evils of racism and capitalism to the ways in which violence and inequality are expected parts of life for so many people in America. Adjei-Brenyah's prose grabs you from the beginning and doesn't loosen its grip, as it takes you into the dark corners of the American experience, with a lyricism, dark wit, and palpable emotional weight.
The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem (available November 6) Returning to detective fiction for the first time since Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem is in rare form in his latest, the acerbically funny, consistently twisted, truly original, and defiantly Californian The Feral Detective. Following the unlikely duo of Phoebe Siegler and Charles Heist (yes, the names are quite Pynchon-esque) as they go in search of Phoebe's friend's missing daughter, the narrative takes us into the desert and off the grid, lending a distinctly surreal quality, a bizarre version of reality to this truly unforgettable story.
Northwood: A Novella by Maryse Meijer (available November 6) What hurts more than intimacy? And what, other than intimacy, has the power to heal the wounds it has itself already made? In Northwood, Maryse Meijer artfully explores themes of pain, desire, and the meeting place of the two, for a surreal, fairytale-esque accounting of what happens when we go to the darkest places within ourselves, and within others.
The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya (available November 6) The English debut of Japanese author Yukiko Motoya, The Lonesome Bodybuilder is an often surreal, at times disturbing, and reliably twisted look at the hidden sides of our everyday lives. By peeking behind the closed doors of our mundane existences, Motoya offers up truly unsettling looks at the things people are capable of doing. It is a particular, strange pleasure to read these stories for the first time; everyone should relish getting that opportunity.
Those Who Knew by Idra Novey (available November 6) In this provocative, beautifully written novel, Idra Novey explores timely issues—the cost of speaking up versus the cost of staying silent—with an insight and clarity that are altogether timeless. Those Who Knew is set in a divided political world, a difficult to navigate place in which people must decide what is more important: surviving or being able to live with yourself when you know what price your freedom cost.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (available November 20) This riveting, brutally hilarious, ultra-dark novel is an explosive debut by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and heralds an exciting new literary voice. It centers around two sisters, the beautiful, murderous Ayoola and the dutiful, loyal Korede, who has cleaned up after her sister's, um, "missing" boyfriends on more than one occasion. It's a delicious tale of twisted loyalties and the cost of keeping secrets, even for those we love.
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