Books

The 34 Books You'll Want To Read This Fall

Our big fall book preview

Summer's over. That's that! Please, don't let yourself get trapped in the drama of lamenting the loss of a season. The only thing more futile is, like, lamenting that New York City is changing. Seasons change. It's what seasons do. You may or may not be around to see the cycle start all over again, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway: books! If you need to take a break from contemplating the transience of existence, there are lots of books coming out this fall that are perfect for doing just that. Or, at least, for encouraging you to contemplate your existence in all-new, hopefully not wholly debilitating ways.

Below are the almost three dozen fall books I recommend losing yourself in as soon as possible.

A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib (available now)
Let yourself get shattered, splintered, split wide open by the second volume of poetry by Hanif Abdurraqib, whose writing—whether poetry or cultural criticism or tweets, frankly—has the unique ability to leave readers breathless, and questioning the meaning behind everything around them. In his latest work, Abdurraqib punctures the mythology around cultural icons from Michael Jordon to Nikola Tesla; grapples with identity, loss, love, and grief; and reveals and reflects on what it means to live in a "kill or be killed/ nation." It's brilliant and dizzying, but no matter how lost you get within its powerful lines, you'll finish this book having a stronger sense of orientation within this world, and within yourself.

When Death Takes Something from You, Give It Back: Carl's Book by Naja Marie Aidt, translated by Denise Newman (available now)
A grieving person already feels like a stranger to their own lives; extreme loss renders all that was once familiar into some slightly askew, unrecognizable. But, there is nothing more profoundly unnatural than grieving a child, and no easy way to imagine that you will emerge from that grief in any way intact. This type of extreme loss is the starting point for Danish author Naja Marie Aidt's new memoir; she wrote it following the accident-caused death of her 25-year-old son. Aidt recounts the devastation that resulted in this tragedy's aftermath, and her meditations on loss are moving and incisive. But this book does more than just plumb the depths of our emotions, it also serves as an affirmation: of family, of love, and of life.

Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi (available now)
The second novel by Mary H.K. Choi (her first, Emergency Contact, is also a must-read), Permanent Record is a love story, only it grapples with more than just the tribulations of romantic love. Instead, it lays bare the complications of all sorts of intimate connections, from the bonds you have with your family and friends to the passion you feel toward pursuing your dreams to the obsession that just might drive you toward assembling the perfect 4am bodega snack. (Hey, finding that ideal blend of sour and salty and sweet is hard and requires dedication.) At Permanent Record's center is Pablo (full name: Pablo Neruda Rind), a drifting young New Yorker, who loves, but is exhausted by his fragmented family, and, after having crashed-and-burned out of college, isn't sure what to do with his life. So, it seems like a godsend when internationally famous pop star Lee (full name: Leanna Smart) strolls into the impressively stocked bodega (ahem, health food store) where Pablo works one night. The two have an instant rapport, aided by Lee's great taste in snacks. While this setup might sound like it could launch the narrative into unbelievable fairy tale territory, Choi keeps things reliably relatable, full of humor and warmth—and tons of juicy details of the life of a major pop star, no doubt gleaned from Choi's experience as a journalist (she profiled Rihanna, for one, and was on the infamous "Rihanna plane"). It's the familiarity within Pab's and Lee's interactions—with each other, and with those around them—that makes Permanent Record strike such a deep chord: This isn't just a book about falling in love with someone else, it's about recognizing how to find love and fulfillment within ourselves, to accept that we all fuck up, that we all need time to figure out who we want to be, and that, as we navigate our lives, we should be gentle with ourselves and others—and make sure to always have good snacks on-hand.

Dominicana by Angie Cruz (available now)
This stunner of a novel thrums with vitality, a singular addition to the canon of immigration narratives, and introduces readers to the wonderfully complex and resilient Ana, a Dominican woman who moves to New York City as a newly married teenager, and must navigate a new country, while still figuring out who she is. It's 1965, and Ana is just 15 when she leaves behind her turbulent home country to marry a man twice her age and move to America; once settled, she hopes to help her family back home emigrate to join her. But, it's not so simple: Ana is stifled by her abusive husband, and only really starts to enjoy herself once he goes back to the Dominican Republic and she spends more and more time with his younger brother. Ultimately, Ana must decide not only how to save her family from the turmoil back home, but how to save herself, and live a life of her own choosing.

Fly Already by Etgar Keret (available now)
Any time a new Etgar Keret book is out in the world is a time for celebration; his surreal, twisted, deeply dark, bracingly funny stories push against the boundaries of normal perception, offering glimpses into a strange world of Keret's making. And yet, bizarre as they often are, what Keret's stories all share is an insistent reminder that no matter how differently we might all see and experience things, the thread that binds us all together is our humanity, our essential ability to love and to hope and to see something good and bright and weird and hilarious within the troubles all around us.

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You by Dina Nayeri (available now)
When Dina Nayeri was eight years old, she and her mother and younger brother left their home in Iran, under the cover of night, escaping out a back window to avoid the watchful eyes of the police. Like all refugees, Nayeri was leaving behind more than just a home: In her case, she was also leaving behind her father, her extended family, friends—but also, she was leaving behind her identity, any existing sense of who she was and who she would become. What followed for Nayeri as she and her mother and brother went first to Dubai, then to a refugee camp in Italy, before coming to Oklahoma and eventually becoming an American citizen at 15, is documented within this book, as are the stories of other refugees, offering clear evidence that there is no such thing as a good or bad refugee, and that our desire to assign morality in this situation does nothing but deny refugees their humanity. Nayeri's book is compelling and powerfully told, a must-read for anyone who needs an insight into the common threads we all share, and a reminder of how important it is to keep them unbroken.

The Diver's Game by Jesse Ball (available September 10)
Perhaps more than any other writer today, Jesse Ball confronts the most brutal things in our world, and approaches them with a tenderness that makes it possible to greet them head-on, and better understand, then, how to reconcile the darkness of life with your ability to ameliorate them. In his latest novel, Ball offers up a funhouse mirror version of our society, in which we are all divided up into two groups, one of which is allowed to kill the other at will, and the other of which must conduct their lives as if nothing is amiss. The Diver's Game makes clear what it's like to live in a state of perpetual fear, what that does to the body and to the psyche, but he also probes deeper, calling into question why we think we're any better than the oppressors in this book, and the inherent arbitrariness of how we identify ourselves and others.

This Tilting World by Colette Fellous, translated by Sophie Lewis (available September 10)
This haunting, elegaic book is told in fragments, reflecting the many shattered aspects of our world. This Tilting World is part of a trilogy on the Jewish communities of Tunisia, and it begins in 2015, following a terrorist attack at the resort in Sousse, during which more than 80 tourists were murdered. It's a story of tragedies, both global and personal, serving as something of a creative memoir for Fellous, in which she interrogates her relationship to losing her home country, but also her relationship with her father, with friends, with her art. Fellous' writing is lyrical, but muscular, never afraid to go to the prickly places within her memory and emotions.

Nice Try: Stories of Best Intentions and Mixed Results by Josh Gondelman (available September 17)
The "nice guy" has gotten a bad rap as of late, with the phrase becoming synonymous with the kind of man who uses a facade of geniality to hide the roiling mass of insecurities and misogyny that lurk below his surface. But... but! That doesn't mean that there aren't actually nice guys out there, it only means that when one does exist, he should be celebrated. Such is the case with Josh Gondelman, a true mensch, who, beyond his work as a comedian and writer for shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Desus & Mero, is also well known for his Twitter "pep talks," during which time he offers words of kindness and inspiration to anyone in need. All of that's great, but wouldn't mean anything to this list if he hadn't actually also, you know, written a book full of witty, poignant, self-reflective, perspective-expanding essays that offer insight into Gondelman's life, both personal and professional, and a glimpse into how bold it can be to live a life with care and gentleness—and a lot of laughter.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (available September 17)
This gorgeous, moving novel is a celebration of three generations of a Black family in Brooklyn, and is a story of love—romantic and familial—and alienation, grief and triumph, disaster and survival. It opens in 2001, as 16-year-old Melody prepares to mark her birthday with a coming-of-age party, triggering a flood of memories about her own mother's analogous experience as a teenager. Woodson takes readers all the way back to 1921 and the Tulsa race massacre, and up through the '90s, to Oberlin college, where Melody's mother, Iris, has a sexual awakening that threatens to tear apart the family even further. Woodson's language is never less than stunning—the book's title comes from this sentence, depicting Iris' desire for another woman: "She felt red at the bone—like there was something inside of her undone and bleeding"—and powerfully conveys the complications and love present within this family to great, compassionate effect.

A Fist or a Heart by Kristín Eiríksdóttir, translated by Larissa Kyzer (available September 23)
Winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize (and in possession of one of my favorite titles of the year), A Fist or a Heart offers a dreamily disorienting reading experience, full of piercing passions and bracing depictions of isolation. It centers around two women—Elín and Ellen—the former of whom is an older woman, who lives alone and becomes obsessed with the latter, a young woman who is on the cusp of fame. They are bound together by a shared trauma, by a common language of loneliness, but the bond is fraught, and tenuous. Eiríksdóttir offers here a most elegant page-turner, one that disturbs and unsettles, making us question the way trauma casts a spell, the strength of certain secrets, and the innate motivation to find human connection.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (available September 24)
The debut novel from the critically acclaimed Ta-Nehisi Coates is a dazzling, powerful story of generational trauma and triumph, told through the experience of Hiram Walker, who was born into slavery, separated from his mother, and bestowed by her a gift that will give him strength and save his life during the darkest of times. Coates takes a page from Colson Whitehead's masterful The Underground Railroad, and adds a lens of magical realism to antebellum America, thus amplifying the existing cruelties, and demonstrating the ways in which this country's foundational atrocities both profoundly harmed enslaved people, but also forever corrupted those who perpetuated this barbaric system.

Excuse Me by Liana Finck (available by September 24)
Liana Finck's 2018 graphic memoir, Passing for Human, is one of the most strange, beautiful books I've ever read, and so it was with great eagerness that I devoured her latest, Excuse Me, which is a compilation of over 500 of her cartoons from her Instagram (follow her, if you don't already) and The New Yorker, in which she delicately but thoroughly skewers so many of the absurdities (no matter how banal) that surround us, never losing her own empathy or self-reflectiveness, though, in the process. In her work, Finck is not shy about embracing her own peculiarities, and so it's not surprise that hundreds of thousands of fans now turn to her to feel a connection, to feel less strange themselves, to see their humanity reflected in her art, and to laugh—at themselves, at the world, at life itself and all its petty terrors and wonders.

Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays by Leslie Jamison (available September 24)
Following up The Recovering, a book about addiction (alcoholism, specifically), with an essay collection centering around desire and obsession makes a certain kind of sense, but that doesn't mean there aren't an abundance of surprises within Leslie Jamison's latest, which blends memoir and journalism in her own inimitable way. She writes probingly and movingly about everything from "52 Blue," a whale who never found a mate but found an abundance of human love, to her experience as a stepmother and, then, mother. It's a roaming, wide-ranging collection, but everything is grounded by being told through Jamison's lucid, unflinching prose, leading to a singularly empathetic, moving reading experience.

High School by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin (available September 24)
Fans of Tegan and Sara (that's all of us, right?) won't be surprised to learn that their co-written memoir is a fiercely smart, emotionally probing, vulnerable, hilarious, empathetic exploration of how they came to be who they are, both as the much-loved musical duo and, more importantly, as individuals. But, while this is definitely a book that fans will love, anyone who can appreciate a moving, specific, but universal memoir, that offers insight into what it means to be a young woman grappling with her sexuality and her place in the world (that's all of us, right?), will love this peek into the life of Tegan and Sara, before they were famous, before we knew their names, before they themselves had figured out who they were, and who they were going to be.

Exquisite Mariposa by Fiona Allison Duncan (available October 1)
Reading this slender novel, full of glistering language, shards of which stick in you, like weirdly welcome slivers of glass, feels like reading an email from that one brilliant friend of yours, the one who disappears and reappears and weaves stories for you that are both instantly recognizable and then also have you wondering if you're really living at all. This is just to say, Exquisite Mariposa is singularly enchanting, offering insight into what it means to be young and an artist, what it means to have style (a rare quality, indeed). What's not to love?

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (available October 1)
Ben Lerner's latest foray into autofiction follows Adam Gordon into his senior year of high school; it's 1997, and Adam is a nationally acclaimed debater, a popular and privileged kid, with lots of friends and a good relationship with his parents, both prominent psychologists. However, as Lerner switches perspectives between Adam and each of his parents, it becomes clear that not everything is actually that simple, and things are only more complicated with the introduction of Darren, a high school student with anger issues, into the fold. Lerner's interrogation of what it means to be a young white man, and the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity in a culture that also offers ready access to weapons, is an unsettling, insightful, and riveting book, one that feels both current and prescient, and undeniably vital.

Things We Didn't Talk about When I Was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco (available October 1)
Thought-provoking, unmooring, and haunting, Jeannie Vanasco's memoir is a clear-eyed, moving account of what happened when Vanasco decided—after years of waking up from nightmares about the boy who raped her in high school—to confront her past rapist and see what will happen if they talk. Mark—the boy, now a man—agrees to meet, and what follows is an interrogation into what it means both to be raped and to rape someone, how this act marks both the victim and the aggressor, and how powerful it can be for someone who has been raped to reclaim their narrative, and write their own story.

How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones (available October 8)
"People don't just happen," writes Saeed Jones in his powerful memoir, that tells the story of what it was like to grow up as a gay, Black man in the South. Jones is a poet—read Prelude to Bruise, if you haven't—and his sense of verse is present in his prose, which is lyrical and visceral as he recounts navigating difficult relationships with his family and clandestine meetings with lovers. It's an intimate and specific book, and one that feels very much needed within the coming-of-age genre.

Here Until August: Stories by Josephine Rowe (available October 8)
As with her last book, the 2017 novel A Loving Faithful Animal, Josephine Rowe demonstrates in her new story collection an uncanny ability to find moments both devastating and sublime in even the most mundane aspects of life, like a millennial Alice Munro. Each of the book's 10 stories is singularly transfixing; reading them is like walking down a street at night, moving from one lighted window to the next, bearing witness to the lives within, feeling more profoundly the darkness around you when the story ends, when you can't see inside any longer. But while you can see inside, Rowe offers exquisite, many-faceted glimpses into the lives of people drifting and settled—often both at the same time—all reflecting the unnerving awareness that life's transience might be the only permanent thing there is.

Grand Union: Stories by Zadie Smith (available October 8)
It is always an event when Zadie Smith publishes new work, and especially in this case, with the publication of this, her first book of short stories. Grand Union comprises 19 stories; 11 previously unpublished, and eight that have appeared before in The New Yorker—all provocative, incisive, and revealing Smith's prodigious talent, which she refuses to limit to any singular genre or subject, instead choosing to range from dystopia to realism, offering sly commentary on the lives we live today, and what might be in store for our futures.

Sleeveless: Fashion, Image, Media, New York 2011-2019 by Natasha Stagg (available October 8)
There's now, officially, only one person who I want to read on New York and fashion and media and, well, image, and that's Natasha Stagg, because after devouring her new book, Sleeveless, a blend of essays and story snippets—or, as Stagg calls it in her introduction, "a personal account of a very strange time... an attempt to identify the invisible strings pulling us in directions we never thought possible"—I'm under the spell of her unsentimental, though not insensitive, piercing way of looking at everything around her. Stagg isn't afraid to interrogate those things, those movements, that are embraced thoughtlessly, and she is not ruthless exactly, but fearless about questioning what will happen once we dismantle our existing structures, wondering what will be left if we throw it all away.

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha (available October 15)
In 1991 in Los Angeles, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins was murdered by Soon Ja Du, a convenience store owner, who accused Harlins of trying to shoplift a bottle of orange juice. Du shot Harlins in the back of the head, killing her instantly; Harlins held the change for the juice in her hand. Du was found guilty, but, against the jury's recommendation, the judge declined to sentence her to any prison time. Harlins' murder happened just days after Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King, and the two brutal incidents contributed to the racial unrest in the city, preceding its 1992 riots, which left dozens dead and thousands injured. Steph Cha's gripping, incendiary novel has a historical basis in this time period, but takes place in 2019, and centers around two people: Shawn Matthews, a Black ex-con whose teenage sister was shot and killed by a Korean grocery store owner who served no jail time, and Grace Park, a young Korean woman whose life is shattered when her mother is shot in a drive-by shooting. Cha deftly brings together these two characters, offering an incisive and searing look at race relations, violence, and the intersection of disparate traumas. It's a riveting, revelatory novel—a must-read.

A Year Without a Name: A Memoir by Cyrus Grace Dunham (available October 15)
When Cyrus Dunham was a child, they felt like a stranger within their own body, and as if they were fooling those people who saw them as a little girl. As Dunham grew up, their sense of dysphoria, or rather "bodily claustrophobia," persisted, culminating in Dunham determining to interrogate their identity in relation to their peers, their family, and their body. Dunham's deeply felt, forthright, lucid accounting of the complex process of determining who they are is astonishing in its intimacy and generosity, and serves as a reminder of how difficult, but how necessary, it is to be honest with ourselves about who we know ourselves to be.

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (available October 15)
There is no way to succinctly summarize this slim book and adequately convey how it manages to hold exquisitely actual multiverses within its pages. But, well: Levy's latest opens up on Saul Adler, as he crosses Abbey Road in 1988, to pose for a photo inspired by the famous Beatles album cover. Adler is hit by a car, though only lightly injured; however, this incident will be relived later in the book, offering a glimpse into the ways in which our lives do and don't matter in the grand scheme of things. It's a brilliant, blistering, bold look at identity, relationships, and time; a perfect puzzle of a novel.

Divide Me by Zero by Lara Vapnyar (available October 15)
Math is a love language of sorts in this brilliant, heartbreaking new novel from Lara Vapnyar, who has created one of my favorite narrators in recent memory with this novel's Katya Geller. From a young age, Katya sees the world through the numerical prism offered by her mathematician mother. This doesn't prevent Katya from being the romantic she innately is, but it does offer her another way to see the world—a sensible, ordered way, one which Katya craves as everything around her falls apart. If I were just to list the dramas that Katya endures—a difficult divorce, a fraught love affair, a terminally ill mother—it would perhaps make this novel seem heavier and darker than the most tragic of Russian novels. But, in fact, Divide Me by Zero is, despite its honesty about the difficulties of a life fully lived, a celebration: a sensitively told, honest account of the messiness and beauty of loving with abandon and living in a manner that defies easy categorization, numerical or otherwise.

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg (available October 22)
Nobody writes family drama quite like Jami Attenberg, and her latest novel is a dark, deliciously captivating look into the way a toxic patriarch can poison everyone around him. All This Could Be Yours centers around the legacy of Victor Tuchman, a rapacious real estate developer whose family has gathered around him in New Orleans now that he is on his deathbed. As his daughter, Alex, tries to understand who her father was, and what his legacy means for her, and for the rest of the family, it becomes more and more clear the ways in which trauma is generational, and how our secrets bind us to one another, even as they tear us apart. There are no easy resolutions offered here, but that's as it should be: There are many ways to describe familial relations, but "easy" isn't ever going to be one of them.

The Beadworkers: Stories by Beth Piatote (available October 22)
This stunning debut collection marks the arrival of a brilliant storyteller; Beth Piatote weaves together political, historical, and personal themes to offer new perspectives on the human condition. In her stories, whether by offering her take on Antigone ("Antikone") or invoking events like the Battle at Wounded Knee, Piatote, who is Nez Perce, writes with dazzling clarity, emotion, and bone-dry humor about the lives of indigenous people, in what feels like a celebration, an act of love, and one of the most unforgettable story collections of the year.

Find Me by André Aciman (available October 29)
This follow-up to André Aciman's Call Me by Your Name leaps many years into the future for Elio and Oliver, which allows Aciman to craft a stubbornly unsentimental, but nevertheless beautiful meditation on love, the passing of time, and loss. We're greeted with Elio as an adult, a classical pianist in Europe, who is still searching for love—he has not been able to forget about Oliver, who, though married for years and living in the U.S., still hears the echoes of his long-ago love. Find Me is, at heart, a meditation on how love bends and warps over time, but never quite disappears.

The In-Betweens: The Spiritualists, Mediums, and Legends of Camp Etna by Mira Ptacin (available October 29)
Talk about a great start to a book: "They believed they would live forever." That begins Mira Ptacin's accounting of the little-known Camp Etna, a more-than-century old community in Maine which has long played host to women who believe they can commune between this life and whatever follows it. Ptacin does more than just recount the history of Camp Etna (which, yes, still exists), but also delves deep with precision and insight into our ongoing fascination with the spirit world, and the reasons why women, in particular, have long embraced an alternative to the conventional ways society wants us to look at death, and life.

In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado (available November 5)
Forget everything you think you know about memoir (and, um, don't expect a prologue) when reading Carmen Maria Machado's brilliant, twisting, provocative entry in the genre, which doesn't so much tell the story of her life as it does recount the horrors of a failed relationship. Or, rather, Machado shows the ways in which a life can be understood by looking at it through the lens of how it collides with another person's life. Just in case you thought the only unorthodox thing about this memoir was its structure, prepare yourself for the many ways in which Machado dismantles the mythologies surrounding everything from Disney villains to the perceptions of lesbian relationships. This is a challenging, brutal book, and it's bound to incite a fury in every possible way.

On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl (available November 5)
This debut novel is an achingly beautiful meditation on the way which the American Dream has always been a dangerous gamble. Set in the 1950s, On Swift Horses follows two connected people, whose lives are circumscribed by the times in which they live, and whose secrets risk igniting the world around them. Muriel is a 21-year-old wife and waitress, who reluctantly moves with her husband to dusty southern California, and gets her thrills by gambling on racehorses, never letting her husband know that her winnings aren't just generous tips. Julius is Muriel's brother-in-law, who finds himself in Las Vegas, where he can be more open about being gay—although, as he soon learns, there's always some reason to keep running. As Julius and Muriel's paths intersect again, and as they both continue their search for happiness and for meaning, Pufahl's language glitters from the page, giving everything a phosphorescent haze, adding to the feeling of this book being a slow burn; one long, restless, blistering fever dream that feels a lot like life.

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate (available November 5)
About a year ago, I spoke with Jenny Slate and she told me about a book she was writing. She said it was something she felt "really vulnerable" about, because "I'm really, really speaking like myself... The way that my writing comes out sounds like the voice that's in my inner world." And now, that book is out in the world in the form of Little Weirds, a singularly hilarious and horny, but also poignant and tender, collection of writing that beautifully captures Slate's inimitable voice, which is one that, once you've heard it, you want to listen to forever.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (available November 5)
This dazzling, haunting novel is an intergenerational epic, an often devastating, but beautiful accounting of family bonds, the love of mothers and sons, and the enduring strength of Black women and their legacies. Two parallel stories are told within: that of modern-day Ava, mother to King, who goes to live with her white grandmother, Martha, because she has lost her job and needs some help; and that of Ava's great-grandmother Josephine, who escaped slavery as a girl, and in 1925 has her own farm, which is under threat by a white neighbor whom Josephine has tried to help. Though Ava's and Josephine's stories might seem different, they threaten to converge in tragic ways, and Wilkerson Sexton deftly explores the ways in which the past isn't prologue, but is actually what exists between the lines of our presently lived stories.

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