Summer’s End

Our Mega Fall 2013 Books Preview: 21 Must Reads

From Norman Rush’s new novel, 10 years in the making, to the best releases of early November, here are 21 must-reads.

Subtle Bodies

by Norman Rush, Sept. 10.

“Surely the only considerable American novelist who has never yet written about America,” the critic James Wood said about his friend Norman Rush, and as if responding to a dare, Rush has set his fourth novel not in Botswana but in the Catskills, up the Hudson River into another heart of darkness, where a group of college friends have gathered for the funeral of their ringleader, more than 20 years after graduation. A Rush novel arrives only once a decade, as the invisible watchmaker puts everything in its right place.

—Jimmy So.

Dissident Gardens

by Jonathan Lethem, Sept. 10.

You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can never take Brooklyn out of the boy. Lethem now teaches in California but he hasn’t shaken his roots, as evinced by this new novel about the tribes—social, religious, political, familial—that stake out territory in his native city.

—Lucas Wittmann.

Bleeding Edge

by Thomas Pynchon, Sept. 17.

A Pynchon comes across the sky … what are we to do? Run breathlessly and pointlessly after his mustachioed shadow? Nope. Just sit back, savor his zingy take on the Yupper West Side and the Internet (yes), and meet his detective heroine, Maxine Tarnow. That’s all.


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An Appetite for Wonder

by Richard Dawkins, Sept. 24.

This memoir is destined to be a historical document that will be ceaselessly quoted as posterity debates the controversial figure of Richard Dawkins, the great communicator of complex Darwinian mechanics and increasingly brash defender of atheism. This first volume, which features his signature lucidity, covers his childhood in Kenya, a brief flirtation with Christianity (via an Elvis obsession), his Oxford days (his tip: don’t take notes during lectures), and finally, the publication of the groundbreaking The Selfish Gene.


The Lowland

by Jhumpa Lahiri, Sept. 24.

If you know anything about modern India at all, you might register the impression that it is a nation in political turmoil—but one very good at science. Lahiri creates two brothers, the America-bound scientist Subhash and the Maoist Udayan, to flesh out the double stereotypes with her signature emotive lyricism.


Year Zero: A History of 1945

by Ian Buruma, Sept. 26.

After total war with millions dead and the Shoah comes what? That is the question that propels critic and historian Ian Buruma’s panoramic history of 1945. It is a personal story for Buruma, inspired by his own father’s experience of the war and its aftermath, but with Buruma’s sharp and careful eye it becomes a window into understanding all the years since then.


One Summer: America, 1927

by Bill Bryson, Oct. 1.

Why this book wasn’t released over the summer I couldn’t tell you, but no matter, for as the fall chill sweeps across the country, you’ll want to join Bryson on his jaunty tour of America in the summer of 1927—there’s Lindbergh up above, there’s Gehrig and Ruth, there’s the mighty Mississippi flowing over, and is that swaggering Al Capone?


The Circle

by Dave Eggers, Oct. 8.

Decades from now, we would look back on our Facebook era and wonder why we ever handed over our most private moments and personal identities to overgrown children running the world from sunny California. Eggers does us one better and puts on his Philip K. Dick goggles to see what the future holds—how entrusting our lives to a Kafkaesque Internet company called The Circle might bring about the apocalypse.


Dallas 1963

by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, Oct. 8.

Publishers—and journalists—are nothing if not predictable when it comes to their schedules, so for the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination there are dozens of books coming. But the only one, for my money, that really distinguishes itself is this terrifying account of the potent blend of right-wing hysteria, subversive reactionaries, and violence that bubbled over in Dallas in the years before Oswald pulled the trigger. The scariest part: the paranoid right was as freaked out then as they are now.


Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington

by Terry Teachout, Oct. 17.

The cultural critic and historian Terry Teachout is a meaty thinker, and as he tackles the life of the man who brought jazz into Carnegie Hall, he makes the case that one cannot understand modern America without contending with the sophisticated and complex legacy of Duke Ellington. It’s hard to argue with that.


Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

by Artemis Cooper, Oct. 15.

In a century full of extraordinary characters, few are as irrepressibly charming and enchanting as Patrick Leigh Fermor—the Brit who walked across Europe in the mid-1930s and wrote up his experience in a beautifully haunted account of a lost world. Now Artemis Cooper has given us his life in all of its improbabilities (quoting Horace to a captured Nazi general), whimsy (he was fond of translating P.G. Wodehouse into Greek), and beauty (his idyllic existence in the Mani).


Roth Unbound

by Claudia Roth Pierpont, Oct. 22.

How do you go about getting to know Philip Roth? Do you absorb his books, read his interviews, or is it necessary to socialize with the man himself? Pierpont takes all of the above in equal measures, which results in something of a cubist yet seamless portrait—not a standard biography, but a deep immersion in Roth from all angles, even the unexpected ones, using every technique available, in order to know his thoughts, his history, the books, his world, and the times in which he lives. This is a remarkable achievement in literary criticism.


Breakfast With Lucian

by Geordie Greig, Oct. 22.

The late painter never did allow an authorized biography to go forward, but thankfully he did agree to have frequent on-the-record breakfasts with Geordie Greig, the editor of The Mail on Sunday. The result is a personal, anecdotal, and utterly charming book that makes you feel you’ve pulled up a chair and joined the friends for a spot of tea. If only.


The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt, Oct. 22.

A young teen loses his mother in an explosion, and all that he has left is a Dutch painting. From there Tartt spins a once-in-a-decade, 700-plus-page tale that has left everyone who has read it with bags under their eyes. Rest up in preparation for staying up all night.


The Leonard Bernstein Letters

edited by Nigel Simeone, Oct. 29.

Bernstein was a showman who portrayed himself as a titan, but his letters betray the accuracy of such a projection, since he really was a genius who read every book, heard every piece of music, knew everyone, and was intellectually impressive even compared to his four closest friends, who were cultural giants themselves: Aaron Copland, Stephen Sondheim, Serge Koussevitzky, Jerome Robbins. Look for gems from Miles Davis, Thornton Wilder, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Cole Porter, Martha Gellhorn, Louis Armstrong, and Francis Ford Coppola. This is a document of a golden age.


The Most of Nora Ephron

by Nora Ephron, Oct. 29.

We miss her whenever there’s a political scandal (Weiner) or we’re thinking about making meatloaf or ... mainly, we just miss her. There wasn’t enough, of course, there never is, but let’s be thankful for this, a tome of greatest hits (many criminally out-of-print before her death) to keep by your bedside for a slug of Ephronic wit when nothing else will do. P.S. We want the rest, too.


Falling Upwards

by Richard Holmes, Oct. 29.

I had my doubts about this one—400 pages on hot-air balloons?—but then I remembered the many happy hours I’ve spent wandering the Romantic pathways of history in Holmes’s effortlessly erudite company (see his Shelley and Coleridge biographies, or his essay collections), and I hopped aboard for his beguiling story of how we, physically and imaginatively, first took to the air. You should too.


At Night We Walk in Circles

by Daniel Alarcón, Oct. 31.

Alarcón is a young, talented writer who is on the cusp of a breakthrough, a state of mind perfectly captured by the compulsively energetic voice of At Night We Walk in Circles, as it tells the gripping story of a young, talented actor who tumbles onto the other side of his breakthrough—and into trouble—after he becomes the star of a guerrilla theater troupe called Diciembre in a nameless Latin American country.


The Great War: July 1, 1916

by Joe Sacco, Nov. 4.

A monumental work of art that commemorates a monumental day, Sacco’s accordion panorama unfolds into a 24-foot long scroll, depicting the first day of WWI’s Battle of the Somme from Gen. Douglas Haig in his garden in the morning to the cemetery that would bury 20,000 British soldiers by the end.


Double Down

by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Nov. 5.

No, I haven’t read this, and no one else has either, so I really can’t provide any juicy revelations about Obama’s exercise regime or Romney’s hair. I can promise, however, that the Halperin-Heilemann pixie dust will work again, and everyone will be talking about their book on the 2012 election.


Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

by Sebastian Faulks, Nov. 5.

Look, I can’t lie, I actually haven’t read this one yet either, nor even set eyes on an advance copy, but I’m a life-long Wodehouse fanatic so I hope you’ll indulge. It may be rubbish, it may be a nephew crusher, but I have my hopes that maybe, just maybe, British novelist Faulks can pull off the first Jeeves-Wooster novel in 40 years. If not, there are 90-odd original Wodehouse books on a shelf nearby.