By Dialynn Dwyer
Summer may be headed out the door, but there’s a lot to be excited about this fall.
Specifically — books.
There’s an abundance of exciting new titles being released this season, some of which are finally getting sent out into the world after initially being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, according to local booksellers.
Readers, they said, are in for an “incredible season.”
For help picking out the reads that aren’t to be missed, we turned to the staff at Harvard Book Store, Porter Square Books, Frugal Bookstore, Brookline Booksmith, and Trident Booksellers and Cafe, who shared the books they can’t wait to crack open. Whether you’re cozied up with a view of the fall foliage or just a cup of tea, the booksellers said these titles — from essays on history to engrossing fiction — will provide escape and entertainment as the days get shorter and the weather colder.
What were your top books this past summer? Take our poll at the bottom of this story!
Rachel Cass, a book buyer at Harvard Book Store, recommends picking up this memoir by one of the founding members of NPR’s Code Switch team. In it, Chow describes her childhood obsession with death and worry over her parents dying, only for her mother to die unexpectedly of cancer when she was a teen. Chow delves into those memories and her family’s grief. “It also very much a self-examination about how we remember and what we remember and particularly the role that writing can play in how we remember in our grief, sort of preserving people’s memories and exorcising difficult memories,” Cass said.
Self-determined women and strict, closed religious communities are common themes in this Canadian author’s work, and her new novel is no different, according to Ellen Jarrett, book buyer and an employee-owner at Porter Square Books. In this story, the narrative is told by Swiv, a 9-year-old girl, and her grandmother through a series of letters they are writing. “[It’s] three generations of women who have been battered by life but are surviving through love,” Jarrett said. “And Toews displays her characteristic fierceness and humor throughout.”
Clarrissa Cropper, co-owner of Frugal Bookstore, said she’s looking forward to this new work of historical fiction about a young biracial girl coming of age in the Five Points district of New York City at the start of the American Civil War. The girl, Theo, is an orphan who spends time in the city going between the households of her Black and Irish grandmothers. “This is one of those books that you don’t hear too much about, especially set in that era,” Cropper said. “So I’m excited to read this one.”
This memoir by the screenwriter and actress who created and starred in the TV shows “Chewing Gum” and “I May Destroy You” isn’t one to be missed, according to Lydia McOscar, assistant buyer at Brookline Booksmith. In the book, Coel shares her own story while also offering readers a chance to reflect on their own personal empowerment and creativity. “The title ‘Misfits’ essentially refers to [Coel] embracing her own outcast status and taking it to heart and applying it to this award-winning creative force,” McOscar said.
Both Cass and Courtney Flynn, manager of Trident Booksellers & Cafe, highly recommend picking up this new novel from the author of the acclaimed “Fates and Furies.” The story follows a young woman, Marie de France, who is exiled from court by Eleanor of Aquitaine and ends up at a convent. “This book is a departure from what we kind of expect from her in terms of plot, but her writing is as beautiful as we have come to know,” Flynn said. Cass said Groff’s descriptions of the natural world and Marie’s spiritual life are captivating. “Really at the end of the day, it’s about women living in community with one another,” Cass said. “So it’s about this very far away time and place, but it is so relatable and so meaningful.”
Cropper said she is excited for the release of this collection of 29 essays from Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School. The book includes both previously published and new pieces that explore race and social justice in America. “It’s his thoughts on the realities and what he imagines on race in America,” Cropper said. “It’s his personal essays on race, on culture, on history, on law.”
Fans of “Normal People” and “Conversations With Friends” won’t want to miss the latest release from the Irish author, McOscar said. But she said even if you haven’t read her other books, you’ll want to pick this one up. The story follows two best friends, who correspond with one another by email and text, both of them entwined in complex romantic relationships with other people. “[Rooney] really is unmatched in the way she writes relationships and romance,” McOscar said. “It’s going to be a big deal. I’m definitely going to be reading this one.”
If you’re looking for more scientific reading this fall, Cropper recommends this new work of nonfiction. It’s short, but packed with information about the cosmos, planets, stars, and galaxies. You won’t need to keep a dictionary handy to read it either, Cropper said. “This one is fun and compact and it’s an easy-to-read type of guide that gives you jam-packed information, but it’s not overwhelming,” she said.
This new novel sees monsters and creatures emerging in the streets of Boston, which makes it especially fun to read, according to Cropper. The story follows what happens after a woman, Laina, learns her brother was shot and killed by police. But soon, what appears to be a case of police brutality changes as creatures of myths and legends are brought to life in the city. “It’s basically like an urban horror and fantasy novel, but it has a psychological twist to it,” Cropper said.
This beautifully-written new memoir provides poignant insight for readers about what it is like for an undocumented family to arrive in America and live in poverty, according to Flynn. Wang’s parents, who were professors in China, work in sweatshops in New York, and as a young girl, she finds herself an outcast in school because of her limited English. But even as she grows up and gets a mastery of the language and culture, her parents are never able to relax into their life in America. “It’s a really raw portrayal of her memories of coming to this country, her parents and how they were integrating,” Flynn said.
Readers can expect an unexpected twist at the end of the new novel from the author of “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers,” Jarrett said. The story follows the Delaney family — Joy, Stan, and their four children — and what happens when the matriarch disappears. “It’s compelling, hard to put down,” Jarrett said. “Once again, [Moriarty] leads the reader down a very convincing path, only to deliver a surprising twist at the end. As in ‘Big Little Lies,’ she sets up the mystery and then jumps months into the past to unravel it.”
Both Flynn and Cropper are looking forward to the new work by the author of “The Nickel Boys” and “The Underground Railroad.” This one is set in Harlem in the 1960s and follows what happens when Ray Carney, a furniture salesman who is descended from a line of crooks, gets pulled into working a heist as the fence. “The writing is super, and there’s this cast of characters, all these underbelly, New York City type-of-people,” Flynn said. “But it’s really, really well put together and a page-turner.” Cropper said the story wraps in the themes of family, race, and power. “It’s kind of like his love letter to Harlem, but it has that twist of being a family drama — but it’s also a crime novel,” she said. “So it’s like all in one.”
This big, thick novel tells the absorbing story of a young boy, Benny, who starts hearing voices one year after the death of his father, and Cass can’t wait for it. The voices, it turns out, are the objects — books, clothes, and even a broken Christmas ornament — talking around him in a range of tones and personalities. He ends up finding refuge in a library, where the objects know how to be well behaved and quiet. “I loved the way [Ozeki] thinks about the world and sees the world … so I’m very excited about this one,” Cass said.
Cass also recommends picking up this novel that takes place before, during, and after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Each chapter follows a different character whose life has been affected by the disaster, from the people on the ground to Haitians living abroad, including in Boston, trying to find out what has happened to family and friends. The details of the stories will stick with you, Cass said. “It’s just a really beautiful, incredibly powerful portrait of a community as they face this event,” she said. “It’s also very much an indictment of the rest of the world that watched this on TV and sent aid, but then turned it off and forgot about what was happening and forgot about the fact that this was real people that this had happened to.”
If you’re looking for a fun, escapist read this fall, Flynn recommends the latest continuation of Sedaris’s diaries, which takes the reader all the way through the pandemic. It’s more of what is so great about the author — self-centered but relatable and self-deprecating humor, she said. “He’s sort of talking about the pandemic in probably the most self-centered terms possible, but still you are drawn in and relate to him and feel a kinship with him because he’s just so neurotic, like we all are at heart I think,” she said.
Cass is excited for this new work of nonfiction from Solnit, which sees her delve into George Orwell’s passion for gardening. Solnit uses Orwell’s love for the activity as a jumping off point to reflect on his political writing and how it connects to the natural world and his interest in caring for plants. “This is a perfect topic for her because it brings all of these different topics and themes together in an unexpected, but really interesting way,” Cass said. “So I am very excited about that one. I love everything [Solnit] writes.”
McOscar said readers get two powerhouse writers with this novel, since the book was translated from Italian by author Jhumpa Lahiri. The story follows a couple, Pietro and Teresa, who — in a bid to forge an unbreakable bond in their tempestuous relationship — decide to each share with one another a secret they are too ashamed to tell anyone else. They break up shortly thereafter, and Pietro marries someone else. But Teresa continues to reemerge at different points in his life. “Each of them is sort of carrying this emotional payload of the other person throughout their lives … I’m kind of in suspense, I’m dying to know what these secrets are and how they impact these people,” McOscar said.
The author of “Olive Kitteridge” returns to the characters she created in her novel “My Name is Lucy Barton” in this new story, which Flynn recommends. In the book, Lucy is older and speaks about her ex-husband, William, reflecting on how his life is changing and unraveling. “Elizabeth Strout has this way of writing that is so complex, but also true and you feel like you’re in good hands when you’re reading a book by her,” Flynn said. “It’s just engrossing, well-written, and just everything that we would expect from her.”
In this memoir, the actor’s second, his gift for storytelling comes through and carries the reader, Jarrett said. Cumming’s first book dealt with his early life and his relationship with his father, but this one delves into his life in Hollywood and how his experiences shaped the person he is. “He manages to exude humor and love for life despite the obstacles he’s had to overcome,” Jarrett said.
This essay collection, which examines the power of pop culture, is one McOscar is excited to pick up. In it, King looks specifically at pop culture phenomena in the ’90s and early aughts — mall culture, boy bands, reality TV — and how they shaped people’s lives. “It really embraces camp and nostalgia and investigates millennials and the way we’ve been raised on irony, and the dual forces between nostalgia and irony,” McOscar said. “It’s also a really personal work of the author dealing with the death of her father. It really runs the gamut.”
To prepare in advance for the holidays, Jarrett recommends checking out this new cookbook, which — in the spirit of the Test Kitchen — takes what’s in your kitchen and gives the everyday home cook inspiration for making Middle Eastern fare. “The signature touches are still here, big flavors and the predominance of veggie recipes,” Jarrett said. “But they’re distilled to maximize versatility and accessibility for your average cook.”
Both Jarrett and McOscar agreed this new novel from Erdrich, whose last book “The Night Watchman” won the Pulitzer Prize, isn’t to be missed. The new story unfolds in an independent bookstore in Minneapolis during one year — 2019 to 2020, set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial justice. (Erdrich herself owns a bookstore, Birchbark Books, in the city.) “It sounds like a really cool story in addition to being incredibly relevant,” McOscar said. The narrative follows a group of Native American booksellers and what happens when the shop becomes haunted by a customer who has passed away suddenly. “It might be a new setting for her, but Erdrich still continues to explore and highlight the struggles facing the Native American population, women in particular,” Jarrett said.
The award-winning “1619 Project” published by The New York Times Magazine in 2019 will be released in a new form — a book — this fall, and Jarrett expects it to be a bestseller.
Through a series of essays and articles, the project provided historical analysis of how slavery shaped American political, social, and economic institutions. Hannah-Jones, who conceived of the project, edited the book, which includes new and expanded essays, along with 36 creative works of poetry and fiction to further tell the story. “This will be a foundational work in anybody’s understanding of U.S. history,” Jarrett said.
Both Flynn and McOscar are looking forward to the release of this new essay collection, which includes some pieces that have been published already in The New Yorker. Even for those who haven’t read Patchett’s work before, Flynn said this collection of personal essays will be a great read. “She’s just such an expert writer … she takes all these things that many of us experience — the death of her father, her relationship with her husband — and she’s able to distill them into this beautiful prose,” Flynn said. McOscar agreed. “She’s just such a warm, engaging voice, and a dynamic storyteller that you want to read in the way you want to hang out with a good friend,” she said.
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