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21 New Fall Books You Won't Want To Put Down

Short stories from Danielle Evans and Walter Mosley, new novels from Elena Ferrante and Sigrid Nunez, essays from Eula Biss, and more.

Posted on September 3, 2020, at 4:37 p.m. ET

Several books in a large pile of fallen leaves.
Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images (3)

The World Doesn't Work That Way, But It Could by Yxta Maya Murray (University of Nevada Press; Aug. 11)

University of Nevada Press, Andrew Brown

Each short story in Murray’s fearless and revelatory collection begins with an epigraph — one or more excerpts from news items, speeches, and published research from the past five years that orient the reader in the precise moment Murray is about to just eviscerate. The collection opens with quotes from two stories about Trump — one about his speech notoriously referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists, the other about Univision’s subsequent cancellation of the Miss USA telecast — and then launches into a heartbreaking story about the real-world implications of these events, following a pageant coach and her Black and Latina client, whose accent and “trailer park” personality are liabilities in her pursuit of the crown. Murray is creative in form: She tackles gentrification through an imagined Zillow listing for the Boyle Heights, California, art space that was met with aggressive opposition in 2016; she calls out the misogyny within the US judicial system via a rough draft of a letter of recommendation to Judge Alex Kozinski. In this way, Murray makes it impossible for readers to maintain the shelter of distance from politics, forcing us beyond quote-unquote neutral reporting and into the humanity that exists in its omissions. It is absolutely essential reading. —Arianna Rebolini

Get it from Bookshop, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent bookstore.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (Europa; Sept. 1)

Europa Editions

If you’re a Ferrante superfan, you’ll likely be delighted by the Italian author’s latest novel, which, like the My Brilliant Friend series, is set in Naples and is narrated by an older woman reminiscing about her adolescence. Giovanna is the beloved only child of two intellectuals. When she overhears her father likening Giovanna to his detested younger sister Vittoria, she becomes obsessed with getting to know this larger-than-life aunt. Once Giovanna meets her, her world rapidly expands and the early total devotion she has for her parents unravels. Ferrante’s signature frankness about sex and the unruly female body exist alongside reflections on the unreliable stories we share about ourselves. —Tomi Obaro

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Having and Being Had by Eula Biss (Riverhead; Sept. 1)

Riverhead, Eula Biss

Biss has got to be one of the most varied essayists working in the form today; from 2009’s Notes From No Man’s Land to her breakout On Immunity, each book is a thoughtful and researched meditation on subjects as disparate as lynching to herd immunity. Her latest book is about class. Biss has more money now; she and her husband have bought a house in a gentrifying Chicago neighborhood. But what does it mean to actually acquire a room of one’s own? And at whose expense? Biss explores the way race and class affected writers like Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein and — herself. —T.O.

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His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie (Algonquin Books; Sept. 1)

Algonquin Books, Sylvernus Darku (Team Black Image Studio)

Perhaps my favorite fiction of the season comes from Peace Adzo Medie, whose debut novel is, at its core, a story that kept me tied to the page, told in masterful, seamless prose. It follows Afi Tekple, a seamstress in training from a small town in Ghana who marries a wealthy man at the request of his mother. She barely knows Elikem Ganyo, but his mother — who took Afi and her own mother in after Afi’s father died over 10 years ago — is hoping Afi will be able to convince Elikem to leave the woman he’s currently living with (also the mother of his child). But this marriage isn’t what Afi is expecting, and when she realizes her new husband won’t be part of her daily life in her new swanky Accra apartment, she decides to take advantage of the comforts made possible by her sudden and substantial rise in status, exploring her independence and ambition amid the backdrop of the city’s young elites. Medie depicts a vivid and dazzling Accra, and it’s impossible not to root for Afi as she finds her footing within it. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Mill Town: Reckoning With What Remains by Kerri Arsenault (St. Martin's Press; Sept. 1)

St. Martin's Press, Erik Madigan Heck

Twenty years after Arsenault left her hometown of Mexico, Maine, she returns for her grandfather’s funeral and stumbles into a conspiracy of decadeslong corruption. What begins as an investigation into her family history shifts when the unofficial local historian directs her to a vital story she and her late husband had tried for years to release to the public, with little success: that the paper mill had long been releasing carcinogenic chemicals into the air and water; that, as a result, residents were succumbing to cancer at such an inordinate rate that the town became known as “Cancer Valley”; and that the mill and local government worked in tandem to keep this information hidden. It’s a heartfelt ode to her home and the people who inhabit it, and a damning exposé of the forces that profit from its devastation. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead; Sept. 8)

Riverhead Books, Marion Ettlinger

Nunez is unparalleled when it comes to emotional fluency, tapping into the immediacy of grief, love, and exhaustion, and translating it — sparely, powerfully — on the page. This won her the 2018 National Book Award in fiction for The Friend, her poignant story about loss, recovery, and dogs. In What Are You Going Through, plot is secondary to, and at the service of, her profound exploration of empathy. We travel with the narrator through the daily mundanities and human interactions of her life — with the friend going through an experimental cancer treatment, the ex who’s made a career out of global pessimism, the rescue cat who survived a house fire. These conversations are made remarkable only by the pattern they reveal: that everyone is going through something, and often it’s something painful. Rather than dull these individual tragedies, though, their universality forces the reader to feel and exercise her own empathy, to really consider the humanity of people too easily categorized as supporting characters. It’s painful but beautiful, too, and it will stick with you for a long time. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Milkweed Editions; Sept. 8)

Milkweed Editions, Caroline Beffa

Reading World of Wonders, it’s clear that Nezhukumatathil is a poet. These essays sing with joy and longing — each focusing on a different natural wonder, all connected by the thread of Nezhukumatathil’s curiosity and her identification with the world’s beautiful oddities. In bits and pieces, we learn about a chaotic childhood spent moving around the country for her parents’ jobs, among white classmates who made certain she understood she wasn’t like them. We learn about her life by learning about the creatures that helped her survive or understand it — how the axolotl’s smile can be deployed when “a white girl tells you what your brown skin can and cannot wear,” how the touch-me-not plant protects itself. It’s a heartwarming, poignant, and often funny collection, enlivened by Fumi Nakamura’s dreamy illustrations. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown; Sept. 15)

Little, Brown, Vincent Tullo

Akhtar’s latest novel begins with an epigraph from the cartoonist Alison Bechdel: “I can only make things up about things that have already happened.” It’s a good line to keep in mind when reading this compelling, though quite self-serious, novel about a playwright, who like Akhtar, is Pakistani American and the son of two doctors. In ruminative chapters, the narrator reflects upon his upbringing, his parents’ unhappy marriage, his father’s early infatuation with Trump, his faith, and his extended family’s hatred of the US. Akhtar, whose 2012 play Disgraced won the 2013 Pulitzer, lists Philip Roth as one of his favorite writers and you can see his influence in this novel — particularly in the tensions Akhtar highlights between his willingness to write about the more painful, less assimilationist aspects of the Islam he grew up with, as much as it may play into anti-Muslim hysteria. There’s no question this book will be a provocative conversation starter. —T.O.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Straight From the Horse's Mouth by Meryem Alaoui, trans. Emma Ramadan (Other Press; Sept. 15)

Other Press, FRANCESCA MANTOVANI, GALLIMARD

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a narrator like Alaoui’s Jmiaa, a 34-year-old sex worker and mother in Casablanca. She’s frank, hilarious, tough, and cranky — almost as if she’s unwittingly found herself in a book about her life and resents the imposition of having to relay it. But she does it so well! Jmiaa walks us through her daily life in her working-class neighborhood, trying to make a living without her deadbeat husband while keeping her job secret from her mother and daughter. She spends her evenings among a tight-knit social circle of sex workers, and there’s hardship, of course, but Alaoui isn’t interested in drowning these women in misery. When they’re not with a series of clients ranging from abusive to adulatory, they drink, they joke, they travel, they talk shit. But when an aspiring filmmaker comes to town and asks for Jmiaa’s assistance in crafting an authentic screenplay about her world, she sees a chance to improve her standing in it. It’s a whirlwind story and a lot of fun to read. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Dance on Saturday by Elwin Cotman (Small Beer Press; Sept. 15)

Small Beer Press / Christopher Myers, Rohan DaCosta

Cotman’s third short story collection is a work of odd genius, creating worlds both alluring and strange, campy and powerful. “Seven Watsons” is about a group of young, mostly Black, men enrolled at a Pittsburgh Job Corps; it’s a story that is just as much about the futility of working tirelessly for a future in a world destined to fail you, as it is about a family of geese who have been turned into humans. Then there’s the high school volleyball tournament in hell; the lonely prince finding comfort in automatons; the fruit that grants immortality. Cotman blends humor, emotional clarity, and wild imagination to bring life to stories about identity, power, and human nature. —A.R

[Read: "To Be Black In This Country Is To Live A Life Of Trespass" by Elwin Cotman]

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth, trans. Charlotte Barslund (Verso; Sept. 15)

Verso Books, Sara Angelica Spilling

Hjorth’s brooding novel begins with 35-year-old publicist Ellinor sorting through basement storage and coming across a diary from a decade earlier. She’s disgusted by the meaninglessness of its five months’ worth of daily entries, barely able to remember any of the people or details she mentions. The discovery casts a growing pall over her daily life, made worse by the sudden disappearance and apparent suicide of her business partner. Hjorth gets depression exactly right in the first part of the book, capturing Ellinor’s weakening sense of reality, the invisible barriers separating her from her loved ones. But it’s not all gloom: When Ellinor is tasked with taking over the work her partner was doing for the Norwegian Postal Workers Union, she’s shocked to find she actually cares about it. And her moral investment in this very precise issue (a historically accurate and newly relevant one — in 2011, the EU wanted the Norweigan postal service to allow private-sector competition) leads her out of her low in a way that rings true: less flashy epiphany, more hard-won awakening. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

The Awkward Black Man by Walter Mosley (Grove Press; Sept. 15)

Grove Press, Marcia E Wilson

Walter Mosley is a master of fiction; he’s perhaps best known for his Easy Rawlins detective series, but his dexterity spans genres from literary fiction to science fiction to young adult. In these 17 dynamic stories, Mosley turns his attention to the underdog — the guy who can’t catch a break but also can’t stop hoping for one. In “The Good News Is,” a heavyset man is thrilled to be losing weight for the first time in his adult life, until he finds out it’s from cancer. In “Pet Fly,” a lonely and overqualified mailroom worker thinks he’s made a new friend, perhaps even a romantic interest, in a receptionist, but his overtures are met with bewildering cruelty. Often these men do see a sudden bit of luck, but the source is so random and unexpected that it feels ironic and anticlimactic — a promotion when what you were hoping for was companionship. These stories tap into the vulnerability and indignity of the human condition, but also its remarkable, even irrational, commitment to hope. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons From the Bronx by Desus & Mero (Random House; Sept. 22)

Random House, Emma Mcintyre / Getty Images

The best hosts on late-night TV have given us all a spring present with their first book, which offers primers on everything from dating (it’s hard) to how to survive New York City when you’re dead broke. You don’t even have to be a fan of their podcast or their late-night show to see why they have become so popular; I laughed out loud several times while reading this. —T.O.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Sept. 29)

FSG

If you’ve read Robinson’s previous Gilead novels, you’ll know that Jack Boughton is the wayward son of a stern Irish American preacher living in Iowa in the 1950s. In this fourth installment, we finally get to see things from Jack’s perspective and we learn more about his relationship with a Black English teacher named Della. Like the previous installations, Jack is a slow burn with the kind of thoughtful meditations on unfathomable grace that have become Robinson’s signature. —T.O.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad (Catapult; Oct. 6)

Catapult, Henry Everingham

Journalist Hamad’s commanding debut examines the ways in which white feminism upholds white supremacy. Through personal narrative, historical analysis, and shrewd cultural criticism, Hamad argues that white women’s comfort is privileged, that they benefit from a presumed vulnerability and innocence that they can weaponize at will, often against Black and Indigenous men and women. (See: Amy Cooper.) At the same time, Black and Indigenous women are dismissed or even villainized when they call this out. It’s a searing and effective condemnation of a sort of sneaky violence, especially apt right now, when those white women who would bristle at the idea that they might be racist are discovering — and being asked to really interrogate — the fact that their actions often belie their intentions. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (Ecco Press; Oct. 6)

Ecco, Rumaan Alam

A sense of foreboding lingers throughout this suspenseful novel, which is already set to become a Netflix miniseries starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. A white middle-class family from Brooklyn set off on an idyllic summer vacation with their two preteens in a house upstate. When an elderly Black couple shows up unannounced at their door one dark night, the white couple is forced to contend with their own buried prejudices, as it becomes increasingly clear that all is not right with the world. While vaguely apocalyptic novels certainly feel very fitting for our current moment, it’s really the strength of Alam’s writing and his observations about parenthood in particular that makes this novel such an engrossing read. —T.O.

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Cuyahoga by Pete Beatty (Scribner; Oct. 6)

Scribner, Pete Beatty

Beatty's Cuyahoga feels of a different time, a larger-than-life creation myth about Ohio City. At the center is Big Son, a folk hero of biblical proportions (his shoulders are "wide as ox yokes;" his laugh "a church organ full of the sacrament wine") who we meet in 1837, as he's carrying a widow, her baby, and her cat from a burning house. The man recounting Big Son's life — replete with magical, sometimes tragic, feats — is his brother Medium Son, aka Meed. Beatty has invented a new vernacular with an almost musical cadence (he names Johnny Cash’s reading of the New Testament as a source of inspiration) that is fitting; the book requires language that can match its strangeness and originality. It's a hilarious and moving exploration of family, home, and fate, and you won't read anything else like it this year. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, trans. Polly Barton (Soft Skull Press; Oct. 20)

Soft Skull Press, Taihei Ohara

Matsuda’s eerie and bewitching short story collection updates traditional Japanese ghost stories with a feminist bent, centered on women whose grief, rage, and exhaustion turn them into something supernatural, often monstrous. Take “Smartening Up,” a retelling of “The Maid of Dojo Temple,” which follows a young woman whose aunt — dead by suicide, tired of being “a kept woman” — visits her one night with a plan to get vengeance on a world that asks too much of women and gives too little back. There are the door-to-door sales representatives who are unusually persuasive; the calligrapher who spends her days watching believers visit the grave of a woman sentenced to death long ago for a crime of passion; the woman who fishes a skeleton out of a river and finds she’s released a long-dead woman’s spirit. The stories are coy, ambiguous, and just the right amount of creepy. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

White Ivy by Susie Yang (Simon & Schuster, Nov. 3)

Simon & Schuster, Onur Pinar Photography

Yang’s protagonist Ivy Lin learned early on that consistency isn't guaranteed. Her parents move from China to the US when she’s 2, and she spends the next three years in the care of her off-beat but doting grandmother; when she follows them to the US, her parents are emotionally withholding strangers. Luckily, her grandmother is soon able to join them, too, and when she arrives, she senses an urgent need to teach Ivy “two qualities necessary for survival: self-reliance and opportunism.” Thus begins Ivy’s lifelong career of lying and thieving. She’s defiant against her parents, and she’s more than happy to take advantage of suburban white society’s readiness to dismiss her. But she also obsessed with this upper-crust world, eager to use her skills to move from beside it to within it, and she has her sights set specifically on a local politician’s son who embodies all the privilege this world affords. Of course, as so often happens with obsession, it takes on a life and momentum of its own, and as Ivy grows into adulthood, it threatens everything she’s worked so hard to achieve. Yang’s provocative debut novel is captivating, razor sharp, and so, so juicy — I never wanted it to end. —A.R.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Riverhead; Nov. 10)

Riverhead, Beowulf Sheehan

The women who populate the short stories in this new collection by Evans are frequently unsure of themselves even if they act brasher and more worldly than they actually are. In “Boys Goes to Jupiter,” a young white college student doubles down on a decision to use Confederate flag imagery, at the risk of alienating everyone around her. In “Why Won’t Women Just Say What They Want,” a genius male artist apologizes to the women in his life, referred to only by their relationships to him from the High School Sweetheart to the Longsuffering Ex-wife to the Soon-to-Be Shortsuffering Second Ex-wife. But it’s the title story, a novella, that really shows Evans’ capabilities. A Black woman living and working in gentrifying Washington, DC, embarks on a mysterious historical mission that brings dredges up old wounds both personal and national. It’s the most astonishing thing I’ve read this fall. —T.O.

Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local independent bookstore.

Oak Flat: A Fight For Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss (Random House; Nov. 17)

Random House, Whitney Chandler

In southeastern Arizona, about 15 miles from the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, lies Oak Flat. It's a sacred piece of land for the Apache community — the site of past burials and ongoing religious ceremonies, notably the four-day coming-of-age rite for girls called the Sunrise Dance. And it was protected land — until, ten years after a massive copper deposit was discovered beneath it, ownership was transferred to private hands intent on mining the mesa into obliteration. In the graphic narrative Oak Flat, Redniss chronicles the ongoing clash between a Native population who've long been waiting for the US federal government to deliver on the promises they made and broke, and the mining corporations that are piling more promises — of jobs, money, new life in a ghost town — on the heap. Redniss offers herself as a witness, giving life to the people and place through straightforward dialogue and rich, sweeping illustrations. It's a vital read and a staggering work of art. —A.R.

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