Fall Book Preview
By John Freeman
This year has already seen a pestilence of floods, fires, bombings, plane crashes, a tsunami that killed almost a quarter million people, and this nation's worst natural disaster. It would seem that Mother Nature and our own bad selves have trumped the ability to imagine anything bigger or worse. Fittingly, the fall and winter of this publishing season are notably thin on fiction, but large on hulking works of nonfiction that might help us catch up with this out-of-control bobsled called planet Earth. Here are a few soon-to-be-released titles that are especially notable.
It's been over a decade since Gabriel Garcia Marquez published new fiction. Those looking for an epic might be a little disappointed by his slim upcoming novella, Memories of My Melancholy Whores (Knopf, Oct. 25), which Knopf is delicately pushing while trying to avoid looking like a pimp. If you're ready for steamy rumination on sex by a 90-year-old man who falls in love with the 14-year-old virgin he buys for himself on his birthday, well, here's your book.
The rest of this fall's fiction occasionally feels like a throwback to the '70s. Robert Coover is publishing a nifty new collection of short stories called A Child Again (McSweeney's, Oct. 1) that has all the occult magic of bedtime tales gone awry. Joyce Carol Oates is bringing out a new novel, Missing Mom (Ecco, Oct. 4), which is apparently the kind of book her mother would have liked. British novelist Christopher Wilson returns after a long gap to tell the story of a black boy born white-skinned in Eureka, Miss. in 1950 in Cotton (Harcourt, Oct. 5). If you think that conceit sounds contrived, settle in a little more comfortably with Anita Shreve's tried and true story of college friends uniting, A Wedding in December (Little, Brown, Oct. 10), in which seven former schoolmates get together for a nuptial celebration in the Berkshires.
New Orleans might be under construction, but that won't stop Anne Rice, who has a new novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (Knopf, Nov. 1), that's based on the gospels and appears to be begging for Mel Gibson's cinematic attention.
Finally, the fiction sleeper of the season looks like it might be Joanna Scott's latest novel, Liberation (Little, Brown, Nov. 8), about a woman remembering her girlhood during World War II on the island of Elba, where she sheltered a soldier in need of refuge.
Billy Collins may be a big deal in the poetry world, but he's looking at bona fide bestseller status with his new book, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (Random House, Oct. 25). How many poets can say that? His latest release displays all his trademark wit and humor—actual humor, not merely a poet playing for laughs by being down-to-earth for once.
Elsewhere, the poetry world largely settles into the doldrums this fall. There are a few exceptions. Patti Smith is publishing a book of poems which are not actually lyrics, Auguries of Innocence (Ecco, Oct. 11), while Kevin Young has repackaged a compendium of early work in To Repel Ghosts: The Remix (Knopf, Oct. 4), which could, in fact, be set to music and a backbeat.
Shame on Kevin, already recycling old work before he's even 40 while 82-year-old Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska is publishing new work, Monologue of a Dog (Harcourt, Nov. 1), that's as good and strong as anything she's published. Finally, if you buy one volume of poetry this fall to decorate your ego, make it The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch (Knopf, Nov. 10). This book might annoy you if you read straight through its 745 pages, but it rewards occasional peeks with several cheeky, sparkling poems.
Frank McCourt may have kicked off the recent memoir boom in a big way, but you'll probably forgive him after reading his sure-to-be-a-blockbuster new memoir, Teacher Man (Scribner, Nov. 15), which describes how teaching saved his life. His transformation from a meatpacking boozer to a Staten Island teacher is more dramatic than his second evolution, 35 years later, into a walking epitome of the Irish can-do spirit.
Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (Knopf, Oct. 4) might be a smaller book than McCourt's, but it packs an even greater wallop. With typical Didion-like remove, it describes the year during which her daughter fell ill, her husband suffered a massive coronary in response, and she learned how to grieve while taking care of her own flesh and blood.
After heavy stuff like that, one might need a few laughs—and funny guy John Hodgman could fill a St. Bernard's thermos with the ones he serves up in his own bizarre almanac of facts, My Areas of Expertise (Dutton, Oct. 1).
Geoff Dyer has taken a break from his usual first-person striptease for a new book on photography. The Ongoing Moment (Pantheon, Oct. 4) proves Dyer can basically write about whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and still deserve our ongoing gratitude.
Harold Bloom continues to cut a wide swath through Western civilization with his new book, Jesus and Yahweh (Riverhead, Oct. 6), while Rafi Zabor delves into his own complicated character in his fabulous memoir, I Wabenzi (FSG, Oct. 12), a colorfully crafted literary souvenir that's worth more than any gift shop tchotchke you'll ever find.
America seems to be the home of bigger than life characters, and few presidents deserved their big cock walk more than Andrew Jackson, the first commoner to attain the presidency. He's the hero of H.W. Brands' clearly admiring new biography, Andrew Jackson: A Life (Doubleday, Oct. 18).
If Jackson were president today, perhaps he would have got us in the same mess in Iraq. George Packer puts that mess under the microscope in his new book, The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq (FSG, Oct. 15).
Around this time, it's easy to wish for the complex political leadership of a consummate politician. Doris Kearns Goodwin makes a compelling case that Abraham Lincoln was just such a politico in her magisterial new work of history, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Simon and Schuster, Nov. 1), in which the great emancipator emerges as the original Slick Willy.
In a connected historical vein, Pulitzer Prize winning historian Eric Foner reveals in Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction (Knopf, Nov. 4) that blacks successfully founded new communities and churches and made use of the land, only to come under horrific attack from whites.
Perhaps it's not that this country has fallen into The Way of Ignorance--which just so happens to be the title of Wendell Berry's excoriating new collection of essays—but that it has always been there. (Shoemaker and Hoard, Nov. 5).
Jonathan Raban seems to think either way we're pretty well screwed. His account of life in America after 9/11, My Holy War: Dispatches from the Home Front (NYRB, Nov. 15), which appeared originally in The Stranger, is a brisk indictment of America's capacity for self-criticism.
Finally, the world's most traveled Middle East journalist, Robert Fisk, whose journalism sometimes appears in The Seattle Times, has delivered his 20-years-in-the-making book on the region he has already described so well. In case you don't have the time to read all 1,071 pages of The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East (Knopf, Nov. 15), you can at least comfort yourself with the knowledge that the title says it all.
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