10 New Books I’m Looking Forward to This Fall

That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air … Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.
Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Stegner eloquently phrased what I’ve always believed — September is the true beginning of the year.  January is just another long, cold month of hibernation and diets. Fall is traditionally when the major publishers come out with their “big books”. According to the Boston Globe, “The fall book publishing season mirrors the movie industry’s Oscar-jockeying season. Publishers typically use the last few weeks running up to the holiday buying season to release their most prestigious, and commercially promising, new titles”.

Some of the books I’m looking forward to reading this fall are “prestigious” and some may be “commercially promising”, but those aren’t qualities that are important to me as a reader, or even as a bookseller. On the other hand, I don’t like to engage in reverse snobbery either —  I don’t avoid a book just because it’s popular.

The 10 books on my list sound like what I’ll want to read this fall while curled up with a blanket on my favorite reading chair.

6f7409195b3da2bf053b771b8d91d7efEarly One Morning by Virginia Baily (due September 29)

Published in the U.K. earlier this year, Baily’s second novel tells the story of Chiara, a young woman who impulsively saves the life of a young Jewish boy, whom she names “Daniele”,  during the Nazi occupation of Italy. Her decision reverberates a generation later, when a teenage girl contacts her, claiming to be Daniele’s daughter. The Guardian calls the book “highly original” noting that “The book works because it gives itself fully to its characters and their relationships, from which its ample plot spirals outwards with a confidently handled complexity and depth.”

9780670025770The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (due October 6)

Brooks, who’s written four previous novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning March, is one of my favorite authors. The Secret Chord imagines the life of the biblical King David. In a Publishers Weekly interview, Brooks explains her fascination with King David, describing his story as “encompassing most of human experience: there’s love and loss, triumph and despair, victory and defeat. ‘Everything happens to him,’ she says, pointing out that the biblical account is the ‘first piece of history writing that we have,’ predating Herodotus by 500 years.”

930cb8822e923066f1cfb42fa388117eThe Three Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway (due October 27)

I know this probably isn’t another Boys in the Boat (what could be?), but I can’t resist an underdog sports story — and this one sounds terrific. The “Three-Year Swim Club” was a group of poor Japanese-American children who started their swimming careers training in irrigation ditches in the 1930s and later became world champions. Checkoway focuses on the team’s innovative and inspirational coach, Soichi Sakomoto, an unsung hero whose accomplishments have gone relatively unnoticed.

9781594634475Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (available now)

This is one of the big “buzz” books of the season, so I think I should have an opinion. The first section of the book, “Fates”, chronicles a marriage from the husband’s point of view of ; the second section, “Furies”, provides the wife’s version. I’m slightly worried that Fates and Furies is going to be too self-consciously literary for my taste, but we’ll see.  Longlisted for the National Book Award.

9780307451064The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher (due October 6)

I love narrative nonfiction about quirky topics! This account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini, crusader against charlatans and the spiritualism movement, and Margery Crandon, self-proclaimed spirit medium, is right up my alley.

9780525429777Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell (due October 27)

Clementine came to me on the recommendation of my friend and coworker Kathy, who always picks terrific nonfiction. Published earlier this year in the U.K. to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister, The Independent says that Sonia Purnell’s “compellingly readable”  biography of Churchill’s wife “brings her out from behind the shadow cast by the Great Man and argues for her historical importance.”

y648Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America by Diane Roberts (due October 27)

I’m not crazy about football, but I am intrigued by the sport as an American cultural phenomenon. (The best book I’ve read on the subject — so far — is Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania, by Warren St. John.) Roberts, an English professor at Florida State, says she’s a “conflicted” football fan:”I’m like those people who aren’t sure they believe in the Virgin Birth and the literal Resurrection but still show up for church because they like the music and take solace in the liturgy.”

Schiff_THEWITCHESThe Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff (due October 27)

I’m absolutely fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, and for good reason — I was born in Salem, along with many of my ancestors. Pulitzer Prize winner Schiff says that we have a “completely skewed idea of what happened” in Salem; “it’s something we all know about, but we actually are relatively misinformed.”

9780804141352The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (due October 6)

First in the new Hogarth Shakespeare series, The Gap of Time is a “cover” version of The Winter’s Tale. The publisher’s website explains that Hogarth has commissioned well-known authors “to write prose ‘retellings’ of Shakespeare’s plays for the modern reader.” These new versions will be true to the spirit of the original dramas and their popular appeal, while giving authors an exciting opportunity to reinvent these seminal works of English literature.” What a great idea!

9780553496642Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (available now)

Ann Kingman recommended this YA novel on my favorite podcast, Books on the Nightstand: “I don’t want to say too much about it, because you really should go into this book without knowing too much about it. All I’ll say is that the main character is a teenage girl who suffers from debilitating allergies that require her to stay inside of her home.” Ann hasn’t steered me wrong yet, so I’m going to add it to my list.

Happy Fall!


10 Favorite Boston Books

Image from the Paul Revere House.
Image from the Paul Revere Memorial Association.

I had a different post planned today, but this morning I remembered that it is Patriots’ Day (also known as “Marathon Monday”) in my birthplace, Massachusetts. Patriots’ Day commemorates the opening battle of the Revolutionary War — remember the opening lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem?

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Massachusetts observes Patriots’ Day on the third Monday in April. It’s typically a festive day in Boston, with battle reenactments, the Red Sox playing at home, and of course, the marathon. Last year, Patriots’ Day fell on April 15. It was a busy day for me — we were cohosting Chris Bohjalian at a nearby library for the paperback release of his spectacular novel about Armenian genocide, The Sandcastle Girls, and I had to file my taxes. So I had no idea what my daughter, who lives in Boston, was talking about that afternoon when I finally saw her texts: “Don’t worry, I’m fine!”; “Ran all the way home and staying inside”; “Call me!” I knew that her office was closed for the day and she was planning on watching the marathon. I finally reached her and found that she and her friends were in a bar near the finish line when the bombs went off. They didn’t know what had happened, and simply headed for safety as quickly as possible. Today, she and her friends are cheering for the 36,000 runners from all over the world whose participation in the marathon is a tribute to last year’s bombing victims.

The only marathon I can imagine participating in is a reading marathon. (Just in case you’re interested, there’s one planned next weekend — Dewey’s Read-a-Thon.) In honor of the Boston Marathon, I’d like to share a list of my favorite books set in and around Boston.

9780670021048HCaleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks)
Brooks (also the author of March, the story of the absent father in Little Women, among other historical novels) brings to life the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk,  the first Native American graduate of Harvard.

Townie (Andre Dubus III)
Growing up in tough neighborhoods north of Boston and largely abandoned by his famous father, Andre Dubus III learned the best way to protect himself was to throw the first punch. Over time, he transformed himself from a violent youth into an empathetic writer. Last year, Dubus was on a college trip to Boston with his daughter on the day of the marathon bombings. In a moving account written for Boston magazine, he refers to the “old rage” he felt when confronted with the tragedy that took place:

. . . For rage only brings more rage in return. So then what must we do? We must run again. And if we cannot run, we should walk or wheel ourselves, but we must go out in the street and begin training, each in our own way, for that Monday in April next year when one of the finest cities on earth opens her arms to all those who strive. And if my daughter decides to come to Boston in the fall, I will stand behind her completely, for she must continue to live her life with joy and gratitude and resolve. We all must. For this is a city that demands and deserves it, one I have always loved, but now, well, I love it more than ever before.

9780670015658HNorth of Boston (Elisabeth Elo)
Elo’s debut is a literary thriller featuring Pirio Kasparov, a hard-as-nails  Boston perfume executive who has the amazing ability to survive for long periods in very cold water. After the lobster boat she is on is rammed and sunk by a freighter, Pirio is convinced the tragedy was no accident.

The Heretic’s Daughter (Kathleen Kent)
Kent, a descendant of one of the accused Salem witches, mines her family’s history. The New York Times reviewer says:

Granted, the based-on-my-family-­history novelization is too often a product of a weekend writers’ workshop and the misplaced belief that the stories Grandpa told are immensely, immensely interesting. Maybe that’s just jealousy talking. Why couldn’t any of my ancestors have gotten themselves hanged as witches? But The Heretic’s Daughter overcomes this and several other obstacles . . . It is a powerful coming-of-age tale in which tragedy is trumped by an unsinkable faith in human nature.

I was born in Salem, and also (or so I’ve been told) am descended from an accused witch, so this book absolutely fascinated me. (I’m always careful to say “accused witchThey weren’t really witches, after all.

The Given Day (Dennis Lehane)
The Given Day takes place at the end of the First World War, culminating in the Boston police strike. It brings to mind E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, with celebrities and politicians of the time (Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Eugene O’Neill) mixing with the novel’s fictional characters.  The sequel to The Given Day, Live by Night, is set in Prohibition-era Boston, and is being made into a movie (produced by Ben Affleck) for 2015 release. Lehane’s mysteries are excellent as well, particularly Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone. Lehane published an article in the New York Times the day after the 2013 marathon, entitled “Messing With the Wrong City”:

But I do love this city. I love its atrocious accent, its inferiority complex in terms of New York, its nut-job drivers, the insane logic of its street system . . . Bostonians don’t love easy things, they love hard things — blizzards, the bleachers in Fenway Park, a good brawl over a contested parking space. Two different friends texted me the identical message yesterday: They messed with the wrong city.

All Souls: A Family Story from Southie (Michael Patrick MacDonald)
MacDonald grew up in a housing project in South Boston and lost four siblings to violence. The story of his survival reminds me of Angela’s Ashes.9780670451494H

Make Way for Ducklings (Robert McCloskey)
I had to include this classic picture book on the list. When my children were little, no trip to Boston was complete without a visit to the Public Garden to see the statue of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings.

Run (Ann Patchett)
I love everything Ann Patchett has ever written. Run takes place over 24 hours in the life of Bernard Doyle, former mayor of Boston, and his two adopted sons, Teddy and Tip.

With or Without You (Domenica Ruta)
A good companion to Townie, Ruta’s memoir is, according to the New York Times, “a recovery memoir in which the most vivid character doesn’t recover”. That character is Ruta’s mother, a drug user and dealer — and a toxic mother. The Times article explores Ruta’s background:

In person Domenica, 33, is a lot like her book. She’s sharp, intense, funny in that darkly sarcastic way that working-class New Englanders so often are, and given to bursts of strong feeling. She now lives in Brooklyn, but last week she came back to Danvers, the town where she grew up. Turning off the highway, she suddenly said: “My heart always beats really fast right here. I don’t know why.” A few moments later she became ironic and added, “Welcome to the mean streets of Danvers, those hardscrabble streets.” In fact Danvers is an unfancy and mostly unremarkable North Shore suburb, whose greatest distinction is that in the 17th century it was where the Salem witches came from.

9781616203160The Art Forger (B.A. Shapiro)
In 1990, 13 paintings and drawings were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The crime has never been solved, and if you visit the museum today, you’ll see blank spaces on the walls where the works of art should hang. In Shapiro’s entertaining and enlightening novel, one of the paintings apparently resurfaces.

There are many mysteries set in Boston; probably the best known is Robert Parker’s Spenser series. Also popular are series by Linda Barnes, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Tess Gerritsen. I’ve never read any of these, since I’m not a huge mystery fan, but maybe I should expand my horizons.


My daughter and a friend at the 2014 Boston Marathon.
My daughter and a friend at the 2014 Boston Marathon.