Book sales zip healthily along, and autumn rolls in with a harvest of delicious, engrossing stories, themes, and characters, real and made up.
In nonfiction, there's a leaf-storm of biography and memoir this fall, with biographies of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joe Namath, and Benjamin Rush (see below), plus memoirs by Tina Turner, Joe Namath, Flea, Eric Idle, Sally Fields, Roger Daltrey, Reese Witherspoon, and so on and so on.
In fiction, if not a blockbuster fall, it's a deep, satisfying season of great books by authors familiar and brand-new.
Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation by Kenneth Starr (Sentinel, September). The contempt of the title is that of Bill and Hillary Clinton for the laws of this country — in the eyes of Starr, who, 20 years after the Starr Report, now tells his side. Sex, impeachment, the death of Vince Foster, presidential power, and urban legends run rampant.
Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton, by Tilar J. Mazzeo (Gallery, September). By any measure, she was a remarkable person: soldier's wife, society light, witness to the first years of the country, philanthropist, woman who loved and lost much, and guardian of her husband's legacy. Mazzeo gives her a voice.
Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster, September). The Pulitzer-winning Washington Post journalist unloads this thoroughly reported bombshell, on how the Trump administration works, or doesn't, with a leader who governs by fear, a staff that goes in fear, and the resulting, fearful back-biting and chaos.
On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by DeRay Mckesson (Viking, September). Drawing on Mckesson's civil rights work from Minneapolis to Baltimore to the streets of Ferguson, Mo., this book is part memoir and part exhortation, urging the country to leave the legacy of racism behind — and he believes we can do it.
The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman (HarperCollins, September). Local true-crime and literary mystery. Florence Sally Horner, 11, was kidnapped in Camden in 1948 and driven around the country by a man who abused her repeatedly. Horner's story became a basis of the modernist classic novel Lolita, though Vladimir Nabokov may have played down the fact.
Rush by Stephen Fried (Penguin Random House, September). The investigative journalist and Penn professor reminds us eloquently, abundantly, what a brilliant, original man Benjamin Rush was, and how his contributions to Philadelphia and the United States continue to bless us all.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (Catapult, October). She was born prematurely to a Korean couple after they moved to Oregon. They put her up for adoption, and after a lifetime of battling prejudice, she decided to find out the truth of her origin.
Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz (Spiegel and Grau, October). The two surviving Beasties tell of their unlikely, often uproarious career arc from punk rock to global rap stardom. With contributions from Amy Poehler, Colson Whitehead, Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson.
The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy (Harper, October). He could be the first communications-age celeb, certainly one of the most enthusiastic stars who ever lived. Drawing on new documentary sources, Leavy argues he helped make our present celebrity age — and she gives us the barnstormin' Babe in three dimensions.
Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin Manuel Miranda (Random House, October). Even before Hamilton hit, Miranda was a Twitter star, morning and night, with little aphorisms and encouragements for his followers — who number in the millions by now. He collects some of the best here, illustrated by fellow Twitter star Jomny Sun.
Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon (Scribner, October). Novelist, essayist, academic, Laymon writes a shocking, terrific memoir that begins with his relationship with his mother and takes us through American society, racism, sexual violence, the deceptions and lies at the heart of our lives together, and he asks: Do we really know how to love?
Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration by Thomas Brothers (W.W. Norton, October). Duke musicologist Brothers studies how working with others prompted some of the greatest pop musicians in history to create some of their greatest work.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster, October). Why did someone set fire to the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986? Why would someone do a thing like that when books are so beautiful? Orlean (The Orchid Thief) weaves in the history of books and libraries; her love of books is on every page.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (Crown, November). The former first spouse writes of growing up in Chicago and of her ensuing life of accomplishment, cultural stardom, disappointment, and constant becoming. Needless to say, one of the biggest books of the fall.
The Hazards of Good Fortune by Seth Greenland (Europa, August). One of the year's sleeper blockbusters. Greenland, a natural-born storyteller, unleashes a Balzackian tale that ranges top to bottom through U.S. society, addressing the racial divide, the income gap, and political polarization.
Boomer1 by Daniel Torday (St. Martin, September). Marc has been everything from a bluegrass musician to an English Ph.D., and he's reached his millennial 30s without much to show. So he starts a video blog to attack baby boomers for their hold on the job market. Things go wonderfully nuts from there. Torday is director of creative writing at Bryn Mawr.
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart (Random House, September). Critical darling and popular success Shteyngart gives us something different: the tale of a self-appointed master of the universe who crashes, so he hits the road in search of greatness, redemption, or … what, exactly? The book is also unexpectedly moving on the plight of parents caring for differently abled children.
She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore (Graywolf, September). In the early days of Liberia, three people with supernatural gifts find themselves in a position to influence the course of the young nation. Wide-ranging, this magical-realist novel is the debut of a promising Liberian American writer.
Transcription by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown; September). It's 1940. Juliet, 18, is recruited by Britain's MI5 to monitor fascist sympathizers. Her activities as a domestic spy in wartime will have consequences and force Kate to make choices in the years to come. Atkinson strikes again!
Elevation by Stephen King (Scribner, October). King published The Outsider in May, and he's back with this shortie about Scott, a man who is, strangely, losing weight while battling the ladies next door, whose dog keeps relieving itself on his lawn. Scott has the power to bring Castle Rock, Maine, his little town, together — can he do it?
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner, October). Satirical, edgy, fresh, hard-hitting stories about consumerism, life at the mall, sports, and the challenges of blackness. Big advance notices for this one.
In Your Hands by Inês Pedrosa (Amazon Crossing, October). Three generations of women in Portugal struggle to define themselves amid authoritarian government, sexual prejudice, and social turbulence. A granddaughter learns of the ties that bind her to mother and grandmother. This passionate, resonant novel is now in English for the first time.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, October). An ode to The Great Gatsby in a lot of ways, seen through the transforming lens of Murakami's imagination. Love, loneliness, war — and art.
The Reckoning by John Grisham (Penguin Random House, October). War veteran Pete Bannon kills beloved minister Dexter Bell in 1946, and the trial rocks the town of Clanton, Miss. As he so often does, Grisham renders the trial just as fascinating as the killing.
Riddance: Or: The Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-Mouth Children by Shelley Jackson (Black Balloon, October). Little Jane has been sent to the Sybil Joines School to cure her stutter — but the school is using children's speech impediments for quite another purpose.
A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine, October). A gunman takes hostages inside a women's reproductive health clinic. When a police hostage negotiator arrives, he learns that his 15-year-old daughter is inside. Once again, Picoult shows her best-selling knack for lacing her page-turning tales with topical themes.
The Witch Elm by Tana French (Viking, October). A man surprises burglars in his home and is beaten and left for dead. Possibly brain damaged, he goes to care for a sick uncle — and that's when the mystery and suspense really start accelerating.
Walking Backwards: Poems 1966–2016 by John Koethe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October). A half-century of poetry by this musical, lyrical philosopher-poet, whose work always brings us closer to "the irreducible / Self waiting there at the center of its world." A great moment to consider his career.