Compelling Books — and Authors — to Check Out This Fall


Critic’s Pick: As Jonathan Franzen once observed, everything about Nell Zink seems made up. After a homeless period, she worked in construction and then moved to Germany, where she lives still. She published her first book, The Wallcreeper, at age fifty as a needling provocation to Franzen, with whom she’d struck up a pen-pal relationship. (Stylistically, the two couldn’t be more different.) Zink’s latest, Nicotine (October 4, Ecco, 304 pp.), hits shelves this fall; it tells the extraordinary story of Penny Baker, the daughter of a South African tribeswoman and a Jewish shamanist. When her father dies, Penny inherits his home in Jersey City, which has been taken over by a band of pro-cigarette activists. Penny becomes enthralled with her visitors, but when she introduces them to her family, relationships become entangled in strange and upsetting ways. Get the book for its crackling prose and razor-sharp wit, but ready yourself for its blitzkrieg of startling imagery. Also coming this fall is Invisible Planets (November 1, Tor Books, 384 pp.), a thirteen-story anthology of Chinese science fiction translated for the first time into English. Its translator and editor, Ken Liu, is the author of the acclaimed Dandelion Dynasty series, and the stories collected here echo his writerly interests in cultural diversity and the social consequences of totalitarian rule. Included is “The City of Silence,” Ma Boyong’s Big Brother–like vision of a future where the internet — and all its communications — are under government control. Xia Jia’s “Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse” invites us into a world dominated by machines, and the title story by Hao Jingfang travels to four different planets whose cultural traditions are influenced by their unique environments. It’s a vital collection for readers of both sci-fi and literature-in-translation. — Amy Brady

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad Reading, September 26 Like his 2011 horror-lit novel Zone One, Colson Whitehead‘s new book is an action-adventure story with a determined protagonist fighting to survive. But The Underground Railroad already seems more harrowing, just by virtue of the setting: This isn’t a zombie-strewn dystopian future — it’s our own horrifying past. Cora, a slave who risks her life to escape, must navigate a literal underground railroad, rails and all, while pursued constantly by her captors. On this night, hear Whitehead talk about his inspirations for a novel that’s already been widely embraced by reviewers (and Oprah!). Peter Jay Sharp Building, BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, — Heather Baysa

Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run September 27 Rock ‘n’ roll autobiographies are a dime a dozen, but rock ‘n’ rollers like Bruce Springsteen aren’t. In Born to Run, by which we mean the Boss’s new book of that title, Springsteen tells his oft-mythologized story firsthand. It’s packed with all the tales of hard work, determination, and bootstrap-pulling that you’ve come to expect from the poet of Freehold. And indeed, even now, a lifetime of superstardom later, Springsteen manages to come off as relatable and almost aggressively blue-collar as he describes his Catholic childhood and early career on the Asbury Park bar scene. Read it to restore your faith in America, or at the very least New Jersey. Simon & Schuster, 528 pp. — Heather Baysa

Ali Smith: Public Library and Other Stories October 4 Nearly two years ago, Ali Smith’s novel How to Be Both took the book world by storm and raked in a slew of prizes, for good reason. A time-hopping, gender-bending, chronologically interchangeable plot made it truly experimental in form while remaining emotionally accessible. Her new work, Public Library and Other Stories, is similarly inventive: a collection of short stories that revolves around libraries, both public and private, as institutions and as ideas. The stories are separated by interviews with readers and writers who share how libraries have shaped their lives and careers. It all amounts to a concise and entertaining work of literary activism, arguing for the importance of the library as an increasingly rare community space. Anchor, 240 pp. — Heather Baysa

Chloe Caldwell: I’ll Tell You in Person Reading, October 6 Chloe Caldwell doesn’t have a gimmick, just honesty, and a whole lot of it. Honesty about attending an orgy, food addiction, acne, recording and later getting off to the aforementioned orgy, and just a general lack of direction in life. In I’ll Tell You in Person, her second collection of personal essays, she’s as intimate, meditative, and thoroughly unpretentious as ever, tackling the trappings of modern femininity: T.J. Maxx, off-brand chocolate, Craigslist, good sex, bad sex, and babysitting, to name a few. At this book launch, she hashes it out with fellow writer Ashley Ford. Powerhouse Arena, 28 Adams Street, Brooklyn, — Heather Baysa

Emily Witt: Future Sex October 11 The Avenue Q puppets were right: The internet is for porn. But why stop there? In the spirit of exploration, Emily Witt boldly swipes right on all the carnal pleasures technology has to offer — dating apps, screwing apps, sexting, and easy access to kinky or progressive subcultures. Her first book, Future Sex, is provocative, to say the least, but the journalist’s interest is more than just skin-deep. With a sense of humor and an appreciation for the weird beauty of it all, she takes a genuine look at our modern pursuit of human connection, noting its potential to inspire a newer, braver female sexuality. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 224 pp. — Heather Baysa

Sam Maggs: Wonder Women Reading, October 12 If anyone thinks women aren’t suited for STEM careers, then a) they’re not very good at thinking, and b) Sam Maggs has 25 examples that prove them wrong. In her new book Wonder Women, she sets her bespectacled sights on the forgotten geek girls of math, science, invention, espionage, and adventure. Her profiles are more than just fun, they’re genuinely astounding — it’s incredible more people don’t know about Noor Inayat Khan, the Indian-American World War II spy, or Huang Daopo, who basically invented the Chinese textile industry and revolutionized the way clothes are made. Fantastic illustrations by Sophia Foster-Dimino bring these pioneering women to life. Hear Maggs discuss the project with Jill Pantozzi, founder of The Nerdy Bird. Barnes & Noble Tribeca, 97 Warren Street, — Heather Baysa

Brit Bennett: The Mothers Reading, October 18 More than 1.5 million views later, Brit Bennett’s essay “I Don’t Know What to Do With Good White People” holds up as a timely, thoughtful articulation of race in America, not to mention a welcome reassurance that people on the internet still read thoughtful articulations. Bennett’s first novel, The Mothers, goes deeper still. In a tight-knit black community in California, church matriarchs are set abuzz by a seventeen-year-old’s pregnancy and abortion over the course of one summer. Here Bennett discusses her story about family and race with author Angela Flournoy. Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, — Heather Baysa

Jonathan Lethem: A Gambler’s Anatomy Reading, October 19 At first, it’s difficult to imagine Jonathan Lethem setting his stories on an international scale: After The Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn, and Dissident Gardens, we’re accustomed to an outer–New York City–borough scope. But Lethem’s characters are always larger than life, and Bruno Alexander, the hustler protagonist of A Gambler’s Anatomy, fits that bill. In Lethem’s newest, the backgammon champion with possible telepathic powers travels the world, winning a fortune until an ironic tumor threatens his life and life’s work. It’s a tale of personal ambition and existential queries, told through a series of bizarre, funny, and highly animated episodes. Lethem discusses the novel with poet and author Ben Lerner as part of the “Brooklyn by the Book” series. Congregation Beth Elohim, 274 Garfield Place, Brooklyn, — Heather Baysa

Mark Frost: The Secret History of Twin Peaks Reading, October 20 Many of us love Twin Peaks for its lingering mystery; at the end of the day, the owls are not what they seem, and it’s very possible the red curtain might never get pulled back to reveal a wizard — or a dancing dwarf. But on the other hand, many of us crave answers like we crave a cup of hot black coffee and a slice of diner pie. While we anxiously wait for Showtime to get a move on, co-creator Mark Frost is expanding the mythology with The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Hear him read from the fictional text, and get that much closer to finding the Black Lodge. Barnes & Noble Union Square, 33 East 17th Street, — Heather Baysa

Book Riot Live November 12–13 Book Riot Live aims to be an unconventional sort of book convention: a gathering for readers, by readers, to celebrate all our favorite parts of literary culture. Attend readings and panels, take part in discussions, games, and trivia, or shop around for new books and literature-themed swag at the weekend-long conference. The roster of guest speakers includes authors, illustrators, editors, podcasters, librarians, storytellers, and other industry specialists. Highlighted performers like Phoebe Robinson, Mara Wilson, and Tara Clancy are sure to entertain. Metropolitan West, 639 West 46th Street, — Heather Baysa

Zadie Smith: Swing Time Reading, November 16 Swing Time, Zadie Smith’s new novel, begins in North West London, where the author was born and still lives today. Maybe that’s part of the reason she’s able to depict childhood friendship so tenderly yet realistically — the two girls at the center of the story ultimately grow up and fall out of touch, but they never forget each other. They’re both dancers; one hones her craft while the other works conceptually, using music and rhythm to explore blackness and community. Hear Smith discuss this ambitious new work. St. Joseph’s College, 245 Clinton Avenue, Brooklyn, — Heather Baysa