Time to turn the page
Fall releases offer topical subjects for all ages
In an era when millions can hardly turn away from the news, fiction and nonfiction authors have similar reasons for why books matter more than ever.
It’s about perspective.
“I think that people need stories to help us understand our place in the world and remember that we’re part of something bigger,” says Barbara Kingsolver, whose novel “Unsheltered” is one of the leading literary releases this fall.
“Stories from the past, history, give you a sense of empowerment and make you feel like you can make a difference,” says Doris K. Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose “Leadership: In Turbulent Times” reflects on Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson and other presidents. “History isn’t just about what people did before, but what we can take from that and use today.”
Many fall releases will come within weeks, even days, of the most suspenseful midterm elections in memory. They will compete for attention not just with campaign news, but with nonfiction releases that may affect the results, such as Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House” and Michael Lewis’ investigation of the Commerce Department under Trump, “The Fifth Risk.” Other timely works include “Contempt,” a memoir by former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr expected to come out during scheduled hearings for one of his former underlings, Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Memoirs also are coming from former first lady Michelle Obama, whose “Becoming” is one of the year’s most anticipated nonfiction books, and former Secretary of State John Kerry.
Goodwin’s book won’t be the only work of history likely to inspire discussions about the present. Andrew Roberts’ “Churchill: Walking With Destiny” and David W. Blight’s “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” tell of historical figures who remain influential. Jill Lepore’s 900-page U.S. history “These Truths” has a running theme of the role of facts and reason in a democracy. Lepore began writing her book years ago, well before terms such as “alternative facts” and “fake news,” which dates back to the 1930s, became part of contemporary political debate.
“That’s what the study of history remedies: The past remains,” Lepore wrote in a recent email to The Associated Press. “What’s a book that chronicles the past good for? It requires stopping, squinting, casting your mind back — thinking, and wondering. History teaches, it comforts, it stirs.”
Besides “Unsheltered,” literary fiction includes Haruki
Murakami’s “Killing Commendatore,” Eugenia Kim’s “The Kinship of Secrets,” Gary Shteyngart’s “Lake Success” and, for those who really want to get away from the headlines, the 2,000-page “Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl,” a novel by the late German author Uwe Johnson.
New releases also are coming from John Grisham, Mitch Albom, Sara Paretsky and Michael Connelly. James Bond lives on in Anthony Horowitz’s “Forever and a Day,” while Prince Lestat returns in Anne Rice’s “Blood Communion.” J.K. Rowling continues her detective writing with the Robert Galbraith novel “Lethal White.” Alice Walker, Natasha Trethewey and Marilyn Chin have poetry books out this fall, and a posthumous collection is expected from Ursula K. Le Guin. Essay collections are coming from a handful of writers better known for fiction –Jonathan Franzen, Colm Toibin and Ben Fountain –and from a nonfiction master, John McPhee, whose “The Patch” is scheduled for November.
“I find that some of the same principles apply to fiction and nonfiction,” says McPhee, a longtime New Yorker correspondent and Princeton University professor. “The basic stuff about structure and all the rest of it is common to all writing: You better have some plan.”
Athletes and celebrities have their own stories to share. Joe Namath looks back in “All the Way: Football, Fame, and Redemption,” while “Pitino: My Story” is a memoir by basketball coach Rick Pitino. Tina Turner, whose best-selling memoir “I, Tina,” came out in the 1980s, follows with “My Life Story.” The Who’s Roger Daltrey has written “Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite: My Story,” while the man who replaced Keith Moon on drums, Kenney Jones, will publish “Let the Good Times Roll: My Life in Small Faces, Faces, and The Who.” Oscar winner Sally Field has written “In Pieces” and Eric Idle’s memoir urges Monty Python fans, once again, to “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life.”
“I’m an optimist, a fearful optimist. We have everything to worry about,” Idle said during a recent telephone interview. “We must always look at the bright side, right? Even though we have no chance.”
Books for young people will include Kate DiCamillo’s “Louisiana’s Way Home” and Ransom Riggs’ “A Map of Days,” her fourth Miss Peregrine novel. Other new releases are tied to current events. “A Map of Days” is a picture book by Susan Wood and Sarah Green. The anthology “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices” includes contributions from Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander among others. Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden have collaborated on “We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide,” and Dave Eggers has teamed with illustrator Shawn Harris on “What Can a Citizen Do?”
Jacqueline Woodson, a National Book Award winner and currently the U.S. young literature ambassador, wrote an open letter to her children for “We Rise, We Resist” and has two of her own books due. Her picture story “The Day You Begin” offers encouragement to young people starting out at a new school, including “When you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” In “Harbor Me,” a middle grade book, six kids find strength in telling each other about deportation, racial profiling and other concerns in their lives.
“I think part of the storyteller’s job has always been to take in the narrative of the moment and time, and add some elements of hope to it,” Woodson says. “Because if we straight up read the news, we can be some really sad people. It’s about finding the light in whatever moment that feels kind of shadowed and finding a historical context. People have always survived, and our ancestors have survived worse than this moment.”