Six New Books To Get Excited About This Fall

You may not be headed back to school this September, but that’s all the more reason to take some pleasure in autumn’s crop of promising new literary work—you won’t have to pull an all-nighter writing an essay about any of it. Still, there’s far too much on the syllabus of life: how could we hope to wade through all those middling volumes bearing the names Auster and Lethem, the drab legal thrillers and schlock-horror, the overpraised debuts of a thousand MFA-accredited milquetoasts? Well, I did that for you and came back with just the good stuff. Here are the six forthcoming books for which you’ll want to keep an eye out.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
If you haven’t read Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, a classical Greek murder tragedy set among classics majors at a small liberal arts college, you really should get to it before they make it into a long-threatened terrible movie. Once you’re done with that, The Goldfinch, a massive tome and Tartt’s third in twenty years, will be in bookstores: it’s a safe bet that once you start turning the pages, you won’t stop until the entire mystery is unraveled. Theo Decker’s mother dies in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum, connecting him forever to a particular painting, and the suspense spools out from there.
 
The Traveling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker
Baker is noted for his brilliant and experimental nonfiction (Human Smoke) and pornographic romps through the sexual imagination (House of Holes), but he may be best when dwelling on his real subject: nothing. This novel reintroduces the character Paul Chowder, the writer’s-blocked narrator of The Anthologist, who once again struggles once again to make the meanings in his head take the shape of words. As always, his failure will be what’s compelling.
 
The Brunist Day of Wrath, Robert Coover
Another sequel, this one from a fabulist hero still operating at the height of his powers (check out “The Colonel’s Daughter,” his latest New Yorker story, for a taste). This thousand-page novel builds on Coover’s first, The Origin of the Brunists, which describes the formation of an apocalyptic cult around Giovanni Bruno. Apparently the new work gets inside the heads of at least 150 characters, exploring all manners of fundamentalism. Sounds delightfully dizzying.    
 
Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon
As if you needed reminding, Pynchon’s 2001: A New York Odyssey is due out in two short weeks (we’re waiting for Amazon to tell us that it’s shipped). Here are a bunch of great reasons to let your anticipation reach a fever pitch.
 
Half the Kingdom, Lore Segal
One of the quiet masters of her time, with a fascinating oeuvre equal to her jaw-dropping biography, Segal returns with her first new novel in six years, a dark comedy exploring an unusual rash of "copycat" Alzheimer’s disease in a New York hospital. Few writers can promise to be so sharply funny on the realities of death and decay, and still Segal never flinches, warm and dispassionate at once.   
 
A Prayer Journal, Flannery O’Connor
In the mid-1940s, at the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop, O’Connor apparently kept a journal devoted solely to matters of her Catholic faith (which, as her fans know, was always integral to her fiction). If you aren’t bowled over by the idea of reading what amounts to O’Connor’s correspondence with god almighty, I don’t know what will light a fire under you.
 

It’s Time To Stop Caring About Old Letters Written By Famous Writers

I am not shocked to learn that Hunter S. Thompson called his employer a craven, drooling, inbred swine. I am not concerned that William Styron and Norman Mailer had a (no doubt heroically drunken) falling out in 1956. I have not once wondered what Flannery O’Connor’s signature looked like, or wanted to trace the ups and downs of her peacock farm. You may burn all this correspondence when ready.

Because what do we get out of this stuff? That these authors were the outrageous characters we always held them to be? We’re talking about a group of people that wrote letters for purposes of practical communication, procrastination or sheer boredom. And when the letters are not full of quotidian detail, they grandstand with all the arrogance of a writer who knows the prose will be pored over when he’s gone. Flaubert was exactly as opulent as he intended, especially when complaining that he couldn’t for the life of him get any writing done.

Imagine the value you’d get from a bound edition of all the emails Tao Lin sent in 2009. Or wait—did you already do that, Tao? If not, let’s talk; I’d be happy with a 15 percent cut. Anyway, I’m saying that the revelations are just not there. Writers are too self-conscious to let slip the juiciest truths. That’s why the historical letters and diaries of anonymous nobodies are so much better—there’s no assumption of audience beyond the intended reader. It’s not like Jane Austen was the one scribbling the names of Chawton village’s men onto a Bangability Chart.

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