Illustration by EW

Fall Books Preview: The 40 biggest titles of the season

August 26, 2019 at 05:54 PM EDT

The New Year gets all the credit in the self-improvement space, with its resolutions and dry Januaries and general air of rebirth, but for the true bookworm, the fall is the ideal time to turn over a new, perfectly crisp, reading leaf. Not only does the season inspire a callback to school supply shopping, planners, and the excitement of a syllabus, but it’s also the strongest time of year for great literature. As the awards shortlists beckon, publishers send their long-awaited prestige titles to the shelves.

This year proves to be no exception. Below, EW’s book editors select the 40 titles for which we’re most excited. This year’s fall must-list reflects the best of everything on offer, from the literary A-listers still going strong to the debut darlings poised to be the next big thing.

THE HEAVYWEIGHTS

Illustration by EW

The books everyone is (already) talking about — for very good reason

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
Thirty-four years after the publication of her startlingly prescient novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood delivers its potent sequel. The Testaments enters the world stage amidst a political environment that could be described as Atwoodian during its better days — and it also arrives as a fourth season of Hulu’s Handmaid’s adaptation is in the works. (Sept. 10) —Seija Rankin

The Institute, by Stephen King
Think of this novel as Stephen King’s take on X-Men‘s Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, but the kids get there because the school murdered their parents. (Sept. 10) —SR

The World That We Knew, by Alice Hoffman
Most casual Hoffman fans came to her via 1995’s Practical Magic (the source material for the hit film of the same name) and the recent prequel, The Rules of Magic, but her next title is a major departure in subject and tone. In short, it’s a holocaust survival tale that weaves in elements of magical realism: Three young girls on the run from the Nazi regime rely on unconventional means to stay alive. (Sept. 24) —SR

The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The National Book Award winner has published a memoir, two books of essays, and the latest Black Panther graphic novels, and now he turns his sights onto literary fiction for the first time. The Water Dancer‘s hero, Hiram Walker, is born a slave but possesses a strange power that saves his life during an early drowning accident; the tome follows him through the fight against slavery. That’s about all that can be said without giving away too much of this powerful plot, but trust that it’s worth the wait to find out. (Sept. 24) —SR

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
The prolific author returns to a familiar — and familial — motif in her 19th novel. Like much of Patchett’s work, the story of The Dutch House covers decades, beginning after World War II (when the Conroy family patriarch purchases the home in question) and traversing all the way to the present day, with the grown Conroy children still reeling from the aftermath of being expelled from the home by an (evil) stepmother. (Sept. 24) —SR

Year of the Monkey, by Patti Smith
Does anything conjure an era more than Just Kids does the early 2010s? You could hardly move a muscle in New York City without knocking into a hipster gripping their well-worn copy of Patti Smith’s memoir, which recounts her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. This time the musician-turned-author takes readers through her year of solo travel and self-discovery, starting on the coast in Santa Cruz, Calif., and viewed through the lens of the lunar New Year (of the monkey, of course). (Sept. 24) —SR

Grand Union: Stories, by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith fans have been chomping at the proverbial bit for a narrative follow-up to 2016’s Swing Time (EW editors included) and her upcoming short-story collection is as close as we’re going to get — for now. But novel purists need not worry, as the author’s uncanny ability to craft deliciously realized characters is on full display here (as is her dark sense of humor and biting take on modern politics). There’s a description of a lazy river with an all-inclusive resort that can only be described as a masterpiece and a tale about an acclaimed author visiting the West Village in the midst of the Brett Kavanaugh SCOTUS hearings, to name a few. (Oct. 8) —SR

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, by Ronan Farrow
While the title is pretty self-explanatory, we’ll offer more context and say that this is Ronan Farrow’s large exposé bookending his Harvey Weinstein reporting. It’s highly top-secret but is being touted as part spy novel, part investigative journalism, and will uncover all the systems — and people — who worked together to keep Hollywood’s sex crimes under wraps as long as possible. (Oct. 15) —SR

Find Me, by André Aciman
For everyone who saw 2017’s Call Me By Your Name and wished for nothing more than to spend more time with Elio, Oliver, and the rest of the captivating characters, André Aciman has heeded the call. The sequel opens as Elio’s father travels to Rome and meets an enthralling young woman on the train. Elio is now a professional pianist and Oliver a college professor in New England, but Find Me brings them back together again in predictably complicated and beautiful ways. (Oct. 29) —SR

THE PRIZE-FIGHTERS

Illustration by EW

The literary darlings of the season — get these on your radar 

Cantoras, by Carolina De Robertis
The perspectives of five women living through a Uruguayan dictatorship propel this searing novel by The Invisible Mountain author De Robertis. The author sensitively and singularly touches on themes of queerness, community, and perseverance. (Sept. 3) —David Canfield

Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson moves seamlessly between children’s and adult literature; indeed, she’s received the most prestigious of prizes for both. She returns to the latter field with this slim but potent book, which explores experiences of sexuality, race, and gender across decades, as members of a Brooklyn-dwelling family are forced into choices and lives that forever shape the next generation. (Sept. 17) —DC

Make It Scream, Make It Burn, by Leslie Jamison
Two books, two hit (and EW-endorsed) New York Times best-sellers — Jamison has emerged as a giant in the world of creative nonfiction. She returns with a beautifully compiled collection of previously published essays (including one for which she was named a National Magazine Award finalist) reflecting on obsession and longing. (Sept. 24) —DC

The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner
Autofiction master Lerner (10:04) returns with his most expansive novel to date, tracking the lives of a high school debate champion and his two “lefty” psychologist parents in Kansas’ capital city, circa 1996. Narration from the present-day and interludes hinting at a terrible tragedy add intrigue to this study of polarization and toxic masculinity. (Oct. 1) —DC

Frankissstein, by Jeanette Winterson
Don’t just take our word for it: Months before this radical retelling was scheduled to hit shelves stateside, it nabbed a spot on the Man Booker Prize longlist. And for good reason: Frankissstein ingeniously reimagines the Mary Shelley legend as a wild meditation on identity and the body. (Oct. 1) —DC

Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge returns! Strout begins this lyrical follow-up where the original (Pulitzer Prize-winning) novel left off — tracing the protagonist’s life through her second marriage and continued relationship with her son, and delving back into her small Coastal Maine town. (Oct. 15) —SR

All This Could Be Yours, by Jami Attenberg
It wouldn’t be a Jami Attenberg novel without a difficult family at its center. The New Orleans-set All This Could Be Yours spins secrets and resentments in its portrait of a strong-willed lawyer who returns home to contend with the legacy of her abusive, dying father. (Oct. 22) —DC

Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson
The reliably idiosyncratic author, best known for The Family Fang, dreams up his most outlandish — and curiously affecting — premise yet in this, erm, fiery family portrait, about a single woman who becomes the caretaker for young twins with a bizarre ability: Whenever they get upset, they spontaneously combust. (Oct. 29) —DC

In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado
Machado’s fantastical first book, the genre-bending collection Her Body and Other Parties, scored major plaudits and is being developed into a high-profile series for FX; in her next book, equally galvanizing in form and execution, the author turns inward, recounting and reclaiming a harrowing episode from her past. (Nov. 5) —DC

The Revisioners, by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Few capture the literary world’s attention with their debut like this author did; her first novel, A Kind of Freedom, was nominated for the National Book Award and earned several other top accolades. Her anticipated follow-up offers a bracing window into Southern life and tensions, alternating between two women’s stories — set nearly 100 years apart. (Nov. 5) —DC

THE CELEB PORTRAITS

Illustration by EW

The season sees A-list tomes of all varieties, from exhaustive biography to posthumous memoirs

The Contender, by William J. Mann
Marlon Brando reigned over Hollywood in an era before it was possible to know every little thing about an actor’s life — but this biography is going to change that. Mann went through Brando’s personal archives to craft a story that covers not only his behind-the-scenes persona but the way in which he led the charge for a merging of Hollywood and protest culture. (Oct. 15) —SR

Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie, by Carly Simon
Did you know that Carly Simon had a friendship with the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis? Neither did we. Turns out they met at a party on Martha’s Vineyard (of course they did) and the rest was history — and, yes, the plot of this memoir. (Oct. 22) —SR

The Beautiful Ones, by Prince
The memoir that the musician began writing before his untimely death in April 2016 is finally hitting shelves, packaged and framed by editor Dan Piepenbring (who also co-wrote this summer’s Manson murders exposé Chaos). It will also include photos, sheet music, and scrapbooks from his personal collection. (Oct. 29) —SR

Little Weirds, by Jenny Slate
In Jenny Slate‘s own words, this memoir contains the following: heartbreak, a French-kissing rabbit, a haunted house, and divorce — plus a multitude of other topics. Expect this collection to be as charmingly disarming as any of the actress’ onscreen work. (Nov. 5) —SR

Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge, by Sheila Weller
The biography of Hollywood darling Carrie Fisher traces her biggest career moments (including, of course, Star Wars) as well as her life off-camera, from the family she built with talent agent Bryan Lourd to the more tumultuous and tragic moments around it. (Nov. 12) —SR

THE BIG-DEAL BREAKOUTS

Illustration by EW

These astonishing authors write from deeply personal places

Dominicana, by Angie Cruz
Swayed by the promises of an older man, a 15-year-old girl living in mid-’60s Dominican Republic gets married and immigrates to New York City on the hope that her entire family can eventually join her. In Cruz’s rendering, the inevitability of hardship and the excitement of new possibilities makes for an affectingly complex journey into adulthood. Expect this to mark the author’s breakout. (Sept. 3) —DC

The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott
This propulsive slice of historical fiction imagines the publication of Boris Pasternak’s subversive Doctor Zhivago as a covert Cold War drama, with Americans vying to see it through and Soviets working to prevent it from going public. On both sides of the conflict, women drive the narrative. Prescott combines Mad Men-esque period style with a spy story worthy of John Le Carré. (Sept. 3) —DC

How We Fight for Our Lives, by Saeed Jones
Jones’ explosive and poetic memoir traces his coming-of-age as a black, queer, and Southern man in vignettes that heartbreakingly and rigorously explore the beauty of love, the weight of trauma, and the power of resilience. (Oct. 8) —DC

Wild Game, by Adrienne Brodeur
Brodeur’s memoir has set both Hollywood and publishing ablaze, selling in the millions and already scoring a movie deal (with the script completed). The author, a longtime book editor, recounts a secret she shared with her mother throughout her adolescence that created an intense, fraught, and damaging dynamic. (Oct. 15) —DC

Camgirl, by Isa Mazzei
Building off of the 2018 film Cam, for which she wrote the script, Mazzei revisits her experiences working as (and building a business out of being) a live-streaming camgirl, in brutally funny and candid fashion. (Nov. 12) —DC

THE PAGE-TURNERS

Illustration by EW

Spy thrillers, murder mysteries, and epic fantasies are here to liven up fall books

Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
The sequel in Locke’s award-winning Highway 59 mystery series finds Texas Ranger Darren Matthews tracking down a missing boy from a white supremacist family, forcing the officer to confront Texas’ history of racial turmoil. The series has been optioned by FX and it’s worth noting that Locke has Hollywood cred: She wrote for Ava DuVernay’s Emmy-nominated When They See Us and will co-executive-produce Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere adaptation. (Sept. 17) —SR

Imaginary Friend, by Stephen Chbosky
The author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower does something totally different, with a horror-thriller about, well, an imaginary friend. Seven-year-old Christopher and his mother flee an abusive domestic life, and soon after, he begins to hear a very ominous voice in his head telling him to— well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. (Oct. 1) —SR

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
A high school dropout is tasked, by a mysterious group of benefactors, with attending Yale University and spying on its secret societies. A campus novel with a side of the occult? Nothing has ever screamed “October” more. (Oct. 8) —SR

Agent Running in the Field, by John Le Carré
The foremost spy novelist of our time takes on Brexit and the Trump Administration. Nat is a British agent runner, specializing in the Russian…let’s just call it situation…who becomes embroiled with a man who can best be described as an Extreme Remainer. (Oct. 22) —SR

The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern
The best-selling Night Circus author amassed a huge, passionate fanbase with her mystical first novel. It’s unlikely they’ll be disappointed by this sweeping follow-up, which unfolds an epic romance within a secret underground world of lost cities, handsome pirates, and endless puzzles to be solved. (Nov. 5) —DC

THE TEEN TALES

Illustration by EW

Best-selling favorites return to beloved worlds, while debut authors introduce irresistible new heroes

There Will Come a Darkness, by Katy Rose Pool
Could this be YA’s next big fantasy? All indications point to yes. Author Katy Rose Pool was just 24 years old when her epic novel, set to kick off a trilogy, sold in the seven figures last year. Expect everything from ancient mythologies to juicy sibling tensions to plenty of sword fights. (Sept. 3) —DC

Frankly in Love, by David Yoon
Yoon sparked one of 2018’s biggest bidding wars for this personal rom-com, which uniquely employs the genre’s “fake dating” trope: a Korean-American teenager, forced to hide his love life from his strict parents, meets a willing co-conspirator. Think John Green by way of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before — with perhaps a dash of The Sun Is Also a Star, written by Yoon’s wife, Nicola. (Sept. 10) —DC

Slay, by Brittney Morris
Morris immerses readers in the world of gaming with her charged, timely, and witty debut, about a brilliant high-schooler forced to battle the backlash against a secret, popular virtual world for black gamers. (Sept. 24) —DC

Who Put This Song On?, by Morgan Parker
Lauded poet Parker makes a triumphant first impression in the YA space with this lyrical semi-autobiographical story of a 17-year-old black girl struggling with depression while living in small-town suburbia. (Sept. 24) —DC

Wayward Son, by Rainbow Rowell
Rowell’s long-awaited sequel to Carry On — her No. 1 best-seller, centered on Chosen One Simon Snow and his roommate/enemy/love interest, Baz — rages through the American West in a vintage convertible, with the guys getting lost in a deserty landscape of vampires, dragons, and skunk-headed things with shotguns. Simon’s best friend, Penny, is also along for the trip. And so are we. (Sept. 24) —DC

Queen of Nothing, by Holly Black
We’re being promised a “jaw-dropping” finale to Black’s newest best-selling fantasy series, the Folk in the Air trilogy. Based on the ride she’s taken readers on so far, we’d expect nothing less. (Nov. 19) —DC

Related content:

The best books from summer 2019
Sweet Valley High creator Francine Pascal tells all, 35 years later
LGBTQ books are being censored in middle school. Authors are speaking out.

Comments