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Thanks, Obama. This year’s fall book season – always the busiest time of year in the publishing trade – was already bursting with titles, since many of the books that were meant to land on shelves this past spring got pushed because of COVID-19. This past week, Penguin Random House announced the former president’s 768-page memoir, A Promised Land – the first of two volumes – would be available in November. It’s now the most hotly anticipated book of the season, with PRH ordering a first run of more than three million for the U.S. edition.
To help you sort through the deluge, here’s our list of the season’s best picks to curl up with on a chilly fall day.
Hotly anticipated titles
Major new releases from beyond our borders include the long-awaited completion of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead series (Jack, McClelland & Stewart, September), National Book Award-winner Sigrid Nunez’s follow-up to book-club favourite The Friend (What Are You Going Through, Riverhead, September), and enigmatic Italian author Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults (Europa, September) – coming soon to a screen near you.
Martin Amis drew on the death of his friend Christopher Hitchens in writing his latest novel, the auto-fictional Inside Story (Knopf, October), Jodi Picoult’s protagonist re-evaluates her priorities after her own terrifying near-death experience (The Book of Two Ways, Random House, September) and Don DeLillo taps into the year’s mood with a near-future novel set in a Manhattan apartment in the midst of a catastrophic event (The Silence, Scribner, October).
Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) explores what it means to be in a couple in To Be a Man, a new collection of stories (HarperCollins, November), and Yaa Gyasi, whose triumphant debut Homegoing was a favourite of 2016, returns with Transcendent Kingdom (Doubleday, September), a meditation on family and identity that promises to be one of the buzzier books of the fall. Walter Mosley’s The Awkward Black Man (Grove Press, September) collects 17 stories by the prolific author of Devil in a Blue Dress.
From Canada, Giller Prize-watchers will be pleased to see new works by a number of past winners: a new literary thriller by Will Ferguson (The Finder, Simon & Schuster, September), collected short fiction by André Alexis (The Night Piece, McClelland & Stewart, October), and poetry collections from Margaret Atwood (Dearly, McClelland & Stewart, November) and last year’s Giller winner Ian Williams (Word Problems, Coach House Books, October). Annabel Lyon, a former Giller nominee for The Golden Mean, has already landed on this year’s Giller longlist for Consent (Random House Canada, October), a tale of sisterly love and familial duty.
Fiction’s buzziest books
Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akhtar (Little Brown, September)
In this highly anticipated and provocative new novel about identity and belonging, Pulitzer Prize-winner Akhtar tells the story of an immigrant father and his son as they make their way in modern America. “Passionate, disturbing, unputdownable,” Salman Rushdie says.
Blaze Island, Catherine Bush (Goose Lane, September)
In an alternate near-now, a mammoth hurricane sweeps up the eastern seaboard and dredges up memories of the past. In the aftermath, a woman finds herself in an altered world. This climate-themed, Shakespeare-inspired novel is the latest from the author of Accusation and Claire’s Head.
Bestiary, K-Ming Chang (Hamish Hamilton, September)
Tracing the lives of three generations of Taiwanese women in America, this fabulist debut in the vein of Helen Oyeyemi is a story of family, migration, and queer lineage. “Truly remarkable,” Tash Aw says.
Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, September)
Sixteen years after her international blockbuster debut (the novel was 1,000 pages, won numerous awards and was translated into 35 languages), the author of the fantastical Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell returns with the story of Piranesi, a man living in an inescapable house where he spends his days exploring the halls – occasionally wading through the sea – and answering questions from the Other, the only other inhabitant.
Seven, Farzana Doctor (Dundurn, September)
In this powerful feminist novel from the author of All Inclusive and Six Metres of Pavement, a woman accompanies her husband on a marriage-saving trip to India where, while researching her family history, she becomes involved – and forced to take sides in – the politics of female genital cutting. “A brave and beautiful book,” Judy Rebick says.
The Beguiling, Zsuzsi Gartner (Hamish Hamilton, September)
Hard to believe that this multiaward-winning fiction writer could be releasing a debut, but it’s true. Beloved and critically acclaimed for her short stories, including the Giller-nominated collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, Gartner delivers a wild ride of a debut novel, replete with gothic flair and wicked humour.
Happy Hour, Marlowe Granados (Flying Books, September)
“My mother always told me that to be a girl one must be especially clever,” begins this high-energy debut novel – the launch title for new indie press Flying Books – in which fast friends Isa and Gala live life to the meagrely financed fullest during a summer in New York.
Crosshairs, Catherine Hernandez (HarperCollins, September)
In near-future Toronto, a government-sanctioned regime forces communities of colour, the disabled and the LGBTQ2S into work camps. In the shadows, a resistance emerges. This is the highly anticipated follow-up to Hernandez’s multiaward-nominated – and soon to become a movie – Scarborough.
Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (House of Anansi, September)
The Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg multigenre artist challenges the novel form in this book, written as a combination of prose and poetic fragments. Narrated by the Mashkawaji, suspended in ice, this novel – a response to Susanna Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush – is likely to be one of the most talked-about books of the fall.
White Ivy, Susie Yang (Simon & Schuster, November)
In this Chinese American author’s hyped debut, a young woman’s steady campaign to climb the social ladder and achieve success at any cost involves petty crime, a love triangle, and conflicted feelings about family and upbringing.
14 others we’re excited about
Why Birds Sing, Nina Berkhout (ECW Press, September)
Live vicariously through the joyful whistling rehearsals of the Warblers in this novel about human connection (which we may all be missing right now) and an opera singer who finds unexpected friendship after losing the confidence (also timely) to sing.
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind, Katie Bickell (Touchwood Editions, September)
Set in urban and rural Alberta, this debut novel-in-stories depicts characters across a quarter century and through cycles of economic boom and bust. Loving portraits of the individuals that create a community, several chapters have already won awards as standalone stories.
Waiting for a Star to Fall, Kerry Clare (Doubleday, October)
In this complex, nuanced #MeToo novel, Clare (Mitzi Bytes) tells a story about love, power and the things we choose to believe in service of both. “A thrillingly sexy book,” Lisa Gabrielle says. “The novel we need at this moment,” Elizabeth Renzetti says.
Stoop City, Kristyn Dunnion (Biblioasis, September)
“No one writes like Kristyn Dunnion,” Empire of Wild author Cherie Dimaline says. In this “freewheeling” collection of stories, neighbours, including a condo-destroying cat; Marzana, who seeks couples counselling with her girlfriend’s ghost; and the university roommates at Plague House, come together in a delicately connected community web.
Butter Honey Pig Bread, Francesca Ekwuyasi (Arsenal Pulp Press, September)
In this intergenerational saga about trauma, healing and family, three Nigerian women are continents apart, but will come back together to sort through the wounds of the past. The debut novel has already landed on this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist.
A Lover’s Discourse, Xiaolu Guo (Grove, October)
In a post-Brexit Britain increasingly hostile to foreigners, a Chinese woman navigates romance and homebuilding in a new land. This tender story about love and cultural difference is from the author of the Orange Prize-shortlisted A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.
Forgotten Work, Jason Guriel (Biblioasis, September)
Billed as “a time-tripping work of speculative fiction,” this novel-in-verse is a little bit William Gibson, a little bit David Mitchell. In 2063, on the edge of “the Crater formerly known as Montreal,” a search is under way for a long-ago cult musical hero.
The Sweetness in the Lime, Stephen Kimber (Nimbus Publishing, October)
In the 10th book from veteran journalist Kimber, a fiftysomething newspaper copy editor loses his life’s two anchors (his job and his demented father) in a single day. Begrudgingly, he accepts his sister’s gift of a trip to Cuba, where a new love forces him to peel back the rind on his life.
Daniil & Vanya, Marie-Hélène Larochelle (Invisible Publishing, October)
In this literary thriller reminiscent of We Need to Talk About Kevin, translated from French by past Giller-Prize nominee Michelle Winters, a couple adopts Russian twin boys. But something is off with the boys' behaviour, which grows more disturbing as they age.
The Forest of Wool and Steel, Natsu Miyashita (Random House, October)
Translated from Japanese by long-time Haruki Murakami collaborator Philip Gabriel, this million-copy bestseller follows a boy, Tomura, as he finds his calling, leaving school one day in search of the sound of a piano being tuned.
Humane, Anna Marie Sewell (Stonehouse Publishing, November)
What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be humane? In the debut novel from multigenre writer and performer Sewell – former poet laureate of Edmonton – an unlicensed PI takes a case to help a family catch their daughter’s killer and is forced to confront these questions.
After Elias, Eddy Boudel Tan (Dundurn, September)
When Elias, an airplane pilot, dies in a crash, his husband-to-be is baffled by Elias’s cryptic final words, left behind in a recording. On the Mexican island that was supposed to host their wedding, the bereaved groom must face some uncomfortable truths.
Fauna, Christiane Vadnais (Coach House Books, September)
A prize-winner in Quebec, this dystopian debut fiction – translated from French by Pablo Strauss – is set in a near-future world where climate change has tipped the balance of species, and even humans are evolving and behaving in unprecedented ways.
Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots (William Morrow, September)
Even criminals have admin work to do, and Anna needs a job – but then the bodies start piling up. Armed with lots of data and a well-executed spreadsheet, she becomes a valuable lieutenant in the criminal underworld. After all, the difference between good and evil is mostly just marketing.
Non-fiction’s big bets
The Fight for History: 75 Years of Forgetting, Remembering, and Remaking Canada’s Second World War, Tim Cook (Allen Lane, September)
Celebrated Canadian historian Cook examines the way Canada’s victorious Second World War experience has been reframed as a series of disasters. This book examines the efforts to restore a more balanced portrait of Canada’s role.
Magdalena: River of Dreams, A Story of Colombia, Wade Davis (Knopf, September)
The internationally lauded author of 20 books (including Into the Silence) shares his travels along Colombia’s Rio Magdalena. Blending memoir, history and journalism with a healthy dose of adventure, Davis tells the epic story of a country and “the river that made possible the nation.”
Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril, Thomas Homer-Dixon (Knopf, September)
Dramatic changes to our natural environment, culture, society and economy require radical new approaches in order to be fixed, argues the author of The Upside of Down and The Ingenuity Gap. From a bleak present, Homer-Dixon lays out the tools we need to lead us toward a hopeful future.
Ideas to Postpone the End of the World, Ailton Krenak, (House of Anansi, October)
In three essays (the book is a mere 88 pages), renowned Brazilian Indigenous activist and leader Krenak argues that our current environmental crisis stems from our flawed concept of humanity as being superior to other forms of nature. He proposes a solution by reclaiming our place in nature. “Read this book," Tanya Talaga says.
Missing from the Village: The Story of Serial Killer Bruce McArthur, the Search for Justice, and the System that Failed Toronto’s Queer Community, Justin Ling (McClelland & Stewart, September)
Based on more than five years of in-depth reporting, this book offers the complete picture of the McArthur murders, including the failure of the police, the impact on the queer community, and the latent racism and homophobia that kept the case from being solved.
Field Notes from a Pandemic: A Journey Through a World Suspended, Ethan Lou (McClelland & Stewart, September)
One of the first books to look at our world in the midst of the pandemic, this account sees journalist Lou witnessing the earliest stages of the COVID-19 crisis while visiting China to see his ailing grandfather – and then unexpectedly traversing other hot zones around the world. Lou examines how such a global crisis is long overdue, and how decision and indecision now will shape the world for decades to come.
Adrift: How Our World Lost its Way, Amin Maalouf (World Editions, September)
Through personal narrative and historical analysis, one of the world’s great thinkers traces how civilizations drifted apart throughout the 20th century, and why humanity, thus divided, has become unable to address global threats to the environment and our health.
Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future, John Stackhouse (Random House Canada, October)
From the former editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, this book claims that the province-worth of Canadians who live abroad share a unique and exceptional ability to export Canadian values to a world sorely in need of them.
Rage, Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster, September)
As the U.S. election looms, Woodward’s unprecedented reporting – including a series of exclusive, explosive interviews with U.S. President Donald Trump and personal letters between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – takes readers behind the scenes of a presidential term like no other.
The Biblioasis Field Notes series (Biblioasis, October)
Independent publisher Biblioasis, based in Windsor, Ont., will launch a new series of short books (most are less than 130 pages) exploring timely issues of public interest, with the first four all written in response to the events of spring and summer 2020. Launch title On Risk by Mark Kingwell (October) will be followed by On Decline by Andrew Potter (November), On Killing a Revolution by Andray Domise (Dec.) and On Property by Rinaldo Walcott (Jan.).
Friends and Enemies: A Memoir, Barbara Amiel (McClelland & Stewart, October)
In what promises to be a jaw-droppingly candid memoir, one of the country’s most outspoken journalists and public figures shares tales from her life in media and high society, from a London childhood during the Blitz to the jet-set life of an A-lister.
If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power in Aging, Jann Arden (Random House, October)
The bestselling author and recording artist makes her peace with becoming a “woman of a certain age,” and declares her fifties to be “just the best time” of her life.
The Baddest Bitch in the Room: A Memoir, Sophia Chang (Catapult, September)
Marriage, motherhood, entrepreneurship and working with the Wu-Tang Clan. In this inspiring memoir, the first Asian woman in hip-hop shares how she prevailed in a male-dominated world and managed some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B.
Extraordinary Canadians: Stories from the Heart of Our Nation, Peter Mansbridge with Mark Bulgutch (Simon & Schuster, November)
This volume collects the first-person stories of inspiring Canadians from across the country – advocates, politicians, veterans, immigrants, business leaders and more – who embody kindness, freedom, compassion and courage and inspire the same in others.
Rapture: Fifteen Teams, Four Countries, One NBA Championship, and How to Find a Way to Win – Damn Near Anywhere, Nick Nurse with Michael Sokolove (Little, Brown & Co., September)
Billed as “equal parts personal memoir, leadership manifesto and philosophical meditation,” this is a story of success by the rookie head coach who took the Toronto Raptors to a historic NBA championship win. Readers get unprecedented access to the locker room. With a foreword by Phil Jackson.
Black Water: Family, Legacy and Blood Memory, David A. Robertson (HarperCollins, September)
A winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, Robertson is known for his entertaining books for young readers that educate about Indigenous peoples in Canada. In this memoir, the Cree author – who was raised away from his culture – and his father revisit their family’s past.
Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World, Hana Shafi (Book*hug Press, September)
Expanding on her popular affirmations series on Instagram, in which she draws on her experiences as a millennial woman of colour to discuss body politics, racism, feminism and more, Shafi presents a positive, witty collection of short personal essays to buoy us up when we’re feeling down.
That Wasn’t the Plan, Reg Sherren (Douglas & McIntyre, October)
The veteran CBC correspondent shares stories from 30 years of behind the scenes of Canadian television journalism, and the memorable characters he met along the way, from riding a humpbacked whale to travelling the world’s longest ice road in a solar-powered car.
One Game at a Time: My Journey from Small-Town Alberta to Hockey’s Biggest Stage, Harnarayan Singh (McClelland & Stewart, September)
This story of following your dreams from the voice behind Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition begins with a childhood in small-town Alberta calling imaginary hockey games with a toy mic and ends with making history as the first Sikh to broadcast an NHL game in English.
An Alphabet for Joanna: A Portrait of My Mother in 26 Fragments, Damian Rogers (Knopf, September)
The acclaimed poet writes about being raised in Detroit by a loving but erratic single mother, now diagnosed with a rare form of dementia. Margaret Atwood has called it “evocative, beautifully written, heartbreaking."
Four Umbrellas: A Couple’s Journey into Young-Onset Alzheimer’s, June Hutton and Tony Wanless (Dundurn, October)
The couple chronicle their changed life together after Tony is diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, My Father, and Me, Emily Urquhart (House of Anansi/Walrus Books, September)
With her father – artist Tony Urquhart – now in his 80s and living with dementia, the author questions our assumptions about age and artistic output.
Swivelmount, Ken Babstock (Coach House Books, October)
Billed as “Babstock at his best,” this latest collection from the Griffin Poetry Prize-winner (for Methodist Hatchet) encapsulates mourning and compassion, dark humour and faith.
home body by Rupi Kaur (Simon & Schuster, November)
The Canadian Instapoet megastar has sold more than 8 million copies of her poetry books worldwide. She describes her just-announced new collection as having been written “as a love letter to the self – a reminder that we must always take the time to fill up on love, acceptance, and community.”
Black Matters, Afua Cooper and Wilfried Raussert (Fernwood Publishing, October)
In this collaboration between Halifax poet laureate Cooper and photographer Raussert, photographs of everyday Black experiences are translated into text and the two art forms placed in dialogue with one another to create a work in celebration of Black beauty and resistance.
Just Us: An American Conversation, Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press, September)
In essays, poems and images, Rankine – whose provocative book about race, Citizen, was one of the most talked-about tomes of 2014 – urges us to find, through dialogue, a path through this divisive moment in American history.
Shared Universe: New and Selected Poems 1995 – 2020, Paul Vermeersch (ECW Press, September)
Bringing together poetry from the past quarter-century with never-before-published works, this collection organizes Vermeersch’s oeuvre by prophecy and mythos, into a universe where time is thematic and space aesthetic, and with popular favourites alongside new gems.
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