After a slow summer, the publishing world kicks things into overdrive in September, when students head back to school and grown-ups ditch their beach reads for something meatier. This month sees new releases from biggies like Tom Wolfe, Ian McEwan and J.K. Rowling, whose first adult-oriented novel, Casual Vacancy, hits stores on September 27.
Speaking of school, we’ve written a syllabus featuring five of the books we’re most excited about. There’s new novels from Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon, an investigation into why predictions so often fail, and even a reinterpretation of a literary classic.
Take your seat and pay attention—there will be a test later!
Michael Chabon (Harper Books)
What’s It About: Chabon has long attracted gay readers with engrossing coming-of-age tales like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Here he focuses on the latter half of life in a story about gentrification in Oakland and the squabbling owners of a faltering record store.
What to Expect: Although the sprawling main story is about getting older and facing change, there’s an interesting gay subplot that develops between Titus and Julius, the store owners’ sons.
Just a Taste: “He was tired of Brokeland, and of black people, and of white people, and of all their schemes and grudges, their frontings, hustles, and corruptions. Most of all, he was tired of being a holdout, a sole survivor, the last coconut hanging on the last palm tree on the last little atoll in the path of the great wave of late-modern capitalism, waiting to be hammered flat.”
Zadie Smith (Penguin Books)
What’s It About? After her breakout debut White Teeth, Smith diverted her considerable talents in unusual directions, including the well-regarded On Beauty. Now she returns to northwest London, its people and patois with this latest novel. Through the eyes of four characters—most notably childhood friends Leah and Natalie—we get an insider’s view of the city’s lower-class council estates and the dream of a better life.
What to Expect: NW is certainly experimental in scope, with emails, IM chats, and a sometimes difficult-to-follow stream-of-consciousness style prose. Some ideas seem contrived—including a Internet trolling/hookup subplot for Natalie—but the second half moves at such a brisk pace, you’ll be swept away.
Just a Taste: “Ungentrified, ungentrifiable. Boom and bust never came here. Here bust is permanent. Empty State Empire, empty Odeon, graffiti-streaked sidings rising and falling like a rickety rollercoaster. Higgledy-piggledy rooftops and chimneys, some high, some low, packed tightly, shaken fags in a box.”
Jaime Manrique, (Akashic Books)
What’s It About? Although Columbian-born Manrique is well-known for his 1999 memoir Eminent Maricones— about his relationships with fellow gay authors Reinaldo Arenas, Manuel Puig, and Frederico Garcia Lorca—here he takes an entirely different approach: An historical re-imagining of Don Quixote. If you’re a fan of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, you’ll enjoy the way Manrique is able to re-create 16th-century Spain.
Just a Taste: “Later that day, when our caravan left La Mancha behind us, what I had been dreading happened: the bailiff and his men caught up with us and stopped us for a search.”
The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail But Some Don’t
Nate Silver (Penguin, September 27)
What’s It About? Many may already be familiar with cute-gay-nerd Silver’s election predictions for Rachel Maddow and the New York Times, but now he tackles forecasts in a broader sense. The Signal and the Noise makes the dry subject of statistics relatable and offers plenty of conversation fodder for months to come.
What to Expect: Like a gay Malcolm Gladwell, Silver crunches the numbers and explains how bad premises and biases can affect predictions in sports, weather, natural disasters, economics and, yes, politics.
May We Be Forgiven
A.M. Homes (Viking Press, September 27)
What’s It About? Homes, who has dated men and women, remains in bizarre suburbia for her first book in six years: Still battling demons caused by sexual and emotional traumas, historian Harry Silver is given the responsibility of raising his spoiled niece and nephew.
What to Expect: Non-traditional family structures are near to the hearts of gay readers, and there’s much to connect to here. But Forgiven‘s characters also thrill in their strangeness: If you’re a fan of Todd Solondz’s fractured suburbanites, you should be reading what is Homes’ most accomplished novel yet.
Feature photos: Hot Guys Reading Books