One of life’s greatest joys is coming across an unexpectedly rich passage in a novel or work of nonfiction that resonates with the ragged pulse of one’s own life.
If you’re lucky, you experience a shiver of recognition that can only be generated by a skilled writer’s ability to piece together enough of the right words in the right sequence to make you reconsider the way you formerly viewed the world.
As the Post-Gazette’s book review editor, I have the privilege of getting advance copies of books readers will be talking about in the coming months. Though it is an undeniable perk of the job, it is also a burden when a particularly interesting or buzz-worthy book isn’t available to the public yet, so I can’t compare notes with other readers. I’m rarely successful at keeping my enthusiasm to myself. Yeah, I know: First World problem!
I’m happy to report that this fall will yield an unusually rich bounty of fiction and nonfiction for eager readers. I’m nearly finished with some while just beginning others. My friends know I’m afflicted with a weird pathology that compels me to gobble a range of literary experiences from several sources at once, forcing me to constantly juggle titles.
I wish I had the patience to sit through a book for more than 150 pages without tearing off in a completely different direction before returning a week later. Though I read more than most, it takes me longer to get through a single tome because I’m reading three or four at a time.
The following are abbreviated descriptions of books I believe will generate a lot of excitement in the fall. These books are crammed with passages that are guaranteed to grab readers from the first page. Expect full reviews of each closer to publication:
“The Book of Strange New Things” by Michel Faber (Hogarth):
Peter Leigh, a devout but decidedly modern Christian, is the first missionary to set foot on an inhabited world in another star system. The inhabitants of the world humans call Oasis are particularly eager to hear the Gospel. Peter obliges, but his joy as an evangelist is tempered by news from home: Earth is undergoing a series of environmental catastrophes edging the economies of the late 21st century toward collapse. The Apocalypse is nigh.
Peter’s wife, Bea, still on Earth, is even more devout than Peter, but losing her religion by the day because of the onslaught of biblical-level tribulations. Their interstellar correspondence grows increasingly fraught as they struggle with trillions of miles between them and the challenges to their faith as a result of God’s silence. Whether God exists or not, Earth slides inexorably toward hell, while faith is, ironically, being born on another world.
“The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell (Random House):
The author of “Cloud Atlas” is back with a novel that can honestly be described as “Harry Potter for Grownups.” It features a sinister cabal of mystics, a runaway teenager, a failed novelist, an adrenalin-addicted journalist in Iraq, a narrative that jumps through time and space, and some of the most compelling passages about doomed youth and the weird convolutions of fate since Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch.”
“A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James (Riverhead Books):
The very real attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976 provides the backdrop for this gorgeously rendered novel about the cult of personality that surrounded the reggae superstar, global racial politics, the insidious nature of the drug war, the whorishness of the music industry and the fragility of Jamaica before, during and after Marley’s death. Odds-on favorite for novel of the year.
“Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David” by Lawrence Wright (Knopf):
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright can do no wrong. After taking on the planning of the 9/11 attacks in “The Looming Tower” (2006) and Scientology in “Going Clear” (2013), Mr. Wright turns his attention to the unlikely 1978 peace negotiations brokered by President Jimmy Carter between Israel and Egypt. This book reminds us that American diplomacy was once capable of great, if not impossible, things.
“On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom” by Dennis McNally (Counterpoint):
This is one of the best and most comprehensive explorations of black music and culture ever written, period. If this isn’t at least a Pulitzer finalist, there is no justice.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631; Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.