Atwood, Franzen and Witches: 10 Fall Books to Anticipate

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Whether you’re driven inside by colder temperatures and shorter days or the desire to avoid pumpkin spice everything, fall is the perfect time to start making good on your resolution to read more. As publishers debut their more serious fare after a season of frothy beach reads, there’s no shortage of options to pick up from your local bookstore. Here are ten books to look forward to -- some are zeitgeisty, some have Bay Area connections, but all will keep you entertained through a season of gift-giving, family obligations, and (hopefully) rainy nights.

The Heart Goes Last
The Heart Goes Last (Doubleday)

The Heart Goes Last

by Margaret Atwood; 320 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Sept. 29

Margaret Atwood, everyone's favorite dystopian-writing Canadian, is back with a new book, her first stand alone novel since 2000’s Booker Award-winning tome The Blind Assassin. The Heart Goes Last is set in the not too distant future, where couple Charmaine and Stan are desperate to get themselves out of poverty. They agree to be part of a social experiment where they’re given a house and a job. In exchange? Every other month, they serve a month in the town’s prison. At first, Charmaine and Stan think it’s the perfect arrangement. But like in so many of Atwood’s novels, the flaws in their society slowly start to reveal themselves, crack by crack, illustrating broader themes of uneasy gender roles and the creeping overreach of the political establishment.

The Witches: Salem, 1692
The Witches: Salem, 1692 (Hachette Book Group)

The Witches: Salem, 1692

by Stacy Schiff; 512 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Oct. 27

Stacy Schiff has made a career of exploring the private lives of iconic women throughout history. She won a Pulitzer in 2000 for her biography of Vera Nabokov, and her 2010 biography of Cleopatra was a bestseller. Now she’s expanding her focus to a group of notable women: the women in the center of the hysteria over witches that consumed the early days of the U.S. colonies. Her book describes a period that, as the book’s back cover points out, was one of the few times women were at the center of America’s history. The episode lasted only a year, but had a sizable influence on our nation's history, which Schiff’s book will unpack with her elegant prose and exhaustive research.

Not on Fire, but Burning
Not on Fire, but Burning (Melville House )

Not on Fire, but Burning

by Greg Hrbek; 272 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Sept. 22

Inspired by the recent San Francisco-torpedoing in San Andreas, Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle wrote a piece exploring why people love to see San Francisco destroyed in films. “San Francisco has become the go-to city for cinematic destruction. This is the city that knows how ... to blow up.” he wrote. The powerful effect of seeing the bridge decimated forms the center of Greg Hrbek’s new novel, where the bridge has been destroyed by a mysterious ball of heat. Years later, that event and the subsequent destruction of most of San Francisco’s residents, creates the desolate landscape that his characters find themselves in: terrified and angry, with Muslims (who have been blamed for the attack) herded into desert internment camps. As his characters uneasily navigate each other and their new world, they grapple with the same issues and prejudices of our current post-9/11 instability.

Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism
Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism (The New Press)

Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism

by Kathryn S. Olmsted; 288 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Oct. 13

As the election cycle begins its march toward next November and conservative candidates start to jockey for the Republican nomination, a new book looks at the surprising place many of their strategies sprung from: the Depression-era fights between California agriculture growers and their workers. Right Out of California, written by UC Davis history professor Kathryn Olmsted examines that history, illustrating how business owners who were scared of losing their subsidies devised more aggressive tactics to wage a public battle against their workers, influencing all future relationships between business owners and politicians. Some of those new tactics? Powerful partnerships between fiscal and religious conservatives, influential campaign consultants and borrowing the language of populism -- all of which will be on display during this coming election.

Purity ( Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


by Jonathan Franzen; 576 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Sept. 1

The notoriously tetchy Jonathan Franzen has always seemed a little uncomfortable with his literary stardom and the public has responded in kind. He’s like a grumpy parent, endlessly annoyed with the trappings of modern life: Oprah! Apple products! The Internet! Earlier this year, he even managed to piss off the Audubon Society. Yet despite his numerous enemies (most vocally Jennifer Weiner, who also has a novel coming out this fall), he’s one of America’s most important writers and critics. His latest sprawling novel follows eponymous protagonist Purity, aka Pip, from her confused beginnings at an anarchist crash pad in Oakland to her encounters with the mysterious German founder of a Wikileaks-type organization. Franzen has said his goal was to move away from plot with this novel, and instead focus on his characters and how they interact with their world. And whatever your feelings on Franzen, he’s a conversation starter -- the think pieces on Purity have already begun.

Gold Fame Citrus
Gold Fame Citrus (Riverhead Books )

Gold Fame Citrus

by Claire Vaye Watkins; 352 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Sept. 29

The current drought has stretched on for years, leaving the Central Valley barren. The Sierra snowpack has been completely drained. Most residents have been sent to internment camps. That's the premise of Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins, which focuses on two Angelenos trying to adapt to their new conditions. Her characters eke by, but the arrival of a mysterious child threatens their tentative survival as they search for a water diviner to save them. Watkin’s 2012 collection of stories garnered praise from everyone from the New York Times to Oprah Magazine and with this novel, she’s aided by her intimate knowledge of her landscape from growing up in the Mojave desert.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer (Disney-Hyperion)

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer

by Rick Riordan; 512 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Oct. 6

Every kid dutifully learns Greek mythology in schools. Norse mythology, that dark collection of helmeted characters with names like Skaði and Njörðr, is lesser known (that is, save for the Marvel-endorsed Thor and Loki). But if there’s anyone that can change that, it’s Rick Riordan and his new YA book, The Sword of Summer, the first in a planned series. The author of the Percy Jackson series -- in which a 12 year old with ADHD and dyslexia grapples with the powers that come with discovering he’s the son of Poseidon -- has a knack for creating new stories out of old legends that are immensely appealing to young readers, as seen in the millions of copies sold around the world. The new series features scrappy teen Magnus Chase, homeless and living on the streets of Boston, who learns he’s the son of a Norse god and that the gods are preparing for war.

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science (W. W. Norton & Company/Cover design by Jaya Miceli)

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science

by J. Kenji López-Alt; 938 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Sept. 21

In his column for Serious Eats, recipe developer (and recent Bay Area transplant) J. Kenji López-Alt teaches readers how to make the best version of everything from pancakes to meatloaf, using a combination of humor, hard won kitchen experience and a scholarly knowledge of cooking science. López-Alt, who got his start at the equally obsessive Cook’s Illustrated, is ruthless; he ignores common wisdom in favor of unexpected ingredients and techniques (sour cream for the ultimate fluffy, tangy pancakes) while dissecting every recipe to show readers how they too can get perfect results every time. His new book promises hundreds of new recipes and clocks in at a staggering 938 pages -- enough to keep you cooking well into 2016.

The Story Of My Teeth
The Story Of My Teeth (Courtesy of Coffee House Press/Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker)

The Story of My Teeth

by Valeria Luiselli and translated by Christina MacSweeney; 184 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Sept. 15

Valeria Luiselli’s twisting, elegantly eccentric novel follows the story of Gustavo 'Highway' Sánchez, an auctioneer with a simple goal: to replace all of his teeth with new ones. At one point, he finds himself in possession Marilyn Monroe's teeth, hard won in a bar in Little Havana. His journey takes him across Mexico City and in contact with a group of bizarre characters, which include a number of fictional versions of real life Spanish-language writers, such as Argentinian writer and critic Alan Pauls, and Mexican novelist Yuri Herrera. If that’s not strange enough for you, the novel has an equally unusual origin story: Luiselli wrote the novel in collaboration with workers from the Jumex juice factory.

Welcome To Night Vale
Welcome To Night Vale (HarperCollins)

Welcome to Night Vale

by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor; 416 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Oct. 20

For the uninitiated, the deliciously weird and eerie podcast Welcome To Night Vale is a serial tale that unfolds gradually, expertly building the tension and character’s problems in twice-monthly episodes. It’s become so popular that it’s transcended it’s radio roots and has since become a popular touring show; earlier this year, they stopped by San Francisco and Oakland for sold out shows. This fall, they’re publishing a book authored by the podcast’s writers. If you're already a fan of the podcast, expect more of the combination that’d made it so popular: carefully drawn characters from the small town of Night Vale that deal with the spooky and supernatural -- ghosts, angels and aliens -- without losing their humanity.