LJ Review Editors' Fall Picks

This season we look forward to sink-into-novels and illuminating nonfiction.

Jill Cox-Cordova | Associate Editor, LJ Reviews

Book bans, erasure attempts, and more have compelled many artivists (artists/activists) to use their books to speak even louder about injustices, offer feasible solutions, and show that we’re better together. Their works aren’t intended to make all readers comfortable with themselves either; these authors recognize that getting people out of their comfort zones is necessary to progress toward cultivating a society that reveres rights for all. For example, take two September offerings. Myriam Gurba tackles toxic American traditions and calls oppressive systems and people what they are—abusive and creeps—in her essay collection Creep: Accusations and Confessions (Avid Reader). The title of Michael Harriot’s Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America (Dey Street) aptly describes this definitive book that corrects myths in a meticulously researched, unflinching, sometimes humorous way. In October, look for Gray Areas: How the Way We Work Perpetuates Racism and What We Can Do To Fix It by Adia Harvey Wingfield (Amistad), which probes the historical intersections between race and labor, answers why there’s still inequality in the workplace, and offers actionable solutions. Two last suggestions spotlight Black women who have helped shape American culture. Cookie Woolner focuses on Black queer women in Famous Lady Lovers: Black Women and Queer Desire Before Stonewall (Univ. of North Carolina), while Courtney Thorsson’s The Sisterhood: How a Network of Black Women Writers Changed American Culture (Columbia Univ.) details the story of the Black women writers—Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, and more—who gathered monthly in the late 1970s to discuss liberation and literature.

Melissa DeWild Associate Editor, LJ Reviews

Alix E. Harrow’s stories are utterly transporting and transfixing. Her new novel Starling House (Tor) is a modern gothic fantasy about an uncanny mansion full of secrets in Eden, KY. More lyrical, magical fiction is to be found with Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s debut adult novel, Witch of Wild Things (Berkley). This paranormal romance stars Sage Flores, whose magic allows her to communicate with plants, but she’ll have to decide if she can risk her heart again when Tennessee Reyes returns to town. This fall will also see a bounty of new cookbooks, and I am especially looking forward to the first cookbook from Sohla El-Waylly, the chef, food writer, host of Ancient Recipes with Sohla, and judge on The Big Brunch. Her epic (656 pages), information-packed guide full of enticing recipes, Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook (Knopf), is like culinary school in a book. 

Liz French | Senior Editor, LJ Reviews

Oh what a trip down memory lane I’ll take this fall! First, to Raymond Chandler’s 1940s Los Angeles in Denise Mina’s brilliant new take on Philip Marlowe, The Second Murderer (Little, Brown). Mina is the first woman author to take on Chandler’s iconic private eye, and her novel succeeds on many levels. She captures the Chandler mood to a hardboiled tee, taking readers further into the underbelly of noir L.A., and provides a truly puzzling, almost confusing, Chandleresque mystery. Then on to the 1960s and ’70s: The Velvet Underground is evergreen—the joke goes that not many people saw them perform back in the day, but everybody who did formed a band. Now it seems that all who didn’t see them are writing about the edgy, influential group and its members. Journalist Dylan Jones’s oral history Loaded: The Life (and Afterlife) of the Velvet Underground (Grand Central) examines the Velvets phenomenon; Rolling Stone and NPR contributor Will Hermes looks closely at the iconic, complex V.U. front man and his gritty milieu in Lou Reed: The King of New York (Farrar). Sly Stone, another transformer of 1960s–70s music, tells his own story, aided by noted rock biographer Ben Greenman and with an introduction by Questlove, in Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin): A Memoir (AUWA: MCD). Finally, in the “now it can be told” vein, award-winning biographer Adam Sisman spies on The Secret Life of John le Carré (Harper), divulging details that he could not include in his 2015 biography of the master of espionage fiction, who died in 2020. 

Sarah Hashimoto | Editor, LJ Reviews

Top fall titles spotlight individuals whose lives have been shaped by disparities in class, race, justice, education, and inequity. In Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education (One Signal: Atria), Stephanie Land, best-selling author of Maid, describes the barriers she navigated as she completed her degree while facing hunger, poverty, motherhood, and being an outsider in a privileged educational landscape. In The Meth Lunches: Food and Longing in an American City (St. Martin’s), James Beard Award winner Kim Foster shares the stories of Las Vegas residents who have been impacted by poverty, addiction, mental illness, and unstable family situations and for whom happy, healthy relationships with food are not a given. National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honoree C Pam Zhang offers a different take on the intersection of food and privilege with the novel Land of Milk and Honey (Riverhead), following a young chef who cooks for the global elite, while the rest of the world endures climate change, food scarcity, and pollution. In two novels, Mi’kmaq writer Amanda Peters and Mohawk writer Alicia Elliott capture the experiences of Indigenous people contending with shifting identities as they navigate the privilege and power of upper-class society: Peters’s The Berry Pickers (Catapult) depicts a Mi’kmaq family devastated by the unexplained disappearance of their daughter, while Elliott’s And Then She Fell (Dutton) follows a Mohawk woman who struggles to connect with her newborn daughter amid feelings of otherness and self-doubt.  

Sarah Wolberg | Associate Editor, LJ Reviews

The late Douglas Crimp, the AIDS activist and art historian who defined the Pictures Generation, is one of the most readable art critics; his texts, while often very theoretical, also brim with personal anecdotes and buzz with character. His writing about dance is particularly vibrant—he was a serious balletomane as well as a devoted attendee of the discos of 1970s downtown NYC, and he wrote about both experiences in his lovely 2016 memoir/cultural history Before Pictures. I’m excited to read Crimp’s previously uncollected writings on dance in Dance Dance Film Essays (Dancing Foxes Pr./Galerie Buchholz). Those looking forward to seeing the Museum of Modern Art’s Ed Ruscha retrospective, spanning 1958 to the present, will anticipate the accompanying catalogue, edited by Christophe Cherix: Ed Ruscha / Now Then: A Retrospective (MoMA). David Fleming’s Hellfire: Evelyn Waugh and the Hypocrites Club (The History Pr.) is an account of the hedonistic Oxford University club whose heavy-drinking “Bright Young People” inspired in Evelyn Waugh (the club’s secretary) a number of characters found in Brideshead Revisited. Finally, there’s Cleaning (Lars Müller Publishers), a tribute to the art and tools of cleaning—quotidian sweeping, dusting, and scrubbing, but also deep-cleaning a ship and de-griming watch cogs—edited by Kenya Hara, art director for Muji and author of 100 Whites and Designing Japan; here’s hoping it will prove inspirational! 

Neal Wyatt | Reviews Editor, LJ

This fall, those with an interest in the arts might wish to consider three wide-ranging titles: The Manuscripts Club: The People Behind a Thousand Years of Medieval Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel (Penguin Pr.), The Globemakers: The Curious Story of an Ancient Craft by Peter Bellerby (Bloomsbury), and The Upside-Down World: Meetings with the Dutch Masters by Benjamin Moser (Liveright: Norton). Each offers delight, insight, and illumination. Readers who enjoy retellings and expansions have two interesting works on the horizon, both spinning off famous books by women authors who helped define what novels could be and who (while notable for very different reasons) lived during overlapping times: The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch by Melinda Taub (Grand Central), offers a new take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, while Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein by Anne Eekhout (HarperVia) pulls threads from Mary Shelley’s life and most famous work. Cookbook fans will have much to savor this fall; just two of the notable choices are Veg-Table: Recipes, Techniques, and Plant Science for Big-Flavored, Vegetable-Focused Meals by Nik Sharma (Chronicle) and Latinísimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America by Sandra A. Gutierrez (Knopf). Giving into the moment, librarians might also wish to buy The Pumpkin Spice Cookbook: 60 Wonderfully Warming Recipes by Heather Thomas (Harper). The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon (Harper Voyager)—a debut fantasy romance—and Murder Most Royal by SJ Bennett (Morrow)—the third in a crackerjack mystery series—round out a wonderfully readerly fall.

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