Last year at about this time, I was counting down the days to Freedom. This year, by contrast, there's no single to-be-published book that has even close to the pants-wetting anticipation that Franzen's brilliant novel carried. Still, collectively, there are several high-profile novels from big-name writers to be excited about that are coming out later this summer and fall. So, since many of you lucky jerks are at Book Expo America in New York this week, learning first-hand about all the great novels to be published in the second half the year, I figured I'd submit my own list (in ascending order of publication date, not necessarily level of anticipation).
10. A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, by Ron Hansen (June 14) — I loved Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy and Hitler's Niece, and Guilty Passion sounds like it continues his oeuvre of lucid novels crafted around a footnote in history. He's a really fun-to-read, under-the-radar novelist — I'd highly recommend checking him out, if you're not familiar.
9. Flashback, by Dan Simmons (July 1) — I will finally read Dan Simmons. I will finally read Dan Simmons. I will finally read Dan Simmons. I will finally read Dan Simmons. This actually sounds really interesting, too — part dystopian, part detective novel, part social commentary. Count me in!
8. Sex On The Moon, by Ben Mezrich (July 12) — Yeah, Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires was about as big a flop as The Social Network was a success, but I liked Bringing Down the House a lot — which incidentally, was about as big of a success as the movie 21 was a flop (at least in my mind — those floating, slow-motion cards were really irritating!). But I'm willing to give Mezrich another shot, and this sounds like a rather fascinating story. After all, if we learned anything from diaper-wearing Lisa Nowak's love-triangle meltdown, it's that astronauts make for some delightful drama!
The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta (Aug. 30) — The "chronicler of the suburbs" throws a bit of a dystopian twist into this long-awaited follow-up to The Abstinence Teacher — which was a bit of trudge. And, frankly, The Leftovers, has disaster potential written all over it because of its gimmicky plot hinge (lots of people have randomly disappeared). I'm going to give it a try, though. Perrotta's probably best known for the terrific movies made from his novels, including Election and Little Children.
6. Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier (Oct. 4) — I bet I'm not the only one who read the crap out of Cold Mountain, but totally ignored Thirteen Moons. But I'm willing to let Nightwoods be the tie-breaker — though, I have to admit, the premise (a woman in 1950s North Carolina caring for her murdered sister's twins) doesn't exactly get my pulse racing.
5. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides (Oct. 11) — Here is the mother lode! It's been nine years since Eugenides published Middlesex. Nine years: the exact same interval between Franzen novels. The hype for this won't be as huge, but The Marriage Plot will no-doubt still be a huge hit among book nerds, given that, according to The Millions, which published the first paragraph earlier this week, "the first paragraph sets the stage for what may be a very bookish novel." Woohoo!
Zone One, by Colson Whitehead (Oct. 18) — And here we have yet another post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel from a literary novelist. (Biting my tongue to keep cynicism at bay.) Anyway, I first read Whitehead two summers ago — his summer-y novel Sag Harbor is tremendous. And, it's arguable that Whitehead does some of his best writing on Twitter. He's a must-follow.
3. 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (Oct. 25) — Published in Japan in 2009, the much, much anticipated English translation arrives in October. It's a brick: 928 pages. I'm making it my goal this summer to become well-acquainted with Murakami's other much-loved books — including Kafka On The Shore, Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle — to get geared up for this one.
2. 11/22/63: A Novel, by Stephen King (Nov. 8) — It's true, the man can tell a story. But let's hope this story, which chronicles a time-traveler attempting to stop the Kennedy assassination, is a little better than the abysmal Under The Dome.
1. The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco (Nov. 8) — Ever since I cursed and screamed my way through the damn-near-impossible The Name Of The Rose (I DO NOT care whether Jesus ever laughed or not!), I've wanted to try reading another Eco novel to see if anything else he's written is more accessible. I picked up Foucault's Pendulum and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana with the best intentions, but they're both still gathering dust. There seems to be a push-back against Eco lately, as some wonder how relevant he (and his massive ego, apparently) is to modern readers.
So there are mine. What did I forget? What's on your rest-of-2011 list?