Monday, October 4, 2010

Awash in Great Fall Books: A Top 10 List

More so than any other time in 2010, I feel like there is quite the collection of new, intriguing literary fiction hardcovers out (or about to be out there). Maybe it's a function of publishers waiting to release their "serious fiction" books until after the summer beach-reading season. Maybe it's because we're on the cusp of literary awards season (National Book Award noms: Oct. 13; winner: Nov. 17;  Man Booker announced: Oct 12; Nobel in Lit announced: about 2nd week in Oct; National Book Critics Circle award winner: Jan 22., 2011) is approaching. Or maybe it's a freakin' coincidence. But, at any rate, it's gonna be a great fall and winter for reading.

What's on your radar this fall/winter? Here's a Top 10 list (in no particular order) of books on mine right now:

10. Skippy Dies — There have been positive review 'aplenty regarding this 600+ book, whose main character is actually killed the title! I'm excited to learn how Irish author Paul Murray can keep us interested for so long, when we already know the ending. The novel is about the day-to-day lives of boys at a boarding school school in Dublin.

9. Nemesis— Philip Roth's new novel comes out tomorrow! ...and there was much rejoicing. It's a slim novel (much like his last few) about a polio outbreak in Newark in the mid-1940s. Sounds pretty typical Roth. And here's a rare interview with Roth in the LA Times.

8. Great House — Sadly, Nicole Krauss' follow-up (and sequel?) to her fantastic The History of Love has been pretty well pooped on by critics so far. Entertainment Weekly calls it "loftily conceived, ultimately confounding." Hey, Debbie Downer, shut it! I'm still excited about it...

7.The Instructions — I saw this shelf-bending, 1,000+ page McSweeny's-published book at B&N yesterday, and had to damn near knock myself out to resist the temptation of making a rather expensive impulse buy. The back cover blurb says Adam Levin's novel "combines the crackling voice of Philip Roth with the encyclopedic mind of David Foster Wallace." Maybe it's just marketing, but if that's even 12 percent true, I'm in! Need to start saving...

6. To The End Of The Land — Here we have the prototypical winter read. David Grossman's novel about a woman who wanders around Israel, hoping to avoid bad news, is dense and slow-moving, by most accounts. But if you read The New Yorker profile of Grossman, and were as fascinated by it as I was, then this novel is a must-read.

5. C — Tom McCarthy's Booker Prize-shortlisted novel establishes him as "a contemporary champion of the experimental novel and heir to the postmodern stylists of the late 20th century," according to the blurb. That's certainly intriguing, but even more so — and also amusing — is the fact that on the same day it was shortlisted for the Booker, Michiko Kakutani wrote sort of the book review equivalent of a yawn in the NY Times. Not sure about you, but a bad (or even indifferent) review from Kakutani is actually a plus in my book.

4. Fall of Giants — This is the ginormous first novel in a Ken Follett-penned trilogy traversing the 20th century. It's also another prime example of a target by the moronic whiners who feel it necessary to leave one-star reviews on a novel to protest its e-book pricing — a vast majority of the 136 one-star reviews on amazon are to cry about the $19.99 Kindle pricing. Nothing gets my blood boiling more than these idiots who denigrate what is probably a great novel (most reviewers who are actually reviewing the novel itself speak positively about it) because they're unwilling to shell out a few bucks to read it. Seriously, shut up.

3. You Lost Me There — How could you not be intrigued by a novel written by a fella named Rosecrans Baldwin?! But the concept is even more intriguing: A comedic, some say Tropper-esque, look at the unreliable memory of a neuroscientist and Alzheimer's researcher.

2. Room — A creative premise — a boy who's lived his entire life in a single room — combined with dozens of overwhelmingly positive reviews combined with some big-name blurbs (Audrey Niffenegger, Michael Cunningham) combined with a Booker Prize shortlisting all make Emma Donoghue's new novel extraordinarily intriguing.

1. Washington: A Life — Let's end with a big 'ol winter-reading biography. Ron Chernow, who several years ago brought us the brick of a biography of Alexander Hamilton, returns with an equally outsized look at George Washington's life. If you're not intrigued by George Washington, go back to Russia, comrade!  ;)

Any of these stick out for you? Read any of them? What's on your list these days?


  1. I'm reading Room at the moment and loving it so far. And I totally bought the hardcover of Fall of Giants, because I loved Pillars of the Earth so much. I had a coupon though, so instead of the $35 list price, I only paid $22 for it. But I love a big, heavy tome of a book :)

  2. I've only read one of those books, Room, but oh, it was so good. Really incredible, actually.

    I would be interested in reading The Instructions, but I'd need it to be released for the Kindle first. There's no way I can carry around books more than 300 pages, now that I have my handy dandy e-reader.

    I think my next read (after The Broom of the System, which I'm super late in getting to) will be Skippy Dies. I read the first chapter, but wasn't drawn in too much by the second one. I think I need to give it a better chance, though.

  3. I'm going to buy that Follett book on my Kindle JUST BECAUSE. Big whiny idiots. Plus I really do love the man's work.

  4. I am working my way through Washington: A Life - wonderful history with lots of detail.

    I started Fall of Giants. I am a big fan of Follett's work and I'm sending a big one-finger salute to all the 1 star reviewers.

  5. Oh, now, you don't know the end of Skippy Dies, you only know the beginning. :-)

    I found the Grossman piece interesting too and will probably get the book from the library.

  6. I read Great House a couple of weeks ago, and I liked it *more* than I did History of Love. I can see why not everyone would like it. It certainly doesn't have a strong narrative drive. For me the key was approaching it as a series of connected stories rather than a novel with a single narrative. It's a beautiful book, IMO.

    One of these days, I want to read Skippy Dies and Room, but neither is a high priority.

  7. I just finished Room in one day. It was pretty amazing.

  8. I read Room a few weeks back and fell in love with Jack and his 5 year old innocence. This book is making huge waves, and deserves all the praise and hype it has been getting!

  9. Room is wonderful. I'm surprised to say that, given its subject matter, but it is a novel worth reading.

    To the End of the Land is on my to-read list, as is Fall of Giants. I have to say that I was put off by the e-book price so I just put a hold on it at the library.

  10. Room was a wonderful read and I'm so rooting for it to win the Man Booker-Team Donoghue,all the way!

    I'd love to read Fall of Giants as well but may have to wait for the holidays to indulge in that. *sigh* I respect e-books but some of the people who insist upon acting like Veruca Salt whenever something goes awry with them really do the whole format a disservice with such behavior.

  11. @Rachel - Sounds like, based on your comment and the comments below, Room should be moved up my priority list! Follett: Yeah, he's great. Is it weird, though, that because I know this is the first of a trilogy, I want to wait until all three are out to start the first one?

    @Katie - Please let me know what you think of Broom of the System! It's the only DFW I haven't read - sort of saving it so I always have at least one thing by DFW that I can look forward to. Skippy Dies is pretty high on my list, too.

    @Sandy - I wish there were more rational, reasonable, intelligent book-buyers like you out there! ;)

    @Kristi - Did you read Alex Hamilton, too? I'm joining you in the one-finger salute to the one-star whiners!

    @Amy - I guess that's true - I had this impression that it was like Titanic: You know the ending going in, but you still want to read to see how we got there.

  12. @Teresa - Better than The History of Love?! Yes! That's great news - really looking forward to it.

    @Bookshelf - That good, eh? That seems to be the consensus!

    @TNBBC - Your comment was the straw that broke the camel's back - just ordered Room.

    @Suzanne - Yeah, the summary doesn't make it sound that interesting to me either, but the overwhelming number of comments here made me decide to give it a shot.

    @lady T - Based only on what I've read in these comments, Room should be a cinch for the Booker! ;) Bad behavior, indeed.

  13. Great list; and pretty closely aligned to my own. In addition to Skippy Dies, The Instructions, Nemesis, and You Lost Me There, I'm anxious to start Tom McGuane's latest (Driving on the Rim), Jonathan Evison's "West of Here," and Sheri Holman's "Witches on the Road Tonight." Another good one (which I *have* read) is Benjamin Percy's "The Wilding." I'm an evangelist for that book.

  14. No Alexander Hamilton yet... It is on the proverbial 'list'

  15. Good lookin' list! I have read an ARC of Fall of Giants. It was just OK, I expected more after his Pillars of the Earth books - review here
    I am reading Room right now, an amazing book!

  16. Great post. I hadn't heard of a couple of these books. Thanks for bringing them to my attention. Just added them to my TBR list.

  17. @David - Thanks for reminding me about The Wilding - heard wonderful things about the book. Checked out the other ones you suggested, too, and of those, West of Here really, really caught my attention.

    @Kristi - Ha - me too. As is Washington, officially, now.

    @Kathy - Sorry to hear you didn't like Fall - but great review. I love the fact that Follett incorporates real historical figures into his fiction. That's my favorite kind of historical novel.

    @Janna - No problem - looking forward to comparing notes in the near future!

  18. Greg, I pre-ordered Washington: A Life and got it on Monday. I can't wait to start it (it's next + 1).

  19. I was disappointed in You Lost Me There. It had some good things to say about memory and one wild old lady character but other than that I found it fairly ho-hum.


  20. I'd love to read Room but alas alack the issues with getting recent release English novels in Taiwan.

  21. Room sounds fascinating! Can't believe I had not heard about it until now. Thanks for the great list.