Indie booksellers are raving about what Paul Yamazaki, adult book buyer at City Lights Books in San Francisco, describes as a “rich season” of fall/winter releases, with plenty of offerings in both fiction and nonfiction to please even the most discerning reader. Literary fiction with plots that could have been ripped from the headlines is especially hot this year, and one novel in particular is resonating with most of the booksellers PW queried: American Dirt (Flatiron, Jan.) by Jeanine Cummins, the tale of a Mexican bookseller and her young son’s attempt to flee to the U.S. to escape a vengeful drug lord. Store owner Jonah Zimiles of [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, N.J. called American Dirt “a stunningly powerful novel,” while Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., said that it will “break your heart and make you weep for joy.” And Nancy Simpson-Brice of the Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa, thinks that it is “one of the most significant books on immigration this decade” and “should be required reading for all Americans.”
Other novels with topical themes that booksellers are anticipating include Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments (Doubleday/Talese, Sept.) the sequel to her 1985 classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. Luisa Smith, buying director at Book Passage in the San Francisco Bay Area, said “this is the book booksellers are most excited about.” Smith is also buzzing about Red at the Bone (Riverhead, Sept.) by Jacqueline Woodson, which Smith called “Woodson at her most brilliant,” and The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott (Knopf, Sept.), “a brilliant debut” about female spies during the Cold War that Anmiryam Budner at Main Point Books in Wayne, Pa., said is “so, so deserving of all the hype—it’s smart and suspenseful.”
Budner also praised two other debuts with topical themes: My Dark Vanessa (Morrow, Jan.) by Kate Elizabeth Russell, inspired by the #MeToo movement, and Such a Fun Age (Putnam, Jan.) by Kiley Reid, a novel about a wealthy white woman and her black babysitter that Pamela Klinger-Horn, publicity/events manager at Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior, Minn., also loves, predicting that it will be “one of the most talked about novels of 2020,” as well as Therese Ann Fowler’s A Good Neighborhood (St. Martin’s, Feb.), which she calls “a Greek tragedy for modern times that is epic in scope.” Veronica Liu at Word Up: Community Bookshop in upper Manhattan is excited about Domincana (Flatiron, Sept.), another tale about immigrants to the U.S. And City Lights’ Yamazaki says that Ta-Nehisi Coates’s debut novel deconstructing myths of the Confederacy, The Water Dancer (One World, Sept.), is “an amazing piece of American literature.”
Novels with magical elements are also pulling in booksellers. Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., is eager for Erin Morgenstern’s sophomore effort, The Starless Sea (Doubleday, Nov.), calling Morgenstern “such an original voice,” and recalling that the store sold hundreds of copies of Morgenstern’s debut, The Night Circus. “This is exactly what our customers want—an escape” Jennings said. “Erin is so talented at keeping readers guessing, and oh, her imagination.” Ann Patchett’s dark fairy tale, The Dutch House (Harper, Sept.) about two siblings cast out from their home by their wicked stepmother, is also blowing away booksellers. Anne Holman of The King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City calls it “fantastic—the brother and sister’s voices are unique and wonderful.” Rebecca Fitting, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, is loving A Tall History of Sugar (Akashic, Oct.) by Curdella Forbes, calling it a “magical, melodic folkloric fairy tale” set in Jamaica.
Regarding nonfiction, biographies and memoirs are most exciting to booksellers this year, like Edison (Random House, Oct.) by Edmund Morris, clocking in at 700 pages. Smith at Book Passage declares the doorstopper to be “comprehensive and stunning. Edison comes alive on these pages and is as remarkable as you imagine.” Smith is also celebrating the publication of the memoir Prince was working on when he died: The Beautiful Ones (Spiegel & Grau, Oct.), calling it “one last gift from one of the greatest artists of all time.” Patti Smith’s memoir of traveling out West with Sam Shepard, Year of the Monkey (Knopf, Sept.), is also highly anticipated, Smith says, calling the singer/songwriter/author “an indie bookstore favorite.” Jennings at Rainy Day also praised Edison and is just as excited about Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller (Penguin, Aug.), a memoir of Fuller’s father. Jennings says she has been looking forward to such a book since reading about his “well-lived life” in Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.
While there is an outpouring of compelling works this fall and winter, the most intriguing book, which was mentioned by several booksellers, must be Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (Grand Central, Aug.). Narrated by a crow after what Budner describes as “a viral zombie apocalypse” has killed off humanity, it is, according to Holman, "the human apocalypse as only a crow can tell it.”
Click here to see booksellers' picks for their most anticipated children's and YA books.