Every fall season, enthusiasm builds for certain subjects, and novels—notably high-stakes historical fiction and immersive work in translation—are extra hot for 2023. While memoirs are also generating buzz, booksellers are diving into literary fiction as well as fan-favorite genre titles in the transition from summer toward the holidays.
Several booksellers contacted by PW singled out The Maniac by Benjamín Labatut (Penguin Press, Oct.) as their handselling favorite, with value added due to its appeal to fans of the film Oppenheimer. Alex George, owner of the Skylark Bookshop in Columbia, Mo., declared The Maniac—based on the life of physicist John von Neumann—“one of the most unusual and brilliant novels I’ve read in years.” Javier Ramirez, co-owner of Exile in Bookville in Chicago, calls it a “great follow-up” to Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World, originally published in Spanish and shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize in its English translation. The Dutch-born Chilean author “wrote The Maniac in English, which is pretty incredible,” Ramirez adds.
Skylark manager Carrie Koepke has high hopes for What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama, translated by Alison Watts (Hanover Square, Sept.). “I plan on selling a flat full of this novel,” which is about the connections forged around book recommendations, Koepke says. “I expect a slow build and constant interest similar to Toshikazu Kawaguchi's Before the Coffee Gets Cold.”
Booksellers also see a top holiday handsell in Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s The Iliad (Norton, Sept.). Its 848 pages and unrhymed iambic pentameter make it an unlikely chart-topper, but booksellers sense a winner. “I didn’t think I’d be so excited about a 3,000-year-old poem,” admits David Enyeart, manager at Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul, Minn. “She’s aiming for a looser, more intimate translation” of the epic, akin to her critically acclaimed 2018 translation of The Odyssey.
Allyson Howard, owner of Invitation Bookshop in Gig Harbor, Wash., agrees that “we’re excited to see The Iliad get a fresh, and refreshing, new translation.” Among Howard’s additional picks are forthcoming novels by Pulitzer Prize finalists. Daniel Mason’s North Woods (Random House, Sept.) is “wholly unique, gorgeously written,” Howard says, while the story collection This Is Salvaged by Vauhini Vara (Norton, Sept.) is “a profound look at girlhood and motherhood, according to our bookseller Josie Williams.”
For readers who like an experiment, Invitation staffers recommend One Woman Show by Christine Coulson (Avid Reader, Oct.), structured as a series of museum wall captions. They also can’t wait to share The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff (Riverhead, Sept.), the tale of an adolescent servant on the run in the colonial American wilderness, with one employee calling it “beautiful in spite of its brutality.”
Cassie Clemans, owner of Roundabout Books in Bend, Ore., found The Vaster Wilds “breathtaking,” she says. “Even when you’re not reading it, your mind is still there, running with this young woman fleeing Jamestown during the starving winter of 1609.” Clemans notes that Roundabout booksellers are looking forward to new fiction from J.M. Coetzee, Tan Twan Eng, and Jonathan Evison, as well as Sy Montgomery’s nonfiction title In Search of Turtle Time (Mariner, Sept.).
In what might seem a surprise pick, Invitation’s Howard recommends cozy fantasy Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree (Tor, Nov.). “We really do read more than literary fiction,” she jokes, “and this lives up to everything readers loved about Legends & Lattes,” to which Bookshops & Bonedust is a prequel.
Genre readers also will want to get Out There Screaming: An Anthology of Black Horror (Random House, Oct. 3), edited by Nope filmmaker Jordan Peele and including stories by Tanarive Due, N. K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Rebecca Roanhorse: “It’s the collection we’ve wanted our whole lives but didn’t know we needed,” says Isis Asare, founder of the online shop Sistah Scifi.
Linda Kass, owner of Gramercy Books in Bexley, Ohio, says, “it seems like this fall belongs to science fiction and fantasy,” with “demand exceeding supply” for Rebecca Yarros’s Fourth Wing sequel, Iron Flame (Entangled, Nov.). V.E. Schwab’s The Fragile Threads of Power (Tor, Sept.) also will be big, judging by an off-site event with Schwab that Gramercy Books has scheduled for October 6. As of late July, 400 people had already registered for Schwab’s appearance, indicating sustained interest in magicians and the gateways between an ordinary and enchanted London.
Some celebrity books and memoirs are sure to resonate, according to booksellers. Trevor Noah’s adult graphic narrative Into the Uncut Grass (One World, Oct.), illustrated by Christopher Myers, “is going to be huge,” Kass predicts, as will My Name Is Barbra by Barbra Streisand (Viking, Nov.) and Astor: The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe (Harper, Sept.). Charles Hannah, co-owner of Third Eye Books in Portland, Ore., is anticipating The Upcycled Self (One World, Sept.), a memoir by Tariq Trotter of hip-hop collective the Roots.
Jhoanna Belfer, owner and manager of Bel Canto Books in Long Beach, Calif., looks forward to End Credits: How I Broke Up with Hollywood by Patty Lin (Zibby, Sept.), who wrote for TV series including Friends and Breaking Bad. “This debut memoir by a former TV writer and producer is a spill-the-tea page-turner about Hollywood and the toll it exacts, especially on women of color,” Belfer says.
Belfer’s other picks are in the fiction category. She calls Happiness Falls by Angie Kim (Hogarth, Aug.) “an un-put-downable literary mystery about the ripple effects of a stay-at-home dad’s disappearance,” and Flores and Miss Paula by Melissa Rivero (Ecco, Dec.) “a gorgeously written novel about a Peruvian mother and her millennial daughter struggling to connect.” Another Bel Canto favorite is Susan Lee’s humorous rom-com The Name Drop (Inkyard, Sept.), a “case of mistaken identity among summer interns, and a delicious peek at the international elite.”
Kris Kleindienst, owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo., is excited about The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay (Algonquin, Sept.), explaining, “I love his essays, their exuberance, the controlled meander in and out of unexpected observations, the way he can find delight in otherwise dark places.” Bel Canto’s Belfer echoed Kleindienst’s sentiment: “Ross Gay is the ultimate #autobuyauthor for us, and we can’t wait for everyone to be further delighted by these sweet, funny, and tender musings.”
Next Chapter’s Enyeart similarly feels excited for Gay’s latest, as well as Viet Thanh Nguyen’s memoir A Man of Two Faces (Grove, Oct.). “Nguyen’s a fascinating person who has a slight outsider’s perspective, his family having fled from Vietnam to the U.S. when he was a child,” Enyeart says. Gay made the rounds at last year’s regionals, and Nguyen will appear at CALIBA’s gathering this year, building connections and contributing to everyone’s TBR lists.
An error concerning the identity of the author of Before the Coffee Gets Cold has been corrected.