Though quick to admit that they were overstimulated by all the galleys, blads and backlit book jackets cramming the aisles, booksellers have remained unanimously upbeat about the season's lineup in the days following this year's BookExpo. "The fall is looking terrific," said Harvard Book Store's Carole Horne. Her enthusiasm is shared by other booksellers, who noted that the range of titles was notably stronger than in the last few years, especially in fiction. While no single book rose to the top of the piles of galleys booksellers took home, as Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (FSG) did last year, many retailers said that they were loaded down with more promising works of fiction by a wider range of authors than usual.

A Season of Second Novels

"Because the show is so early this year, we haven't had a chance to read many galleys yet," said Margaret Maupin, book buyer at Denver's Tattered Cover. But if she had to name a fiction title that would be among the season's biggest, Donna Tartt's long-awaited second novel, The Little Friend (Random, Nov.), would top her list. At the Knopf booth, it was the most-requested galley, said v-p and publicity director Nicholas Latimer, though it won't be available until later in the summer.

Tartt's book was one of six sophomore novels that were quick to spring to booksellers' lips, signaling one of the most notable trends to emerge for the fall. Partly because of FSG's success in launching Franzen at BEA last year, Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex (FSG, Sept.)--his second novel, after 1993's The Virgin Suicides--was very much on booksellers' radar screens as they entered the show. Will Peters, buyer at Annie Bloom's Books in Portland, Ore., was not the only one to express some initial resistance to the hype, though he said he was encouraged by the positive responses the book had garnered from booksellers who had started reading it.

Galleys are not yet available for Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man (Random, Sept.), though that didn't stop numerous booksellers from expressing excitement about her followup to White Teeth. However, several commented that her new book, like Eugenides's, is not assured of the commercial success that marked its predecessor. "The second book is always critical," said Sally Lindsay, a buyer for Koen Book Distributors. "It can always go either way in terms of sales, but [with Zadie Smith] it's safe to say that Random House will give it everything they've got."

Two sprawling social novels also attracted attention. Booksellers sought out Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White (Harcourt, Sept. 16), a novel set in Victorian London that touches on issues of sex and class. Their interest was based on solid sales of last year's Under the Skin, which bookseller Peters described as "a funny, meticulously researched novel." Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland, also drew interest with Paradise Alley (HarperCollins, Oct.), a novel featuring Irish immigrant women in New York during the Civil War draft riots. "His first book definitely found a following. It helps that he's always writing articles for high-profile magazines," observed Lindsay.

Having nominated Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea as a Book Sense book of the year (Leif Enger's Peace Like a River was the winner), booksellers were also attentive to Dunn's comic second novel, Welcome to Higby (MacAdam/Cage, Oct.). Several noted what a good job the independent house does in drawing critical notice and building sales momentum for its books.

A profusion of young adult novels by well-known writers of books for adults were in evidence throughout the fair. Michael Chabon's Summerland (Hyperion/Talk Miramax, Oct.) was one of the most sought-after galleys. Daniel Goldin of Harry Schwartz Bookshop of Milwaukee, Wisc., echoed other booksellers in saying he expects it to find a wide audience. Others were enthusiastic about Robert Sabuda's pop-up book The Night Before Christmas (S&S/Little Simon, Oct.). "He's marketed as a children's author but adults collect him. We love his work," said Valerie Koehler of the Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex. Several booksellers also suggested that The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (Scholastic/Chicken House, July) may have adult sales potential. (See page 28 for more details on children's books at BEA.)

Debuts to Watch

Among the debut novels at the show, Brad Watson's The Heaven of Mercury (Norton, Aug.) was a hot pick, spurred by the praise of booksellers who had read the galley before the show. "It's set in a small southern town and has mythical, classic echoes. The language is just astonishing," said Horne of Harvard Book Store. Lilla Weinberger of Reader's Books in Sonoma, Calif., added, "I think this could be his breakout. Lots of people remember his story collection, Last Days of the Dogmen."

Several booksellers also reported hearing buzz from early readers of Daniel Mason's The Piano Turner (Sept.). The novel, about a Burmese officer who acquires an Erard grand piano and the British piano tuner he summons into the jungle, was acquired by Knopf as part of a seven-figure deal for two novels.

Though she's far from unknown, Frances Mayes, author of the bestselling Under the Tuscan Sun, will make her fiction debut this fall with Swan, a novel of family secrets set in an edenic but hidebound Georgia town (Broadway, Oct.).

Based in large part on Grove/Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin's enthusiastic presentation at Thursday's Editor and Bookseller Buzz Forum, booksellers were also very much aware of Nick McDonell's first novel of adolescent anomie, Twelve (Grove, July). "I think it's going to be good," said Maupin, who later met the author at a dinner. "He is very sophisticated and very media ready. The book is for the same audience as Bret Easton Ellis, but the next generation."

The panel--at which editors from major houses pitched books they are excited about--also put a story collection on the table. Little, Brown's Geoff Shandler touted When Messenger Is Hot by Elizabeth Crane (Jan. 2003), comparing her wit and sly charm to Lorrie Moore and Julie Hecht.

In addition to Twelve, two other summer novels also picked up momentum at the show. Little, Brown went back to press for more galleys to spread the word about Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (July), told from the point of view of a young woman who watches from above as her family unravels details about her murder and finally finds redemption. "It really flows and is very cinematic," commented Jennifer Ramos of Book Soup, West Hollywood, Calif. Many booksellers also cited Stephen Carter's Emperor of Ocean Park (Knopf, June) as a major title. "It's the book of the summer. I'd recommend it to anyone," said Susan Avery of Ariel Booksellers, New Paltz, N.Y.

Fiction Favorites

The fall holds a deluge of novels by big-name authors. Booksellers are raving about The Book of Illusions (Holt, Sept.), the 10th novel by Paul Auster, who spoke at an author luncheon. Emphasizing that she never recommends any fiction before she reads it, Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., said, "The mystery is enthralling. I was fascinated by the silent film star who disappears." Other booksellers commented that last year's hot-selling compilation of tales from NPR's National Story Project, I Thought My Father Was God, has given Auster's reputation a lift. Tim O'Brien's July, July (Houghton Mifflin, Oct.) was also on the tip of many tongues. "This may be his best book. The characters are colorful, the pacing is good, and the tragic parts are beautiful in their way. After 50 pages, I was hooked," said Lindsay at Koen. Several other booksellers expressed relief that the author had departed from the darker themes of Tomcat in Love.

On the bad-boy front, Chuck Palahniuk drew long lines of fans hoping he would sign their galleys of Lullaby (Doubleday, Sept.), while Norton made much of its acquisition of Irvine Welsh's latest novel, Porno (Sept.), on the eve of BEA. Though Little, Brown sent galleys of Nick Tosches's In the Hand of Dante (Sept.) to booksellers before the show, and brought more than 1,500 galleys to its booth, the novel didn't spark as much talk as some others, despite its screed on the vagaries of corporate publishing at Time Warner. "Nick's been around for a long time," said Robert Segedy, buyer at McIntyre's Fine Books, Pittsboro, N.C. "If you work the same racket too much, people start to lose interest--that may be part of the problem." But Segedy said he will take the time to read the book, since he has a friend "who ranted and raved about how good it is." Annie Bloom's Peters added, "Tosches has a smaller but more hardcore following than some of the others. Still, it was definitely one of the galleys people at our store were clamoring for."

The fall is also marked by the return of Sandra Cisneros, whose The House on Mango Street has sold just under two million copies. Her new novel is Caramelo (Knopf, Sept.), about a woman descended from a Mexican family of renowned shawlmakers, who treasures the striped (or caramelo) shawl that has come to represent her family history.

Booksellers are also anticipating the fourth novel by Patricia Henley, whose Hummingbird House (MacMurray & Beck) was nominated for a National Book Award. In the River Sweet (Pantheon, Oct.) concerns a midwestern woman in her 50s who is trying to to balance her faith with her daughter's emerging lesbianism, when a secret from the past disrupts her careful equilibrium. On the commercial fiction front, Martin Cruz Smith's novel of the events surrounding Pearl Harbor, December 6 (S&S, Oct.) is generating praise. "He's a great novelist and he does fabulous research. It's got everything going for it," Elaine Petrocelli said. Others noted that a new Scott Turow novel (Reversible Errors, FSG, Nov.) is always an event. For romance readers, Heather Graham (aka Shannon Drake), is stirring up excitement with her new vampire novel, Realm of Shadows, from Zebra in October.

Adding to the fall's bounty are novels from Fannie Flagg (Standing in the Rainbow, Random, Aug.), Anna Quindlen (Blessings, Random, Sept.), and Lee Smith (The Last Girls, Algonquin, Sept.). Coming in September from HarperCollins are a new novel by Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian (One Man's Bible) and a story collection by A.M. Homes (Things You Should Know). October will bring Umberto Eco's Baudolino (Harcourt) and Milan Kundera's Ignorance (HarperCollins).

In December, Alice McDermott's poignant Child of My Heart (FSG) and Zane's racy Sex Chronicles Part 2, (Pocket) should rescue readers from post-holiday doldrums. New titles from Annie Proulx (That Old Ace in the Hole, Scribner, Jan.), Richard Powers (The Time of Our Spring, FSG, Jan.) and Andrea Barrett (Servants of the Map, Norton, Feb.) will keep up the momentum.

The 411 on 9/11

In nonfiction, the onslaught of titles related to September 11 is registering as a problem area. "There are clearly too many 9/11 books," said Koen's Lindsay. "My biggest question is, will September 11 be like New Year's Eve? Will anyone care on September 12 or September 20?" Still, she added, "I'm not about to dismiss the category." Like Lindsay, Carol Horne is inclined to take a practical approach: "We'll look at them title by title, but there are going to be more that may deserve a place in the store than we will have room for," she said.

One standout is Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back by Jere Longman (HarperCollins, Aug.), which has a 75,000-copy printing. While several booksellers observed that it's an inherently compelling story, some questioned how much information the book can offer about what really happened. Given the prominence of their authors, books such as What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001 in Words, Pictures, and Video by CBS News (S&S, Aug.), which has a 250,000-copy first printing, and Strong of Heart: Life and Death in the Fire Department of New York, by N.Y.C. fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen (ReganBooks, Sept.), are also likely to do well. Among the coffee-table photo books that may find a market around the holidays, Here Is New York: A Democracy of Photographs (Scalo, Nov.) also picked up some buzz.

Booksellers are also looking for 9/11-related breakout titles from independent presses, based on the performance of surprise hits like Noam Chomsky's 9/11 (Seven Stories), Wendell Berry's Presence of Fear (Orion) and Democracy for Sale by Greg Palast (Stylus). "Small presses have done a better job with 9/11 books," commented Peters at Annie Bloom's. "They have been able to react quickly, with more probing looks at issues behind world affairs today, and they've responded in variety of ways. The big-name authors will do well and get a lot of TV coverage. But for us, the sales have been with small press books so far." Among the titles expected to do well are the New Press's Fallout: The Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Collapse by New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez (June) and It's a Free Country: Personal Freedom in America After September 11 (Akashic/ RDV Books, Oct.).

Another nonfiction title, though not 9/11 related, piqued the interest of many on the floor: Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York (Council Oak, June), a scholarly yet accessible study of Manhattan society a millennium ago. The author, Evan T. Pritchard, who is of Micmac ancestry, gave tours of old Indian sites on the island on Friday and Saturday. The publisher has another winning book on its list--poet Gregory Orr's Blessing (Sept.), a moving memoir of growing up in upstate New York.

Real Lives, Real Voices

Though several booksellers remarked that it would be hard to match last year's stellar lineup of presidential and other major biographies, they observed that a few fall memoirs already stand out. "Queen Noor [Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, Talk Miramax, Nov.] undoubtedly has an interesting story to tell, which seems especially timely now," said Horne of the widow of Jordan's King Hussein, who spoke at Saturday's author breakfast. Bob Dylan also breaks a long silence with Chronicles: Volume I, the first of a three-volume memoir, along with his Lyrics 1962-2002 (both S&S, Oct.).

Among the season's most anticipated books is Pat Conroy's first foray into nonfiction, My Losing Season (Doubleday), in which the author tracks down the members of his high school basketball team. Booksellers also showed enthusiasm for Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before (Holt, Sept.), Tony Horwitz's account of his travels as a working crewman on a replica of Cook's ship. The late Katherine Graham's Washington (Knopf, Oct.), a collection of essays about people she knew, is another pleasant surprise.

From Dexter Scott King, the youngest son of Martin Luther King Jr., comes Following the Dream: An Intimate Memoir of Growing Up King (Warner, Jan.), while Hill Street Press is offering Sharing the Dream (Nov.), a memoir by Dora McDonald, the personal secretary of Dr. Martin Luther King. Johnnie Cochran also weighs in with A Lawyer's Life (St. Martin's, Oct.), an autobiography that touches on the controversy surrounding reparations for slavery.

One of the hot titles on Atria's first fall list is Geisha, a Life (Oct.) by Mineko Iwasaki, who lived as a geisha for four decades. "Memoirs of a Geisha is still capturing people," commented Lindsay. "I don't think this topic is overpublished." Lillian Faderman's Naked in the Promised Land (Houghton Mifflin, Feb. 2003) also garnered its share of buzz, based on her journey from the 1950s lesbian underworld of addicts, pimps and prostitutes to becoming a feminist scholar and a mother. There is also excitement surrounding Harvard University Press's publication of To Be the Poet by Maxine Hong Kingston (Sept.), about her decision at age 60 to move from writing fiction to poetry.

We've just skimmed the surface of the well of fall titles, but there's enough to keep booksellers moving between genres for months. Let the reading begin.

--With reporting by Bridget Kinsella, Kevin Howell, Calvin Reid, Sarah Gold, Judith Rosen, Michael Coffey, Gayle Feldman and Diane Roback