Life Is Stranger Than Fiction

A good story is always a delicious discovery, especially when it keeps readers guessing about where it's headed. It seems that this fall's nonfiction list is serving up hot competition for popular fiction, with tales about real-life action, adventure, sex and murder. Joe Pantoliano (who portrays Ralph Cifaretto on The Sopranos) remembers growing up with his real "family" in Hoboken, N.J., in Who's Sorry Now (Dutton). In Sins of the Seventh Sister (Harmony), Huston Curtiss reveals dark secrets about a longtime friend who, as a teenager, watched his father strangle his mother, then used a straight razor to even the score and was given the choice of life in a penitentiary or voluntary castration. Wild Heart (Ecco) by Suzanne Rodriguez travels back to Victorian-era America and Belle Epoque Paris to reveal the outrageous life of American heiress and famed lesbian Natalie Clifford Barney. Then there's a real-life version of the movie Ocean's Eleven: Bringing Down the House (MIT) by Ben Mezrich finds six MIT students taking Vegas casinos for millions.

More Narrative Nonfiction

The trend in this direction can be traced back to 1995, when Dava Sobel penned the bestselling Longitude, a masterful explanation of celestial navigation that the layperson could understand. It's not surprising, then, to see this trend continuing. The Measure of All Things (Free Press) looks to size up the world, while Measuring America (Walker) stays within the U.S. borders (see sidebar, p. 178). The U.S. West seems to be of particular interest to those who wanted to understand how much of it we had by the late 19th century. Tom Chaffin's Pathfinder (Hill & Wang) introduces us to American explorer and mapmaker John Charles Frémont (1813—1890), while cartologist Paul Cohen's work dates back to the 16th century in Mapping the West (Rizzoli). More nonfiction storytelling is available in Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men (FSG), about five amateur experimenters who are now credited with kick-starting the Industrial Revolution

News Perspectives... and September 11

A number of respected television journalists have penned new books this season starting with Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster's In Search of America (Hyperion), which looks for connections between 21st-century America and the ideas of our founding fathers. In A Long Way from Home from Random House, Tom Brokaw writes about his American upbringing and the people, culture and values that shaped his career. My America (Scribner) finds Hugh Downs collecting thoughts from people on how they feel about their American heritage, while Bob Schieffer reviews presidents, wars, crooks and congressman in This Just In (Putnam). Finally, Dan Rather has penned an introduction to What We Saw (S&S), a CBS News title on the network's coverage of September 11.

There is no way to ignore the overwhelming array of titles about or inspired by last September's attacks—well over 100. Many, of course, are still to come, commemorating the one-year anniversary of America's greatest tragedy (see Book News, June 17). One version of these events can be found in a play, The Guys (Random). Author Anne Nelson was encouraged by New York director Jim Simpson to fashion a play after helping a fire captain write memorial tributes for eight of the men he lost. The off-off Broadway production re-creating the heart-wrenching experience drew large and unusually receptive audiences—firemen and policemen included—and its success continues.

Fictional Finds

In addition to superstars' work (King, Steel, Rice et al.), two highly anticipated titles are from sophomore novelists whose debuts created a major buzz. Donna Tartt returns after a 10-year hiatus with The Little Friend from Knopf and Zadie Smith (White Teeth) surveys the emptiness of contemporary life in The Autograph Man (Random). New titles from a trio of respected literary talent promise emotionally charged tales: Tim O'Brien, whose July, July (Houghton) is set during a 30th college reunion; Joyce Carol Oates introduces a 1960s college student obsessed with an elusive black philosophy major in I'll Take You There (Ecco); and Paul Auster writes about a widowed professor who focuses on the long-ago disappearance of a silent film star in The Book of Illusions (Holt).

A few random observations might occur to readers poring over these lists of forthcoming novels. It will be interesting to see how Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters (Knopf) performs following Oprah's imprimatur of last year's A Fine Balance. Might Atlantic Monthly be looking for a new Cold Mountain with its September release of The Adventures of Miles and Isabel by Tom Gilling, an Australian bestseller? Will the multi-award-winning Ha Jin (Waiting) step up to the podium once again to accept more accolades for The Crazed (Pantheon)? In addition, there'll be one group of bestsellers that not even the most gifted prognosticators can foresee—those authors who'll be selected by one of the on-air book clubs that have picked up the Oprah mantle. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Category by category and publisher by publisher, new titles for a new season
Original and prominent reprints in trade paperback format for spring
Forthcoming mass market titles, arranged by publisher