This fall's lists from larger, more commercial houses have been characterized as an embarrassment of riches. The same holds true for books coming out from independent and university presses. From short story collections to novels, memoirs and even a massive tome on literary America, there's a dazzling array of works to keep readers busy all winter long. There is even a novel from James Landis, “the other writer in Exeter, N.H.”—better known as the home of Dan Brown. Below are 20 favorites culled from September through January lists.

Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic Hero, Deadbeat Dad

Jeanine Cornillot

Beacon Press (dist. by Houghton Mifflin), Oct., $24.95; 5,000 first printing.

This memoir about a Cuban-American girlhood shifts between Little Havana, where Cornillot spent her summers with her Spanish-speaking relatives, and Philadelphia, with her Irish-American clan—all under the shadow of her father's incarceration in a Miami prison for political bombings. The author, an Emmy-winning TV producer, created a documentary based on the book for BBC radio.

Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

William Ferris

Univ. of North Carolina, Nov., $35 with a dual CD/DVD; 7,500 first printing.

16-city tour.

Ron Watson, lead buyer of the university press group at Ingram, praises this introduction to the blues and its roots by former NEA chair Ferris as “personal, anecdotal, lively and full of the same spirit that helps bring blues music to life. A great mix of stories from some renowned blues greats alongside people known only in their neighborhoods.”

Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?

Steve Fox, Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert

Chelsea Green, Sept., $14.95 paperback original; 25,000 first printing.

Grassroots campaign organized by SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation), NORML and MPP (Marijuana Policy Project); iPhone app in 2010.

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper wrote the foreword to this look at past efforts to change marijuana laws in this country and the truth behind frequently cited myths on marijuana use. “The follies of marijuana prohibition have never been laid bare with more erudition and plain common sense,” says bestselling author Barbara Ehrenreich.

Gloryland: A Novel

Shelton Johnson

Sierra Club (dist. by PGW), Sept., $25

5-city tour; recent features in the San Francisco Chronicle, ABC World News and Sierra magazine.

It is rare for the Sierra Club to publish a work of fiction, but the author, an African-American park ranger, has written what Ken Burns calls “a work of extraordinary imagination and sympathy.” Burns features him in his documentary The National Parks.The story centers on Elijah Yancy, an African-American born on the day of emancipation in 1863, and follows his army career until he finds a home when his troop is posted to Yosemite National Park.

Lights on a Ground of Darkness: An Evocation of a Place and Time

Ted Kooser

Univ. of Nebraska, Sept., $10.95 paperback original.

Author tour of Iowa and Nebraska.

In this brief book, just 72 pages long, the Pulitzer Prize—winning poet and former U.S. poet laureate describes his family in precise, evocative prose. He has said that writing this book was the most important book he has ever undertaken because it was his attempt to keep these people alive against the erosion of time.

The Last Day

James Landis

Steerforth (dist. by Random House), Sept., $14.99 paperback original with French flaps; 15,000 first printing, second printing of 3,000 copies before publication.

September Indie Next List; new arrivals and holiday promotions at Barnes & Noble and Borders.

In its starred review PW noted: “It's tough to do a guy-meets-Jesus book and not be too pious for some and/or too heretical for others. Landis walks a line somewhere between in this ambitious and lyrical story of a young veteran returning to his New Hampshire home from the Iraq War.... worth a dozen Shacks.” Steerforth is doing its biggest laydown in five years and will also promote in the CBA market.

Going Away Shoes

Jill McCorkle

Algonquin, Sept. 22, $19.95;

12-city tour.

McCorkle burst on the literary scene 25 years ago when she published two novels simultaneously and has become a bookseller favorite. Emily Crowe of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., says of this new collection, “I've never dog-eared a book so much in my life. I can't stop thinking about it.” Two stories have been selected for Best American Short Stories: “Intervention” in 2004and “Magic Words” in the upcoming 2009 volume. Algonquin is also reissuing McCorkle's coming-of-age novel, Ferris Beach.

Sugarless: A Novel

James Magruder

Univ. of Wisconsin/Terrace Books, Oct., $24.95.

3-city tour; featured selection of InsightOut Book Club and BMOC2.

In his first novel, Magruder, who wrote the book for The Triumph of Love and served as dramaturg for the Tony-nominated revival of Guys and Dolls, looks at the simultaneous struggles of coming out, coming-of-age and coming to Jesus in a cookie-cutter Chicago suburb in 1976. Tony Kushner calls him “a writer of immense gifts, with a voice—smart, playful, lyrical, subtle, unsparing—utterly unlike anyone else's.”

A New Literary History of America

Edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors

Harvard/Belknap, Sept., $49.95; 17,500 first printing.

3-city tour; national print and online advertising.

This massive, 1,128-page tome with more than 200 essays describes literary America, from the first conception of a New World to the latest re-envisioning in cartoons, television and hip-hop. It includes Camille Paglia on Tennessee Williams, Walter Mosley on hard-boiled detective fiction and Jonathan Lethem on Thomas Edison. Deb Morris, buyer at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., says that she is “very high on it” and will feature the book in store displays and in the holiday catalogue.

My Papa Diego and Me/Mi papá Diego y yo

Guadalupe Rivera Marín, artwork by Diego Rivera

Children's Book Press (dist. by PGW), Sept., $17.95.

The last surviving child of Mexican painter Diego Rivera comments on 13 of his paintings and murals featuring children that have a special memory for her. This bilingual picture book not only reproduces Rivera's art but also includes family snapshots. It is being published to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month and will launch at the Guadalajara Book Fair.

The Ghosts of Belfast

Stuart Neville

Soho (dist. by Consortium), Oct., $25; 30,000 first printing. 4-city U.S. tour plus a stop at Bouchercon.

This book, the first in a new series about an IRA killer in Northern Ireland who is haunted by 12 ghosts, has generated a lot of attention already. John Connolly calls it “not only one of the finest thriller debuts in the last 10 years, but also one of the best Irish novels, in any genre, of recent times.” A Library Journal blogger says that it's “sure to garner attention and stir lively pub discussions.”


Cornelia Nixon

Counterpoint (dist. by PGW), Oct., $15.95 paperback original; 20,000 first printing.

10-city tour; October Indie Next List.

Set in Maryland and based on a true story, this novel opens in 1869 amid the chaos following Martha Cairnes's murder of her fiancé in front of 50 witnesses and former Union militia members. The story, which buyer Cathy Langer of Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver compares to Cold Mountain, then flashes back to 1865 and President Lincoln's murder by John Wilkes Booth, who belongs to the same rebel militia as Martha's brother, to explain why she killed the man she loves.

Anna In-Between

Elizabeth Nunez

Akashic (dist. by Consortium), Sept., $22.95.

PW gave a starred review to this story of family strife and immigrant identity set in motion when Anna Sinclair, a New York City book editor, visits her parents in the Caribbean and finds that her mother has advanced breast cancer. Edwidge Danticat calls it “one of her best yet. Fall into her prose. Immerse yourself in her world. You will not be disappointed.”

Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People

Emily Pilloton

Metropolis (dist. by D.A.P.), Oct. 31, $34.95.

Roadshow to 15 universities and bookstores in the spring.

Last year, with $1,000, a laptop computer and a conviction that design can change the world, product designer and activist Pilloton, from San Francisco, launched Project H Design, a nonprofit that supports life-improving humanitarian product design. This book features more than 100 of those designs, ranging from waterless washing machines and low-cost prosthetics to Braille-based Lego-style building blocks for blind children.

Bang Ditto

Amber Tamblyn

Manic D (dist. by Consortium), Sept., $16; 10,000 first printing.

10-city tour.

In her second book of poetry, the Hollywood actress who came to fame on General Hospital and starred in Joan of Arcadia and The Unusuals, writes about info-gathering for a new prime-time TV drama and the crossroads of public perception and private life. She will promote her book in conjunction with her new film, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (with Michael Douglas). Her first collection, Free Stallion, received a Borders Choice Award.

Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress

Candacy A. Taylor

Cornell Univ., Sept., $19.95 paperback original; 10,000 first printing.

East and West Coast bookstores and diners.

“This book has been eight years and 26,000 miles in the making, and we are very proud to be publishing it,” says publicist Jonathan Hall. What appeals to Ron Watson, lead buyer of the university press group at Ingram, about Taylor's photographic homage to career waitresses is that it offers “great social history in a very commercial package at a bargain trade paperback price.”

The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer's

John Thorndike

Ohio Univ./Swallow, Oct., $24.95.

GLiBA Author's Feast.

This father-son tale documents the year that the author moved in with his father, once managing editor of Life and founder of American Heritage and Horizon, who was in decline from Alzheimer's. “Thorndike writes a beautiful sentence, a beautiful page, and describes his father's last year with piercing clarity, but also great warmth. He opens a world we will all have to face,” says Writing Down the Bonesauthor Natalie Goldberg.

Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays

Joel Waldfogel

Princeton Univ., Nov., $9.95; 25,000 first printing.

3-city tour; advertising.

This gift-sized (4”x6”) look at excessive spending and expectations is packaged like a stocking stuffer for the NPR set. As Langer at Tattered Cover Book Store notes, “Like On Bullshit, it talks about something in our society that needs to be addressed. The text can be dense, but it's really an impulse item that will start conversations.”

The Ledge of Quetzal, Beyond 2012: A Magical Adventure to Discover the Real Promise of the Mayan Prophecy

Jock Whitehouse

Weiser, Sept., $14.95 paperback original; 25,000 first printing.

Events in California and New York City; coincides with the release of the film 2012.

Written in the tradition of Paulo Coelho, this spiritual fable centers on a successful American businessman who finds himself wandering in a mystical terrain, accompanied by sages of Mexican mythology. They teach him how to survive the coming changes of the Mayan prophecy of 12/12/12, which is not the end of time, but rather a time of stillness.

The Cave Man

Xiaoda Xiao

Two Dollar Radio (dist. by Consortium), Dec., $15.50 paperback original.

Excerpted in Bookforum's summer issue.

A survivor of Mao's forced labor camps—he accidentally tore a poster of Mao—fictionalizes his nightmarish experience in this novel about a man who is released from solitary confinement and must integrate with his fellow prisoners. “No matter where this remarkable novel takes you, it never loosens its grip on you, nor does it for a moment surrender itspower to astonish, illuminate and, against all odds, tenderly touch the reader's heart,” says Scott Spencer.