Literary fiction makes the buzz

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Independent 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 fiction and nonfiction offerings for appeal to even the most discerning reader. Literary fiction with plots that could have been ripped from the headlines is particularly hot this year, and one novel in particular resonates with most booksellers surveyed by PW: American dirt (Flatiron, January) by Jeanine Cummins, the story of a Mexican bookseller and her young son’s attempt to flee to the United States to escape a vengeful drug lord. Store owner Jonah Zimiles of [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ called American dirt “an incredibly powerful novel”, while Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, said it “will break your heart and make you cry with joy”. And Nancy Simpson-Brice of the Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa, thinks it’s “one of the most important immigration books of this decade” and “should be required reading for all Americans.”

Other novels with topical themes that booksellers anticipate include Margaret Atwood The Wills (Doubleday/Talese, Sept.) the sequel to his 1985 classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. Luisa Smith, director of buying at Book Passage in the San Francisco Bay Area, said “it’s the book that booksellers are most excited about.” Smith is also abuzz Red to the bone (Riverhead, Sept.) by Jacqueline Woodson, whom Smith called “Woodson at his most brilliant”, and The secrets we kept by Lara Prescott (Knopf, Sept.), “a brilliant debut” on female spies during the Cold War that Anmiryam Budner of Main Point Books in Wayne, Pa., said was “so, so worthy of all the hype – c is intelligent 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, January) 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, Minnesota, also likes, predicting that this will be “one of the most talked about novels of 2020”, along with Therese Ann Fowler’s novel A good neighborhood (St. Martin’s, February), which she calls “a modern-day Greek tragedy of epic significance.” Veronica Liu at Word Up: Community Bookshop in Upper Manhattan is excited about Dominica (Flatiron, September), another story about immigrants to the United States and Yamazaki of City Lights says that Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first novel deconstructing the myths of the Confederacy, The Water Dancer (One World, Sept.), is “an astonishing piece of American literature.”

Novels with magical elements also attract booksellers. Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas can’t wait to see Erin Morgenstern’s second effort, The starless sea (Doubleday, November), calling Morgenstern “such an original voice” and pointing out that the store sold hundreds of copies of Morgenstern’s debut album, The night circus. “That’s exactly what our customers want – an escape,” Jennings said. “Erin is so good at keeping readers guessing, and oh, her imagination.” Ann Patchett’s Dark Fairy Tale, The Dutch house (Harper, Sept.) about two siblings driven from their home by their wicked stepmother also wows booksellers. Anne Holman of The King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City calls it “fantastic: the voices of brother and sister are unique and wonderful.” Rebecca Fitting, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, loves A great history of sugar (Akashic, Oct.) by Curdella Forbes, calling it a “magical, melodic folk fairy tale” set in Jamaica.

When it comes to non-fiction, biographies and memoirs are the most exciting for booksellers this year, as Edison (Random House, October) by Edmund Morris, with 700 pages. Smith of Book Passage says the doorstop is “complete and stunning. Edison comes to life on these pages and is as remarkable as you imagine. Smith also celebrates the publication of the memoirs Prince was working on when he died: The pretty (Spiegel & Grau, Oct.), calling it “a final gift from one of the greatest artists of all time”. Patti Smith’s memoir of her trip 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 equally enthusiastic about the idea Travel light, move fast by Alexandra Fuller (Penguin, August), a memoir by Fuller’s father. Jennings says she has been looking forward to such a book since reading about her “life well lived” in Let’s not go to the dogs tonight.

Although there is an outpouring of fascinating works this fall and winter, the most intriguing book, which has been mentioned by several booksellers, has to be hollow kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (Grand Central, August). Told by a crow after what Budner describes as “a viral zombie apocalypse” killed mankind, it is, according to Holman, “the human apocalypse as only a crow can tell”.

Click here to see booksellers’ picks for their most anticipated children’s and YA books.

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