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Fall books: From the dismal to the tantalizing — as always.

September 7, 2010

Keef and his ironically titled memoir.

When confronted with a new celebrity memoir, my cynical response is often to ask, “Who wrote it?” In the case of Keith Richards, the undead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, the question is: “Who remembered it?” Richards’ Life is among the Fall’s hottest books, according to The New York Times.

That’s a depressing thought, isn’t it? I mean, his autobio better be hot, given the $7.1 million advance he got for the thing. But I’m not going to read it.  Are you? Sure, Keef’s a genius and all, inventing some of the great guitar riffs of rock ‘n’ roll (or, more accurately, inventively stealing them from Chuck Berry). I’ll grant that in a heartbeat.

But I don’t believe a book relying on his memory could contain a single authentic word.

Actually, Life represents the dismal, predictable and disheartening side to Fall’s list of new books. While The Times‘ Julie Bosman notes that the Fall is a make-or-break period for publishers and booksellers, her preview of “big titles to suit everyone’s taste” makes me want to read something published before 1960.

New humor from David Sedaris and his sister Amy Sedaris? Couldn’t they consult over a family dinner? Now the Spring will be Sedarisless. Yet another tome from Bob Woodward that leaves us wondering what he traded to get that fantastic (literally) access? New novels from Ken Follett and Tom Clancy? Trees will die for this?

New political books from George Bush, Bill O’Reilly, Condaleeza Rice, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale? Contemplating reading any of these books is enough to curdle my pudding pops. And literary fiction represented by that tired old warhorse Philip Roth? Wake me when it’s over.

Thinking this can’t be all there is to the Fall book schedule– there must be more intriguing titles hiding somewhere–I turned to my trusty Big Brother: Google. In short order I discovered alternate Fall previews much more enticing than the one floated by The Times.

Over at the Huffington Post, among other sites, you can find a list that includes such tantalizing titles as a new translation of Dr. Zhivago; the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiograhy (embargoed for a century!); Long Last Happy, the collected fiction of acquired-taste-Southern-lit-god Barry Hannah, who died earlier this year.

Some of the more promising pop fiction includes Dennis Lehane’s latest thriller, Moonlight Mile; a new Harry Bosch crime novel, Reversal, from Michael Connelly; Zero History, by the inventor of cyberpunk sci-fi, William Gibson; Getting to Happy, by Terri McMillan; and Djibouti, the 44th novel by the 85-year-old Grand Master, Elmore Leonard.

Nonfiction highlights, aside from the Twain autobiography, include Colonel Roosevelt, the third volume in Edmund Morris’ acclaimed bio of Teddy Roosevelt; Saul Bellow: Letters, collecting correspondence to such friends and rivals as William Faulkner, Philip Roth; Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock; Unbroken, a World War II sory by Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit; and Washington, Ron Chernow’s 800-page doorstop about the Father of Our Country.

Serious fiction I’d consider, apart from Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, the Most Important Novel in the History of Novels, which I’m reading now: Ape House, by Sara Gruen; C, by Tom McCarthy, the two-to-one favorite to win this year’s Man Booker Prize over in GB; a new translation of Madame Bovary by Linda Davis, an acclaimed ficitonalist in her own right; How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu, one of the New Yorker‘s 40 under 40 paragons.

And The Instructions, by Adam Levin, a 1030-page first novel about a genius 10-year-old with a Messianic complex who foments revolution in his junior high school. Already getting comparisons to David Foster Wallace (natch!). Published by McSweeney’s — which could be either a really good sign, or a really bad one.

Really, though, the most exciting prospect of the Fall book season is the unheralded title, the one nobody’s thinking to promote much right now, the hidden gem. Harry Potter got is start this way remember. Recent season have brought me surprise delights like China Mievilles The City and the City, or Stephane Audeguy’s The Theory of Clouds, or Dave Zeltserman’s masterpiece of comic nihilism, Pariah.

Good luck and happy reading.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. John Karwacki permalink
    September 7, 2010 2:55 pm

    Too many choices, the mind reels, stop Mr. Mabe, before my wee head explodes; but thanks for the information.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 7, 2010 4:11 pm

      Oh, trust me. I have no intention of reading all these books. I’m just trying to include things for every taste. I’ll read some of the novels, maybe a nonfiction or two. But I’ve sort of promised Duff Brenna I’d read Anna Karenina here pretty soon. And while I’m looking forwrd to it — I think it will be precisely my cup o’tea–it will take a chunk of time, I think.

  2. Sean permalink
    September 7, 2010 4:10 pm

    Keith Richards’ recall might be truer than we’d imagine, or no worse than the memory banks of celebrated alcoholic writers. Eric Clapton was an addict, too, but I’ve heard he produced a sound memoir. So I’m rooting for Richards. He could be a case of, “Everyone thought I was passed out when that happened.”

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 7, 2010 4:15 pm

      Ah, Sean: How have you escaped the cynicism that seems part and parcel of a journalism career? Oh, and here’s a secret. Celebrated alcoholic writers tend make stuff up, even when what they’re writing is supposed to be nonfiction. They have this queer notion that helping the story is more important than fidelity to fact, which I, as a journalist who has not escaped cynicism, find reprehensible.

      Clapton, you know, has been sober for decades now, while Keef continues to pickle himself on an apparently daily basis.

      • Sean permalink
        September 8, 2010 5:07 pm

        Now that you mention it, Richards might have viewed writing as a license to drink even more. If that’s possible for him.

        I am too gullible to be a cynic!

  3. September 7, 2010 8:47 pm

    George Bush, Bill O’Reilly, Condaleeza Rice, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale? The sound you hear is the Duffer losing his dinner. However, a new translation of DR. ZHIVAGO intrigues me. I know I’ll check that one out. Chauncey, please let me know if FREEDOM is worth a busy man’s time. THE CORRECTIONS lost me within 50 pages. I’ll never understand all the fuss. No, I’m not jealous. I wish him well. His success is the success of literature continuing. At least for a wee while longer. I’ve reviewed Barry Hannah for San Diego Union. When he’s on he’s wonderful. But it’s up and down, up and down – well, he’s like most of us, actually. Anyway, I’ll want to read the collection. He was only like 65 or 66 when he died, I think. Note I’m saying “only.” That used to be check out time when I was a kid. Now we all expect to hit 80 and still be able to get it up. And the beat goes on. At least I think it does. Getting a bit deef these days. Hearing aid in my future, but not until I’m 70 and saying “Huh?” to everything.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 7, 2010 9:39 pm

      Geez, I bailed on The Corrections after about 50 pages, too. It was so conventional and boring, covering territory handled better by Cheever and Updike (among others) 40 years earlier. So far I’m both annoyed and impressed by Freedom. Will let you know how it plays out. I never loved Barry Hannah, but maybe I only read hte “off” stories. He was exactly the kind of showy post-modernist who I have no patience for. But he was much-loved by his devotees, and I honor that.

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