Just like the movie industry, publishing saves its more stellar and exciting work — or what publishers hope will be stellar and exciting — for the end of the year. (That people also do a lot of gift-giving around that time is not coincidental.) This doesn’t make the task of coming up with a top-ten list of fall standouts an easy one.
What follows, then, are titles that for one reason or another might be of strong interest to Bay Area readers — readers who are voracious and eclectic in their tastes and who also want to know about new work from top local writers or about books that deal with themes especially meaningful to our community.
Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty
by Vikram Chandra; 272 pages, paperback
Publication date, Sept. 2
Chandra, who lives in Oakland and teaches at UC Berkeley, is best known for his mammoth, best-selling novel, Sacred Games. But he might well make a name for himself as a nonfiction author with this first work. Described as “both an idiosyncratic history of coding and a fascinating meditation on the writer’s art,” the appeal of Geek Sublime in our ever tech-driven world is obvious. Should the book bring the sensibility of C. P. Snow’s famous “The Two Cultures” lecture to our understanding of tech, it will be warmly welcomed.
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David
by Lawrence Wright; 368 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Sept. 16
A close-up examination of the 1978 Camp David conference that led to Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat signing the first modern Middle East peace treaty, Wright’s new book is noteworthy alone for being all too topical. But Wright is a masterful reporter and an elegant writer. As with his book on Scientology, Going Clear, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on 9/11, The Looming Tower, prepare to be both mesmerized and enlightened.
On Immunity: An Inoculation
by Eula Biss; 216 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Sept. 30
In California each year a considerable number of parents file personal belief exemptions so that their unvaccinated children can attend school. (In Marin and Santa Cruz counties, the percentage of unvaccinated school children is as high as 7.8 and 9.6 percent, respectively.) The deep-seated fear of vaccinations driving those numbers is addressed in Biss’s new book. The winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, Biss is acclaimed for the power and the intelligence of her essays — qualities we can expect to find again in On Immunity.
Some Luck: A Novel
by Jane Smiley; 416 pages, hardcover)
Publication date, Oct. 7
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and PEN Lifetime Achievement Award recipient (not to mention Northern California resident) offers the first novel in a slated trilogy that follows the Langdons, a family of Iowa farmers, from the 1920s trough the early ‘50s. Given the ambition of her project, and given the excellence of her past work (A Thousand Acres, which won her the aforementioned Pulitzer, was also set on an Iowa farm), there’s plenty of reason for excitement about this one.
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free
by Héctor Tobar; 320 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Oct. 7
In August, 2010, the world was captivated by the plight of the Chilean miners who were trapped deep under the Atacama desert for 69 days until, one by one, they were slowly delivered from the ground, all miraculously alive. Award-winning novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Tobar brings to life the miners’ plight through exclusive interviews. Kirkus, in a starred review, calls Tobar’s book “gripping” and “taut to the point of explosion.”
The Poetry Deal
by Diane di Prima; 120 pages, paperback
Publication date, Oct. 14
As San Francisco goes through the drastic changes ushered in by the booming tech economy, here comes a collection of new poems from one of the city’s cultural stalwarts — her first full-length book in decades. A feminist and an early member of the Beats, di Prima reflects on her life in the Bay Area in what her publisher calls an “often elegiac” work. The 80-year-old former San Francisco Poet Laureate notes what has been lost in the city she’s called home since the ‘60s, but also celebrates what endures.
On the Edge
by Edward St. Aubyn; 272 pages, paperback
Publication date, Oct. 14
If you’ve already read St. Aubyn’s rightfully revered Patrick Melrose novels (one of which, Mother’s Milk, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize), then no explanation is needed for why this title is on this list. If you haven’t, just know that St. Aubyn is a comic writer of enviable suppleness, one whose splendid, velvety prose sheaths wickedly sharp truths. This New Age satire (shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award some years back, and finally being published in the U.S.) is the story of a British merchant banker who pursues a woman all the way to Big Sur. Whether you read this book or one of St. Aubyn’s other novels, you must read him.
Mermaids in Paradise: A Novel
by Lydia Millet; 288 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Nov. 3
Speaking of excellent writers whose work you may not be as familiar with as you should be, Millet’s new novel is the story of a couple honeymooning in the Caribbean who get caught up in a corporate plot to turn a coral reef full of actual mermaids into a theme park. Millet’s story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer finalist, and her several novels have also received prestigious award attention. Her work can be smart, eerie, comic, sinister and moving — all at once. This novel is being touted as her funniest book yet (which the Carl Hiaasen-like plot certainly would suggest). But one should expect the other lauded attributes of her past work to be evident, too.
The Laughing Monsters
by Denis Johnson; 240 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Nov. 4
Johnson exhibited an agreeable flair for writing espionage tales with his National Book Award-winning Tree of Smoke, which was reminiscent more of Graham Greene than John le Carre in style. His newest spy thriller trades Tree of Smoke’sVietnam, Arizona and Philippines settings for post-9/11 Sierra Leone, Uganda and Congo. This story of two old friends (one African, the other not), mysterious motives, and anti-heroes promises to be engrossing if bleak.
Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995–2014
by Alice Munro; 592 pages, hardcover
Publication date, Nov. 11
Some of the case for why Canada’s Alice Munro was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature will be laid out in this hefty selection of 25 recent stories (if the case had not already been settled for you by her 1996 Selected Stories collection). Munro is one of the modern greats, a giant of literature and a champion of the short story. She has published about a half dozen story collections since 1995. If you’re unfamiliar with those books, this volume is an excellent opportunity to sample what makes her so remarkable.
The Complete Zap Comix Boxed Set
by R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, Robert Williams, Victor Moscoso, Paul Mavrides, and Rick Griffin
920 pages, hardcover, five volumes, slipcase
Publication date, Nov. 5
Consider this a bonus, 11th title in this top-ten list. At $500, it could be one of the most expensive impulse buys you’ll ever make. But then you would have every single copy of the definitive underground comic—one with deep roots in the Bay Area, too—including a previously unpublished 17th issue of Zap and other assorted material. Zap, of course, was distinguished by the early work of R. Crumb, but featured the work of other comix greats, including Spain Rodriguez, a Will Eisner Hall of Fame inductee who died in San Francisco in November 2012.