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25 Must-Read Books For the Fall

Fall! It’s a time for picking apples, wearing plaid, watching the leaves change color, and catching up on the season’s most beguiling new book releases. Fall is when the big houses bring out the big names, from Lena Dunham’s hotly anticipated book of essays, Not That Kind of Girl, to new work from future predictors Stephen Johnson and Nicholas Carr, to stories from reliable geniuses like Marilynne Robinson and Denis Johnson. We pared down a list of a million fascinating looking books (Good luck, Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm. Better list next time, Christos Tsiolkas’s well received Barracuda. I see you, Charles Burns’ Sugar Skull) to a workable group of 25 of the fall season’s must-reads. Add them to your list, and dominate cocktail parties all season long.

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Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott (September 2)

Karen Abbott has a gift for making history into a ripping good yarn, and in this book she discovers the secret history of four disparate women who survived and spied during the Civil War: a socialite, a farm girl, an abolitionist, and a widow.

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Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante (September 2)

The most psychologically astute writer of the feminine in a good long while, the reclusive Italian Ferrante (of course, rumors persist that she is a male) has made fans of writers with great taste like Claire Messud, and her Neopolitan novels have captured the hearts of readers with their powerful renderings of what it’s like for a woman. In this edition, the characters from My Brilliant Friend, Lila and Elena are now in their twenties. Seeing their lives unfold has been spellbinding.

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The Secret Place, Tana French (September 2)

Do you like Gone Girl? Yes? Then it’s time to catch up with French and her Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. The Secret Place is the fifth in the series — this one is about the murder of a teen boy, which leads to a complicated web of secrets and lies surrounding a group of teenage girls at boarding school.

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In Real Life: Love, Lies, and Identity in the Digital Age, Nev Schulman (September 2)

So the fascinating thing about the documentary and TV show Catfish, whatever your opinion of the slick New York City art-kid host Nev Schulman (do you trust him? You may not), is that it’s tapped into a real, legitimate phenomenon throughout America and the world — our desire for the world to see us and to approve of us, even if we can’t show people our “real” selves. It’s a fascinating paradox. Schulman’s book goes over familiar ground to people familiar with the documentary, his catfishing story, and the series, but it’s compelling stuff, basically because of the big, pulsing, ever human heart behind every case of a “catfish.” The fact that a guy who could credibly and easily be parodied on SNL by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine is the face of it is just the weirdness on top of the mystery.

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Women in Clothes, edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton (September 4)

From an initial conversation between three girl crush-worthy authors, a book appeared: Women in Clothes is a look at why and how we wear what we wear, in 600+ meticulously and beautifully designed pages of essays and conversation, with every possible permutation of women exploring their personal history through their clothing choices.

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So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, Maureen Corrigan (September 9)

Corrigan, a familiar voice as the book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, takes on the Great American Novel as written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in this lively and entertaining book. We can travel with Corrigan to the real West Egg and find out why this book resonates, nearly a century after it was written.

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The Human Age, Diane Ackerman (September 10)

Naturalist and brilliant science writer Ackerman proposes that the human race is the dominant species on earth, and the decisions that we’re making are the ones that will shape the future of the world. It’s a poetic look at the effects of man on the environment, and what we can expect in the future.

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty (September 15)

The brains behind Ask a Mortician, Doughty has undertaken a fascinating journey from recent college graduate to a woman who is doing a marvelous job demystifying death as it stands in America today. Her story is given light in this strange and funny memoir-ish book. It may well blow your mind wide open.

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The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel (September 30)

You love Mantel for her Man Booker Prize-winning historical classics Bringing Up the Bodies and Wolf Hall, now watch her go wild as she wrestles with Margaret Thatcher for the duration of ten short stories (with a key character coming from when she had to take a hit of morphine).

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The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour—and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News, Sheila Weller (September 30)

Weller’s Girls Like Us told the story of a generation by tracing the careers of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon (with James Taylor as a studly commonality between the women.) In her new book, she’s going to do the same for TV news, looking some of our best newscasters, all of whom have been breaking the glass ceiling.

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The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Nicholas Carr (September 29)

We are living in the age of the robot, and The Shallows author Carr explores the impact that Artificial Intelligence will have and is having on our day-to-day lives. At what point does technology become a horror show?

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Alice and Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, Alexis Coe (October 7)

A case of a teenage murderess and a forbidden love? This real life tale by historian and columnist for The Toast has it all. Based on rich research, including the love letters between Alice and Freda, their relationship was going to break boundaries, until it ended in tragedy. Gripping and fascinating.

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Pen & Ink: Tattoos & the Stories Behind Them, Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton (October 7)

Based on the popular Tumblr blog of the same name, BuzzFeed Books editor Fitzgerald and accomplished illustrator MacNaughton team up to find the real reasons people get tattoos. A sequel will be forthcoming, called Knives & Ink (it is about chefs, of course).

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Lila: A Novel, Marilynne Robinson (October 7)

It is not an exaggeration to say that Robinson is one of the best writers alive today, if not the, and the fact that she has another novel out is cause for celebration. In Lila, we meet a homeless girl in Iowa who finds love and succor in the arms of minister John Ames (familiar to readers of Gilead and Home), and we watch her journey through the mysteries of life.

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Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine (October 7)

A necessary book in this day and age. Rankine, a poet, takes on the slipperiness of language and how it informs and affects racism. How can you be a person in a world where you’re deemed “no angel” at any moment?

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Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love For New York, edited by Sari Botton (October 14)

Remember when Botton’s first collection, Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, came out last fall? Now we have, essentially, the answer rap to that, the Jay-Z reply to Nas, if you will, with a series of essays from writers about loving (and loving) New York. Come for the Adelle Waldman, stay for the sterling essays from the likes of Kathleen Hale, our former literary editor Jason Diamond, and Alexander Chee.

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Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, Katha Pollitt (October 14)

Pollitt, the legendary columnist for The Nation, takes on the oh-so-loaded topic of abortion in this explosive book, arguing why abortion should be considered a moral right for women, and examining what our country is doing to limit that freedom.

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As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes (October 14)

This is an entertaining tale of how 24-year-old Elwes learned how to ride a horse in the Rob Reiner adaptation of William Goldman’s screenplay (and original, brilliant book). It is also a story of subtext: Did Elwes have a fling with Robin Wright? Was Mandy Patinkin kind of a dick? (Maybe? Probably.) Also Wallace Shawn was mostly filled with shame and embarrassment about his performance, which is inconceivable, isn’t it?

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Yes Please, Amy Poehler (October 28)

Out of the many books by female comedians in the wake of Bossypants. We want to hear what Poehler has to say: She’s done so much, and she’s liable to give some great advice, spanning Parks and Recreation, SNL, and, don’t forget (certainly the title is a reference), momma-bear doyenne to the whole entire American improv community with the Upright Citizens Brigade.

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The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore (October 28)

Wonder Woman, feminist hero, was the creation of a husband and wife who led, on the surface, average existences. Behind the mask, however, they had extraordinarily unconventional lives. It takes Harvard professor and New Yorker writer Lepore to dig into the complicated story behind the lasso (of truth), and forgive me for sounding like Upworthy, but it’s true: what she uncovers will shock you. Let’s just say that Wonder Woman’s S&M subtext was there for a reason.

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Science… For Her!, Megan Amram (November 4)

Twitter star and Parks and Recreation writer Amran releases her first book and it’s perfect, dada-as-hell, comedy-as-borderline art. True story: reading this book on the subway, I cackled and chuckled and laughed so hard that people gave me looks. There is also a two-page centerfold that reads KALE!!!!! in gorgeous lettering.

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Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations With Your Favorite Literary Characters, Mallory Ortberg (November 4)

It feels very fitting that this book by The Toast’s resident genius Ortberg, which stemmed from a regular column on The Hairpin, is coming out on the same day as Science… For Her! Both books have taken the la-dee-dah Hairpin house tone of ironical lady blogging voice and have transformed it into hilarious commentary on “woman” — in this case, a woman stuck in the literary classics section of your bookstore. A bravura performance, Ortberg!

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The Laughing Monsters, Denis Johnson (November 4)

The short version is that one of our great writers, the author of the you-must-read-it classic Jesus’ Son and the National Book Award winner Tree of Smoke, among a wide-ranging host of others (Seek out his journalism), has seemingly written a post-9/11 Graham Greene novel. Results should be surreal, beautiful, horrifying.

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The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, Meghan Daum (November 18)

Is there a dog-eared copy of Daum’s last book of essays, 2001’s My Misspent Youth, in our library? Yes. Are we thrilled to see what Daum, a columnist for the L.A. Times, has to say about the world in the past 13 years? Most certainly. The Unspeakable is an essay collection exploring middle age and changing times, with topics like the death of a parent, digital dating today, and the decision not to have children all coming under Daum’s unsparing, funny, wise eye.

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God’ll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi, John Safran (November 28)

A white Jewish Australian traveled to Mississippi to make a documentary on race. But when he realizes that one of his interviewees was murdered in a brutal crime, well, he returns to Mississippi to see what the real story could be. With his outsider’s perspective on the American south, the resulting story is a corker, and has a lot to say about where the truth lies, when race, sex, and power are involved.

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