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Fall Arts Preview: Books

Labor Day is in the rear-view mirror, 90-degree days are a melting memory, and publishers are bringing out their fall lists. It's harvest time for readers.

Labor Day is in the rear-view mirror, 90-degree days are a melting memory, and publishers are bringing out their fall lists. It's harvest time for readers.

The terrorist wears white in Love Bomb, Lisa Zeidner's satiric tale of a wacky wedding day. Northwest London stands in for gentrifying neighborhoods everywhere in Zadie Smith's NW. And Michael Chabon romps through contemporary culture in Telegraph Avenue. Other notable fiction writers with new work include Junot Díaz, T.C. Boyle, Ken Follett, Mark Helprin, Dennis Lehane, Louise Erdrich, and Ian McEwan.

As for nonfiction - the truth? Can you handle the truth? A famed writer narrates his coming death. A neurologist gets high on drugs. A British critic in love with U.S. movies sings his love song. And psychopaths tell us truths we all know - because many of us have a touch of the psychopath. And so many great stories are here of great names: Lincoln, Barbra, Bach, Dawkins, and a guy who used to play guitar for the Guess Who.


Love Bomb, by Lisa Zeidner (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, Sept. 4). Plenty of bad things can happen at a wedding, but few of them worse than a shotgun-toting feminist terrorist in a bridal gown and gas mask, with a bomb strapped to her arm, taking everyone at the ceremony hostage. Try saying yes to that stress. Zeidner, director of the M.F.A. creative writing program at Rutgers-Camden, has mordant fun with her novel of Haddonfield nuptials gone terribly wrong. Zeidner will appear at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Friday.

NW, by Zadie Smith (Penguin, $26.95, Sept. 4). Set in Northwest London, where she grew up, Smith's latest novel is relentlessly urban, a brilliant writer's ambitious dissection of gentrification, with all its racial and socioeconomic tension. Smith tells her story through four characters, especially childhood friends Leah and Natalie (born Keisha). The author is scheduled to appear at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Nov. 27.

Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon (Harper, $27.99, Sept. 11). A dazzling display of sheer writing ability from the prodigiously talented Chabon, author of such gems as The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Chabon's new novel takes us on a romp that twists and turns through American pop culture, creating a cast of memorable characters, drawn with typical Chabon compassion, that even includes a young Barack Obama.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz (Riverhead Books, $26.95, Sept. 11). A funny and sad collection of stories from Pulitzer Prize winner Díaz on love's many manifestations and misadventures, told in the voice of Yunior, a young Dominican living in New Jersey who has a talent for attracting an array of women and then alienating them.

San Miguel, by T. Coraghessan Boyle (Viking, $27.95, Sept. 18). Nothing gives a novel focus like an island setting, the bleaker and more isolated the better. Characters have nowhere to run and few places to hide; narratives can unfold with fewer distractions. T.C. Boyle makes fine use of San Miguel island, off the coast of Southern California, in his latest novel, a tale of two families spanning 50 years.

Winter of the World, by Ken Follett (Dutton, $36, Sept. 18). The second book in Ken Follett's Century Trilogy tracks the intertwined fates of five families from the early 1930s and the rise of Nazism through the late 1940s and the dawn of the nuclear arms race. Like other Follett works, Winter of the World is packed with characters and historical detail, but, as always, Follett moves his story along quickly.

In Sunlight and in Shadow, by Mark Helprin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, Oct. 2). Another novelist whose command of pace and plot can hold a reader's attention for 700 pages, Helprin elegantly evokes postwar 1940s New York as he tells the story of Harry Copeland, a paratrooper back from the war, his love for a young actress he meets on the Staten Island ferry, and his fight with gangsters who threaten his family business.

Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, $27.99, Oct. 2). Few writers spin a thrilling tale as adroitly as Dennis Lehane. Few are more adept at drawing a reader into the story. How can you resist a novel that opens with the protagonist wearing concrete overshoes and headed out on his last boat ride? Lehane's Prohibition-era story of bad buys and boosters and booze is mesmerizing.

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (Harper, $27.99, Oct. 2). Perplexed, quixotic protagonists, usually American Indians facing a hard world, fill Louise Erdrich's novels and poetry. This time out, 13-year-old Joe Coutts is on a mission to find out who attacked his mother on the North Dakota reservation where they live. Erdrich will appear at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Oct. 4.

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26.95, Nov. 13). Routine has a way of going wrong, unexpectedly and disastrously, in Ian McEwan's novels. A misunderstanding, a flash of temper, and moral ambiguity suddenly replaces certainty. This time around, the weight falls on Serena Frome, a brainy and beautiful Cambridge student recruited by British intelligence agency MI5 in 1972 to infiltrate, of all things, a literary circle.


Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens (Hachette/Twelve, $22.99, Sept. 4). Hitchens, the star of style and argument, died in December of cancer. He wrote about it, almost to the last. These are perhaps the best of all his writings, essays of cutting, crystalline, unbearably honest English with suffering but without self-pity.

Vagina: A New Biography, by Naomi Wolf (Ecco, $27.99, Sept. 11). Sex was changing for controversial writer Wolf; she was losing her connection to it. A doctor spotted nerve damage and back problems. After surgery, Wolf rediscovers emotional connection, the loving purpose of orgasms, how a woman's biography and that of her sexuality are, and ought to be, intimately connected.

The Illustrated Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True, by Richard Dawkins, illustrated by Dave McKean (Free Press, $19.99, Sept. 11). A deeply passionate, spectacular introduction to science for anybody, of any age, from children to adults, addressing questions we all wonder about. It couldn't have a better writer, or a better, more imaginative artist to render these challenging ideas vivid and entertaining.

Reinventing Bach, by Paul Elie (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30, Sept. 18). The resplendent Bach had a renaissance in the 20th century, an explosion of new ways of collecting, hearing, and playing his music. This beautifully told tale stars many greats of that musical century.

Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union, by Louis P. Masur (Harvard/Belknap, $29.95, Sept. 22). One hundred days that changed the world. Historian Masur shows Lincoln as politician, as time-server, and ultimately as a man who wanted to end slavery. Masur argues, against the current grain, that the Proclamation did end it, though it may not have led to true freedom or equality.

Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap Stories (Penguin/Canada, $16, Sept. 25). Yes, that Randy Bachman, guitarist for the Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and so on. He's got a great radio show on CBC titled Vinyl Tap, great tales of rock, rock stars, and music. He also turns out to be a talented, insightful writer: These stories are based on the radio show, but they expand and improve on them.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, Oct. 9). Much-decorated writer Egan narrates the astonishing life of Curtis, a photographer, recordist, and writer who traveled throughout the early-20th-century South and Northwest to document the lives and customs of indigenous Americans.

Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand, by William Mann (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23.83, Oct. 9). Mann, an accomplished celeb-biographer, observes Streisand's 50th year in showbiz with this well-researched account of her lesser-known rise to Barbra-dom.

The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly, $26, Oct. 16). The former Inquirer reporter trains his formidable journalistic and stylistic skills on the perfect object: the takedown of the number-one terrorist in the world, in a commando raid beggaring the wildest thriller movie. Gripping isn't the word.

The Wisdom of Psychopaths, by Kevin Dutton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, Oct. 16). Psychopathy is not an on/off state - it's a spectrum, running from mild to severe. Everyone, argues research psychologist Dutton, is somewhere, in some attribute or other, on that spectrum. Psychopaths know things we all should know, argues Dutton, and have skills both dangerous and valuable to themselves and their species.

The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, by David Thomson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35, Oct. 16). This authoritative Brit critic tells the story of U.S. film - and what a story it is. Readers may agree or disagree with his judgments, but this is a book to read, just to hear the way Thomson tells the story.

Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks (Knopf, $26.95, Nov. 6). Everybody sees things that aren't there: the ill, the starved, the stressed, the high. Sacks, a neurologist who also dabbled in drugs in the 1960s, collects tales of people confronted by hallucinations - an experience that, Sacks argues with kindly wonder, is part of what makes us human.