Fall's the time for sitting on the couch with an overflowing snack bowl and dogs in your lap, sunning yourself in the bright lamp light that helps you to manage your Seasonal Affective Disorder, and trying not to think of winter. In other words, a perfect time for reading—and this fall brings the release of so many intriguing-sounding books that narrowing down the options was so hard. But we did it, and now here you go.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
What It Is: Henry Skrimshander, a student and baseball player at some fictitious Wisconsin liberal arts school, tries to lead his team to Division III victory, but his plans are thwarted by a rotten play. While Henry figures his future out, people in his zone of influence fall in love, fall out of love, and (in one instance) fail to get into grad school. It's all that rotten play's fault! Harbach is a founding editor of the n+1 literary journal, and this is his debut novel.
Themes: Selling out, team playership, ambition, relationships.
Should You Bother?: Well, Jonathan Franzen liked it. And it's getting reviewed everywhere, so if you want to be "in the know" then you should go for it. It's not just a baseball book!
Mule: A Novel of Moving Weight by Tony D'Souza
What It Is: The recession leads a young California couple with a baby on the way to turn to cross-country marijuana-running in order to make some quick cash. On the trip from Cali to Florida (which has a marijuana shortage?) a kidnapping, a shootout, and other business risks occur.
Themes: America is broken, danger, risk, "zeitgeist-capturing."
Should You Bother?: Yes, because this book shows how "respectable" people can and do turn to crime in times of desperation. Buy it for your relative who blames drug dealing on the Poors.
Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga
What It Is: Adiga's third novel takes place in modern-day Mumbai and focuses on a developer who tries to upscale a crappy building inhabited by people who would like to make some quick money in a buyout. But a spunky retired schoolteacher holds out, causing the developer some grief. Then everybody in the building turns against each other because money is evil and people are awful, in general.
Themes: Weakness, greed, why are people so awful.
Should You Bother?: It's supposed to be funny, and it's better to learn about themes in contemporary Indian culture from this guy Adiga than, say, by reading a Tom Friedman book (new one of those coming out, BTW).
Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label by Bill Adler, Dan Charnas, Rick Rubin, and Russell Simmons
What It Is:A silver-anniversary retrospective and oral history of the hip-hop record label that brought us LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Rihanna, and many other beloved American culture-product innovators. Founders Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, label artists, and music executives share pics, flyers, ads, cover art, and anecdotes about the olden days. Annie Leibovitz pictures are in there, too.
Themes: Music, growing your hip-hop music business, legacy-building, cool pictures.
Should You Bother?: Yes, because Def Jam is a vital part of American music history, and you should know more about it (unless you're Rick Rubin or Russell Simmons, in which case you are excused).
Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
What It Is: Beaton's a Canadian-born web comic artist who satirizes famous people from history and popular culture and places them in absurd situations. Marcel Duchamp "pushes the boundaries" of his breakfast, Jane Austen deals with a friend who asks if the writing she's working on includes any "hunky dreamboats," and Nancy Drew talks to a skull. Surprising! Refreshing! Not your mother's "Garfield"!
Themes: History, famous people, Johannes Kepler making dick jokes.
Should You Bother?: Yes, because when Garfield does appear in a Beaton panel, he swears at that annoying guy Jon. And there are Charles Guiteau references.
Habibi by Craig Thompson
What It Is: A 672-page graphic novel about the love-relationship between a harem girl and the slave boy whom she rescues; the similarities between Christianity and Islam; the tragedy of industrial waste; the effects of modernization on our planet's commodified landscape, and many other things. It all comes together somehow.
Themes: Love, environmental destruction, overcoming differences.
Should You Bother?: It's gotten great reviews from people like Zadie Smith, and Publisher Weekly Comics Week has predicted it will be "the most talked about graphic novel of the fall," if that means anything to you.
The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin by Joe McGinniss, Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch, Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrère, Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Life Itself by Roger Ebert, Ragnarok: Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson, Pearl Jam Twenty by Pearl Jam, Scorsese on Scorsese by Michael Henry Wilson, Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back by Michael Musto, The Real Housewives Tell It Like It Is by Bravo, No More Mr. Nice Guy by Howard Jacobson, There But For The by Ali Smith, Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue by Marc Spitz, Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius by Sylvia Nasar, Hemingway: A Life in Pictures by Mariel Hemingway, Aleph by Paulo Coelho, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens, Tension City by Jim Lehrer, Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi, Piers Morgan: The Biography by Emily Herbert, Crossbones by Nuruddin Farah, The Little Bride by Anna Solomon, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by William Arkin and Dana Priest.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
What It Is: A 1,000-page tribute of sorts to George Orwell, the writer whose book 1984 provided a framework for many aspects of modern-day American culture and inspiration for post-9/11 surveillance policies. A young woman who finds herself caught up in a parallel world crosses paths with a writer who wrecks his life by getting too wrapped up in his work. A bodyguard, a cult, and some other weird characters pop into the plot and do things.
Themes: Romance, craziness, inquiry, the disadvantages of workaholism.
Should You Bother?: If you've got the time to read a 1,000-page book, by all means.
MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus by Art Spiegelman
What It Is: Pulitzer Prize–winning Spiegelman discusses his process in creating Maus, his classic comic book about the Holocaust. Comes with a DVD that features interviews with his father, a Holocaust survivor; historical documents; sketches; and more.
Themes: Process, history, the Holocaust, turning horrific history into art.
Should You Bother?: If you're a Creative of any sort, this kind of insight into the mind of a masterpiece-maker should be useful.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
What It Is: Not a book about zombies! Yes, a book about zombies. Fortunately Whitehead's characters don't spend the book going on pub crawls or working retail at Halloween supply stores—instead they inhabit a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. Some of them have the plague, and civilian-survivors are charged with clearing them out. This creates tension.
Themes: Global devastation, plague, New York City.
Should You Bother?: It's not something we'd ever read. But you might be more open-minded than we are and get really into it, so go ahead.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny by Nile Rodgers
What It Is: In addition to playing with Chic, the band responsible for "Le Freak" and other hot disco jams, Rodgers produced smash hits by some of the biggest acts of the 1980s: Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, and many others. It's his crazy upbringing that intrigues us most, though: boho mom, heroin-addicted stepdad, and weird house guests ("there were also monkeys, voodoo orishas, jazz cats, and serial killers in the mix").
Themes: Music, colorful existences, famous people, they don't make them like this guy anymore.
Should You Bother?: Yes. Pair it up with the Def Jam book and make up your own Music of the 20th century reading course. Assign yourself homework assignments and give yourself A's. You deserve it.
Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs by Dr. Marc Lewis
What It Is: Before he became a neuroscientist, Lewis was a drug addict. In this informative memoir, he uses his science-knowledge to examine the nature of his addiction and to discuss the affects of drugs on his brain—which is quite similar to your brain, which gets screwy when you do drugs. Stop doing drugs.
Themes: Addiction, science, personal transformations, fulfilling your potential.
Should You Bother?: This is like a rags-to-riches story in which the rags = addiction and the riches = sanity + career success. Can't go wrong with that. Plus, learn about the science of addiction, which affects us all in one way or another.
The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman, The Price of Civilization: Economics and Ethics After a Fall by Jeffrey Sachs, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, The Great Leader by Jim Harrison, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje, The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, The Cannibal Spirit by Harry Whitehead, Damned by Chuck Palahniuk, Trust Me, I'm Dr. Ozzy: Advice from Rock's Ultimate Survivor by Ozzy Osbourne, Everything, Vol. 1 by Lynda Barry, The Adventures of Hergé by José-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental, and Stanislas Barthélémy, The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of: The Most Astounding Papers of Quantum Physics—and How They Shook the Scientific World by Stephen Hawking, Ed King by David Guterson, Cain by Jose Saramago, Nightwoods by Charles Frazier, Parallel Stories by Péter Nadás, Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin, Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet, Silenced by Kia DuPree
The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James by Scott
What It Is: Your "Books About Ohio" fall reading list is already probably pretty long, but this title is probably the most buzzed-about Ohio-related book at the moment so maybe you should start your Ohiosploration with it. Raab, a writer for Esquire who hails from Cleveland, wrote an angry thing about James last July. Now he tries to find the NBA player's soul. It's not in Ohio, even though Raab went there looking for it as part of his research.
Themes: Athletes, controversies, sports fan betrayal.
Should You Bother?: We're not sure we believe the review blurb's contention that "'Who is LeBron James?'...is the question that is burning in the hearts of basketball fans around the country." But if it's your burning question, then this book's for you.
The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem
What It Is: Jackson and Lethem edited Dick's notes, journal entries, and other writings into this work based on some mystical experience the famous sci-fi writer had in 1974. It's got dreams, visions, theories—something for the whole family.
Themes: The universe, reality, what is reality, is the universe real.
Should You Bother?: According to Lethem, this puppy is "[a] great and calamitous sequence of arguments with the universe: poignant, terrifying, ludicrous, and brilliant. The Exegesis is the sort of book associated with legends and madmen, but Dick wasn't a legend and he wasn't mad. He lived among us, and was a genius." Plus if they ever make a movie about it you'll be ahead of the game.
How to Think Like a Neandertal by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge
What It Is: Wynn, an archeologist, and Coolidge, a psychologist, talk about Neandertal culture and Neandertalese mental characteristics. Did you know that these beings could talk and had an extensive language? Did you know they were probably atheists? Did you know they were calm? They sound kind of cool, those Neandertals.
Themes: The past, brains, you really don't know anything about Neandertals now do you, quiet types.
Should You Bother?: Yes, so you can stop confusing them with Cro-Mags.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
What It Is: To write this authorized biography on the Apple founder—the first!—Isaacson met with more than 100 people inside Jobs's circle, and met with the man himself so many times that they probably traded cookie recipes at some point, they became so close. Learn all about the guy who made all of your electronic this-and-that.
Themes: Business, technology, invention, drive.
Should You Bother?: If you're interviewing for jobs at start-ups, for sure.
The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, Blue Nights by Joan Didion, Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life by Ann Beattie, Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me by R. Kelly, No Higher Honor by Condoleezza Rice, The Someday Funnies by Michel Choquette, Shaq Uncut: The Autobiography by Shaquille O'Neal, My Song by Harry Belafonte, Then Again by Diane Keaton, The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun by Robert Greenfield, Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson by Joseph Vogel, Inside Pee-Wee's Playhouse by Caseen Gaines, Wrestling Reality: The Life and Mind of Chris Kanyon, Wrestling's Gay Superstar by Chris Kanyon as told to Ryan Clark, The Infinity Puzzle by Frank Close, the Michele Bachmann memoir, Howard Cosell: The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports by Mark Ribowsky, Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett, The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño, Adam and Evelyn by Ingo Schulze.
Let us know in the comments if we missed anything!