Of Michael Chabon’s six published novels, two number among my favorite books of all time—The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. It’s been five long years since Chabon has released long-form fiction (I’m not counting Gentlemen of the Road), and I can’t wait. A champion of genre fiction, Chabon is a phenomenal prose stylist who writes books with captivating plots and charming, nuanced characters. This one follows the co-owners of a record store. I’m intentionally reading as little about this one as possible, so that’s all I know. If you only read one book from this month’s loaded slate, make it this one.
J.K. Rowling is the richest writer in the world, worth almost a billion dollars. That’s a miraculous feat when you consider that she actually wrote all her own books, unlike other rich authors (cough, James Patterson, cough). An even more miraculous feat is that she’s still writing. This is an entirely different venture for Rowling: a straightforward novel for adults about a vacant seat on a small town council. There are no wizards of any kind. The success of it (as a novel, obviously it will be a massive financial success) hinges on whether Rowling’s winning imagination translates over into a literary book. I’m willing to bet it does.
Rushdie’s iconic 1988 novel The Satanic Verses cause such controversy in the Islamic world that the Ayatollah Khomeini issued an order for Rushdie’s execution. For the next nine years, Rushdie lived in hiding, known only by his code name, Joseph Anton (after Conrad and Chekhov). Rushdie is already one of the best living writers in the world; add a riveting true story like the one about his fatwa and this has the makings of an excellent book.
I might sound like a hipsterite contrarian, but I actually think Zadie Smith’s under-the-radar second novel, The Autograph Man, might be almost as good as her signature debut. White Teeth is obviously a tour de force and a magnificent achievement, but Autograph Man is tighter and more confident, without sacrificing (much of) the entertainment of White Teeth. On Beauty bored me to tears and made me worry that Smith was wandering too far from what made her a superstar in the first place. Her latest has been controversially panned, and I’m more than a little worried that we’ll never get another White Teeth again. But she’s a bona fide genius-grade author, so anything she writes is worth checking out.
Emma Straub’s had a big year. She published her first book, a collection of short stories, in February, and her first novel comes out next week, and she just sold her next novel, which will come out in 2014. For reasons unknown to most humans, Slate writer Jacob Silverman singled her out as evidence in a case against positive book reviews. Bafflingly, Silverman claimed that Straub was just too damn charming online, and blah blah blah. For our purposes now, the central idea is that Straub is charming, and nobody doesn’t like charming novels, so let’s hope it carries over into her prose.
Davy Rothbart is the founder of Found magazine, and though this book actually came out a while ago, I think Rothbart deserves the attention. I’ve been to a few Found readings and Rothbart is charming, unassuming, and genuinely funny on his own. Unlike the Shit My Dad Says guy, Rothbart actually has talent of his own, and I’m betting these stories are worth reading.
James M. Cain, who wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice, died in 1977. Last year, an editor uncovered the manuscript for The Cocktail Waitress, Cain’s long-lost novel. Early buzz is good, but I’m keeping a bit of skepticism in reserve since other posthumous crime novels haven’t fared so well.
The first T.C. Boyle novel I read was The Tortilla Curtain, a reductive, racist book about immigration written by an obviously overprivileged white man. I’ve never read another one. But some people like him. If you are one of those people, he’s written another novel.
This poetic novel about the Iraq War has gotten some of the most ridiculous blurbs I’ve seen in quite a while. Philipp Meyer, one of the New Yorker’s 20 under 40, says, “this book is certain to be read and taught for generations to come.” So after reading that, it’s almost certain to be a disappointment.