Five Big Books of Fall 2016

What books are you excited to read over the next few months? It’s peak season for new releases, and this fall’s crop of titles — from a thriller set in 19th-century Ireland to a witty memoir by a celebrated artist — does not disappoint. Here are five top picks…

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (October 11th)
Brit Bennett’s first novel is easily one of the most anticipated books of the year. (Our office’s single advance copy was consumed in one big gulp by each of us.) Bennett has written popular think pieces for the New Yorker, the Paris Review and Jezebel, including an essay on race that has been shared almost two million times, but fiction is clearly her gift. The Mothers takes place in small-town, contemporary California, where a 17-year-old girl’s accidental pregnancy following a romance with the local pastor’s son sets the scene for a beautifully written, powerful coming-of-age story.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (September 20th)
If you love historical fiction or psychological thrillers, this book (like Donoghue’s last novel, Room, which became an Academy Award-nominated film last year) will keep you up all night. Set in rural, 1850s Ireland, in the immediate wake of the Potato Famine, The Wonder centers around an 11-year-old girl who says she’s been fasting for four months. After an English nurse is summoned to see whether it’s all a hoax, the two strangers develop an intense friendship that explores miracles and mortality.

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramovic (October 25th)
Few people have the chance to witness a groundbreaking artist evolve from the first spark of talent all the way to huge fame. But this memoir, written in Abramovic’s dryly funny, unflinching voice, offers just that experience. My heart raced as Abramovic, the pioneer of modern performance art, described her first art lesson in Communist Yugoslavia, at 14, when her teacher poured gasoline on a canvas and lit it on fire. Abramovic, who once lived for 12 days inside a Manhattan gallery allowing people to watch her eat, sleep, shower and even pee, 24 hours a day — tells an amazingly compelling story of discovering freedom of expression in a society that banned it, and the 45-year art career that followed. (Remember this?)

The Trespasser by Tana French (October 4th)
This is the kind of book you’ll want to dig into with all the lights on. It’s the sixth installment in Tana French’s acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series, though it doesn’t matter whether you’ve followed the whole saga or not (each novel in the series focuses on a different detective and comes across as independent from the rest). The Trespasser is told through the eyes of a tough, working-class Irish detective who’s recently found herself at odds with her colleagues. But when she starts investigating a new domestic violence homicide that initially seems humdrum, she and her partner realize something sketchy is going on within their own detective ranks. Again: Don’t read in a creaky apartment at night.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (November 15th)
A little-known fact about the British author Zadie Smith is that she’s a talented jazz singer and once thought about becoming a profession musician. In her lyrically written fifth book, music is a central theme. As she describes it, it’s “a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots.” The narrative covers 25 years in the lives of two young black girls, as they grow up as aspiring dancers in London and later end up leading opposite lives in New York and West Africa. Their friendship ultimately breaks apart but affects them forever.

Two more we’d love to read: Future Sex, a non-fiction exploration of sex and dating in digital culture by Emily Witt; and Ian McEwan’s Nutshell, which is described as a modern Hamlet told from the viewpoint of a baby in the womb (!).

Thoughts? What are you reading right now?

P.S. Great books from spring 2016 and fall 2015.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)