Now that fall is here, the idea of wrapping up in a comfy fleece blanket with a cup of cider and a good book is all-encompassing. From lesser-known works by the masters, to deep historical dives, to required source reading before new TV shows debut, let this list serve as a fall book club guide. Happy reading!
When magazine editor John Berendt moved to Savannah, Georgia, he had no idea that the town's real-life residents—most notably eccentric art dealer Jim Williams and transgendered drag queen The Lady Chablis—would be such fully-realized characters that they'd provide a true-crime murder plot and witty dialogue so compelling that they'd propel his 1994 non-fiction novel based on them to set New York Times bestseller records. In honor of The Lady's passing earlier this month, pick up the book that made her a national name. "She had a great repartee," Berendt told the Times after her death, "and she had a way with words … And she also knew she was everybody’s favorite."
The end of summer might be the perfect time to read Virginia Woolf’s 1927 Modernist masterpiece, To the Lighthouse. The novel follows the Ramsay family over the course of a decade on their visits to a vacation home in the Scottish isles—and its stream-of-consciousness style, with shifting narrators and a nonlinear plot is a journey unto itself. Get wistful, consider life’s big questions, and curl up with the work that Woolf herself described as "easily the best of my books."
How did Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury—and the "bastard brat of a Scottish peddler," as John Adams called him—get his own musical on Broadway? It all started with Ron Chernow’s incredible 2004 biography, which Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up on a whim at the airport. Alexander Hamilton covers the founding father’s less than illustrious beginnings in the West Indies, where he was born; how he escaped to America by writing one epic letter; his time as George Washington's aide-de-camp; how he created our national bank; his family life and scandalous affair, which was one of the first sex scandals in American political history; and the circumstances that led to his infamous duel with Aaron Burr. A must read for fans of the musical and of history.
If you've memorized every song on the Hamilton cast album and found yourself particularly taken with "America's favorite fighting Frenchman," your next move should be to devour Sarah Vowell's 2015 biography of the Marquis de Lafayette. America's secret weapon proves to be as fascinating as his friend Alexander Hamilton. And even if you've never seen Hamilton (and are perhaps a little sick of people talking about it), Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is still a captivating (and brutally honest) retelling of early American history.
5. REAL FOOD/ FAKE FOOD: WHY YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE EATING AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, BY LARRY OLMSTEAD
Olmstead's expose on the rampant counterfeit food industry will have you seriously reconsidering your grocery list. Name-brand olive oil that's been diluted with vegetable or peanut oil; "lobster" that's made up of unidentifiable sea creatures; wheels of "authentic" Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that never rolled out of Italy. Olmstead paints a disturbing portrait of black market foods that each of us unknowingly consume every day and offers tips on how to find the real thing. You'll never walk the supermarket aisles the same way again.
True crime television may be all the rage right now, but this 24-novel series about fictional career criminal Parker will have you putting down the remote. His first appearance in The Hunter sets the table: former allies owe Parker money, and he won't stop until everyone gets what's coming to them.
The latest book (released last month) from Deadspin columnist and GQ correspondent Drew Magary is an ambling tale about a man who gets lost in the woods. The quirky story mixes traditional folklore with contemporary video game themes to create a story that’s truly hard to tear away from. For what is a relatively short read for a fantasy novel, Magary does an a excellent job of building out an elaborate world with its own monsters, landscapes, and rules that is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.
With the new Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (starring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss) slated for an early 2017 release, now is the perfect time to dive into—or revisit—Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel. It may be set in a futuristic United States, but Atwood’s story of female oppression under a theocratic regime—one in which women’s bodies are rigorously policed—is especially chilling in today’s political climate.
Packed to the gills with exuberant wordplay, silly puns, oceans of notions, and bizarre creatures of all shapes and sizes, Haroun and the Sea of Stories isn’t just Salman Rushdie’s joyful first foray into children’s fiction—it’s also the perfect introduction to the legendary author for readers of all ages. Rushdie wrote the novel, about a young boy who has to rescue his storyteller father from "the arch-enemy of stories," for his son Zafar in 1990, and it’s as much a love letter to storytelling, itself, as it is a children’s adventure novel.
If you’re waiting for the movie version of this cult-turned-contemporary classic to hit a theater near you, you’ve got some time to kill—certainly enough to make it through Toole’s sizeable tome, which won a Pulitzer Prize 35 years ago. Ever since the New Orleans-set novel, which follows the tragicomic exploits of pop culture-hating "slob extraordinary" Ignatius J. Reilly and his mom, was published in 1980, its film rights have passed through some of Hollywood’s biggest names. But the book, partly because of its picaresque style, has proven impossible to adapt. Yet the novel’s long road to publication might be worth a film all its own: It was Toole’s mother who found the manuscript, shortly after the author committed suicide in 1969. She spent more than a decade trying to get it published; ultimately, it was novelist Walker Percy—author of The Moviegoer, another classic Louisiana-set novel—who helped bring it to the masses.
This recently released anthology of stories highlights the essential themes that drive all of humanity—survival and reproduction. Some of the short stories included are darkly serious, and others lighthearted, but they all explore either one or both of the topics at hand from an honest, illuminating perspective.
Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain might take quite a while to read through, but it's worth the time. For over 700 pages, Mann chronicles how his young protagonist's quick visit with a cousin in a mountaintop tuberculosis sanatorium stretches into a years-long exposure to illness, political philosophy, art, and everything in between. You're unlikely to find another novel that can make tuberculosis feel this funny.
With a movie in the works for next year and a new biography of author Shirley Jackson due out later this month, now is the perfect time to pick up We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). Deceptively slim, it packs a mordant (and morbid) punch: there’s a creepy old house, twisted family relationships, possible psychopathy, and something terribly wrong with the sugar. Though some readers know Jackson only for her short story The Lottery, her sweetly charming brand of evil deserves to be far more widely appreciated—and her indelibly spooky images are perfect to put you in the October mood.
Clocking in at 78 pages, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics can be blown through in a single sitting. But readers shouldn’t equate the book’s slim package with the ideas inside—the essays in the collection explore hefty topics like quantum mechanics, elementary particles, and the fabric of the universe. Rovelli’s enthusiastic prose prevents the material from ever veering into textbook territory.
Robinson's 2004 novel Gilead dazzled readers and Pulitzer Prize judges alike with its lyrical prose and quiet-yet-powerful storytelling. Four years later, Home explored the same loving, hurting, small-town families from a new perspective. But Lila (2014) may be Robinson's best tale yet, leading readers through its fierce heroine's pitiable past and into the unexpected blessings of her present.
You likely studied The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in high school English class, but Mark Twain’s lesser known short stories and essays are also worth a read. In the years preceding his death in 1910, the iconic American author wrote an assortment of humorous (and occasionally deeply cynical) works, which were published posthumously in 1962 in a volume called Letters From the Earth. Some of the vignettes lampoon Christianity; others question mankind’s intrinsic goodness. Most of them, however, present Twain at his most introspective—and his most hilarious.
Written in the dry, matter-of-fact style of an Icelandic saga, Jane Smiley's 1988 novel The Greenlanders is a 700+-page epic covering several generations of a settler family and their community as they forge lives in the often harsh world of medieval Greenland. It sounds esoteric, but it's highly compelling—historical fiction that transports you to a very specific time and place where the human struggles are nevertheless timeless and universal.