The 15 best new books to read this fall

From underground gems to authors you know, these fiction and non-fiction titles are the season's essential reads


This is more than a bit of a buzz kill but COVID may have us hunkering down again soon. Even if we don’t have to for public health reasons, the weather will surely drive us indoors this winter, where books can spark our imaginations and fulfill our craving for ideas. Here are some suggestions.

Dante’s Indiana by Randy Boyagoda

(Biblioasis)

Boyagoda’s second novel of a planned trilogy brings back his character Prin who, while still yearning to reconnect with his distant wife, moves to Indiana to take a job at new theme park Dante’s Inferno. Many of his co-workers are opioid dependent, and the death of a young Black teen at the hands of police intensifies the community’s woes. The convergence of unscrupulous politicians, creationists and outraged protesters on the small town doesn’t help. Another sharp satire from one of Canada’s best writers. Out now

The Toronto International Authors Festival features Boyagoda in conversation with Colson Whitehead (Harlem Shuffle) in a virtual event November 17. festivalauthors.ca

Misfits by Michaela Coel

(Henry Holt/Raincoast)

Fans of Coel’s incendiary TV series I May Destroy You will get everything they crave – though something quite different – from this courageous creator in her memoir-cum-manifesto that traces her development from London public housing resident to celebrated storyteller. It’s inspirational, yes, but also clear-eyed about what it’s like to live on the margins and why we need to embrace radical honesty, empathy and our differences. Out now

Red X by David Demchuk

(Strange Light)

On its face, Red X looks like a novel set against the backdrop of the serial killings in Toronto’s gay village that began in 2014. It is that, with T.O.’s history of homophobia, problematic police attitudes – from violence to indifference – and the AIDS crisis also in the background, but the story is not about the killings themselves. Rather, Demchuk pursues his fascination with the horror genre to create a unique narrative covering over 30 years, his personal story, a new take on the relationship between queerness and horror, and the conjuring of new kind of monster. Out now

Out Of The Sun by Esi Edugyan

(Anansi)

The brilliant two-time Giller winner (Half-Blood Blues, Washington Black) delivers her first book of non-fiction, an exhilarating inquiry into the importance of stories, specifically Black stories, that hover at the margins. Determined to give these narratives – some from her own life – centrality, Edugyan looks at Black histories in literature and film in ways that subvert our assumptions of who we are as individuals and as a nation. The beauty in this comes from Edugyan’s willingness to challenge herself as much as she challenges her readers. September 28

Hunting By Stars by Cherie Dimaline

(Penguin)

Young adult fiction seldom lands on a NOW list like this one. But as we confront the truth about Canada’s relationships with our First Nations – through history and right now – let’s take heart from the fact that, thanks in part to author Dimaline, young people are reading about residential schools. This follow-up to 2018’s mega-seller The Marrow Thieves, about governments’ attempts to kidnap Indigenous people to harvest their bone marrow (the seat of their dreams), follows teenaged French, who’s forcibly locked up and must figure out a way to survive without betraying his community. October 19

August Into Winter by Guy Vanderhaeghe

(McClelland & Stewart)

Looking for some literary heft? Triple Governor General’s-award-winning Vanderhaeghe is back with a new novel nearly 10 years in the making. The complex narrative spotlights highly problematic character Ernie, who leaves town with the 12-year-old girl he idealizes and is pursued by three other men with issues of their own. There is chaos and cruelty in this story – Vanderhaeg is fascinated by those elements – but there is also love and unremitting suspense. Out now

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

(Hamish Hamilton)

We’ve waited four years for this follow-up to Vermette’s excellent debut The Break and the award-winning author comes through with a novel that expands her literary palette. Struggling with addiction, Elsie tries to reconnect with her two daughters: Cedar, who now lives with her father after surviving foster care, and Phoenix, still in foster care, pregnant, with little chance to raise the child. It does sound grim, but Vermette has a way of seeing light through the crack in the wall of a dark room. September 28

The Moment by Andrea Constand

(Viking)

High on my list of heroes is the courageous Canadian Constand, the first woman to get in serial rapist Bill Cosby’s face, legally speaking, and who, 10 years after he sexually assaulted her, decided to bring him to justice, inspiring over 60 other women to come forward with their stories. The title refers to three life-changing moments: the trauma of her rape, the decision to go to police and the cultural moment when the #MeToo movement shifted public awareness about the sexual assault epidemic. Read this and you’ll only be more outraged that Cosby was released from jail last June because of a Trumpite prosecutor’s incompetence. Out now

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart

(Random House)

Novels with characters in lockdown were bound to deluge us and – even if you’re the type to dread that scenario – a book by Shteyngart, one of America’s most entertaining writers, is hard to resist. A Russian-born novelist; his psychiatrist wife; their precocious child too deeply into K-pop; a struggling Indian American writer; a successful Korean American app developer; a world traveller with three passports; and a provocative Southern essayist – all appear to be surviving until a movie star threatens to burst their bubble. November 2

Secret Life by Theo Ellsworth from a short story by Jeff Vandermeer

(Drawn & Quarterly)

Drawn & Quarterly has a Leonard Cohen illustrated biography scheduled for release, which is guaranteed to attract a large readership, but the graphic take on an eerie short story about life inside an office building promises to be much more provocative. In this mind-bending narrative, all kinds of weird things are happening: mice can speak English while lower-caste workers on the second floor develop their own language. The simple act of lending a pen drives one worker around the bend; everywhere competition for dominance is rampant and nature, too, has gone wonky as vines are growing inside the walls. It’s an allegory about work life like no other. September 28

Letters To Amelia by Lindsay Zeir-Vogel

(Book*hug)

After being dumped by her partner of seven years, library tech Grace is grieving deeply but finds distraction when she’s tasked to read the newly discovered passionate letters Amelia Earhart wrote to her lover Gene Vidal. Grace’s fascination with the aviation hero intensifies when she discovers she’s pregnant and soon she’s writing her own letters to Earhart as she tries to get on with her life. From the creator of the Love Lettering Project, this could be the surprise debut novel of the year. Bonus: it’s set in Toronto and references Earhart’s connection to the city where she was a volunteer nurse in 1917. Who knew? Out now

Wonder Drug: LSD In The Land Of Living Skies by Hugh D.A. Goldring, illustrated by nicole marie burton

(Between the Lines)

The story may be familiar, but the format – a graphic novel – has never before been used to tell it. In the 50s, the tiny town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, of all places, became the seat of groundbreaking research on psychedelics. The scientists discovered that LSD could turn into a valued cure for depression and alcoholism. But when the war on drugs took hold, the researchers’ higher ups and timid politicians made sure to bury the new discoveries. Books like these bring this tidbit of history back into the public eye. November 8

The Snow Line by Tessa McWatt

(Random House)

Four people meet at a wedding in Punjab: a yoga teacher, a classical singer, an amateur photographer and man who’s there with the secondary purpose of scattering his late wife’s ashes. The quartet see a chance for adventure and embark on a journey to the Himalayas to help the widower complete his task. NOW featured McWatt on its cover when her first book Out Of My Skin – probing identity, displacement and human connection – was released in 1998. Since then she’s pursued many of the same themes, while finely honing a unique ability to find intimacy in a narrative of epic proportions. Out now

Indian In The Cabinet: Speaking Truth To Power by Jody Wilson-Raybould

(HarperCollins)

Political junkies can get their fix with this memoir from the woman at the centre of one of Canada’s biggest news stories of 2019. But don’t just skip to the juicy part about Wilson-Raybould’s role as Minister of Justice in the SNC-Lavelin affair. Her childhood as the granddaughter of a woman determined to keep traditions alive and the daughter of a hereditary chief is fascinating, sending her on a path to leadership she knew she had to follow. And Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavelin scandal isn’t the only thing Wilson-Raybould sees as problematic on Parliament Hill. She’s looking for fundamental change in the practice of Canadian politics. September 14

We Are Not Like Them by Jo Piazza and Christine Pride

(Simon and Schuster)

Co-written novels are an unusual thing but when the subject is the lifelong bond between two women – Riley, who’s Black, and Jen, who’s white – that’s a good strategy for creating authenticity. Here, Jen’s police officer husband is implicated in a police shooting and aspiring TV journalist Riley is covering the story. It’s a page turner like last year’s The Other Black Girl, part of a surge of new fiction about anti-Black racism in America. October 5

Also on the horizon

Matrix (Riverhead), Lauren Groff’s follow-up to her superb Fates And Furies, this time out about a 12th-century nun trying to save the nunnery; Unreconciled (Viking), Indigenous cultural activist and creator Jesse Wente’s memoir; State Of Terror (Simon & Schuster), a thriller set in the White House, by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton; A Runner’s Journey (UofT Press), a memoir from Canadian sports icon Bruce Kidd; Lean Fall Stand (HarperCollins), a moving novel from Jon McGregor about a man who’s seen the worst but can’t talk about it.

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@susangcole

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