Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Previewing 2012 in Fiction (and some) Non-Fiction

**UPDATED Jan 6: Added a video of Ramona Ausubel talking about writing her novel and added one book to the list at the bottom to make it five, like I had stated. It was only four before. Also, added links to IndieBound for books with listings.**

As I mentioned in my very first post, 2011 was a big year for fiction. There were new books from two former Pulitzer Prize winners (Jeffrey Eugenides and William Kennedy) and three National Book Award winners (Charles Frazier, Don DeLillio and Ha Jin). There were also many (many!) great debut novels, as well as great novels by “established” authors. If you haven’t read the post yet, please do:  Literary Fiction of 2011: A Recap.

Based on former award winners (and nominees) alone, 2012 looks like it will be a very exciting year as well. New novels are forthcoming by former Pulitzer Prize winners Michael Chabon, Richard Ford, Toni Morrison and Anne Tyler. Additionally, National Book Award winner John Irving, and National Book Award finalists, Peter Carey, Dan Chaon, and Lionel Shriver, all release new novels.

In non-fiction, Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson, National Book Award winner Jonathan Franzen and National Book Award finalist Aleksandar Hemon will all release collections of essays. Also, one of the most anticipated non-fiction books in years, Robert Caro’s fourth volume in his massive biography of LBJ, is due to be release by Knopf in May.

Below I have highlighted fifteen books which I am especially interested in reading, ten with comments and five without. I owe many thanks to the “most anticipated” lists by Flavorwire and The Millions, as well as an unnamed industry source, for much of the information here.

Given that there is only limited information out on Fall releases, with some exceptions, this is only a first half of the year list. I hope to do a second half preview later in the year.

The Biggest Fiction Release of the Year

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (Release still unscheduled by Harper)

Like Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot this year, Chabon's new novel will be published with a lot of buzz and anticipation. Still, we will have to wait until “sometime this fall” to see if the buzz is warranted. Very little is known about the content of the novel, except that it takes place in Berkley and Oakland California (I believe in the present day), but my gut tells me that this might be the novel that regains the attention of those loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Many people, from many ages and backgrounds, have told me that the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is among their all-time favorites. Still, Chabon followed it up with two novels that were likely too different in comparison, a short Conan Doyle-style detective story and a longer detective novel set in an “alternate history,” where Israel was never created and a Jewish country was created in Alaska. This novel, hopefully, will see Chabon return to more accessible and familiar themes that he explored in Kavalier & Clay.

The Biggest Non-Fiction Release of the Year

The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro (Estimated on-sale date: May 1 by Knopf)

Robert Caro has been writing his massive multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson for more than thirty years. The most recent volume, published ten years ago – The Master of the Senate – won the Pulitzer Prize. Many people hoped that this new volume would tackle the Presidential years. Alas, it appears that Caro has chosen to devote 700 pages to the Vice Presidential years. Here’s to wishing the 76-year-old writer good health so that he can complete his amazing work.

A Pulitzer Prize Contender?

Home by Toni Morrison (Estimated on-sale date: May 8 by Knopf)

There have only been three multiple winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner and John Updike. Yet, if any previous winner has an above average chance to win again, Morrison is a front runner. Called “Morrison's strongest book in a decade” by someone who was able to read an advanced copy, this short novel – advertised at only 160 pages – tells the story of a Koran War veteran returning to the U.S. to a confront racism and family emergencies. It's great to see Toni Morrison proving the idea that writers never retire. She turns 81 in February.

The Novel That May Create a New Household Name

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Estimated on-sale date: January 10 by Random House)

Called “one of the best books I've ever read, period” by the same person who praised Home above, this novel seems especially timely. It tells the story of an “ordinary” North Korean who is recruited by and then works for the regime, but who eventual attempts to rival Kim Jung Il. This is Johnson’s third published book. He previously published a novel and a collection of short stories. I expect it to do very well, especially for those with interest in North Korea, but may prefer to read a novel. Johnson was able to visit the country to do on-the-ground research, so his descriptions should be true-to-life.

The Next Book in a Series

The Twelve by Justin Cronin (Estimate on-sale date: August 28 by Ballantine)

Cronin's The Passage told the story of survivors of a massive plague which turned most of the population of the United States into blood-thirsty-vampire-like beings. This was not the kind of story that I ever expected to read, let alone enjoy. Still, after winning a copy on Goodreads, and being told by a friend that I "must" read it, I did. Cronin is able to achieve something that is rare: he combines a gripping, page-turning, fast-paced story with beautiful prose. This shouldn't be surprising. His writing shouldn't be discounted just because of the "commercial" nature of the novel. After all, his first novel Mary and O'Neil won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award – an award given the best first book, typically in the “literary fiction” category. The Twelve is part two of a planned trilogy.

The Possible “Comeback” Award of the Year

In One Person by John Irving (Estimated on-sale date: May 8 by Simon & Schuster)

John Irving has had a few flops over the last ten years, including one book that a very literary friend called “possibly the worst book I’ve ever read.” One reason that I have high hopes for this book is a reason that would not occur to people who do not follow the industry: this will be Irving’s first book published with Simon & Schuster. Last year, in the words of Publishers Weekly, Simon & Schuster Publisher Jonathan “Karp Poache(d) John Irving From Random House.” It is unusual for established authors to switch publishers, especially if s/he has a good working relationship with an editor. I think one reason why Karp went after Irving is because Simon & Schuster does not have a lot of household-name fiction authors on their list. Still, I can’t imagine he would have done so without loving the current manuscript. According to The Million’s, the novel is the first person account of bisexual “man approaching 70,” reflecting on his life.

My Personal "Most Anticipated" Debut

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead (Estimated on-sale date: June 12 by Knopf)

I fell in love with Maggie Shipstead’s prose via her short stories in The Best American Short Stories 2009, Glimmer Train (one of the most beautiful literary journals around) and Five Chapters (one of the best online-only publishers of short fiction; they publish one story per week in five installments). If you would like to read a story, here is one: Theories on the Origins of Time. While there is (rightly) a lot of controversy over MFA programs, for what it’s worth, Shipstead attended what is normal accepted as one of the best programs: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Afterwards, she received one of the most prestigious postgraduate fellowships: the Wallace Stenger Fellowship at Stanford. Not much is available about the content of the novel from Knopf, but from what I can find (from a UK publisher), it tells the story of a wealthy New England patriarch whose world is turned up-side-down on the eve of his pregnant daughter’s wedding. 

(EDIT: There is a more complete description at the link above.)

A Debut Getting Buzz

No One Is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel (Estimated on-sale date: February 2 by Riverhead)

I love reading debut novels. I find they can often be more “fearless” than later works. This novel, spotlighted in The Millions article linked above, seems to have the kind of “fearlessness” that will either make it an instant success or complete flop. (I am betting on a success!) Set in a small Romanian village in 1939, where the residents are starting to feel the scary threat of war, an 11-year-old girl encourages them to tell a different story “to will reality out of existence, and imagine a new and safer world.” It sounds like it may have the slight magic realism bent of Téa Obreht's 2011 debut The Tiger’s Wife. It will take a lot to repeat the success of The Tiger’s Wife, but if readers and reviews start to draw comparisons, Ausubel’s novel might have a chance.

Click the photograph to the right for a short video of Ausubel. I was interested in the novel from just the written description, but this made me even more excited to read it. I can't wait!

A Historical Comedy?

Watergate by Thomas Mallon (Estimated on-sale date: February 21 by Pantheon)

I have not read any of Mallon’s eight other books – I’ve actually never heard of him – but I am including this pick because of the praise of a good industry source and because the subject continues to fascinate people forty years later. It is being marketed as a “comic novel,” which makes sense. Despite the tragic side of Watergate, there was a lot of humor, especially in the arrogance of the perpetrators. If Mallon exposes that side, it could be a very fun read.

A Book of Non-Fiction by an Established Novelist 

When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays by Marilynne Robinson (Estimated on-sale date: March 13 by FSG) 

Books by Marilynne Robinson come out so seldom – she’s written three novels over 31 years – that fans of her novels will likely be excited to read her writing in any form. Shamefully, I have not yet read any of her work, but I plan to read the Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead shortly.

A Few More Novels Which Sound Interesting

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander (Estimated on-sale date: January 12 by Riverhead) 

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey (Estimated on-sale date: May 15 by Knopf)

Arcadia by Lauren Groff (Estimated on-sale date: March 13 by Voice) 

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub (Unscheduled – likely before June – by Riverhead)

Flatscreen by Adam Wilson (Estimated on-sale date: Feb 21 by Harper Perennial) 

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog, Jon! I learned a lot about what great books to watch for in 2012! Keep it up!