Cover Story

Autumn of a book-lover's contentment

Proven authors pour forth titles this season, and a notable children's author reaches The End: Just who is Lemony Snicket?

Issue: "Autumn books," Oct. 7, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO- Full employment for book reviewers! In summertime the criticism is easy, in winter the discontents emerge, but in the fall bibliophiles have as many new arrivals to horde as a dragon has gems.

This autumn's list of intriguing books includes some by authors who will get long looks because of past achievements:

  • Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother. Haddon provided the point of view of an autistic boy in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Here his central character is a retiree who believes his eczema is cancer.
  • Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. The reclusive author's enigmatic novels, beginning with V and The Crying of Lot 49, have fascinated literary readers for four decades. This one reportedly begins in 1893, ends shortly after World War I, and is 1,000 pages long.
  • Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a dark, searing tale of a post-apocalyptic world of near-absolute depravity. The book sounds too mordant even for the perpetually depressed, but McCarthy's distinctive style (shown most wonderfully in The Border Trilogy) may conquer all.
  • Michael Lewis' The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game is a look at the unsung heroes of football and in particular a left tackle, one of 13 children of a crack-addicted mother: An evangelical family plucked him from the streets and gave him love. Lewis, author of Moneyball and other books, may be America's best long-form journalist (see p. 42).
  • John Grisham's The Innocent Man is the first nonfiction book by the bestselling author: It's about former athlete Ron Williamson and his wrongful imprisonment in Oklahoma for rape and murder, despite an utter lack of physical evidence.
  • Jeff Shaara's The Rising Tide. Shaara, picking up where his late dad Michael left off, wrote moving Civil War novels such as The Last Full Measure. Here he begins a World War II trilogy.
  • Maurice Sendak's Mommy? The illustrious illustrator's first pop-up book shows a boy encountering Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and other scary characters, as he looks for his mother.
  • John le Carré's The Mission Song is the latest effort by the author who wrote the terrific Smiley trilogy, the first of which is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But in the years since then he has not found a theme as vivid as Cold War spy vs. spy intrigue, and this book is another disappointment.

Other novels coming from authors with proven ability to write page-turners include Treasure of Khan by Clive Cussler, Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen, Next by Michael Crichton, Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh, Under Orders by Dick Francis, The Afghan by Frederick Forsyth, The Collectors by David Baldacci, and another horrible Stephen King. Also in this bestselling category: are Echo Park by Michael Connelly, Act of Treason by Vince Flynn, and Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs.

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Nonfiction books to watch include Bob Woodward's State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III. (Some say Woodward writes fiction, but he will still profit from enormous Beltway hype.) Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower is a pavement-pounding report on the rise of key terrorist leaders and the American response, and Paul Kengor's The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism tells how the last evil empire fell. Primo Levi's Auschwitz Report is a posthumous publication of an early work by a compelling writer who survived the most outrageous act by another evil empire.

Also, Rajiv Chandrashekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone contains specific detail about what went wrong during the year following America's initial military success in Iraq. Hampton Sides, author of the gripping Ghost Soldiers, writes in Blood and Thunder about the sad 19th-century history of the Navajos. (Readers interested in contemporary Navajo culture might turn to Tony Hillerman's The Shape Shifter, the latest in his well-etched series of Navajo detective novels.)

But book industry buzz this week concerns two projects with big numbers attached. One is the publication of the most expensive novel ever: Random House paid $8 million for Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons, his first effort since his Civil War novel-turned-movie, Cold Mountain. Frazier tells of a 12-year-old orphan given a horse, a key, and a map, and sent on a trip that brings him close to the Cherokee Nation, where he is adopted by a chieftain and his tribe.

The other project is a 2.5-million-copy first printing of a novel for children, The End. It has that name because it's the 13th and last volume of a well-marketed, wildly popular children's book series: Twelve "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books by "Lemony Snicket" (pen name for Daniel Handler, a San Francisco author) have sold a total of 26.5 million copies, according to Publishers Weekly.

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