Although spring may be the herald of newness and renewal, fall boasts other beginnings — the start of school, the inevitable return of pumpkin spice, the launch of new TV shows and, of course, a slew of new books to read. To double up on the new and breathe some new life into the season usually associated with decay and dreaded family gatherings, we rounded up some of the best books by debut authors making their mark this fall.
From stories centering animals to new takes on the horror genre and androids versus octopuses (you read that right), this list promises to bring a dose of excitement to the sleepy days of autumn.
“What We Fed to the Manticore”
by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri (Tin House, $16.95)
From the melting Arctic to the bomb-ridden Gaza Strip to a Kenyan wildlife sanctuary, this debut collection from Talia Lakshmi Kolluri tells stories of human suffering, connection and cruelty … but it tells them through the voices of animals. A hound at a wildlife sanctuary charged with protecting rhinoceroses, a starving tiger in the Sundarbans, a donkey at zoo in Gaza, a polar bear watching as his world melts around him, all of Kolluri’s stories are taken from real-life events around the world, sometimes mixing together different stories, myths and tragedies.
Though each story is told by and from the perspectives of the animals, you can’t help but see the human imprint in each of them. We are there in the backgrounds — the cause of the melting glaciers, the caretaker at the zoo and the bombers threatening its existence, the protectors of the wildlife and the poachers that threaten it. This collection lays bare the inextricable human-animal connection — we live here in this terrible, beautiful, ruthless and harmonious world together and we share in the life and death, suffering and triumph of it all.
“Daughters of the New Year”
by E.M. Tran (Hanover Square Press, $27.99, available Oct. 11)
A haunted journey through a family’s history, “Daughters of the New Year” travels from present day New Orleans and the unique experiences of three second-generation Vietnamese American daughters back through their matrilineal line and across the Atlantic to the Vietnam War and colonial and pre-colonial Vietnam. The way is guided by specters of Vietnamese women past as the three daughters and their mother Xuan seem to become ghosts themselves the further you read into their ancestry. As their history becomes apparent to the reader, the daughters and even the mother remain in the dark about their ancestors’ secrets and lives, making the reader feel much more keenly how much was lost through colonization, war, racism and displacement.
by Erika T. Wurth (Flatiron Books, $27.99, available Nov. 1)
Let’s not forget that fall is also the time of spirits (Día de Muertos) and things that go bump in the night (Halloween). Erika T. Wurth’s debut (with a major publisher; she has published collections and poetry with indie presses) “White Horse” doesn’t forget it. Equal parts horror and magical realism with a noir edge, you can practically smell the cigarette smoke and stale whiskey seeping from the pages as easily as you can feel the hairs standing up on the back of your own neck as the heroine faces screaming ghosts, creeping shadows, and a monster that smells of human flesh and that’s rarely made itself known outside of Indigenous communities.
But there’s more to it than the supernatural. There on the edges of the pages the very real horror story of the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S., Canada and Latin America haunts. Of Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee descent and raised outside of Denver, Wurth also draws on her own upbringing to bring a raw realism to her depictions of urban Indigenous life in the West.
You won’t find anything else like it this fall.
Other debuts we’re looking forward to
“The Mountain in the Sea” by Ray Nayler (MCD, $28, available Oct. 4)
OK, I haven’t read this one yet, but the premise is too good to pass up and I can’t wait to give it a go. Remember, the not-so-brief preoccupation with zombies and vampires in the early 2010s? Well, I think we have a new combo to capture our imaginations — androids and octopuses. That’s right, Ray Nayler’s debut novel sends the world’s first android a few leagues under the sea to break bread with a newly discovered (and rapidly proliferating) species of highly intelligent octopuses that may have developed their own language and culture.
Will it be any good? We’ll see but given that octopuses have, in reality, proven to be quite intelligent and given our increasingly roboticized and intelligent computerized society, one can hope that this debut from a former foreign service officer who will soon be serving as an adviser to the Office of Marine Sanctuaries will have a lot to say about what constitutes intelligence and what happens when humans are no longer the smartest species on the planet.
“Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood” by Chelsea Conaboy (Henry Holt and Co., $27.99, available Sept. 13)
Yes, I’m a mom of a toddler and have one on the way, so I’m interested in a book about the legitimate science behind the thinly veiled insult/excuse of “mom brain.” So, shoot me. I also happen to have a degree in behavioral neuroscience. So this book basically looks like candy to me.
As a demographic that is often trivialized, minimized and outright forgotten about in society, mothers deserve a book that takes a popular look at the science of how making a person with your body fundamentally changes your body’s chemistry, your brain. With a fair amount of disinformation out there about motherhood making women less suited for the workforce, here’s hoping we see a good amount of myth busting in this debut from journalist, public health enthusiast and mother Chelsea Conaboy.