Season changes are a welcome delineation of time passed these days, which means there’s no better time for some pre-autumn book recommendations.
Nerdette host Greta Johnsen recently got in touch with NPR books editor Barrie Hardymon to talk about the books they’re anticipating in the coming months.
And to categorize these recommendations, they created some parameters based on an Old English wedding rhyme you are likely familiar with: “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue.” Below are highlights from the conversation.
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Barry Hardymon: This was like the most popular book of the summer in 2002. I picked it up again during the pandemic because it is so completely a different world.
It tells the story of a prostitute named Sugar and a rich man named William. And the advantage of being in Dickensian London with a prostitute and somebody who can say it all is … they say it all.
Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley
Greta Johnsen: I think it’s really cool to see these old texts that we have revered for so long reexamined through a modern feminist lens, and I’m super-excited to check out this new Beowulf because I think it’s going to bring a lot to the story that did not resonate with me as an 18 year old.
Luster by Raven Leilani
Hardymon: I highly recommend picking up this book the way I did, which is blind. I did not know anything about it. Because when you read it and you don’t know what’s going to happen next, it reads like a highly literary Gillian Flynn.
It’s about a young woman named Edie. She begins an affair with an older man. She comes to live in his house and comes to find out that she has something in common with the members of his household. And I really don’t want to say more.
I do want to say that the main character is a young black woman. Her observations about race and the way that it works, particularly because she works in publishing, is just so fascinating and chilling and funny.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab (Oct. 6)
Johnsen: I don’t know much about this one because I tend to avoid reading synopses if I can help it because I’m spoiler-averse, but I believe it involves someone living over and over again in a beautiful love story. I think it’s going to be a little different than the rest of her stuff, like her Darker Shade of Magic series, but I just cannot wait to dive in.
Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga
Hardymon: Lupita Reads is a bookstagrammer and a books blogger and she recommended this one. It’s a memoir about a complicated parent. I love a book about a complicated parent. I am a complicated parent, now that you mention it.
The parent that we’re talking about is her mother, Elvira, who is a mostly uneducated Mexican immigrant, working class. They live in a small town outside of Los Angeles. And she is this complicated and powerful person who the world is against in all of these ways. And she’s mad about it.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Johnsen: I’m counting it as something borrowed because I watched an interview between Circe author Madeline Miller and Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell, who are two of my favorite writers. And David just raved about Hamnet. He said it was one of the best books he’s read this year and I’m so excited to dive into it.
Hardymon: It is great. It’s also really chewable. It’s slim. So it will just be a really wonderful two weeks of your life.
Jack by Marilynne Robinson (Sept. 29)
Hardymon: Sometimes I think of “blue” as in sad or depressing, but this time I’m thinking about blue as in really moving. And in this case, this is a book that moved me to be a different human.
This is the story of Jack Boughton, who is white, and he is in love with Della who is black. They are living in segregated post-World War II St. Louis, so there are things against them. The first maybe third or fourth of this novel takes place in a graveyard, and it’s such a moving exploration of people who fall in love and why they fall in love. And it’s also peppered with ideas about who we are and the skin we’re in.
The Searcher by Tana French (Oct. 6)
Johnsen: This is a moody murder mystery. I feel like now is a great time to read things that are a little bit creepy.
This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button to hear the full episode.