The leaves are beginning to flutter down, pumpkins are (prematurely) appearing on porches, and we’re all starting to remember that a new season of indoor time draws near. Thankfully, with indoor time comes more opportunities to catch up on reading. This year, we’re looking forward to diving into new books by North Carolina writers about football, cancer, big oil, and everything in between.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers | Harper; Aug. 24
Technically, this book came out over the summer, and technically, Jeffers isn’t based in the Triangle—but she did grow up in Durham, and her debut novel is too Southern, stunning, and sweeping to not include. Longlisted last week for a National Book Award in fiction, it is an ambitious trek through 200 years of American history, as told by a line of Southern Black women. The length is daunting (it’s 800 pages) but Jeffers is a poet—she was also a National Book Award nominee for poetry—and knows how to turn a phrase or two, compelling readers to keep turning pages.
Fight Songs by Ed Southern | Blair; Sep. 7
The strands that Ed Southern sets out to explore in Fight Songs are many—the dichotomies between football and basketball cultures, for example, or North Carolina’s tumultuous identity as a progressive state in the larger South. Or, to put a finer point to it, as Southern (yes, that’s his real name) does: why do Southerners care so much about college sports, anyway? Big questions, but Southern, an alumnus of Wake Forest University and executive director of the NC Writers’ Network, is well-poised to try and answer them.
Durham science fiction writer Monica Byrne’s ambitious second novel spans two millennia and six continents, with characters set in an ancient Mayan dynasty to the 31st century and beyond. Praised by Neil Gaiman as a “major player in science fiction,” Byrne gives language to existential undercurrents about climate change, resilience, and compassion. Bonus: you can buy signed copies from Letters Bookshop, The Regulator, or Golden Fig Books.
A Good Spy Leaves No Trace by Anne E. Tazewell | WriteLife Publishing; Sep. 20
What does an oil industry consultant have to do with an environmental advocate? A parent-daughter relation, for one. Carrboro writer Anne E. Tazewell’s fascinating memoir untangles family history and the story of her mysterious, bespectacled father, a decorated WWII intelligence officer and CIA agent based in the Middle East—the kind of real-life character Tom Clancy could only dream of—whose line of work left plenty of room for reckoning. Most people might (appropriately) question whether their own lives have enough material for a memoir. But Tazewell, who pursued a life of adventure diametrically opposed to that of her father, does not need to ask that question. She has plenty of fodder.
No Cure For Being Human by Kate Bowler | Penguin Random House; Sep. 28
Duke divinity professor Kate Bowler’s first book, Everything Happens For a Reason, a New York Times bestselling memoir, told the story of Bowler’s diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer, at the age of 35, as various American can-do aphorisms about the good life unraveled before her. Bowler—intriguingly described as “a Christian Joan Didion” by Glennon Doyle—is funny, extremely direct, and wise; she also survived cancer against improbable odds. No Cure For Being Human picks up the threads of that memoir with another aphorism as a title, though this one revels in human mess, brokenness, and crooked lines.
It’s always astonishing and fascinating how many epistolary troves there are yet to uncover, from the lives of the past. Letters From Red Farm, based on exchanges between Helen Keller and the journalist and editor Joseph Edgar Chamberlin throughout their four-decades-long friendship, is certainly both of those things. Written by Chamberlin’s great-great-granddaughter, Chapel Hill writer Elizabeth Emerson, this work introduces another side of Keller (in particular, her social activism) as her friendship with Chamberlin deepens. Catch Emerson in person at a signing and launch event on November 2 at Flyleaf Books.
Now You Know It All by Joanna Pearson | University of Pittsburgh Press; Oct. 5
With a day job as a psychiatrist, Carrboro writer Joanna Pearson knows a thing or two about messy inner lives. Her first collection of short stories, Every Human Love, previously reviewed in the INDY, was a finalist for numerous awards. Her new collection follows suit with the accolades, and is a recipient of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, selected by Edward P. Jones. Now You Know It All takes in a wide array of characters—a waitress, a student, adult sisters, a young child—with a keen, knowing eye.
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