Great books to fall for now that summer’s over – PBS NewsHour

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a look at some must-reads for this fall.

Jeffrey Brown has this special edition of the NewsHour Bookshelf.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this time, we’re turning for recommendations to two authors with new or recent books.

Louise Penny is the author of the popular murder mystery series featuring the Quebec chief inspector of police, Armand Gamache. The latest installment, “Glass Houses” was published earlier this month. And Pamela Paul oversees book coverage at The New York Times and is editor of its Book Review. Her latest work is “My Life With Bob,” a book about the many books in her life.

And thank you both for joining us.

And, actually, I want to start with a quick question about the books in your life.

Louise, what kind of reader are you, and how do you pick what you’re going to read next?

LOUISE PENNY, Author, “Glass Houses”: I read everything.

But, you know, the only sadness in my life now is that I can’t read crime novels anymore, even though I love them.


LOUISE PENNY: Because, if I read a great crime novel, that’s the only book I want to write now, is the book I have just read. If I read a really bad one, I’m just all upset.

And part of my brain is always turned on, of course, trying to figure out how it worked.

JEFFREY BROWN: Pamela, I know you get millions of books being sent to you every day, so how do you pick what you’re going to read?

PAMELA PAUL, Author, “My Life With Bob”: Well, there’s work reading and there’s fun reading.

And I’m going to focus on the fun reading. I always admire the single-minded dedication of like the hard-core detective novel reader who will just read every single novel in a series or by an author.

But I’m like Louise. I’m really omnivorous. And, for me, deciding what book to read next is really a question of mood. It’s almost like, on a gut level, I need to read something, and I have to figure out what that book is.

And if I try to read something that’s not, that doesn’t sort of match that mood, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t take, and I end up putting it down.


Our category is new or soon-to-come books, fall books.

Louise, you start.

Let’s take a couple of nonfiction books.

LOUISE PENNY: All right, my first choice is Toni Morrison, because I would read anything by Toni Morrison, of course. If she wrote cereal boxes, I would collect them.

“The Origin of Others,” which is a collection of essays, and the theme is race. It’s about belonging, our yearning to belong, about community, about why race matters even, and how we came up with the concept of other, us and them, and why is it that, once we had come up with that concept are we predisposed to look at the other with suspicion.

So, that’s my first pick.

The second one is Daniel Mendelsohn. And his book is called “An Odyssey.” He is a critic, a reviewer, but he also teaches an undergrad course in Homer’s The Odyssey.


LOUISE PENNY: And his father, 81-year-old mathematician, joined one of his courses. And so it’s really an odyssey into literature, but also into their relationship. So I’m dying to read that one as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: Pamela Paul, what are you — start with nonfiction for you too.


Well, I have spent the entire summer, really actually the entire year, doing escape reading. And I think fall is a great time to reengage. And, luckily, there are a lot of books, a number of books that really try to take on serious topics that have been in the news, the cultural news, political news, social headlines, and to delve a lot deeper than the Twitter feeds and headlines have been able to do.

So, a couple that I’m really interested in are Franklin Foer’s new book, which is called “World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.”

Frank Foer was the editor of The New Republic until shortly after it was purchased by Chris Hughes, formerly of Facebook. There was a sort of major falling out between them.

But what he does in this book is not just write a memoir about that experience, but really takes on the issue of how technology has sort of infiltrated journalism, the media and really our daily lives, and what some of the negative impacts of that, those changes are. So I think that’s one.

Another book I’m recommending is Mark Lilla’s “The Once and Future Liberal,” which is a controversial book. Again, you might not agree with all of it, but it’s about identity politics. And it’s interesting to read that along, I think, together with Ta-Nehisi’s forthcoming book, which is called “We Were Eight Years in Power,” which is a lot of the work that he’s done in “The Atlantic,” but it’s his first big book since “Between the World and Me.”

And I think, together, these books take on the issues of identity, race, class, and also electoral politics.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. There’s four coming books in nonfiction.

Now, Louise, a novel.

LOUISE PENNY: All right.

“Happiness.” This is a Canadian one. It is by Will Ferguson.

JEFFREY BROWN: Which you couldn’t resist?

LOUISE PENNY: I couldn’t resist. I know. And you didn’t necessarily ask. And it’s an older one, too. I have to admit that.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we’re breaking the rules.

LOUISE PENNY: We are. I’m going rogue here.


LOUISE PENNY: I read a lot. I know how cruel the world is. And I read a lot to just — to feel good about it, as Auden said, that goodness exists.

So, “Happiness” is a hilarious book about a self-help book that actually works.

JEFFREY BROWN: We should say the author.

LOUISE PENNY: Oh, I’m sorry, Will Ferguson, of course, Will Ferguson.


LOUISE PENNY: This book is put out there. And it works. But everybody’s emotional ills are actually healed and everyone becomes happy, except for the publisher, who’s thrilled how many books are being sold, but he’s a cynic. And he’s trying to figure out who wrote the book and why it works.

It is — I highly recommend it.

JEFFREY BROWN: One other quick new novel?

LOUISE PENNY: All right.

This is by Ayobami Adebayo. And it’s called “Stay With Me.” She’s 29 years old. It’s a debut. She’s a Nigerian. And it is big-hearted. It’s lush. It’s an exploration of a marriage that starts out loving, begins to have a problem when she can’t get pregnant. A second wife is brought in. She gets pregnant, and then all sorts of family secrets are brought out.

But I love the fact that it is so big-hearted. So, again, it goes in with the happiness thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Pamela Paul, for fiction, you’re going happy or tragic on us?


It is another book that I think really grapples with contemporary issues. And that’s Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing.”

And Jesmyn, I don’t know, I feel like she can do anything. Her first novel was “Salvage the Bones.” And this is her latest novel. They all take place in a fictional town called Bois Sauvage in Mississippi, where Jesmyn Ward lives and where her family is from.

It’s a bit timely and sort of post-Katrina novels. This is about sort of the people who are left behind and the people who stay behind and why and what their lives are like. And it’s about race. It’s about class.

She has been compared to William Faulkner, Toni Morrison and Herman Melville in the reviews of this latest book. And while I think she is her own voice, those aren’t terrible people to be compared with.

JEFFREY BROWN: No, they certainly are not.

Pamela, let me give you one more, any category you want.

PAMELA PAUL: All right.

Well, this is — this is about fiction, but its nonfiction. And that is Bruce Handy’s book “Wild Things,” which is about the joys of reading children’s books as an adult.


PAMELA PAUL: And I am a huge fan of children’s books. And I do think that you read them in a different way as a child, and then you read them in a different way with your children. And then, if you read them on your own, you also see in them different things.

And I think one of the things that he makes clear in his book is that the children’s — children’s literature is really — that’s when we become readers. And those stories really stay with us. And the themes that they raise, whether it’s Maurice Sendak’s books, or “The Chronicles of Narnia,” or “Little House on the Prairie,” those are stories that really stay with us for life.

And he explores why that is and really just the joy of reading them again.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK, eight books to get our readers started. And we’re going to have more online.

For now, Pamela Paul, Louise Penny, thank you both very much.

LOUISE PENNY: Thank you.

PAMELA PAUL: Thanks so much.

Here’s the full list:


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