For college students, September means opening their organic chemistry textbooks once, reading two pages, and then abruptly changing majors. For book fans who have left higher education behind, it's the time of year when publishers awaken from their late summer slumber and start gearing up for a busy fall season. Highlights of this busy month include a short story collection about the lonesome crowded West, a memoir about the 8-bit video games of the Reagan era, and a novel about environmental apocalypse in the not-too-distant future. And yes, Jonathan Franzen's new novel is out this month, but everybody else told you that already. These are the books you really can't miss out on.
Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg (Gallery/Scout Press)
In this long-anticipated debut novel from literary agent and memoirist Clegg (Portrait of an Addict As a Young Man), a woman tries to put her life back together after a house fire kills her entire family on the day before her daughter’s wedding.
Gamelife: A Memoir, Michael W. Clune (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Before Xbox and PlayStation, there was the Apple IIe and the Commodore 64 (remember Maniac Mansion?). Clune's memoir deals with his childhood in the Illinois suburbs of the ‘70s and ‘80s, where he used computer games to navigate his sometimes turbulent adolescence.
South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature, Margaret Eby (W. W. Norton & Company)
Journalist and cultural critic (and Men's Journal contributor) Eby, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, goes on a road trip from Louisiana to Georgia, and points in between, and considers how writers like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty changed the literary landscape of the South.
Half an Inch of Water: Stories, Percival Everett (Graywolf Press)
One of America’s most underrated authors returns with his first short story collection in 11 years. In his new book, Everett (I Am Not Sidney Poitier) explores the landscape of the American West, and the men and women who spend their lives navigating it.
Negroland: A Memoir, Margo Jefferson (Pantheon)
Pulitzer Prize-winning theater and book critic Jefferson, a Columbia University writing professor, reflects on race, money, gender, and her upbringing in the Chicago African-American upper class. Negroland combines memoir with history, psychology, sociology, and cultural studies.
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl (Random House)
In 2009, the legendary Gourmet magazine ceased publication, leaving editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl without a job. In this memoir/cookbook, she reflects on keeping her sanity by preparing meals like peach cobbler, chicken-and-mushroom fricassee, and a rhubarb sundae.
Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead)
Watkins, author of the critically acclaimed short story collection Battleborn, makes her novel debut with this tale of a couple trying to stay alive in a Southern California of the future that has become nearly uninhabitable due to drought and environmental catastrophe.