Shall we list some of the great authors who have novels coming out this late summer and fall? Let's do that. Let's list them in alphabetical order, so we don't get overwhelmed.
Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Nicholson Baker, Madison Smartt Bell, Dan Brown, Robert Olen Butler, A.S. Byatt, Philip Caputo, Michael Chabon, Pat Conroy -- his first novel in 14 years.
E.L. Doctorow, James Ellroy, Kate Grenville, Nick Hornby, John Irving, Garrison Keillor, Stephen King -- a novel 25 years in the writing.
Barbara Kingsolver (her first novel in nine years), Stieg Larsson, Larry McMurtry (both a novel and a memoir), Lorrie Moore -- her first novel since 1995.
Audrey Niffenegger, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Powers, Thomas Pynchon, Anne Rice, Philip Roth, Richard Russo, William Trevor.
This is just novels, mind you. This list doesn't include forthcoming collections of short stories by Kaszuo Ishiguro, Jill McCorkle and Alice Munro, or Tracy Kidder's nonfiction account of a Burundian immigrant in America, or Greg ("Three Cups of Tea") Mortenson's book about Afghanistan, or Jon Franklin's look at the link between humans and canines, or the new memoir by Sue Monk Kidd, or the war book by David Finkel, or the new nonfiction from Timothy Egan, Michael Greenberg, Mary Karr and Francine Prose.
The children's field is just as crowded, with books by Newbery winners Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen.
Most of these books are due out in September and October, with a few scattered in August and November. But what an autumn. What is going on?
Serendipity, said Victoria Meyer, vice president and executive director of publicity for Simon & Schuster. After all, you can't just commission a new novel from Nicholson Baker or Margaret Atwood. "Authors deliver when they deliver," she said. "This fall is, indeed, crowded."
After a tough year financially, with sales down and the economy in tatters, publishers are hoping to improve their bottom line for 2009 by shipping a lot of big titles before year's end, she said.
"Publishers know it's the time of year that generates the most sales," she said. "But the feeling here is that's not the overarching reason. It's just the way things panned out."
Michael Taeckens, publicity director of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, N.C., said he started hearing about the amazing crush of fall books a few months ago. "I started getting a little worried," he said. Algonquin publishes about 30 books a year -- half in the spring, half in the fall -- and there was a fear that quieter titles might get lost in the crowd.
One of Algonquin's big fall books is "A Friend of the Family," by Lauren Grodstein, and Taeckens worried that reviewers wouldn't pay attention to a first-time writer at a smaller publishing house.
"I went to our publisher and said, 'This September and October are ridiculously crowded with big names, literary heavy-hitters, and I think it would be to Lauren's advantage to move the book a month,' " Taeckens said.
The publisher agreed, and Grodstein's book was moved into November. "Hopefully it will pay off," Taeckens said. "It's always tough in this climate to get reviews at all, but it certainly makes it a hundred times harder when you're competing against Pat Conroy, Barbara Kingsolver and Lorrie Moore."
The winner in all of this, of course, is the reader. This fall, nobody can claim that there's nothing to read.
Laurie Hertzel, the Star Tribune books editor, is at 612-673-7302.10th season kicks off with author James Ellroy. E7