Despite end-of-written-word fears, the future is strong

Fall 2011 looks to be quickly shaping up into one of the best book seasons in recent memory: strong literary fiction, hotly anticipated imports, provocative nonfiction and a few big children’s books, some from beloved, though long dead, authors. Even as Borders is forced to auction its intellectual property, and Amazon introduces the Kindle Cloud Reader to compete with Apple for e-book dollars, publishers are still ordering print-runs in the hundreds of thousands. That’s encouraging news for authors and relief for book-lovers everywhere.

September will bring a collection of forgotten Dr. Seuss tales, The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories (Random House, $15), comprised of magazine work from 1950-51. Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams: A Novella (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $18), chronicles an itinerant worker in the American West at the beginning of the 20th century. In Reamde (William Morrow, $35), Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, 1992) fashions an edgy, tech masterpiece centered around T’Rain, a massively successful online war game.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (Ecco, $30), by Harvard professor Lisa Randall, examines the latest developments in her twin specialties: particle physics and cosmology. In That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28), Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas L. Friedman and foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum isolate and analyze four major challenges—including the massive deficit—facing America.

It’s a little too easy referring to Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding (Little, Brown & Co., $26) as a “home run,” but this baseball novel is one of the favorably reviewed debuts of the year.

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks (Ecco, $26) won’t be an easy read—the protagonist is a convicted sex offender who is mentored by a sociology professor—but Banks (The Sweet Hereafter, 1991) is especially skilled at handling complex, tragic characters.

As the 2012 elections draw closer, political books will be everywhere. Expect Joe McGinniss’ The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin (Crown, $25) to be hard-hitting, and answer all the questions Palin’s own softball book doesn’t. Fans of Bill O’Reilly will appreciate Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama (Harper Paperbacks, $15), while Bill Maher followers will have to wait until mid-November for The New New Rules (Blue Rider Press, $27).

October offerings include Cain (Houghton Mifflin, $24), a powerful retelling of the Old Testament from José Saramago, the late Nobel Prize winner. Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table (Knopf, $26) begins with an 11-year-old boy’s journey aboard a ship bound from Ceylon to England. Two other hotly anticipated novels: Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28), is a love triangle involving graduate students, and Haruki Murakami’s mysterious 1Q84 (Knopf, $30.50), which was a sensation when it was originally published in Japan.

Michael Lewis’ Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (W.W. Norton, $26) examines the rippling effects of our financial crisis on other countries, and—in turn—the United States, while Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking, $40) not only suggests that violence is on the decline, but he’s got the graphs and charts to prove it.

Also noteworthy: The Litigators by John Grisham (Doubleday, $29), Chuck Klosterman’s The Visible Man (Scribner, $25) and Gregory Maguire’s Out of Oz (William Morrow, $27), the Oz-some conclusion to the Wicked series.

In November, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (Scribner, $35) whisks us back in time as a high school teacher tries to prevent the Kennedy assassination. Conspiracy theories fuel Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27), and you’ll meet Bronx-based nuns, astronauts, terrorists and take a Caribbean cruise in Don DeLillo’s The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories (Scribner, $24). The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, edited by Pamela Jackson & Jonathan Lethem (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40), is based on thousands of handwritten notes and journal entries from the sci-fi San Francisco author, who spent the last years of his life trying to comprehend a visionary experience he had in 1974.

Young fans of Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, can’t wait for Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $28), the conclusion to the bestselling Inheritance cycle.

Wonderstruck (Scholastic Press, $30) is the new book from Brian Selznick, who won a Caldecott Medal for his debut, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Every Thing On It (HarperCollins, $20) is yet another posthumous release of Shel Silverstein’s poetry and art.

You can expect James Patterson’s Kill Alex Cross (Little, Brown & Co., $29) to spend time on November’s best-seller list, along with David Baldacci’s Zero Day (Grand Central Publishing, $28) and Janet Evanovich’s Explosive Eighteen (Bantam, $28), while Joan Didion’s frank Blue Nights (Knopf, $25), about the death of her daughter Quintana, just might repeat the success of 2005’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

Suggested Next Read

Conan the Barbarian

Movie Review

Conan the Barbarian

By Tribune Media Services

This 3-D reboot of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie can be best described as 112 minutes of “Aaaarrrrrgggghhhhhh!” Our new Conan (Jason Momoa) is ripped out of his mother’s womb on the battlefield. His dad (Ron Perlman) trains him well. Conan must save the nations of Hyboria and protect the beautiful Tamara (Rachel Nichols) from the man who slew his father, the evil Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). The film revels in its beheadings, blood splurches and “Aaarrgghhs.” Not terrible, but not that great either.