Best books to read this fall

1. The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, by Jonathan Franzen (October 1)
I don’t really give much of a fuck about Jonathan Franzen, but Karl Kraus, the brilliant fin-de-siecle European newspaperman who hated European newspapers, is a fascinating subject. Franzen tackles some of the Austrian’s best-known essays (known in Europe, much less so in the United States) using extensive, digressive footnoting to explain Kraus’s dense prose and his own relationship with this destroyer of midcult tastes. This being Franzen, it’s predictably navel-gazey but important nonetheless. He’s quick (and right) to point out that much of what Kraus was saying over a century ago is incredibly relevant to our technology-dependent world of today. $16 at amazon.com

2. Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (September 17)
It seems to be the season of reclusive authors. That Salinger documentary was released, followed by news of the late author’s maybe-forthcoming posthumous works. Now there’s the very-much-alive Pynchon’s latest doorstop. (Pardon me for saying so, but it’s the far more exciting development.) In his latest, Pynchon sets his sights on the New York City of the early 2000s; it’s amazing how much can change in ten years, and Pynchon digs up Web 1.0 artifacts with his usual dizzying, humorous mysticism. $17 at amazon.com

One time, Teddy Roosevelt continued giving a speech in Milwaukee after being shot in the chest. The bullet was still in him! (Can you imagine Mitch McConnell doing the same on the Senate floor?)

3. Dissident Gardens, by Jonathan Lethem (September 10):
Jonathan Lethem is kind of an easy target—a writer who found early, popular success with some pretty unremarkable work (Motherless Brooklyn paved the way for a million early aughts books set in the hippest of boroughs). However, he’s quietly been getting stronger with each effort, and Dissident Gardens looks to be his best yet—the story of two remarkable women exerting their gravitational pull over the men caught in their orbits. I want to read another novel set in New York like I want to stick a train spike through my right foot, but I’ll make an exception here. $17 at amazon.com

4. Silence Once Begun, by Jesse Ball (January 2014) 
Jesse Ball is a deeply strange writer. According to his author blurb on the back of his latest novel, he gives classes on lucid dreaming and lying in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA program. Those two electives must be something, because both figure heavily into all of the dude’s fiction. His latest is about a string of disappearances in Japan, and the man who may be responsible. The author notes at the beginning that “The following work of fiction is partially based on fact,” but that doesn’t really mean much coming from him. The man is a born liar, and a great storyteller. $18 at amazon.com

5. Leaving the Sea, by Ben Marcus (January 7)
Ben Marcus is sort of a less-friendly George Saunders, a challenging, intelligent writer who is more at home in short stories than he is in longer forms (Marcus’s first and only novel, The Flame Alphabet, was good but not great). But along with Saunders, and maybe Brian Evenson and Jim Shepard, he’s one of the very few authors whose short fiction I will read no matter where I see it. Leaving the Sea is the only story collection I’m going out of my way to read in 2014. $19 at amazon.com

6. Hill William, by Scott McClanahan (October 30)
Scott McClanahan started sending me his books a few years ago. (I assume he’d seen some reviews I’d written somewhere, and then I think social media’d me for my address.) I thought to myself, “Who the shit is Scott McClanahan?” and put his story collection in a pile reserved for people whose books I would read after I am dead. Then, later, he sent me a copy of Stories V! (bafflingly, his third published story collection). I thought to myself, “I still don’t know who the shit Scott McClanahan is, but I have nothing else to read at the moment, and that exclamation point demands attention.” Long story short, I now know who the shit Scott McClanahan is. His most recent book, Crapalachia (the man has a talent for book titles)—a pseudo-memoir set in hardscrabble West Virginia—is terrific. $11 at amazon.com

7. Duplex, by Kathryn Davis (September 3)
I’ve read this slim book once, am almost certainly going to read it again, and maybe some day a third time. But I’m relatively sure that I will still have no idea what the hell is going on in Davis’s story of suburban robot-human love no matter how many times I go through it. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. $16 at amazon.com

Nick Offerman: Knows masculinity, raw meats

8. Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living (October 1)
Like many who make their living in New York writing lists for the Internet, I possess nothing in the way of outdoor survival skills. If you dropped me in a park in August and tasked me with building a crude shelter, by morning I’d be dead of frostbite, buried under a cairn of sticks, empty Pepsi bottles and acorns. Nick Offermann, who shares many traits with his Parks & Rec alter-ego Ron Swanson—is a guy who knows how to do real guy stuff, like work with wood and drink Scotch and eat undercooked meat. $16 at amazon.com

9. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (November 5)
Holy shit, TR was the best. Sure, he spearheaded U.S. imperialism in Central America and singlehandedly made extinct thousands of animal species, but the man one time continued giving a speech in Milwaukee after being shot in the chest. The bullet was still in him! (Can you imagine Mitch McConnell doing the same on the Senate floor? Can you?) Roosevelt was a Republican who cared about the environment and mixed it up with big business, and would no doubt be anathema to the modern day GOP’s ideological litmus test. So what makes this book different than the million other Roosevelt books out there? Pulizer Prize-winning badass Doris Kearns Goodwin. $24 at amazon.com

10. All Night We Walk in Circles, by Daniel Alarcon (October 31)
Alarcon’s books take some of the TR shine off murderous U.S.-backed dictators. His electric debut, Lost City Radio, paved the way for At Night We Walk in Circles, the story of a group of subversive artists in trouble for “seditious” acts in an unnamed South American country. Alarcon reminds us of the real-world power of art and literature, which can scare corrupt governments nearly as much as legitimate democratic reform. $21 at amazon.com