The season of beach reads is over. Time to don the reading glasses and dig into meaty, challenging literature. Or not. As this list shows, we still yearn for books riddled with aliens, murders, fast food, guns, games, swords and spaceships—just smarter, sharper ones. Yes, we lean fiction, which is not to say there are not notable history books on the horizon. We're just saving those for our what-to-buy-Dad-at-the-last-minute Christmas list.
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Donald Antrim 'The Emerald Light in the Air'
Sept 2 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The terse, surreal works of Antrim bring to mind Italo Calvino and the lyrics of Beck. His past works have centered around a hallucinogenic pancake dinner and a bitter family reunion of 100 brothers. This story collection of the recent MacArthur Fellow could give him a George Saunders–like career leap.—BD
Tana French 'The Secret Place'
Sept 2 (Viking Adult)
Whenever I get my hands on a new Tana French book, I do nothing but read it for two days. The fifth book in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series is about a boarding school killing.—AC
Ben Lerner '10:04'
Sept 2 (Faber & Faber)
Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, the hilarious and elegiac story about an American abroad in Spain, was one of my favorite books of 2011. His new book, 10:04, about a writer facing a potentially fatal diagnosis and the possibility of becoming a father, promises to be another intelligent read.—AC
David Mitchell 'The Bone Clocks'
Sept 2 (Random House)
The Cloud Atlas author follows up the fantastic Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet with another onion of a novel that leaps through time and styles. This one seemingly deals with cults, the climate, runaways, war, loss. His ease at switching styles would be just showing off if his plots weren't so damn moving.—BD
Joseph O'Neill 'The Dog'
Sept 9 (Pantheon)
The Netherland author is back with his first novel since 2009. The Dog, which has been long-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, follows an unnamed New Yorker, fresh off a breakup, who moves to Dubai.—AC
Margaret Atwood 'Stone Mattress'
Sept 16 (Nan A. Talese)
On the heels of her dazzling if awkwardly ending MaddAddam triology being developed as an HBO series by Darren Aronofsky, the Canadian icon drops this story anthology. The nine shorts will undoubtedly continue her blend of black humor, mild fantasy and deep human emotion.—BD
John Darnielle 'Wolf in the White Van'
Sept 16 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The frontman of wordy, folky indie band the Mountain Goat drops the singing and goes all in with prose for his debut novel. The plot centers around suspended adolescence, trauma and a role-playing game called Trace Italian.—BD
Lena Dunham 'Not That Kind of Girl'
Sept 30 (Random House)
The Girls creator and star imparts worldly wisdom in her brutally honest collection of personal essays. Expect recollections of awkward sexual encounters, formative childhood experiences and empowering personal achievements. In other words, it's the book that Hannah Horvath is still trying to write.—ZL
Ann Leckie 'Ancillary Sword'
Oct 7 (Orbit)
Leckie's critically adored debut, Ancillary Sword, dealt with gender and artificial intelligence in a sensationally fresh manner. The plot wasn't always as breathtaking as the ideas and the world-building, but its ending promised greater thrills. The space opera carries on with a sentient ship as its main character. It's far more human that it sounds.—BD
Hannah Pittard 'Reunion'
Oct 7 (Grand Central Publishing)
The second book by Pittard, the author of 2011’s excellent The Fates Will Find Their Way, Reunion follows a failed screenwriter to an unexpected family reunion (with her unconventional family) after her estranged father dies.—AC