The list reads like a Who’s Who at an exclusive book party: Junot Diaz, Ian McEwan, J.K. Rowling, Zadie Smith and Tom Wolfe.
All are superstar authors who are releasing hugely anticipated books this fall, colliding in one of the most crowded literary traffic jams in recent memory.
Fall is traditionally the biggest season in the book business, the time that publishers reserve for their most high-profile authors. But this year it is especially crammed with writers who are both household names and have not released a book in several years, like the octogenarian Wolfe, whose last novel, “I Am Charlotte Simmons," was published in 2004, and Diaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," which came out in 2007.
Salman Rushdie, the author of “Midnight’s Children," will release a memoir, “Joseph Anton," that goes on sale on Sept. 18. Rowling, best known for her phenomenally best-selling Harry Potter series, has written her first novel for adults, “The Casual Vacancy."
In November Nan A. Talese/Doubleday will release Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth," a novel featuring his first female protagonist since Briony Tallis in “Atonement." Michael Chabon’s new novel, “Telegraph Avenue," is scheduled for release on Sept. 11, five years after his most recent book, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union."
A bit crowded
The pileup has left publishers jostling for shelf space and publication dates, and critics wondering how they can review all of the elite writers worthy of attention — not to mention the debut and midlist authors who might be neglected.
“You can only read so much," said Ron Charles, the fiction editor for The Washington Post. “There are some real giants this year. It’s difficult for places like us that just run one review a day."
Booksellers, who are preparing to stock their shelves with titles that will stay there until Christmas, have been thrilled by the lineup, saying it could be one of the richest fall seasons in five years or more.
“I just can’t imagine what October is going to look like on our shelves," said Gayle Shanks, an owner of Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, Ariz. “I think we’re going to have to add a few cases for fiction."
Daniel Goldin, the owner of Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee, said he was “thrilled" by the unusually deep selection of big fiction titles.
“It always seems like we are scrounging for literary books to sell in the fall, and wind up going back to winter and spring for inspiration," he wrote in an email, adding that this year he was looking forward to selling books by T.C. Boyle, Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich and Ken Follett.
Some readers appear to be stocking up early. On Amazon, a listing for Rushdie’s memoir noted that some customers who had bought the book also preordered books by Barbara Kingsolver, Mark Helprin, McEwan, Smith and Chabon.
The nonfiction side has its share of major titles too, including the surprise book by a former member of the Navy SEALs describing the Osama bin Laden raid, which was released on Tuesday; a Bob Woodward book on the Obama administration and the economy; a memoir by the musician Pete Townshend; and “The Oath," Jeffrey Toobin’s study of the Obama administration and the Supreme Court.
This season may be especially compressed because of the presidential election Nov. 6, an event that several publishers privately said that they were trying to avoid, lest it take away from news media attention they might receive for their books.
Michele Filgate, the events coordinator at Community Bookstore in New York, said that when media coverage was devoted to an election, “a lot of books can get lost in the shuffle."
“When it’s an election year, publishers tend to save their big books for the spring instead of the fall," she said. “This year they’re still bringing out some of the A-list authors."
Wolfe’s new book, “Back to Blood," set in Miami, will come out on Oct. 23, just two weeks before the election. Books by Dennis Lehane and J.R. Moehringer are also scheduled for a fall release.
For shows like NPR’s “Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, one of the most plum spots for authors to promote their books, interviewers and reviewers are dividing their time among genres, said Maureen Corrigan, the show’s longtime book critic.
“This week alone I’m reading a political autobiography, a debut novel and the Zadie Smith, and I’m trying to make a decision by tomorrow which one I’m going to go with," she said. “It does seem like an embarrassment of riches."
Some bookstores have struggled to find enough evenings for author events. Rebecca Fitting, an owner of Greenlight Bookstore in New York, said it had been at least four to five years since a fall season was crammed with so much high-profile fiction. To squeeze all of the available authors into their schedule, the store planned events on nights — like Friday — that were previously off-limits, said another owner, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo.
“Finding the space on the schedule has been an adventure," she said. “We don’t usually host Friday night events, but for Zadie Smith, we will make an exception. It’s certainly a good problem to have."
Strapped for time
Charles of The Washington Post added that the glut of big releases had been complicated by the extreme length of many of the books.
While he loved “The Passage," a vampire novel by Justin Cronin that came out in 2010, he said he might not have time to review the second book in the trilogy, “The Twelve," which is being published in October and clocks in at 592 pages.
“In a crowded schedule like this, I just don’t know if I can get to it," Charles said. “When we say big authors, we mean it in every sense of the word this time."
For authors, bumping into another writer’s publication date can go unnoticed. Diaz, the author of the coming “This Is How You Lose Her," said he and Chabon met for the first time at BookExpo America in June, but the fact that their books were both coming out the same day — next Tuesday — didn’t come up in conversation.
“Maybe if I wrote faster, I might actually notice market forces more," Diaz said in an email. “But I write so slow and publish things so rarely, I seem to exist on another planet."