Reader Ready 

Food-heavy releases, mysteries, histories and former punkers mark the fall literary season.

click to enlarge In October, Richmonder Virginia Pye releases her second novel, “Dreams of the Red Phoenix."

In October, Richmonder Virginia Pye releases her second novel, “Dreams of the Red Phoenix."

Now that students are back in classes, falling asleep on top of textbooks, ’tis the season to be grateful to be adults, who can read whatever they damn well please. So grab your pumpkin-spiced whatever, cozy into a chair near some decorative gourds and prepare for an autumn of promising new books, literary events and festivals for the reader and writer alike.


The James River Writers return with their 13th annual conference at the Greater Richmond Convention Center from Oct. 16-18. A bevy of successful authors will speak about their craft and aspiring writers get the chance to meet literary agents and book editors one-on-one.

That coincides with the Library of Virginia’s annual Literary Awards luncheon and celebration ceremony Oct. 17. I imagine it a boozy, wild night for librarians and book nerds: Think hair-down make-out sessions in the reference section. At the very least, expect hopeful speeches about the future of reading and writing, along with the presentations of several literary awards.

The Fountain Bookstore has a calendar full of author events. Nationally syndicated columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winner Leonard Pitts Jr. returns Oct. 8 to talk about his third novel, “Grant Park,” which weaves 1968 and 2008 narratives into a story of race relations in America.

click to enlarge Leonard Pitts Jr. - AGATE PUBLISHING
  • Agate Publishing
  • Leonard Pitts Jr.

Kelly Justice, owner of the Fountain, notes that fall is a food-heavy season for the store. In addition to various cookbook writers, Fountain plays co-host to the author of “The Wine Bible,” Karen MacNeil, at Secco Wine Bar in October, and the author of “The Beer Bible,” Jeff Alworth, at Ardent brewery in November. Both of these spiritual experiences will include tastings.

In September, Chop Suey Books bring Fredericksburg-based Howard Owen to Hardywood Park Craft Brewery to celebrate the August release of his latest Willie Black mystery, “The Bottom.” Willie Black is a hard-drinking, crime-beat reporter in Richmond who chases stories, bad guys and other clichés. I’m still waiting for the fan fiction that pairs Willie Black with the crime-solving, Richmond-based protagonist of Patricia Cornwell’s series, Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

Elsewhere, Atlee Library plays host to former Virginia Commonwealth University professor Mary Miley Theobald and University of Virginia professor Bruce Holsinger for a discussion about historical mystery writing in November. And Bonnye Matthews takes us back to the Neanderthal era, talking about her series of prehistoric fiction books at Book People on Sept. 29.

Over at the house where Edgar Allan Poe never lived, we get a new exhibit inspired by Poe’s short story, “The Gold Bug.” Visitors to the Poe Museum can try to solve the author’s favorite cryptograms and puzzles at “The Poe Code.” Opening day, Sept. 24, kicks off with an always-delightful Unhappy Hour in the museum’s garden.

For the requisite bicycle-themed events this September, Fountain Bookstore has professional cyclist Kathryn Bertine reading from her book of essays. And the Richmond Young Writers have paired writers with visual artists for a “Bicycle Stories” show at Artspace gallery.


In October, Richmonder Virginia Pye releases her second novel, “Dreams of the Red Phoenix,” set in 1937 China. Pye has been a strong presence in the Richmond literary community as the three-term past chairwoman of the James River Writers, and her 2013 debut, “River of Dust,” was roundly praised. She’ll be at Chop Suey in October for a release event.

In the wider world, barring any new Harper Lee manuscripts, the next few months will focus on forthcoming works from literary stalwarts. September brings new books from such talents as Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates.

A Franzen publicity tour is sure to delight, as the novelist that people love to hate will likely rile up the twitterati with a curmudgeonly remark. From Atwood we’ll have another dystopian future to thrill and fear. Oates’ book will be a prequel memoir to her beautiful 2012 work, and from Rushdie we can expect something timeless and mythological in scope.

For fresh voices, check out Canadian Patrick deWitt’s third novel, “Undermajordomo Minor,” and former punk rocker Sara Jaffe’s debut novel, “Dryland.” The former is a witty tale of love and self-discovery set in a mysterious castle, and the latter a coming-of-age in ’90s Portland. Both are out in September.

In October, we finally get the debut novel of Garth Risk Hallberg, “City on Fire,” a 900-pager that made headlines when Knopf purchased it for nearly $2 million two years ago. The news came with extravagant praise of its prose and scope, so the pressure is on.

We also get new novels from Nobel laureate Orphan Pamuk and the prolific David Mitchell, whose books occupy a meta-universe of recurring characters and themes.

Patti Smith releases a follow-up memoir to her award-winning 2010 “Just Kids,” and in November we get essays from the brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning Marilynne Robinson.

So visit your local bookstores and libraries often, and keep your calendars clear of any frivolous social activity. There are books to read, Richmond.


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