Indie Next List for September 2020

The best new books this month chosen by us and other
independent booksellers across the country.

From Our Store

During times like these we're grateful for the solace and escape of a great book. We're grateful also for your support. We hope you and yours are all safe and sound, and we hope you love these books as much as we do.

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick...

Anxious People

By Fredrik Backman

(Atria Books 9781501160837, $28)

"This book made me feel all the feels! It was sad, it was funny, it was hopeful, it was everything. The character development is incredible at revealing what's inside each of the characters, and the way their stories link and interconnect is genius. It's a story about sadness and hope and human connections. I couldn't put it down and barreled to the end, but now I am sad it's over. Anxious People is truly the best thing I've read in a long time!"
--Lisa Driban, Hockessin Book Shelf, Hockessin, DE

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick Author Interview

credit: Linnéa Jonasson Bernholm & Appendix Fotografi

Independent booksellers across the country have chosen Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (Atria Books) as their number-one pick for the September 2020 Indie Next List.

Backman's latest book follows a group of eight strangers who are viewing an apartment when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes them all hostage. Stuck in an unexpected situation, these strangers find they have more in common than they ever could have imagined.

Where did the idea for this story come from?

My usual process is that I have 10 ideas in my head at any given time. Seven of them are really bad or not thought through and three have some potential, maybe. So when I've figured out which three that is, which in itself is a process that can take a long time and a lot of weird writing that amounts to absolutely nothing, they often melt together into one hopefully decent idea. In the case of Anxious People, I had a few themes I wanted to write about: The first was how ordinary people live with ordinary anxiety. Not rock stars or presidents or astronauts, but just... people. How a group of strangers would share that feeling of waking up and noticing that everybody else in the whole damn world seems to know what the hell they're doing all the time except for me. The second thing I wanted to do was to write a straightforward comedy about a hostage situation at an open house, because my wife and I were going around looking at new apartments a couple of years ago, and after we'd looked at 20 or 30 of them, I guess my mind wandered and I started looking at the people going in and out instead. The thing is that everyone at these things, including me, are on edge and annoyed and stressed out and a little rude, because we're all kind of enemies and competitors for the same home here. And I remember thinking: This would be a great setting for a hostage situation. The third thing I wanted to do was try to write a kind of classic "locked-room mystery" and the police investigation afterwards trying to find out what happened. And so... here we are. It got out of hand.

Anxious People features an ensemble cast, rather than one or two main characters. How did you craft their dynamic? Did any of the characters come to you before others?

I don't exactly remember at what point each and every one turned up in my head. The robber/hostage taker was probably the first character I thought about but the last one I really figured out the inner emotions of. The robber had a purpose but no personality, so to speak. Anna-Lena, one of the hostages, is, on the contrary, the first character whose emotions I really knew and understood, but it wasn't until I was deep into writing the story that I figured out her real purpose in it.

My usual process is that I start out with way more characters than the story really needs, or can even cope with, and the longer I write the more of these characters will disappear until only the ones I truly believe in and care about are still there. It's not a matter of finding "good" or "bad" characters; to me it's not even a matter of finding "believable" characters. The only thing I care about is if I'm feeling something for them. If I don't care, you won't either. So the ones that I can't get out of my head, the ones I feel like I have met and understand and whose stories are really getting to me, they're the only ones who make it into the book. They can't stay characters to me; they have to become people. I have to want to defend them. And if the question is "How do you craft characters?" I think my only answer is: through their relationships. Who is this person in other people's eyes? Who was hurt by this person and how? Who is laughing with this person? Who loves this person? In Anxious People, everyone is described first and foremost by their relationship with others, I think.

The narrative works around the truth in a lot of ways, with characters sharing their own perspective in a way that obfuscates what's actually happening. It reminds me of the way anxious thoughts and assumptions can sometimes control the way we evaluate the world around us. Did you want to evoke that feeling with the structure of your book?

Honestly: No. I never thought about it quite like that. But, of course, the point of telling the story the way I did, with describing something that happens from different people's viewpoints, was to keep the reader guessing what actually took place. I think that idea came in part from a discussion I had with a friend who has three siblings. She said, "In a big family, one sibling often becomes the official storyteller, and the way that sibling remembers an event becomes the official family story and everyone else just adapts." It wasn't until she was an adult and went to therapy and started talking about her childhood that she realized "Oh, wait, that wasn't what happened at ALL!" She had just heard the story at the dinner table a million times and her mind kind of decided to choose to remember the story over the actual memory. I tried to use that in the way these people tell the story about the hostage situation in the novel: Sometimes it feels like we've SEEN something happen, when in fact all that's happened is that someone TOLD us about it.

This book really asks readers to challenge their assumptions about the people around them, which is a theme that comes up often in your work. What draws you to this idea?

I'm interested in people who seem uncomplicated and ordinary but are in fact incredibly complex, I guess. Much more so than the people who go out of their way to seem special and original, but are actually the very opposite.

As the story progresses, the narrator is deciding what exactly the book is about, saying that it's about a man standing on a bridge and it isn't. Did you feel this way while writing?

Well, it goes back to one of your first questions: This was three different ideas for novels that melted into one. Since one of the ideas was to write a "locked-room mystery" it was useful to go back and forth, telling the reader what kind of story they're really reading, since this is a way of using smoke and mirrors. If I distract you enough with the emotions of the people in the room, you might not figure out what I'm doing in the background.

This story explores the differences between generations, in addition to an in-depth conversation about parenting and what being a good parent means. Is any of this informed by your own experiences?

I don't really know how to write anything without using my own experiences. The only way I know how to connect to another person who's in all other ways different from myself is to find one basic feeling that we have in common: it might be loneliness, it might be anger, it might be the fact that we both love our kids. Whatever it is, that's where I start.

Is there any one thing you hope readers take away from this book?

That's entirely up to the reader. I just tell stories. As soon as the book is in your hands, it belongs to you. Your feelings about it, good or bad, are your own. And if you at least don't feel like it was a total waste of time at the end... that's good enough for me.

More Indie Next List Great Reads

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

By Kerri Arsenault

(St. Martin's Press 9781250155931, $27.99)

"This is a beautifully written story about two small towns in Maine and the paper mill that is the foundation of their economy. It tells the much bigger story of the sacrifice of the workers, and the injustices to them and the environment. Arsenault masters the nuances of family and history, which pulled me into the story in the first few pages and kept me there. A tender and honest reveal of her own family and hometown, and a truthful history of our nation. I'll be recommending this as a must-read to our customers."

--Todd Miller, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI


By Heidi Pitlor

(Algonquin Books 9781616207915, $26.95)

"In Impersonation, Heidi Pitlor tackles a lot of big issues and makes it look effortless with her intelligence and humor. Struggling ghostwriter and solo mom Allie is so many of us: trying to do everything right but inevitably feeling as though she's getting it all wrong, unable to get ahead. I couldn't stop turning the pages to see how far she'd go to survive."
--Hannah Harlow, Book Shop of Beverly Farms, Beverly, MA

The Wright Sister

By Patty Dann

(Harper Perennial 9780062993113, $16.99, trade paper)

"The story of Katharine Wright is told here through imagined letters and diary entries. She has married late in life and as a consequence has been shunned by her brother, Orville. As a devoted confidant and caregiver to both Orville and Wilbur Wright, this is an unexpected blow. The pain of physical and emotional separation comes through clearly. At the same time, we learn about her life, told with frankness, wonder, and humor. A story that will leave readers wanting to know more about this delightful woman."

--Susan Hepburn, Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul, MN

Eat a Peach: A Memoir

By David Chang and Gabe Ulla

(Clarkson Potter 9781524759216, $28)

"This memoir by renowned chef David Chang is less a traditional memoir and more about the trials and tribulations of opening your own business, how to build and maintain a team of people, and the ups and downs of what it feels like to have all the weight on your shoulders. I relate to his story, and anyone who's ever tried to build something from nothing will feel like Chang is speaking directly to them. I loved this book."

--Michael Fusco-Straub, Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, NY

A Rogue of One's Own

By Evie Dunmore

(Berkley 9781984805706, $16, trade paper)

"Being excited about a follow-up to a debut novel can be fraught--will the second book live up to my expectations? A Rogue of One's Own absolutely did! Evie Dunmore's series (the first entry was Bringing Down the Duke) features a quartet of lively suffragettes and the men they fall in love with and bring over to The Cause. The characters are compelling and likable, the relationships solidly built. There are also some interesting tidbits for history buffs, like excerpts of actual letters written by women of the time."
--Sandy Scott, The Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, VT

Just Us: An American Conversation

By Claudia Rankine

(Graywolf Press 9781644450215, $30)

"Claudia Rankine continues to break ground and pierce our souls with her latest offering, Just Us. Always creating compelling innovative forms, she seamlessly weaves poetry, memoir, and cultural/racial research and criticism through the deeply personal lens of her cancer and biracial marriage, probing the larger questions of how Black and white Americans can both occupy the same spaces in such disparate circumstances. Just Us is brilliant, moving, deeply human, and honest. Rankine shines brighter with each book."

--Angela Spring, Duende District, Washington, DC

One by One

By Ruth Ware

(Gallery/Scout Press 9781501188817, $27.99)

"Erin and Danny are the in-house help that run a French chalet rental, and they enjoy it. But when ten people come for the week from the tech company Snoop, they get a little more than they signed up for. I've said it many times: Ruth Ware just gets better and better. I've loved all her books, but each one is better than the last. One by One is no exception."
--Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Roswell, GA


By Tiffany McDaniel

(Knopf 9780525657071, $26.95)

"In the inspiring novel Betty, Tiffany McDaniel shares a tough and gritty story based primarily on her mother's upbringing. Brimming with a sense of magic in the natural world set against the cruelty and violence within her family, Betty walks us through a childhood filled with both good and evil, and shows us that one can survive and come out the other side in one piece, fractured and whole at the same time. A book that should be read by all."

--Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT

Winter Counts

By David Heska Wanbli Weiden

(Ecco 9780062968944, $27.99)

"Weiden's book is a thriller with an important social and political message. Following a Lakota 'enforcer' who enacts extrajudicial punishment to fill the gaps in the legal system, Winter Counts is a twisty new addition to the growing Indigenous literature canon. While some of the action may fall into somewhat predictable territory, Weiden's exploration of the injustices of reservation life are vital."
--Ashley Baeckmann, Briars & Brambles Books, Windham, NY

The Big Door Prize

By M.O. Walsh

(G.P. Putnam's Sons 9780735218482, $27)

"M.O. Walsh weaves quintessential Southern charm into a quirky scenario to produce The Big Door Prize, a novel that left me curious about the parts of myself I have yet to discover. You'll recognize the characters as your own next-door neighbors while being challenged to imagine the possibilities lying just past the periphery of a comfortably crafted trajectory. The novel questions what measures a life well-lived and answers with an entertaining tale of a grand machine in a modest town. Maybe potential is immeasurable. Perhaps that is exactly what gives us all hope."

--Mary Garner Rees, Lemuria Bookstore, Jackson, MS


By Sue Miller

(Harper 9780062969651, $28.99)

"Bookstore owner Graham is a friend to all and larger than life in every way. His first wife, Frieda, and current wife, Annie, both know and love him for it. But after Graham's unexpected death, secrets emerge that bring everything Annie thought she knew into question. Daughter Sarah and stepson Lucas help her through her grief, but anger is harder to leave behind. Fans of The Most Fun We Ever Had will love this beautifully written, honest look at the deep but fragile bond of love."
--Beth Mynhier, Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest, IL

The Lying Life of Adults

By Elena Ferrante

Ann Goldstein (Transl.)

(Europa Editions 9781609455910, $26)

"Ferrante's latest novel gives an insightful and intriguing look at the life of a budding Italian teenage girl, both internally and externally. I found Ferrante's ability to delve into Giovanna's psyche fascinating, especially since I've never parented a girl and don't always feel like I understand them. Her sensitivity to the myriad of issues and the fragility of Giovanna's relationships make for a marvelous read. Ferrante is a gifted writer, and this latest offering does not disappoint. I loved this story! Fabulous read!"

--Stephanie Crowe, Page and Palette, Fairhope, AL

When No One Is Watching

By Alyssa Cole

(William Morrow Paperbacks 9780062982650, $16.99, trade paper)

"Cole's thriller exposes the underbelly of gentrification and prosperity, taking a searing look at systemic racism. When a pharmaceutical firm plans to move its headquarters to a historically Black Brooklyn neighborhood, an influx of rich white people displace Black residents from their homes and their roots. Timely, groundbreaking, and thought-provoking, When No One Is Watching is essential reading for the #BlackLivesMatter movement."
--Alyssa Raymond, Copper Dog Books, Beverly, MA

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Fumi Nakamura (Illus.)

(Milkweed Editions 9781571313652, $25)

"Aimee didn't know it at the time (or maybe she did in her mystical way), but this book was written for me and all the other brown-skinned, nature-loving, quiet-questers in the world. This beautiful package asks the reader to pick it up and go for a walk down memory lane, where you will find essays on a diversity of flora and fauna, from the dragon fruit to the narwhal, and from the corpse flower to the axolotl--all of which are gorgeously illustrated inside. Her writing asks everyone to find beauty and connection to the wonders that are nature's stories."

--Jessica Palacios, Once Upon a Time, Montrose, CA

Vesper Flights: Essays

By Helen MacDonald

(Grove Press 9780802128812, $27)

"I wish I could give Vesper Flights twelve stars out of five. In this beautiful, loving, poignant portrait of a nature lover's world--gosh, what an understatement--Helen MacDonald continues to prove herself a nature-writing powerhouse. Her literary skills make her a modern legend, and Vesper Flights is sure to touch as many hearts, if not more, than H Is for Hawk did."

--Nikki F., Bookie's Chicago, Chicago, IL

Homeland Elegies

By Ayad Akhtar

(Little Brown and Company 9780316496421, $28)

"A masterful blend of memoir and fiction, this is an unforgettable journey through the lives of a Muslim family finding their place in a post-9/11 America. A searing navigation of the loves we try to reconcile--familial, religious, societal--and the definition of home. Written with wisdom, wit, and unsparing honesty, this an important book that you will continue to contemplate for a very long time. Both intimate and epic, this is a must-read."
--Pam Stirling, East Bay Booksellers, Oakland, CA

The Exiles

By Christina Baker Kline

(Custom House 9780062356345, $27.99)

"One of the best books I've read this year! This is a meticulously researched historical fiction based on the lives of three women convicted of petty theft in England who are shipped to the convict colony of Australia, never to return to their home country. We also meet a young Aboriginal girl who weaves through this story like a phantom. There are aspects of Les Mis and The Forgotten Garden in this beautiful book. I simply adored it."

--Elizabeth Barnhill, Fabled Bookshop & Café, Waco, TX


By Susanna Clarke

(Bloomsbury Publishing 9781635575637, $27)

"It was more than 15 years ago that Susanna Clarke built a wing on the edifice of fantasy fiction unlike any seen before in the form of a debut novel called Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. After so long, I'd be grateful for any new work from her, but I'm unspeakably glad that she's again constructed something entirely new. Piranesi has a smaller footprint than her previous novel, but makes more efficient use of space, cramming an entire unsettling universe into a book far bigger on the inside than it is out."

--James Crossley, Madison Books, Seattle, WA

Transcendent Kingdom

By Yaa Gyasi

(Knopf 9780525658184, $27.95)

"Gifty immigrated from Ghana, grew up in Alabama, and is working on a PhD in neuroscience at Stanford, where she experiments with mice. She has always felt she wasn't cool enough or white enough, and tries to prove her value through her brilliance. She tells her raw and powerful story of racism, addiction, mental illness, and especially faith and prayer, all while trying hard to mend a complicated relationship with her mother. This second novel from the author of the award-winning novel Homegoing is compelling and so, so beautifully written."

--Sally Weitzen, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

The Travelers

By Regina Porter

(Hogarth 9780525576204, $17)

"Spanning over 50 years and the intersection of two centuries, The Travelers weaves together the stories of two families and in the process gives an incisive portrait of a country and society in the midst of massive social change. The author artfully moves back and forth in time as the stories emerge and converge, probing the dynamics of love and family and the bounds and conflicts inherent in both. This novel is the story of two families but universal in the America it portrays."

--Bill Cusumano, Square Books, Oxford, MS

The Topeka School

By Ben Lerner

(Picador 9781250758002, $17)

"It's the late '90s in Topeka, and high school senior Adam Gordon is partying, going to school, and preparing for a national speech and debate competition—living a life he expects to reflect back upon with irony and detachment in some urbane, imaginary future. Lerner shifts between perspectives, stealing stylistic bits from autofiction and documentary; he reinvents the way narrative can place the moments of our lives in the context of history, both global and hyper-local, exploring how history inflicts trauma onto us and how we, in turn, inflict that trauma back onto history. And he does all this while toying with language and the spaces where it breaks down as we attempt to self-define. Simply put, The Topeka School is a work of genius."

--Chris Lee, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

The Tenant

By Katrine Engberg

(Gallery/Scout Press 9781982127589, $16.99)

"Truth is stranger than fiction for two detectives and an aspiring author, characters featured in Katrine Engberg's new novel, The Tenant. No one is quite who we think they are, so we're right there with police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner as they try to unravel the multitude of threads connecting victims, possible suspects, and witnesses. Terror and thrills abound as Engberg keeps all of us guessing right up to the end. I didn't breathe a sigh of relief until the last page."

--Eileen McGervey, One More Page Books, Arlington, VA

The Sacrament

By Olaf Olafsson

(Ecco 9780062899880, $16.99)

"The Sacrament is a thoughtful, atmospheric, and quietly intense novel about how our choices have effects that must be felt our whole lives, and how we grapple with those consequences. I loved settling in with this novel."

--Catherine Bock, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN

Running with Sherman: How a Rescue Donkey Inspired a Rag-tag Gang of Runners to Enter the Craziest Race in America

By Christopher McDougall

(Vintage 9780525433255, $16.95)

"Sherman, an abused donkey adopted by Christopher McDougall and family, needs a task, and that task turns out to be joining the World Championship of burro running in Colorado. In his inimitably engaging style, McDougall has taken the best of his two previous books--the personal stories of Born to Run and the history from Natural Born Heroes--and created the most enjoyable book I've read this year. I laughed, I got teary, I smiled a lot. Sherman is my new hero!"

--Pete Mock, McIntyre's Fine Books, Pittsboro, NC

Red at the Bone

By Jacqueline Woodson

(Riverhead Books 9780525535287, $16)

"Although you can read Jacqueline Woodson's newest novel over the course of one evening, there is nothing breezy about the richness of its story, nothing short about the depth of its characters, nothing quick about the way this book stays with you after you finish reading. Told through five distinct voices, Red at the Bone tracks an African-American family through time and place as an unexpected pregnancy upends and reshapes family and class expectations as well as individual trajectories. Ultimately, the novel is about legacy in every sense of the word. And since Woodson's writing packs the emotional punch of an epic in a novella number of pages, the legacy of her book is to be read over and over again."

--Kelly Brown, Magic City Books, Tulsa, OK

Nothing to See Here

By Kevin Wilson

(Ecco 9780062913494, $16.99)

"When a politician's young wife hires her old school friend as a nanny for her two stepchildren, the main duty will be to keep the twins out of sight and out of trouble. That's because the kids' father is a senator and under serious consideration to be the next Secretary of State. But what if the children can't control themselves? Who is the best person to take care of children who are afflicted with spontaneous combustion? Obviously, a woman with no fear of fire, nothing to lose, and nothing to gain. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this unique novel explores family dynamics, resentment, and retribution, leaving the reader with a new perspective on motherhood and what it means to be loyal to those you love."

--Laura Simcox, Sunrise Books, High Point, NC

A Madness of Sunshine

By Nalini Singh

(Berkley 9780593099094, $9.99)

"Singh brings us into the wild side of New Zealand, to a tiny village where the new cop knows everybody by name and really cares about protecting them. Maya has returned to find her old school friends greatly changed--and one may be a serial killer. This thriller is compelling; the characters are fresh and exciting but realistic. The tension builds with every page turned, right up to the finale--wow!"

--Karen Bakshoian, Letterpress Books, Portland, ME

Full Throttle: Stories

By Joe Hill

(William Morrow Paperbacks 9780062200693, $18.99)

"This book of stories is a fast ride through Hill's considerable imagination. He takes us through 13 stories of suspense, from the back of a motorcycle and outrunning a murderous semi-truck driver to an American sea monster, then on to a young girl who befriends a machine, and ending with, well, the end of the world. His stories are reminiscent of a certain well-known horror writer, but are clearly his own brand of terror. I enjoyed each of them and wished that some might morph into full-length books because it was hard to let them go. I always look forward to Hill's books, and this one did not disappoint."

--Sarah Harmuth Letke, Redbery Books, Cable, WI


By Reed King

(Flatiron Books 9781250108913, $17.99)

"This book is a wild ride through a post-dissolution, post-apocalyptic United States beginning a mere decade from now and continuing to the end of the 21st century. The political, technological, and ecological disasters it envisions seem all too plausibly extrapolated from the headlines of today. Despite the litany of cascading disasters--mass extinctions, warring androids, southern California dropping into the ocean, conflicts between different corporations controlling different sections of the former USA, mind control, goat-human hybrids, and more--Reed King injects a measure of hilarity into his tale. At the same time harrowing and hysterical, this is a great book by a visionary author. Highly recommended."

--Edward Newton, The Literate Lizard, Sedona, AZ


By Angie Cruz

(Flatiron Books 9781250205940, $16.99)

"Angie Cruz is a beautiful writer with a powerful voice. Dominicana is a riveting story about family, womanhood, and what it means to be an immigrant. Ana Cancion, who's only 15, leaves her home behind for a new life in New York City with her soon-to-be husband, Juan Ruiz. Big lights, tall buildings, and a bright future constitute the promise of a new beginning. However, upon Ana's arrival, her fate untangles into something unexpected. It'll be really hard to forget these characters and the realness in their heartache. Throughout these pages, I fell in and out of love, I laughed, I cried, and I was deeply moved."

--Cristina Lebron, Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

The Chestnut Man

By Soren Sveistrup

(Harper Paperbacks 9780062895370, $16.99)

"This is the thriller of the year! The Chestnut Man is an unbelievably fast-paced and exciting page-turner. I literally had trouble putting it down so I could go to sleep! A serial killer is on the loose, a cold case kidnapping is brought back to life, and a politician is attacked from all sides. This is the kind of book Thomas Harris would write, and it's one of the best-plotted mysteries in a long time. What a wonderful group of vivid characters and what a ride! Whew!"

--William Carl, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, MA

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