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'Tis
As the days grow shorter, the leaves on Central Park's dried-out trees, instead of turning red or orange or gold, ought to be turning green. Shamrock green. The flood of Eire-centric prose runs unabated this fall, flush with "feckin' eejits," full pints, and empty stomachs. The most eagerly awaited is local hero Frank McCourt's sequel, which takes up where the Pulitzer Prize- winning Angela's Ashes left off: McCourt returns to America -- more specifically, to a room made out of the end of a hall, on East 68th Street. He turns New York into another world, giving us the view from behind the dustpan in the Biltmore's Palm Court, behind a notebook as a part-timer at NYU, behind the teapot (mother Angela, visiting her successful sons, rejects the modern tea bag out of hand). If, toward the end, McCourt's bonhomie flags, it's the flagging of fulfillment. He assimilates: marries a Protestant, divorces, becomes a baby-boomer worried about quality time with his daughter, the death of his parents. In happiness, Irish hilarity despairs. (September 21; Scribner; $26.)
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The Great Shame
Thomas Keneally's book, subtitled And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World, takes the story line of the McCourts' success around the world, exhaustively documenting the famines and forces that robbed Ireland of her population and gave the underclass the chance to rise. In the first tale, the Schindler's List author turns to his wife's family history: Hugh Larkin, a poor tenant farmer, was shipped to Australia in chains. After his term of imprisonment, he bigamously married a fellow convict and fathered an antipodal dynasty. For the humble Larkin, and for patriot Thomas Patrick Meagher and Fenian author John Boyle O'Reilly, getting caught was the best thing that ever happened to them. (September 14; Doubleday; $35.)
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A Star Called Henry
Whereas Keneally's chunky history is all work, Roddy Doyle's novel is all play. Doyle's virtuosic command of voice practically sings you through a bloody, and bloody awful, patch of Irish history, speaking directly from the forming consciousness of an unlikely (and fictional) IRA assassin, Dublin urchin, and comically great lover. An Irish Zelig, Henry Smart is able to talk his way into anything, riding a seatless bike across Ireland, singing his own praises: "He fought like a lion with an Irishman's heart / The pride of all Gaels was young Henry Smart." (September 13; Viking; $24.95.)
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The New New Thing
Michael Lewis, it is rumored, is still finishing his presciently titled book on the Silicon follies -- old-fashioned book publishing just can't keep up with technology. But Lewis, searching for a new new thing of his own since his eighties-encapsulating Liar's Poker, is trying. The one chapter his publisher was willing to show focuses on the valley's grunts, brilliant engineers, often from India, who hop from company to company writing code and seeking the big payday. Ironically, America's future is being programmed by noncitizens: "The definitive smell inside a Silicon Valley start-up was of curry." (October 25; Norton; $25.95.)
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Rembrandt's Eyes
Simon Schama spends almost 200 lavishly illustrated pages elsewhere -- at the front of the Netherlands war, with Peter Paul Rubens in Spain, with Rubens's father, Jan, in bed with Princess Anna of Orange. And when he does get to Van Rijn, he presents the artist behind a mask. Schama writes fluidly as historian, novelist, art critic, and sleuth, dwelling on Rembrandt's patrons, possessions, and lady loves, then turning his magnifying glass on the bodies as they appear in his paintings. It's a masterly combination of research and dash. (November 17; Knopf; $50.)
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The Code Book
Best-selling author Simon Singh, who made Fermat's Enigma a must-read, returns with a book (subtitled The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Quantum Cryptography) mixing true tales of enciphering genius -- the Navajo code talkers of World War II, the still-unsolved Beale ciphers, a code we can download to prevent Big Brother from spying on our e-mail -- with code-breaking tricks of the trade, manual and mathematical. (September 14; Doubleday; $24.95.)
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Wonders of the African World/Africana
The indefatigable Henry Louis Gates Jr. has two books out this fall, Wonders of the African World, a companion volume (though not a mere coffee-table book) to his PBS travelogue of the same name, and the weighty Africana, an encyclopedia of Africa and the diaspora, co-conceived with Harvard colleague Kwame Anthony Appiah. The 2,144-page Africana, first dreamed up by W.E.B. Du Bois, is meant to be a black Britannica, but it's a lot more energetic, putting Hank Aaron on the same page as Abakuás, inserting photos of both beads and boxing. Brightly laid out, it's more like a textbook than like an adult reference book; each entry's country of origin is color-coded, so that one can move from the history of Africa to that of America to that of the Caribbean, as well as from A to Z -- from "affirmative action" to "zydeco." (Wonders: October 10; Knopf; $40. Africana: November 3; Basic Civitas; $89.95.)
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The Dangerous Husband
At first, it's unclear whether Dennis, the title character of Jane Shapiro's black-coffee comedy, is more of a threat to his wife or to himself. His pickup line: "Help me . . . I'm in a mess." His idea of foreplay: removing her stockings. "Of course I didn't yet know that every time my husband would touch my stockings . . . he would leave them in shreds." Dennis's dropping things, burning things, breaking things turns their brownstone into a war zone. Shapiro describes, in deadpan, the way a loved one's quirks, charming during courtship, can turn a relationship into a till-death-do-us-part battle. (September 16; Little, Brown; $22.95.)
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The Book Borrower
Alice Mattison's novel starts with Toby Ruben and Deborah Laidlaw, and their respective children, meeting in a park. It's the seventies, it's New Haven, so Deborah is wearing a smock and Toby is wearing no bra. Deborah lends Toby a book, which she reads intermittently over their twenty-year friendship as their children grow up and their husbands grow strange. Mattison casts an admirable collection of secondary characters, but they're only plot devices, signs of the friendship's ascendancy or decay. The two can't live without each other, but sometimes it's one, sometimes the other, who's borrowing solace. (October 4; William Morrow; $24.)
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Plainsong
In Kent Haruf's stark novel, the minimally conversational inhabitants of Holt, Colorado, circle one another warily, sniffing like the animals they tend, before their lacks and gifts fit together into a self-imposed family tree. The disappearing mother is the constant: One rejects her pregnant teenager; one withdraws first to darkened rooms, then to Denver; one dies. Haruf expertly conjures the plain landscape, the plain houses, the plain words of his protagonists, who bloom, suddenly, through the exchange of blankets and information. (October 4; Knopf; $24.)
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My Garden (Book)
Jamaica Kincaid (who is fond of parentheticals) has once again chronicled her love of plants. So enamored is she of the green and the growing, her children "from time to time are furiously certain that the only thing standing between them and a perfect union with their mother is the garden," she tells us, "and from time to time they are correct." This ardor is a happy companion to Kincaid's elegant command of language; nevertheless, this book will appeal most to those prone to stealing hollyhock seeds from Claude Monet's garden or, as Kincaid did, from the Ukraine in an almost empty box of sanitary pads. (November 13; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $23.)
ARIEL LEVY

Passage to Juneau: A
Sea and Its Meanings
Probably, when Jonathan Raban set out from his Seattle home, destination Alaska, he had a clear idea of the book that would result. A philosopher's The Perfect Storm. Endurance above freezing. No one would die or go mad. He would travel the 1,000-mile Inside Passage, chatting about ill-fated explorers, salmon catches, and totem poles. In fact, it's the calls home that prove disastrous -- his father falls ill, his wife is distant. The addition of his psyche to the terrae incognitae elevates this above mere travel memoir. Packed with information, beautifully written, the book is an elegy for the simpler tale Raban wishes he could tell. It's a shipwreck, after all. (November 1; Pantheon; $26.50.)
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Who I Was Supposed to Be
The title of Susan Perabo's just-published collection of exceptional short stories makes it hard to mistake the subject matter. Her characters are searching for some way out of the desperate quagmire of their lives. The exceptional part is that they actually do things. In "Thick As Thieves," a retiree visits his rich son in L.A., only to begin stealing jewelry from the son's friends' bedrooms; in "Counting the Ways," two Econo Lodge clerks spend their freak inheritance on the gown of an unnamed celebrity princess killed in a car crash with her boyfriend. They dance with it, try not to smoke around it, and ultimately set it up on a mannequin in the corner of their tiny bedroom. They keep the dream alive. (Simon & Schuster; $20.)
VANESSA GRIGORIADIS

Iris and Her Friends
In the second of his moving, beautifully written tributes to his late wife, Iris Murdock, John Bayley considers the last year of her life, in which he somehow made "friends" with everything related to his wife, including the symptoms of her illness. It's as if he prepared himself for her death by learning to value the very things that would take her away -- confusion, insomnia, memory loss, and so on. "Even the good doctor's name, ill-omened as it might seem, can possess a droll freedom of association," he writes. "The Alzheimer, a potent vintage racing car that in its time even challenged the Bugatti? A gambling club, a select restaurant? Or when a guest praised the pâté, a youthful hostess might candidly admit that she got it at Alzheimer's." (September 27; Norton; $22.95.)
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The Century of Sex
Subtitled Playboy's History of the Sexual Revolution, 1900-1999, this Playboy product can be enjoyed without the pictures. Stars are swinging again up in the Grotto, and Hef wants to make sure this year's blondes know that the monokini was not always part of the Bill of Rights. As a chronicler of all things racy, author James R. Peterson is a fast-talking companion, free with juicy, anachronistic quotation. (November 1; Grove Press; $35.)
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Deal With It!
If the aging boys' point of view is all winks and nudges, gURL's point of view is all talk. This is an Our Bodies, Ourselves for teenagers -- minus the 100 percent-cotton politics (and Marlo Thomas) -- written by the young creators of the award-winning gURL.com Website. From "The Boob Files" to "Those Sucky Emotions," chapters cover the body, brain, life, and sexuality in concise snippets, with helpful lists of slang for body parts, drugs, and sex acts and quality reading lists. No question is too small, and no punches are pulled for parents' delicate sensibilities. (September 14; Pocket; $15.)
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Thumbsucker
Our own Walter Kirn has written his second novel. As his blurb writer puckishly suggests, since he is "an admired (and outspoken) book critic, review attention will be assured." But don't cry for Walter. His new book deftly defuses the unavoidable slings and arrows -- and is absurd, charming, and dryly humorous to boot. His hero, Justin Cobb, grows up in the Midwest, on a steady diet of Ritalin, venison, and criticism. " 'You look like a baby. . . . You're pathetic. When are you going to cut this out? My God.' " That's Dad. " 'That's your cousin Brent. . . . He wins all his track meets. He'll do well. He's handsome.' " That's Grandma. " 'My strengths . . . were drive, intensity, and an understanding of group dynamics. My weak points were glibness, resentment, sloth and arrogance.' " That's Coach. Obviously, Walter is already prepared. (October 19; Anchor; $14.)
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