Between the Lines: Cracking the cover on fall nonfiction

This week, we return to our preview of the fall book season, with a look at nonfiction titles.

Biographies seem to be taking center stage, and include intimate looks inside the lives of Anjelica Huston, Jennifer Lopez, Bill Cosby, Gail Sheehy, Carlos Santana, John McEnroe and many others.

This sampling of titles is arranged alphabetically by authors’ last names. Some titles are on sale now; for the others, the upcoming publishing dates are noted. Our preview of fall fiction can be seen at

▪ “Charlie Chaplin” by Peter Ackroyd (Nan A. Talese $26, 304 pages; on sale Oct. 28): Instead of another academic, lengthy analysis of the silent-movie icon’s filmography, biographer-novelist Ackroyd offers a relatively brief and to-the-point look at Chaplain’s personal life and times, with plenty of amusing anecdotes.

▪ “The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion” by Meghan Daum (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 256 pages; Nov. 18): The author of “My Misspent Youth” (2001) returns to once again take on the vicissitudes of early middle age – the death of a parent, the dating market, the “marriage-industrial complex,” the choice of not having children and the pitfalls of the digital age.

▪ “Not That Kind of Girl” by Lena Dunham (Random House, $28, 288 pages): If you’ve watched the HBO series “Girls” – created by and starring Dunham – you know what you’re in for. Expect frank, funny and poignant scenes from life among the urban 20-something crowd, along with blunt advice. As she writes, “I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the front lines of that struggle.”

▪ “Thrown” by Kerry Howley (Saraband, $16, 288 pages): Howley devoted three years to following two cage fighters as they traveled a national circuit, taking readers deep into the subculture of mixed martial arts.

▪ “Watch Me” by Anjelica Huston (Scribner, $28, 400 pages; Nov. 11): In intimate and often funny style, the Academy Award-winning actress (“Prizzi’s Honor,” 1985) details her glory years in Hollywood, her longtime relationship with actor Jack Nicholson, and her dealings with many of Hollywood’s top directors. Acting is in her genes – her father was director John Huston, her grandfather was actor Walter Huston.

▪ “The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution” by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, $35, 544 pages): The brilliant Isaacson follows his mega-selling 2011 biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs with this detailed account of the legendary and unsung people who invented the computer and then the Internet. Isaacson also wrote biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.

▪ “True Love” by Jennifer Lopez (Celebra, $30, 288 pages; Nov. 4): The singer-dancer-designer-producer details the behind-the-scenes of her marriages, divorces and other personal challenges, and the lessons she has learned – or almost learned. Filled with never-before-public photos.

▪ “My Heart Is a Drunken Compass” by Domingo Martinez (Globe Pequot, $27, 320 pages; Nov. 4): Martinez’s “The Boy Kings of Texas” was a National Book Award finalist, a memoir about growing up in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. It ended with his fiance’s car accident, which put her into a coma. This sequel shows that no matter how great the tragedy, we do survive.

▪ “Weightless: My Life As a Fat Man and How I Escaped” by Gregg McBride (Central Recovery, $18, 280 pages): The alternating funny-tragic memoir doesn’t back off, detailing his life at 450 pounds and then at 200 pounds. A remarkable journey.

▪ “But Seriously” by John McEnroe (Little, Brown, $28, 400 pages; Oct. 28): The former “bad boy” of tennis follows his first memoir, “You Cannot Be Serious,” with another frank remembrance of his career and private life, dropping plenty of celebrity names as he volleys.

▪ “On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom” by Dennis McNally (Counterpoint, $28, 384 pages): This scholarly examination of the roots of American music and its cultural evolution encompasses ragtime, blues, jazz, folk, country, big band, swing and good ol’ rock ’n’ roll. At the party, we meet the key players of the day.

▪ “American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide To the Formerly Funny” by Christopher Miller (Harper, $35, 544 pages): The self-described “gerontologist of mirth” explores “the things that used to make Americans laugh,” culled from our culture during the early- to mid-20th century – castor oil, newlyweds on honeymoon, married sex, ladies clubs, absentminded professors, snoring, novelty postcards, gag gifts, pratfalls. A thoughtful compendium.

▪ “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control” by Walter Mischel (Little, Brown, $30, 336 pages): The test made famous in the 1960s was simple: Would a child choose one marshmallow now, or two later? After 50 years of studying willpower, psychologist Mischel (and inventor of the test) explains the long-term ramifications of delayed gratification.

▪ “The Universal Tone: My Life” by Carlos Santana (Little, Brown, $30, 544 pages): The legendary rock guitarist journeys from his start in the bars of Tijuana, to his star-making performances at the Fillmore in San Francisco and at Woodstock, and through his bumpy career. His 1999 comeback album, “Supernatural,” earned nine Grammy awards.

▪ “Daring: My Passages” by Gail Sheehy (William Morrow, $30, 496 pages): Though this is her 17th book, the ground-breaking mega-star journalist is best known for 1976’s “Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life,” named among the 10 most influential books of modern times by the Library of Congress. Here, she recalls her life with editor-mentor Clay Felker (founder of New York magazine), her interviews with world leaders, and her ambitions and struggles.

▪ “Swimming With Warlords” by Kevin Sites (Harper, $16, 416 pages): The global journalist first visited Afghanistan in 2001, and multiple times afterward, through 2013. Through numerous interviews, he explores how the country’s dynamics have changed.

▪ “Naked and Marooned” by Ed Stafford (Plume, $16, 320 pages): The adventurer walked the length of the Amazon River and has the Guinness World Record to prove it. His next act: maroon himself on a desert island in the South Pacific and survive for two months with no food, water or clothes – just a video camera for documentation.

▪ “Deep Down Dark” by Hector Tobar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 320 pages): The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist takes readers into the copper-gold mine that collapsed in Chile in 2010, trapping 33 men for 69 days. This is their story of survival and the global repercussions that followed. Tobar had exclusive access to the miners and their families.

▪ “Cosby” by Mark Whitaker (Simon & Schuster, $30, 544 pages): The biography examines the non-comedic side of Bill Cosby, and features interviews with 60 of his closest friends and associates. The author calls Cosby “entertainment’s Jackie Robinson, smashing racial barriers and teaching hard truths to the black community.”

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.

Fall nonfiction pick

Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers and Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair

Penguin, $30, 432 pages; on sale Oct. 30

Vanity Fair has always been a magazine devoted to popular culture, current affairs and fashion, but what’s animated in one decade is likely to be lifeless by the next. Since VF’s resuscitation in 1983, it’s often been difficult to distinguish it from the many other celebrity-centric newsstand periodicals with covers showing scantily clad actresses and yet one more look at George Clooney’s smile and Brad Pitt’s dimples. Much of the journalism, too, has become somewhat fawning.

Things weren’t always so. During its first lifetime, from 1913 to 1936, VF published essays and articles by the literary elite of the day, writers who brought wit and insight to their work and who were unknowingly defining a unique era on the verge of a sea change – Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, Noel Coward, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Aldous Huxley among them.

Happily, those early works are again in front of readers in this collection, sans the bustiers and after-party coverage.