Between the Lines: True tales for fall reading

“Deep South” by Paul Theroux
“Deep South” by Paul Theroux

We offered a sampler list of new fall fiction in this space last week. Now we return to our preview of the fall book season with a look at nonfiction titles.

Biographies, autobiographies and memoirs take center stage again this year, with intimate looks at the lives of Douglas Fairbanks, Chrissie Hynde, Frank Sinatra, Patti Smith, Gore Vidal, Ruth Reichl and 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

“The 50s: The Story of a Decade,” edited by Henry Finder (Random House, $35, 784 pages, Oct. 27): The New Yorker has compiled some of the most decade-defining pieces it published in the 1950s, by the most astute writers of the day including Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Eudora Welty and John Cheever.

“The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks” by Tracey Goessel (Chicago Review Press, $35, 560 pages): Before there was swashbuckler Errol Flynn or womanizer Richard Burton, silent-movie idol Douglas Fairbanks was the biggest star of his day. It was said that he was so much larger than life that he carried it in his hip pocket. Included are his previously unpublished love letters to his wife, legendary actress Mary Pickford.

“Reckless: My Life As a Pretender” by Chrissie Hynde (Doubleday, $27, 336 pages): “Chaos and disorder were to be ongoing themes for me,” the rock ’n’ roller writes in her startling autobiography,” about which she has said on book tour, “My parents would have been mortified.” The Pretenders’ provocative singer-songwriter traveled the world with her band in the 1970s-’80s, playing such hits as “Brass In Pocket.”

“Sinatra: The Chairman” by James Kaplan (Doubleday, $35, 992 pages, on sale Oct. 27): Perhaps no one knows more about the intimate details of Frank Sinatra’s life and times than biographer Kaplan, who wrote the best-selling “Frank: The Voice” (2010). Part 2 of the biography, “The Chairman,” focuses on Sinatra’s mature Rat Pack years and beyond, including the scandals and the legendary recording sessions.

“Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear” by Margee Kerr (Public Affairs, $27, 288 pages): The study of what scares us is the sociologist’s specialty, as demonstrated by her first-person tour of frightening places (Japan’s “suicide forest”) and experiences (hanging by a rope from a skyscraper).

“Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myth of Autonomy” by David A. Mindell (Viking, $28, 272 pages, on sale Tuesday): Science fiction has become science as we find more and more uses for robots. The MIT professor explores the “hidden world” of robotics and the controversial relationship between humankind and what it has created.

“Tales From the Back Row” by Amy Odell (Simon & Schuster, $25, 240 pages): Cosmopolitan editor Odell was curious about what it’s like to work in the New York fashion industry, so she jumped in. This behind-the-fashion-show curtains tell-all introduces readers to a cast of cool and bizarre characters who fuel the biz and have fun doing it.

“Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal” by Jay Parini (Doubleday, $35, 480 pages, on sale Tuesday): Vidal’s longtime friend Parini explores the storied life of the bon vivant-writer-intellectual, who was on intimate terms with many of the 20th century’s biggest names in the arts, entertainment and politics. Thirty-five years before the emergence of the LGBT community, Vidal addressed gender identity and transsexuality in his satirical novel “Myra Breckenridge.”

“Thunder and Lightning” by Laren Redniss (Random House, $35, 272 pages, Oct. 27): The National Book Award finalist and author of “Radioactive” delivers a “weather report” like no other. It’s a fascinating examination of how the weather has shaped our social, agricultural, political and economic lives through the ages.

“But Enough About Me” by Burt Reynolds (with Jon Winokur; Putnam, $28, 320 pages, Nov. 17): The veteran actor was a sex symbol and box-office draw in the 1970s and ’80s, with 1972’s “Deliverance” his breakthrough film. In this autobiography-memoir, he looks back at a long, wild ride.

“My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Changed My Life” by Ruth Reichl (Random House, $35, 352 pages): As editor of Gourmet magazine, Reichl was devastated when media titan Conde Nast abruptly shut it down in 2009. Hurting and out of a job, Reichl spent a healing year in her kitchen, rediscovering cooking. This cookbook-memoir is the product of her healing process.

“M Train” by Patti Smith (Knopf, $25, 272 pages): The artist-performer’s “meditation” on her life and travels reveals a moody, multitalented woman (the “punk-rock poet laureate”) who has seen it all and done most of it. Smith won a 2010 National Book Award for “Just Kids,” her memoir of her friendship with late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

“My Life On the Road” by Gloria Steinem (Random House, $28, 304 pages, Oct. 27): For more than four decades, the feminist-activist has traveled the world on “radical adventures” for her myriad causes. Now she shares those experiences, noting, “Taking to the road – by which I mean letting the road take you – changed who I thought I was.”

“Deep South” by Paul Theroux (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, 464 pages): The acclaimed novelist-travel writer spent four seasons driving the backroads of Southern states, discovering provincial foods, native arts and folksy storytellers. He also found heartbreaking poverty, unemployment and academically disgraceful schools.

“Keep Moving” by Dick Van Dyke (with Todd Gold; Weinstein Books, $26, 264 pages, on sale Tuesday): Pushing 90, the multitalented song-and-dance man shares his vast store of geriatric knowledge in a memoir that offers “tips and truths about aging.” “Make living a life achievement,” he writes, “and keep moving.”

“ESPN: The Making of a Sports Media Empire” by Travis Vogan (University of Illinois Press, $20, 288 pages, on sale Thursday): The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network went from a niche curiosity to a cultural mainstay with the power to shape sports in every way. Here’s how that happened.

“Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine” by Damon Tweedy (Picador, $26, 304 pages): As early as medical school and throughout his career, Tweedy found that racial issues and medicine are inseparable. He goes further with an examination of the cultural causes of many African Americans’ health issues.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe