In December, a book lover's thoughts turn naturally to the great writers we've lost during the year — from John Ashbery to Lillian Ross, Kate Millett and more. If there's any solace to be had, it might be in new books that periodically appear from authors no longer with us. These works could be collections of pieces that ran in various publications or not-quite-finished manuscripts massaged by an editor or, occasionally, brand new stories that never found a home. Thanks to literary executors and eager publishers, the titles in this fall's Dead Authors Returned Society include:
Jenny Diski, "The Vanishing Princess: Stories" (Ecco)
Diski died last year after a long bout with cancer, which her memoir "In Gratitude" chronicled. Now we get her only story collection, previously released in Britain, showing that whether writing nonfiction or fiction, Diski remained witty, subversive and determined to tell her truth even when it was difficult.
Umberto Eco , "Chronicles of a Liquid Society" (HMH)
You probably know this cultural superstar as the author of "The Name of the Rose" and "Foucault's Pendulum," but Eco was also an erudite academician and pundit. His quick-witted columns for the Italian magazine L'Espresso about our ever-changing, "liquid" world are collected here.
P.D. James , "Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales" (Knopf)
Baroness James of Holland Park gave birth in a shelter during the Blitz, rose to a high bureaucratic rank in Britain's National Health Service and counted Ruth Rendell among her closest friends. She also wrote some of the finest psychological mysteries around. These chilling stories, never before published, prove her literary nobility as James considers the coldest of cold cases.
Henning Mankell , "After the Fire" (Vintage)
When Mankell died in 2015, fans of his Kurt Wallander novels and their TV adaptations starring Kenneth Branagh mourned, but the author had brought those to a proper close. This new novel is elegiac and melancholic, about an elderly recluse and the house fire that changes his life in ways he might or might not want.
Sylvia Plath , "The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. 1: 1940-1956" (Harper)
Not only does this major collection include many letters previously unseen (some from Plath to Ted Hughes written just after their honeymoon), but it also includes 27 drawings by Plath and 22 previously unpublished photographs. Even the most dedicated fans will be impressed.
Oliver Sacks , "The River of Consciousness" (Knopf)
The Oxford-trained neurologist was working on this collection of essays — and "Gratitude" — until he died in 2015. Readers who encountered his mind through "Awakenings" and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" will be delighted by these pieces. Sacks considers Darwin as a botanist, the nature of time, a "false bomb" memory and more.
James Salter , "Don't Save Anything: The Uncollected Writings of James Salter" (Counterpoint)
Salter may be the only literary giant educated at the U.S. Military Academy. In this collection of his unpublished pieces, he muses on changes in American military life, alone worth the purchase price. But so are many of the other stories, articles and profiles in this book, from travelogues for big magazines to smaller musings on life in Aspen.
Kurt Vonnegut , "Complete Stories" (Seven Stories)
Editors Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield have organized these 98 stories — including five never before published — thematically ("War," "Behavior," "Futuristic," etc.). Vonnegut's agent told him once when a story was rejected, "Save it for the collection of your works which will be published someday when you become famous. Which may take a little time." So it goes.
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of "The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People."