10 Must-Read Books For October


It’s the spookiest month of the year, so it’s the perfect time to get some fresh new reading material to keep you warm. October has a mix of big releases by big authors you should pay attention to every time out, National Book Award longlist entries that are worth a glance, and a mix of wild stories that are perfect fall reading.

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (October 2)

Yes, Marlon James’ third novel swirls around the 1976 assassination attempt on the life of Bob Marley. And, yes, Michiko Kakutani wrote a paroxysm-inducing endorsement that catcalls Tarantino, Oliver Stone, and “ganja.” Ignore this critical weirdness, though, and you’ll find an exuberant, Balzacian novel by self-described “post-post colonialist” writer who is at ease with several canons, traditions, and dialects. You’ll also find a political novel on the level of Don DeLillo. It’s the rare “revelation” that will easily outlive its hype-cycle. — Jonathon Sturgeon

Marilynne Robinson, Lila (October 7)

Marilynne Robinson is one of those secrets that is not so much whispered as shouted. She’s won the Pulitzer! And A National Humanities Medal! And she was recently longlisted for a National Book Award. Still, her Gilead trilogy, now a tetralogy, is underread, especially by younger readers. One of the problems is that her fiction is always pitched as overtly religious — and it is. But hopefully her new novel, Lila, will reveal to readers an overlooked dimension of her fiction: it is deeply existential in tone. A book about the split life of the title character, Lila charts the transition of a homeless, nearly feral girl into a woman who questions everything: class, marriage, comfort, gender. It’s strange, once again, that the most radical book of the season may be seen as the most conservative. — Jonathon Sturgeon

Yochi Dreazen, The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War (October 7)

Dreazen writes about the Graham family’s battle to change the stigma of PTSD in the military. It’s a mission that emerged from when the military family lost both of their sons to war — one during battle, one to suicide. The reaction to each death was very different, and this heartening piece of reportage shows how the Grahams are changing what we think about the human cost of war. — Elisabeth Donnelly

Amy Jo Burns, Cinderland: A Memoir (October 7)

In this tough, moving memoir, Burns writes vividly about the town she grew up in, and the divides that occurred when a beloved piano teacher was accused of sexually assaulting his students. In a case that is all too familiar these days, the trauma tore the town apart, with the girls who came forward ruining their reputations and the girls who stayed quiet — including Burns — living with the secret. Burns turns an unflinching eye on her childhood, and writes about forgiveness in brutal, beautiful prose. — Elisabeth Donnelly

Jane Smiley, Some Luck (October 7)

Like Marilynne Robinson, Jane Smiley has won the Pulitzer for fiction that takes place in Iowa. Like, Robinson, too, Smiley has been nominated for a National Book Award for her new novel. But as Robinson’s Gilead tetralogy now (possibly) concludes, Smiley is opening up a new trilogy with Some Luck, a family saga that follows the Langdon family through three decades of life in America, beginning (of course) in Iowa. Rumor has it that the trilogy, taken as a whole, will span an entire American century, which would certainly make it one of the most ambitious projects in recent American fiction. — Jonathon Sturgeon

William J. Mann, Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood (October 14)

First off: this book may solve a cold case. If that doesn’t get you in the door, it is also an entertainingly written look at roaring ’20s Hollywood, ambitious young actresses, the emergence of the studio system, and the murder of one William Desmond Taylor, the president of the Motion Picture Directors Association. — Elisabeth Donnelly

James Essinger, Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age (October 14)

Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution is the big, National Book Award longlisted science-minded history out this month, but if you want to focus on just one singular genius, start with this story. It’s about a woman who was born to notoriety, as Lord Byron’s daughter, who ended up writing the first computer program and changing the world. — Elisabeth Donnelly

Mandy Aftel, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent (October 16)

Mandy Aftel is an “internationally known artisan perfumer,” and in her latest book, she probes into the history of some of our most evocative scents, from cinnamon to jasmine. — Elisabeth Donnelly

William Gibson, The Peripheral (October 28)

William Gibson’s Neuromancer, written in 1984, has been nearly as influential on a generation of doom-and-gloom techno-fictions as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was on post-war dystopia. More consistent than Thomas Pynchon, more terrifying than J.G. Ballard, Gibson is back with The Peripheral, his first book set in the future since 1999’s All Tomorrow’s Parties. Well, it’s actually set in two futures. One, not so distant, involves 3D-printed illegal drugs. The other future, some seventy years later, revolves around the deployment of “peripherals,” or bio-manufactured human drone bodies. The more you think about it, the less crazy it sounds. — Jonathon Sturgeon

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (October 7)

The sham notion of a post-racial America is now a talking point (for talking heads) on network and cable news. But as repeated acts of police brutality against unarmed black citizens are transformed into an amorphous spectacle, one thing is too often left out of the picture: the vicissitudes of black life in a racist society. Claudia Rankine’s new book of poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric — with its prose stanzas balanced on a fulcrum of resilience and rage — restores the intimacy of daily struggle to an often desaturated image of American life. Thankfully, Rankine was recently elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. And last month she was longlisted for a National Book Award. I’d consider her a favorite. — Jonathon Sturgeon