10 Must-Read Books for October 2015


October is traditionally one of the best months for both fiction and nonfiction, and this year is no different. But instead of taking up precious real estate to argue this point here in the introduction, I’ll just casually prove it by listing some books I left off the list this month:

Slade House, David Mitchell

City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg

The Mark and the Void, Paul Murray

Thirteen Ways of Looking, Colum McCann

I realize the weight, stature, all-around literary heft of the above writers, but the books below are true must-reads. Also, stay tuned for a list of horror fiction out this month.


Vertigo, Joanna Walsh (Dorothy Books, October 1)

I’m not one for consumer reports, but at this point you should just dish out the $120 for Dorothy’s entire catalogue. Each fall, the small press releases two books simultaneously, and each fall — without fail — the books are among the best of the year.

This year belongs to Marianne Fritz’s The Weight of Things and Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo. I think you get the point by now that both are worth your time, but Walsh’s book of linked stories in particular is important. Walsh’s writing is visual, clear-eyed, a kind of mix (somehow) of Marie NDiaye and Elena Ferrante. Years from now when you’re still reading her work, you’ll remember that you started here.

Eyes: Novellas and Stories, William Gass (Knopf, October 15)

William Gass, as I have written many times, is probably the best sentence writer in the English language, but he is also one of our more idiosyncratic storytellers. One thing about Gass is that his stories and novellas can pack the emotional and intellectual weight of other writers’ novels. There are six to be found in Eyes.

Submission, Michel Houellebecq, trans. Lorin Stein (FSG, October 20)

The most controversial novelist in the West, Houellebecq is also possibly its most misunderstood. It’s worth remembering that Houellebecq was being satirized on the cover of Charlie Hebdo — for this novel, about the rise of a Muslim politician in France — when the magazine’s staff was cruelly murdered. This fact alone puts some critical distance between the literally toothless French writer and that publication’s editorial agenda. No matter what you believe going in, though, Submission is the year’s most debate-worthy novel.

A Strangeness in My Mind, Orhan Pamuk (Knopf, October 20)

A polyphonic fiction about a luckless man who sells alcohol on the streets of Istanbul, A Strangeness in My Mind is Nobel Prize winner Pamuk’s first novel in eight years.

Rails Under My Back, Jeffery Renard Allen (Graywolf, October 20)

If you’re going to read a big book this month, forget the million-dollar darlings of big publishing and instead immerse yourself in Rails Under My Back, the debut novel of Jeffery Renard Allen — now reissued, 15 years after its first appearance. It tells the story of two postwar black families in a prose that searches for and finds a distinct, idiomatic music. And it somehow brings together Ralph Ellison, Henry Roth, and Dostoevsky.


M Train, Patti Smith, (Knopf, October 6)

It’s been five years since Smith won the National Book Award for Just Kids, although it hardly seems that way for those who have read and reread it ever since. Smith’s new book, M Train, which she calls “a roadmap to her life,” and which looks achingly at her many travels and beloved works of art and literature, will almost certainly beckon her readers back for more.

Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal, Jay Parini (Doubleday, October 13)

One of the year’s most important literary biographies examines one of American postwar literature’s grandest writers and personalities. As the bumper sticker said: “You’ll get more with Gore.”

Looking at Pictures, Robert Walser, trans. Susan Bernofsky, Lydia Davis, Christopher Middleton (New Directions/Christine Burgin, October 20)

A veiled ars poetica by one the greatest writers of the 20th century, this tiny book could eliminate entire libraries that try to explain “how to read a picture.”

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir, Carrie Brownstein (Riverhead, October 27)

The life of Brownstein — actor, riot grrrl icon, member of arguably the world’s greatest band — is always of interest to her many fans, who can now add “skilled memoirist” to her list of accomplishments.

The Givenness of Things: Essays, Marilynne Robinson (FSG, October 27)

These essays from perhaps America’s greatest novelist blend the theoretical sophistication of a philosopher with a preacher’s ability to prevail upon the spirit — and it’s all brought together with the essayistic repose of Emerson.