On the Shelf
10 October books for your reading list
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Critic Bethanne Patrick recommends 10 promising titles, fiction and nonfiction, to consider for your October reading list.
Fall’s books come in hot through the end of September, not unlike an L.A. heat wave. But October is when the dust settles and the meatiest releases often hit — late-career tomes from the likes of John Irving; bold departures from authors like Celeste Ng; thoughtful biographies of Bob Dylan and Samuel Adams and others. Open up the windows, steep some tea and dive in.
Our Missing Hearts
By Celeste Ng
Penguin Press: 352 pages, $29
The movement called Preserving American Culture and Traditions (PACT) in Ng’s startling and beautiful new novel sounds so plausible readers might suspect for a moment that it actually exists. While a boy known as Bird seeks to find out what happened to his mother, a Chinese American poet and activist who disappeared years ago, he discovers sobering truths about racism and collaboration in a near-future dystopia different from ours only by degrees.
When We Were Sisters
By Fatimah Asghar
One World: 336 pages, $27
Already longlisted for the National Book Award, Asghar’s debut shimmers with love in the midst of neglect. Three young Pakistani sisters, Noreen, Aisha and Kausar, wind up with a terrible uncle after they are orphaned in the United States. Over years spent in one cramped bedroom keeping to the uncle’s strict schedule, their bonds become almost too strong; each must leave to make her way to adulthood.
The Last Chairlift
By John Irving
Simon & Schuster: 912 pages, $38
Love Irving’s work or not, you have to give him props for his sharp perspective on our country’s modern history in works ranging from “Cider House Rules” to “The World According to Garp.” His latest starts in 1941, when a young Aspen ski wiz named Ray falls pregnant with our protagonist, Adam. The plot loosely drapes around Adam’s quest to find his biological father, but as with most Irving plots, it’s really about how we form our own sorts of families in the late capitalist age.
Liberation Day: Stories
By George Saunders
Random House: 256 pages, $28
While Saunders has written a novel (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) and literary essays about favorite short stories (“A Swim in the Pond in the Rain”) since publishing his 2013 collection, “Tenth of December,” die-hard fans have spent this near-decade waiting for more of the form in which he is an absolute genius. His new short stories will not disappoint; when it comes to finding the uncanny in the mundane — or vice versa — Saunders has no peers.
By Dani Shapiro
Knopf: 240 pages, $28
Shapiro’s first novel in 15 years tracks three generations on one suburban street through the prism of a drunk-driving accident that unearths several terrible secrets. The author’s attention to craft is so detailed, so invisible, that 250 pages feel simultaneously taut and timeless, especially as a friendship between an elderly man and an adolescent boy allows many of the characters to attain something approaching closure.
Token Black Girl: A Memoir
By Danielle Prescod
Little A: 256 pages, $25
As fashion industry insider Prescod knows, toxic beauty standards aren’t just anti-feminist; they’re also racist. This candid and energetic memoir from the former director of style at BET follows a journey through chemical hair treatments and stringent diet-and-exercise routines and more, all of which was aimed at making herself into the opposite of who she is. But Prescod has come through the other side with wisdom to share about how to come into your true gorgeous self.
Life Is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way
By Kieran Setiya
Random House: 240 pages, $27
Setiya teaches philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so you might think he has the answers to all the existential questions. When it comes to weathering hardship and adversity, however, he readily admits there is no easy fix. Instead, philosophy contains equipment that can help you survive and find renewed hope, if you know how to use it.
Making a Scene: A Memoir
By Constance Wu
Scribner: 336 pages, $29
The acclaimed comic actor (“Crazy Rich Asians”) debunks stereotypes of Asian Americans (and rumors of on-set chilliness) in a memoir about going from a well-behaved Virginia girlhood to Hollywood stardom and its own outsize expectations. It was when Wu channeled her own background into the role of the Taiwanese American mom in “Fresh Off the Boat” that she found her creative voice and began to understand its importance for others too.
Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs
By Greil Marcus
Yale: 288 pages, $28
No man, not even the famously enigmatic Bob Dylan, can be an enigma to his biographer. From “Blowing in the Wind” to “Murder Most Foul,” Marcus mines the music of the artist from Minnesota’s Iron Range for its deeply American soul. As in all his books, the heralded rock critic combines interviews, liner notes, research and criticism to provide a cultural biography that shows how closely Dylan has followed the news and the zeitgeist over his seven-decade career.
The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams
By Stacy Schiff
Little, Brown: 432 pages, $33
Step aside, Thomas Jefferson; let’s talk about the man whose devotion to resistance behavior makes him, for some, the most essential figure in the American Revolution. Samuel Adams comes to electrifying life through this Pulitzer Prize-winning historian’s meticulous research and dynamic storytelling as a man of principle and persuasion. There was also Adams’ devotion to stealth and secrecy, which may be why it’s taken so long to tease out his unusual story.
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