On the shelf
10 books for your October reading list
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critic Bethanne Patrick recommends 10 promising titles, fiction and non-fiction, to consider for your October reading list.
October’s books will take you far: from 19th-century North Carolina to the modern Middle East, from a feuding Rastafarian family in Jamaica to a family-run Chinese restaurant in Detroit. At the heart of these powerful contributions from established (Viet Thanh Nguyen) and new (Safiya Sinclair) authors is the double bond of family and community: the way it can sustain you but also constrain or even break you. Plus: Science fiction by Walter Mosley! Happy reading.
By Melissa Broder
Scribner: 240 pages, $27
Caught between worries about her dying father and her ailing husband, a woman literally hangs her clothes and thoughts on cactus needles in the California desert. As she walks, Broder’s protagonist thinks about the novel she is writing – about a woman caught between her dying father and her ailing husband. It’s as if MC Escher and Thich Nhat Hanh made installation art, but because it’s Broder, the author of the hilariously dark, strange novel “Milk Fed,” the transgressive hallucinatory musings make sense.
By Benjamin Labatut
Penguin Press: 368 pages, $28
Are you feeling unprepared for the impending arrival of our AI overlords? Labatut, a Chilean author of twisty novels that mix scientific fact and fiction, has you covered. His latest work is about John von Neumann, the Hungarian polymath whose work on the Manhattan Project led to breakthroughs in quantum physics that continue to this day. But he’s not the title character; That honor belongs to the supercomputer MANIAC and its sinister role in humanity’s apparent determination to destroy itself.
By Justin Torres
FSG: 320 pages, $30
Say her name: Jan Gay. She was the principal investigator of a 1941 book called “Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns,” and she was a lesbian. Their work was then co-opted and published as evidence of pathology under the name George W. Henry. In this novel of storytelling, Torres (“We the Animals”) pairs his protagonist with a dying human named Juan, and the pair use edited volumes to recover personal and communal stories.
By Walter Mosley
Atlantic Monthly: 176 pages, $26
Already a master of the thriller, Mosley turns to science fiction in “Touched,” which he says is his first film many planned novellas in a genre that allows an author to break all the rules. Here, a black man named Marty experiences an unusual and disturbing week from which he awakens with supernatural powers – which he uses to foment a rebellion against an intergalactic plan to destroy life on Earth. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever read, and it’s so, so good.
Let’s get off
By Jesmyn Ward
Scribner: 320 pages, $28
From the rice fields of Carolina to the slave markets of New Orleans to a sugar plantation in Louisiana, the enslaved young woman Annis endures a hellish march and survives through memories of her warrior grandmother; her mother’s love and education; her absent love, Safi; and an anarchic group of elemental spirits. It’s no spoiler to point out that the brilliant Ward employs a Dantean structure as Annis makes her descent and eventual rebirth.
Eve: How the female body drove 200 million years of evolution
By Cat Bohannon
Knopf: 624 pages, $35
Bohannon, who has a doctorate in narrative and cognition, delves into a story almost too big to tell: how biological women influenced humanity. Without breasts and blood, uterus and placenta, our race wouldn’t have much to tell, Bohannon argues – and there may not be any tools either, as women may have been the first to figure out that they needed something to help them adapt to the world around them.
A Man with Two Faces: A Memory, a History, a Monument
By Viet Thanh Nguyen
Grove Press: 400 pages, $28
Nguyen, one of today’s greatest writers, structures his memoirs around learning how to be a man by becoming a son and then a father. Nguyen had to flee Vietnam with his family as a child and grew up in violence in San Jose – his parents were shot in their grocery store when he was 9 years old. But as he grew up and also identified as an American, he wondered about this dual heritage that so shaped his Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction. Here he reflects on how it shaped him.
How to Say Babylon: A Memoir
By Safiya Sinclair
37 Ink: 352 pages, $29
Sinclair, now a poet living in the United States, was once taught to reject all of “Babylon,” the remnants of empire that Rastafari like her father believed were keeping Jamaica from its rightful glory. Unfortunately, Sinclair’s father was a bad Rasta and a worse parent; He terrorized his family with strict rules, temper tantrums and occasional beatings. Not only is Sinclair’s writing superb, its power is matched by the story’s wild truth.
A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy
By Nathan Thrall
Metropolitan: 272 pages, $30
Reading this Middle East expert’s account of a Palestinian worker and activist and the death of his angelic five-year-old son Milad is hard – and necessary. The bus accident that killed the boy in 2012 was caused in no small part by the neglected infrastructure that makes Palestinian Jerusalem a miserable and dangerous place to live. By limiting the focus to the loss of a family, Thrall humanizes the consequences of systemic decay.
Everything I Learned I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant: A Memoir
By Curtis Chin
Little, Brown: 304 pages, $30
Chin, a filmmaker and co-founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, grew up in Detroit doing homework and eating at his family’s restaurant, Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine. His memoir focuses on the way Chung’s served as a refuge for this ABC (American-Chinese) gay boy, helping him navigate many different cultures and identities over a simple, nutritious plate of almond chicken.