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Autumn Vibes: 14 Books to Read in October

This month's noteworthy and new books include titles from Alice McDermott, John Grisham and Jonathan Lethem / BY Nathalie Atkinson / October 5th, 2023

With the days getting shorter, it’s a great time to cosy up with a great new read. Buzzy titles from bestselling authors like Alice McDermott, John Grisham and Jonathan Lethem intermingle with inventive genre fiction in our pick of the best new novels to read this October.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image.

1The MANIACby Benjamin Labatut

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” If J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famously defining quote is still ringing in your ears after Christopher Nolan’s biopic, cue up this philosophical foray from Labatut, the International Booker Prize-shortlisted Chilean author of When We Cease to Understand the World (also one of the New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year in 2021). The ambitious novel about pioneering Hungarian computer-science prodigy John von Neumann (and other geniuses) spans a century, beginning with Einstein’s heyday, to tackle the disquieting issues at the frontiers of human invention: nuclear war, climate change and AI. (Oct. 3)

2Death Valleyby Melissa Broder

Can’t get enough of the L.A.-based poet’s Twitter account with the cult following @sosadtoday? Loved her weird and funny novels Milk Fed and The Pisces? This moving, darkly funny and dreamlike hallucination about alienation and grief will be right up your alley. A woman retreats to a motel in the California high desert for respite from caregiving duties for her husband and father; on a gruelling hike, she steps inside a door that leads into a huge cactus. Surrealism, naturally, abounds. (Oct. 3)

3Brooklyn Crime Novelby Jonathan Lethem

Lethem returns to the setting of his beloved 2003 novel, The Fortress of Solitude — the Boerum Hill neighbourhood where he grew up on Dean Street. The consummate New York writer may now live on the West Coast, but his former stomping grounds provide the canvas for an unsentimental chronicle of cultural transformation and gentrification in Brooklyn. Interrelated vignettes from the 1930s to the 2010s (and, especially, the ’70s) bring granular elements of the borough’s bygone days to life. (Oct. 3)

4The Oceans and the Starsby Mark Helprin

A Navy captain and former Seal approaching the end of his decorated career simultaneously falls in love late in life and falls afoul of his superiors; he’s thus sent on a doomed mission aboard a warship that is the last of its line. Helprin weaves conscience, action, war stories and nautical tales into this epic novel. As with his No. 1 bestseller, Winter’s Tale, it’s both grand and intimate in its eloquence, with deft and heartfelt page-turning prose. (For military aficionados, it’s also incredibly well researched, with abundant detail on tactics, weaponry and the inner workings of naval life.) It’s the story of moral dilemmas in personal relationships, and larger issues of crimes against civilians. (Oct. 3)

5The Cobra and the Keyby Sam Shelstad 

Toronto writer Sheila Heti is a fan of Shelstad, who just won the Crime Writers of Canada Award for best first crime novel (Citizens of Light). Hot on its heels is this wry and amusing literary satire, in the form of a creative writing guide by a soon-to-be successful (surely!) debut novelist, who lives with his uncle and works at Value Village. (Oct. 10)

6The Premonitionby Banana Yoshimoto 

Thirty years after Kitchen took North America by storm, the Japanese gen-X phenomenon’s other ’80s bestseller is finally translated into English. The 1988 novel is about a 19-year-old who sets out on a journey of rediscovery of herself and her past when she moves in with her mysterious aunt. (Oct. 10)

7The Exchangeby John Grisham

The 1991 legal thriller The Firm was Grisham’s very first bestseller: it made him famous and then became a blockbuster Tom Cruise movie with Gene Hackman, which is now marking its 30th anniversary. In this highly anticipated sequel set 15 years later, ambitious lawyer Mitch McDeere and his wife, Abby, are living in New York where Mitch is now a jet-setting partner in a global firm. Similar corporate intrigue ensues around the secrets discovered when one of his associates is kidnapped during a trip to Libya and he has to broker the ransom deal. (Oct. 17)

8Bluebeard’s Castleby Anna Biller

Feminist Japanese American filmmaker Anna Biller’s movies The Love Witch and Viva have deservedly garnered a following, and I’m thrilled she’s channeled her singular aesthetic into this campy modern gothic and given the classic folk tale a feminist makeover. Call it an erotic Jane Eyre — one that both revels in and subverts the genre tropes to explore, among other things, why women like her heroine, Judith (a gothic romance writer, natch), stay in bad relationships with brooding men. (Oct.10)

9The Future Futureby Adam Thirlwell

The London writer’s latest is billed as an historical novel like no other. It certainly subverts the tradition, considering the playful alternate history spans 18th-century France, colonial America and a lunar commune in 2251. In hypnotic prose, the inventive story begins during the French Revolution’s violent Reign of Terror, with the scandal sheets printing stories about a teen socialite named Celine. Not unlike Lauren Groff’s Matrix, it goes on to explore how Celine and her friends reclaim their power with the tools they have (social capital, mainly) to challenge and upend the patriarchy. (Oct.17)

10Juliaby Sandra Newman

The appetite for reconsidering history and revisiting classic fiction from alternate points of view (think: Pat Barker’s feminist retelling of The Iliad in The Silence of the Girls and Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet) continues with this recounting of incidents from George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four from the perspective of Winston’s lover, the eponymous Julia. The New York-based American author’s feminist spin is fully authorized by the Orwell Estate and tipped as one of the major reads of the season. (Oct. 24)  

11Bournvilleby Jonathan Coe

For his most ambitious state-of-the-nation novel yet, Coe (Middle England, Number 11) examines the changing social, economic and cultural landscape of the United Kingdom and its relation to Europe by following four generations of a family, from VE Day through the coronavirus pandemic, with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the 1966 World Cup final in between. They live in Bournville, the quiet 19th-century factory village founded by the Cadbury chocolate family and, as cracks appear between generations, we discover what unites and what divides them, and the country. (Oct. 27)

12Let Us Descendby Jesmyn Ward

Ward, the first woman and first Black American to win the National Book Award twice (for Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones), goes the historical fiction route for her fourth novel, an elemental story about grief, love and recovery set on a rice plantation in the Carolinas, where an enslaved teen, Annis, works alongside her mother before each is sold to other plantations. The acclaimed American novelist (also a professor of English at Tulane University in New Orleans) follows Annis’ harrowing journey deeper into the South, describing her struggles and resilience, and deliberately invokes Dante’s Inferno with the novel’s title.  (Oct. 24)

13Absolutionby Alice McDermott 

Two very different American women meet in Saigon while stationed there with their families in 1963, and the narrative, recounted 60 years later, considers how that time shaped their lives. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, McDermott plumbs the impulses to altruism and society’s expectations of women and wives. Ann Patchett calls the latest from the D.C.-based 1998 National Book Award winner (for Charming Billy) a “moral masterpiece” and one of the finest contemporary novels she’s ever read. (Oct. 31)

14The Gluttonby A.K. Blakemore

Blakemore’s acclaimed debut, The Manningtree Witches, brought the 17th-century Essex witch hunts to life. Now, the London writer takes inspiration from a true story about the Great Tarare (a.k.a. the Glutton of Lyon), the 18th-century French peasant who famously became a human attraction by devouring everything he could — and many things he shouldn’t — for money. Misadventures among the underclass are brought on by his inexplicable bottomless hunger (recorded in medical papers at the time) and make for an elaborate banquet of prose, with exquisite sensuous and sordid detail. (Oct. 31)


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