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The 10 Best New Books This October

october

October is my favorite month for a number of reasons: fall foliage, pumpkin-flavored anything, plaid shirts, Halloween television specials from the 90s, and . . . great books to read on the season’s first crisp nights. This October features quite a few heavy-hitters that everyone will be talking about (Jonathan Lethem, Margaret Atwood, and T.C. Boyle in particular), but the Chicago Review of Books is, has been, and always will be more interested in independent presses and books that push the boundaries of genre than with whatever’s trending on the NYT bestseller list. With that in mind, here at the 10 best new books to read this October, including a few creepy titles to sate your Halloween appetite.


9781609384432_4bcbc-1Of This New World by Allegra Hyde
University of Iowa Press, October 1

Of This New World offers a menagerie of utopias: real, imagined, and lost. Starting with the Garden of Eden and ending in a Mars colony, the stories wrestle with conflicts of idealism and practicality, communal ambition and individual kink. Stories jump between genres—from historical fiction to science fiction, realism to fabulism—but all ask that fundamental human question: is paradise really so impossible?”

“Over the course of twelve stories, Hyde writes with a mix of lyricism, humor, and masterful detail. A group of environmental missionaries seeks to start an ideal eco-society on an island in The Bahamas, only to unwittingly tyrannize the local inhabitants. The neglected daughter of a floundering hippie commune must adjust to conventional life with her un-groovy grandmother. Haunted by her years at a collegiate idyll, a young woman eulogizes a friendship. After indenturing his only son to the Shakers, an antebellum vegan turns to Louisa May Alcott’s famous family for help. And in the final story, a former drug addict chases a second chance at life in a government-sponsored space population program. An unmissable debut, the collection charts the worlds born in our dreams and bred in hope.”


9781613735329_4b8b7-1Algren: A Life by Mary Wisniewski
Chicago Review Press, October 1

Algren is the definitive biography of one of the best-known writers of mid-20th-century America. Chicago journalist Mary Wisniewski interviewed dozens of Algren’s inner circle, including photographer Art Shay and the late Studs Terkel, and examined Algren’s unpublished writing and correspondence, including hundreds of letters he received from lover Simone de Beauvoir, to craft an account as entertaining as it is meticulously researched.”

Algren reveals new details about the writer’s life, work, personality, and habits, digging beneath the street-crawling man’s man stereotype to show a funny, sensitive, and romantic but self-destructive artist. Wisniewski shows how, initially celebrated then savaged by literary critics for his continued preoccupation with prostitutes and drug addicts in his fiction, Algren was haunted by insecurity about his work and practically gave up writing fiction after 1956, and how he finally found a sense of community and acceptance in the artist colony of Sag Harbor before his death in 1981. This fresh look at the man whose tough but humorous style and compassionate message enchanted readers and fellow writers and whose boyish charm seduced many women is indispensable to anyone interested in 20th-century American literature.”


9781481424301_06864-1The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
Saga Press, October 4

“In the much-anticipated sequel to the “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR) Grace of Kings, Emperor Kuni Garu is faced with the invasion of an invincible army in his kingdom and must quickly find a way to defeat the intruders.”

“Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, runs the archipelago kingdom of Dara, but struggles to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people and his vision. Then an unexpected invading force from the Lyucu empire in the far distant west comes to the shores of Dara—and chaos results.”

“But Emperor Kuni cannot go and lead his kingdom against the threat himself with his recently healed empire fraying at the seams, so he sends the only people he trusts to be Dara’s savvy and cunning hopes against the invincible invaders: his children, now grown and ready to make their mark on history.”


9780802125767_39e5b-1The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine
Atlantic Monthly Press, October 4

“Following the critical and commercial success of An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine delivers a spectacular portrait of a man and an era of profound political and social upheaval.”

“Set over the course of one night in the waiting room of a psych clinic, The Angel of History follows Yemeni-born poet Jacob as he revisits the events of his life, from his maternal upbringing in an Egyptian whorehouse to his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS. Hovered over by the presence of alluring, sassy Satan who taunts Jacob to remember his painful past and dour, frigid Death who urges him to forget and give up on life, Jacob is also attended to by 14 saints. Set in Cairo and Beirut; Sana’a, Stockholm, and San Francisco; Alameddine gives us a charged philosophical portrait of a brilliant mind in crisis. This is a profound, philosophical and hilariously winning story of the war between memory and oblivion we wrestle with every day of our lives.”


9780374160531_e58ff-1By Gaslight by Steven Price
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 4

“William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of the most notorious detective of all time, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead on the fabled con Edward Shade. William’s father died without ever finding Shade, but William is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows.”

“Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London to find her. What he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried.”

“A fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and séance halls ensues, creating the most unlikely of bonds: between Pinkerton, the great detective, and Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.”

“Steven Price’s dazzling, riveting By Gaslight moves from the diamond mines of South Africa to the battlefields of the Civil War, on a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our darker selves.”


9781101980194_d6abe-1Ghostland by Colin Dickey
Viking, October 4

“Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes,” Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as “the most haunted mansion in America,” or “the most haunted prison”; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.”

“With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living—how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made—and why those changes are made—Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we’re most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.”


9780062448767_32bd6-1The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick
Harper, October 11

“Róisín and François are immediately drawn to each other when they meet at a remote research base on the frozen ice sheets of Antarctica. At first glance, the pair could not be more different. Older by a few years, Róisín, a daughter of Ireland and a peripatetic astronomer, joins the science team to observe the fracturing of a comet overhead. François, the base’s chef, has just left his birthplace in Bayeux, France, for only the second time in his life. Yet devastating tragedy and the longing for a fresh start, which they share, as well as an indelible yet unknown bond that stretches back centuries, connect them to each other.”

“Helen Sedgwick carefully unfolds their surprisingly intertwined paths, moving forward and back through time to reveal how these lovers’ destinies have long been tied to one other by the skies—the arrival of comets great and small. In telling Róisín and François’s story, Sedgwick illuminates the lives of their ancestors, showing how strangers can be connected and ghosts can be real, and how the way we choose to see the world can be as desolate or as beautiful as the comets themselves.”

“A beautiful, skillfully crafted, and emotionally perceptive novel that explores the choices we make, the connections we miss, and the ties that inextricably join our fates, The Comet Seekers reflects how the shifting cosmos unites us all through life, beyond death, and across the whole of time.”


9781632861870_0e22c-1The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin
Bloomsbury, October 11

“In late-eighteenth-century Ireland, accidental stargazer Caroline Ainsworth learns that her life is not what it seems when her father, Arthur, throws himself from his rooftop observatory. He has chosen death over a darkened life, gone blind from staring at the sun in his obsessive hunt for an unknown planet near Mercury.”

“Caroline had often assisted her father with his observations; when astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781, she watched helplessly as unremitting jealousy drove Arthur to madness. Grief-stricken, Caroline at first abandons the vain search, leaves Ireland for London, and tries to forget her love for Finnegan O’Siodha, the tinkering blacksmith who was helping her father build a massive telescope larger than Herschel’s own. But she later discovers that her father has left her more than the wreck of an unfinished telescope: his cryptic atlas holds the secret to finding a new world at the edge of the sky. As Caroline reluctantly resumes the search and confronts her longing for Finnegan, Ireland is swept into rebellion, and the lovers are plunged into its violence.”

“This is a novel of the obsessions of the age—scientific inquiry, geographic discovery, political reformation—but above all astronomy, the mapping of the solar system, and beyond. It is a novel of the quest for knowledge and also—just as importantly—for human connection. The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter is rich, far-reaching, and unforgettable.”


9781631492334_df30e-1The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky
Liveright, October 11

“Leah is living in Queens with a possessive husband she doesn’t love and a long list of unfulfilled ambitions, when she’s jolted from a thick ennui by a call from the past. Her beloved former boss and friend, Judy, has died in a car accident and left Leah her most prized possession and, as it turns out, the instrument of Judy’s death: a red sports car.”

“Judy was the mentor Leah never expected. She encouraged Leah’s dreams, analyzed her love life, and eased her into adulthood over long lunches away from the office. Facing the jarring disconnect between the life she expected and the one she is now actually living, Leah takes off for San Francisco to claim Judy’s car. In sprawling days defined by sex, sorrow, and unexpected delight, Leah revisits past lives and loves in search of a self she abandoned long ago. Piercing through Leah’s surreal haze is the enigmatic voice of Judy, as sharp as ever, providing wry commentary on Leah’s every move.”

“Following her “irresistible” (Time) and “wicked” (Slate) novel Bad Marie, Dermansky evokes yet another edgy, capricious, and beautifully haunting heroine—one whose search for realization is as wonderfully unpredictable and hypnotic as the twists and turns of the Pacific Coast Highway. Tautly wound, transgressive, and mordantly funny, The Red Car is an incisive exploration of one woman’s unusual route to self-discovery.”


9781250075581_0c709-1The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
Flatiron Books, October 18

“From the co-creator of the landmark television series Twin Peaks comes a novel that deepens the mysteries of that iconic town in ways that not only enrich the original series but readies fans for the upcoming Showtime episodes.”

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