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12 Must-Read Books of October

12 Must-Read Books of October

  • The new books you should read in October 2021.

Autumn is officially upon us, dear readers. That season of apple picking and leaf peeping and decorative gourding. The flannel shirts and wool sweaters are out of storage and in the closet. Whether it’s tricks or treats you’re seeking, the Halloween festivities are back in person this year. If you’re looking for a spooky story, you’ll find plenty of those here. But if 2021 has already frightened you enough, below are twelve new releases out this month that will provide some respite from the chill.

Cover of This Jade World

This Jade World
By Ira Sukrungruang
University of Nebraska Press

The latest entry in the American Lives Series, edited by the venerable Tobias Wolff, this meditative and vulnerable inquiry into the nature of love from Thai American writer Ira Sukrungruang is just the tonic you’ll need in these continually challenging times. Made up of short, expertly honed chapters, it embodies the same pleasure of sitting down with your smartest, most candid friend.

Cover of Major Labels

Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres
By Kelefa Sanneh
Penguin Press

Kelefa Sanneh is one of the most indispensable voices on the popular music beat these days, having spent years on the staffs of both the New York Times and New Yorker. Now his first book as a solo artist is finally here, and it boasts the same vibrant and expansive prose as his critical writing. An ambitious but accessible tour through the last fifty years of American music, it’s an ideal primer for listeners both casual and expert.

Cover of The Swank Hotel

The Swank Hotel
By Lucy Corin
Graywolf Press

Long whispered about in writer’s circles as a one of a kind talent, Lucy Corin’s latest novel seems poised to finally break her out big. Set at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, this tale of two sisters, one of whom keeps going missing, swirls with a polyphonic, ever-shifting voice that gives the book the feel of a living, breathing document. Fans of the deadpan surreality of Joy Williams and Kathryn Davis shouldn’t miss it.

Cover of Sankofa

By Chibundu Onuzo

Nigerian author Chibundu Onuzo isn’t yet thirty, but already she’s achieved remarkable literary success—shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas and Commonwealth Book Prizes and a spot on the Desmond Elliott Prize longlist, among many other honors. Sankofa marks another formidable leap forward with this story of a young woman searching for the father she never knew that will keep readers guessing up until the very end.

Cover of I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness

I Love You, But I’ve Chosen Darkness
By Claire Vaye Watkins
Riverhead Books

We at the CHIRB have been eagerly following Claire Vaye Watkin’s career since she burst on the scene with her story collection Battleborn back in 2012. She returns this month with her first novel in six years and it’s worth the wait. A bracing and reckless piece of autofiction set in the crackling terrain of the American West, it’s the work of a writer at the top of her game, her hand remaining steady even as her narrator’s life spirals exhilaratingly out of control.

Cover of The Cabinet

The Cabinet
By Un-su Kim; Translated by Sean Lin Halbert
Angry Robot

First released in his native Korea back in 2006, Un-su Kim’s The Cabinet finally makes its stateside debut this month in a dazzling translation from Sean Lin Halbert. Winner of the Munhakdongne Novel Award, this charming and fantastical book is sure to introduce Kim to a whole new legion of weird fiction fans, ideal for readers of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and the works of Haruki Murakami.

Cover of One Friday in April

One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival
By Donald Antrim
W.W. Norton & Company

If you missed the excerpt of Donald Antrim’s harrowing new book in the New Yorker back in August, never fear: the full memoir is available this month. A writer of prodigious power, honored by the MacArthur Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, Antrim takes an unflinching look at his own experiences with debilitating depression, reframing our cultural narratives around suicide with compassion instead of judgment.

Cover of I Will Die in a Foreign Land

I Will Die in a Foreign Land
By Kalani Pickhart
Two Dollar Radio

The sort of ambitious debut novel that makes you sit up and take notice, Kalani Pickhart’s sprawling and rambunctious portrait of the 2013 Ukrainian protests that led to the killing of over a hundred civilians announces an exciting new voice in fiction. Unfolding with the assurance and daring of a much more seasoned writer, I Will Die in a Foreign Land will appeal to readers of history and tragedy alike.

See Also

Cover of Lemon

By Yeo-sun Kwon; Translated by Janet Hong
Other Press

The first English translation of well-regarded Korean author Yeo-sun Kwon, Lemon is a page turner unlike any other. Melding the class consciousness of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite with Top of the Lake‘s mournful examination of generational and sexual trauma, it’s a taut and smartly-crafted read, composed of short elliptical chapters that could be finished in an afternoon but you’ll want to savor all week.

Cover of Winter Recipes from the Collective

Winter Recipes from the Collective
By Louise Glück
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Hot off her richly deserved 2020 Nobel Prize, Louise Glück returns with her thirteenth book of poetry just in time to sustain us through the chilly winter months. As with her Pulitzer-winning collection The Wild Iris, Winter Recipes employs a choral structure, inviting the reader to engage with voices ancient and ghostly, guiding us like a gentle Virgil out of this dark moment and into the light.

Cover of Dreaming of You

Dreaming of You
By Melissa Lozada-Oliva
Astra House

One of the most original releases of the year, Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s outrageously surreal fusion of poetry and prose follows a writer who resurrects Tejano pop star Selena from the dead. Gruesome yet heartfelt, macabre yet intimate, brimming with life on every page, Dreaming of You is the kind of inventive, risk-taking work that gives you hope that even if most of our stories have been told, there are always new ways to tell them.

Cover of People Want to Live

People Want to Live
By Farah Ali
McSweeney’s Publishing

Frequent Pushcart honoree Farah Ali makes her debut with this transporting collection of thirteen stories, mostly set in her native Pakistan. She captures with stunning precision and tenderness the lives of people on the brink, struggling against both wider political forces and their own human frailties. At a time when our own sense of the world can feel like it’s shrinking, Ali shows that much more connects us than we might think.

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