We’re going to need a bigger tote bag. From Ta-Nehisi Coates’s follow-up to Between the World and Me to new works by literary faves Jennifer Egan and Jeffrey Eugenides, October is a banner month for book-lovers of all stripes. Here, a guide to the month’s must-read releases, which also include a politically-charged anthology, debut fiction collections from rising stars, and more.
It’s been seven long years since we’ve had a new novel from Jennifer Egan, whose Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad has been cherished and passed between friends ever since it debuted in 2010. Unlike Goon Squad, which changed literary styles with each chapter, Manhattan Beach is straightforward historical fiction. It follows Anna Kerrigan, a factory girl and aspiring diver putting in hours at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during WWII. Her father abandoned her family years ago; when Anna crosses paths with a figure from her past, she’s convinced he holds the key to her father’s where abouts. Once the plot really gets going, Egan takes us on ride through Anna’s self-discovery, pushing herself beyond the limits of her own capabilities. Turns out struggles with family, love, and identity are the same no matter what era of New York you’re living in.
Through his work for The Atlantic and his books Between the World and Me and The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates has become one of the most vital and respected voices in the cultural and political conversation. This newest collection, referencing the eight years of the Obama administration, pairs some of his most widely-shared Atlantic pieces—like “The Case for Reparations” and “My President Was Black”—with new work exploring Coates’s personal thoughts on Obama’s tenure in the White House. Part memoir, part historical journalism, We Were Eight Years in Power is an essential text to help us understand the America we’re living in today.
Fans of Eugenides’s beloved novels of young people in crises—T_he Virgin Suicides, Middlesex_, and The Marriage Plot—are in for a treat with Fresh Complaint, a collection of 10 short stories set between the 1980's to present day. There are some tales about a slightly older generation, like “The Baster,” about a 40-something-year-old single woman who decides to inseminate herself, or “Find The Bad Guy,” which follows a man who secretly keeps a close eye on his family after a restraining order on him is lifted. A few early iterations of characters from Marriage Plot and Middlesex make cameos as well. Though the short story format isn’t the author’s strong suit, readers can still expect plenty of Eugenides's perfectly devastating sentences.
Taking its name from a quip uttered during the final U.S. Presidential debate of 2016, this anthology assembles a diverse lineup of fierce contributors retaliating against the current administration’s blatant misogyny. In it, Cheryl Strayed revisits Hillary’s loss with familiar “Dear Sugar”-like compassion; Samantha Irby describes life as a queer black woman in rural America; Randa Jarrar shares the trials of traveling across the U.S. while queer and Muslim; amongst others. Together their voices create a powerful and impossible-to-ignore choir of resistance.
After years of building a loyal readership through lit journals and indie publications, Machado’s first collection of short fiction is finally here for all to enjoy and marvel at—it’s already been longlisted for a National Book Award. In it, Machado crafts a complicated exploration of women’s bodies: “The Husband Stitch” is a play on the old horror tale about a woman who wears a ribbon to keep her head in tact; “Inventory” lists a woman’s intimate history against the backdrop of a health epidemic; “Especially Heinous,” possibly Machado’s most well-known piece, offers “272 views of Law and Order: SVU” and its ghostly army of wronged women. Surreal and subversive, this debut stands out no matter the company.
New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo spent six years living and reporting in Uganda, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Somalia to put together this nonfiction portrait of the “everyday, complicated Africans” who are dealing with religious and cultural fundamentalism and conflict each day. Through four distinct stories, she shares the stories of citizens as they resist groups like Lord’s Resistance Army and Boko Haram, while also attempting to bravely move forward with their personal lives. The reporting is expert and empathetic, and Okeowo illuminates the people beyond the headlines.
For the poetry lovers, this massive collection of Mary Oliver will sweep you off your feet. Her works, which are famous for capturing the quiet observances of a solitude woman in nature, will particularly hit home for New Englanders; it's where Oliver had resided for much of her life and the source of her inspiration (she’s since relocated to Florida). Devotions spans the entire career of the now 82-year-old national treasure—it includes over 200 poems that have been personally selected by the National Book Award and Pulitzer winner herself, and also reissues No Voyage and Other Poems in its entirety, her debut poetry collection that she published at age 28. For fans of “the country’s best-selling poet,” as the New York Times has previously said of Oliver, Devotions is essential.
We know we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but how could a cover like this one not stir up intrigue? Luckily, the stories inside are as worthy of your attention as well. Emerging talent Emily Fridlund explores a dark and eerie side of human nature in Catapult, stepping into Gothic territory while generously weaving humor and moments of comic truth into her characters. It’s a follow-up release to her debut novel History of Wolves, which was name-checked by Barnes & Noble as a notable new release. Fridlund’s sophomore effort, published by edgy indie press Sarabande, is the kind of book that readers who crave riskier, more experimental, and out-there storytelling will appreciate.
With the influx of dating apps and the always-on-the-lookout-for-something-better mindset of single people now, looking for love and romance in the 21st century has become an ongoing tragicomedy. In 2015, Aziz Ansari released a book on the subject called Modern Romance. Two years later, former Parks & Rec recurring guest star Ben Schwartz (aka Jean-Ralphio), along with writing partner/comedy writer Laura Moses, introduce their take with their funny illustrated book (with an unapologetically antagonizing title), Things You Should Already Know About Dating, You F*cking Idiot. Though the book is full of stick-figure drawings and silly dialogue and scenarios, the message is clear: people don’t know proper dating etiquette anymore. It’s a modern-day problem, and this book is one reminder that single folks can always be better people about it, so long as they pay attention and try.
In addition to being one of the most influential science writers of our time, the late neuroscientist Oliver Sacks loved nature. In his posthumous book The River of Consciousness, Sacks pays homage to the earth he once lived on, and shouts out his own heroes like Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud throughout. This collection of researched works covers a wide range of fascinating topics (all written ever so poetically, of course), like how the aging human brain processes fleeting time, or how the plants around us have mental capabilities similar to those of earthworms and jellyfish. Since Sacks knew he was going to die from cancer before this book was going to be finished, he created an outline two weeks prior to his death, and three of his close colleagues completed it on his behalf. The result is a last bow from a genius who leaves a deep appreciation for a rapidly changing planet.