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16 Best Books to Read to Feel the Autumn Joy of October

The Perfect Books to Read that feel like the month of the Month of October

What are the best books to read in September 2021? We’ve shared a list of the fantastic new book releases coming in October 2021 and a preview of the best new reads of fall 2021. If you’re in search of still more ideas for what to read next, here’s our take on the 16 best books – novels and non-fiction – to read right now in the month of October. To feel the perfect balance of light and heavy; silly and serious; and excitement and agita that capture the essential vibe of the month. Not just this October, dear reader. Any October.

what are the best books to read to feel the month of October?

So many books, so little time! Reading can be one of life’s sweetest luxuries. But how to quickly find the next great volume to dive into?

The best books to read, both novels and non-fiction, in the month of October.

To lend a hand, every month we share our Dandelion Chandelier Recommended Reads: books that we’ve personally read and loved – some brand new, and some published long ago. Selected to suit the season, we think they deserve a place on your nightstand. Or your e-reader. In your backpack. Or your carry-on bag. You get the idea.

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In this edition: the best books – novels and non-fiction – to read in the month of October. We think these books best capture the vibe and the essential spirit of October, and will help you experience the autumn joy that this month is all about.

what is the essential spirit of October?

What makes for the perfect book to read in October? There are a plethora of options in “serious” fiction and non-fiction – as with film, we’re meant to think deep thoughts in the autumn. So one option is to go the scholarly route, and delve into a classic, or the work of a laureate of some kind.

But October is not just about the cerebral – it’s also about the silly, the spicy, the spooky, the soulful and even the spectral. It is, after all, the month of Halloween.

what makes for the ideal October reading list?

So what is the ideal October read? We think the perfect reading list this month should be just like the ideal trick-or-treat basket: some hard and some chewy, some salty and some sweet, some fresh and some familiar. But no empty calories.

the best books to read, both novels and non-fiction, in the month of October.

The best books to read, both novels and non-fiction, to feel the month of October.

What follows is a list of books (in no particular order) that we’ve read and loved – either very recently or long ago – that strike precisely the right autumnal note.

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We think any of these would be a perfect match for unwinding after apple-picking or jumping in the leaves; for lazing on the sofa in front of the fire; for tossing in your bag for a weekend in wine country or leaf-peeping; or maybe just for surreptitiously reading on the sidelines during a football game. Your call.

our picks for the best books to read to feel the month of October

1. Autumn by Ali Smith.

 

Best books, both fiction and non-fiction to read in the month of October

Among the first wave of novels addressing post-Brexit Britain, and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Autumn is the first in a cycle of four luminous works of fiction – one for each season – all set in the present-day UK. This installment is the story of a friendship between Daniel – who is 101 years old – and Elisabeth, a 32-year-old art lecturer. He was her next-door-neighbor and surrogate father during her adolescence, and his influence on her looms large throughout her life.

In flashbacks, their cerebral conversations cover a wide range of topics: art, books, how to live, the meaning of borders, identity and fame. The images that Smith employs are piercingly beautiful. This is a deeply human novel, and a wonderful blend of light and dark. It’s a rare writer who can meet the moment, and also spin a story that feels timeless. Ali Smith can. And the Seasonal Quartet is a gift for the ages.

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2. We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry.

 

In the marvelous novel We Ride Upon Sticks,  the Danvers Falcons High School girls’ field hockey team is perpetually an also-ran. Until the fall of 1989, when during their senior year the girls – who happen to live in the town on the North Shore of Massachusetts that was the site of the start of the Salem Witch Trial accusations – decide to employ dark powers to change their fates. On and off the field.

It’s hysterically funny, pitch perfect, deeply empathetic and wicked smart. We spend time with each of the team members – including the lone boy on the team – and come away touched by their dark magic. In actual fact, this is a coming-of-age story that sees girls on the cusp of adulthood learning that well-behaved women rarely make history. Which is a timely reminder for us all.

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3. The Secret History of Food by Matt Siegel.

 

Best books, both fiction and non-fiction to read in the month of October

 

The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat is the perfect non-fiction book to read in October, as the season of entertaining, dinner parties and time in the kitchen kicks into full gear. In it, you’ll find fun facts, surprising histories, and answers to pressing questions such as these. Why are we masochistically drawn to foods that can hurt us, like hot peppers? Far from being a classic American dish, is apple pie actually . . . English? And more.

BUY NOW: $20.99.

4. The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz.

 

In the atmospheric literary thriller The Gone Dead, thirty-something Billie James returns to her childhood home in the Mississippi Delta to claim her meager inheritance: a shack that belonged to her now-deceased father. A renowned black poet, he died unexpectedly when she was only 4 years old.

Thirty years later, she returns for the first time and begins to uncover long-kept secrets about race, justice and memory. The writing is pure and gorgeous. And although this book was published in the summer of 2019, it could not be a more urgent and relevant read in the summer of 2020 – when ghosts and heroes of the past seem to live again in the voices and spirits of those fighting for racial justice at great personal risk in the present day.

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5. Made for Love by Alissa Nutting.

 

If you read only one novel during the month of October, we strongly recommend that you make it  Made for Love. The premise is truly nutty (see what we did there?): in 2019, a 30-something woman flees the home she shares with her manipulative tech mogul billionaire husband, and lands in her elderly father’s trailer park in Florida on the same day that his life-size blow-up sex doll arrives in the mail.

There’s also a subplot involving dolphins that is basically unprintable on a refined blog such as this one. Trust us: not only is this book smart, sharp and funny. It’s also a moving reflection on what we lose when technology advances past all imagining; on the nuances of love and disappointment between parents and daughters; and on human desires that even AI cannot overcome. It’s a brilliant read (and also an HBO Max series soon to begin Season 2, but promise us you’ll read the book first).

BUY NOW: $16.73.

6. Everybody: A Book about Freedom by Olivia Lang.

 

Best books, both fiction and non-fiction to read in the month of October

 

We have long admired Lang’s work because of her ability to make us think hard about matters we hadn’t given much thought to previously. In Everybody, the topic is  . . . well, the human body and its discontents. Using the body as a foundation, she takes us on a wide-ranging and erudite journey through Western history, bringing to life the long struggle for bodily freedom. Using the life of the renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, she explores gay rights and sexual liberation, feminism, and the civil rights movement. Throughout, she reminds us that while the body may be vulnerable and prone to frailties, it is also a source of immense pleasure. And power.

BUY NOW: $15.79.

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7. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.

 

In the melancholy novel The Turner House, ghosts and memories weave their way throughout history and throughout the city of Detroit. Charles “Cha-Cha” Turner, the oldest son in an African-American family of 13 siblings, repeatedly sees a “haint” (a ghost).

The sightings bring back vivid memories of his dead father, and revive a number of troubling unanswered questions about the choices his parents made. As the city is ravaged by time and turmoil, so are the various Turner siblings. Each finds solace in a different way: spirituality, alcohol, gambling, and escape from the Midwest. The sibling relationships are acutely drawn, and the bruised metropolis of Detroit is itself one of the characters with whom we identify and mourn.

BUY NOW: $11.68.

8. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

 

Ghosts are also among the players in Lincoln in the Bardo, the fine first novel from the acclaimed short-story writer. The tale takes its origin from the true story of Abraham Lincoln, who was mourning the loss of his young son, Willie, as the Civil War raged into its second year.

In the novel, Willie has become an inhabitant of the bardo – the Tibetan conception of purgatory – suspended between the living and the dead. And surrounded by ghosts who are not ready to go quietly into that great good night. A cacophony of ghostly voices is a prompt to consider the meaning of earthly love and what remains after it reaches its inevitable end.

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9. We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy by Natalie Baszile.

 

It’s harvest season in large parts of the world. Meaning that October is the best time to read a non-fiction book to learn more about the challenges and triumphs of Black farmers. This little-known cohort is inextricably woven into the fabric of American history – yet the average person knows very little about what it takes for these families to hold onto their land and to thrive. In We Are Each Other’s Harvest, the author of Queen Sugar explores the history and current state of black farming in America.

BUY NOW: $19.79.

10. Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony.

 

 

October is Peak Election Season in America. The month sees raucous political contests being fought at the local and often national level. The voting may take place in early November – but the nasty surprises always come in October. So we’ve included three novels on our “must read” list of books for the month of October that deal with politics. This first one, Enter the Aardvark, is about a politician – a Congressman – but it’s only tangentially about his work.

It’s actually a love story – make that two parallel love stories – that take place a century apart. In both cases, a stuffed aardvark is the talisman linking lovers who don’t feel free to live their lives out loud. The prose is quirky and memorable – and as a novel filled with provocative and knowing ideas about race, sexuality and social norms, it’s utterly satisfying.

BUY NOW: $14.79.

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11. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin.

 

Best books, both fiction and non-fiction to read in the month of October

With a  ripped-from-the-headlines plot quite similar to the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton affair, Young Jane Young  tackles the phenomenon of “slut-shaming” both obliquely and head-on.

Twenty-something Aviva (her names means “innocence” in Hebrew) has an affair with a married Congressman – he stays in office, and she becomes a modern-day Hester Prynne. Fast-forward, and we meet her in her mid-40’s, now with a daughter and a budding political career of her own, in a state far away under a new name. You know what’s coming. The tone is breezy but the messaging is dead serious. You’ll think twice before name-calling anyone again.

BUY NOW: $15.95.

12. Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win by Jo Piazza.

 

Best books, both fiction and non-fiction to read in the month of October

Third on our list of October novels to get deep into the psyche of Election Season is Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win. The bestselling author of The Knock Off, How to Be Married, and Fitness Junkie returns with a ripped-from-the-headlines novel about a woman running for the Senate during the midterm elections in 2018. It’s dismaying how well it holds up years after it was written.

Charlotte Walsh leaves behind her high-powered job in Silicon Valley and returns, with her husband and their three young daughters, to her downtrodden Pennsylvania hometown to run for office for the first time. Not surprisingly, it’s far more difficult than she anticipated. This is the perfect companion read to Young Jane Young – two explorations of women, politicians, how power can erode our values, and the unavoidable price that has to be paid to live a life in and around politics.

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13. The Barbizon: The New York Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren.

 

We think this is another in the entries of the best non-fiction to read in the month of October. After all, autumn in New York is an iconic location. And within that magical city, the Barbizon Hotel became an iconic address for a generation of women who went on to change the world. Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Grace Kelly and Liza Minnelli are just a few of the notable guests who have stayed at The Barbizon, an iconic women-only hotel in New York. This history, The Barbizon: The New York Hotel That Set Women Free, charts how it became such an important and empowering place for women with ambition.

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14. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey.

 

Missed connections and the dangers of imprecision are just some of the themes that the author excavates in Ways to Disappear, a beautifully-written tale of a celebrated Brazilian novelist who goes missing (she’s last seen holding a suitcase and a cigar and climbing an almond tree). Her American translator flies to Brazil to try to solve the mystery of her disappearance, and finds gangsters, romance, a severe case of sibling rivalry, and ultimately a way out of her old life. Like some of the other novels on this list, here you’ll be met with equal measures of optimism and regret – which feels just about right for the autumn season.

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15. The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie.

 

the best books to read to feel the autumn joy of October

In the touching novel The Portable Veblen, thirty-year old Veblen is a resident of Palo Alto and a good-humored daughter to both her mother – a hypochondriac – and her father, who is living in a mental health institution. She’s engaged to be married to the equally amiable Paul – but there’s the small problem of the squirrel nesting in her attic, to whom she becomes closely attached.

There are also sinister doings at the medical lab where Paul works. And the vexing problem of why our heroine is named after the economist who coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption.” It all goes reasonably haywire, but as an exploration of the weight of the past on our hopes for the future, it’s provocative and sobering. Also, you’ll never see squirrels in quite the same way again. So there’s that to look forward to, too.

BUY NOW: $14.53.

16. Mostly Dead Things by Kirsten Arnett.

 

Mostly Dead Things is a darkly funny, original and poignant novel about a family launched into tragicomic dissolution by the suicide of its patriarch. It’s tone and unique setting make this one of the best novels to read in the month of October: it’s a bit twisted, just like so many things in the month of Halloween.

When grief threatens to send the family taxidermy business under, one daughter must rally her eccentric family members to keep it afloat. Relationships between parents, children, siblings and lovers are all on display in their raw, real and deeply human forms. Making a family work means getting your hands dirty. Like taxidermy, life is messy.

BUY NOW: $12.81.

the best books – novels and non-fiction – to read in October

There you have it: 16 of the best books, both novels and non-fiction, to read in October. Reads that will provide sugar and spice, style and substance, succor and stimulation this month. It’s a literary goodie bag, and you don’t even have to wait for Halloween night. Autumn is here – let’s revel in it. What’s on your list this month, dear reader?

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