10 books to read in October

Bethanne Patrick

THE WASHINGTON POST – In a season when it feels like great books are shooting out of a water cannon, choosing just 10 is a challenge. But here’s a start.

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND: A NOVEL, BY RUMAAN ALAM

A white middle-class family rents an upscale home for a vacation. That’s one kind of novel. Then, an older Black couple arrives, saying they are the homeowners. Another kind of novel.

Finally, the power goes out, and cellphone service disappears. Still another kind of novel. Alam (That Kind of Mother) doesn’t thicken the menacing plot; he changes it up so skillfully, you’ll lose your bearings just as the characters do.

THE SEARCHER: A NOVEL, BY TANA FRENCH

So simple, yet so effective as a plot device: A stranger comes to town. In French’s most recent mystery novel, that stranger is Cal Hooper, a retired Chicago police officer who has come to a small Irish village in search of peace and quiet.

He slowly befriends a young neighbour, then finds himself caught up investigating that child’s missing family member.

WHAT WERE WE THINKING: A BRIEF INTELLECTUAL HISTORY OF THE TRUMP ERA, BY CARLOS LOZADA

Lozada, the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, has read 150-odd wide-ranging books to understand how Donald Trump came to be president.

Whether he’s looking at Hillbilly Elegy, How to Be an Antiracist” or On Tyranny, Lozada argues that these books show us who we really are.

TEN LESSONS FOR A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD, BY FAREED ZAKARIA

CNN anchor and Washington Post columnist Zakaria approaches the new realities of 2020 with his usual sang-froid, delineating the systems we must implement and the fears we must face to come out on the other side of the novel coronavirus.

Zakaria considers the digital economy, the resilience of cities, the lessons of socialism and the deepening rift between the United States and China to deliver a small-scale syllabus for global course correction.

SHE COME BY IT NATURAL: DOLLY PARTON AND THE WOMEN WHO LIVED HER SONGS, BY SARAH SMARSH

As she did in her 2018 memoir, Heartland,”Smarsh offers a feminist take on America’s rural working-class women who eschew the term “feminism”.

The author looks at how songs by Dolly Parton and other country-music performers illuminate stories of women who might otherwise be overlooked: tired waiters, pregnant teenagers, spurned wives, loyal daughters.

RED COMET: THE SHORT LIFE AND BLAZING ART OF SYLVIA PLATH, BY HEATHER CLARK

Whether or not you care about Sylvia Plath, her poetry matters, and Clark’s new biography demonstrates why.

Clark examines the poet’s life and work, claiming access to unpublished writings, and showing doggedness in tracking down the writer’s friends, family members and colleagues. With its balanced attention to the poet’s personal and professional struggles, this is a major addition to Plath’s legacy.

PLAIN BAD HEROINES: A NOVEL, BY EMILY M DANFORTH

Everyone needs a delicious Gothic tale in October, and Danforth’s first novel for adults (following her YA debut, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) provides a tasty brew of creepy shuttered prep school, creepy re-opened prep school, queer feminist legacy and modern adaptation of said legacy.

The Brookhants School for Girls and its students will make you crave more of Danforth’s smart, funny prose.

150 GLIMPSES OF THE BEATLES, BY CRAIG BROWN

Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret captured that British icon in a unique way, and now he turns his blend of reportage, memoir and anecdote to the “lads from Liverpool”.

Interviews with celebrities (including Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen) are interspersed with stories that never made their way into larger projects. A delight for Fab Four fans, a surprise for everyone.

The Cold Millions: A Novel, by Jess Walter

In early 20th-Century Spokane, orphaned brothers Gig and Rye Dolan meet everyone from a suffragist to a large-living vaudeville performer known as Ursula the Great and a detective named Del Dalveaux who deems the Washington city where they all live a “right blood blister of a town”. Another triumph for the versatile novelist behind Beautiful Ruins.

MEMORIAL: A NOVEL, BY BRYAN WASHINGTON

Ben and Mike live in Houston’s historically Black Third Ward – which Ben’s middle-class Black parents disdain and Mike’s Japanese parents haven’t seen. When Mike flies to Osaka to care for his estranged, dying father, he leaves Ben and his own visiting mother, Mitsuko, together. What unfolds is a beautiful examination of the difference between love and care, and what happens when they merge.