The best books to read in October 2021


Space is by no means conquered – and what is it? the dodo? – but some of the romance wore off. Did it start when NASA pulled out the space shuttle? Or when billionaires got into the low-stakes, low-orbit launch game? Not all of their intentions are bad, but these new rich rocket launchers just aren’t cool.

If you’re feeling nostalgic for the dark and daring days of the Cold War space race, a) you’re crazy, but b) there’s a new collection from Polish science fiction master Stanislaw Lem (1921- 2006) which should scratch that itch. Nine of the 12 tales of The truth and other stories, which were just published by MIT Press, have never been translated into English before, and they’re teeming with weird robots, mad scientists, and otherworldly threats.

These retro-futuristic yarns are smart enough, but they’re often funnier and more playful than Lem’s famous novel. Solaris – twice adapted into memorable moody movies. Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 version is calm, dreary Soviet cinema at its best. Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 iteration was lean but decent. Lem apparently didn’t care either.

Speaking of movie adaptations: if you only knew Cixin Liu from the 2019 blockbuster in Mandarin The Wandering Earth (still on Netflix), look for the new collection of stories of the same name from the King of Modern Chinese Sci-Fi, due to be released by Tor Books on October 26. Where the film is rather silly and Michael Bay-ish, the story pulsates with classic big-idea sci-fi optimism. Plus, maybe the concept of driving our planet through the solar system via gigantic rocket motors just sounds better on the mind than on the screen.

Either way, here are some other great new books, which are more grounded but no less inventive.

prize list, Gayl Jones. Defended by Toni Morrison and hailed by James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and John Updike, Gayl Jones has been declared a bold and shiny new voice of black America with the publication of his first two novels – Corregidora (in 1975) and Eva’s man (1976). But the Kentucky-born author never liked fame, and his career since has been defined almost as much by his isolation and long silences as by his powerful, intimate stories of slavery and the scars he passes on. from one generation to the next. Now 71, Jones has just published her first novel in 22 years – the immersive and devastating novel prize list, about a runaway slave in war-ravaged colonial Brazil – and has four more books to come out over the next two years. (Beacon Press, $ 27.95, now available)

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Stay, James Han Mattson. All modern horror is a bit of a meta, at least the good stuff, but this clever and edgy new thriller from James Han Mattson is particularly self-aware. This is in part due to his examination of the fear industry itself, particularly those extreme, “full-contact” haunted house attractions that make Terror Behind the Walls (RIP) feel like it is. a walk in the park. In this case, it’s the infamous, high-stakes Quigley House, an escape room that becomes the site of a real murder. Corn StayThe more earthly specters (sex tourism, misogyny, ruthless capitalism, etc.) turn out to be the most insidious. (HarperCollins, $ 27.99, October 5)

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I love you but I chose the darkness, Claire Vaye Watkins. Born in Nevada with the blood of the Manson family in her veins, Claire Vaye Watkins often writes about the cruel and indifferent desert. In 2015, dark but fantastic Golden fame citrus, North America is being consumed by a sea of ​​dunes rising out of the middle, the sand slowly consuming cities, people, civilization. With a title ripped off from an independent Austin band – and a lead character who’s also an author named Claire Vaye Watkins – the Funny and the Fearsome I love you but I chose the darkness offers an earlier view of environmental collapse. Still, the wilderness may be Claire’s loss, as she leaves her family behind for a book reading in Reno and might never turn back. (Riverhead, $ 27, October 5)

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Carrefour: a key to all mythologies, volume 1, Jonathan Franzen. Once school is over, required readings no longer exist, but some kind of dinner bell rings among readers and critics every time Jonathan Franzen releases a new 600-page family drama (about once or twice a decade). ). Curious, controversial and talented, Franzen has the air of an old-fashioned author, though one shudders at the satisfaction he would get from such an assessment, not to mention all the grudgingly rave reviews he will receive. for this last slab of swaggering genius. Not long ago he wondered aloud if he had written his last novel; now here is crossroads, the captivating and clever first installment of a three-part generational saga. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $ 30, October 5)

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The days of Afrekete, Asali Solomon. From most angles, Liselle is doing well: she is a black woman educated by Bryn Mawr with a beautiful house, a family, a cleaning lady, the work. But maybe it’s a house of cards? Her affluent white husband just lost an ego-driven Congressional candidacy, and one of the guests at the post-campaign wine and cheese party could be an FBI agent investigating political corruption. Suddenly, Liselle wonders how the racial and sexual awakenings of her college years could have led her to such a dull roost “on the wrong side of history”. And that’s just the launching pad for the tense, touching, slyly funny second novel by West Philly author Asali Solomon. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $ 26, October 19)

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Chronicles of the happiest people on the planet, Wole Soyinka. Soyinka, who became the first African-born Nobel laureate in 1986, publishes his first novel in 50 years – a scathing satire full of corruption and intrigue. (Pantheon, $ 28, now available)

Cuckoo Earth Cloud, Anthony Doerr. The author of All the light that we can’t see returns with an ambitious and heartbreaking novel whose characters are scattered between 15th-century Constantinople and a spaceship in a post-Earth future. (Scribner, $ 30, now available)

About animals, Susan Orléans. The acclaimed New Yorker the essayist (and the deliciously tipsy tweeter) explores humankind’s ties to fellow field-mates, from backyard chickens to show dogs to pet tigers and more. (Avid Reader, $ 28, October 12)

Silverview, Jean le Carré. A bookseller finds himself embroiled in international espionage in what could be the last novel in the great spy thriller by author Le Carré, who died in December. (Viking, $ 28, October 12)

Black paper: Writing in a dark time, Teju Cole. Cole’s essays on Art and Ethics in the Modern World are scholarly but not impersonal, honest but not desperate, and enlightening in a way that sticks to your skin. (University of Chicago Press, $ 22.50, October 27)

Look for the monthly roundup of good reads by Patrick Rapa on and in the Sunday Inquirer.


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