12 Must-Read Books of October 2023 – Chicago Review of Books


By the time October rolls around, it’s no secret what we’re looking forward to. With the turn of the season and the falling leaves comes plenty of opportunities for cozy blankets, a warm cup of tea, and a book that will scare you into sleeping with all the lights off.

Okay, so maybe horror isn’t everyone’s relaxing read. But whether you want to celebrate spooky season or just want to find an exciting new release from debut voices and prolific best-selling authors alike, October has something to offer you. Here are twelve books we’re looking forward to that you should add to your radar this month!

Let Us Descend
By Jesmyn Ward
Scribner Book Company

Jesmyn Ward is one of our favorite living writers here at the Chicago Review of Books, so we’ve had our calendars marked and underlined for her latest release in October. From the two-time National Book Award winner comes Let Us Descend, a powerful reimagining of American slavery that is equal parts harrowing and heart-wrenching. Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through the hellscape spanning from the rice fields of the Carolinas, the slave markets of New Orleans, and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation. Ward’s sharp eye and unfaltering descriptions are on full display in what is perhaps her most ambitious novel yet.

By Garnett Kilberg Cohen
University of Wisconsin Press

Chicago’s very own Garnett Kilberg Cohen is well-versed in the form of short fiction, and her latest collection Cravings exemplifies her every strength. Bookended by stories titled “Hors d’oeuvres” and “Feast,” her writing is filled with a deep hunger for redemption and connection. This thread of desire for second chances and the threat of being left unsatisfied brings a propulsive energy through each entry, from a young man reflecting on how his life has been marked by a traumatic childhood experience at a zoo to a woman who fears her love of salty snacks caused a family tragedy. For lovers of short stories, prepare to eat well with Cravings.

By Sam Rebelein
William Morrow & Company

It’s not October without a trusted new addition to your horror collection. Edenville follows Campbell P. Marion, a novelist struggling to write after the disappointing sales of his debut, who receives an invite from Edenville College to serve as a writer-in-residence. While he believes this to be a sign that his luck is turning around, he quickly finds that the town of Edenville is the site of not only a series of strange and ominous events, but also a dark and disturbing history that continues to haunt the present. Written in the lineage of horror greats like Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones, Sam Rebelein’s debut is an exciting addition to the genre and a genuinely unnerving read.  

Brutalities: A Love Story
By Margo Steines 
W.W. Norton & Company

In this unforgettable memoir, Margo Steines reflects upon her time being quarantined in a southwestern desert city in the midst of her high-risk pregnancy and the ways in which it compelled her to reckon with the past violence done upon her body. Brutalities tells the story of her time as a professional dominatrix in New York City, a homestead farmer in a punishing relationship, a welder on a high-rise building crew, and a mixed martial arts enthusiast. These various experiences explore the ways in which power and masculinity coalesce and how far she could push her body toward the brink. Brutalities is alive with candor and care in its attention toward the body and the pressures the world places upon it. 

By Shannon Sanders 
Graywolf Press

Shannon Sanders’s debut collection Company achieves the rare feat of telling a multifaceted, multigenerational saga across thirteen remarkable short stories. With each story depicting the moment when a new guest arrives at someone’s home, readers follow the Collins family through the 1960s to the 2000s, moving from Atlantic City to New York to DC and seeing various family members become law students, drag performers, violinists, and matriarchs. Sanders weaves the narrative fabric of her stories with the utmost care, creating an intricate and lively look into the many beautiful moments in the lives of one Black family. 

A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, a History, a Memorial
By Viet Thanh Nguyen
Grove Press

From his best-selling novels The Sympathizer and its sequel The Committed to his exploration of the Vietnam War and its reckonings in Nothing Ever Dies, Viet Thanh Nguyen is quickly building a fascinating ongoing project of recollection. In A Man of Two Faces, Nguyen continues to utilize his trademark structural invention and linguistic wit to push the boundaries of what a memoir can be, from a genre of individual memory to a form that seamlessly moves from the personal to the collective. Acknowledging the larger stories of refugeehood, colonization, and ideas about Vietnam and America, A Man of Two Faces exposes the effects of cultural power in all its forms. 

Brooklyn Crime Novel
By Jonathan Lethem

In Brooklyn Crime Novel, Jonathan Lethem does what he does best: telling a sweeping story about community, crime, and gentrification across fifty years of life in one Brooklyn neighborhood. Through his kaleidoscopic verve and delirious wit, Lethem shifts the perspective of the community’s chaos and beauty and muddies the boundaries between criminals and victims. Much like The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, his latest novel builds a full world of fascinating characters, from families trying to make it through another day to the cops, renovators, landlords, headline writers, and lawmakers who chart the neighborhood’s future. 

Family Meal
By Bryan Washington

Riverhead Books

Bryan Washington is already high on the list of our most exciting young authors, and with his latest release Family Meal he once again shows why our anticipation is well-deserved. When Cam returns to his hometown of Houston following the death of the love of his life, he finds himself back in the orbit of his former best friend TJ. After years of estrangement, the two must reconcile all that they have left unsaid and find a way back to the love they once had for one another. Family Meal travels the world to settings including LA, Houston, and Osaka, but Washington never loses sight of the prevailing sense of intimacy and vulnerability that makes this novel truly great.

See Also

House Gone Quiet
By Kelsey Norris
Scribner Book Company

For readers looking for a haunting and magical read, look no further than Kelsey Norris’s House Gone Quiet. With the ambition and audacity of Friday Black and the enveloping sense of magical realism of Her Body and Other Parties, this debut story collection succeeds in being able to simultaneously hold space for laughs, frights, and genuine connection. In one story, a support network of traumatized joggers meets to discuss the bodies they’ve found on their runs. In another, a town replaces its Confederate monument with a rotating cast of local residents. Norris’s work offers us familiar and encapsulating worlds that are rooted in the pain of our real lives yet also exploding with possibilities of a different existence. 

The Night Parade: A Speculative Memoir
By Jami Nakamura Lin
Mariner Books

As a young woman with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, Jami Nakamura Lin’s adolescence was marked by periods of extreme rage and an array of psychiatric treatments. As she grew older and learned to better manage her episodes, she became frustrated with the familiar pattern she found in mental illness and grief narratives. The Night Parade is an answer to those flawed narratives. This genre-bending and emotionally resonant memoir offers a masterfully braided narrative of Lin’s experience with mental illness, the death of her father, the grieving process, and Japanese, Taiwanese, and Okinawan legends to interrogate the very notion of recovery. The result is a deeply textured portrait of the experiences that haunt us and the ways in which we can begin to feel whole again.

An Ordinary Violence
By Adriana Chartrand

When it comes to fiction, oftentimes the greatest horror is born out of the relationships between the story’s characters. In An Ordinary Violence, Dawn finds herself haunted by her brother’s incarceration after a violent crime seven years ago and the cryptic messages she receives from her dead mother. When Dawn returns to her childhood home and Cody is unexpectedly released from prison with a mysterious and seemingly sinister friend, the novel begins to unfold into a series of eerie and encapsulating reckonings with past trauma. Adriana Chartrand’s debut is an assured horror novel and a satisfying scare, but at its heart it is a complex and compelling story about a young Indigenous woman haunted by an oppressive legacy of colonization.

Keep Your Mouth Shut: Graffiti Art & Street Culture in Chicago and Beyond
Schiffer Publishing

Chicago is one of the epicenters of graffiti art, and in Keep Your Mouth Shut, painter and writer FLEX | KYM perfectly honors the tradition. With more than 350 photographs and untold firsthand stories about the experience of bringing street art into existence, this exciting release takes readers deep inside a subculture that has grown into a celebrated though often misunderstood artform. Keep Your Mouth Shut brings Chicago to life in ways few others can, making it a book to have front and center on your shelf. 


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