From short stories to epic journeys: 10 must-read books for October

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Sarah Shaffi
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This October features some huge names - 20 years after the release of the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman takes us back to Lyra's world with La Belle Sauvage, while Oscar-winner Tom Hanks delights with his first book, a collection of short stories drawing on his love of typewriters.

This is also a month for books about books - Susan Hill's diary of a year of reading, Jacob's Room is Full of Books, and Christopher Fowler's The Book of Forgotten Authors, will both, I'm sorry (but not that sorry) to say will cause you to add piles of books to your to read lists.

In the time of Brexit and Trump, there are plenty of writers who are beginning to look at the world we live in, and how to improve it. In Diversify, TV presenter June Sarpong advocates for a world where we get over our "isms", while Valeria Luiselli's essay Tell Me How It Ends humanises the immigration process in America.

As winter nights draw in some people may take comfort in sweetness, in which case Durian Sukegawa's Sweet Bean Paste, translated by Alison Watts, is ideal. If you want humour and a story of first love, heartbreak and healing, Jenny Fran Davis’ clever Everything Must Go is the way to go. And if you prefer to match the darkness outside with a darker novel, in which case I recommend Laura Purcell's The Silent Companions.

And finally, there is Jennifer Egan's first historical novel, the wonderful and absorbing Manhattan Beach.

Happy reading.

Image: Jacalyn Beales

  • La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

    Honestly, how could I not include this? La Belle Sauvage is the first in The Book of Dust series, described as an “equel” to His Dark Materials. The first chapter reintroduces some familiar figures - a baby Lyra, a younger Lord Asriel - as well as our new hero, the plucky young Malcolm and his daemon Asta, who live at the Trout Inn near Oxford.

    (PRH Children’s and David Fickling Books, £20)

  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

    Opening during the Great Depression, we see Anna and her father Eddie as they visit the house of a man who is crucial to the survival of their family. Years later, Anna's father has disappeared and she is working at Brooklyn Navy Yard during the war when she encounters that man - Dexter Styles - again. This beautifully told story - part thriller, part family saga - is about a transformative time in the lives of American men and, especially, (working class, boundary-breaking) women.

    (Corsair, £16.99)

  • Diversify by June Sarpong

    In Diversify TV presenter Sarpong looks at seven “others”, groups of people who are excluded socially, politically or economically from the dominant group(s) in society. Each section includes anecdotes from Sarpong’s life, research (some specifically for the book) and tasks to help challenge our “isms”, with the aim of ridding society of the “other”. An engaging read with lots of important and good ideas.

    (HQ, £16.99)

  • The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

    After Elsie’s husband dies, she is sent to see out her pregnancy at his country estate, a dilapidated house with servants who don’t know what they’re doing, in a village that is hostile. When Elsie finds some silent companions - lifelike wooden figures - in the attic, she is at first intrigued, but soon the companions seem to take on a life of their own. A creepy, unsettling tale that I had to finish reading in broad daylight.

    (Raven Books, £12.99)

  • Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli

    Luiselli started as a translator at the New York immigration court while waiting for her green card. In this short essay, her journey to citizenship is juxtaposed with the journeys of young children who cross the Mexico-US border, escaping gangs, abuse and worse. Subtitled "An Essay in Forty Questions”, the book is shaped around the questions asked of these children during intake screenings - questions that often prove inadequate in really telling the stories of these children. An insightful, painful read that reminds us all that people rarely leave everything they know unless they have a hope of a better future.

    (4th Estate, £6.99)

  • Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa, trans by Alison Watts

    Sentaro is out of prison and working off a debt in a sweet shop, making and selling dorayaki - a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste - when he is approached by the elderly Tokue, who wants to work in the shop. Don’t be fooled by this gentle tale of friendship, its sweetness masks a book that looks at society’s prejudices, how our pasts are held against us, and loneliness. Beautifully told, this is the kind of book that lingers with you.

    (Oneworld, £8.99)

  • Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis

    In Everything Must Go 16-year-old Flora leaves her elite Manhattan academy to go to an "alternative" education establishment in upstate New York, all because of a boy. Through letters, diary entries and other ephemera, we learn about Flora's year of heartbreak and change in a book about identity, sex, relationships and love. Funny, witty and feminist, you'll fall in love with Flora.

    (Corsair, £7.99)

  • Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill

    Where is the line between reading and living? That's what Hill explores in Jacob's Room is Full of Books, as she tells of a year of her life through the books she's read. From little known tomes to popular classics, this is a mix of observations about reading and writing, a reflection on politics and society, and a diary of the changing landscape and nature around her, all wrapped up in the books Hill picks up between January and December, and the authors she loves (and doesn't).

    (Profile Books, £12.99)

  • Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

    A well-known fan of typewriters (he has a collection and wrote a love letter to typewriters in The New York Times), it was only a matter of time before Hanks turned his hand to writing prose. From a story about a second-rate actor plunged into stardom to one about four friends going to the moon and back in a rocket ship made in a garden, all the stories in Uncommon Type feature a typewriter, sometimes in a tiny role, sometimes a huge one.

    (William Heinemann, £16.99)

  • The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler

    In this entertaining book Fowler looks at the lives and works of 99 authors now largely forgotten (although there are some figures you may have heard of, like Virginia Andrews and Barbara Pym). Fowler has also written 12 essays about faded once-favourites, including forgotten books by Charles Dickens and forgotten winners of the Booker. If you're an avid reader, this is the perfect book to dip in and out of, and to help you expand your reading and find some lost treasures.

    (riverrun, £14.99)


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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.