Dear Reader, October 2021

October’s releases are a highlight in any reader’s year, signalling to booksellers the beginning of our annual journey towards the gift-exchange season, but I think this year’s offerings are particularly special, and include many of my favourite books of 2021 (or any year). One of them is Jennifer Down’s incredible second novel, and our October Fiction Book of the Month. We’ve been following Down’s career keenly. Her ambitious debut, Our Magic Hour (2016), revealed her writerly talents, which she honed further in her masterful short story collection, Pulse Points (2017), the book that won her the 2018 Readings Prize. Now she takes her skill to new heights with the stunning Bodies of Light. This book is quite a journey: a deeply affecting – at times upsetting – and ultimately hugely satisfying character study that explores trauma and grief, and the question of how a person is to live. It’s a major achievement, and is exactly my kind of Great Australian Novel.

I wish we could have unlimited Books of the Month though (dear editor, is that a possibility?), because we also have the wildly talented, Stella Prize-winning Emily Bitto’s new book, Wild Abandon, out this month. It’s our October pick for the Melbourne City Reads endeavour, and our reviewer calls it ‘exquisitely written’. Then there’s Diana Reid’s fantastic debut, Love and Virtue, a campus novel that arrives right on time to explore the politics of consent, class privilege and who has the right to tell a story; plus a brilliant debut collection of short stories from artist and writer, S.J. Norman, winner of the inaugural Kill Your Darlings Manuscript Award; and, of course, the multi-award-wining Michelle de Kretser’s new novel, Scary Monsters, told in a double narrative which will have you (literally) turning things upside down. Our crime aficionado recommends Anna Downes’ The Shadow House as Book of the Month, which sounds like a stressful and gripping read (i.e., the perfect crime novel) while our poetry reviewer highlights Human Looking by acclaimed poet Andy Jackson.

October’s international fiction releases involve almost all the authors whose books you’ve been waiting for, including: Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William!, in which the author returns to the character of Lucy Barton; Richard Powers’ Booker Prize-shortlisted Bewilderment; Lauren Groff ’s follow-up to the beloved Fates and Furies, Matrix; Amor Towles’ new book – if all the people who read A Gentleman in Moscow are ready to read The Lincoln Highway, we’ll need to open a new warehouse as well as a new shop; Claire Vaye Watkins’ ‘miraculous, vulnerable work of autofiction’, I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness; the long-awaited new novel from Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness; plus books from Roddy Doyle, Anthony Doerr, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Claire Messud, the final book from John le Carré, and – how could I leave it so long to mention – Crossroads, the hugely entertaining book from the master of human drama, Jonathan Franzen. This extraordinarily crafted book shows why so many people love Franzen so much. It has been a highlight of my 2021 lockdown to share notes with colleagues reading advance copies: Where are you up to? Did you get to the bit where…? Oh wait till you get to the bit when…! We have this book in a lovely hardback at paperback price, so don’t miss it.

Our Nonfiction Book of the Month is Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-click America by Alec MacGillis. I was obsessed with this book about the broad impact of Amazon on American life, and was known to read passages aloud at home, aghast. It’s a really excellent piece of investigative journalism that tells a big-picture story through the lens of individual experience, and is, in my estimation, an essential book for this moment: you can read my full review here.

We also recommend to you the new memoirs from Ed Ayres and Paul Kennedy, a collection of essays from Delia Falconer, a book about the creative life from Charlotte Wood, and the wonderfully eclectic reflection from Warren Ellis, Nina Simone’s Gum. There’s so much else to discover too, including manifestos from Michaela Coel and Bernardine Evaristo, memoirs from David Sedaris, Billy Connolly, Bette Howland, Dave Grohl, Stanley Tucci, and a literary biography of the late Gillian Mears, plus a collaborative book from Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. Speaking of people everyone loves, Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales share their joint musings in Well, Hello. And did someone ask about cookbooks? The Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, Neil Perry, Stephanie Alexander, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein … they all have books arriving in October.

And finally, dear reader, if you need to engage in a bit of virtual travel around your adored locked-down hometown, look no further than the celebration of 175 years of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Wonder, or the pure nostalgic delight that is Old Vintage Melbourne.


Alison Huber is the head book buyer at Readings.

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Bodies of Light

Bodies of Light

Jennifer Down

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