Before you ask, I was traveling a lot in November, and then work just got crazy. Also, I was reading a lot, as evidenced by the 28 books I listed.
October is my favorite month of the year to read because I get to unashamedly go full-horror, full-spooky, full-autumn. Twenty-one books in that month is a lot, but I never felt like I was stretching myself too thin. I just had fun with it and let it wash over me like a possession.
In November, I had two separate trips that allowed me to spend a lot of time reading on planes, so I was able to knock out some of my longest books in large chunks (looking at you, Dune.) I read a far more realistic seven books in November, with a nice mix of genres too!
Check out my favorite October and November reads, and notes on everything from the past two months.
Best of october + november
We Ride Upon Sticks / Quan Barry
This was an absolute joy to read from start to finish, and one of the best books I have read in years. Quan Barry tells the story of a high school girls’ field hockey team that sells their souls to… someone (?) in order to change their losing ways. Hijinks ensue. What was so impressive about the novel is the way that Barry completely fleshes out each of her characters, giving the reader plenty of space to get to know them and fall in love with them. It’s also rare to see a literary novel treat the lives of teenage girls as important, their daily problems and struggles as serious and real. I love this book so damn much, 12/10, will be recommending this to everyone until I’m blue.
The Night Country / Stewart O’Nan
O’Nan’s suburban gothic had been sitting on my shelf for years, and it is the longest 229 page novel I’ve ever read. That’s not a knock on it either, but a testament to O’Nan’s intricate prose. It tells the story of the nights leading up to Halloween, narrated by the spirits of three teenagers who were killed in a car accident the previous year. The novel has a pervasive dread that hangs over it, with tension that builds to a crescendo in its final pages. For a novel that is not of the horror genre, it rattled me more than anything this past October.
The Saturday Night Ghost Club / Craig Davidson
This book is a good double feature with The Night Country, a book about the scary stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world around us. This one feels like an early Steven Spielberg movie, filled with childhood wonder and adults who are just barely keeping their lives together. It’s also quite short and very, very worth it.
Frankenstein / Mary Shelley
I try to read or re-read a classic horror novel each October, and while I had been more than familiar with Shelley’s Monster, I had never read her text proper. It’s easy to see why this is the foundational text for the horror genre, this thing just effing WORKS for the majority of its length. It’s also easy to see why most film adaptations tend to make the Monster non-verbal, because the section he narrates really drags…. I still loved reading this and I highly recommend it to any horror fan!
Bear Town / Fredrik Backman
This book is such a bizarre one to recommend, because it really shouldn’t have worked for me. The omniscient narrator, the weird “everything in life is a lesson” chapter structure, the onslaught of foreshadowing, these are all elements that typically drive me nuts. However, the strength of Backman’s novel lies in the characters he’s created. They’re messy, heartbreaking, and feel true to life. I’m as surprised as anyone to say that I wholeheartedly recommend this. Great gift idea for your parents as well.
Lessons in Chemistry / Bonnie Garmus
That cover realllllllllllly works against this book. I know that this looks like any number of Target aisle romance novels, but it becomes apparent very quickly that this is not a bubblegum read. A story about sexism and misogyny in STEM fields in the 1950s and ’60s, Garmus has created a historical novel that, while it goes down pretty easy, it has a lot to say about the world we still live in. I really enjoyed this, but prepare yourself for something a little darker than that cover sells you.
Dune / Frank Herbert
This big, clunky science-fiction classic was my vacation read in November. I am going to be honest, if I hadn’t seen 2021’s Dune, I would’ve gotten lost so quickly. This 57-year-old novel feels dated in its structure and pacing, but way ahead of its time in the story it is telling. I was blown away by the sheer scale of Herbert’s world, and at its conclusion I was most shocked by how many people I know that read this as a standalone novel. That ending does not wrap this story up? Why is no one continuing onto the next book? Are people crazy?
Notes on other october + november reads
The Hellbound Heart / Clive Barker
The novella that inspired Hellraiser really made me realize how faithful of an adaptation that movie is! It’s quite a fun horror story about how far people will go to seek pleasure.
The Thief of Always / Clive Barker
Following Barker’s ode to BDSM with his middle-grade horror/fantasy was a fun dichotomy. There are moments in this children’s tale that are pretty frightening, and the whole thing is highly imaginative. Generally I have a hard time criticizing middle grade novels, because they are not written for me.
Hollow / Shannon Watters, Branden Boyer-White, Berenice Nelle
I am a sucker for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow re-tellings and re-imaginings. Even so, this was a no.
Such Sharp Teeth / Rachel Harrison
Harrison’s Cackle was one of my favorites of last Halloween season, and she tackles the werewolf myth with her latest. It’s a fun, light horror story, with a believable and uncontrived romance thrown in. Imagine if Hallmark made horror movies, and this is what you’d get. I really enjoyed it, and I’m kind of in the bag for Harrison now!
Haunted Nights / edited by Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton
I have had this Halloween-themed anthology on my shelf for years, and like all anthologies there were hits and misses. A few of the stories, notably “A Kingdom of Sugar Skulls and Marigolds” by Eric J. Guignard and “Jack” by Pat Cadigan were absolute stunners.
Last Days / Adam Nevill
Towards the middle of the month, I inadvertently found myself reading what could be categorized as “weird fiction,” and Last Days kicked that off. What starts as a terrifying novel about a death cult turns into one of the strangest and… gooiest (?) horror novels I’ve ever read. It was fun, but it was a 500+ page mess and a half.
Jackal / Erin E. Adams
Continuing along the “weird fiction” detour, Jackal spends 75% of its length pretending it is some rote mystery/thriller that was miscategorized as horror, to the point where it uses the “alcoholism-to-create-an-unreliable-narrator” trope, much to my annoyance. It ends up going full weird at the end, and I appreciated it for that. It’s definitely supernatural horror, don’t be deceived.
The Twisted Ones / T. Kingfisher
The Twisted Ones is T. Kingfisher’s retelling of Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” Now, I do not like that story very much because it has a little too much cosmic weirdness and folk horror for me. I trust you can connect the dots on this one.
Wylding Hall / Elizabeth Hand
Imagine Daisy Jones & the Six mixed with The Haunting of Hill House. That’s Wylding Hall (complete with Daisy Jones‘ faux-oral history structure), and it is a fun little novella!
Comfort Me With Apples / Catherynne M. Valente
Mild spoiler alert: as a former Catholic schoolboy, I am disappointed in myself with how long it took me to pick up on what this novella was doing. It’s fine, just so, so short.
Trick ‘r Treat / Mark Andreyko
Trick ‘r Treat is my favorite Halloween movie, and this graphic novel adaptation was a fun way to experience the story again this year. Its four sections were illustrated by different artists, adding a lot of delicious flair to the familiar proceedings.
Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead / Michael Dougherty
This graphic novel expands the mythology of the Trick ‘r Treat universe, telling the origins and history of Sam, the spirit of Halloween. This was so much fun, and these are two graphic novels I will definitely be revisiting over the years.
Blackwater / Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham
This was fine, a little bit of Heartstopper mixed with Teen Wolf. However, a larger problem that was illustrated to me this month is that there are a lot of mediocre webcomics-published-as-books out there.
The Good House / Tananarive Due
Tananarive Due has appeared as a talking head in so many horror documentaries over the years, it’s hard to believe that this was the first book I’ve read of hers. It’s a horror novel and generational family saga reminiscent of Stephen King, though with a much better ending than he can manage to pull off (love you Kingsy!) It’s a sweeping novel, brilliantly structured, with a story unlike any I’ve ever read.
The Weight of Blood / Tiffany D. Jackson
I’ve really enjoyed each of Jackson’s young adult novels, and her recent foray into horror has been especially fun. This retelling of Stephen King’s Carrie follows that plotline closely, but by recontextualizing the story, Jackson is able to breathe new life into it.
The Return / Rachel Harrison
Back with a little more Rachel Harrison, and this time it’s her debut, a novel about a group of friends reuniting when their other friend returns after two years of being missing – and she is not quite the same anymore. A pitch black comedy about the lengths that old friends will go to not acknowledge that things have changed between them.
Uzumaki / Junji Ito
Junji Ito has had a cult following that has transcended the manga world, and Uzumaki is his twisted-as-hell masterpiece. I haven’t read much manga so I’m not sure if this is common, but everything felt so episodic, like interconnected short stories rather than an overarching story. Either way, this was rad.
The Art of Prophecy / Wesley Chu
Ah, yes. I did read this book, didn’t I? Interesting. Great cover! I’m sure it also included characters and a plot. I’m sure it had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Maybe it didn’t have an end? We may never know.
Not All Diamonds and Rosé / Dave Quinn
Who among us does not like gossip? This book is filled with hot gossip as told by the various cast members of the Real Housewives franchises. I loved it.
Open Veins of Latin America / Eduardo Galeano
To go from Housewives to the colonization, pillaging, and modern underdevelopment of Latin American countries, I contain multitudes. This book is THE classic for a reason, it is comprehensive and still as enraging today as it was in 1971.
Kids These Days / Malcolm Harris
I love Malcolm Harris as a Twitter presence, but ultimately I don’t think I needed to read this overview of the Millennial generation because it was, as they say, preaching to the choir. However, for Boomers and Gen Xers, maybe give it a read if you want to understand the world that Millennials have grown up in.
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