Maybe it's a fall publishing thing, but there is some pretty heady writing in the top 5 of our October Best Books of the Month. We (the Amazon Editors) try to pick our Best of the Month books with all readers in mind"”so go here if you're looking for something that might be a little less daunting. But this month it just-so-happens that we have, in order, a National Book Award finalist, a two-time Man-Booker Award-winner, a three-time finalist for the Man-Booker Award, a Rhodes Scholar, and a winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. That probably sounds heavy, like a meal of roast potatoes and super smart pot roast, but let's face it: pot roast is delicious.
Here are the top 5 Best Books of October:
Spotlight: To build on our opening theme of seriousness, let's start with dying. We may as well face that we're all going to do it, so why not do it right? That's the essence of Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. In describing Gawande's book, our Editorial Director, Sara Nelson, puts it this way: doctors have been trained to attack problems"”to win"”but that victory doesn't look the same to everyone. "Death is the enemy," she quotes from the book. "But the enemy has superior forces." And it can be fruitless to fight a war of annihilation against a superior enemy. "In his compassionate, learned way," Nelson writes, "Gawande shows all of us"”doctors included"”how mortality must be faced, with both heart and mind.
Pick #2: Hilary Mantel is so good she's won the Man-Booker Prize not once but twice. For anyone who's read Wolf Hall or Bring Up the Bodies, you know she's a great writer. But the short stories in The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher show another side of her writing, one that brings vividness to a life more like her own (we assume). In the words of editor Erin Kodicek, "there are only ten stories... a few of them quite spare, but all so chock-full of vivid detail and devilish wit that it leaves the reader wanting more." Kodicek writes, "They don't hand out Man Bookers like candy, and these stories further explain why Mantel has two on her mantel (so far)."
Pick #3: Sara Nelson describes Colm Toibin's seventh novel as "atmospheric and emotional." It is a story about a forty-year-old widow, set in rural Ireland during the 1960s and 70s, a woman who is "on the verge of slipping back into the isolated life from which her husband had rescued her." Nelson warns that Nora Webster is not entirely likable, accurately pointing out that "a self-centered person mired in depression rarely is." But, she says, Nora slowly wins you over. "Even more important, she eventually finds a way to save herself. This is not a novel that makes a lot of noise"”and yet it's musical. It has a kind of deliberate, note-by-note crescendo"”but very few crashing cymbals"”as Nora rediscovers her love of singing, learns how art can help her navigate through grief, and how music can help even the most quiet among us to regain our voice."
Pick #4: Before Walter Isaacson wrote that fabulous blockbuster about Steve Jobs, he was working on another book. The book is called The Innovators and it is our #4 pick for the Best Books of October. Amazon Senior Editor Jon Foro writes, "Many books have been written about Silicon Valley and the collection of geniuses, eccentrics, and mavericks who launched the 'Digital Revolution'.... but Walter Isaacson goes them one better." He describes The Innovators as "probably the widest-ranging and most comprehensive narrative of them all," building as Isaacson does from the 19th-Century and showing how today's greats, and the greats before them, stood on the shoulders of giants.
Pick #5: Marlon James' lyrical and sweeping novel A Brief History of Seven Killings is not an easy book"”it is violent, it is big, and it demands that you work sometimes"”but it's one that drew me in completely, and I read through the second half of the novel very quickly. The story is written as an oral history, with multiple voices. I was immediately struck by the author's prodigious talent for inhabiting these voices; from men to women, from the patois of a Jamaican rudeboy to the voice of a CIA operative, reading these people is a special experience. The story revolves loosely around the attempt in the 70s to assassinate Bob Marley, but it spans out from there, from Jamaica to Miami and New York in the 90s. In summing up my Best of the Month review of the book, I wrote: "like all great novels, James' work drew me in, entertained me, and changed me in ways I could not have anticipated."
I'll cover the rest of the top 10 next week. You can find all of our Best of the Month picks here.