photo credit: Alisa Anton

5 Thought-Provoking Reads for October

October evokes images of colorful leaves, dropping temperatures, and pumpkin spice lattes. But it’s also the perfect time to catch up on books that might have been too heavy for the summer.

Since Halloween is the biggest event of October, the question that comes to mind is: What does the word “scary” mean to you?

While we quickly think of ghouls, zombies, and vampires, scary can reach far beyond characters found in horror films. Maybe scary means being taken away from everything you know, or continuing on a path you don’t want to go down. Maybe scary is getting a visit from your landlady.

Lately, I’ve been listening to audiobooks more during those downtime moments in the day. Audiobooks can be conveniently carried around on your phone or other electronic devices using an app like Audible.

If you haven’t heard of it, Audible is one of the largest audiobook libraries with over 180,000 selections to choose from. They give you 2 free audiobooks when you join, so it’s worth checking out.

In the spirit of the month, here are five great reads from their selection. Enjoy!

1. It

by Stephen King

In 1958, seven adolescents face a horror that preys on children, one the adults cannot see nor comprehend. Together, they defeat the creature before growing up and making their way out in the world. 28 years later, the friends are called back to their hometown of Derry, Maine to confront the creature that has returned.

However, things have changed now that they are adults. Think about what life was like when you were a child. What were your biggest hopes and fears? What scenes run through your head when you think of childhood memories?

Now picture yourself as an adult. What are the most pressing issues on your mind now? What are some beliefs that seemed real as a child, but are unbelievable now? This coming-of-age story shows the power of childhood friendships and how people are forced to revisit their past.

2. In Cold Blood

by Truman Capote

In late 1959, Mr. and Mrs. Clutter and their two youngest children were murdered in a small Kansas farming community. There didn’t seem to be any particular motive, besides the bad information the two murderers received from a former jail mate about the supposed pile of cash in Herb Clutter’s supposed safe. There were neither.

At the time, Capote was looking to write a “nonfiction novel” which would tell the story of actual people and events using fictitious conversations and storytelling techniques. When he heard the Clutter murder story, he was intrigued. Capote visited the town, spoke with the locals, and interviewed the two murderers after their conviction.

His extensive research yielded 8,000 pages of notes, where he carefully picked which details to elaborate upon, and which ones to discard. In Cold Blood leads the reader from the daily lives of the Clutter family, to the murderers who flee to Mexico as the investigation takes place, and finally the trials and sentencing. While the story itself is tragic, the writing style is what elevates this tale into a gripping, dramatic masterpiece.

3. Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities

by Amy Stewart

If poison ivy is the most dangerous plant that you can think of, you’re in for a treat. This book describes plants and other organisms that harm, poison, or even become weapons of war.

For instance, the settlers who arrived on Jamestown Island discovered jimsonweed and put it in their diet, only for a number to experience deliriums and subsequent death. While their knowledge came at a high price, they used it to their advantage when British soldiers arrived by placing the plant in their meals.

Although the book is written with the purpose of entertainment by using a blend of history, lore, and science, it provides thought-provoking insight into the world of botanical specimens. Some plants that we handle or eat on a regular basis can become dangerous or even deadly if not handled properly or taken in the wrong dosages. After reading this, you’ll look at plants in a whole new way.

4. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

by Brené Brown

Loneliness. Alienation. Uncertainty. One of the greatest paradoxes of our day is that we are more connected than ever, yet we feel more isolated than before. In an age where everything is moving online, it becomes easy to hide behind our screens and become observers rather than participants.

In the process, we lose that sense of connection between people. Opposing opinions polarize and drive people apart, leading to dehumanization. People with disagree are regarded as less than human. Others feel disillusioned by it all and choose to opt out.

Using both researched data and personal anecdotes, Brown shows that it takes courage to stand on your own while also belonging to a greater community. In the midst of criticisms and fear, we can fight through the wilderness to once again reconnect to ourselves and one another.

5. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

by J.D. Vance

J.D. Vance tells the raw tale of what it was like growing up in an impoverished small town. He describes his complicated family relationship and how he was primarily raised by his grandparents in southeastern Ohio. With their struggles and his poor grades, Vance believed he would never leave his Appalachian roots.

However, joining the marines changed his life as he made his way to Ohio State University and eventually Yale Law School. Although his story symbolizes upward mobility and success, Vance shares how he is still haunted by the cycle of alcoholism, drugs, and abuse that plagues his family and many others along the Rust Belt.

He talks about issues that face the white working class due to an ingrained culture and attitudes. A feeling of hopelessness pervades generation after generation, who see no way out because nobody makes it out. A mistrust of outsiders and the “hillbilly code” are compounding factors on the pressure to stay.

While Vance admits that there are no easy solutions, he also writes that we should stop blaming everybody else and start looking inward for answers. Even if there is darkness, there is also hope, as Vance’s own story suggests. We may not be able to control what happens to us, but we are still able to make choices every day.

More Great Reads

If you’re interested in checking out more great books ranging from the classics to social psychology, check out my reading list here.