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Why October is so full of great books (and which books you should look forward to)

Prestige book season, explained.

Warm Weather Arrives In Boston Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Readers of the world, prepare yourselves. We are about to enter into the weeds of Prestige Book Season.

Lots of fantastic books come out all year round, but every year, October and November are packed with new releases from the biggest names in literary fiction. This is when your Jonathan Franzens and your Zadie Smiths publish, your Jennifer Egans and your Jeffrey Eugenideses. It’s also when books by some of the best-selling authors in every category come out, from YA blockbusters to Pulitzer-winning histories. A book nerd could go broke trying to pick up every shiny new highly acclaimed hardcover that will be published over the next two months.

There are three main reasons this time of the year is so stacked with prestigious releases.

First, there’s holiday shopping to be considered. Sales, says Paul Bogaards, executive vice president and director of public relations for Knopf Doubleday, go “in a flat line from January to October. You see the big spikes in November and December.”

Thus, publishers want their books to be fresh in readers’ minds when it comes time to buy holiday gifts. “You want to be able to drive awareness of those titles for the marketplace,” says Bogaards, “so when consumers are making their purchasing decisions, they know what’s out there.”

Second, publishers also want their books to be fresh in booksellers’ minds when it comes time to set up their promotional holiday tables full of gift book suggestions. “Those tables are often set in late October,” Bogaards says, “so you want your titles on sale [by then].”

And third, fall is awards season. To be eligible for the 2017 National Book Award, a book has to have come out between December 1, 2016, and November 30, 2017. “We’re looking at a year of books, from a calendar year,” explains National Book Award Foundation executive director Lisa Lucas. “So this gives us the best opportunity to look at that year without running into the holidays.”

The general strategy here is roughly the same as the strategy that film studios deploy with regard to the Oscars: Get your book out toward the end of the eligibility window, and that will help ensure that it stays fresh in the judges’ minds. That’s why Oscar bait reliably hits movie theaters from October through December, and why National Book Award hopefuls crowd themselves into the months of October and November.

To help you prepare, I’ve collected the titles that you should most definitely look out for over the next month. Here are our four most anticipated books to watch for in October.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (October 3)

Manhattan Beach is the first book Egan has published since she won the 2011 Pulitzer for A Visit from the Goon Squad. But where Goon Squad was experimental in its form, Manhattan Beach has a much more conventional shape; Egan has said she wanted it to read like a Victorian novel. It’s an intimate family story that moves from the organized crime of the Great Depression to the shipyards of World War II, and it’s an enormous pleasure to dive into.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (October 3)

Coates’s collection of eight essays he wrote at the Atlantic — beginning in 2007 during Barack Obama’s candidacy and ending this year with Donald’s Trump’s presidency — is not just a greatest hits anthology. True, it includes some of the highlights of Coates’s career, like his much-celebrated “The Case for Reparations” and his recent “The First White President.” But the essays also trace two specific set of arcs: the arc of how America thinks about race, and the arc of Coates’s development as a writer — how he uses language, and how he’s come to think of white supremacy as not just incidental to America’s past and present but its fundamental basis. Watching America react in violent horror to its first black president is sobering; watching Coates develop and refine his powers is a joy.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (October 10)

Stiefvater developed a cult fan base with her much-beloved YA fantasy series The Raven Cycle (roughly, imagine that someone wrote a Harry Potter Marauders prequel that made Sirius/Remus text rather than subtext, and you’re halfway there). Her new release, All the Crooked Saints, is a standalone YA novel that peers at the intersections of magic and science when a family full of saints have to figure out how to work their miracles.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (October 19)

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is iconic, tackling Milton’s Paradise Lost and transforming it into a YA fantasy epic that inspired a generation of readers to think about the nature of knowledge and spirituality. Now Pullman is returning to the central world of His Dark Materials — Lyra’s world of daemons and armored bears and alethiometers — in a trilogy called The Book of Dust, of which La Belle Sauvage is the first installment.

The whole thing, Pullman says, will overlap with the events of His Dark Materials: “I’ve always wanted to tell the story of how Lyra came to be living at Jordan College, and in thinking about it, I discovered a long story that began when she was a baby and will end when she’s grown up. This volume and the next will cover two parts of Lyra’s life: starting at the beginning of her story and returning to her twenty years later. As for the third and final part, my lips are sealed.”

Okay, sure. We can wait.