DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Books

Autumn reads: the best new books to light up the longer nights

Our pick of the best autumn books includes a maverick filmmaker's memoir, a superhero story with a difference and a retelling of a classic

Illustration of the word 'autumn'

Illustration: Chris Bentham

Jane Graham, The Big Issue’s books editor, shares her pick of reads to enjoy this autumn as the nights draw in.

Werner Herzog on his book cover

Every Man for Himself and God Against All by Werner Herzog, translated by Michael Hofmann 

(Out on 19 October, The Bodley Head, £25) 

There aren’t many living movie directors more fascinating than the brilliant and eccentric German filmmaker Werner Herzog. It is unclear how much his public persona – audacious, daring and prone to wild flights of imagination – is real, or cultivated. What we do know is that he has made some of the most compelling and unusual films of the last 50 years, including the 1982 epic Fitzcarraldo, which demanded his crew manually haul a 320-ton steamship up a steep hill, and 2005’s Grizzly Man, which used real footage and audio to chronicle the life and death of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell. His films often test cast and crew to their limits and incorporate the kind of socially marginal figures Herzog found interesting, from rural labourers, to circus acrobats and child soldiers. We can never take Herzog at his word – rather like Bob Dylan, he takes pleasure from being opaque and unknowable. But this, his first (and only?) memoir might be as close as we’ll ever get to the true story – that of the boy who grew up in poverty in a small village in the Alps. His life is full of incredible stories of near-death scenarios, bizarre coincidences and acts of outlandish chutzpah. “It was clear to me that I was some kind of a poet,” he told The Big Issue in a 2017 interview.  “And I would use that quality to make films that would be different.” Now we have the chance to hear that singular poet’s voice in a book, to tell the story of his different kind of life.  

Luda book cover

Luda by Grant Morrison 

(Out on 5 October, Europa, £15.99)  

Grant Morrison might still be best known as a leading comics writer, having contributed to the legacies of Batman, Superman and X-Men, as well as their own The Invisibles and Supergods. However, their talent for sparky dialogue and spiky, exciting characters is delightfully apparent in their novels too, giving the prose an unusually arresting, eccentric tone. Luda centres around Luci Lebang, a flamboyant drag artist whose star power is diminishing when she meets, and is intoxicated by, the erotic young superstar Luda. Luda is a mistress of the dark arts (Morrison is a self-confessed ‘occult practitioner’), which brings a deliciously sinister new edge to Luci’s comparatively ordinary life. Luci and Luda’s exuberance is paralleled by a funny, ebullient kind of prose which implies Morrison is letting loose and having fun. And the author’s gift for cinematic thrills and spills drives the narrative forward like a turbocharged Batmobile. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

A book of noises cover

A Book of Noises: Notes on the Auraculous by Caspar Henderson 

(Out on 5 October, Granta, £16.99) 

It is increasingly hard to find an original fact book among the current plethora of QI-inspired ‘amazing truths’ collections, and the numerous celebrations of nature and landscape. But Caspar Henderson has previous form as a standout writer of wild and wonderful imagination – his beautifully illustrated A New Map of Wonders and previous title, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings – well, even the titles will stir curious minds. 

In this delightfully titled series of notes on the miraculous ‘auraculous’, Henderson documents noises emanating from humans (‘anthropophony’), the planet (‘geophony’) and space (‘cosmophony’). He revels in the everyday – the buzz of a bee – as much as he marvels at the incredible – the deep boom of a volcano. Along the way he references all kinds of unexpected sources of interest, from Moby Dick to Jurassic Park to Radiohead. A truly magnificent adventure. 

I Love Russia cover

I Love Russia by Elena Kostyuchenko, translated by Ilona Chavasse and Bela Shayevich 

(Out on 19 October, The Bodley Head, £22) 

“Would you like to know what the Russians are like today? Read this book.” High praise indeed from Svetlana Alexievich, the Nobel Prize-winning Belarusian historian celebrated around the world for her unique insights into Russia’s past. It’s not surprising that Alexievich is drawn to Kostyuchenko’s bold, revelatory approach to chronicling contemporary Russia. Like Alexievich, Kostyuchenko eschews the usual authoritative voices, and instead speaks to people who have been erased from the Russian regime’s self-portraits. She meets with the poor, the psychologically frail, young girls forced into sex work, LGBT+ communities anxiously operating in the provincial margins, doctors in a maternity hospital, law makers and breakers.  

The picture she builds is devastating and grim, which is why she says she might never be able to write a book about Russia again (she will probably face a long prison sentence if she goes home). This is remarkable, courageous first-person journalism from a Russian woman who was raised a proud patriot, and now finds herself compelled to tell the awful truth of the country’s oppressive authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin.  

Julia book cover

Julia by Sandra Newman 

(Out on 19 October, Granta, £18.99) 

By pure coincidence, two of the most interesting books of 2023 have involved re-appraisals or re-imaginings of George Orwell, both from a female/feminist perspective. Anna Funder’s Wifedom gave Orwell’s unacknowledged wife Eileen an overdue credit in the story of his life and work. Sandra Newman’s excellent Julia presents 1984 through the eyes of the secret lover of Orwell’s main protagonist Winston Smith.  

Bold, eloquent, and often drawn to the psychologically unsettling, Newman is a worthy recipient of the iconic 1984 baton (and Julia has the blessing of Orwell’s estate and family). She does not suggest that Orwell’s depiction of his female character was inadequate; rather that he gave life to such a strong, compelling woman that, 70 years on, readers will be keen to discover what happens when Julia is placed into a modern context. This way, Newman can also consider the very current issue of state control over women’s opportunities, relationships and bodies. 

The Maniac book cover

The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut 

(Out now, Pushkin Press, £20)  

Benjamin Labatut is more than a writer – he’s something of a phenomenon. Born in Rotterdam, and having lived in various parts of South America, even the vagueness of this most original science writer’s nationality seems to fit his enigmatic persona. I have watched him hypnotise an audience with his funny, freewheeling conversation, peppered with witty, occasionally outrageous asides, and the odd flight of provocative fancy, and I can understand how he has amassed a collection of devotees. Physically, he’s the meeting point between Nick Cave and Noah Taylor, and his similarly rock’n’roll edge and natural charisma make him rather irresistible.  

So it is with his equally seductive books of science fictional fact (or factual fiction). Both his previous, remarkable, When We Cease to Understand The World, and his latest, The Maniac, see him indulge his fascination for unique, eccentric and problematic geniuses. The Maniac focuses on Hungarian polymath John von Neumann, a superhumanly prodigious thinker who was doing complex maths and chatting in ancient Greek by the age of six. His brilliance impacted on every branch of science he touched (game theory, AI, quantum mechanics, DNA and the atomic bomb), but his prioritisation of practical knowledge above moral concerns mean that the legacy of this anti-hero is ultimately terrifying. 

Beyond the door of no return cover

Beyond the Door of No Return by David Diop, translated by Sam Taylor 

(Out on 5 October, Pushkin Press, £16.99)  

French African writer David Diop (born in Paris, raised in Senegal) wowed the world with his International Booker Prize-winning At Night All Blood is Black, an emotionally rousing take on the First World War from the viewpoint of the African soldiers sent to kill or die to defend their French colonisers. The novel marked Diop as a writer of multiple talents; a profound and eloquent poet, a powerful storyteller led by memorable, believable characters, and a passionate advocate for voices less heard and stories less told. The same skills make his new book an equally unpredictable and satisfying read. Diop’s poetic sensibility marks every sentence of this resonant story about a dying old man’s secret past, and his unforgotten passion for Maram, a beautiful, broken victim of the brutal practices of slave-trading and female-sacrificing in 18th century Senegal. This is a tragic tale, its darkness shot through by the luminous Maram, and the tenderness her memory and her legacy evoke in both the protagonist and the reader. 

You can buy or pre-order these titles from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
From stars of children's books to the best in crime writing: Here's the best UK book festivals in 2024
Books festival illustration
Books

From stars of children's books to the best in crime writing: Here's the best UK book festivals in 2024

'The threat to our rights': Women share what keeps them awake at night in honour of Ulysses' Molly Bloom
Illustration by Chris Bentham
Books

'The threat to our rights': Women share what keeps them awake at night in honour of Ulysses' Molly Bloom

Top 5 children's books for summer
Books

Top 5 children's books for summer

'Future is as shaky as its ever been': Will Baillie Gifford funding row kill our book festivals?
Books

'Future is as shaky as its ever been': Will Baillie Gifford funding row kill our book festivals?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know