Summer isn’t only a time for beach reads—after all, how many days do you actually spend at the beach each summer? (If it’s a lot, don’t tell me.) It’s also the season for expanding your horizons, which you can do from the comfort of your couch (or beach towel, I guess, because apparently you’re all at the beach all the time) thanks to the perfect technology that is books. So if you’re looking for something new, here are the memoirs, essay collections, biographies, and other works of nonfiction that the Literary Hub staff recommends this season.
Séamas O’Reilly, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?
Little, Brown and Company, June 7
Séamas O’Reilly writes witty columns for The Observer about fatherhood and has a well-worth-the-read Twitter thread about taking recreational ketamine then dispensing drinks to Irish President Mary McAleese. He’s also written an actually laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking memoir about growing up with ten siblings and a widowed dad in 90s Derry.
When O’Reilly’s mother died at 43 of breast cancer, he was just five years old. His other siblings, ranging in age from two to seventeen, pose a bit of a narrative challenge (always appearing as “Sinead-Dara-Shane-Orla-Maeve-Mairead-Dearbhaile-Caoimhe-Fionnuala-Conall”) but O’Reilly’s father Joe is lovingly rendered and good-naturedly teased. One of the great successes of the memoir is that it addresses living through “The Troubles” head on, but also shows the many small ways in which people carry about the business of living their lives both in personal and nationally tragedy—such as going on holiday in a 26-foot caravan, pre-blessed by a priest. –Emily Firetog, deputy editor
Joanna Scutts, Hotbed: Bohemian Greenwich Village and the Secret Club that Sparked Modern Feminism
Seal Press, June 7
In the early 20th century, the wave of bohemians who settled in New York City’s Greenwich Village established the area as ground zero for intellectual debate: gathering in private homes and in cafes, their conversations gave rise to some of the era’s most influential political ideas and artistic advancements. Joanna Scutts hones in on one particularly fascinating corner of this world: the Heterodoxy Club, a coterie of women that included Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Alice Kimball, Alison Turnbull Hopkins, and Susan Glaspell, among other influential figures. Hotbed brings you to the heart of the social world that sustained and supported them, and it is filled with fascinating details for anyone remotely interested in this history. –Corinne Segal, senior editor
Charles McGrath, The Summer Friend
Knopf, June 7
It’s all in the title: this is the perfect memoir for the season. A sun-soaked, nostalgic look back at years of summers spent in New England on the water and all the evocative details that make up those memories: boating, screen doors closing, children laughing, cold beer on the porch. There is a certain kind of love and friendship that occurs in a place such as this: the setting is dreamlike, and all relationships formed within retain a rosy haze, which makes the inevitable loss and hardship even harder to bear. McGrath writes of a late-in-life best friendship formed over these long, lazy summers, the pleasurable day to day of the moments they shared, and the grief that comes with losing something he thought would never end. –Julia Hass, contributing editor
Ada Calhoun, Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me
Grove Press, June 14
One day, quite by accident, art critic Peter Schjeldahl’s daughter Ada Calhoun comes across recordings of her father’s interview with poet Frank O’Hara’s colleagues—cassettes he made as he prepared to write an authorized biography of the poet in the late 1970s. But as support was withdrawn by the poet’s sister and literary executor, the project was never finished. Calhoun believes she can resurrect the work, but in this woven memoir-biography-familial history, she does much more than that.
While Calhoun connects with her father through their mutual adoration of O’Hara, it’s after Schjeldahl’s lung cancer diagnosis that the book shifts to examine, and understand, the relationship between father and daughter most clearly: “Maybe what I’m figuring out is that the book I was meant to write was never a book about O’Hara—or even really about my father. It was about me.” A beautiful book in what feels like a brand new genre. –Emily Firetog, deputy editor
Kaitlyn Tiffany, Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It
MCD/FSG Originals, June 14
I’m a huge fan of Kaitlyn Tiffany’s nuanced, fascinating, and genuinely fun cultural commentary about the internet, so I can’t wait to read her exploration of the ingenuity, intensity, and messiness of online fangirls. I have no doubt that Tiffany (a self-described fangirl herself) will examine the rich subject of stan culture with as much empathy and humor (and perhaps, occasionally, horror) as it deserves. And, let’s be honest, I could read about wild One Direction fan theories all day. –Jessie Gaynor, senior editor
Amy Brady and Tajja Isen, eds., The World As We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate
Catapult, June 14
The headlines tend to paint our climate crisis in large brushstrokes: Climate Change Causes Heat Waves! The Polar Bears Are Dying! Experts Say It’s Too Late—For Real This Time! How Fashion Companies Are Shifting to Sustainability! Here at Lit Hub, we are always alarmed by and want to talk about climate change (see: the Climate Change Library). But I understand that this can get a little saturating. How, then, can we talk about this topic in a different way?
The answer is The World As We Knew It, a vital collection of essays from some of our best writers, including Lydia Millet, Alexandra Kleeman, Omar El Akkad, Lidia Yuknavitch, Tracy O’Neill, and Melissa Febos. These pieces are love letters to our dying planet. They take us to the Middle East, ancient Rome, Staten Island, and even one writer’s backyard in Arizona. But it’s the specificity that is most heartbreaking. These essays make you slow down and pay attention to the daily devastations and disappearances, from the Saguaro cacti to the coral reef in the Caribbean. What editors Amy Brady and Tajja Isen have created is an unforgettable chorus that, when assembled together, act as a piercing rallying cry. –Katie Yee, associate editor
Erin Kimmerle, We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys
William Morrow, June 14
This book is intense, moving, and highly necessary. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic archeologist, tells the story of the Dozier School for Boys (also recently portrayed in fiction by Colson Whitehead in The Nickel Boys) and the survivors’ quest to inter and rebury with dignity the many victims of the school’s brutality. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads senior editor
Ed Yong, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us
Random House, June 21
It’s hard to overstate just how good Ed Yong is: from his widely lauded coverage of the coronavirus pandemic to the broad range of health and science issues he’s explored in writing, he always sounds like your smartest friend (who also happens to have won a Pulitzer), one who’s equally up for explaining a particularly tricky or strange scientific concept and for laughing about it afterwards.
Here, he turns to the animal world, and in particular to the many questions around animal consciousness. At every turn, Yong is an amazing interlocutor, puzzling through the mysteries of this topic with plenty of anecdotes from his own reporting, from the informative to the downright entertaining. His writing invites us to delight in the world and the tools we use to understand it. –Corinne Segal, senior editor
Patrick Radden Keefe, Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks
Doubleday, June 28
New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (2018) and Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (2021) are two of the most compelling and impactful works of longform investigative journalism I have ever read (for some lighter fare, I would also heartily recommend his 2020 podcast Wind of Change, a delightful deep dive into the rumor that the titular Scorpions song was secretly written by the CIA) so I am champing at the bit to get my hands on a copy of Rogues, which brings together 12 of Radden Keefe’s most celebrated New Yorker stories “of skullduggery and intrigue.” 350 pages of wine forgers, money launderers, arms dealers, devil’s advocates, and other assorted badmen—I can hardly wait. –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks editor in chief
Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter, Aaron Vansintjan, The Future Is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism
Verso Books, June 28
The myth of endless economic expansion has led our world close to collapse—as Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter, and Aaron Vansintjan state in an early chapter of The Future is Degrowth, “Infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet.” The Future is Degrowth is a crystal-clear indictment of that myth as well as a map to how we survive the worst effects of global capitalism. That future, the authors argue, necessarily involves a more careful, limited use of resources; a greater level of care for the health of the environment and all the species living in it; and a “democratic and participatory, cooperative, needs-oriented” approach to production. The book is a tour through some of the debates surrounding these ideas, describing the challenges of implementing them as well as the promises of a post-growth world. –Corinne Segal, senior editor
CJ Hauser, The Crane Wife: A Memoir in Essays
Doubleday, July 12
CJ Hauser’s Paris Review piece “The Crane Wife”—a beautiful essay about ending an engagement and a whooping crane—was a viral sensation when it was published in 2019. Using that essay as an anchor, Hauser’s new collection explores more stories of love, romantic and familial. There’s an essay about scattering her grandmother’s ashes in Martha’s Vineyard, where John Belushi is also buried—and the space between those two people. There’s a close reading of the movie The Philadelphia Story. There’s a meditation on what it means for a woman to live alone. While it’s always difficult to summarize an essay collection, what holds The Crane Wife together is Hauser’s unpacking of emotional truths: who do we love, and why, and what happens when they’re gone? When we’re alone? When we forget what it was like to love them? –Emily Firetog, deputy editor
Nicole Chung and Matt Ortile, eds., Body Language: Writers on Identity, Physicality, and Making Space for Ourselves
Catapult, July 12
It’s no secret that I love a good essay anthology. Multiple minds and writing sensibilities circling around the same topic is one of my favorite reading experiences, and the topic of the body makes for particularly compelling fodder—as Melissa Febos wrote in response to the collection, “There is nothing more ordinary than living in a body, but so much about it can remain unspoken.” Body Language gathers 30 essays from Catapult’s archive that venture into that unspoken territory—with essays about weight, disability, athleticism, fertility, race, disordered eating, gender, and more—featuring writers you know and love and others you’ll be glad to encounter. –Eliza Smith, special projects editor
Erika L. Sánchez, Crying in the Bathroom
Viking, July 12
Honestly, how could you not want to read a book with this title? Crying in the Bathroom *might* have you doing just that—but only if it’s one of those laughing-so-hard situations. To make your readers crack up while also discussing weighty topics like sexism, racism, and depression is no easy task, but it’s one Erika L. Sánchez is well equipped for. A National Book Award finalist for her YA novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, she has written a memoir/essay collection that promises to be just as poignant and bold. –Katie Yee, associate editor
Carmen Rita Wong, Why Didn’t You Tell Me?
Crown, July 12
Perhaps you know Carmen Rita Wong from her stint as an advice columnist or a television host. She has been a chair on the board of Planned Parenthood and currently sits as a chair for The Moth. I think it’s safe to say that she’s built an incredibly successful career for herself—plus, she specializes in personal finance—which means she’s probably the kind of person who people love to ask: What’s your secret? Well, her memoir does hinge on a secret: one her mother kept from her for most of her life. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is! Yes, you should absolutely read it to find out for yourself.
For 216 pages, you will be invited into Carmen Rita Wong’s vivid childhood memories; you will intimately come to know some of the members of her family. In this memoir, our country’s race relations and obsession with identity play out in the unraveling of one family’s story. Why Didn’t You Tell Me? is a propulsive pursuit of the truth and the way it’s shaped this writer’s life. –Katie Yee, associate editor
Ingrid Rojas Contreras, The Man Who Could Move Clouds
Doubleday, July 12
This one sounds absolutely fascinating. Colombian novelist Ingrid Rojas Contreras, author of 2019’s Fruit of the Drunken Tree, has written a family memoir unlike any other. Rojas Contreras was raised amid the political violence of 1980s and 90s Bogotá, but it was while living in the US in 2012 that she suffered a serious head injury, one which caused an eight-week bout of amnesia. Decades previous, her mother, after a similar injury, gained the ability to see ghosts and hear voices—a gift she inherited from her legendary healer father, Nono. The Man Who Could Move Clouds is the story of the return trip Rojas Contreras and her mother made to Colombia to disinter Nono’s remains and tell his incredible story, as well as the stories of her ancestors and her country. –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks editor in chief
Charles Baxter, Wonderlands: Essays on the Life of Literature
Graywolf, July 12
I love Charles Baxter’s empathic, stealthily funny fiction deeply (one of the readings at my wedding was from The Feast of Love), so I have no doubt that his collection of craft essays will be both illuminating and beautiful. The essays in the book range from explorations of the titular literary wonderlands to examinations of the “request moment” (or: “There’s something I want you to do”) in stories. A revelatory craft book is a rare and wonderful gift for a writer-slash-reader, and I look forward to devouring this one. –Jessie Gaynor, senior editor
Catherine Collins & Douglas Frantz, Salmon Wars: The Dark Underbelly of Our Favorite Fish
Henry Holt & Company, July 12
I enjoy a nice salmon fillet from time to time and have, in my ignorance, always associated the fish with good health and environmental sustainability, so I’m a little terrified to read this damning expose of the international salmon farming industry. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Frantz and former private investigator Collins team up to expose the destructive impact of Big Salmon (which the authors compare to Big Tobacco and Big Agribusiness in its insidiousness) on both the natural world and on public health. Collins and Frantz take us from the massive parasite- and chemical-plagued ocean feedlots to the grotesque industrial hatcheries that threaten fragile coastal ecosystems, interviewing a slew of colorful and shady characters along the way. –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks editor in chief
Elvia Wilk, Death by Landscape
Soft Skull, July 19
Elvia Wilk is a wonderful (and strange) mind to spend time with, and Death by Landscape, an essay collection billed as “fan nonfiction,” gives readers ample room to do just that. As Snigdha Koirala wrote for Lit Hub earlier this year:
Erotics of compost, vampires, medieval nuns, and solarpunk. Wilk’s “fan nonfiction,” examines the works of Anne Carson, Octavia Butler, Michelle Tea, and more to probe the lines and shapes of “weird fiction” in the face of extinction and all its urgency and anxieties. At the heart of it are questions of how to tell stories that center the Earth as opposed to humans, that help us grapple with the end of the world, and that help us see and be with the dark of it all.
This is what a beach read really looks like. –Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub editor-in-chief
Matthew Green, Shadowlands
W.W. Norton, July 19
If you told me that British historian Matthew Green was some kind of delightful English Calvino who’d conjured up an odd fictional encyclopedia of disappeared cities, lost towns, and ghostly villages, I’d still want to read this book. But no, these stories of ancient English towns falling off sea cliffs, ghostly hamlets done in by pestilence, and eerie villages buried by time and earth, are all true. As so much of our collective imagination fixates on the fragility of our near-future existence, it is worth spending a little time with history’s stark examples of time’s dominion over us all. –Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub editor-in-chief
Elaine Castillo, How to Read Now: Essays
Viking, July 26
Every few months, the literary world seems to implode over the question of whether reading makes us better people. Does it? Should it? Is that the function of art? Elaine Castillo, author of the bestselling debut novel America Is Not the Heart, has a few thoughts, on that question and a dozen others. If I must boil down her argument to the space of a blurb, it’s that “white supremacy makes for terrible readers”—a lesson that’s playing out on the national news every day, and which makes me hopeful that this will be a Very Talked About Book. Observing the classics to the contemporary (including other “readable” media beyond books), and thinking deeply about the roles of reading in our world, Castillo urges us toward “a more daring solidarity.” –Eliza Smith, special projects editor
Beverly Lowry, Deer Creek Drive: A Reckoning of Memory and Murder in the Mississippi Delta
Knopf, August 2
The true crime boom of the past few years (particularly in podcasts, and their resulting TV adaptations) has left me conflicted, because while I find much of its product to be salacious and fear-mongering, I find a well-constructed nonfiction crime narrative to be among the most compelling type of book. In Deer Creek Drive, Beverly Lowry tells the story of the murder of Idella Thompson, a society matron in the Mississippi Delta where Lowry grew up. After claiming that an unknown Black man had committed the murder, Thompson’s daughter was convicted, but was released from prison after six years, following a widespread community campaign. In the book, Lowry explores the crime and its wide-ranging ripple effects in the community and her own life. This promises to be a thoughtful and gripping addition to the true crime genre. –Jessie Gaynor, senior editor
T.J. English, Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld
William Morrow, August 2
As T. J. English proves in this fascinating new work of nonfiction, the history of jazz has always been inseparable from the history of vice and crime. That’s partly because of where jazz originated—New Orleans has always had plenty of bordellos, in the salons of which a new kind of music emerged in the 1880s. The gangsters liked the music, and they started patronizing clubs where “jass” music would play. The musicians liked the gangsters and the madams because both were far less racist and moralizing than the cops and cultural authorities of the time (and, well, today). And so, a truly American musical form was born and nurtured by those deemed as decadent as the music they enjoyed. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads senior editor
Lynne Tillman, Mothercare: On Obligation, Love, Death, and Ambivalence
Soft Skull, August 2
When was the last time a subtitle alone sold me on a book? This might be the first. Cultural critic Lynne Tillman’s latest delves into the 11 years that she and her sisters spent caring for their mother at the end of her life, as she experienced an unusual medical condition that causes memory loss. Both a treatise on the “grueling obligation” of caregiving and an ineffectual American healthcare system, as well as the frank recounting of loving and living with a difficult parent, Mothercare feels particularly apt for an era in which caregivers are more burnt than out than ever (or, perhaps more accurately, an era in which we’re finally paying attention). –Eliza Smith, special projects editor
Andrew Bacevich and Danny A. Sjursen (eds.), Paths of Dissent: Soldiers Speak Out Against America’s Long War
Metropolitan, August 2
We have not yet reached the one-year anniversary of American withdrawal from Afghanistan and already the disastrous fallout—at home and abroad—of this multigenerational forever war recedes from public consciousness. This cannot be allowed to happen. We *should* know by now that the half-life of a war and its effects goes on much longer than its official end date… and maybe we would if we spent more time listening to the soldiers themselves rather than the politicians who sent them away to die.
Paths of Dissent: Soldiers Speak Out Against America’s Long War, edited by Andrew Bacevich and retired army officer Danny A. Sjursen, shares the voices of post-9/11 veterans as they wrestle with the unimaginable moral and material debt accrued through over 20 years of largely misguided war. It takes courage in this country to speak out as a soldier, and if we are to avoid the kind of imperial folly that gave us the War on Terror, we will need to make more space for the voices of veterans who know of what they speak. This book does that. –Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub editor-in-chief
Michael W. Twitty, Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew
Amistad Press, August 9
Michael W. Twitty’s Koshersoul is an exploration of Black Jewish identity, lived and expressed through food. Twitty dives right into some of the more difficult conversations around Judaism and race, drawing on his own experience along with conversations with spiritual leaders and activists—always with a focus on the joy, ingenuity, and diversity of Black Jewish life.
In this interplay of history, Jewish teachings, and memoir, Twitty shows us the ways that he and others engage in a dialogue with their ancestors through food; a kitchen can be a sacred space, and nourishment in its many forms carries spiritual significance. There are recipes, too: “a koshersoul community cookbook of sorts,” filled with the knowledge of those whom Twitty interviewed. –Corinne Segal, senior editor
Kathleen Hale, Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls
Grove, August 16
Kathleen Hale’s Hazlitt piece on the Slenderman story still stands out from the general sensationalist coverage of the case for its level of empathy for all involved. When two middle schoolers stabbed another middle schooler in the woods in 2012, they claimed to do it on behalf of a mysterious figure known as Slenderman. Hysterical parenting sites spread a moral panic about CreepyPasta, the website where stories of Slenderman originated and then became memes. However, undiagnosed schizophrenia, midwestern stoicism, and intense friendship dynamics are much more to blame for the attack, as Kathleen Hale illustrates here. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads senior editor
Casey Parks, Diary of a Misfit
Knopf, August 23
Casey Parks knew it would be a cataclysmic event when she told her Southern family about her queerness, but she didn’t know it jumpstart her own quest for answers. After telling her family she was a lesbian, her grandmother told her about “a woman who lived as a man,” Roy Hudgins, who used to live across from her many years ago. Her grandmother instructed Parks to track him down and find out what she could—and this she did, spending years looking for Roy, finding out how he lived, what he thought, how he managed his otherness in a place that did not celebrate it. Parks ends up finding a lot more than she bargained for, more about Roy, queer lineage, and her own relationship to her identity, faith, and family. This one’s not to be missed. –Julia Hass, contributing editor
Anya Kamenetz, The Stolen Year
PublicAffairs, August 23
You might know Anya Kamenetz as a voice on your radio reporting on the many ways in which American social policy—at the local, state, and federal levels—is letting down the nation’s children. As NPR’s education correspondent, Kamenetz has had a first-hand look at the impact of this country’s systematically dismantled social safety nets, the result of a multi-generational campaign that has left those most vulnerable with nowhere to go. And those most vulnerable are children.
If there was any doubt about the inability of American government to take care of its own, it was put to rest by our disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As Kamenetz documents in The Stolen Year—in which she interviews families across America, from all walks of life—children are always the first to suffer when there isn’t enough of anything, be it food, money, time, care, or shelter. We still cannot know the cost of these terrible years on the younger generation, but with The Stolen Year, we can at least begin the reckoning. –Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub editor-in-chief
Robert Crawford, Eliot After the Waste Land
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, August 23
The much anticipated follow up to Crawford’s Young Eliot, Eliot after ‘The Waste Land’ does what it says on the tin: tells the story of the poet’s life after the release of his grand opus. Eliot’s letters with long-time love, Emily Hale, were unlocked in the year 2020, and Crawford draws upon this unearthed trove of documents among others in his final biography. What emerges is the completed portrait of a man who has been in the public eye for over a hundred years, but has never before been seen in quite this way: the reader is treated to the intimate and tender correspondence between him and his great love, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of his work and career. –Julia Hass, contributing editor