Every week, a new crop of great new books hit the shelves. If we could read them all, we would, but since time is finite and so is the human capacity for page-turning, here are a few of the ones we’ll be starting with. What are you reading this week?
Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls (Riverhead)
Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a juicy historical romance, in which 19-year-old Vivian leaves Vassar in the summer of 1940, to hang around her aunt’s rollicking playhouse in Manhattan, finding excitement, lust, and scandal—and some self-knowledge along the way.
Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press)
Celebrated poet Ocean Vuong’s first novel is almost the Socratic ideal of a poet’s novel: it’s lyrical, semi-autobiographical, sexy, and almost unaccountably lovely, despite the rough edges of the story it tells, and the real trauma it encompasses. Just the way Vuong observes his harsh world—as if every charred detail were worthy of meditation, and maybe it’s so—is moving enough, but throw in a doomed love story like this one and there’s really no coming back.
Kathryn Scanlan, Aug 9 – Fog (MCD)
Aug 9-Fog is the result of Kathryn Scanlan’s obsessive paring down and refashioning of an octogenarian stranger’s diary she purchased at an estate sale in rural Illinois. It is a slim book, rich with empty space in which Scanlan punctuates a moving, elliptical narrative of weather, loss, and the poetry of an ordinary life, but its minimalism is deceptive, as the voice Scanlan conjures from the diary pages lingers long in the mind. (Stephen Sparks)
Nicole Dennis-Benn, Patsy (Liveright)
Nicole Dennis-Benn’s follow-up to Here Comes the Sun is a compassionate portrait of Patsy, who immigrates from Kingston, Jamaica, to Brooklyn—where her longed-for childhood girlfriend Cicely lives, albeit married now—but must leave her 5-year-old daughter behind.
Kristen Arnett, Mostly Dead Things (Tin House)
Beloved librarian and Lit Hub columnist Kristen Arnett has a novel coming out! The premise is dark (Jessa takes over her family’s taxidermy business after her father commits suicide) and weird in a very specific way (once again: family taxidermy business), and I’m a sucker for strange family tragedy stories. I have a feeling it won’t be too depressing a read, though; Kristen Arnett’s writing frequently has me in stitches (see: her Twitter and also
Robert Macfarlane, Underland (W.W. Norton)
In a stunning exploration of the subterranean, Macfarlane asks us to bear witness to the underworlds we can see—laboratories, storage spaces, fossilized remains—and those that have played a more abstract role throughout human history. Macfarlane looks at the ways humans use the underland “to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful,” along with the larger implications of each of those approaches. (Corinne Segal)
Ryan Leigh Dostie, Formation (Grand Central)
Dostie’s debut memoir tells the story of her life in the Army as a Persian-Farsi/Dari linguist in military intelligence—and what happens after she is raped by a fellow soldier and, terribly if not surprisingly, finds the system stacked against her. It follows her story through Operation Iraqi Freedom and back home, where she struggles to readjust to civilian life with PTSD. An important addition to the canon of war memoirs.
Samra Habib, We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir (Viking)
In this debut memoir, writer, photographer, and activist Samra Habib tells the story of her difficult upbringing—enduring sexual abuse and religious persecution in Pakistan as a child, seeking asylum in Canada and trading “one set of anxieties for another,” facing an arranged marriage at 16. But this is a happy story, because it’s really about how Habib unshackled herself from the layers of damaging cultural expectations, eventually building a community, family, and public that supports her.
Suketu Mehta, This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto (FSG)
Decorated journalist Mehta begins this argument for open borders with an anecdote about his grandfather, challenged by an elderly Brit while sitting in a park in London. “‘Why are you here?’ the man demanded. ‘Why are you in my country?'” This is the complicated question that Mehta addresses in this book—and though there are many facets to it, he starts with his grandfather’s response: “‘Because we are the creditors . . . ‘You took all our wealth, our diamonds. Now we have come to collect.’ We are here, my grandfather was saying, because you were there.”
Tan France, Naturally Tan (St. Martin’s)
Oh come on—don’t try to tell me you don’t love Tan France. This witty memoir of France’s childhood as a gay Muslim kid in a conservative immigrant family in South Yorkshire, and how he found his way to the Fab Five is also full of fashion tips, obviously. “Tan’s book is moving, insightful, and hilare,” Jonathan Van Ness said via blurb. “Any bad stories about me are totally untrue, but the rest is brilliant. Best book of the millennium!” Like I said: come on.