The Best New Books to Read This Summer

Recommendations From Lit Hub Staff and Contributors

There’s been plenty of discussion already (in the ambient Book Media sphere as well as in the Literary Hub slack) about how to approach the concept of Summer Reading this year. Yes, there’s a pandemic happening, which means most of us will be doing markedly less traveling and sitting on beaches over the next three months. We may have more or less time than usual for reading, depending on our individual circumstances. But as far as the concept of summer reading goes, nothing has really changed.

After all, Summer Reading was always an imaginary category, at least for adults—a nostalgic holdover from the memory of finally being released from schoolbooks, and suddenly having lots of spare time and freedom to read whatever we wanted. For most of us, summer reading has long been simply . . . reading, but in warmer weather. Maybe with the extra cushion of a vacation or a few Summer Fridays in there, but otherwise not exactly transformative. (Which doesn’t mean we don’t still get excited about it.)

And while the pandemic is still affecting almost every aspect of daily life, you can still do just as much reading alone in the park, and just as much sitting on the porch with lemonade and a book, and just as much pretending that summer means you don’t have to go to work, and are instead headed to camp or the ocean.

Which is good, because there are a lot of fantastic books to choose from this year. Below, you’ll find our favorite books of the coming season, for wherever and however it finds you.

Alexandra Petri, Nothing is Wrong and Here is Why: Essays

Alexandra Petri, Nothing is Wrong and Here is Why: Essays
W. W. Norton, June 2

I don’t know about you, but I sure could use a laugh these days. I’ve been a fan of Alexandra Petri’s work for years, and this book of essays brings together a number of her previously published pieces along with some newer ones that speak to the politics of this moment. Petri’s singular sense of humor and absurdity is the perfect match for life in 2020: without using the phrase “now more than ever,” it suffices to say that we need her, and to laugh.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Marie-Helene Bertino, Parakeet

Marie-Helene Bertino, Parakeet
FSG, June 2

I’ve been a wee bit obsessed with this hypnotic, semi-surrealist jewel of a book ever since I tore through a galley in the first two days of the new year. It’s the story of an unmoored young woman, known only as The Bride, whose dead grandmother appears before her in the form of a parrot on the eve of her Long Island wedding and commands her to seek out her estranged brother—a reclusive playwright who made his name with a play about his sister’s troubled childhood. As you do. Strange in all the most wondrous ways, Parakeet is a dazzling hybridic work of riotous humor and aching pathos, a cold feet fantasia of outlandish and extraordinary proportions, and, above all else, an exquisitely written mediation on buried trauma and grief. I’ll bet good money that this shimmering, dreamlike novel is unlike any you’ve read before. A rare bird indeed.   –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

Naoise Dolan, Exciting Times

Naoise Dolan, Exciting Times
Ecco, June 2

Beginning with its wry title, we are introduced to Exciting Times and its protagonist, Ava, a 23-year-old ex-pat from Ireland, living in Hong Kong. Ava is a floater, unsure of her place in life, unsure of how to be good to herself, or how to be, in general. The novel is imbued with a specific form of ennui, born of our times, that encompasses a sense of disengagement and frustration with the world, while also craving success, whatever that word means. Reading this book felt like reading my own thoughts, which I do mean as a compliment, and is probably being a little too kind to myself in comparing my thoughts to Dolan’s expert prose. But the problems that plague young women today are simply different than the ones that have plagued women before, and to watch as the narratives pour out of that fact is so visceral and necessary, namely for young women readers who need those stories and to see themselves reflected. And yes, the Rooney comparisons will be hard to avoid. But this needn’t be a bad thing: the two of them, Rooney and Dolan, just happen to be on the cusp of, what I hope, is the onslaught of many voices like theirs. A voice that speaks from a specific stature of intellect and awareness, with an ambivalence towards engaging in the capitalist economy, while simultaneously longing to be of, and a part of, the world.  –Julia Hass, Editorial Fellow

Molly McCully Brown, Places I’ve Taken My Body
Persea Books, June 2

This is a stunning essay collection by the author of the wildly imaginative poetry collection The Virginia Colony for the Epileptics and Feebleminded. McCully Brown strikes again with this searching, big-hearted book of essays that questions what it means to live in a world that wasn’t built for the particular body you inhabit, but also about what it means to live in this world, and in a body, at all. Long live the essay, and, as I always say, long live essays written by poets.  –Lauren Markham, Lit Hub contributor

Lauren A. Forry, They Did Bad Things

Lauren A. Forry, They Did Bad Things
Arcade CrimeWise, June 2

As we’re all learning during the pandemic, roommates can be the worst. I gobbled this one up (partially because, like all of us, I’m currently obsessed with books about lots of people crowded into small spaces), and man, is this one satisfying. Five former college roommates who once shared a party house gather together at a run-down mansion being used as a B&B. Things start to get weird as soon as they get there and discover that the mansion’s interior has been turned into an exact replica of their old college house, down to the cigarette burns in the ratty couch, and get even weirder as flashbacks slowly reveal the terrible events from decades before that bind them together.  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

Masha Gessen, Surviving Autocracy
Riverhead, June 2

Raised in the Soviet Union, author of the single best work on Vladmir Putin’s rise from obscurity to power, and winner of the National Book Award for their book on how Totalitarianism took over Russian politics, Masha Gessen is perfectly suited to explain to readers what just happened and—if things go badly—where we might be going. Part of our problem, they argue, is that we’ve been using the wrong language to grapple with our new reality: “if we use the wrong language, we cannot describe what we are seeing.”

And so, to guide us through the tour of cognitive adjustments living in the Trump era has required of us, Gessen borrows the head-lamp of Hungarian ex-politician and sociologist, Balint Magyar’s political theory. We are essentially in a mafia state, Gessen argues, deploying the term Magyar coined, and which gave rise to Misha Glenny’s great 2008 book, “McMafia,” wherein the state and criminal enterprise merge. A mafia state, she explains, is a “clan-like system in which one man distributes money and power to all other members.” In his own work, Balint argued becoming a mafia state was a three-part process: autocratic attempt, autocratic breakthrough, and autocratic consolidation.”

So where are we? Well, Gessen points out, Trump “ran for autocrat, and won.” “On January 20th, 2017, the nation saw that it was inaugurating a president like no president before him: a president who viewed the government with contempt.” What has happened since then is a continuation of Trump’s stated design, and while Gessen doesn’t pretend to read the future—it’s not entirely clear, and won’t be, if a breakthrough has occurred, Gessen says—their book’s extremely lucid analysis of how our language, institutions, and ultimately our norms have been shredded in the quest for autocrat like power is strangely reassuring. To those who still for some reason believe these institutions can still protect us, “Surviving Autocracy” will be a stark wake-up call; to those who are looking for what happens now, Gessen’s notes on how we need to rebuild the concept of a “we” in our time are warm and moving, a light of hope that these years can be survived.  –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

Wayétu Moore, The Dragons, The Giant, The Women
Graywolf, June 2

Moore’s memoir unpeels the autobiographical underpinnings of She Could Be King, her magic realistic first novel about the founding days of Liberia, featuring the unforgettable Gbessa, about whom the wind says, “If she was not a woman, she would be king.” Moore was born in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. War erupts not long after her fifth birthday, a celebration undercut by a yearning for her mother, who is living in New York. Rebels supporting Charles Taylor launch a coup attempt against president Samuel Doe, who she imagines as a fire-breathing dragon. She flees with her father, grandmother and two sisters to Lai, the Vai village of her mother’s people, and then to the US, where nightmares mark the years thereafter. “Liberia lived with me every night, in my dreams,” she writes in this nuanced and haunting memoir. “I wear it on my skin and in the rhythm of my love stories.”  –Jane Ciabattari, Lit Hub contributor

Megha Majumdar, A Burning

Megha Majumdar, A Burning
Knopf, June 2

In just 289 pages, Megha Majumdar gives you a whole world. It is a world of corruption and injustice, but it is populated by people who have sacrificed enormously and hope earnestly. Her stunning debut novel begins with a terrorist attack on a train in India. Because of a careless Facebook comment, an innocent young woman is charged with the crime. From prison, Jivan tells us her story. And not just the story of the day on the train, but her whole story. We hear about the injustices her family faced growing up in poverty, the pride her father took in her literacy (my heart!), her aspirations of becoming a teacher. Jivan is the connective tissue of this story, but what makes this novel feel so full of life is the chorus of voices that also come in. A Burning is also told through the eyes of PT Sir, Jivan’s old gym teacher, who is trying to move up in the world through the right-wing party and whose social climbing proves detrimental to Jivan’s case. We also hear from Lovely, a “hijra” (a transgender woman) who is treated as an outcast but who dreams of becoming a movie star. Lovely was one of Jivan’s students, and her voice has a particular, shining musicality: she always speaks in the present progressive, giving us a sense of continuation, of past events always unfolding and previous lives always lingering. This brilliant convergence is at the heart of A Burning, a novel you’ll likely consume in one sitting. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Associate Editor

Lorenza Pieri, tr. Liesl Schillinger, The Garden of Monsters

Lorenza Pieri, tr. Liesl Schillinger, The Garden of Monsters
Europa, June 9

A few years ago, in a suburb outside of Rome, I stayed in the guesthouse of a young Italian couple who dreamed of becoming ranchers in Wyoming or Texas. Their line dancing hobby and the horses on their property confirmed how serious they were about being cowboys. Imagine my surprise when I picked up Lorenza Pieri’s The Garden of Monsters, the story of a teenage girl, Annamaria, in the late 1980s and early ‘90s whose family runs a saddlery in a part of Tuscany not far from where I’d been. Pieri adds to a robust tradition in modern Italian literature, popularized by authors like Elsa Morante in Arturo’s Island, Italo Calvino in The Path to the Spiders’ Nest, and Elena Ferrante in the Neapolitan Quartet: the novel of adolescent disenchantment, in which charmed and secret places are crucibles from which more hardened lives emerge. The disastrous way the lives of two families intersect—one incredibly privileged, the other not as much—now recalls Bong Joon-ho’s recent work as much as Ferrante (central to this book is a contentious friendship between two girls whose lives are on radically different tracks). Though Pieri’s conceit was inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden in Capalbio, I couldn’t help but think of Italy’s “Park of Monsters,” in the town of Bomarzo, a rather magical monument that was commissioned by a grief-stricken 16th-century prince whose wife died. Here, too, pain fuels the beauty and growth of Pieri’s characters—especially the women.—Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Jean Kyoung Frazier, Pizza Girl

Jean Kyoung Frazier, Pizza Girl
Doubleday, June 9

In this burnt-edged snack of a novel, which is funny, yes, but also darker than you think it will be, a teenage pizza delivery girl—also pregnant, and a slacker, and very confused about her feelings—becomes obsessed with a patron who wants pickles on her pizza. Frazier has a particular knack for dialogue, and even better knack for the self-destructive spiraling of her narrator, which turns an enjoyable coming of age novel into a wry ballad for a certain kind of aimless, shiftless youth. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Patrick Hoffman, Clean Hands 

Patrick Hoffman, Clean Hands 
Atlantic, June 9

Hoffman is one of the foremost practitioners in crime fiction today, a skilled storyteller who weaves together complex narratives to give readers an illuminating look at the darkened links binding global crime and corruption together. (We named his last effort, Every Man a Menace, one of the ten best crime novels of the decade, so you know we’re serious about this.) In Clean Hands, he zeroes in on the world of big law, as a cache of lost documents ensnares a high-priced firm in a blackmail scandal and a young lawyer and an ex-CIA fixer try to fix the mess only to wade deeper into the abyss. This is a dark and nuanced novel that dissects financial crime at the highest levels.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Editor-in-Chief

James Richardson, For Now: Poems
Copper Canyon, June 9

For a long while, the closest you could come to a planetarium experience in poetry—you know, tipped back, regarding to the sky, a comfy voice over unfurling galaxies and vastness and wonder?—has been the work of James Richardson. Quietly, diligently, the Princeton bard of brevity has plied his trade, turning out ten-second essays at the clip of one or two a year. Though so much of Richardson’s work reminds of our smallness beneath the heavens, our unknowing, he is no mere borrower of the cosmos as metaphor. As an aphorist, Richardson deals in linguistic black holes: parts of speech so dense they absorb light. A single phrase from his work can cause minutes to expand into hours, days. One of my favorite, from his 2001 book Vectors, goes like this in its entirety: “Shadows are harshest when there is only one lamp.” Another one is even pithier: “Each lock makes two prisons.”

In his latest book, For Now, Richardson contemplates the meaning of this dilation in time. What forces, other than words, in essence, enact it. In poems which radiate a new heat and grace, Richardson finds the greatest force, the one which most accordions the hours, is love. “Forty years on,” he writes in one perfect poem, “The Touch,” “the wine / we poured out on the lawn / leaving the party together / reaches the ocean.” This is compassionate work from one of the great minds in American poet.   –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

Stephanie Kelton, The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and The Birth af The People’s Economy
PublicAffairs, June 9

In the midst of the pandemic, the need for government financial investment in society—what economists call “deficit spending”—is very much in the air. For example, The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson came on my Keen On show to argue in favor a $10 trillion government package to keep us afloat in the economic storm triggered by the COVID crisis. Those wishing to brush up on the history of deficit spending should read Zachary D. Carter’s magisterial new biography of John Maynard Keynes, The Price of Peace. And those wishing to understand the opportunities and challenges of modern monetary theory should read Stephanie Kelton’s Upcoming The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and The Birth of The People’s Economy which applies Keynesian thinking to our current predicament. Kelton—who is advising Joe Biden on economic affairs—not only makes the “deficit myth” comprehensible, but also makes a compelling case for a “people’s economy” that can fix the corrosive inequalities of our age.  –Andrew Keen, host of Lit Hub Radio’s Keen On

Allison Adair, The Clearing

Allison Adair, The Clearing
Milkweed, June 9

Can you imagine if Georgia O’Keefe started to paint her first flower and then stopped because spring symbolized the awakening of the hunter, who sets out to kill the life reborn? Though Allison Adair writes of O’Keefe and the fear of the hunter in her poetry collection, The Clearing, she doesn’t quite imagine this scenario, but she might say the germ of the story is there. It is, after all, a fable, a tale that may have been true if life, gravity, and weather patterns weren’t so predictable. What would whales have become had they “developed a taste for our dry air” and ruled the land instead of sinking to the bottom of the sea, to become food for far smaller creatures? Juxtaposing somber images from the natural world (a runt rabbit, a strangled swan, a floor of dead birds, a landscape made of a woman’s hair) against seemingly more durable material like bones, chicken wire, rifles, and coins, Adair’s poems take as their central subject emotional and physical violence against women, which in this collection distorts all of life’s natural processes. Many of the poems are masterful (“Self-Portrait as Cenotaph,” “Debt,” “Angelus,” “Gettysburg”); few are as shocking as the opening, titular poem, where the clearing can be read not only as an opening in a forest, but also the eye sockets of a woman that have been plucked clean by birds.—Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Emily Temple, The Lightness

Emily Temple, The Lightness
William Morrow, June 16

I’ve worked with Lit Hub’s own Emily Temple for nearly two years, so her writing talent comes as no great surprise to me. Still, her debut novel The Lightness, is such a marvel of tension, razor-sharp humor, and some of most effectively deployed parentheticals I’ve ever encountered (I bow down to the power of her ibid), that I was in awe with every feverish flip of the page. The novel follows a teenage girl at “Buddhist Boot Camp for Bad Girls”—located at a Center known for being conducive to the practice of levitation—where she has come in search of her vanished father. If at times Temple’s pitch-perfect depiction of a searching teenage outsider felt too achingly familiar, the book’s momentum and its sentence-level beauty made it impossible to turn away. Pure magic. –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Matt Alt, Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World

Matt Alt, Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World
Crown, June 23

From video games to fashion, comic books, and anime, Japanese design and pop culture have profoundly altered our lives, changing the way we communicate and inspiring thousands of other cultural products in the process. In Pure Invention, journalist Matt Alt traces the lineage of Japanese pop culture from the postwar era through the 1970s and 80s to today, showing how Japan has consistently remained ahead of the curve in anticipating what would be hyper-relevant to our changing world. As Alt writes, “Japanese creators and consumers weren’t just trendsetters. They were harbingers for all the weirdness of our late-stage capitalist lives.” His account of how it all happened is a joy to explore. –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Sophie Mackintosh, Blue Ticket

Sophie Mackintosh, Blue Ticket
Doubleday, June 30

Mackintosh’s second novel is even more hallucinatory and spiraled than her first, 2018’s The Water Cure, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Set in a world where young girls are assigned a categorization at a young age (blue ticket = no children; white ticket = children), Calla finds herself driven by some unstoppable, incomprehensible force to break the rules and have a child. The result is a brutal journey into the unknown, as Calla runs, and forms uneasy alliances, the authorities always at her back. Terrifying and enchanting in equal measure. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Gene Wolfe, Interlibrary Loan

Gene Wolfe, Interlibrary Loan
Tor, June 30

Interlibrary Loan has a novel premise—in the distant future, you can check out not only books from your local library, but also flesh-and-blood clones of your favorite authors. Of course, such a system is ripe for exploitation, we soon learn, as the main character, the clone of a detective novelist, is checked out of the library by an unstable heiress who wants to use him as a private investigator to track down her errant husband, who has his own prurient and experimental plans for the clones in his care. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

Lee Connell, The Party Upstairs

Lee Conell, The Party Upstairs
Penguin Press, July 7

Lee Conell’s debut novel, The Party Upstairs, is singularly suited to the specific times we’re in. The novel takes place solely in the course of a single day in a luxury apartment building, told from the point of view of the live-in super’s daughter, a 24 year-old who has a foot in both worlds: her father’s world, as well as the more-privileged world she wishes to inhabit. The novel’s portrayal of class, the real and lasting effects that wealth, or lack thereof, can have on your mentality and outlook, is unparalleled. Most impressively done was the depiction of performative wokeness that pervades our current society, and manages to get to the crux of why that culture can often feel wrong: namely, when privilege can blind those to the power structures they inhabit, as those same privileged people simultaneously “call out” those who don’t have the privilege of such a voice. It has, as my coworker Molly Odintz said, “Marxist, Big Little Lie vibes”, a compliment I don’t think one can top. –Julia Hass, Editorial Fellow

Karen Solie, The Caiplie Caves: Poems
FSG, July 7

The competing instincts, in terrible times, of retreating from the world, or entering it ever more deeply, animate Karen Solie’s exquisite fifth collection. On one plane, these new poems tumble back to the 7th century, when an Irish missionary, Ethernan, withdrew to caves near Fife to contemplate war, the wreck of civilization, and the mendacity and greed of humankind. He quickly finds, in Solie’s rewriting here, a kind of vanity in this exclusion. “I can’t be sure now there ever was humility in it,” she writes in his voice, “burning the self as though it were a city / believing the past might be destroyed / and remade.”

On another plane, The Caiplie Caves chronicles the poet’s own meandering in and out of seclusion, togetherness, misanthropy, rage. At times she sounds like a naturalist, gently clutching at flowers in appreciation; at other times like every curmudgeon who ever turned up in Scotland to kick a rock or two. “I like it at sea level,” Solie writes in “An Enthusiast,” “It’s the right amount of exposition for me.” This is companionable work for how it finds a rough, wet music in the see-saw of sensibility between expansiveness and rejection. The inner metronome much older and more reliable if it can be heard.  –John Freeman, Executive Editor

Andrew Martin, Cool for America

Andrew Martin, Cool for America
FSG, July 7

If you read Martin’s excellent debut novel Early Work, you will recognize the themes (millennial ennui, underemployment, oveducation, a tendency to think too hard and do too little) of his winning first collection—and perhaps some characters (Leslie, Kenny, even Kiki and Scruggs). Mostly published in The Paris Review, these stories are perceptive slices-of-anxiety that will be uncomfortably, ecstatically recognizable to anyone who has ever considered themselves an intellectual—especially if it was sometime in the 2010s. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

David Berry, On Nostalgia
Coach House Books, July 7

What does it mean to live in a world where nostalgia is so omnipresent it might as well be tactile? That’s the conundrum David Berry explores in his book On Nostalgia, which touches upon everything from the political and historical uses of nostalgia—from ancient Rome to contemporary America—to the way narratives like Ready Player One and The Last Jedi utilize it in disparate ways. Berry’s subject is a wide-ranging one, but he pulls off the impressive feat of covering plenty of ground in a concise and compelling manner.  –Tobias Carroll, Lit Hub contributor

Charlie Kaufman, Antkind

Charlie Kaufman, Antkind
Random House, July 7

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind has been referred to as Kafkaesque, and that’s not wrong, but the only thing it can really be compared to is Kaufman’s own cinematic oeuvre, which includes the mind-warping films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich. B. Rosenberger Rosenberg is a failed film critic (and a failure at a host of side jobs that exist to support his failing career of film criticism) who believes that his career, and the whole cinematic world, will be completely rocked when he introduces a rediscovered film made by an unknown genius. He is the only one who has seen this film, and so when the film is destroyed, leaving him only with a single frame, he embarks on an insane journey to recreate it, somehow. The best part about Antkind is its take on the so-called permanence of cinema, and how he turns film into the most ephemeral art form of all: theater. –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Staff Writer

Lynn Steger Strong, Want

Lynn Steger Strong, Want
Henry Holt, July 7

Want is the kind of book that is so engrossing and hard to put down, it feels less like reading a book and more like inhaling a universe, one that you were waiting for and didn’t know it. Our protagonist, Elizabeth, and her unnamed husband, are in the midst of declaring bankruptcy, even though Elizabeth came from wealth, even though she has a PhD from an Ivy League, even though they never saw this coming. As Elizabeth grapples to feel in control of her life, she gets back in touch with her ex-best friend, Sasha. Want is funny and irreverent and is laced with that peculiar mix of desire and apathy that comes from wanting more while simultaneously believing you’ll never get it. It’s a story of friendship, of trying to pinpoint the moment it all went wrong, of career, and searching for what is right. A story of marriage, sacrifice, and longing. It’s the story of want: that is, the unending desire to live a good, true life.  –Julia Hass, Editorial Fellow

Jennifer Mercieca, Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump
Texas A&M University Press, July 7

“Warning! This book is going to make you angry,” Texas A&M professor Jennifer Mercieca begins her upcoming Demagogue For President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump. Maybe. But I don’t think it could make me any angrier than our chief demagogue himself—especially all the lies and insults that spew, like you-know-what, out of all his orifices. So I’m thankful to Mercieca—a much published historian of American political rhetoric—to explain how the hell Donald J. Trump is able to say opposite things on a daily basis and yet still retain the support of 40 percent of American voters. Rather than compounding our irritation with Trump, however, Mercieca’s new book will make you angry with an American electorate that, as President Demagogue himself boasts, would still vote for him even if he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and openly shot somebody.  –Andrew Keen, host of Lit Hub Radio’s Keen On

S.A. Cosby, Blacktop Wasteland

S. A. Cosby, Blacktop Wasteland
Flatiron, July 14

Blacktop Wasteland concerns a stand-up family guy named Beauregard, aka Bug, who used to drive getaway for robberies, and gets sucked back into the life when bills come due that he can’t pay any other way. Featuring a compelling protagonist and awesome car chase sequences, plus a heist gone south which is always fun to read about, this rural noir set in Virginia with a black protagonist who kicks a lot of ass is the highlight of the summer. Bonus points: it also doubles as a helpful read for quitting smoking!  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

Juan Felipe Herrera, Every Day We Get More Illegal: Poems
City Lights, July 14

Syncopated by a series of song-like addresses to a firefly on a road north, this dexterous and luminous new book by former US Poet Laureate is part Basho, part protest poem. Herrera’s roving eye captures all, from moments of ephemeral calm, to the way workers work—Herrera, the son of farm workers, laments how hard it has been for high culture to even regard people like them. The migrants who travel in shadows. Here as in other books, Herrera has stripped punctuation from many of the poems, leaving his lines to blow as if a holy wind moves through them. A prolific voice for justice, Herrera continues to see the world with love and sympathy, a goofy sort of humor, and a liberationist’s roving kind of care. These are warm poems for hard times.  –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor 

Camila Russo, The Infinite Machine: How an Army of Crypto-hackers is building the Next Internet with Ethereum
Harper Business, July 14

I’m particularly excited by Camila Russo’s new book, The Infinite Machine: How an Army of Crypto-hackers is building the Next Internet with Ethereum, which tells the crazy story of the blockchain revolution from the perspective of the Ethereum cryptocurrency. Don’t let the techno-verbosity of her title mislead you, however. Russo—the ex-Bloomberg tech journalist who describes herself on Twitter as “Chieftess at the Defiant”—has written a fast-paced, Michael Lewis-style history of crypto-currency which help us sort out our Bitcoins from our Ethereums. So if you want a sneak preview of the new new thing, read The Infinite Machine. It’s kind of like the old internet. Only madder and scarier.  –Andrew Keen, host of Lit Hub Radio’s Keen On

Catherine Lacey, Pew

Catherine Lacey, Pew
FSG, July 21

Catherine Lacey’s creepy, clever novel Pew is the closest thing (I’ve read) to an actual Twilight Zone episode. About a completely ambiguous, identity-less, homeless outsider who arrives in a small Southern town (found sleeping inside a church), and who seems to maintain this strange black-hole of existence despite that many people feel drawn to it (to the point of confessing things to it), this book is about the canvasses onto which we paint our own xenophobia, who we trust, and why we shun. It is a terrifying, heartbreaking take of morality, and judgement.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Staff Writer

Nicholson Baker, Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act
Penguin Press, July 21

From the very beginning of his writing life, in the brief, brilliant novel, The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker has approached the process of describing the present as an ever-expanding archive of moments. Thoughts and movements so tiny they can expand infinitely all the way down to the quark. In time, Baker moved from such imaginary archives to real ones, such as the stacks of old newspapers he described rescuing in Double Fold, which won a NBCC award 20 years ago, to Human Smoke, which dug into the margins of recorded history and found a burgeoning pacifist movement right up until and through World War II.

Now Baker has gone to the archive tool on everyone’s mind in our bizarro times, the Freedom of Information Act. Here’s Baker’s account of its history and his own attempt to use it to find out if the US tried to use chemical weapons in the Korean War. He files a Freedom of Information Act request, and begins to wait: and wait. And wait some more. Gradually, through determination and keen archival work, Baker begins to piece together the story of Project Baseless, an air force wide program “an Air Force-wide combat capability in biological and chemical warfare at the earliest possible date.” What he learns is shocking, strange, and not at all surprising the US government would want to keep such information out of the hands of citizens. This book ought to make for important context as a blizzard of FOIA requests bear down on the administration of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

Adrian Tomine, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist
Drawn & Quarterly, July 21

So many memoirs are about overcoming adversity. We cringe, cry, and clap for the author, knowing eventually something will resolve. Tomine, who is perhaps the John Cheever of comics (in the way they both excavate the human heart), shows how our lives are less tidy than that common memoir arc.

Since he was four, Tomine was singularly focused: he wanted to be a famous cartoonist. On its surface, this memoir recounts the details of a life: Tomine gets married, has a child, draws covers for the New Yorker, advances his career. He is famous. But the book’s deeper story is one of vulnerability, humiliation, self-doubt, and the loneliness that fame or success doesn’t exempt. Tomine draws himself in almost every frame, in his established understated tones, yet each section is a story of not being seen. His desire to be accepted into and seen (not just looked at) in the world he loves and where he is beloved, is palpable in its desolation, which inconceivably and wonderfully, moves from profound sadness into laughter with the advance of each frame. We are not laughing at him, as the people in the book do. We are laughing with him and at the travesty of how so many people he encountered could be so obtuse.  –Kerri Arsenault, Lit Hub contributing editor

Anne Applebaum, The Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Allure of Authoritarianism
Doubleday, July 21

Anne Applebaum’s bracing new book kicks off at a glamorous millennial eve party at a country estate in rural Poland. The author and her husband, a Polish politician, had recently renovated a crumbling stately home which they’d bought “for the price of its bricks”; friends had arrowed in from across the political spectrum and all over Europe to toast the new millennium. Wine was drunk, vats of beet stew eaten, cheap and dangerous Chinese fireworks set off. A new era was to begin.

And now, 20 years later, the idea of a center, of any kind of collective shared territory, has retreated so far in Poland that many people who’d packed into Applebaum’s country house for this memorable occasion wouldn’t even speak to each other, she writes now. Most would cross the street to avoid one another. Today Poland has one of the most divided societies in all of Europe.

What happened? Part memoir, part recent political history, Twilight of Democracy tells that zigzagging story, asking big, often unanswerable questions along the way of governments and friends. Why, for instance, if so many of the architects of Europe’s rightward shift are not underemployed or marginalized or uneducated, as the stereotypes go—as to what turns people bitter and vengeful—then what is it in for them beside power: were they always secretly xenophobic?

Applebaum doesn’t have an answer to this, but she has done a brilliant job of illuminating some of the darkening forces across the globe. As a journalist, columnist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the Soviet Union, she has spent time living and working in Europe since 1988, and is extremely knowledgeable on continental European politics, describing trends with a center-right stance: pro-democracy, pro-market. If what you are looking for in a book on the decline of democracy is a stinging rebuke of capitalism’s excess, this is not it.

If Twilight of Democracy loses something in its unwillingness to question who the previous order had served, it ripples still with fascinating insight on how a state escalates out of rhetoric and into autocracy without the so-called ruptures that are thought, say, to have enabled Hitler’s renovated nostalgia or Milosevic’s lethal historical fantasies. Applebaum’s writing on Poland here is among the most interesting, because it is something she has previously avoided. As a political “wife,” and well-known columnist and historian, her goal was to stay out of Polish politics.

But eventually Polish politics wouldn’t stay out of her life. Twilight of Democracy describes the creeping and insidious ways trolling and bullying rears its head in Poland, among journalists, and how fear replaced any kind of debate in public space. In a country that had made an industry out of its Holocaust memorials, too, how did a national debate of Holocaust denying get kicked off?

It began, Applebaum writes, with some familiar technocratic events: the gradual hollowing out of the federal government. Month by month, even when they’d lost power, the Law and Justice party determinedly replaced experts with cronies and flunkies, they packed courts. “There was very little pretense about any of this,” Applebaum writes. “The point of all of these changes was not to make government run better. The point was to make the government more partisan, the courts more pliable, more beholden to the party.”

Elected with a slim margin, the party didn’t have a mandate to change government: so they excelled at identifying existential enemies. Just as Britain locked itself up out of the EU, and the popular vote loser Trump shut America’s borders to Muslims and Mexicans, who came marching in caravans to “invade.” Weaving back and forth across Europe and America, Applebaum makes a strong case that what we are witnessing is yes, not popular, but it might indeed still be the end of democracy in our time. This is not a book leavened with hope, or the brisk notion that there is yet time. Indeed, the picture it paints of how power is used, how it tends to be used when weaknesses in the checks are discovered, is not a rosy one, nor should it be.  –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

Robert J. Mrazek, The Indomitable Florence Finch: Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs
Hachette Books, July 21

There are some people you are meant to discover. Florence Finch is one of those people for me. From the first page of this biography I was transfixed by her story and by the way it was being told. Mrazek’s writing is intelligent. The historical aspects of the Japanese Forces in the Philippines during WWII are presented without sentiment allowing the narrative to flow at an appropriate pace.

But to call this a biography mitigates the importance of Major Carl Englehart, boss, friend, and champion of Finch’s heroic role in the resistance against the Japanese for which she received a Presidential Medal of Freedom. His story, woven with hers, in alternating short chapters, makes for a complete picture of Finch’s courage and selflessness. It is a beautiful story of love between friends and of two people who together and apart saved the lives of many POWs. I attribute my crying at the finish to both the joy of discovery and the certainty that it was a book written from the heart.  –Lucy Kogler, Lit Hub contributor

Seyward Darby,  Sister’s In Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism
Little Brown and Co., July 21

No, I don’t want to hang out in the minds of white nationalists, either, but Darby does that on the reader’s behalf, promising a book that probes the architecture of “the war embedded in the landscape” of the US. American identity, and the oft-overlooked role of women therein. “Women are the hate movement’s dulcet voices and its standard bearers,” Darby writes, and that has long been so, and it’s time to talk about it. “The least Americans can ask of one another is to have frank conversations about whiteness, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable,” writes Darby. Indeed.  –Lauren Markham, Lit Hub contributor

Laura van den Berg, I Hold a Wolf By the Ears

Laura van den Berg, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears
FSG, July 28

If you enjoyed Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel, I have good news for you: her new short story collection, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, occupies a very similar world. The stories here echo with the same uncanny call. The characters (mostly women, some unravelling) find themselves in delightfully specific, bizarre circumstances: one woman is so anxious her husband secretly drugs her with seltzer, one woman is confronted by her ex-sister-in-law after an earthquake, one woman impersonates the dead wives of her customers. Something that makes this collection so addicting is the way Laura van den Berg throws her characters into moments of vulnerability, moments where we expect connection, but the hooks don’t catch. (It feels very fitting for quarantined times.) It’s unsettling. It’s bewitching. The first story begins: “I want to tell you about the night I got hit by a train and died. The thing is—it never happened.” Laura van den Berg is the master at this kind of intimacy, luring you in and letting the floor drop beneath you.  –Katie Yee, Book Marks Associate Editor

Natasha Trethewey, Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir
Ecco; July 25

In the mid 1980s, when she was a teenager, the poet Natasha Trethewey’s ex-step-father came to a football game where she was cheerleading. Her reaction, she writes in her astonishing, gripping memoir was two-fold: fear, for her ex step-father had been abusive for years, and even the sight of him could turn her skin cold. And sadness. She waved, a small wave, mouthed a hello, and later, after he was arrested, he told the police he did not kill Natasha that night because she had been nice to him.

Memorial Drive is an anguishing story, it tells the true crime tale of how Trethewey’s ex step-father had gone and shot and killed her mother, and the catastrophic damage this had on Trethewey’s family. It also tells of Trethewey’s relationship with her mother, the woman who raised her and in essence—it sometimes felt—gave her life so her daughter could have her own, something Trethewey has wrestled with mightily and gracefully with in her award winning poetry.

Finally, Memorial Drive is the story of how a mind can be made by love and rupture in equal measure, and how—growing up—poetry, composing herself, became the way for Trethewey to restore the former by building a bridge over the latter. As a biracial girl in the south from the mid 1960s onward, Trethewey learned early how much even the very sight of her challenged people around her. This is work of immense dignity and sorrow, a psalm to a past forever gone, and a vivid glimpse of a writer tangling with her demons in plain sight in hopes others like her might feel less alone with theirs.  –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

lauren beukes afterland

Lauren Beukes, Afterland
Mulholland, July 28

It’s a little hard to read this novel right now—but like everything Beukes writes, it’s worth it. When the novel opens, an “unprecedented global pandemic” (see what I mean) has killed all but 1% of the world’s male population. Cole’s twelve-year-old son Miles is one of the mysteriously immune—which means that everyone wants a piece of him, and so they hit the road in disguise as mother and daughter, Cole’s sister Billie, who has her own schemes, hot on their heels. I can say for sure that Beukes nails the speed of the unraveling, and the strangeness of living in a suddenly altered world. I hope none of the rest of it comes true.  –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Jax Miller, Hell in the Heartland

Jax Miller, Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth and the Case of Two Missing Girls
Berkley, July 28

Jax Miller first got on my radar for Freedom’s Child, a furious and breakneck journey across an apocalyptic American landscape, based on Miller’s own experiences with hitchhiking and addiction in her 20s, and her new true crime book is just as beautiful and devastating. Hell in the Heartland digs deep into a case involving a trailer fire, two missing best friends, and an interconnected web of drug trafficking, murder, and cops looking the other way.  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

Rebecca Giggs, Fathoms

Rebecca Giggs, Fathoms
Simon & Schsuter, July 28

“In the whale, the world,” writes Rebecca Giggs early in this masterpiece of environmental writing. “In a book about whales, the world,” one could say after reading here about subjects as disparate as solar flares and mass strandings; the relationship between charisma and consumption; whale baths at health spas; and so many other interconnected pieces that not only the creatures at the heart of this book come alive on these pages, but a whole ecology. Fathoms immediately earns its place in the pantheon of classics of the new golden age of environmental writing.  –Stephen Sparks, Contributing Editor

Jonathan C. Slaght, Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl
FSG, August 4

For five years, the author seeks to save the world’s largest owl (he thought it was a bear with feathers when he first encountered it), a bird native only to a remote region of Russia. Using a blend of reportage, narrative nonfiction, memoir, science journalism, and travel writing, Slaght also encounters a fascinating cast of characters along the way who consider him a different kind of rare creature since, as few foreigners ever visit the landscapes of eastern Russia. Slaght’s entertaining, sometimes elegant prose propels the narrative thrust of this book, and his scientific knowledge buoys the story from underneath. Owls reminds me of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, in that an exploration into one thing (owls, the earth) ends up in other places (the human condition, personal reckonings). This is a force of modern day nature writing with gravity and humor, and I’m betting it will be one of the more widely-acclaimed nonfiction books of 2020.  –Kerri Arsenault, Lit Hub contributing editor

Edward Ball, Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy
FSG, August 4

Just over 20 years ago Edward Ball won a National Book Award for his memoir, Slaves in the Family, a profound excavation of his family’s history of owning slaves. That it did not spawn a similar reckoning among southerners—as Gunter Grass’s memoir did with Germans, who found their families full of Nazi pasts—should have earned more attention. One of the great things about that book was how Ball made it a story driven by the lives of those his family had, in essence, erased.

Now in his biggest book since, Ball has written a biography of his great-great-grand-father, Constant Lecorgne, a carpenter and father of five who came to be an active true believer in the Klu Klux Klan in Louisiana after the Civil War, a man who on the outside appeared to be living a mundane existence. But who in reality had committed himself to spreading racial terror in the most hateful and violent ways: night raids, street rampages, the whole theatre of fear drummed up to undo the reality of 4 million recently freed African Americans.

Ball tells his story with curiosity, disgust, and a sweeping lamp of novelistic imagination, making his tale all the chillier for being so intimate, so intensely realized. He also tracks down the descendants of the victims of the Klan’s terror and violence, unspooling their stories in a history which is all the more painful for its points of interconnection. With—by some estimates—over half of whites in American having an ancestor at some point in their past being a member of the Klan, this is an important work of America’s collective history—one whose ghosts are most undead.  –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

Akwaeke Emezi, The Death of Vivek Oji

Akwaeke Emezi, The Death of Vivek Oji
Riverhead, August 4

We know Vivek Oji is dead before the story even begins. Like other incredible novels that begin this way (Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold comes to mind), the story ebbs and flows through time around this undeniable fact, the impetus for the telling. It feels like a story passed down to you, something best read aloud. The opening passage asks you to picture the story as a stack of family photographs; you feel welcomed, lulled into the start of a good story by a master storyteller. And Akwaeke Emezi is indeed just that; have you read their debut, the critically acclaimed Freshwater? In this new novel, the protagonist is similarly touched by something unknowable and otherworldly; Vivek Oji is prone to blackouts, moments of complete separation from self and surrounding. This is something we know from the beginning, something to track as we follow the course of his life, relayed to us by those closest to him. (Sometimes, Vivek interjects, and it is a jarring delight.) The Death of Vivek Oji is an alchemy of personal family story and untouchable myth. It circles itself, like a shark preparing to take down its prey; reader, you will be disarmed.  –Katie Yee, Book Marks Associate Editor

Raven Leilani, Luster

Raven Leilani, Luster
FSG, August 4

Sure, like many popular recent novels by young American women, the narrator of Luster is bored, and self-destructive, and working at a job she hates. But she is the fierce, unruly antidote to what Jess Bergman called the “remote avatars of contemporary malaise”—she is not cool, nor detached, nor noncommittal, but absolutely bursting with thoughts and feelings and desires, some of which often spill over and make a mess, or a scene, or a bonfire. Edie talks shit but also takes it—she’s hilariously caustic about the world around her, but her criticism never feels empty. I loved every minute of this debut.  –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World, John Freeman ed
Penguin Books, August 4 

The third in Freeman’s hat trick of anthologies that examines inequalities, Tales of Two Planets, may be the most important, for it addresses a colossal and irreversible threat: climate change. How to tell this story about a landscape so altered by us it’s reciprocating the abuse, where the more vulnerable and poor are more susceptible to environmental injustices?

Freeman asked 36 writers from Iceland to India, who are living within the penumbra of this bifurcated world of disparity and disenfranchisement, to bear witness to climate change beyond mere data. They are the facts on the ground, and their stories about craven US governance, the depletion of species in Burundi, Iceland’s geologic tragedy, the displacement of 20 million people in Pakistan, and resource pilfering and greed in Lebanon trace the inequalities that have also led to environmental imbalances. The purpose of such essays, fictions, reportage, and poems are to remind us—as Lina Mounzer discovers when developers overburden the sewer system in Beirut and it erupts in biblical proportions—we can’t carry on as if things will sort themselves out. We have to live within limits.

It’s a dark path we walk when the majority of the planet belongs to Hobbes’s First Man, condemned to a poor, cruel and short life, while Frances Fukumaya’s Last Man, (privileged, well fed, with access to technology and globalization’s muse) inhabits the rest. The Last Man will survive environmental stress and scarcity. The First Man will not. Freeman’s collection is critical to understanding our planet beyond the scope of our own personal plights.  –Kerri Arsenault, Lit Hub contributing editor

Diane Cook, The New Wilderness

Diane Cook, The New Wilderness
Harper, August 11

I’ve been impatiently waiting for Diane Cook’s first novel since I discovered her collection, Man V. Nature, in 2014. It’s finally here—and to answer your first question, yes, it was indeed worth the wait. For those of you lucky enough to already be fans of Cook’s, know that the novel is both unlike and like her stories—unlike in the sense that it is more spacious and essentially realist, despite the fact that it is set in a near-future version of the world we know in which there is only one plot of wilderness left, and like in its blinking humor, and in the sense that it tackles the deepest of human emotions—as well as big ideas about the planet—in satisfying ways. Also, it’s a page-turner!   –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments (illustrated by Fumi Nakamura)
Milkweed, August 11

Should the wonderful David Attenborough ever retire, my hope is someone at BBC has read the work of Aimee Nezhukumatathil. What a great new naturalist of the airwaves she would make. As a poet, in books like Fishbone and Miracle Fruit, Nezhukumatathil has consistently reminded, through lucid description, that nature doesn’t need a metaphor. On its own it presents a wealth of wonder. “A snake heart can slide up and down the length of its body / when it needs to,” she writes in a poem from Oceanic, her most recent collection.

Now, in her first book of prose, Nezhukumatathil moves from water back to land, mostly, weaving a shadow memoir around catalpa plants, fireflies, saguaro and other plants, insects and animals. What a lovely book this is, gentle in its pacing, well-illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, and quietly subversive in the way he channels its gusts of joy. The child of two doctors, one from the Philippines, the other from India, as she moved around the country growing up, Nezhukumatathil was often the only brown girl in her classes. World of Wonders doesn’t just gently reverse the gaze—to borrow a phrase from the novelist Aminatta Forna—applied to her, but refracts it too. “If a white girl tries to tell you what your brown skin can and cannot wear for makeup, just remember the smile of an axolotl.” And thus we come to know how a walking neotenic salamander will look right back at you and grin.  –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

Chris Hamby, Soul Full of Coal Dust

Chris Hamby, Soul Full of Coal Dust: A Fight for Breath and Justice in Appalachia 
Little Brown, August 18

In America’s coal country, miners and their families have been fighting the long blight of black lung for decades while facing inadequate access to health care, little to no government assistance, and active suppression from one of America’s most influential industries. Chris Hamby, who previously won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on this issue, details the story of miners’ struggle for justice, highlighting the people and relationships that have sustained these communities and the determined, meticulous organizing that it has taken to create change. Informed by many years of reporting, and including a breathtaking level of detail, this is an incredible story about power in America.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Lawrence Osborne, The Glass Kingdom

Lawrence Osborne, The Glass Kingdom
Hogarth, August 18

Osborne is among the finest pure writers at work today, and at this point he’s more than earned the Graham Greene comparisons. In his newest, The Glass Kingdom, he returns to a scenario that will enthuse admirers of his The Ballad of a Small Player: a mysterious fugitive settles into uncanny, luxurious surroundings in an Asian city. Here, the city is Bangkok, and the fugitive in question is a young American woman with a mysterious source of funds and a new address in a tony Bangkok apartment building. She soon taps into an odd community of expats from across the globe, all confined to the building’s louche surroundings, with too many secrets to count among them.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Editor-in-Chief

Jessica Gross, Hysteria

Jessica Gross, Hysteria
Unnamed Press, August 18

At first, Hysteria feels like another entry in the canon of recent novels about self-destructive, masochistic young women—but soon things start to shift, as our extremely lustful, extremely self-hating heroine meets a man at a bar and . . . decides he is Sigmund Freud. Which, twist. After that, the novel only gets weirder, and only goes deeper, the centerpiece a half-real, half-fantasy recollection of the narrator’s first orgasm, and in the end, the whole thing feels like an R-rated, modern version of Clarice Lispector’s insane, intense The Passion According to G. H. If you’re into that kind of thing. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Judith Schalansky, tr. Jackie Smith, An Inventory of Losses

Judith Schalansky, tr. Jackie Smith, An Inventory of Losses
New Directions, August 25

It’s an interesting time to read a book about lost places and things, but I found a strange comfort in Judith Schalansky’s An Inventory of Losses—a collection of stories about things and places that no longer exist, from a sunken Pacific Island to a fragment Sappho. Schalansky writes with such precision and wonder that reading the collection felt like touring a meticulously curated museum. At the same time, each story imbues its loss with immediacy—I couldn’t help but mourn even the ones I had never before considered.   –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Hector Tobar, The Last Great Road Bum
MCD Books, August 25

As a reporter and novelist, Héctor Tobar often acts as a biography in miniature. In his fantastic—and ought to be rereleased travelogue, Translation Nation, he criss-crossed America, interviewing Latinx people and retelling their stories, how they came to where they lived, what they did, how life seemed to them. The speed and respect and sensitivity with which Tobar can encapsulate a life, whether it’s a trapped Chilean miner, as in his Deep Down Dark, or a domestic worker just trying to get children to safety, as in his tender 2011 novel, Barbarian Nurseries, is dazzling.

Finally Tobar is back to fiction in The Last Great Road Bum and he’s written a kind of inside out version of one of his books. It tells the tale of a real life white man from Illinois, Joe Sanderson, who spent most of his life traveling the globe, from Vietnam to Jamaica to El Salvador, where he wound up finding (and dying) with Che-inspired guerillas. Tobar first wrote about the story in an LA Times column, he has now turned into a highly absorbing and thought provoking nonfiction novel about the forces that can blow a person sideways through life. Drawing from Sanderson’s letters, the novel muses on who gets to tell stories as it probes the lines between myth and reality. This is first rate storytelling from a writer who deepens the sky with every book he writes.  –John Freeman, Lit Hub Executive Editor

Jason Diamond, The Sprawl
Coffee House, August 25

The suburbs of America have been the unlikely muse for many musicians, writers, and filmmakers. But narratives about the suburbs often pause at a surface level, using them as shorthand for conformity and not taking a deeper look at what makes them tick. In his new book The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs, Jason Diamond explores the unexpected history that shaped many a suburb while also venturing into the notable art that arose from them. It’s the rare work of cultural criticism with a purview that encompasses William Gibson, Celeste Ng, and Anthony Bourdain—and it’s all the stronger for it.  –Tobias Carroll, Lit Hub contributor

Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights

Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights
Grove, August 25

On a recent afternoon in my bed, I got teary-eyed over the loss of a hometown mall. When it opened in the 1950s in a suburb of Detroit, it was the world’s largest shopping outlet, hailed as the future of post-war leisure in America. In Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald’s variegated essay collection, the author calls this mourning “the casualties of fast capitalism for your own generation”—sorrow for what has been lost to me, an injury against my memory of place, though the rituals of capitalist consumption are still alive and well. J.C. Penney and Nieman Marcus are going under and perhaps, for a little while, we can see birds in the sky more clearly, slow for a herd of mountain goats in Wales, and hear a screaming peacock somewhere on the streets of Dubai. These images remind us of what Macdonald writes of so sensitively in this book: the interwound life cycles of humans and other species, how inextricable organisms are from their environments, natural and artificial, and the awareness that our efforts to shape the world as we think it ought to be make it “harder and harder to have faith that the way things are going can ever be reversed.” Macdonald ensures you won’t see certain things the same way after reading Vesper Flights: birds’ nests, field guides, boars, and other surprising miscellany. My favorite essay, “High Rise”—about the life that exists above us, in the rarefied domain of skyscrapers—best encapsulates Macdonald’s call for us to imagine a more aesthetically and morally complex world.—Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Daisy Johnson, Sisters

Daisy Johnson, Sisters
Riverhead, August 25

Sisters is a dark, atmospheric novel that explores the tension of familial closeness, both physical and emotional, and unfolds in a house in near-isolation… and somehow Daisy Johnson wrote it before the pandemic. Prescience aside, Sisters is one of the rare novels that balances an almost-uncomfortable level of tension with gloriously stylish prose throughout. There’s an element of escapism in the profoundly creepy, and the masterful claustrophobia of Sisters will deliver you from your own. –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Emma Cline, Daddy

Emma Cline, Daddy
Penguin, September 1

I must confess that I never got around to reading The Girls—Emma Cline’s blockbuster 2016 novel about a listless California teenager who gets sucked into the orbit of a Manson-like cult—but after reading Daddy, the author’s dark and brilliantly disquieting debut story collection, I fully intend on adding its predecessor to my TBR pile. Cline’s sharply-drawn characters are the cowed, contemplative survivors of self-inflicted trauma, both seismic and quotidian—from the father whose past anger issues have irreparably damaged his relationship with his daughter, to the nanny hiding from the paparazzi after the affair with her movie star boss is discovered, to the radioactive editor fleeing a workplace sexual misconduct scandal. We join them in the paralyzed aftermath—elegantly conjured limbos where regret is a constant companion. This all sounds dour, and I suppose it is, but Cline writes with such grace and precision that every sentence is a joy to absorb. –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor






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