Oprah gave August reading a jolt this week when she chose Colson Whitehead’s much-anticipated The Underground Railroad as her latest book club pick. Why? Because the announcement coincided with the book’s surprise release, a month earlier than scheduled. This story of American slavery and freedom caps off a surprisingly strong and serious month in books. As the dog days of summer stretch on and we start to anticipate election season this fall, here are ten more new books — both fiction and non-fiction — that will get you through the sweltering slog. “Beach reads,” absorbing novels and urgent nonfiction on race and activism make our list, touching on political hot topics, steamy romances, and the call of the wilderness.
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (August 2)
Surprise! This hotly-anticipated novel from Sag Harbor author and MacArthur genius Whitehead is available to read right now, which is good news for anyone who’d been counting the days until its release. Its conceit — the metaphorical railroad becoming a literal one — may be fantasy, but the brutality and hope it describes delve into the dark reality of America’s past. Critics are raving.
The Golden Age, Joan London (Europa, August 16)
After World War II, A Hungarian family moves to Australia. When the son Frank comes down with polio, he goes to a children’s hospital called The Golden Age. There, he discovers poetry and falls for Elsa, another patient. His story intertwines with his family and nurse’s in a prizewinning Australian novel that “is pretty much perfect,” according to Publishers Weekly.
Half Wild, Robin MacArthur (Ecco, August 2)
Third-generation Vermonter Robin MacArthur’s book of stories takes us to the quirky, proud Green Mountain state that the Bernie Sanders campaign has put on the topical map. (McArthur is a fan of her senator.) Her protagonists range in age and temperament, but the complicated relationship between the characters and the land they inhabit is a constant throughout her debut collection.
The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer (Gallery Books, August 16)
We see what you did with that title, Amy Schumer. Add this book to the now-overflowing category of nonfiction by beloved female comedians, including Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman. But Schumer’s earnest speeches and smart, if occasionally off-the-mark comedy give us hope that this book offers a little bit more substance and sharpness than the usual celebrity memoir.
Necessary Trouble, Sarah Jaffe (Nation Books, August 23)
Tying together threads from different recent mass movements, Jaffe explores the wave of populist organizing that ranges from the Tea Party to the fight for fair wages for fast food workers to Black Lives Matter and Occupy. Want to understand why so many are Feeling the Bern? This book will give fuller context that goes beyond the popularity of any given candidate. Indeed, Kirkus says the book is “an essential guide to forces shaping our nation and the 2016 presidential election.” (Full disclosure: the author and I worked at the same political website in 2011).
How to Party with an Infant, Kaui Hart Hemmings (Simon and Schuster, August 9)
Hemmings, the Hawaii-born author who wrote the popular novel The Descendants (which became An Alexander Payne film starring George Clooney and Shailene Woodley), is back with a novel that takes a satirical but loving look at “the mommy wars,” helicopter parenting, and all the vicissitudes of modern procreation. As a distracted reader with a new baby, this is first on my list.
Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane (Penguin, August 2)
From across the pond, Macfarlane writes an ode to the Scottish Isles that is a philosophical and literary meditation, intertwining criticism, personal essay, and nature writing. In The Guardian, Kirsty Gunn called it ” generous, sensitive, yielding always to the words of others even while Macfarlane’s own exquisite feel for language and its inferences carry us along.” Praised highly in the UK, it comes to the states this August.
Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, Luke Dittrich (Random House, August 9)
The man without a memory — a notorious patient operated on by overzealous lobotomizing psychiatrists — had the kind of amnesia that allowed him to only live one moment at a time, never remembering what happened before. While the patient was generous and allowed himself to be studied; the author discovers a family connection to his surgery that is dark and disturbing. The book is being compared to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner, August 2)
Jesmyn Ward, author of Men We Reaped and Salvage the Bones, has edited a must-read new anthology of race-related writing, including contributions by Isabel Wilkerson and Claudia Rankine. With its title paying homage to James Baldwins’ classic The Fire Next Time, this collection is key for another summer of black lives not mattering nearly enough to the state and its surrogates in law enforcement.
I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This, Nadja Spiegelman (Riverhead, August 2)
Nadia, daughter of famous graphic novelist Art, has written a memoir of the women of her family, whom she interviewed about their lives, in the process finding great disparity between her mother (Françoise Mouly, New Yorker art director ) and grandmother’s version of events.
Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad, August 19)
Woodson, the National Book Award winner for her verse young adult novel Brown Girl Dreaming, turns to adult fiction for the first time in decades. Another Brooklyn touches on both the glories of adolescent friendship and its dark undercurrents, the things even the closest friends keep hidden.
American Heiress, Jeffrey Toobin (Doubleday, August 2)
Toobin is often seen on TV talking about the Supreme Court — and his reporting on OJ Simpson inspired The People vs. OJ Simpson’s juiciest details. Now the reporter turns his journalistic eye to the 1974 kidnapping and trial of Patty Hearst, one of the strangest episodes in recent American history.