Every month, a deluge of new books comes flooding out from big publishers, indie houses, and self-publishing platforms. So every month, The A.V. Club narrows down the endless options to five of the books we’re most excited about.
Luster by Raven Leilani (August 4, Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
One of the most highly anticipated novels of the summer, Raven Leilani’s Luster (great title, by the way) follows 23-year-old Edie as she begins an affair with a white man twice her age who’s in an open marriage. Meanwhile, she’s just trying her best to survive in New York City—barely scraping by as a paper-pusher in a low-tier publishing job and a bike courier—and half-heartedly pursuing her painting. But what begins as a series of misadventures deepens into a bildungsroman of one young Black woman examining her own art, loneliness, and place in the world. Leilani’s lush, aching prose and incisive sense of humor anchors this lean but mighty debut.
Why Visit America by Matthew Baker (August 4, Henry Holt)
Matthew Baker is an inventive writer given to experimentation. We first learned of his work about 10 years ago when he began publishing fictional interviews in literary journals with the similarly playful writer Michael Martone. (Or was it Martone who was publishing fictional interviews about him?) In his second collection of stories, Why Visit America, Baker pairs his propensity for play with broad societal critiques. In the first story, “Fighting Words,” a man invents fake neologisms in order to track down rival dictionaries that are plagiarizing his employer’s definitions; meanwhile, he and his brother try to protect his niece from a school bully, but instead end up confronting their family’s biases surrounding language, masculinity, and sexuality. In the vein of a writer like Donald Barthelme, Baker is both witty and big-hearted.
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (August 11, Harper)
Writers of speculative fiction can sometimes rely too heavily on their stories’ central conceits, the allure of a world where people can see into the future, e.g., coming at the expense of characterization or plot. In her 2014 debut, Man V. Nature, Diane Cook expertly avoided such pitfalls, following through on each of her tales’ intriguing premises—a man stealing a town’s babies, widowed women living in a shelter together as they wait for new men to marry them—to create a collection filled with dark humor and surprising turns. Six years later, Cook is back with her first novel, which was this week long-listed for the Booker Prize. The New Wilderness is another story of brutal survival, this time of a mother and daughter who leave a smog-ridden metropolis called “the City” to join a group of modern-day pioneers and live as nomads in the “Wilderness State.”
A House Is A Body by Shruti Swamy (August 11, Workman)
Two-time O. Henry Award winner Shruti Swamy shows impressive range within the deceptively narrow confines (200 pages) of her debut short story collection, A House Is A Body. The opening story, “Blindness,” swiftly turns from a dream wedding to a nightmare to a somewhat more mundane middle ground that’s full of compromise. Swamy’s precise prose cuts through even the most epic of her tales (the Hindu myth-inspired “Earthly Pleasures”). But in the collection’s eponymous final offering, in which a wildfire begins to devour everything in its path, her choppier phrasing is like tufts of smoke, obscuring the protagonist’s real feelings. Swamy’s words readily dazzle, and the collection’s themes, including a haunting exploration of sibling rivalry, reveal themselves gradually.
Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (August 25, Grove)
Helen Macdonald follows up her bestselling debut memoir, 2015’s H Is For Hawk, with another work in which she views her life through the lens of the natural world. In Vesper Flights, a collection of new and previously published essays, the poet and nature writer broadens her scope to examine all manner of flora and fauna—more birds but also deer, mushrooms, worms, and her fellow humans. Decidedly more political than H Is For Hawk, this new collection interweaves themes of class and privilege with climate change and environmental destruction. In May, Macdonald told Publishers Weekly about her approach to the material: “A lot of environmental literature now is explicitly polemical and campaigning in a way that I find quite off-putting, because I hate to be told what to do. I want to sit with someone and talk with them about what’s happening, and how I see it, and how I feel about it, rather than shouting.”
More in August: The Death Of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (August 4, Riverhead); Wandering In Strange Lands by Morgan Jerkins (August 4, Harper); Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno (August 4, Topple Books); How To Be A Fascist by Michela Murgia (August 4, Penguin); Life Of A Klansman: A Family History In White Supremacy by Edward Ball (August 4, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Talking Animals by Joni Murphy (August 4, FSG Originals); The Tunnel by A.B. Yehoshua (August 4, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); What Happens At Night by Peter Cameron (August 4, Catapult); Great Demon Kings: A Memoir Of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, And Enlightenment by John Giorno (August 4, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Why I Don’t Write by Susan Minot (August 4, Knopf); The Hollow Ones by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (August 4, Grand Central); Table For One by Yun Ko-eun (August 10, Columbia University Press); Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses (August 11, Little A); The Unreality Of Memory by Elisa Gabbert (August 11, FSG Originals); Via Negativa by Daniel Hornsby (August 11, Knopf); Cher Ami And Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney (August 11, Penguin); The Boy In The Field by Margot Livesey (August 11, Harper); little scratch by Rebecca Watson (August 11, Doubleday); Finna by Nate Marshall (August 11, One World); What Can A Body Do: How We Meet The Built World by Sara Hendren (August 18, Riverhead); Do What You Want: The Story Of Bad Religion by Bad Religion (with Jim Ruland, August 18, Hachette); Impersonation by Heidi Pitlor (August 18, Algonquin); Betty by Tiffany McDaniel (August 18, Knopf); The Last Great Road Bum by Héctor Tobar (August 25, MCD x FSG); Summer by Ali Smith (August 25, Pantheon); The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka (August 25, Knopf); This Is The Night Our House Will Catch Fire by Nick Flynn (August 25, W.W. Norton); Sisters by Daisy Johnson (August 25, Riverhead); The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous (August 25, Knopf); An Inventory Of Losses by Judith Schalansky (August 25, New Directions); Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis And What We The People Can Do About It by Erin Brockovich (August 25, Pantheon); The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson (August 25, Dutton); Farewell, Ghosts by Nadia Terranova (August 25, Seven Stories); Against The Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa (August 25, Atria)