45 New Books You Need to Read This Summer

25 minute read

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As many of us usher in a summer unlike any we’ve experienced before, the pleasure of reading remains a comforting constant. Many of us may not be able to relax on a beach or gather around a pool with friends, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still escape to somewhere far away — or realistically close. The best new books coming in June, July and August, from veterans including Kevin Kwan and Masha Gessen to exciting newcomers like Megha Majumdar and Kelli Jo Ford, offer welcome respite from our immediate troubles, while still asking urgent questions about the world that surrounds us. Whether your heart calls for romantic diversions, page-turning thrills or thought-provoking nonfiction, here are 45 new books to read this summer.

The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett (June 2)

After moving to New Orleans as teenagers, twin sisters who shared a traumatic childhood in the Jim Crow South split ways. Brit Bennett’s twisty new novel The Vanishing Half finds Desiree and Stella Vignes years later as adult women with very different lives. Desiree lives as black, while Stella passes as white. The sisters haven’t seen each other in decades and Stella, now in California, is married to a man with no knowledge of his wife’s familial history. As she follows the estranged duo’s journey, Bennett creates a striking portrait of racial identity in America.

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The Book of Rosy: A Mother’s Story of Separation at the Border, Rosayra Pablo Cruz and Julie Schwietert Collazo (June 2)

After Rosayra Pablo Cruz’s husband was murdered in their home country of Guatemala in 2018, she decided to venture north with her two sons in search of a better life. But their suffering was only beginning: when they arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, her sons were seized and placed in detention centers, while Pablo-Cruz spent 81 days in a cell. Their agonizing odyssey is captured in Cruz’s memoir, which sheds light on the plight of the countless families who have been separated while attempting to cross the border.

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Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan (June 2)

The debut novel from Naoise Dolan centers around a 22-year-old Irish expat living in Hong Kong, caught in a thorny love triangle. Ava is torn between two very different people: emotionally guarded banker Julian and affectionate and ambitious lawyer Edith. Should Ava be with the person who fits more easily into her life, or explore something new? In examining her protagonist’s options, Dolan crafts sharp commentary on the intersection of longing, class and power.

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Surviving Autocracy, Masha Gessen (June 2)

New Yorker staff writer Masha Gessen’s latest book asks how the Trump administration’s language will impact the future of governing in the U.S. Gessen, who won a National Book Award for The Future is History, inspects how American democracy has shifted in the past few years, and connects it to the rhetoric of the President. Having grown up in the Soviet Union, Gessen provides a personal perspective on the rise of autocratic leadership, which the author uses to understand the relationship between Trump, the media and the American public.

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A Burning, Megha Majumdar (June 2)

Jivan is an English tutor from the slums of India who is wrongfully accused of aiding a terrorist attack after posting a comment on Facebook that criticized her government. Her only alibi is the outcast Lovely, who would be risking everything to help set Jivan free. Complicating matters more is PT Sir, a power-hungry gym teacher who is lured into helping the right-wing political party to ensure Jivan takes the fall. Set against the backdrop of contemporary India, Megha Majumdar’s debut novel focuses on these three characters as Jivan’s trial threatens to upend each of their lives.

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The Lehman Trilogy, Stefano Massini (June 2)

The Lehman Trilogy was one of the most anticipated plays to open on Broadway this spring: it charted the long rise of Lehman Brothers, once an American financial powerhouse before its spectacular collapse in 2008. Broadway shut down while the play was in previews, but disappointed would-be audience members and other English-language readers can now enjoy the novelization-in-verse that playwright Stefano Massini first published in Italy in 2016.

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The Dragons, the Giant, the Women, Wayétu Moore (June 2)

At five years old, Wayétu Moore escaped her home in Liberia with her family as the emerging civil war threatened their safety. They fled by foot and, assisted by a rebel soldier, made it to the neighboring country of Sierra Leone. Moore’s mother lived in the U.S. at the time, and the family eventually reunited there, relocating to Texas. In her bruising new memoir, Moore describes the perilous journey as well as her experience of being a black immigrant living in the American South. Through it all, she threads an urgent narrative about the costs of survival and the strength of familial love.

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Our Time is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America, Stacey Abrams (June 9)

Time will tell what role Stacey Abrams will play in our national consciousness by the end of the year: her name is frequently bandied about as a potential vice presidential pick for Joe Biden. Regardless of whether she holds a position of power then, there will be plenty to learn from her book, which focuses on her major cause: voting rights. In it, she explores the history of voter suppression in the U.S. and her own experience of running for governor of Georgia.

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You Exist Too Much, Zaina Arafat (June 9)

The unnamed protagonist of Zaina Arafat’s debut novel, a bisexual Palestinian-American DJ with literary ambitions, finds herself caught between several poles: her two countries; virtue and desire; family and personal ambition. The fragmented novel crosses from Jerusalem to New York to Jordan to Iowa as she attempts to find love and uncover the roots of her long-held trauma that extends out of her volatile maternal relationship.

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Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters, Dominique Crenn with Emma Brockes (June 9)

When Dominique Crenn was 19, she realized that in order to pursue her dreams of becoming a prominent chef, she would have to leave France. Although her home country was ostensibly the culinary capital of the world, it still operated on sexist assumptions. Crenn writes about her winding journey to achieve her dreams through an Indonesian kitchen, a victory on Iron Chef and eventually her first restaurant, Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, which would win multiple Michelin stars.

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Pizza Girl, Jean Kyoung Frazier (June 9)

The 18-year-old pizza delivery girl at the heart of Jean Kyoung Frazier’s debut novel is not ready for her life to change, but it’s about to in a big way. She’s pregnant and not exactly planning for her future — until she drops off a pizza at the home of Jenny Hausler, a 30-something stay-at-home mom. The two forge an unlikely bond, but it soon teeters into strange territory when the narrator becomes obsessed with her new friend.

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Broken People, Sam Lansky (June 9)

The buzzy debut novel from Sam Lansky, TIME’s West Coast Editor and author of the memoir The Gilded Razor, is a work of autofiction following Sam, a cynical depressive in Los Angeles. On the brink of emotional collapse, Sam turns to a shaman who promises to perform “open-soul surgery” and heal all that ails him in three days — and in the process, takes him into the darkest recesses of his past loves and losses.

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The Secret Women, Sheila Williams (June 9)

In Sheila Williams’ fifth novel, three seemingly different women meet at a yoga class and bond over the recent passings of their mothers. The trio comb through their mothers’ possessions and are shocked to discover unread diary entries and letters that reveal secrets about the women who raised them. As they navigate their grief, the three daughters dig deeper into their mothers’ pasts to better understand themselves.

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Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn (June 9)

Isolation has long been an essential poetic theme, from Basho haikus to Neruda poems—including the one that gives the title of this timely anthology its name. Eighty-five new poems document life in the strange new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, by writers like Pulitzer Prize winners Vijay Seshadri and Yusef Komunyakaa as well as Li-Young Lee and Jane Hirshfield. The book will be released as an ebook and audiobook this summer, and hardcover later this year.

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Democracy in One Book or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think, David Litt (June 16)

Speechwriter David Litt was known as “President Obama’s joke writer in chief”: he spearheaded the writing of many of the President’s sarcastic speeches, including many delivered at White House Correspondents’ Association dinners. Litt’s book laces his signature humor into his exploration of American democracy and how it has transformed over the years.

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Party of Two, Jasmine Guillory (June 23)

An innocent meet-cute evolves into a complicated secret relationship between a white politician and a black lawyer in hit romance author Jasmine Guillory’s fifth book. When Olivia Monroe meets Max Powell at a hotel bar, she has no idea he’s a senator. They hit it off and initially choose to keep their dating life private due to Max’s job, but soon the secret’s out. As the media starts picking on Olivia, she has to decide whether her boyfriend is worth bearing the brunt of painful scrutiny.

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Death in Her Hands, Ottessa Moshfegh (June 23)

In this era of social distancing, Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2018 novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a biting portrait of self-loathing and solitude, feels particularly prescient. But her latest work of fiction is just as relevant. In Death in Her Hands, a widow takes a walk in the woods, where she finds a note that announces the killing of a woman named Magda. There is no body to be seen, but Moshfegh’s isolated protagonist is determined to solve this curious murder mystery, which may not be a murder at all. As many of us find ourselves spending less time with the outside world, Moshfegh’s narrative of loneliness and uncertainty is all the more haunting.

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Sex and Vanity, Kevin Kwan (June 30)

Kevin Kwan’s follow-up to his hugely popular Crazy Rich Asians trilogy draws inspiration from A Room With a View, and centers on a young Chinese-American woman trying to determine what kind of future she wants. Lucie, an old-money New Yorker, is engaged to a white and wealthy man who will complete her dreams of life as a society power couple. But when she unexpectedly runs into a Chinese-Australian surfer from her past, she starts to question those ambitions. In pages that move between the island of Capri and the Hamptons, Kwan takes another humorous and heartfelt look at wealth, love and identity.

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Memoirs and Misinformation, Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon (July 7)

The semi-disclaimer that Jim Carrey has made about his debut book says it all: “None of this is real and all of it is true.” The quasi-autobiographical novel from the actor follows a fictionalized Jim Carrey who also happens to be a movie star. This Carrey is feeling both lonely and unsatisfied in his middle age, leading him on an odd path toward creative fulfillment. In depicting his difficulties, the real-life Carrey and his co-author Dana Vachon craft a wild narrative about the lengths some will go to stay relevant.

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Notes on a Silencing, Lacy Crawford (July 7)

In 2017, the state of New Hampshire opened a criminal investigation into the elite prep school St. Paul’s after reports of decades of sexual misconduct at the school began to surface in the media. Former student Lacy Crawford kept her alleged sexual assault in 1990 at age 15 a secret until that moment. Crawford connected with the detectives on the case and wrote Notes on a Silencing, which details not only her attack but also the forces that allowed predators to operate at the school.

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Want, Lynn Steger Strong (July 7)

Following her 2016 debut Hold Still, Lynn Steger Strong’s second novel examines a woman who once had dreams of professorship, but now seems to be hurtling towards bankruptcy and a mid-life crisis. Unmoored and unmotivated, she finds solace in novels as well as a long-lost childhood friend, who harbors lost aspirations of her own.

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Mother Daughter Widow Wife, Robin Wasserman (July 7)

On a bus to Philadelphia, a woman is found with no identification. She doesn’t know where she came from or where she’s going. The state gives her a name — Wendy Doe — and diagnoses her with temporary amnesia, though it may not be so temporary. Mother Daughter Widow Wife finds Wendy on a harrowing plight as she becomes a subject in a research project run by a doctor with questionable intentions. In Wasserman’s timely examination of memory, womanhood and power, Wendy’s daughter sets out to find her mother — and their situation only grows more grave.

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Crooked Hallelujah, Kelli Jo Ford (July 14)

Kelli Jo Ford, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, follows four generations of Cherokee women as they persevere through poverty, broken relationships, wildfires, tornadoes, oil busts and acts of violence in her debut novel. In a 2018 interview, Ford described the roots of her work: “Very nearly all of my inspiration in writing and life comes from the women who raised me.”

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The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones (July 14)

Horror writer Stephen Graham Jones has published more than a dozen novels and hundreds of short stories. His latest, The Only Good Indians, combines mortal danger with social commentary, as it follows four men trying to escape revenge for their actions during an elk hunt long ago. The protagonists, like the author, are part of the Blackfeet Nation.

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Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell (July 14)

Given how David Mitchell loves sweeping, fantastical and self-mythologizing narratives (as in his previous novels Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks), it’s fitting that he would turn to psychedelic rock for source material. Utopia Avenue stretches nearly 600 pages to tell the rise and fall of a 60’s British rock band of the same name — covering, in Mitchellian fashion, a blend of drugs, truth, ego and schizophrenia.

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Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World, Leila Slimani (July 14)

Leila Slimani is known for exploring riveting taboos in her fiction. Her latest book, Sex and Lies, explores them in real life. In 2015, the author visited her native Morocco while on tour for Adèle, a novel that offers readers the chance to sympathize with a duplicitous, sex-addicted wife. The tale inspired women in that country — where adultery and sex before marriage are punishable crimes — to tell the author about their own struggles navigating desire and social norms. These confessions became the backbone of her new nonfiction work, an appeal for change, originally written in French, that is given some extra heft by Slimani’s position as an official representative for French language and culture.

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Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman (July 14)

The co-hosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman reflect on more than 10 years of friendship in their new book. From struggling with communication to the realities of being in an interracial friendship, the authors are candid about how they’ve been able to maintain such a strong bond. Along the way, they prompt readers to consider how they communicate with and fight for the people they hold close. In sharing their personal story, alongside research from social scientists, Sow and Friedman highlight what it takes for a friendship to last.

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The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue (July 21)

Spanning just three days, the author of Room’s 11th novel captures the chaos and devastation inside a Dublin hospital maternity ward during the 1918 flu pandemic. There, the hospital’s staff is being pushed to their breaking points to deliver babies from infected mothers. Eerily reminiscent of our current global health crisis, The Pull of the Stars brings readers intimately close to a world where health care workers risk it all to keep their patients alive.

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The Answer Is . . .: Reflections on My Life, Alex Trebek (July 21)

Alex Trebek has been a fixture in American culture for more than 30 years, guiding Jeopardy! contestants through everyone’s favorite trivia gauntlet with the reliability of the sun. And so it felt as if the earth had spun off its axis when the longtime gameshow host announced in 2019 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Audience members have always been fascinated with Trebek — what opinions rage behind that unflappable facade? — but the news brought a fresh wave of adoring obsession. It was this outpouring of support that helped inspire Trebek to finally write the memoir people have been asking for for decades. What else could it have been titled but The Answer Is …: Reflections on My Life?

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Let’s Never Talk About This Again, Sara Faith Alterman (July 28)

Would you pay good money to watch adults go on stage and read cloying, illogical journal entries they wrote as teenagers? If the answer is yes, then, welcome to Mortified, a much-loved live show and podcast for which Sara Faith Alterman is a producer. Given Alterman’s career trafficking in abasement — as well as her background in comedy writing — it is perhaps not shocking that she had the gumption to write a memoir about a deeply awkward situation: discovering that her father has a secret career as a pornographic novelist. Let’s Never Talk About This Again is Alterman’s third book, one that tenderly explores family dynamics and the pain of loss as well as the nuances of humiliation.

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No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories, Jayant Kaikini (July 28)

It is a challenge to capture a city, to tell a story that sums up a place where countless hopes and fears spark and clang against one another. In writing about Mumbai, a metropolis of 20 million, poet and lyricist Jayant Kaikini overcame this, in part, by telling 16 stories instead of one. Translated from the southern Indian language of Kannada, No Presents Please is an award-winning collection told through characters like a cinema worker and bus driver. “It is a view from the margins,” a judge for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature said, “and all the more poignant because of it.”

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Must I Go, Yiyun Li (July 28)

When 80-something grandmother Lilia Liska discovers the diary of her former lover Roland, she’s thrown into an unexpected exploration of her past. Fascinated by Roland’s memories, Lilia delves into his recorded history, and starts writing on the pages with her own interpretation of the moments they shared. In doing so, she unveils secrets from long before and reflects on the grief she feels over her daughter who died by suicide decades earlier. In illustrating the evolution of that loss, Yiyun Li, author of Where Reasons End, takes a searing look at the strength of a mother’s love.

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Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, Natasha Trethewey (July 28)

Former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey contemplates the traumas of her youth in her aching new memoir. At 19 years old, Trethewey’s life erupted after her stepfather brutally killed her mother. Memorial Drive unpacks that moment and all that came before it, ruminating on Tretheway’s experience growing up in Mississippi and later in Georgia. Fixating on her mother’s past as well as her own, Tretheway constructs a moving reflection on racism, abuse and trauma.

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

The third short story collection from Laura van den Berg features 11 unnerving and nuanced narratives on contemporary womanhood. In one, a grief freelancer describes her work impersonating dead wives for widowed husbands. In another, cracks begin to form between a married couple who just moved to Florida. And in one of the collection’s most heartbreaking tales, the sister of a comatose gunshot victim remembers a trip they recently took to Iceland. Throughout, van den Berg’s voice is disquieting and aware as she picks apart the culture that both surrounds and suffocates her female characters.

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The Death of Vivek Oji, Akwaeke Emezi (August 4)

The second adult novel from Akwaeke Emezi, the award-winning author of Freshwater, begins with a death. Vivek Oji’s mother finds her son’s body at her front door, and she’s forced to finally get to know the child she never understood. Though she was an overbearing presence in her child’s life, her husband was not, and as Emezi describes Vivek’s coming-of-age in Nigeria, the author reveals the difficulties the titular character faced in realizing he was queer. By exploring themes of loss, identity and community, Emezi reaffirms a thoughtful voice in unveiling the mystery of Vivek’s passing.

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Luster, Raven Leilani (August 4)

Twenty-something Edie is an aspiring artist who moves in with the man she’s been seeing after she loses her job. The man is married, but his wife has agreed to keep their relationship open and welcomes Edie into their home. There, Edie is encouraged to bond over her black identity with the couple’s adopted teenage daughter. Spinning fresh commentary on both race and class, tensions in the house rise as Raven Leilani propels her lost protagonist on a darkly funny journey of self-discovery.

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Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World, edited by John Freeman (August 4)

Climate change is such an enormous and unwieldy thing that it often feels hard to see, like trying to comprehend the Titanic while standing six inches away from its hull. In Tales of Two Planets, writer and editor John Freeman tries to make the danger clear by offering readers a range of views — fiction, essays, even poetry, spanning locations from Florida to the Himalayas — while zeroing in on the way that global warming intersects with disparities. Writers in the collection, edited by Freeman, include Margaret Atwood and Edwidge Danticat.

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Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, Eddie S. Glaude Jr. (August 4)

In Begin Again, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, draws parallels between racial tensions in the U.S. today and in the years following the Civil Rights Movement, particularly the way those years were navigated by renowned essayist James Baldwin. Now, as then, communities of color experienced profound disillusionment about how just America was and claimed to be. But, Glaude writes, Baldwin still found ways to “reimagine hope” in the face of historic adversity.

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Love After Love, Ingrid Persaud (August 4)

Ingrid Persaud’s novel Love After Love, like her award-winning short story “The Sweet Sop,” is centered on her birthplace of Trinidad and told in the dialect of people who live there. Persaud’s colloquial style is part of what sets apart her depiction of those everyday, everywhere things like the relationship between a parent and a child. In Love After Love, she tells the story of a mother who escapes domestic violence and forms a makeshift family with a male friend and her son, only to have that more tranquil existence disrupted by unearthed secrets.

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A Saint from Texas, Edmund White (August 4)

Edmund White has explored humanity through many media — in travelogues and novels, through satire and self-interrogation. He published his first major work in 1973 and has written more than 30 books since, becoming a prominent figure in queer literature along the way. His latest novel, A Saint from Texas, follows twin sisters from oil-rich Texas, bound for different lives. One is pursuing indulgence in Paris (where White lived for years) and the other, salvation in South America. Despite the distance, and plenty of drama, White explores how the bond of twins is hard to break.

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Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women, Lyz Lenz (August 11)

In Belabored, Iowa-based writer and editor Lyz Lenz delves into one of the great ironies surrounding pregnancy: as women do the work necessary to bring a child into the world, they are often infantilized themselves — by lawmakers who decide what medical care they are allowed to seek, by baristas who refuse to serve them. With wit and deadly seriousness, Lenz draws attention to the rising rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. and calls for an update to the way people view pregnancy in America.

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This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire, Nick Flynn (August 25)

At seven years old, Nick Flynn’s life was upended after his mother set fire to their house. Nearly a decade and a half later, she took her own life. In his new memoir, the playwright and poet returns to his hometown with his young daughter to better understand his upbringing. As he digs up his painful past, Flynn realizes how he’s carried those memories with him and asks how they’ve impacted his roles as both partner and parent.

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The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media—from the Founding Fathers to Fake News, Harold Holzer (August 25)

Harold Holzer is an expert on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era. He’s written and edited more than 30 books that go deep on that stretch of American history. But his latest work is in a different proportion, offering a broad survey of the relationships between presidents and the press that spans from George Washington to Donald Trump. Tensions between the White House and the media may be more public than ever today, but, as the scholar reveals, they go back as far as Commanders-in-Chief do.

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Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald (August 25)

In 2015, naturalist Helen Macdonald’s debut memoir H is for Hawk cemented her status as an essential writer on nature, humanity and loss. Now, Macdonald dives into similar themes in Vesper Flights, which features essays both old and new. From reflecting on the childhood where her love for animals grew to her sharp observations on the migrations of songbirds, Macdonald fills her narratives with vivid descriptions of the wildlife that surrounds us. Vesper Flights reminds of the intricacies of nature’s creatures and underlines the importance they serve in our lives.

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Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth, Brian Stelter (August 25)

Brian Stelter, chief media correspondent for CNN, conducted more than 250 interviews in his quest to shed new light on a relationship that is shaping the course of American history: that between President Donald Trump and Fox News. In Hoax, Stelter focuses on the interplay between the country’s leader and its most-watched cable news network during the COVID-19 pandemic, delving into the power of personality, the lure of lies and the impact on a susceptible nation.

Buy Now: Hoax on Amazon

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Write to Annabel Gutterman at annabel.gutterman@time.com