If August represents the last delicious dregs of summer, the right books will help you savor it. Mika in Real Life packs in more than enough laugh-out-loud relatability and stirring romance to satisfy those looking for one last beach read. Walking Gentry Home, A Map For the Missing, and Afterlives all ground readers in the specificity of history—a Black matriarchal family tree, China during and after the Cultural Revolution, and East Africa amidst German colonization—fixing us in pockets of time. And the folk magic of Witches offers an enchanting distraction from the coming end of the season.
Here, the best new books to read in August.
The Last White Man, Mohsin Hamid (Aug. 2)
Anders, a young white man, wakes up one morning to find that he has turned “a deep and undeniable brown.” At first, he shares the discovery only with Oona, his old friend turned new lover, but soon the whole town starts to transition. Both Anders’ and Oona’s parents struggle with the seemingly inevitable change, but once the titular last white man—Anders’ father—dies, people begin to forget that whiteness ever existed. Author Mohsin Hamid told Oprah Daily that all of his characters experience the loss of whiteness in different ways, and a “profound destabilization” emerges. “There is a basic human desire to be led away from destabilization,” Hamid said. “But also a vital need to take an imaginary journey through it.”
Mika in Real Life, Emiko Jean (Aug. 2)
Mika Suzuki doesn’t have her life together. The 35-year-old just lost her latest dead-end job, her last relationship went up in flames, and she isn’t getting along with her parents. Enter: Penny Calvin, the daughter Mika gave up for adoption 16 years ago. When Penny contacts her out of the blue, Mika is desperate to impress her, so she weaves a precarious web of white lies involving an art gallery and a hunky boyfriend. Once that web unravels, Mika is left to figure out whether she can reconnect with the curious, headstrong Penny and find herself in the process.
Walking Gentry Home, Alora Young (Aug. 2)
At just 19, Alora Young, former Youth Poet Laureate of the Southern United States, has written a lyrical debut book in verse that traces her matrilineal family history through time. She starts with Amy, the first of her foremothers to arrive in Tennessee; next is Gentry, Young’s great-grandmother who was driven into marriage at 14; and finally, there is Young’s own mother, a teenage beauty queen. “The only way to tell this story is through poetry,” Young writes, “because Black girlhood is eternally laced with rhythm, from the Negro hymns Amy Coleman whispered as she bore her enslaver’s child to the rhythm of the gospel my mother sang at fifteen when she was hailed a child prodigy.”
A Map For the Missing, Belinda Huijuan Tang (Aug. 9)
In Belinda Huijuan Tang’s engrossing debut novel, we meet Tang Yitian, who emigrated from China to the U.S. two decades ago to pursue his graduate studies. But when Yitian receives a frantic phone call from his mother reporting that his estranged father has gone missing, he hastily returns to his rural hometown. There, he reconnects with Tian Hanwen, a childhood friend and former lover who once shared his interest in learning. As the pair embarks on a quest to find out what happened to Yitian’s father, Yitian must also contend with familial strain, his sense of identity, and the meaning of home.
I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette McCurdy (Aug. 9)
Jennette McCurdy had her first acting audition when she was 6 years old. For 15 years, her mother restricted her calorie intake, criticized her appearance, and monitored her diaries, email, income, and even her showers. Now, the iCarly star has written a darkly funny memoir about the fraught relationship, reflecting on her late mother’s behaviors with empathy and insight. After recovering from bulimia and alcohol abuse, quitting acting, and working through therapy, McCurdy tells a story of healing.
Elizabeth Finch, Julian Barnes (Aug. 16)
Neil is enthralled by Professor Elizabeth Finch, the teacher of “Culture and Civilization,” a class not for college students but for adults of all ages. It’s no ordinary course, nor is Finch an ordinary professor; author Julian Barnes writes her as singular and vivid, reserved yet commanding. The student and the professor strike up a friendship of sorts, and after Finch dies, Neil takes it upon himself to become a historian of his history teacher.
Witches: A Novel, Brenda Lopez, translation by Heather Cleary (Aug. 16)
Zoe, a journalist from Mexico City, is exhausted by endless assignments about rape and femicide. Nevertheless, she agrees to take on an investigation about Paloma, a murdered traditional healer, or curandera, from the mountain village of San Felipe. In San Felipe, Zoe meets Feliciana, another curandera, who also happens to be Paloma’s cousin. Through Feliciana, Zoe begins to unearth the story of the cousins’ struggle to establish themselves as curanderas in a patriarchal family.
Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis, Beth Macy (Aug. 16)
Beth Macy, the acclaimed author of Dopesick, follows up her 2018 book with another deeply reported account of the dark forces at play behind America’s opioid crisis—this time focusing on the ordinary people fighting back against them. While addiction rates have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic, harm reductionists, activists, and frontline workers have been working against stigmatization and toward real and sustainable change.
Afterlives, Abdulrazak Gurnah (Aug. 23)
Abdulrazak Gurnah, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, weaves the stories of three East Africans—Ilyas, Afiya, and Hamza—into a rich, detailed tapestry. Ilyas was kidnapped by the German colonial army when he was a boy. After returning home to find his sister, Afiya, he leaves again to join the schutztruppe, a group of African mercenaries who serve the German empire. Hamza had also joined the Germans as a mercenary, but quickly realizes his mistake, and returns home from war to meet—and fall for—Afiya. These three separate storylines tangle together to probe the violence of European colonialism.
Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, R.F. Kuang (Aug. 23)
In The Poppy War author R.F. Kuang’s latest, a work of dark academia, she chronicles the rise of a Chinese orphan studying at Babel, Oxford University’s prestigious (and fictional) Royal Institute of Translation. The protagonist has ditched his given name and dubbed himself Robin Swift at the insistence of professor Richard Lovell, an Oxford sinologist. That’s not the only strange occurrence at the institute. Against a backdrop of magic and lore, Robin slowly begins to realize that serving Babel also may mean forsaking his motherland.
Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta, James Hannaham (Aug. 30)
The Fourth of July looks a lot different for Carlotta this year—after two decades in prison, where she transitioned and faced abuse from fellow inmates and correctional officers alike, she’s finally out and ready to go home. But home has changed in her absence, and the bold, brash, and bitingly hilarious protagonist seeks to come to terms with the Fort Greene, Brooklyn that she left behind. Hannaham’s novel has drawn comparisons to Ulysses with its style, specificity, and snapshot framing.
Carrie Soto Is Back, Taylor Jenkins Reid (Aug. 30)
In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel, retired tennis legend Carrie Soto aims to make a triumphant return to the sport she once changed forever, winning 20 Grand Slam singles titles and earning the media nickname “the Battle Axe” for her brutal playing style and icy demeanor. A new contender has come along to threaten her record, so Carrie, now 37, returns to the court—alongside her father and lifelong coach, Javier—to defend her record and her legacy.
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