12 Must-Read Books for July – Chicago Review of Books


Are the temperatures rising where you are, dear reader? If you’re like those of us at the CHIRB without regular access to air conditioning, maybe you’ve begun to seek refuge at afternoon matinees or the local public pool. Unfortunately books can’t offer such instant cooling gratification, but they more than make up for that with their portability. So whether you’re heading for the beach or out on a hike or merely looking for a little distraction on your morning commute (because we’re doing that again!), here are twelve new releases coming out this month that we think would make for perfect companions wherever your summer travels take you.

Cover of Variations on the Body

Variations on the Body
By María Ospina; Translated by Heather Cleary
Coffee House Press

Short stories fans in search of a new obsession, look no further than María Ospina, whose first collection is now available to English-language readers. Weaving together a complex interconnected portrait of girls and women in Bogotá, Colombia, this crystalline translation from Heather Cleary has an offbeat sensibility reminiscent of Joy Williams, where the potential for inexplicable violence exists alongside the mundane.

Cover of The Collection Plate

The Collection Plate
By Kendra Allen

Already widely hailed for her award-winning nonfiction work, Kendra Allen makes her poetic debut with this collection that melds personal narrative and cultural commentary in exuberant and expansive prose. Like Morgan Parker and Danez Smith, Allen is interested in the intersections of minority personhood in America, offering up her own experiences of girlhood and Blackness with an audacious and invigorating honesty.

Cover of Bolla

By Pajtim Statovci; Translated by David Hackston

Pajtim Statovci’s previous book Crossing was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Translation, and his latest is sure to build on the promise of that well-deserved honor. Steeped in both the mythology and political turmoil of Statovci’s Albanian homeland, Bolla’s portrait of a man struggling with his queerness in a hostile society is at once deeply personal, astonishingly universal, and impossible to forget.

Cover of Strange Beasts of China

Strange Beasts of China
By Yan Ge; Translated by Jeremy Tiang
Melville House

This early-career curiosity from Yan Ge, one of the most exciting writers in contemporary Chinese literature, is finally available to English readers in a sparkling translation from Jeremy Tiang. A detective story with a metaphysical twist, Strange Beasts of China is a hypnotic and haunting page-turner like no other, guaranteed to delight and unsettle readers in equal measure.

Cover of The Letters of Shirley Jackson

The Letters of Shirley Jackson
Edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman
Random House

If Elisabeth Moss’s bewitching performance in Shirley last year whet your appetite for more Jackson action, you’re in luck. Compiled and edited by her eldest son, this intimate collection brings together the author’s personal correspondence with ephemera that spans over thirty years. More than a mere supplement to Jackson’s remarkable career, it stands as a work of art in its own right, with writing as vivid and subversive as her fiction.

Cover of Ghost Forest

Ghost Forest
By Pik-Shuen Fung
One World

Pitched as perfect for fans of The Farewell, this kaleidoscopic debut from a beguiling new voice in fiction is a uniquely structured meditation on loss. Layering in poetic detail, trenchant humor, and familial history with the subtle touch of a painter, Pik-Shuen Fung’s striking use of white space in her prose gives a tactile weight to her character’s grief, transforming what’s often a private experience into a profoundly communal one.

Cover of The Atlas of Disappearing Places

The Atlas of Disappearing Places
By Christina Conklin and Marina Psaros
The New Press

At a time when the latest doom-and-gloom news is just a swipe away, it can be difficult to find new ways to make the climate crisis feel vital again. The Atlas of Disappearing Places succeeds by approaching the subject from a place of hope and beauty, combining place-based storytelling and scientific data with exquisitely-rendered maps of twenty vulnerable locations across the globe. The rare coffee table book that’s also a call to arms.

Cover of Intimacies

By Katie Kitamura
Riverhead Books

It’s been four long years since Katie Kitamura’s A Separation took the lit world by storm, and this month sees the highly anticipated release of her follow-up. Written with her singularly seductive and rhythmic prose, Intimacies is a beach read for the Ferrante set, a decidedly adult exploration of political and personal accountability that still manages to be effortlessly sexy. Sure to be part of the cultural conversation long after the summer heat fades.

Cover of Nightbitch

By Rachel Yoder

This one already had tongues wagging last year when Amy Adams optioned it for film while it was still in manuscript form. Now readers will have a chance to see what all the fuss is about, and judging by the instantly iconic cover and ecstatic blurbs, it might well be the debut of the year. A feral fairy tale of maternal dissatisfaction, it’s best to go into this one knowing as little possible, the better to let Yoder work her devious magic on you.

Cover of The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

It takes a certain amount of boldness to make your fictional debut with a 816-page doorstopper, but Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, whose career as a poet and essayist spans twenty-five years, makes the case for such unbridled ambitions with this magisterial epic, tracing one family’s story from the colonial slave trade to our modern era. Fans of the historical sweep of Toni Morrison and Marlon James won’t want to miss it.

Cover of Gabo and Mercedes

A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes
By Rodrigo Garcia

Rodrigo Garcia is a highly respected director of such film and TV work as Alfred Nobbs, The Sopranos, and In Treatment. He also happens to be the son of Nobel laureate and international icon Gabriel García Márquez, and this tender portrait of the love his parents shared and the formidable legacy his father left behind offers fans the chance to get to know the beloved public figure in an intimate new light.

Cover of Always Crashing in the Same Car

Always Crashing in the Same Car
By Matthew Specktor
Tin House Books

Los Angeles casts a long shadow in the literary landscape, from the hardboiled detectives of Raymond Chandler to the decrepit hangers-on that populate Nathanael West’s work to Joan Didion’s Bethlehem slouchers. It can be hard terrain to crack, but Matthew Specktor’s memoir-criticism hybrid surprises with its slippery examination of the city and artists that called it home, unearthing what it means to him in the process.


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