12 Must-Read Books of August – Chicago Review of Books


It appears we have reached what they call the “dog days” of summer, though we admit we’ve never quite understood the phrase. But if you are finding yourself a little flattened by the heat, and it’s an effort even to step out your front door, let alone onto a boiling sidewalk, never fear. There are plenty of characters to keep you company inside. May we suggest holing up until Labor Day with one of these excellent new books coming out this month?

By Emmanuel Carrère; Translated by John Lambert
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

If you missed the recent meaty New Yorker profile on French literary superstar Emmanuel Carrère, you still have time to catch up and get hyped before his latest experiment in autofiction hits stateside. Much of his work has pushed the boundaries of genre, and Yoga is no exception, sure to keep readers guessing and reevaluating from the first page to the last.

By Joma West

For anyone eagerly anticipating the next season of Black Mirror, Joma West’s Face should tide you over nicely. Pitched as “Margaret Atwood meets Kazuo Ishiguro,” West carves out a space all her own with this unsettling tale of a dystopian future where designer babies, social media, and racial tension collide in wickedly unpredictable ways.

Kiki Man Ray: Art, Love, and Rivalry in 1920’s Paris
By Mark Braude
W.W. Norton

Not unlike Edie Sedgwick in 1960s New York, Kiki de Montparnasse was a freewheeling fixture of Paris in the roaring twenties whose own life story is ripe for reexamination. Luckily Mark Braude’s affectionate biography is here to shine a light on the woman behind some of the most scandalous images of the Surrealist movement. As irresistible as it is overdue.

The Disappearance of Josef Mengele
By Olivier Guez; Translated by Georgia de Chamberet
Verso Books

Historical fiction fans looking for something with an edge shouldn’t miss The Disappearance of Josef Mengele. The painstaking research that went into its writing never shows on the page; this chilling fictionalized manhunt for the so-called Angel of Death during his years on the run in South America moves like a thriller but has the keen insight of biography.

Fruit Punch: A Memoir
By Kendra Allen

We’ve recommended Kendra Allen’s exemplary poetry in this space before, which means we’re pumped for her first foray into nonfiction, and Fruit Punch certainly delivers. Set in Dallas, Texas in the nineties and early two-thousands, Allen’s memoir is a blistering and clear-eyed account of Black girlhood in the South in all its joys and hardships.

Mount Chicago
By Adam Levin

Admittedly, we’re a bit biased when it comes to books set in our hometown, but Adam Levin’s massive, and massively entertaining, epic of a natural disaster devastating the titular city will please readers on any coast. Roping in the Second City’s comedy scene, (in)famously knotty local politics, and one very special parrot, it’s a bawdy, lunatic trip down the urban rabbit hole.

Diary of a Void
By Emi Yaga; Translated by David Boyd & Lucy North

With many of us still reeling from the recent Dobbs ruling, there’s no better time for books to tackle reproductive rights from unique vantages. Japanese author Emi Yaga’s absurdist take on the subject centers on a woman who fakes a pregnancy to avoid harassment at work and finds herself extending the ruse well beyond nine months. Delightfully subversive.

By Brenda Lozano; Translated by Heather Cleary

Readers of Fernanda Melchor’s form-busting, psychedelic takes on recent South American history won’t want to miss Brenda Lozano’s Witches, set in the author’s native Mexico as the country suffers under the scourge of relentless femicide. Heather Cleary fluidly translates Lozano’s spiky narrative, immersing readers in its horrors without obscuring its beauties.

See Also

Stories From the Tenants Downstairs
By Sidik Fofana

Reminiscent of Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, Sidik Fofana’s stellar debut story collection weaves together a series of interconnected tales centered on a Harlem apartment complex where the residents struggle with the specter of gentrification. Rich, rhythmic, and perfectly paced, these voices will ring in your ears long after you turn the final page. 

Magnolia: Poems
By Nina Mingya Powles
Tin House Books

This debut poetry collection from the founder of Bitter Melon is as beguiling as the blooms bursting on its cover, the work inside exploring mixed-race girlhood from a kaleidoscopic range of perspectives and viewpoints. A finalist for the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize, Magnolia pushes at the edges of form to bend language into new and surprising shapes.

Reluctant Immortals
By Gwendolyn Kiste
Gallery/Saga Press

The cover of this historical horror novel from three-time Bram Stoker Award-winner Gwendolyn Kiste is giving us real Love Witch vibes, but its plot will have as much appeal for academics as genre fans: Dracula’s Lucy and Jane Eyre’s Berthe are undead in 1967 Los Angeles when their tormentors unexpectedly reappear in Haight-Ashbury. A rip-roaring good time.

Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta
By James Hannaham
Little, Brown

We were big fans of James Hannaham’s previous novel Delicious Foods, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist for a slew of others. The long wait for his follow-up is finally over and it’s a doozy: a raucous social comedy that takes on our carceral system, the poor treatment of trans people, and capitalist failings in one unmissable package.


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