Summer is made of stories: fiction that seems true, and true stories that beggar belief. Below we recommend June, July, and August books, great reading to beguile the climbing temperatures. Our fiction ranges from Florida to Ghana, from Ireland to the samba joints of 1930s Brazil. Our nonfiction tells of life in fracking-land, Pennsylvania; a girl growing up on a bombing range; a fire-watcher in the New Mexico wild; and, from Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard, a book titled Summer. And spare a thought for two necessary, right-now books of poetry. Get those pages flipping!
The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson (Park Row, June). A search for the clues to family secrets dovetails with a literary scavenger hunt in this latest entry in a newly popular genre: novels about bookshops. This one happens to take place in Philadelphia.
Florida by Lauren Groff (Riverhead, June). One of our hottest writers gives us a collection of stories about a Florida of her mind, with snakes, hurricanes, islands, and people contending with nature.
Kudos by Rachel Cusk (HarperCollins, June). The “Faye” trilogy started with Outline, moved to Transit, and now concludes, as Faye travels to Europe and realizes she must rethink her connections with people.
Treeborne by Caleb Johnson (Picador, June). Janie Treeborne, keeper of the Peach Pit orchard, introduces us to the town of Elberta, Ala., and the Treeborne family in a tale that’s full of eccentricity, Southern Gothic overtones, and poetry.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (Knopf, July). In the latest by one of our great contemporary writers, Willa Drake, a woman who has been at the beck and call of others for a long time, says she’ll take care of her son’s injured ex … and things start changing.
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (Penguin, July). Three men search for meaning in a novel that embraces small-town Irish life, the Syrian refugee crisis, our need to confess, and our ability to transcend suffering.
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams (William Morrow, July). Another hot book for summer from the prolific Williams. A woman returns to a New England island of her youth to sort out the legacy of a family tragedy – and she seeks justice. A romantic, multilayered tale.
The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles (Riverhead, August). The long friendship between Dores and Graça is forged through music. Based partly on the life of Carmen Miranda, this novel takes us from 1920 Brazilian sugar plantations to the urban samba scene of the 1930s.
The Bucket List by Georgia Clark (Atria/Emily Bestler, August). A woman discovers she has the breast cancer gene, and she decides to go on a journey to tick off a few lifetime to-do boxes.
Last Looks by Howard Michael Gould (Dutton, August). A wild, madcap homage to and satire of the Hollywood noir thriller. Gould, an accomplished screenwriter and showrunner, knows how to keep it fast, smart, and funny.
Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (Akashic, August). A tale set in Ghana, where a girl is given up by her family, endures a very hard life, and, once set free, must find a way to heal and live forward.
River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (Ballantine, August). Scarlett Chen, expectant mom, is sent to Los Angeles to have her baby. Pretty soon, though, she realizes she has to get out of there, and she breaks north to San Francisco. Thus begins a tale.
Run the Storm by George Foy (Scribner, May). The true story of what happened when the crew of the El Faro, a huge container ship, headed right into a Category 4 hurricane. Skillful, beautifully written.
Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June). Griswold, a writer with Chestnut Hill roots, chronicles the impact of fracking on Amity, Pa., and a family’s quest for justice. She appears at the Free Library of Philadelphia on June 12.
And Then We Danced: A Voyage into the Groove by Henry Alford (Simon & Schuster, June). A memoir and primer on dancing (of all kinds!) and what it can do to (and for) you.
My Twenty-Five Years in Provence by Peter Mayle (Knopf, June). Mayle, champion of all things Provence, dieed in January, but his keen eye and wit are much on display in this all-new collection of writings on his times in the south of France.
Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Irwin Painter (Counterpoint, June). Hurray for Nell Irwin Painter! This Princeton historian finishes up a fine academic career – and then gets an MFA in art at Mason Gross at Rutgers, and then gets another one at the Rhode Island School of Design. You go. One of the must-reads of the year.
A Girl’s Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America’s Secret Desert by Karen Piper (Viking, August). She grew up in the China Lake missile range during the Cold War. Thus she tells some wild tales, with a warhead or two. A singular American life.
A Song for the River by Philip Connors (Cinco Puntos, August). The author is a longtime fire lookout in New Mexico’s Gila Bend National Forest. In this sequel to his 2011 book Fire Season, he watches the wilderness burn and ponders death, love, and regrowth.
Summer by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Penguin, August). The tireless Norwegian writer concludes his four-book, yearlong collection of season-themed essays with this dazzling, intense gathering of summer thoughts.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes (Penguin, June). Seventy free-verse sonnets exploring the American penchant for racially charged violence. Hayes does what poets do for their times.
If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar (One World, August). Asghar, co-creator of the web/HBO series Brown Girls, writes through the eyes of a Pakistani woman who comes to America and discovers a very strange country indeed.