Our picks for the best books of July include everything from Naomi Novik’s reimagined Rumpelstiltskin novel to Parker Posey’s unconventional memoir. The 10 books below—including titles from our most anticipated books of 2018 list—will keep you entertained throughout the summer.
Why You’ll Love It: In Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir of her years as a White House stenographer during the Obama administration, she invokes the best and the messiest aspects of American government at a time when we need it most. —B. David Zarley
Description: In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein is working five part-time jobs and just scraping by when a posting on Craigslist lands her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate D.C. outsider, she joins the elite team who accompany the president wherever he goes, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forges friendships with a dynamic group of fellow travelers—young men and women who, like her, leave their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president.
As she learns to navigate White House protocols and more than once runs afoul of the hierarchy, Beck becomes romantically entangled with a consummate D.C. insider, and suddenly the political becomes all too personal.
Against the backdrop of glamour, drama and intrigue, this is the story of a young woman making unlikely friendships, getting her heart broken, learning what truly matters and, in the process, discovering her voice.
Why You’ll Love It: Alexia Arthurs’ short story collection proves enchanting and haunting in the best way, weaving intimate tales about Jamaican experiences.
Description: Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these 11 stories form a portrait of a nation, a people and a way of life.
In “Light-Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In “Mash Up Love,” a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother—the prodigal son of the family—stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In “Bad Behavior,” a couple leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In “Mermaid River,” a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In “The Ghost of Jia Yi,” a recently murdered student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in “Shirley from a Small Place,” a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.
Why You’ll Love It: R.O. Kwon’s brilliant debut novel dives into the world of domestic terrorism, and the results prove that she’s a writer to watch.
Description: Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.
Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe’s Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.
Why You’ll Love It: Ottessa Moshfegh wrote one of our favorite short story collections of 2017, and now she’s back with a wonderfully captivating novel.
Description: Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.
Why You’ll Love It: New Poets of Native Nations is a wonderfully conceived collection, full of exciting juxtapositions, rich language and a fine equipoise between generosity and restraint. —Amy Glynn
Description: New Poets of Native Nations gathers poets of diverse ages, styles, languages and tribal affiliations to present the extraordinary range and power of new Native poetry. Heid E. Erdrich has selected 21 poets whose first books were published after the year 2000 to highlight the exciting works coming up after Joy Harjo and Sherman Alexie. Collected here are poems of great breadth—long narratives, political outcries, experimental works and traditional lyrics—and the result is an essential anthology of some of the best poets writing now.
Poets included are Tacey M. Atsitty, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Laura Da’, Natalie Diaz, Jennifer Elise Foerster, Eric Gansworth, Gordon Henry, Jr., Sy Hoahwah, LeAnne Howe, Layli Long Soldier, Janet McAdams, Brandy Nalani McDougall, Margaret Noodin, dg okpik, Craig Santos Perez, Tommy Pico, Cedar Sigo, M. L. Smoker, Gwen Westerman and Karenne Wood.
Why You’ll Love It: Courtenay Hameister’s frank, hilarious chronicle of facing her fears promises hope and laughs while staying real.
Description: For most of her life (and even during her years as the host of a popular radio show), Courtenay Hameister lived in a state of near-constant dread and anxiety. She fretted about everything. Her age. Her size. Her romantic prospects. How likely it was that she would get hit by a bus on the way home.
Until a couple years ago, when, in her mid-40s, she decided to fight back against her debilitating anxieties by spending a year doing little things that scared her—things that the average person might consider doing for a half second before deciding: “nope.”
Things like: attending a fellatio class. She did that. She also spent an afternoon in a sensory deprivation tank, got (legally) high in the middle of a workday, had a session with a professional cuddler, braved 28 first dates and (perhaps scariest of all) actually met someone who might possibly appreciate her for who she is.
Refreshing, relatable and pee-your-pants funny, Okay Fine Whatever is Hameister’s hold-nothing-back account of her adventures on the front lines of Mere Human Woman vs. Fear, reminding us that even the tiniest amount of bravery is still bravery, and that no matter who you are, it’s possible to fight complacency and become bold, or at least bold-ish, a little at a time.
Why You’ll Love It: Spinning Silver further cements Naomi Novik’s place as one of the genre greats, delivering a magical Rumpelstiltskin story tackling sacrifice and anti-Semitism.
Description: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty—until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.
When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk—grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh—Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.
But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.
Why You’ll Love It: Claire O’Dell’s feminist, futuristic twist on Sherlock Holmes proves both captivating and compellingly entertaining.
Description: Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.
Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.
Why You’ll Love It: Rachel Heng’s stunning, near-future NYC proves as entrancing as her characters, making Suicide Club impossible to put down.
Description: Lea Kirino is a “Lifer,” which means that a roll of the genetic dice has given her the potential to live forever—if she does everything right. And Lea is an overachiever. She’s a successful trader on the New York exchange—where instead of stocks, human organs are now bought and sold—she has a beautiful apartment and a fiancé who rivals her in genetic perfection. And with the right balance of HealthTech™, rigorous juicing and low-impact exercise, she might never die.
But Lea’s perfect life is turned upside down when she spots her estranged father on a crowded sidewalk. His return marks the beginning of her downfall as she is drawn into his mysterious world of the Suicide Club, a network of powerful individuals and rebels who reject society’s pursuit of immortality, and instead choose to live—and die—on their own terms. In this future world, death is not only taboo; it’s also highly illegal. Soon Lea is forced to choose between a sanitized immortal existence and a short, bittersweet time with a man she has never really known, but who is the only family she has left in the world.
Why You’ll Love It: Parker Posey’s unconventional memoir is exactly what you’d expect: hilarious, honest and a fantastic read.
Description: In her first book, actress and star of movies such as Dazed and Confused, Party Girl, You’ve Got Mail, The House of Yes and so many more, Posey opens up about the art of acting, life on the set and the realities of its accompanying fame. A funny and colorful southern childhood prepared Posey for a life of creating and entertaining, which not only extends to acting but to the craft of pottery, sewing, collage, yoga and cooking, all of which readers will find in this whimsical, hilarious, always entertaining book. Parker takes us into her childhood home, behind the scenes of the indie film revolution in the ‘90s, the delightful absurdity of the big-budget genre thrillers she’s turned into art in a whole new way and the creativity that will always be part of both her acting and her personal life.
With Posey’s memorable, hilarious and poignant voice, her book gives the reader a feeling of traveling through not only a memoir, but an exploration, meditation and celebration of what it means to be an artist. Buckle up and enjoy the journey.