August is traditionally a “dead month” in publishing, a time when every agent, editor and production director takes vacation, filling East Coast beaches with tote bags of unread manuscripts and galleys.
And yet, August still promises plenty of worthwhile titles, from a delicious Western saga to sharp short stories to a genre-defying memoir. Just remember your sunscreen in case you can’t stop turning pages.
• “Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain,” by Sarah Vallance (Aug. 1)
Sarah Vallance was a Ph.D. with a high-level career when a fall from a horse resulted in a traumatic brain injury that caused her IQ to plummet to 80. Given that she’s written a beautiful new memoir, you know she’s recovered - but her book is less about reaching that destination and more about learning to care for one’s self and others.
• “The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love With Me,” by Keah Brown (Aug. 6)
Born with cerebral palsy, Keah Brown’s #DisabledandCute hashtag has inspired people to view disability in a new light. What does it mean to be different but still seen as “the pretty one?” Which assistance chairs are the most helpful - and the most fun? Brown delivers insights in a refreshing and entertaining way.
• “A Particular Kind of Black Man,” by Tope Folarin (Aug. 6)
The protagonist of this novel, Tunde Akinola, speaks English with a Middle American accent, having grown up in Utah - but his Nigerian parents and his white classmates never let him forget his ancestry. And yet it’s not until his mentally ill mother leaves the family that his feelings of alienation really kick in, unsettling him for decades to come.
• “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion,” by Jia Tolentino (Aug. 6)
If you’ve read Tolentino’s essays in the New Yorker, you already know that she’s the millennial Susan Sontag, a brilliant voice in cultural criticism. She remains engaged with her subjects even as she scratches her head and wonders why we do what we do. Even better: She writes like a dream.
• “Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects,” by Edward Posnett (Aug. 6)
They may be luxury commodities now, but civet coffee, eiderdown, sea silk, vicuña, vegetable ivory, guano and edible birds’ nests all started as local harvests. Posnett considers the evolution of each object and the communities they came from, while also pondering what we might learn about the things we value.
• “The Yellow House,” by Sarah M. Broom (Aug. 13)
Broom’s book is a memoir - but also so much more. The New Orleans native has written a hybrid of the most exquisite kind, part family history, part archaeological dig, part self-exegesis. It all comes back to the house of the title, a “New Orleans East” shotgun dwelling that has given hope, heartbreak, shelter and transformation to decades of Broom’s family. And Broom has used it to inspire something new.
• “When the Plums Are Ripe,” by Patrice Nganang (translated by Amy B. Reid) (Aug. 13)
Nganang’s second novel (after 2016’s “Mount Pleasant”) in a trilogy about Cameroon takes place as the nation is forced into World War II and caught between Vichy and the Free French. The plot and action are matched by the author’s powerful take on the damage colonialism inflicts for generations.
• “Inland,” by Téa Obreht (Aug. 13)
After her stunning, original 2011 debut “The Tiger’s Wife,” I expected Obreht’s sophomore effort to return to her native Balkan region. I should have known better. Set in the American West, “Inland” is full of surprises with the story of the unlikely alliance between a homesteading wife and a truly haunted outlaw.
• “The Memory Police,” by Yoko Ogawa (translated by Stephen Snyder) (Aug. 13)
Ogawa’s new novel is the fresh take on “1984” you didn’t know you needed. On an unnamed island, objects begin to disappear - and the few who notice live in fear of the Memory Police, who are devoted to keeping things forgotten. When a young writer chooses to hide her editor from the ruthless government, she makes herself a target.
• “The World Doesn’t Require You,” by Rion Amilcar Scott (Aug. 20)
Scott’s story collection is set in the fictional town of Cross River, Md., the home of the only successful slave revolt in history. Its modern inhabitants - an eclectic cast that includes a robot and God’s last son - grapple with this legacy in their own singular ways. A must read.