What does change look like? It’s a question at the center of many of this month’s new books. In Blacktop Wasteland, a mechanic who worked hard to move on from a life of crime is met with financial difficulties that leave him no choice but to drive the getaway car for an upcoming heist. In The End of White Politics, political analyst Zerlina Maxwell picks apart the Democratic Party and argues why it must reject white politics in order to truly evolve. And in a crop of memoirs, authors like Michele Harper and Natasha Trethewey analyze the pain of their pasts in an effort to understand how trauma has impacted the choices they’ve made in their lives. Here are 10 new books to read in July.
The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir, Michele Harper (July 7) In her new memoir, emergency room physician Michele Harper explores how the patients she’s treated have helped her come to terms with the traumas of her own past. Reflecting on everything from her turbulent childhood to the abrupt end of her marriage, Harper illustrates the complexities of self-healing and recovery. Throughout, she describes the chaotic nature of her work, which is amplified by the obstacles she must overcome as a Black woman in a profession dominated by white men.
The End of White Politics: How to heal our liberal divide, Zerlina Maxwell (July 7) Political analyst Zerlina Maxwell wants the Democratic Party to acknowledge and act on the fact that the demographics of the United States are changing. In her new book, Maxwell examines the fractures that exist within the party and argues that liberal politicians need to better connect with their base, which is no longer as white and male as it was years ago. Maxwell, who worked for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, lays out how Democrats can move forward and explains why rejecting white politics is imperative to their success.
Blacktop Wasteland, S.A. Cosby (July 14) A dedicated father and husband, mechanic Bug Montage has successfully escaped his criminal past. But now his terminally ill mother needs help and the auto shop he owns is in financial distress. He decides to take a job as a getaway driver in a jewelry heist, threatening the life he has built by slipping into one he thought he left behind. S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland follows Bug on his twisty journey, a page-turning thriller about a man pushed to his breaking point.
Afterland, Lauren Beukes (July 28) After a global pandemic has fatally infected most of the world’s population, a mother named Cole is determined to do whatever it takes to protect her 12-year-old son Miles. As one of the few surviving boys, Miles had been housed at a government facility in California, until Cole came to his rescue. Now on the run, the duo must navigate a perilous landscape of fear and uncertainty, in which Cole has to disguise Miles as a girl. Lauren Beuke’s timely and unsettling novel, Afterland, depicts their journey across the country as they attempt to find safety.
Empire of Wild, Cherie Dimaline (July 28) It’s been almost a year since Joan last saw her husband Victor, who walked out on her after they got into a fight over what to do about her family’s land. In Cherie Dimaline’s latest novel, Joan catches up to him in a Walmart parking lot—but he has no idea who she is. Victor now goes by Reverend Eugene Wolff and he seems much more dangerous than the man she was once married to. Unsure of what to do, Joan leans on her Métis community to help her understand who her husband has become. In doing so, she begins to learn how the traditions of her ancestors might yield some much-needed answers.
Must I Go, Yiyun Li (July 28) While residing in a senior living facility, 81-year-old grandmother Lilia Liska is catapulted back in time when she reads her former lover Roland’s published diary entries. She begins marking up the pages with her own recollections of the events Roland described, and reflects on the adult daughter whom she lost to suicide. Like she did in her 2019 novel Where Reasons End, Yiyun Li creates a sensitive, strange and heartbreaking account of maternal love as Lilia processes the losses she’s experienced in her life.
Imitations: Six essays, Zadie Smith (July 28) Six essays comprise Zadie Smith’s latest collection, which she wrote during the first few months of stay-at-home orders. Though a slim book, Intimations captures the uneasiness of our modern moment as Smith reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic and relates it to issues of privilege and inequity. Her urgent voice tackles everything from what becomes important during isolation to the global response to George Floyd’s killing. The author asks questions, both timely and timeless, about how we respond to crisis and suffering.
Memorial Drive: A daughter's memoir, Natasha Trethewey (July 28) When she was 19 years old, Natasha Trethewey suffered a terrible tragedy: her former stepfather murdered her mother. In her anticipated memoir, the former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner contemplates the impact of this searing trauma on her life and artistry and reflects on her mother’s legacy. Trethewey places the event in the context of her upbringing in the South, revealing a youth shaped by domestic abuse and racism. In examining what came before and after the horrific event, Trethewey underscores the power of the love between a mother and daughter.
I Had a Wolf by the Ears: Stories, Laura van den Berg (July 28) Laura van den Berg’s latest collection includes 11 new stories, each eerie and dreamlike, anchored by a female protagonist who is slightly disconnected from her reality. One woman impersonates her missing sister at a conference abroad. Another remembers the treatment facility where she lived as a teenager after attempting suicide. Several can’t escape their pasts, a lesson one character in particular learns after running into her brother’s ex-wife while in Mexico City. Van den Berg writes about each woman in her dark and strange voice, interjecting glimpses of biting humor amid revelations of pain and loss.
Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American incarceration, Christine Montross (July 21) Psychiatrist Christine Montross takes a stirring look at how the American legal system treats people with mental illness. In Waiting for an Echo, Montross argues that the system is broken, leaving many people who need therapeutic care behind bars and at the mercy of prison staff who do not know how to properly help them. Montross also follows what happens after release, illuminating the harrowing ways communities across the country are impacted by mass incarceration.
Click here for the CLAMS online catalog
One of the best ways to combat racism in ourselves is to read widely and deeply on the subject. These anti-racist books, culled from reading lists offered by advocates and professors, address racism from a variety of angles. Some are educational texts that explain how it worms its way into so many aspects of society, largely without our noticing. Some are works of fiction that illustrate its destructiveness through story. And while this list is by no means exhaustive, we hope it gives you a starting point as you embark on or continue your own journey.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race by Jesmyn Ward The National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones edited this anthology of essays and poems that engage with James Baldwin's 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time. Organized into three sections, it looks at our legacy, the state of things today, and how we can work toward a better future.
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson Born out of a Washington Post op-ed, this book addresses the way that African American social progress has been stymied by white opposition throughout history, from the Jim Crow laws to the War on Drugs and even the response to Barack Obama's election. It offers a fresh perspective that history books didn't teach us.
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeo Oluo From why it's not OK to touch your Black friend's hair, to how to tell your coworker their joke is racist, to talking about white privilege in general, this book can help us all navigate those difficult conversations. If you're uncomfortable talking about race, let this book be your guide.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Anjelou In her heart-wrenching debut memoir, Maya Angelou shares her experience with racism and bigotry and how she turned to literature and her own inner strength to help her survive. For those who need their lessons couched in story, you can't go wrong with Angelou.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi The title says it all. This book breaks down the author's own journey toward active anti-racism, while serving as a guide for people who want to go beyond not being racist, into working to create a more just society. It's essential reading for anyone asking, "What more can I do?"
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine With her signature blend of essay, poetry, and imagery, Rankine illustrates the many racial aggressions that permeate society, from the grocery store to the classroom, and in the media. For anyone who's ever thought we lived in a post-race society, this book will change their mind.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates Ranging from the broad social issues of our time to an intimate conversation between a father and son, this powerful book reckons with our shared history in a way that will both touch and challenge readers. It's part memoir, part reported history, and totally essential.
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad Use this workbook to help dismantle your own biases, with personal anecdotes and examples, digestible explanations and definitions, and further reading to continue your journey. Wherever you are on your quest to combat racism, this book can help.
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Collors and Asha Bandele This memoir from one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement is a poetic exploration of what it feels like to be a Black woman in America and how Patrisse Khan-Cullors turned her pain into political power. It's an empowering call-to-action that will make the reader want to stand up and do something.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum By looking at the psychology of racism and self-segregation, this classic text can help us enable conversation across racial divides. It may help you understand and look honestly at the makeup of your own social structure, too.
If, during this period of relative isolation, your to-be-read pile needs refreshing, June offers plenty of possibilities: superb debut fiction, hilarious essays and even a compendium to help you figure out what to do with all the produce from the garden you began in quarantine. Click on the book title for link to the CLAMS catalog where available.
The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Brit Bennett (June 2) Bennett’s first novel, “The Mothers,” was a hit in 2016, and her second, “The Vanishing Half,” should be one in 2020. The Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, are born and raised in a small-town haven for people of mixed race in Louisiana. But after their father is brutally lynched, the sisters run away to New Orleans and grow up living lives so different that when their futures intersect, tragedy ensues.
Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen (June 2) After growing up in the Soviet Union and reporting on Russia’s subsequent totalitarianism, Gessen (“The Future Is History”) has plenty of experience wrestling meaning from political repression. In this expanded version of their 2016 viral essay “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” Gessen offers solutions for those who believe in resistance.
A Burning: A Novel by Megha Majumdar (June 2) While government extremists in India might wish differently, that country contains multitudes — and those multitudes don’t always agree with the government. Majumdar’s astute debut, about three characters from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, shows how dangerous it can be for a culture to push any group to the sidelines. Sound familiar?
Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why: Essays by Alexandra Petri (June 2) "One of the difficulties of being alive today,” Petri writes, “is that everything is absurd but fewer and fewer things are funny.” Lucky for us, this popular Washington Post political satirist is here to point out the absurdity of public figures in the funniest ways.
The New Homemade Kitchen: 250 Recipes and Ideas for Reinventing the Art of Preserving, Canning, Fermenting, Dehydrating, and More by Joseph Shuldiner (June 2) The Institute of Domestic Technology wants you to understand that you don’t have to accept sticky jars of sourdough starter from a neighbor. You can make your own! You can also make your own miso paste, mustard and instant soup mixes (with vegetables you dehydrate). Shuldiner, who founded the institute, died in 2019, but his legacy lives on in this lively reference.
The Daughters of Erietown: A Novel by Connie Schultz (June 9) Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s married to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), lives a full life that includes dogs, grandchildren and previously published works of nonfiction. But she wanted to write a novel about American women in the second half of the 20th century. Here it is: the kind of smart, authentic story that both men and women will find riveting. Don’t miss it.
Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World by Chris Wallace (June 9) Everyone knows the outcome, yet Wallace manages to make this carefully researched account of the months before Hiroshima read like a tense thriller. People of all ages and positions appear, from scientists to pilots to politicians to survivors, their experiences testimony to a dreadful decision.
The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency by John Dickerson (June 16) Dickerson, a “60 Minutes” correspondent and former “Face the Nation” host, posits that being a good POTUS has become nearly impossible. Looking at the evolution of the role of commander in chief and the successes of effective presidents from history, the veteran journalist suggests ways to make the job more productive.
Love: A Novel by Roddy Doyle (June 23) The Kelly green background and Guinness-brown pint on the cover of Doyle’s new novel say it all: Here is a paean to all things Irish. Fans of “The Commitments” and “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” will be glad (although all of yez should read “The Snapper,” too) to follow old mates Davy and Joe through a pub crawl that is both elegiac and hilarious.
The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova (June 23) How many Harvard grads with PhDs from Columbia, who have built careers writing for The New Yorker, are also phenomenal professional poker players? Just one, at last count. The tale of how Konnikova followed a story about poker players and wound up becoming a story herself will have you riveted, first as you learn about her big winnings, and then as she conveys the lessons she learned both about human nature and herself.
Check out these books released this May featuring titles based on actual science and data, whether that involves the chemistry of yeast or the reality of immigration. The fiction, meanwhile, provides portals to worlds more coherent than our current one. There are so many good excuses to keep reading!