If you’re moved by stories of resilience, Jessica Berger Gross’s memoir Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home (Scribner) shows howâ€”after breaking free from her father’s physical and emotional abuseâ€”she bravely and painstakingly built a thriving life of her own. Twenty-four-year-old Naoki Higashida follows his best-selling childhood memoir The Reason I Jump (he has nonverbal autism and communicates using a hand-drawn alphabet grid) with the equally miraculous Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 (Random House), translated by KA Yoshida and novelist David Mitchell. In her memoir I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad (Henry Holt), Washington Post journalist and German-born Muslim Souad Mekhennet delivers a brilliant narrative of risky first-person interviews and encounters across the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, in which she unveils the identity of ISIS executioner “Jihadi John” while telling the history of Islamic radicalism. Mekhennet’s WaPo colleague Monica Hesse unspools American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land (Liveright), a true-crime tale of two troubled lovers acting out their twisted passions by setting fire to other people’s properties on Virginia’s once-storied, now economically decimated Eastern Shore.
Go Tell It
If the immediacy of oral histories intrigues you, here are two majestic ones. The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II (Random House), the first English translation of Nobel Prizeâ€“ winning writer Svetlana Alexievich’s groundbreaking and exhaustive book, is a mosaic of Russian women’s storiesâ€”from the home front to the front lines, from foot soldiers to cryptographers to antiaircraft commanders. From the opposite corner of the world, So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley (W. W. Norton) offers a riveting portraitâ€”drawn from four decades of interviews with friends, family, and fellow musiciansâ€”of the Jamaican music legend, by reggae scholar Roger Steffens.
If you’ve grown weary of politics, try poet Michael Robbins and his freakishly original essays in Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music (Simon & Schuster). His brainy perambulations on life and art illuminate the dynamic call-and-response over the centuries between artists ranging from Geoffrey Chaucer to Bob Dylan to W. B. Yeats to Taylor Swift.
Short and Sweet
If you seek short stories this summer, consider Delhi native Akhil Sharma’s A Life of Adventure and Delight (W. W. Norton), eight divine stories about all-too-human relationships between mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, cousins, and lovers; Madame Zero: 9 Stories (Custom House), by Brit writer Sarah Hall, spine-tingling tales about new life, old flames, guilty partners, foster children, andâ€”wait for itâ€”a woman who turns into a fox; and The Dark Dark (FSG), a set of 10 magical, otherworldly stories by Mr. Splitfoot author Samantha Hunt.
If summer is for firsts, here’s a panoply of good ones: Goodbye, Vitamin (Henry Holt), a family dramedy by Rachel Khong, which begins: “Tonight a man found Dad’s pants in a tree.â€¦”; Estep Nagy’s arresting We Shall Not All Sleep (Bloomsbury), set on a small Maine island where two families’ histories have woven together and collided for generations; and Our Little Racket (Ecco), by Angelica Baker, an ambitious social novel about a financial titan brought down by his own corruption and how the women in his lifeâ€”wife, daughter, nanny, et al.â€”adapt.
If you like art with your words, try this trio: The New Annotated Frankenstein (Liveright), edited by Leslie S. Klinger (filmmaker Guillermo del Toro wrote the intro) celebrating 200 years of Mary Shelley’s horror classic; Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win (Ten Speed Press), by author/illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky, a stylish and fearless portrait gallery of sports heroines sung and unsung, from tennis ace Serena Williams to parachutist Tiny Broadwick to skateboarder Patti McGee to Olympic gymnast Simone Biles; and Adam Begley’s bio The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera (Tim Duggan Books), about the entrepreneurial nineteenth-century Parisian photographer, a prototypical Andy Warhol who knew everyone worth knowingâ€”Sarah Bernhardt, Victor Hugo, Manetâ€”and took pictures of all of them.
Feed Your Mind
If you find the subject of food to be both vexing and transfixing, you’ll love Beautiful Bodies (Little A), Kimberly Rae Miller’s witty and wise memoir, social history, and, yes, love story about dieting, fitness, and body image; and Laura Shapiro’s What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories (Viking), which details everything from Eva Braun’s last supper of cyanide to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s thing for bread-and-butter sandwiches.
To Wit, High Lit
If it’s highbrow fiction you want this summer, try a boisterous saga about a family of psychics with telekinetic powers, Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders (Knopf); and Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Knopf), a spellbinder set across the Indian subcontinent that begins: “At magic hour, when the sun has gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke.”
If you know her name but not her story, get Elaine M. Hayes’s Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan (Ecco), and be awestruck to read how Vaughan, who grew up poor singing in her church choir in Newark, New Jersey, became the reigning voice of bebop jazz in the late ’40s and ’50s, and a political activist in the ’60s and ’70s; and who, as her fame and influence as a singular visionary vocalist grew, always insisted, “I sing. I just sing.”
If Swan Huntley’s 2016 best-selling suspenser, We Could Be Beautiful, grabbed you and wouldn’t let you go, hold on to The Goddesses (Doubleday), about a woman who has just moved to Hawaii with her family and develops a friendship with a yoga instructor that gets closeâ€”and then way too closeâ€”for comfort.
This article originally appears in the July 2017 issue of ELLE.