August 2017 Books to Read

Since we are entering the late summer publishing season, I wanted to highlight some August books that I think look interesting. Here they are,  accompanied by my brief thoughts and by the publisher’s blurb. Which ones have I missed that you’re excited about?

The links to Amazon.com are affiliate links, so if you purchase the book (or any item) by going there from this page, we’ll make a bit of money for the site. Do not feel obligated, of course — we’ll keep going regardless!

August 1

Flight of the Maidens
by Jane Gardam
Europa Editions

Gardam is one of my favorites, and The Flight of the Maidens, first published in 2000, is one I’ve never read that sounds like it might line up closely with her wonderful debut from 1971, A Long Way from Verona, rather than her brilliant Old Filth Trilogy.

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Europa Editions:

Jane Gardam, author of the Old Filth Trilogy, delivers another modern classic in The Flight of the Maidens. With her characteristic wit, Gardam captures a moment in time for three young women on the cusp of adulthood. With keen perception the novel charts the course of this trio as they boldly face their uncertain futures.

It is Yorkshire, 1946. The end of the war has changed the world again, and emboldened by this new dawning Hetty Fallows, Una Vane, and Lisolette Klein seize the opportunities with enthusiasm. Hetty, desperate to escape the grasp of her critical mother, books a solo holiday to the Lake District under the pretext of completing her Oxford summer coursework. Una, the daughter of a disconcertingly cheery hairdresser, entertains a romantically inclined young man from the wrong side of the tracks and the left-side of politics. Meanwhile, Lisolette Klein, the mysterious Jewish refugee from Germany, leaves the Quaker family who had rescued her, to test herself in London. Although strikingly different from one another, these young women share the common goal of adventure and release from their middle class surroundings through romance and education.

Gardam demonstrates her talent for creating fully realized characters in these venturesome, intelligent young women whose stories are told with delight and understanding. This reissue of The Flight of the Maidens will appeal to a wide range of adult and young adult readers.

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash
by Eka Kurniawan
translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker
New Directions

Over the last couple of years we English-readers finally got two novels from Eka Kurniawan, Man Tiger and Beauty Is a Wound. They’re rough and violent but profound. Vengeance Is Mine seems to carry on the violence but perhaps in a more comic manner. We shall see!

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from New Directions:

Vivid and bawdy, here is the new novel by the Indonesian superstar Eka Kurniawan (Beauty is a Wound). Told in short, cinematic bursts, Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is gloriously pulpy. Ajo Kawir, a lower-class Javanese teenage boy excited about sex, likes to spy on fellow villagers in flagrante, but when he witnesses a savage rape, he is deeply traumatized and becomes impotent. His efforts to get his virility back all fail, and Ajo Kawir turns to fighting as a way to vent his frustrations. He is hired to kill a thug named The Tiger, but instead Ajo Kawir falls in love with Iteung, a gorgeous female bodyguard who works for the local mafia. Alas, the course of true love never did run smooth…. Fast-forward a decade. Now a truck driver, Ajo Kawir has reached a new equanimity, thinking that his penis may be trying to teach him a lesson: he even consults it in many situations as if it were his guru—and love may triumph yet.

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash shows Eka Kurniawan in a gritty, comic, pungent mode that fans of Quentin Tarantino will appreciate. But even with its liberal peppering of fights, high-speed car chases, and ladies heaving with desire, the novel continues to explore Kurniawan’s familiar themes of the perils of love and of the struggles of women in a violent and corrupt male world.

The Seventh Function of Language
by Laurent Binet
translated from the French by Sam Taylor
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

I never did read Binet’s smash HHhH, but this one — with its look at Barthes and conspiracies among the French intelligentsia — looks right up my alley!

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from FSG:

Paris, 1980. The literary critic Roland Barthes dies, struck by a laundry van, after lunch with the presidential candidate François Mitterand. The world of letters mourns a tragic accident. But what if it wasn’t an accident at all? What if Barthes was . . . murdered?

In The Seventh Function of Language, Laurent Binet spins a madcap secret history of the French intelligentsia, starring such luminaries as Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Julia Kristeva, as well as the hapless police detective Jacques Bayard, whose new case will plunge him into the depths of literary theory (starting with the French version of Roland Barthes for Dummies). Soon Bayard finds himself in search of a lost manuscript by the linguist Roman Jakobson on the mysterious “seventh function of language.”

A brilliantly erudite comedy with more than a dash of The Da Vinci CodeThe Seventh Function of Language takes us from the cafés of Saint-Germain to the corridors of Cornell University, and into the duels and orgies of the Logos Club, a secret philosophical society that dates to the Roman Empire. Binet has written both a send-up and a wildly exuberant celebration of the French intellectual tradition.


August 8

Late Fame
by Arthur Schnitzler
translated from the German by Alexander Starritt
NYRB Classics

I’ve finished this one and will be writing a full review in due course. Right now, I’ll just recommend it as a rumination on shattered dreams, old age, and the creative process.

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from NYRB Classics:

Eduard Saxberger is a quiet man who is getting on in years and has spent the better part of them working at a desk in an office. Once upon a time, however, he published a book of poetry, Wanderings, and one day when he returns from his usual walk he finds a young man waiting for him. “Are you,” he wants to know, “Saxberger the poet?”

Is Saxberger Saxberger the poet? Was he ever a poet? A real poet? Saxberger hasn’t written a poem for years, but he begins to frequent the coffee shops of Vienna with his young admirer and his no less admiring circle of friends, and as he does he begins to yearn for a different life from the daily round followed by rounds of drinks and billiards with familiar buddies like Grossinger, the deli owner. And the ardent attentions of Fräulein Gasteiner, the tragedienne, are not entirely unwelcome.

The Hope of Young Vienna is how the young artists style themselves, and they are arranging an event that will introduce them to the world. They insist that the distinguished author of Wanderings take part in it as well. Will he write something new for the occasion? Will he at last receive his due?

Late Fame, an unpublished novella recently rediscovered in the papers of the great turn-of-the-century Austrian playwright and novelist Arthur Schnitzler, is a bittersweet parable of hope lost and found.


August 15

In a Lonely Place
by Dorothy B. Hughes
NYRB Classics

I read this one years ago, and reviewed Nicholas Ray’s amazing film adaptation last year. I love the book and the movie. It’s dark and profound in its critique against the post-war man.

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the NYRB Classics blurb:

Los Angeles in the late 1940s is a city of promise and prosperity, but not for former fighter pilot Dix Steele.  To his mind nothing has come close to matching “that feeling of power and exhilaration and freedom that came with loneness in the sky.” He prowls the foggy city night—­bus stops and stretches of darkened beaches and movie houses just emptying out—seeking solitary young women. His funds are running out and his frustrations are growing. Where is the good life he was promised? Why does he always get a raw deal? Then he hooks up with his old Air Corps buddy Brub, now working for the LAPD, who just happens to be on the trail of the strangler who’s been terrorizing the women of the city for months…

Written with controlled elegance, Dorothy B. Hughes’s tense novel is at once an early indictment of a truly toxic masculinity and a twisty page-turner with a surprisingly feminist resolution. A classic of golden age noir, In a Lonely Place also inspired Nicholas Ray’s 1950 film of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart.

Island of Point Nemo
by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
translated from the French by Hannah Chute
Open Letter

A few years ago, my favorite book of the year was Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s Where Tigers Are at Home, a giant of a book that takes place in northern Brazil, in a place where I spent several years a couple of decades ago. I loved it! This one is quite different, much more playful, but still worth your time!

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Open Letter

A stolen diamond and three right feet, wearing shoes of a non-existent brand, that wash ashore in Scotland set into motion the first plot of Island of Point Nemo, a rollicking Jules Verne-like adventure narrative that crosses continents and oceans, involves multilingual codes, a world-famous villain, and three eccentrically loopy detectives.

Running parallel is the story of B@bil Books, an e-reader factory in France filled with its own set of colorful characters, including the impotent Dieumercie and his randy wife, who will stop at nothing—including a suspect ritual involving bees—to fix his “problem,” and their abusive boss Wang-li Wong, obsessed with carrier pigeons and spying on his employees.

With the humor of a Jasper Fforde novel, and the structure of a Haruki Murakami one, Island of Point Nemo is a literary puzzle and grand testament to the power of storytelling—even in our digital age.

Low Heights
by Pascal Garnier
translated from the French by Melanie Florence
Gallic Press

I’m on-again-off-again with Garnier, having read a handful of his books. They can be so dark and disturbing, sometimes seemingly for no particular reason other than to punish, that I am never sure what we’re going to get. Nevertheless, I keep coming back. I read them swiftly, and I love more of them than I don’t. I’m anxious to see what we have here!

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Gallic Press:

After losing his wife and suffering a stroke, Édouard has retired to the mountains with his nurse. One day a man arrives claiming to be his long-lost son. This seems to bring about a softening of Édouard’s temper, but it isn’t long before the local vultures begin to circle . . .


August 22

The Red-Haired Woman
by Orhan Pamuk
translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap
Knopf

I read an enjoyed Nobel-winner Pamuk’s prior novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, and found it powerful in parts and long-winded in others (Lee reviewed it here). His new one looks like it will have many of the strengths of the prior novel — at least, as I read the description I find myself yearning to go with Pamuk again.

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Knopf:

On the outskirts of a town thirty miles from Istanbul, a master well digger and his young apprentice are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the summer heat, excavating without luck meter by meter, the two will develop a filial bond neither has known before — not the poor middle-aged bachelor nor the middle-class boy whose father disappeared after being arrested for politically subversive activities. The pair will come to depend on each other and exchange stories reflecting disparate views of the world. But in the nearby town, where they buy provisions and take their evening break, the boy will find an irresistible diversion. The Red-Haired Woman, an alluring member of a travelling theatre company, catches his eye and seems as fascinated by him as he is by her. The young man’s wildest dream will be realized, but, when in his distraction a horrible accident befalls the well digger, the boy will flee, returning to Istanbul. Only years later will he discover whether he was in fact responsible for his master’s death and who the redheaded enchantress was.

A beguiling mystery tale of family and romance, of east and west, tradition and modernity, by one of the great storytellers of our time.

Autumn
by Karl Ove Knausgaard
translated from the Norwegian by Ingvild Burkey
Penguin Press

Knausgaard takes us from the massive scope of his My Struggle series to a shorter reflection on life. I cannot wait to read this, and it’s great to see that Winter is coming out at the beginning of 2018.

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Penguin Press:

From the author of the monumental My Struggle series, Karl Ove Knausgaard, one of the masters of contemporary literature and a genius of observation and introspection, comes the first in a new autobiographical quartet based on the four seasons.

28 August. Now, as I write this, you know nothing about anything, about what awaits you, the kind of world you will be born into. And I know nothing about you…I want to show you our world as it is now: the door, the floor, the water tap and the sink, the garden chair close to the wall beneath the kitchen window, the sun, the water, the trees. You will come to see it in your own way, you will experience things for yourself and live a life of your own, so of course it is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this: showing you the world, little one, makes my life worth living.

Autumn begins with a letter Karl Ove Knausgaard writes to his unborn daughter, showing her what to expect of the world. He writes one short piece per day, describing the material and natural world with the precision and mesmerising intensity that have become his trademark. He describes with acute sensitivity daily life with his wife and children in rural Sweden, drawing upon memories of his own childhood to give an inimitably tender perspective on the precious and unique bond between parent and child. The sun, wasps, jellyfish, eyes, lice — the stuff of everyday life is the fodder for his art. Nothing is too small or too vast to escape his attention. This beautifully illustrated book is a personal encyclopaedia on everything from chewing gum to the stars. Through close observation of the objects and phenomena around him, Knausgaard shows us how vast, unknowable and wondrous the world is.


August 29

Other Men’s Daughters
by Richard Stern
NYRB Classics

I don’t know much about this one yet, but it looks like it could be one of those powerful, painful books that sticks. I remember reading Philip Roth’s praise of Stern years ago (and his thoughts are here in the introduction), and I’ve been curious to read Stern since. This will be a great opportunity to do so!

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from NYRB Classics:

“Until the day of Merriwether’s departure from the house — a month after his divorce — the Merriwether family looked like an ideally tranquil one” we read on the first page of Other Men’s Daughters. It is the late 1960s, and the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, are full of long-haired hippies decked out in colorful garb, but Dr. Robert Merriwether, who teaches at Harvard and has been married for a good long time, hardly takes note. Learned, curious, thoughtful, and a creature of habit, Merriwether is anything but an impulsive man, and yet over the summer, while Sarah, his wife, is away on vacation, he meets a summer student, Cynthia Ryder, and before long the two have fallen into bed and in love. Richard Stern’s novel is an elegant and unnerving examination of just how cold and destructive a thing love, “the origin of so much story and disorder,” can be.

The Book of Disquiet: The Complete Edition
by Fernando Pessoa
translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
New Directions

Here’s a world-class masterpiece, and translated by one of the best translators out there, Margaret Jull Costa (who won the Best Translated Book Award earlier this year). I have the hefty book on my night-stand, and it looks perfect for the cooler months ahead!

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from New Directions:

The Book of Disquiet is the Portuguese modernist master Fernando Pessoa’s greatest literary achievement. An “autobiography” or “diary” containing exquisite melancholy observations, aphorisms, and ruminations, this classic work grapples with all the eternal questions. Now, for the first time the texts are presented chronologically, in a complete English edition by master translator Margaret Jull Costa. Most of the texts in The Book of Disquiet are written under the semi-heteronym Bernardo Soares, an assistant bookkeeper. This existential masterpiece was first published in Portuguese in 1982, forty-seven years after Pessoa’s death. A monumental literary event, this exciting, new, complete edition spans Fernando Pessoa’s entire writing life.

I don’t get indignant, because indignation is for the strong; I don’t resign myself, because resignation is for the noble; I don’t keep silent, because silence is for the great. And I am neither strong nor noble nor great. I suffer and I dream. I complain because I am weak and, because I am an artist, I amuse myself by weaving music about my complaints and arranging my dreams as best befits my idea of beautiful dreams.

My only regret is that I am not a child, for that would allow me to believe in my dreams and believe that I am not mad, which would allow me to distance my soul from all those who surround me.

(1913)

Everything interests me and nothing holds my attention. I listen to everthing while constantly dreaming; I notice the tiniest facial tics of the person I’m talking to, pick up minimal changes in the intonation of what they say; but when I hear, I do not listen, for I’m thinking about something else.

(1930)

Moving Parts
by Magdalena Tulli
translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
Archipelago Books

Bill Johnston is the translator of two of my favorite books from the last ten years: Wieslaw Mysliwski’s Stone Upon Stone and A Treatise on Shelling Beans. Johnston has also translated several of Tulli’s books, so I’ve got to finally venture there and see if I can discover another favorite.

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here is the blurb from Archipelago Books:

A feckless, comical narrator struggles against all odds to tell a story for which he is responsible, but which he neither controls nor understands. His characters multiply, repeat, and go astray; his employer pays no attention, asleep in a drunken stupor. The increasingly desperate narrator clambers over rooftops and through underground passages, watching helplessly as his characters reappear in different times and settings and start rival stories against his will. This brilliant, wryly humorous work tells of the sadness of the world and of the inadequate means that language and storytelling offer for describing and understanding it. Yet it does so in Tulli’s characteristically clear, concrete, gorgeous prose. This extraordinary work, unique in both form and message, shows a European master at the height of her powers and constitutes a major contribution to a new century of European literature. A wildly inventive page-turner.

Such Fine Boys
by Patrick Modiano
translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti
Yale University Press: The Margellos World Republic of Letters 

We’ll end this month with two books from recent Nobel-winner Patrick Modiano, each coming from Yale’s Margellos World Republic of Letters line. I think they both look wonderful, and quite different in content (if not in tone/theme) from his other work I’ve read. I’m a fan, though, so I’ll be diving head-first into each of these.

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Here are the blurbs from Yale University Press:

As a boarding school student in the early 1960s, Patrick Modiano lived among the troubled teenage sons of wealthy but self-involved parents. In this mesmerizing novel, Modiano weaves together a series of exquisitely crafted stories about such jettisoned boys at the exclusive Valvert School on the outskirts of Paris: abandoned children of privilege, left to create new family ties among themselves. Misfits and heroes, sports champions and good-hearted chums, the boys of Valvert misbehave, run away, get expelled, and engage in various forms of delinquency and disappearance. They emerge into adulthood tragically damaged, still tethered to their adolescent selves, powerless to escape the central loneliness of their lives in an ever-darkening spiral of self-delusion and grim consequence.

A meditation on nostalgia, the pitfalls of privilege, and the vicissitudes of fate, this book fully demonstrates the powerful mix of sadness, mystery, wonder, and ominous danger that characterizes Modiano’s most rewarding fiction.

Sundays in August
by Patrick Modiano
translated from the French by Damion Searls
Yale University Press: The Margellos World Republic of Letters

Buy from Amazon.com here.

Stolen jewels, black markets, hired guns, crossed lovers, unregistered addresses, people gone missing, shadowy figures disappearing in crowds, newspaper stories uncomfortably close and getting closer . . . this ominous novel is Patrick Modiano’s most noirish work to date. Set in Nice—a departure from the author’s more familiar Paris—this novel evokes the bright sun and dark shadow of the Riviera. Modiano’s trademark ability to create a haunting atmosphere is here on full display: readers descend precipitously into a world of mystery, uneasiness, inevitability.

A young couple in hiding keeps close watch over a notorious diamond necklace known as the Southern Cross. Its provenance is murky, its whereabouts known only to our hero and heroine, who find themselves trapped by its potential value—and its ultimate cost. Deftly Modiano reaches further and further into the past, revealing the secret histories of the two even as the pressurized present threatens to overwhelm them.

By | 2017-09-15T17:34:44+00:00 July 31st, 2017|Categories: News|5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Rosalind Kurzer July 31, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Put The Nix by Nathan Hill on your list. A great American novel.

  2. Trevor Berrett July 31, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks, Rosalind. I’m limiting this post specifically to forthcoming books published in August, but I still haven’t read The Nix, so it’s good to have the reminder!

  3. Dan August 3, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Oh, Trevor, are you trying to explode my summer and fall reading plans?

  4. Trevor Berrett August 3, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    I’m doing my best! Wait until you see the posts for September and October, when publishing is at its peak!

  5. Dan August 3, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Well, Trevor, September, I believe brings the Goldsmiths shortlist, and October brings the release of what I believe are four Henry Greens: too many books, too little time.

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