What are the best books to read in August 2023? If you’re in search of ideas for what to read next, here’s our take on the 12 best books – novels and non-fiction – to read right now to feel the month of August. Not just in this August. In any August.
best novels and non-fiction books to read to feel the month of August
So many books, so little time! Reading can be one of life’s sweetest luxuries. But how to quickly find the next great volume to dive into?
To lend a hand, every month we share our Dandelion Chandelier Recommended Reads: books that we’ve personally read and loved – some brand new, and some published long ago. Selected to suit the season, we think they deserve a place on your nightstand. Or your e-reader. In your backpack. Or your carry-on bag. You get the idea.
In this edition: the best books – novels and non-fiction – to read in the month of August. We think these books best capture the vibe and the essential spirit of August, and will help you experience the summer joy and the merest whisper of autumn that this month is all about.
what is the essential spirit of August?
Sweet summer breezes, sunflowers, state fairs, beach days, fresh tomatoes, friendship and family and freedom. The very name of this month makes us smile, and its arrival is a splendid event that we look forward to every year.
But it’s also back-to-school month for kids in many locations. For many, it’s the start of college, of fall sports practices – the beginning of transitions of all sorts for anyone tethered to the world of education. Which is pretty much all of us.
what makes for the best August reading list?
So what are the best books to read in the month of August? If you ask us, an August reading list should include works that are sunny, but that foreshadow the coming seriousness of September.
There should be an epic road trip, a smart steamy summer love affair, a beach book, and a thriller set in a glamorous vacation location. At least one book on the list should explore summer in the city. And there should be a book of poetry – because when, if not on summer vacation, will we make the time to read deeply in that genre?
best books – novels and non-fiction – to read to feel the month of August
Given all of that, here’s our list of the 12 books – novels and non-fiction – we think are best to read in the month of August.
Read one on the way to Martha’s Vineyard. Or with a glass of lemonade by the pool. Tuck it in your bag as you head out on a wildflower-picking expedition. Or pull it out on the train on the way home from the office (remember that place?) Throw open the windows and breathe in the sweet night air – and then snuggle up with a great read.
It’s August, and it’s all about summer love of every conceivable kind.
1. The Garden Party by Grace Dane Mazur.
We begin our list of books to read in August with the novel The Garden Party, which wins the prize for “most August of all.” It’s set in the lush garden of an estate on the outskirts of Boston. The occasion is the rehearsal dinner of Adam and Elizabeth, hosted by the groom’s wary parents. They’re bohemian creative writers and academics – the bride’s parents are successful hard-charging corporate lawyers. With 24 guests (or is it 25?) all around one table for one night, it’s bubbly like the summer, and smart and sober like the fall – just the novel we want this month.
BUY NOW: $9.27.
2. Collected Poems: 1974-2004 by Rita Dove.
Collected Poems: 1974-2004 is an unabridged volume containing 30 years of poems from the U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner. The collection makes for an engrossing read: this is a master at work, and a fine companion for wherever your travels may take you this month.
BUY NOW: $10.99.
3. Blind Spot by Teju Cole.
The travel narrative Blind Spot delivers a wonderful around-the-world journey with an erudite, spiritual, and compassionate tour-guide. It’s one of the best books to read in August, when many of us are traveling and trying to expand our horizons. The multi-talented Cole is both writer and photographer (he’s the photography critic for The New York Times Magazine). His meditations on what he finds in cities and villages around the globe will provoke you to think deeply about your place in the world.
BUY NOW: $31.64.
4. The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone.
What better place to set an exotic escapist summer thriller than Paris? Sure, in August in real life, all the “real” Parisians are out of town. But in the world of armchair travel, there’s no better time to pay a visit. That’s why we suggest adding The Paris Diversion to the stack on your bedside table or in your beach bag this month.
It’s the latest entry in a fantastic series of interrelated spy thrillers. Kate Moore is back – now living in Paris, still married with kids, and trying to keep her new job running a clandestine intelligence desk for the CIA. A terrorist attack at the Louvre and a seemingly unrelated kidnapping set off a tense series of incidents in the City of Light. The protagonist and her nemesis are both smart, tough women. The setting is both elegant and gritty. The pacing is so well-engineered that you’re likely to be up all night turning pages. But since it’s summer, why not stay up reading until sunrise? That’s what summer is for.
BUY NOW: $13.99.
5. The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Wealth, Race and Power by Deirdre Mask.
In some parts of the US, August is actually back-to-school time. And in that spirit at least one of the books on this list should be informative and educational – while still light in spirit. If you’re inclined in that direction, The Address Book is perfect.
It’s an entertaining and informative read about a topic that most of us have probably never thought about before. What is the purpose of street names and addresses?
When most people think about street addresses, they assume they exist to ensure that the postman can deliver mail or a visitor can find her destination. But it turns out that in many parts of the world, your address can reveal everything there is to know about your race and class.
The author looks at this issue in a number of fascinating ways, including the fate of streets named after Martin Luther King Jr. The wayfinding means of ancient Romans. And how the names of Nazis still haunt the streets of modern Germany. Of course, the flipside of having an address is not having one. Millions of people today don’t, including those who live in the slums of Kolkata and on the streets of London.
It’s a strong argument that street names have real power: to name, to hide, to decide who counts and who doesn’t―and why.
BUY NOW: $17.99.
6. Interesting Women by Andrea Lee.
We were thrilled to learn that Interesting Women, the marvelous collection of short stories by one of our favorite writers – originally published in 2002 – is being reissued early in 2022. We’re adding it to our list because its the perfect August read – maybe read it as an ebook now and add it to your actual library when the new edition comes out.
The mark of a great writer is whether her insights hold up well as time passes. On this front, Lee gets our vote. The protagonist in each of these stories is an “interesting” woman – smart, sassy, confident (sometimes overly so) and trying to figure out what it means to be a wife, mother, native, expat, enemy and/or friend. In many cases, these women are biracial (as is the author) – which adds another layer of complexity to their lives.
From Italy to Scotland, Thailand to America, we burrow deep inside these character’s lives and come away with a fresh understanding of what it means to be intelligent, striking, fierce and female. It’s a lot harder than it looks.
BUY NOW: $12.99.
7. Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem by Daniel R. Day
Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem is one of the most interesting biographies we’ve ever read. With his legendary store on 125th Street in Harlem, Dapper Dan pioneered high-end streetwear in the 1980’s, remixing classic luxury-brand logos into his own innovative, glamorous designs. Now a global partner with luxury powerhouse Gucci, in this memoir, he tells his full story for the first time. We loved it for the fashion history and the cultural insights – but we mostly loved it because the man has hustle, and it is infectious. You will finish this book with strengthened resolve to build the life of your dreams.
BUY NOW: $16.79.
8. Summer by Ali Smith.
Summer is the final entry in Smith’s Seasonal Quartet. And unlike so many “final episodes,” where we are left feeling disappointed when a beloved cast of characters has to end their time with us, this conclusion to the series is brilliantly crafted, wrenching, poignant and true to the spirit of everything that has come before it. We’re not ashamed to say that it made us cry – they were good tears and well worth it.
It turns out that summer has a lot more to say than we ever realized. As does this author, who never seems to run short of insight and compassion for the way we are all living in the world right now.
BUY NOW: $12.70.
9. Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson.
The brilliant and beautifully-written debut novel Open Water (penned by another Black polymath writer- photographer like Teju Cole, above) is about two young Black artists living in the UK.
He’s a photographer in London whose day job is selling sneakers at the Nike store. She’s a dancer who’s studying at university in Dublin. They meet because her boyfriend is his good friend. What follows is a lyrical and deeply felt love story, told from the perspective of the man (which is really refreshing).
Also refreshing and surprising? The explicit commentary on the impact that race and racism have on our psyches. The paucity of spaces that feel safe. The never-ending quiet hum of anxiety about unexpected violence when out after dark. The sense of being invisible. And how love can be a salve for all of these wounds. This is an extremely difficult and delicate act to pull off, and here it is done with effortless grace. The prose is just gorgeous. More like this, please!
BUY NOW: $12.89.
10. Writers and Lovers by Lily King.
Writers and Lovers is a melancholy, bittersweet coming of age novel that evokes the mood that many of us feel as summer starts to wind down. Making it one of the books to read to feel the mood of August. We’re looking backward on sunny happy child-like days, but also peering around the corner and mentally trying to get ready for the demands of the real grown-up world.
Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997. This is the story of how one young woman faces the world without a mother who was absent too much even when she was alive. And how a writer perseveres and finds her voice despite the weight of student loans, no health insurance, narcissistic lovers and daily toil as a restaurant waitress in a wealthy town. The imagery is beautiful, and the details have the raw clank of truth. The impact of her mother’s life on her art, and her fearful desire to someday be a mother herself, are evoked brilliantly.
BUY NOW: $11.63.
11. Fishbowl by Bradley Somer.
In the clever and tragicomic novel Fishbowl, we are introduced to Ian, who’s in a bit of a jam. In search of meaning and adventure, he’s impulsively jumped from his fishbowl on the top floor of the Seville on Roxy, a residential apartment building in London. The novel unfolds over the course of his descent – which isn’t as horrifying as it might sound, because goldfish have only 10 seconds of memory. So he keeps forgetting about his impending doom.
Meanwhile, we meet the denizens of this apartment complex. And learn all about their various heartbreaks and acts of chivalry. There’s a young woman dating a roué who is nowhere near good enough for her. A lonely middle-aged man. An operator on a sex phone line for those who are turned on by elaborate and filthy vicious insults. A pregnant mom. And a hinky elevator that always breaks at just the wrong moment.
What happens to the goldfish? Why dear reader, you’ll have to dive into this wonderful novel to find out.
BUY NOW: $11.99.
12. The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself and Win by Maria Konnikova.
If you’re looking for a self-help book that is wildly entertaining and thought-provoking, you could hardly do better than The Biggest Bluff as one of the best books to read in the month of August. Although she had already earned a Ph.D. in psychology, the author had never actually played poker before and didn’t even know the rules when she approached Erik Seidel, Poker Hall of Fame inductee, and convinced him to be her mentor. After a string of bad luck in her personal life, a colleague pointed her to poker as the ultimate master class in learning to distinguish between what can be controlled and what can’t.
She has quite a wild ride, learning to play poker, then starting to win meaningful money at it. She ends up as the subject of glowing profiles and TV appearances. But in the end, she pushes back from the table to consider what she’s learned. The key message? The biggest bluff of all is that skill is enough. In truth, bad cards will come our way. But keeping our focus on how we play them – and not on the outcome – will keep us moving, until the luck breaks our way again.
BUY NOW: $14.34.
the best books – novels and non-fiction – to read to feel summer joy in August
What books to read in August? Those are our picks for 12 books to read in August that we think beautifully capture the mood of the month and evoke the feeling of summer joy that this month is supposed to be all about. What’s on your list this month, dear reader?