Best Books of the Half-Year

It’s become an annual tradition for me to reflect, at the year’s mid-point, on my favorite books that I’ve read so far.  Nina Badzin started this and inspired me, and I’m grateful for the touchpoint. You can see my 2016 and 2015 posts here.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading and loving so far this year.

My favorite books of 2017, so far:


Saints for All Occasions, Courtney Sullivan.  I adored this book, which is about family and faith and secrets and loyalty, and have thought about it daily since I finished it.  Highly, highly recommend.  My review at Great New Books is here.

Commonwealth, Anne Patchett. I have mixed feelings about Patchett’s fiction (Bel Canto is one of my Reader Shame books – I just can’t get into it!) but I really enjoyed Commonwealth.

Conclave, Robert Harris.  I include this mostly to show you that I read a lot of books that you might describe as airport books.  Also, I have many strange interests, including the papal conclave. If those things are both true for you, this story is engrossing.

I clearly need some good novels in my life!  Put another way, I’ve been focusing on the aforementioned airport category (Grisham, Baldacci, Connelley) to the exclusion of much other writing, which I need to remedy.  What fiction have you loved lately?


Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Dani Shapiro.  I adored this book, which is, “fundamentally, about what memory means.” It’s also about long marriage, adulthood, and the ways in which our younger selves both shape and echo through us as we age into midlife. My review is here.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs. Another gorgeous, gorgeous memoir, which is about a 39 year old mother facing her own death but also, and more powerfully, a vibrant, funny, glorious book about how to live. My review is here.

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy. I could not put down this book. Levy’s writing is as urgent as a freight train, full of both candor and power. One caveat is that I found the end strangely indirect, for a book that was so much about looking straight ahead and speaking truth.  But Levy writes beautifully about being a woman in the modern world, and I highly recommend this book.

A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide, Stephanie Saldana.  A lovely, luminous memoir of marriage, early motherhood, and Jerusalem.  My review at Great New Books is here.  I loved this but loved Stephanie’s first book,

Between Them: Remembering My Parents, Richard Ford.  This slender recollection is warm and real and I closed it feeling like I had had a truly up-close introduction to Ford’s parents.  It made me consider how Grace and Whit will reflect on the family that framed their childhood, and how they experience Matt’s and my relationship.  A fascinating, salient topic that, at least as far as I’m concerned, is somewhat ill-explored.

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me, Bill Hayes. I love Oliver Sacks, and loved this loving, intimate portrait of him by his partner, Hayes. This book feels like a long love letter to Oliver, and he emerges from its pages as lovably erudite and intellectual as I imagined.  A wonderful book.

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17 thoughts on “Best Books of the Half-Year”

  1. So much inspiration here! Thanks for a new list of so many intriguing books.
    I recently read, and enjoyed, The Weight of Water (I know, I’m LATE). Also, Nina Riggs’ memoir is the only book I ever pre-ordered (after reading your review), and I’ve been thinking about it every day since. To me it has even more staying power than When Breath Becomes Air.
    I also love your designation of ‘airport novels’. As a matter of fact I picked up Harris’ Pompeii many years ago at the Oakland airport! I believe I still have the copy somewhere.

  2. PSYCHIC – I just read The Weight of Water last year and really enjoyed it. And agree on Nina’s book … xoxo

  3. I loved Commonwealth and Saints for all Occasions, too. The Ricard Ford is at the top of my list, as is Sherman Alexie’s new memoir. I’m enjoying Julia Glass’s new novel, A House Among the Trees (I love everything she writes). I don’t know if you’re a David Sedaris fan, hut his new collection of diary entries, over 40 years, is terrific.

  4. Thank you so much for continuing to share your favorite books with us. I always agree with your picks and wouldn’t know of some of them without you mentioning them.

  5. My favorite novels so far this year, if you’re interested:

    Chemistry, Weike Wang
    Marlena, Julie Buntin
    The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, Hannah Tinti

  6. I quite liked Saints for All Seasons, too and Commonwealth is in my TBR pile. We discovered Joanna Trollope ( very late to the party) and I particularly liked The Soldier’s Wife and her take on Sense and Sensibility. In nonfiction, loved The Book of Bob by Pamela Paul and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I always look for what you like and read Saints after your review. Oh no, now more TBR books from you. Think you would love Pamela Paul’s book. I felt like maybe I had a sister I didn’t know about. Thanks, as always.

  7. Lindsey, this is a wonderful idea (Nina has lots of them)! I may have to follow suit, as it’s time for me to write a book review post anyway. I faithfully read the recommendations at Great New Books, and I’m always happy to hear what others are reading and love.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you about Commonwealth, and “Reader Shame” is the perfect way to describe my feelings about Bel Canto too. I remember reading it for my very first book club meeting, and everyone raved but me.

    A few of my favorites so far this year are Beartown (Fredrick Backman), This is How It Always Is (Laurie Frankel), and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things (Bryn Greenwood). I don’t read much nonfiction, although I loved Trevor Noah’s memoir. I will check out a few of your favorites – thank you!

  8. Such a great list! And thanks for the link to me, which always bring me some new traffic. You have such great readers! My half-year reading post goes up tomorrow.

  9. My favorites of the year so far: This Is How It Always Is, The Bright Hour, Saints for All Occasions, and A Piece of the World. Thanks for sharing your mid-year list! I always trust your judgement

  10. “See You in the Cosmos” by Jack Cheng was so good.

    It’s about a kid who has named his dog Carl Sagan and who is a rocket enthusiast. He is planning on sending his golden ipod with his recordings (which is what the book is, a transcript of his recordings) into space. Like Carl Sagan did on the Voyager satellite.

    The book is more than this though. And the kid narrator is just perfect.

  11. Memoir
    Hands down, My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul. Very late to the party but I loved Shutterbabe by Deborah Kopaken.

    Stunningly good, Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson. As a child of WWII I thought myself a decent student of this horrific period of history. As it turns out there were so many aspects of the war I didn’t know, I found this treatise amazingly informative and engaging.

    The very best literary fiction I’ve read in years is set forth in The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. A Victorian tale rendered in the most amazing prose of the day from 1893. I absolutely couldn’t put this remarkable novel aside for anything but a few hours of sleep.

    TBR Pile
    At the very top, The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon. Extraordinarily high praise in advance. Also, Give A Girl A knife by Amy Thielen and No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein.

    Perhaps it’s just me but it seems there are so many enticing books out there at the present time it’s hard to know where to begin. Thanks to you and to Nina Badzin for you’re always thoughtful and appreciated choices and reviews.

  12. An excellent, excellent thriller/mystery: The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne. I wish I could read it again for the first time. Also, it’s fodder for my theory that older women write better ; )

  13. Lincoln in the Bardo was hands down the best thing I have read this year. Nothing else comes close but I also really enjoyed Exit West, Birs Art Life and The Wangs vs the The World. I read The Rules and Not Apply given that both you and Catherine Newman recommended it but didn’t love it although I did read it in one night. It is definitely compulsively readable. It just left me flat in the end.

  14. Thanks for your reading recommendations, Lindsey. You’ve inspired me to compile my midyear list and share it on my site. I tend to read nonfiction and your post is a good reminder that I need to dig into some fiction. xo

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