Best Books of the Half-Year

It’s that time!  For several years now, inspired by my friend Nina Badzin, I have shared my favorite books so far at the year’s halfway point (2017, 2016, 2015). As I’ve mentioned, I haven’t been reading a ton and when I do I’m drawn to books that might be characterized as Airport Reads (ie you can buy them in an airport bookstore).  I like plot.  This is a shorter list than usual at the midway point of the year; it’s particularly thin on memoir.  That doesn’t feel deliberate, but it also doesn’t feel surprising given how much Real Life the last several months have contained for me.  Maybe it makes sense that I’m less focused on reading about Real Life and more drawn to stories that transport me elsewhere.  But I’m slowly creeping back, and I would welcome your suggestions: what should I read this summer and beyond?

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin – I had heard so much about this novel and when I finally read it I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s both page-turning and thought-provoking, a combination I find rarer than I wish it was. For me this story was less about the forecast that happens early on (around which most of the reviews center) and more about families, fate, and the ways that who we were as children continues to echo in who we are as adults.  It’s about what makes a happy life.

My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent – Wow.  I actually started this book in the last days of 2017, but I need to mention it here because it blew me away.  I reviewed this novel for Bookclique here.  Difficult, beautiful, un-put-downable.  Tallent’s first book is all of those things.  I am still thinking about it, six months later.

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler – One of three memoirs I’d put on my “best of” list, this one really crept under my skin.  In some ways Bowler’s book reminded me of The Bright Hour, which I read and loved last year.  Could there be a more painful combination than motherhood and cancer?  I don’t think so.  But Bowler’s story, like Riggs’ before it, manages to achieve that highest goal of memoir: it has something to say about how to live.

Educated, Tara Westover – Another powerful memoir, another book I’d heard a ton about that I finally read and which really lived up to the hype. Tara’s voice is compelling and her story is downright astonishing.  In some ways this book reminded me of the Tallent novel.

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic, Daniel Mendelsohn – I loved this memoir, as well, which reminded me powerfully of my father and pointed me yet again in the direction of reading the Odyssey, which I have yet to do.  Mendelsohn’s story is about the centrality of the father figure (both in his own life and in the heroic stories that he teaches) and also about teaching itself.  I’m not a teacher, but I admire them and am close to several, and this book reminded me that in many ways they have the world’s most important and valuable job.

Goodbye, Vitamin, Rachel Khong – Another book I’d heard a lot about that I finally read and thoroughly enjoyed.  Obviously, the central theme in this story of a father fading away made me miss my dad.  Khong has a lovely, light touch and a voice that kept me reading.

Circe, Madeline Miller – I’m not even finished yet and I am telling everyone I know to read this book.  And I’m taking it as yet another sign that I finally need to read The Odyssey (and I plan to read the Emily Wilson translation). I’m learning so much in this novel, and understanding with a great gasp of a-ha! how some characters I’ve long heard of fit together.  Absolutely wonderful.

Next up for me: The Verdun Affair (Nick Dybek), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid, and Grace’s required summer reading) and The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas).  

I am eager for your suggestions: what do I need to read?

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

  1. You just made my day by giving me a new list of books to look forward to.
    I have The Immortalist waiting for me at the library. Just finished Warlight, which I found hard to get into at first, but the last third was hard to put down.

    It’s hard to mention something you haven’t read, since I take a lot of clues on my reading from your lists! But I started Love Virtually (Daniel Glattauer) last night, which a dear friend sent me and which probably fits well in the Airport read category (and I’ve enjoyed it so far!)

    Thanks for sharing your happy reads, they tend to make me happy, too.

  2. Thanks for the reminder about My Beautiful Darling- I’ve been meaning to read it. I didn’t love The Immortalists, but everyone else does. Like you I’ve been reading lighter fare lately.

    I loved The Hate U Give! Also An American Marrige was one of the best things I’ve read this year.

    Currently reading Nutshell which is hilarious and weird. Also ASocial Creature which I’m not sure about yet.

  3. I just picked up Circe and can’t wait to dig in!

    I’m just finishing up The Hate U Give and Young Jane Young, Nina’s recommendation. Both were excellent.

  4. Guilty pleasure: Crazy Rich Asians-so fun- I am on book 2 of the series. On a more serious note I loved That Kind of Mother, The Throwback Special and Men We Reaped. Looking forward to reading A Place For Us. An Odyssey has been on my list. I want to read the new translation of the original first though so maybe later this summer. Thanks for these posts! I love your suggestions. I loved Goodbye Vitamin as well. One of my favorite books of 2017. ❤️

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