Best books of the half-year 2021

For the last many years I’ve published posts at the end of June noting my favorite books of that year so far (it seems I did not do this in 2020 – chalk that up to a lost year).  The previous posts are here: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.  I stand absolutely by all of those recommendations!

I’ve been reading a lot.  I hope people never stop asking me what I’m reading or what I recommend.  It’s one of my favorite conversations and I love to ask others that, too.


Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead.  Wow.  My favorite book so far this year. This is a tour de force and I absolutely loved it.  About ambition and feminism and identity and family and the restless, eternal dialog between where we came from and where we are going.  Read this book if you have not!

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet.  This book is disturbing and compelling and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  It reminded me of both Lord of the Flies and of futuristic, dystopian novels about the world in the future.  Powerful and lyrical.

Monogamy by Sue Miller.  I love that this book is set not only in my town but in my actual neighborhood. A wonderful story of long marriage, of the things we forgive and those we struggle to, of the ways our selves wind around those we live with in ways that are both comforting and sometimes, restrictive.  I can’t wait to see the movie! (Dani Shapiro is adapting it).

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.  My sister pointed out that this is an unusual like for me, and it is (I don’t gravitate towards historical novels).  I just loved it, perhaps because Hamlet is one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing.  I found it engaging and both whimsical and wistful.  The writing is poetic, spectacular also.


Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. This story made me want to cheer and made me want to cry.  Jaouad writes unflinchingly about her years-long struggle with serious cancer as a young adult, and in so doing reminds us that all we have is right now.  I closed the book and my life shimmered in a new way.  The best books do that, I find.

Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas by Alexi Pappas.  Pappas tells her own story of hard work and determination in her pursuit of a professional running career.  The book is inspiring and funny, and it reminded me that though I’m VERY far from an athlete I can always try a little harder, believe in myself more, and that most pain passes.

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life by Christie Tate.  Oh, I love Tate’s voice.  She is so honest, so unafraid to reveal the depths of herself, and this book is nothing less than the telling of her transforming her own life.  Her bravery and her candor stayed with me after I finished the book and left the room.

What are you reading and what have you loved this year?  I’d love to know.

there are only fragments


“There is no complete life. There are only fragments. We are born to have nothing, to have it pour through our hands.” – James Salter.

I woke up early with Light Years (one of my all time favorite books) in my mind today. And this photo, also one of my favorites, on a porch in Florida over Thanksgiving 2009. My father-in-law stands behind us. He is gone now. These children are now young adults. I agree entirely with Salter: life is an accumulation of moments, that it pours through our hands. Only with open palms can we really see the glittering of our lives. That’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Not to grasp but to trust, watch, and wonder. And to love.

first posted on Instagram.

Books I’m buying this year

I’ve written a post like this for the last many years (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).  Books are my favorite gifts, always and forever, and I like to share those I’m wrapping for gifts each holiday season.  I’m also interested in what you are giving and in what you loved in 2020!


The Dearly Beloved – Cara Wall.  My favorite book of 2020.  For anyone who loves Crossing to Safety or Gilead, this book’s for you.  Quiet, powerful, compelling: it’s fantastic.

Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi.  I adored Homegoing and this follow up did not disappoint.  It’s sweeping in an entirely different way, but made me cry and made me think and just plain made me one iota better, which I think is what the best writing does.

The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd.  This exploration of what the life of Jesus’s wife might have been light was riveting, and I thought about it for many weeks after I finished.

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones. For some reason I resisted reading this book for a long time and I don’t know why. I adored it.  This story is both a solemn exploration of one of America’s most deep-rooted problems and a compelling tale of growth and individuality.

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett. Another book that’s both page-turning and thought-provoking (seeing a real theme here, eh?)  I loved it.

Memoirs & Essays:

Notes on a Silencing – Lacy Crawford. Powerful, revelatory, with writing like a freight train.  I read this book in one breathless gulp this summer, wrote about it, and am still recommending it far and wide.  I’m proud to call Lacy a friend.

Bright Precious Thing – Gail Caldwell.  Caldwell is one of my favorite writers.  My favorite remains A Strong West Wind, but this is wonderful story of growing up female and learning what matters most.

A Promised Land – Barack Obama.  I admit I haven’t read it yet.  But I will.  I adored  Michelle Obama’s Becoming.

On Being 40(ish).  Yes.  A little plug.  But I do believe in this book of essays, and since I didn’t write them I feel like I can say that.  A great, timeless gift for any 40ish women in your life!

It’s a little tragic how far I am from buying picture books and books for early readers, as that’s always been one of my favorite categories.  So I’ll just share some of my evergreen favorites in that category:

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words – Randall Monroe.  I love this book.  For kids, adults, boys, girls, for anyone.  Birthdays, holidays, hostess gifts: you name it, I’ve given it.

Miss Rumphius – Barbara Cooney.  Just the best.  I love Miss Rumphius so much I have a tee-shirt with the cover on it.  Perennial and beautiful.

Grace for President – Kelly DiPucchio.  I literally have never read this book without choking up.

Rosie Revere, Engineer – Andrea Beaty. The original book which spawned a series (and, I think, a TV show).  I love the book and every single thing it stands for.

Notes on a Silencing

I finished Lacy Crawford‘s book this week and am still processing it. I am proud to call Lacy a dear friend and have known her since 1992. This book is absolutely spectacular: unflinching, brave, gorgeously written. It’s hard to read on a number of levels: as someone who loves Lacy, as a woman who’s seen up close how common these stories are, and as the mother of a girl who goes to boarding school.

Notes on a Silencing evokes incredibly powerfully how our lives can be shaped in indelible ways by singular experiences, how the years can unfurl from a specific moment in a different direction than we anticipated, how the past echoes through the present even when we devoutly wish it wouldn’t. It also dares to examine the structures of power that shame and silence victims.

Oh, Lace, this book is a nothing short of a masterpiece. I’m grateful to have read it and to know you so well that I felt like we spent this week in conversation – your voice comes through with crystalline strength. Unwavering. Honest. Unafraid. In “burning it down,” as you have (and as your beloved said), you’ve held up an important light for others. Thank you, thank you, thank you

originally posted on Instagram

Recent reading

In the last few years I’ve written a “best books of the half-year” post (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015).  This year feels different, and I’m not going to do the same, but I have been reading a lot and I wanted to share some of those titles.  This is only books since I last wrote about what I’m reading, so it’s far from comprehensive.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading and enjoying lately.

The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel – I loved this book, which spoke so beautifully of the past, ghosts, regret, and the road not taken.

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer – I love this writer’s voice, which I encountered for the first time in Andre Agassi’s Open: An Autobiography.  Still reading this one so not done yet, but oh, so beautiful.  My favorite line so far: “we exalt what is at hand.”

Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid – A truly unconventional narrative structure which worked, in my opinion.  This made me think a lot of A Star is Born and I loved it.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen – I’ve read two Anna Quindlen novels during the quarantine (the other: Every Last One) and preferred this one.  Lovely. The idea of making art out of our lives really resonated.  Perhaps what I mean is: we exalt what is at hand.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne – as you can see I went on a large Boyne tear (The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one of my all-time favorites).  All I have to say is WOW.  This one, about a child’s perspective on Auschwitz, is gutting and beautiful at the same time.  Boyne knows heartbreak and loneliness, that’s for sure.

History of Loneliness, John Boyne – More loneliness, in the title and pervasively throughout.  One of my strange fascinations is the papal conclave, so I was interested in this view on the papacy as well.

A Ladder to the Sky, John Boyne – This novel has a Talented Mr. Ripley feel, and some entertaining references to famous 20th century writers.

Moonlight Mile, Dennis Lehane – Found in the Little Free Library by our house.  I love Dennis Lehane.  So Boston, and he can write a gripping page turner populated by deeply humane characters, which is a combination I love.

Friends and Strangers, J. Courtney Sullivan – I read this before quarantine but it comes out June 30th and I could not recommend more highly.  A thoughtful and fun (again, that magic combo!) exploration of motherhood today, and what it means to work, friendship, and marriage.