Reading time: About 4 minutes
Looking for some recommended books in time for summer reading? Here’s my semi-annual roundup of books I’ve read this year.
I aim to read 52 books every 12 months, and my habit is to post a complete list of the names of them for you, twice a year. Here is a description of the 24 books I’ve enjoyed so far this year. Yes, I really do try to read a book a week! (If you want to learn how to read more, see here.)
I give you this list close to the North American summer solstice to help you with plans for your own summer reading. I list my top 5 fiction reads followed by my top 5 non-fiction ones. After these highlighted titles, I’ll name the other books I’ve read in each category, in order of preference.
Please note I don’t generally read sci-fi or fantasy. I pass no judgment on those who do; my tastes don’t usually run in those directions.
TOP 5 FICTION TITLES:
- Carey, Edward. Little. This fictionalized portrait of Madame Tussaud (of Museum of Wax fame) is both charming and captivating and slightly macabre. It features delightful illustrations by the author, too.
- Mason, Meg. Sorrow & Bliss. This book presents the most evocative and skillful description of depression that I’ve ever read anywhere. Still, the book is not a “downer”. It’s actually laugh-out-loud funny in places. That said, anyone who struggles with depression should know in advance that the author has “created” the mental illness depicted.
- Shteyngart, Gary. Our Country Friends. A group of friends gather in a country house to wait out the pandemic, in what was, perhaps, the first published Covid-19 novel. Hijinks ensue.
- Silber, Joan. Secrets of Happiness. A young lawyer in New York learns that his father has supported a second family living not far away. Love, loyalty and betrayal all play a role in this series of stories showing how the secrets of each person’s happiness depend on that of other people.
- Gish, Jen. Thank You, Mr. Nixon. Well written and funny collection of inter-linked short stories about the Chinese experience in America and beyond.
Do you have any fiction titles you can recommend? Please name them in the comments section, below.
OTHER FICTION (in order of preference)
- Banville, John. Snow. Banville is a remarkable writer with a staggering command of figurative language. I enjoyed this book — a really high-brow murder mystery — until the final 20% when I found it a bit dark for my tastes.
- Haig, Matt. The Midnight Library. A fantasy novel that even non-fantasy lovers (like me!) can enjoy. Books in this magical library allow the main character to explore different paths in her life. Incredibly charming!
- Perrin, Valérie. Fresh Water for Flowers. Caretaker at a small-town cemetery in France, Violette Toussaint lives a highly predictable life, following several decades of great drama. Her life is upended again when a stranger suddenly arrives at the cemetery to bury his late mother.
- Haigh, Jennifer. Mercy Street. This is a book about abortion so it won’t be to everyone’s taste but it ably presents the pro-choice side by telling the story of a Boston-based clinic, its practitioners, its clients and its protesters.
- Bayard, Louis. Jackie & Me. Not a memoir, this fictionalized telling of the courtship of Jackie Bouvier and John F. Kennedy explores the relationship from the eyes of a third party – a closeted gay man who is a friend of Jack’s. Compellingly written, this book offers an entertaining summer read.
- Slocumb, Brendan. The Violin Conspiracy. Brendan Slocumb is a classical violinist and his expertise shows in this entertaining and well-written murder mystery.
- French, Tana. The Searcher. French is a masterful crime writer although to my mind this title, focusing on a Chicago cop who relocates to an Irish village, isn’t quite as skillful as some of her other titles, particularly In The Woods, which is my favourite.
- Osman, Richard. The Thursday Murder Club. If you’re a fan of the very funny British game show Taskmaster, (available on YouTube) you’ll know Richard Osman as the tall man (6 ft 7 in) who was a contestant in season two. Turns out he can write, too. This book is the first in a murder series that’s both charming and funny.
- Feito, Virginia. Mrs. March. A “professional” wife (from, roughly, the 1960s) Mrs. March discovers that her famous-writer husband is having an affair. The story that ensues involves a fascinating psychological study that captivated me until the end of the book, where, for me, it fell apart. Still, I enjoyed the ride.
TOP 5 NON-FICTION TITLES:
- Burkeman, Oliver. Four Thousand Weeks. Like many other readers (and reviewers), I lapped up this beautifully written and persuasively argued book about why we shouldn’t be optimizing our time to the nth degree. Instead, we need to learn to accept that it’s just not possible to do everything.
- Patchett, Ann. These Precious Days. I adored this collection of essays focusing on home, family and friendships. Patchett is a remarkable writer and thinker who has only improved with age.
- Jahren, Hope. Lab Girl. Remarkable memoir by an internationally acclaimed tree and plant scientist who writes like a poet. What a fantastic memoir. I found it unputdownable.
- Ruhl, Sarah. Smile: The Story of a Face. I was reading Ruhl’s memoir — about dealing with a condition known as Bell’s Palsy — when my own daughter was struck by the same disorder. Ruhl’s book is beautifully written and offered me both comfort and hope.
- Pressfield, Steven. Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. A lifelong fan of Pressfield’s bestselling book The War of Art, I decided to read this later book of his, also on the demands of writing. His heavily idiosyncratic style (short chapters, imperative tense) grated on me a little, but, oh my, Pressfield knows all the problems facing writers. And he has great solutions for them, too.
Do you have any non-fiction titles you can recommend? Please name them in the comments section, below.
OTHER NON-FICTION (in order of preference)
- Polley, Sarah. Run Towards the Danger. A celebrity in Canada, where I live, Polley came to fame as a child actress for her role as Ramona Quimby in the television series Ramona, based on Beverly Cleary’s books. But much more than an actress, Polley has also become a political activist and this memoir reflects her well-developed views on such issues as childbirth, child labour, traumatic brain injury and sexual assault.
- Samuelsson, Marcus. Yes, Chef. I love cooking and reading memoir so this book offered just about the perfect combination for me. Samuelsson has had an unusual and fascinating life, growing up as a black Ethiopian in Sweden after his mother had died. You may be familiar with Samuelsson from his many appearances on the Food Network. Yes, he really seems to be as polite and genuine as he appears on TV.
- Cooper, Becky. We Keep the Dead Close. A true crime story, based on the 1969 murder of a Harvard student this book also examines the tragic reality of gender inequity in higher education. Overall, I found the book overly long, but it certainly was compelling.
- Turkle, Sherry. The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir. I was familiar with the name Sherry Turkle when someone (can’t remember who) recommended this book to me. This coming-of-age memoir ties together Turkle’s challenging personal history (her mother had separated from her father when she was young and refused to speak of him again) and her own research on technology, empathy, and ethics.
- Ward, Kris. Time Management for Small Business. I was introduced to Ward by watching a number of her videos on TikTok. She knows what she’s talking about, I thought. The book didn’t quite live up to expectations for me — I knew most of her tips already. But it might be useful to people newer to the game of owning their own business.
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What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by June 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!