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 26 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 five fiction reads followed by my top five non-fiction ones. After these highlighted titles, I 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 just don’t run in those directions.
TOP 5 FICTION TITLES:
- O’Farrell, Maggie. The Marriage Portrait. Renaissance Italy is the setting for this luscious historical novel telling the story of a young girl who is married off for political reasons to the ruler of a neighbouring area. Maggie O’Farrell has produced another unputdownable winner.
- Quinn, Joanna. The Whalebone Theatre. Really enjoyed this charming story about a dysfunctional British family from just after the turn of the last century until the Second World War. Charming, engaging and thoroughly imaginative.
- Strout, Elizabeth. Lucy by the Sea. This very slim novel rewards the reader with crystalline prose describing the struggles — and the rewards — of isolation during the Covid pandemic. If you’ve never read any Elizabeth Strout, do yourself a favour and read one of her books right now! Olive Kitteridge would be a good choice for newbies.
- Napolitano, Ann. Hello Beautiful. A kind of a Little Women for the American Italian set, this marvellous book tells the story of four young women and the man that two of them end up marrying.
- Patel, Reema. Such Big Dreams. The story of a young girl who lives alone in a Mumbai slum. Compelling plot, interesting characters and fine writing.
Do you have any fiction titles you can recommend? Please name them in the comments section, below.
TOP 5 NON-FICTION TITLES:
- Marche, Stephen. On Writing and Failure. I heard the author being interviewed on the radio and went and bought his book the very next day. The topic was irresistible, as was the book’s subtitle: On the Peculiar Perseverance Required to Endure the Life of a Writer. A very short book (I estimate it to be about 21,000 words) it is nevertheless filled with bracing advice. In short: Don’t give up. But don’t expect it to be easy.
- Moeshinger, J.R. The Tender Bar. Moeshinger is also a ghost writer, best known now for his authorship of Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare. I made my acquaintance with him via his memoir of Andre Agassi, Open, which I found gripping despite my complete lack of interest in tennis. The Tender Bar is Moeshinger’s own memoir — the story of a hard-scrabble young life, culminating in a Pulitzer Prize for newspaper feature writing. It’s an overly long but terrific read.
- Emerson, Rick. Unmask Alice. A remarkable piece of reporting, this book reveals the story of a writing con. The 1971 mega bestselling memoir Go Ask Alice — a result of the War on Drugs — was totally made up by a woman who simply wanted to become a famous author.
- Rosen, Jonathan. The Best Minds. Rosen is a terrific writer who takes on the story of his childhood friend, Michael Laudor, who is Yale Law School graduate with schizophrenia. Laudor killed his fiancée in 1998 during a psychotic episode. The book is unputdownable — but I thought it wasn’t really Rosen’s story to tell.
- Harper, A.J. Write a Must-Read. Helpful instruction manual about how to write a better non-fiction book.
Do you have any non-fiction titles you can recommend? Please name them in the comments section, below.
OTHER FICTION (in order of preference)
- Catton, Eleanor. Birnam Wood. Catton is a gifted writer who won the Booker Prize for her first novel (which I haven’t read) The Luminaries. Her latest book is what I’d describe as an environmental novel crossed with a thriller. Set in New Zealand, the book explores what happens when a guerrilla gardening collective gets mixed up with an American billionaire. I didn’t like the ending but I loved everything else about this book.
- Jackson, Jenny. Pineapple Street. This story of a group of ultra-wealthy Brooklynites would be a great beach read, offering more than just an easy-to-read plot. Great writing and a sense of humour, too.
- Hadley, Tell. Free Love. A beautifully written novel set in 1960s London, this book allows the author to display her considerable skills in both writing and story-telling.
- Boyne, John. The Echo Chamber. A satire of social media, this book examines how Facebook, twitter and cellphones play havoc with the life of one upper-crust English family.
- Makkai, Rebecca. I Have Some Questions for You. Described by some critics as a “literary page turner,” this book tells the story of film professor Bodie Kane who is returning as an adult to her New Hampshire boarding school. Once there, she is drawn to the case of a murder that occurred while she was a student. Makkai is a very fine writer but I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as I did her earlier one, The Great Believers.
- Donoghue, Emma. Haven. Really well written book with well-developed characters (three monks) and a gripping plot. I just didn’t find enough “redemption” by the end of it.
- Ozeki, Ruth. The Book of Form and Emptiness. One year after the death of his father, 13-year-old Benny starts to crack apart. He begins to hear voices. And his own book starts to talk to him. I’ve long been a big fan of Ruth Ozeki, but I can only describe this novel as “solid” rather than as “delightful”. I’m not a fan of magic realism.
- Korelitz, Jean Hanff. The Latecomer. A pretty good writer and an excellent plotter, Korelitz has the fatal (to me) flaw of always sounding rather cold. This book tells the story of triplets, conceived via IVF, and joined 20 years later by a fourth sibling. Great story that deserved to have been warmer.
- Powers, Richard. Bewilderment. A kind of an environmental novel, this book tells the story of an astrobiologist who must raise his son alone, following the death of his wife. The boy is captivated by the natural world and the reader will be, too.
- Coetzee, J.M. The Schooldays of Jesus. I found the book, which is described as “a tale of growing up, and about the choices we are forced to make in our lives,” to be a bit disappointing. The characters are very odd and the plot unconvincing. Still, Coetzee’s writing is elegant and compelling as ever.
- McEwan, Ian. Lessons. This book explores the last 70 years of European history through the lens of one man’s life — marked by tragedy at a young age.
- Keyes, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon. I’m sure I read this book about 40 years ago but I didn’t remember a word of it. Today, the story of a boy with a developmental disability who has surgery to make him more intelligent strikes me as pretty dated. I’m sure it was ground-breaking in its day, though.
- Whittall, Zoe. The Best Kind of People. By Zoe Whittall. I accidentally read this book twice, two years apart, having no memory of it! But each time I felt the writing failed to support a compelling story of a teacher and husband/father who is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school.
- Moriarty, Liane. Nine Perfect Strangers. I was mostly unmoved by this New York Times bestseller that has also been turned into a streaming series starring Nicole Kidman. The story of nine people gathering at a remote health resort was a bit too cheesy for my taste.
OTHER NON-FICTION (in order of preference)
- Runcie, James. Tell Me Good Things. British novelist, filmmaker and playwright James Runcie was understandably gutted when his wife of 35 years was diagnosed with ALS. This book tells the story of their life, and her death, together.
- Fragoso, Margaux. Tiger, Tiger. This memoir, about childhood sexual abuse, won’t be to everyone’s taste. But Fragoso is a gifted writer.
Finally, here’s a reminder to participate in my reader survey, which will be closing off this week. It’s fast and easy — just four questions. And if you take part, you’ll be put in a draw for a copy of my book, Your Happy First Draft, or my course on banishing fear of writing (your choice.) Please go here to take part.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
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. And congratulations to Louise, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a June 23/23 comment on my blog about productivity. (Please send me your email address, Louise.) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!