By June 30, I had completed ninety-one books. My participation in the “Shakespeare in a Year” project accounts for twenty of those titles, and my affection for graphic works, twenty-one. Twenty-four of the ninety-one books I’ve read were published this year, and twenty-four are novels.
My two perennial goals — read at least one non-fiction work every two weeks and read more poetry — usually result in much spluttering and excuse-making, but I have already finished nineteen non-fiction books this year and read ninety of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets.
Ten mid-year recommendations:
■ So Long, See You Tomorrow (William Maxwell; 1980. Fiction.)
As much a meditation on loss and grief as it is an exploration of memory and how memory shapes (and haunts and robs from) the present, William Maxwell’s 1980 novel is as perfect a book as A Good School or Revolutionary Road (both by Richard Yates) or Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout). You’ll find commonplace book entries here.
■ Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Matthew Desmond; 2016. Non-fiction.)
This is the sort of book everyone talks about and shares articles about but never reads. I recommend that you actually read it.
■ Rhinoceros (Eugene Ionesco; 1959. Drama.)
If you only remember this from high school, you haven’t really read it yet. Pull your tattered copy from the shelves and see if it isn’t something more, much more, than you recall.
■ World of Trouble (Ben H. Winters; 2014. Fiction.)
I’m cheating here because this is the final book in the Last Policeman trilogy, which means, yes, I am actually recommending three books. They’re not heavy, though, and Henry Palace is not simply another quirky detective; he is a character who will roam the rooms of your imagination for a long time.
■ Before the Fall (Noah Hawley; 2016. Fiction.)
It’s unsurprising that the flow of this “thumping good read” is reminiscent of great television; Hawley is a television writer and producer. Pack this one in your vacation bag. (Commonplace book entries here.)
■ Briggs Land, Volume 1: State of Grace (Brian Wood; 2017. Graphic fiction.)
I thought I was going to recommend Wood’s The Massive, Volumes 1-5, and then I remembered how strong the opening to his new series is… and how annoyed I was by the resolution of The Massive.
■ Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders; 2017. Fiction.)
Whether or not you ordinarily like audiobooks, you must hear Saunders’ first novel to appreciate how original and remarkable it is. My husband and I listened during trips to and from the University and in and out of Chicago, and we are still talking about this beautiful book. (Related article here.) Neither of us were surprised to learn that it will be a film.
■ Reclaiming Conversation (Sherry Turkle; 2015. Non-fiction.)
“They decide there should be a rule: A good friend should keep you off your phone when you are together.” (p. 157) Don’t miss this thought-provoking exploration of what has been lost since people turned away from each other to connect via phone.
■ Fatale (Jean-Paul Manchette; 1977 (2011, English). Fiction.)
In the “slim book you can finish in a day” category, I will shake things up by recommending this dark, odd character study over the other contender, News of the World (Paulette Giles), which doesn’t need my recommendation, anyway, as it has already been touted by everyone and her mother.
■ American War (Omar El Akkad; 2017. Fiction.)
This is my entry in the “best post-apocalypse / dystopia / it’s a mad, mad world fiction read this year (so far)” category. I know others would choose The Power (Naomi Alderman) or The Book of Joan (Lidia Yuknavitch)… but I think I’m right on this one.