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What Books Have You Read Lately?

Summer Books

Are you reading anything good right now? I just finished a book, and it was kind of strange…

The book is Rodham, the latest from Curtis Sittenfeld. The novel follows Hillary Rodham — yes, that Hillary Rodham — from her days as a Yale law student to the present day. But there’s one major difference. In reality, Bill Clinton proposed three times before Hillary said yes. In the novel, she never does. I don’t want to post any spoilers, so I’ll just say their lives go in very different directions. All the while, Sittenfeld incorporates real-world events, along with twists and turns readers can — and cannot — see coming.

To be clear, “strange” in this case is not synonymous with “bad.” Sittenfeld has proven herself as a master storyteller (Prep remains one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read), and this was no exception. The place where I got tripped up is that unlike American Wife, which was based on Laura Bush’s life but features a fictional character, this book is about flesh-and-blood Hillary, albeit a fabricated version. Also the real Bill Clinton. (And even the real Donald Trump.) To wit, in the early part of the book, when Bill and Hillary are first dating, there were a number of sex scenes that, while tame, still made me squirm with visions I could not un-see. I kept wondering: Has Hillary read this? and What would Chelsea think?

Ultimately, though, it was well worth the read. In a sliding doors sense, it made me think — about choices and how they change the course of our (and so many other people’s) lives. By turns witty and profound, an interesting exploration of female ambition and how it shifts and manifests, in the public eye and behind the curtain.

Now I’m diving into The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, which just published last week. Set in 1960s Louisiana, it follows Stella and Desiree Vignes, Black twin sisters who flee to New Orleans in search of a better life. When they arrive, Stella discovers she can pass as white, a decision that will change their relationship forever.

I adored Bennett’s first novel, The Mothers, and I’m already loving her second. I’ve also have heard (from pretty much every media outlet) that it’s nothing less than astonishing. Entertainment Weekly said, “For any era, it’s an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it’s piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be.”

What are you reading right now? Have you read either of these books? Joanna’s reading Silver Sparrow and loving it.

P.S. Five of my all-time favorite books and seven other books you may not have read yet.

(Photo of Caroline’s bookshelf via Instagram.)

  1. Kaitlin says...

    Yes! One of my favs of my Quarantine reads, too!!
    All Adults Here (SAME!! :))–Emma Straub always writes such complex, flawed characters, sometimes I end up rooting against them (Ha! My flaw), in this case I’m social distancing by myself and truly lapped up every interpersonal interaction and loved the characters as friends. I so enjoyed this one.
    Long Bright River–A friend from college was reading this as I read it, and we had great conversations. While we’re living through COVID, we can’t forget we haven’t figured out the opiate epidemic yet… Again, tough characters, who I ended up loving.
    So You Want to Talk About Race–as a white lady, who needs to be a better advocate for change, I felt ENERGIZED, empowered, and hopeful after reading this. Since putting this down, I’ve taken action and corrected people with love in my heart and started to categorize my privileges, and started to give myself (and others) permission to get it wrong as long as we’re trying to make change and are open to feedback. Highly recommended.
    Transaction Man–an economic history (of economists and theories) about the US. I love Macro and throughly enjoyed this narrative history. MAN, things are so injust.
    And I think I’ll be adding Writers and Lovers to the list of fav Q books soon, too!!!

  2. Donna says...

    Currently reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I started it years ago but never finished it because I was busy with school and work. I am happy I picked it up again. Recently read and loved Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel.

  3. Just read Americanah for the second time around. Such beautiful writing. I also decided to pick up classics again this summer and read Jane Eyre and Persuasion and it was so refreshing to step back into that world!

    • Di says...

      miss Ifemelu when the book is done. also tried Frankenstein and the words are incredible (truly the best words;-))

  4. Alyssa Noel says...

    I’m in the middle of Rodham and just can’t get into it! I’ve loved all of Curtis Sittenfeld’s other books (as you mentioned, Prep and American Wife), but I’m struggling with this one. I was so intrigued by the premise!

  5. Christina says...

    In April, I read The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, and it was the first time in the pandemic that I was wholly immersed in a story. It’s about a group of friends in Chicago in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

    I can’t rave enough about The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. It’s the story of generations of her family, told through a biography of their house in New Orleans. It’s beautiful and brilliant.

    • Meg says...

      I second both, especially The Great Believers is so beautyfully heartbreaking!

  6. Robin says...

    I have been reading a ton during quarantine. I just finished Euphoria by Lily King, which was a great page turner. Now I am reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and I am loving it but taking it slow because the writing is pure poetry and it churns up my heart when I read it. Next up is Girl, Woman, Other which I started, promptly lost in the house, and recently re-found. LOL

    • SusieG says...

      I loved Euphoria soooo much that I’ll follow your other picks!

    • Kaitlin says...

      I’m reading Writers and Lovers by her right now which is just beautifully written! She’s from the small town in MA where I grew up (and where I worked at a book shop!) and so I’ve always loved picturing pieces of her books happening on the streets of the town.

  7. Steph says...

    Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton.

  8. laeti says...

    Books have brought so much joy to me during this quarantine, I will remember it as a time when I spent so many hours reading in the sun on my balcony, with a weekly cocktail next to me and my kids playing in the background!
    My favorites:
    – Girl Woman Others (I already want to read it again, LOVED it!)
    -Mrs Hemingway – fascinating, easy read and I loved being transported in that era!
    -Normal people – beautiful, and I loved watching the show right after, perfection!
    -Acid for the Children – the childhood memoir of Flea, the RHCP bassist. Raw an vibrant recollection of his chaotic upbringing

    Others I’ve loved recently: The overstory (incredible, a masterpiece!), The dreamers (very timely!), The Golden cage by Camilla Lackberg, Circe, Where the crawdads sing, Little Fire everywhere

    Happy reading!!

  9. Liz says...

    I just finished “Ask Again, Yes” by Mary Beth Keane and I absolutely LOVED it.

  10. Tanya P says...

    My husband and I are reading Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace. Thought it was just a Charlton Heston movie? So did we. Nope! It’s wonderful!

    I’m also currently obsessed with reading the first 5 sentences of novels, whether I plan to read them or not. Those first 5 sentences must be magic. Last night’s brilli Was Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer.

  11. Twyla says...

    I just finished listening to The Elephant Whisperer on audiobook (by Lawrence Anthony), and cannot recommend it highly enough. It was the breath of fresh air I needed right now. In it he tells of how he was asked to accept a herd of elephants onto his South African game reserve that were destined for slaughter, how he won their trust and developed a deep bond with them. I loved elephants before this book but it made me fall madly in love with them. Also a fantastic book to listen to with kids!

    • Aimee says...

      +1! Such a great book.

  12. Cristy Gallagher says...

    I just finished The Last Flight – and it was my favorite book of the year so far. It’s a bit of a thriller, a bit of a #MeToo book, and it has two strong protagonists who find strong female friendship to help them through rough times. I highly recommend it.

  13. margaret says...

    I LOVED Silver Sparrow! I consider it a 5 star + book. I loved it even more than American Marriage (a mere 5 stars). Earlier this year I read her debut novel, Leaving Atlanta, and I highly recommend that as well. It’s about young children growing up in the midst of the Atlanta child murders. And there are these charming moments when she injects a detail (I won’t spoil it, because it is such a delight when you read it) that shows you that in some ways, this is HER childhood. Damn I’m a Tayari Jones fan girl.

    If you’re in the mood for a mystery, I highly recommend the Cutting Season, by Attica Locke. It’s about a murder that takes place in contemporary times on a plantation (touristy place). Great characters, very interesting race issues, and a damn good story.

  14. Zuzana says...

    Arundathi Roy – The God of Small Things

    • Caroline Greene says...

      I just finished Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, beautiful and devastating…. I heartily recommend ❤️📚

  15. Gaby says...

    I usually read scary books, but recently read a book someone gave me and I loved it! Mary Kay Andrews’ The Weekenders. It’s still a murder mystery, but a vacationy beach read, too. Also, I’ve started listening to audiobooks to fall asleep to at night. For these bedtime stories, I’ve listened to Harry Potter and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

  16. Rebecca says...

    Highlights so far of my lockdown reading have been:
    “Sorry I missed You” by Suzy Krause – three very different women who have all been left hanging in relationships rent out apartments in the same house.
    “My Dark Vanessa” by Kate Elizabeth Russell, so dark and so troubling, but such an important and powerful insight into grooming and abuse.
    “Once Upon a River” by Diane Setterfield was a beautiful story of a little girl pulled out of a river believed dead, who then comes back to life, and draws to her various people who have lost a child and want to reclaim her.
    “Big Lies in a Small Town” by Diane Chamberlain had all the usual DC ingredients for an engrossing and immersive read.
    My 9 year old daughter (a very reluctant reader!) enjoyed reading “Someday Angeline” by Louis Sacher together.

    • Hey! I wrote that! This was fun to stumble across while scrolling for book recs. ☺️ Thanks for the shoutout, Rebecca!

  17. KimS says...

    Thank you for so many good suggestions in the comments!
    Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed lately:
    The One in a Million Boy, The Wide Circumference of Love, The Boys in the Boat, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Winter Garden, Elly Griffeth’s entire “Ruth Galloway” series, and The Alice Network

    • Caroline Greene says...

      I love the Ruth Galloway series! Would be a super TV show too…..

  18. Laurel says...

    Re-reading Homegoing as it is timely and impactful. Also reading The Nix….dunno. not into it yet. Fave book I’ve finished recently is A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyle. Slow at first but worth it!

    • Jennifer Vercelli says...

      Laurel, stick with the Nix, it is fabulous.

  19. Jessica says...

    Fascinating! Admittedly, I read a lot of fan fiction (“fic”) and I adore the “canon non-compliant” trope, which Rodham sounds very similar to…it would be like reading something on The Avengers where specific characters who died in the films just went on with their lives as though it never happened. It’s a bit self-indulgent when your “fave” gets cut from the team and you want to imagine a better ending or life for them, but I can also see this book posing a lot of interesting philosophical questions. I might have to suggest it to my book club!

  20. Beth says...

    I just finished ‘The Nickel Boys’ by Colson Whitehead, which was both riveting and devastating, and I’m currently reading ‘Night Boat to Tangier’ by Kevin Barry and ‘Exploration Fawcett’ by Percy Fawcett, and am really enjoying both, though they are not helping to tamper my out of control wanderlust. I am VERY much looking forward to Otessa Moshfegh’s new book, ‘Death in her Hands’ – I love her writing.

    • Elif says...

      i love CoJ book posts and especially the recommendations in the comments. In the middle of Rodham audiobooks now. I try to read only books by female* authors since in school and university we almost exclusively got exposed to books written by men*.
      last summer my sisters and I enjoyed the Paula McLain books about Martha Gellhorn, Hadley Richardson and Beryl Markham.

  21. Claire S. says...

    I am in a newish book club and we’ve read some good ones! Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was the most recent, and was the first book everybody liked. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was before that and prompted me to look up her novels so I also read Half of a Yellow Sun. We also read Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, which was a very good book but hard to “like” because how difficult the subject is.

  22. Natalie says...

    Oh, here I go buying more books! I am super intrigued by The Ten Thousand Doors of January…

    Just finished Writers & Lovers yesterday and am about to start Such a Fun Age. My “to read” stack keeps getting bigger and bigger and I LOVE IT.

    • Claire says...

      Natalie – I liked The Ten Thousand Doors of January! It was interesting and pretty well written. Not life-changing, but definitely worth a read.

  23. I finally finished Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation, which I loved – I would have read it faster but it’s hard being an essential employee in the time of COVID. I’ve started The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull and it is DELIGHTFUL so far and I’m only three chapters in.

  24. Jenn P says...

    I’m in the middle of both “Everybody’s Fool” by Richard Russo and “Ask Again, Yes” by Mary Beth Keane. “Rodham” and “The Vanishing Half” are both on my list, as well as half a million other books but I’ll probably get sidetracked and reread a Nora Roberts to give my brain a rest next. Sometimes you need something mindless that you’ve read a million times before.

  25. Dorothy Miller says...

    Just read Other Wise by Mary Lou Bagley. The story, set in Maine, of a woman in her sixties using and coping with her ability to use a “second sight.” Loved it!

  26. Francesca says...

    I’m in the middle of reading An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and it’s one of those books you can’t wait to pick up again while like, brushing your teeth. Her writing is so masterful and the storyline is haunting, especially now. Highly recommend.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      omg i LOVED that book. every chapter had a cliff hanger.

    • J says...

      I listened to this book on CD in the car and found myself sitting in the garage in the car just to hear more of this story. I still think of this story from time to time.

    • Kaitlin says...

      LOVED LOVED this book. The characters are so flawed but so real. The writing was just stunning.

  27. Emily says...

    Read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies over the past month, but I can’t get going with the third in the trilogy. It feels daunting as other big things are going on in the world and in my life right now. Trusting my love of reading will come back soon…

    • Cathy says...

      I don’t think you’ve lost your love of reading at all, you’ve just been overwhelmed with the same reading for MANY pages. Give yourself a break before you go back. Read something fun and lighthearted from this list.

    • Kim says...

      Emily, I read it at the beginning of the quarantine and agree that it doesn’t pull you in as quickly as the first two. But if you can manage to go back to it, it does pick up momentum in the second third of the book and then you’re off to the races. The writing in the final scene is just beautiful.

  28. I just started reading “All Adults Here” and I’m loving it! Great book for the weekend!!!

  29. Michelle says...

    I highly recommend anything by N.K. Jemisin. Her newest book “The City We Became” is on its way to me. She’s probably technically in the science fiction/fantasy genre so be prepared for mystical creatures and extraordinary powers. But I feel like they are like reading myths or stories from prewritten history, when people/animals and gods were central. But the reason to read her is to understand what the world would look like if it weren’t built, or damaged, by white, male dominant cultures. Its not conflict free and the flaws are recognizably human – but underneath there is such love for all types of human experiences and love. I find it an escape that returns you to reality a more empathetic person.

    • CEW says...

      Pedantic, but … sci-fi & fantasy are totally disparate things. Her work is fantasy.

    • Katey says...

      Cew, I needed that clarification. I love fantasy but not sci-fi. I was thinking “but which one is it?” because it sounds good. Now I’ll check it out!

  30. Jen E. says...

    I have read some amazing books lately and all the reading is keeping me sane! I adored Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I also highly recommend Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane, This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, and The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. Happy reading!

    • Sharon P says...

      This is such a great reading list!

    • Elise says...

      Love this list, Jen. I have read all of these (and loved them) except I haven’ read This Tender Land or The Giver of Stars. I love getting recommendations from readers with similar tastes to mine!

  31. Just finished “The Power of Nunchi: The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success” by Euny Hong. I love it! It teaches you how to ‘eye-measure’ a room and gauge other people’s thoughts and emotions.

  32. AB says...

    I’m so impressed by anyone who can read an even half serious book at the moment. I cannot. I can read ridiculous but delightful romance novels, though! If anyone is in a similar position and looking for some suggestions, here are a few that I’ve enjoyed recently:

    – ‘If I never met you’ by Mhairi McFarlane
    – ‘One day in December’ by Josie Silver
    – ‘The girl he used to know’ by Tracey Garvis Graves
    – ‘The Hating game’ by Sally Thorne
    – ‘How to walk away’ by Katherine Center
    – ‘See Jane score’ by Rachel Gibson
    – ‘The proposal’ by Jasmine Guillory
    – ‘Wallbanger’ by Alice Clayton

    • AR says...

      This is EXACTLY what I need right now :-) Thanks

    • B says...

      Thank you for these! Trying to calm down my brain and I really need “brain fluff” right now

    • Molly says...

      @AB Thank you!!!! Love this list. I read and loved One day in December and The Hating Game. Going to bookmark the rest of your list.

      Here are a few more that I enjoyed:
      – Friend-Zoned By: Belle Aurora
      – Love, Rosie By: Cecelia Ahern
      – Fight or Flight By: Samantha Young
      – The Unhoneymooners By: Christina Lauren
      – 99 Percent Mine: A Novel Sally Thorne
      – The Bridges of Madison County By: Robert James Waller
      – Complicate Me: The Good Ol’ Boys, Book 1 By: M. Robinson
      – On Dublin Street By: Samantha Young

    • AB says...

      @Molly – thank you for the recommendations! I just finished ‘The Unhoneymooners’ (loved it!) and have been wondering what to read next. I’m excited to check out your list.

      A few more from me:
      – ‘The Kiss Quotient’ by Helen Hoang
      – ‘Stately pursuits’ by Katie Fforde (Her books are usually very tame but this one had a little more spice.)

    • Molly says...

      @AB – thank you for the additional recommendations! adding those to my list as well.

    • Mari says...

      it’s funny seeing the Twilight Fanfic universe still around… hahaha Not that I’m judging. I’m a forever fan of Sally Thorne.

  33. I’m in the middle of The Book of Longings, and I highly recommend it! Raised in a Christian home, I had a whitewashed idea of Jesus as a child and some of that just sticks. This reimagining of the romantic life of Jesus has been a gift to my spirit – a gift to remember that whatever modern-day Christianity has become, the person Jesus was remarkable in his advocacy for the least of these, and his love for people. Furthermore, the female lead character is someone I am SO enjoying getting to know. Her power and voice are brilliantly written by Sue Monk Kidd.

  34. Sarah says...

    I just finished Rodham, what a mind-bender! I love Curtis Sittenfeld and she didn’t disappoint. I had to remind myself over and over it is a work of fiction. Clearly, she’s no fan of Bill Clinton. I thought it would leave me depressed, but it was a good escape and left me feeling hopeful for the day when women will break the ultimate glass ceiling.

    P.S. The sex scenes are brutal – like reading about your parents!

  35. Julie says...

    I’m listening to “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” by Kathleen Flinn. It’s about an American woman who is fired from her job in London so she decides to follow her dream and apply to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I’m dreaming of travel even more than normal right now and this book has been a wonderful escape.

  36. Michelle says...

    wrapping up “The Mothers” now and it’s amazing… makes me excited for her new one!

  37. April says...

    This post is such bad timing for me! I will see my sister-in-law tomorrow who always lets me know that the number of books on my ‘Want to Read’ list on Goodreads is unrealistic and it just got much worse. I’m for sure going to hear something about all the books I just added, but thanks to all who have shared what they have enjoyed reading. I love these posts.

    My favorite books from what I have read so far this year are The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power and Know My Name by Chanel Miller.

    Our library has been closed for a few months now, so I’m currently working my way through books I’ve had sitting around for years that I never read. Just started Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende and I am liking it so far!

    • Sonja says...

      April, my list of books is also wildly unrealistic. I used to be deeply bothered that in my lifetime I couldn’t even possibly scratch the surface of my ambitions. I’ll never visit all the places, or read all the things, or love all the people that I want. But recently I’ve had an epiphany; there is deep joy and wonder in that there will always be more to discover. Ultimately life is an ocean of mystery.

    • Beth says...

      I work in a public library, so I completely understand about the unrealistic list of books in the “want to read” pile- mine is updated with untold numbers every day. We used to have an elderly patron who was always requesting obscure books through Inter-Library Loan; I loved him, we always had the most interesting conversations. He once told me he was trying to get through his list of “must read” books before he died, and it really shook me, how beautiful and profound his quest was. He has since passed away, and I sometimes wonder what was left on his list.

    • Sarah D. says...

      Loved Daughter of Fortune! Read it awhile back and still remember it so vividly.

    • Annette says...

      don’t stop with Daughter of Fortune, read other books by Isabel Allende. I read through several of them about 5-7 years ago and was sad when I couldn’t get one to read fast enough!

  38. Talya says...

    I just finished “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St John Mandel. I bought it mostly because her genius novel “Stations Eleven” is one of my all time favs. Initially I found “The Glass Hotel” not quite as gripping, but after a while I couldn’t put it down. She’s such a clever writer and makes you think about intersecting lives.

    p.s. glad to read your review of “Rodham” I just listened to the first couple of chapters on audible and was worried that it was just going to be a biography taking us over already chartered territory. I’ll keep going with it now :)

  39. Anne says...

    I have zero time for reading right now as I finish up my PhD thesis, but I’m so craving an escapist fantasy novel when this is over. Maybe a trip down memory lane with some Robin McKinley (Spindle’s End <3), maybe something I haven't read yet by Robin Hobb or Naomi Novik… I don't know what but I am CRAVING dragons and fairies!

  40. Elizabeth says...

    Recently loved listening to Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I had tried reading it and had trouble sticking with it, but the audio version was incredible. Currently enjoying reading Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham and listening to Sally Field’s memoir, In Pieces. In this time of coronavirus, I’m finding it comforting to read about other struggles with disaster and trauma. Louis Zamperini’s story ends in triumph, and I’m betting on Sally Field’s success, also.

  41. Dana says...

    I am currently reading the Splendid and the Vile (about leadership in times of crisis) the Fredrick Douglass biography, and Atomic Habits. I’m bouncing between the three books, which is a bit insane.

  42. Rachael McKinney says...

    So far this month I’ve read Hopeless, Losing Hope, We were liars, and An American Marriage. I finished American Marriage last night and it was wonderful.

    • Annette says...

      Loved We were Liars! Check out Summer of ’69.

  43. E E Deere says...

    NIght Watchman is Louise Erdrich’s new novel, and I think I liked it the best of all her books that I have read. A whole world of unique and full of life characters. And Hillary Mantel’s third book to complete the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror & the Light (we aren’t the first to suffer from a whimsical leader.) I just started Charles Portis’ The Dog of the South, he wrote True Grit, which is another treasure. This one is so funny, even a few pages in.

    • Cynthia Yost says...

      Just read Homegoing. American Dirt and All Adults Here. Three excellent novels.

  44. Steff says...

    Just finished The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, and loved it! The writing is beautiful, and the story was so compelling.

    • b says...

      She has a new book coming out in October, The Once and Future Witches, and it sounds amazing!

    • Steff says...

      Ohh I had no idea, thank you for the heads up!