By TIME Staff
June 13, 2016
IDEAS

As we reach the middle of 2016—and as readers pack their bags for summer vacations—it’s time to look back at some of the best books of the year so far, spanning novels and non-fiction. Here are some of the books published before June 1 that impressed TIME staffers the most, presented in alphabetical order.


Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

Random House

Nonfiction

The Nobel Prize-winner documents the last days of communism in the Soviet Union and the dawn of a new way of living in contemporary Russia. Through interviews with ordinary citizens, she finds the truth behind the headlines. Buy here


Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Knopf

Fiction

A back waiter at the thinly veiled Union Square Café (where the author herself once worked) falls in love with the sensual pleasures of New York City, from oysters and champagne to cocaine and casual sex. Buy here


The Past by Tessa Hadley

Harper

Fiction

Four adult siblings spend their summer vacation at the family cottage in the English countryside. While they grapple with the decision to sell the decaying house, they also confront the way their relationships have morphed with the passage of time and addition of new members to the family. Buy here


Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Little, Brown and Company

Fiction

In this portrait of a family struggling with mental illness, a brilliant son inherits his father’s debilitating depression and anxiety. As he deals with his own demons, his mother and siblings become caregivers for the second time. Buy here


The Fireman by Joe Hill

William Morrow

Fiction

A strange disease known as “Dragonscale” sweeps across America, covering patients with black and gold marks that eventually cause them to spontaneously combust. While an infected nurse tries to protect her unborn child, a vengeful hero known as the Fireman harnesses the disease to his own purposes. Buy here


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Knopf

Nonfiction

The geobiologist’s memoir is in turn an ode to the plant world, a testament to the author’s profound love for her work, and a celebration of the lab partner who became her best friend. Buy here


The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Hogarth

Fiction

In the winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, a woman’s nightmares drive her to take up vegetarianism—but her (and her family’s) troubles have only just begun. Buy here


Old Age: A Beginner's Guide by Michael Kinsley

Tim Duggan Books

Nonfiction

The journalist and commentator reflects on the meaning and agony of aging in a series of essays that draw upon his experience with Parkinson’s disease. Buy here


My Struggle: Book Five by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Archipelago

Fiction

The penultimate installment of the Norwegian’s auto-fictional series paints a portrait of the artist as a frustrated young man foiled by writer’s block and a penchant for binge drinking. Buy here


Gone with the Mind by Mark Leyner

Little, Brown and Company

Fiction

The protagonist—a semi-fictionalized version of the author—spends the entire novel at a reading in a mall’s food court attended only by his mother and several off-duty fast-food employees. Through a series of anecdotes and tangents, he tells the full story of his life. Buy here


The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Viking

Fiction

When two brothers are killed in an explosion in Delhi, it forever changes the lives of the boy who was with them, the parents who mourn them and the man who made the bomb. Buy here


Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride

Spiegel & Grau

Nonfiction

McBride digs into the life and legacy of the “Godfather of Soul,” discovering along the way that the singer’s estate has fallen under questionable management. Buy here


Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran by Barry Meier

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Nonfiction

Meier’s nonfiction thriller tracks the disappearance of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent turned low-level CIA contractor who took it upon himself to travel to Iran in 2007 in hopes of recruiting a spy. The results were catastrophic. Buy here


The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Scribner

Nonfiction

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and physician combines science and memoir to chronicle humanity’s evolving understanding of genetics, from breakthroughs by the likes of Mendel and Darwin to stories of how hereditary traits have impacted his own family. Buy here


What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

Riverhead Books

Fiction

In a collection of short stories united by the theme of keys, Oyeyemi infuses magic into the lives of contemporary characters, from a teenager trying to curse a beloved pop star to a couple made to believe they have a son who is not real. Buy here


a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0374113815/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=timecom-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0374113815&linkId=88bb45088545726e63f3460b7895950b">Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Fiction

This novel of identity brings its (black, gay) protagonist from hometown Chicago all the way to Cold War-era Berlin—but demonstrates that it’s easier to change your location than flee your past. Buy here


My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Random House

Fiction

A woman spends time with her estranged mother while laid up in a Manhattan hospital, reflecting on her isolated and impoverished childhood in rural Illinois and the loneliness she still feels in her new city life. Buy here


Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Lee Boudreaux Books

Fiction

As protesters converge on Seattle for the 1999 conference of the World Trade Organization, a young runaway finds himself caught in the fray, a police chief struggles to maintain the peace and a Sri Lankan delegate desperately tries to make it to the meetings that could change his country’s fate. Buy here

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