The first time I encountered a summer reading list was the summer before my freshman year of high school. I was transferring to a new school, where I knew no one and wasn’t sure if anyone would like me. And more significantly to me, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like them.
Sometime around April or May we got our instructions for the summer. Our instructions were to pick a couple of different books to read during the summer. Then on the first day of class, which was for me the first day at this new school, we were supposed to show up and discuss the book in our assigned group.
Back then the depth of my reading extended to Sports Illustrated and not much else. I had no idea where to begin. When it reached the point where I couldn’t possibly put it off any longer, I went upstairs and asked asked my mother, the resident reader in our house, which two books I should read. My mom, in what was not her best moment, picked two books that she had read and loved. Figuring those were as good as any on the list, I read the books, and then in August walked into my first summer reading group.
My first clue that listening to my mom was a poor idea came when people made their way into the room and I was the only guy in the group. That, in itself wasn’t a problem. But I was pretty sure that being known as the new, dorky kid who didn’t say anything in a room full of girls was not the start I was looking for.
But, let’s be honest, it wasn’t exactly an aberration for the rest of my high school experience. Thank God there is life after 17.
I had nightmares about that the other day after a friend asked me for a reading list for the summer. And it got me to thinking about what a summer reading list for church types might look like. Here are some of the books I’ve read or want to read soon. I’d love to hear from you about what’s on your list.
A Land More Kind Than Home, Wiley Cash: A great debut novel about small-town church in Appalachia and the way it can provide meaning and also lead people astray. Critics have called Cash a cross between Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy. Good enough for me.
Exit West, Moshin Hamid: One of the year’s most timely books, a novel that centers on the journey of and sacrifices made by refugees.
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders: So, I have become a history nerd. An imaginative novel inspired by a grieving Abraham Lincoln. Written by George Saunders. I bought this for my dad for Father’s Day – my greatest temptation every time I am home is to run up and steal it for myself.
House of Spies, Daniel Silva: I got hooked on this mystery series a few years ago. I’ll be hauling the latest installment with me on my summer vacation.
Swingtime, Zadie Smith. When Zadie Smith writes a book, it is an event. I heard her speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing last year. Her words on creation and writing good sentences still ring in my ears every time I write.
The Vacationers, Emma Straub: A classic family on the edge of coming apart tale. But written with sympathy and empathy. Emma Straub is one of my favorite fiction writers.
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter: Quite simply one of the most beautiful novels I’ve read. Weaves together stories of loss and betrayal, hope and redemption.
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead: Winner of the Pulitzer. Imagine the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad. Whitehead is an incredible writer who can tell a great story.
The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin: Ok, so it’s 900 pages – about Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. And I only made it through 300, but those 300 were great. If you have the chance to go off the grid and not be bothered for a month, you might finish the book and would be glad you did.
Originals – How Nonconformists Rule the World, Adam Grant: I don’t read many leadership books. But I do read and listen to Adam Grant.
Strange Glory, Charles Marsh: Skip Eric Metaxas’ better known book and read the definitive biography of Bonhoeffer.
The Cubs Way, Tom Verducci: Who doesn’t want to read more about the Cubs from the best baseball writer on the planet?
Found, Micha Boyett: Readers of the blog know how much I love this book. A memoir of experiencing God again in the Psalms.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Eugene Peterson: A collected work of sermons. Peterson says it’s his last book. It’s one worth reading.
The Ignatian Adventure, Kevin O’Brien: The Examen has become the spiritual practice that teaches me again and again how God is already at work in my life and in the world around me. This is a great introductory guide.
Original Blessing, Danielle Shroyer: Shroyer argues that Christians have misread Genesis and misapplied its lessons in the doctrine of Original Sin. A better way to talk about it, she insists, is to talk about God’s Original Blessing. It’s a provocative book with implications about how we relate to God, one another and the world around us.
Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren: I’ve known Tish since college. She writes about how we see and experience God in the every day things we do, things like brushing our teeth and making our beds.