What I read this summer: June-August
Moving is exhausting. Everyone who has moved is nodding, but since we had lived in Kentucky for 17 years, including college, I was not prepared for boxing everything up, sleeping on air mattresses, untangling the mess of dates and closing and paperwork, and then moving into a completely new place with our belongings still in boxes. Cognitively I understood what it meant, but emotionally, it took much more than I expected. I promise I have a much greater level of sympathy if anyone says they have to move. Even if the move is anticipated and not dreaded, you are welcome to cry on my shoulder and I’ll make scones for consolation and nourishment.
I might not have updated the blog with summer reading, but I did still write it all down. If you’re questioning whether or not moving is exhausting (did I mention that moving is exhausting?), please note that I only read three books in July and one of them was for my summer seminary class.
My Bookshelf subscription book was Revival Season. I tucked it into my suitcase to take camping in the Smoky Mountains to celebrate finishing my second quarter of Greek. A camping trip where I was not squeezing in Greek homework after the boys went to sleep was a treat. I devoured it as quickly as a woman can in a camper with five other people. I was fascinated by the interplay of gender and religion and reputation. Trigger warnings for abuse.
I also took Sense and Sensibility on that camping trip. Actually I had started it before class was over and progress had been slow. I finished it while we were camping and felt satisfied with Austen’s writing, though I truly wanted Elinor and Colonel Brandon to end up together. It’s really a story of sisters, not star-crossed lovers, in my opinion. There are still a couple of her novels that I haven’t read that I want to get to, and revisiting this favorite reminded me of that desire.
Sho Baraka wrote He Saw That It Was Good and I heard about it first on a podcast. (Probably something with the Rabbit Room.) After listening to a bit of the podcast I promptly ordered the book. Baraka insists that creativity is a “tool for construction,” though often it is used for destruction. What does it mean to be a believer that uses their creative power to build? How often do we waste our gifts instead?
The Warmth of Other Suns is a novel-like retelling of the Great Migration. Wilkerson traces the stories of three Black people who leave the south for better opportunities. It a mammoth-sized book and it filled part of the mammoth-sized hole in my history education. Wilkerson is a stunning writer.
Jasmine Holmes recommends Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud at least once a week on instagram. Cloud covers four topics in the book: bonding, separating from others, good and bad, and becoming an adult. Boundaries is still a favorite of mine, but this one should be required reading for high school seniors. Imagine if all adults were basically educated about bonding with others but still being a separate individual. The world would be a different place.
I picked up Let Your Life Speak as a re-read because June and July felt so unsettled as we prepared to move. It’s a wonderful little primer on listening to life and finding direction mixed in with Palmer’s own story of finding his own vocation.
A friend of mine mailed me an extra copy of Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. He wrote one of my favorite novels, All the Light We Cannot See, so I was eager to read this as well. It’s a memoir of the year his family spent in Rome and I savored every page. It made me want to keep a better record of my own life. It also reminded me that everyone finds writing hard. It’s not just me.
For my summer seminary class, I wrote a critical analysis paper of The Last Word by NT Wright. Because I wrote so much about it then, I can’t say anything else now. Kidding! The book investigates what it means that the Bible has authority and attempts to bridge the divide between supposed liberal and conservative arguments about the Bible.
Dear White Peacemakers is written by Osheta Moore who has such a calming presence even on Instagram. I found this book, a guide to the attitudes needed to work for racial justice and healing, to be instructive and nurturing. It felt like a hearty stew, and since she discussed gumbo, I think she would be ok with the comparison. The dignity that she gives to all people is weighty and profound.
When I listened to The Alabaster Jar interview the authors of Women in the Mission of the Church, I ran to order it. Ok, I didn’t actually run, but I did have that level of excitement. I was not disappointed; it’s a fabulous book. It explores the work of women throughout the history of the church so it’s covering breadth, not depth. There were so many women and movements that I was unaware of. The book also focused on the obstacles that women have always faced in working in the church and it was easy to find common threads. You should read it especially if, when you describe the historical church, you only talk about men.
The other critical analysis paper that I wrote for my seminary class was over Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in the an Age of Fear. The book weaves together history and theology, using the Netherlands as a case study for the rest of the West. It doesn’t answer all the questions but it will equip you for better conversations.
I spent most of 2020 reading the large collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters and slowly diving into her stories. I snatched up Wise Blood at a used bookstore and sat mesmerized at the world she created. Reading O’Connor reminds me that I would love to take a class to discuss her writing. I also understand her work far better for having read her essays and letters.
Karen Swallow Prior, a literature professor, (maybe she’ll be my personal literature mentor?) wrote On Reading Well and I’ve been savoring it at bedtime since we moved. For some strange reason I loved how it felt to hold this book in my hands as I read it. I can’t explain it further but I noticed it every single time I picked it up. If you love stories, this book is for you. I want to go back through and read all the books that she discusses.
Kat Armas is a Fuller graduate and she was gracious enough to discuss her experiences at Fuller with me before I applied there. She recently published Abuelita Faith and her publisher sent me a copy. She explores the theology of her grandmother and other women who have been hidden from history. I cannot say often enough that we need to hear the experiences and stories of people who are not like us and this book should be added to your shelf even if, especially if, you think your life has little in common with Kat’s family.
During my summer class, my professor had us all read a book she read in college that she said changed her life. It was The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. Willard has been on my list for some time but this was my first experience reading him. It might have changed my life too. I do think the book is a little hard to read; he spends some time discussing theory and why spiritual disciplines matters before he actually discusses the spiritual disciplines. But for me, at this point in my life and study, it tied together a lot of threads that I’ve been contemplating about what it means to follow Jesus and how we order our lives.
After I finished On Reading Well at bedtime, I read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Joy Clarkson has talked about this book all summer so I grabbed it up. It was fascinating and unsettling. I highly recommend it.
Shortly before school started, I also finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aloud with the boys. They loved it and we watched the movie to celebrate. It’s been a treat to share a favorite with them.
While I have this break from class for a few weeks, I’m planning to finish rereading the entire Harry Potter series and work through The Art of Biblical Narrative. It feels good to be back in more normal reading rhythms now that we’re starting to settle into our new place. What are you reading?