Summer time is famous for its beach reads, for light fiction with a happy ending or lots of breezy self-help selections. If that’s you, then I’m not judging. Happy summer reading to you!
Sometimes, though, summer is the perfect opportunity to go deep with your reading, to tackle a challenging author, to make time for a series of books that has been calling your name, to explore a tantalyzing topic, or to expand your understanding and appreciation of God and his ways.
Here on the hill, there are certain books I keep nearby after reading and reviewing them, knowing that there’s more to them than I have managed to extract with a single reading. And then, there are the books and authors that I keep on perennial repeat, revisiting them on a regular basis just because they are so rich.
From these categories, I’ve compiled a list of ten books, deep and wide. With a balance of fiction and non-fiction, I hope this list will enrich YOUR summer reading!
Fluff-Free Fiction for Summer Reading
I led a book club one summer using book one from The Sensible Shoes Series by Sharon Garlough Brown. By Christmas time, most of us had read the entire series. Conversations about the book while we sat under a tree in my friend’s yard were unforgettable as we all became invested in the characters and their growing relationships. The combination of deep spiritual insights with an engaging plot made this a series that I can’t wait to revisit!
Hannah Coulter has stolen first place in my list of favorite Wendell Berry books, for Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology. Her rich interior monologue carries the book which is not so much about plot as it is about the undercurrent of life in Port Royal as seen and understood through Hannah’s eyes. The audio book is also excellent!
Somehow, I have managed to miss reading anything by Ray Bradbury until this semester of subbing in the public schools introduced me to Fahrenheit 451. I’m no fan of dystopian fiction, but a world in which books have been outlawed and minds are being controlled by continual noise and visual images deserves my attention and my alarm. Bradbury has built a protagonist in Montag who required both my attention and my sympathy. Biblical allusions and quotes from great literature reward the observant reader!
Jack by Marilynne Robinson is the fourth installment in the Gilead series. The eponymous hero of the story gets my vote for literature’s most frustrating character. He shows up as the troubled (and troubling) fly in the ointment in both Gilead and Home, but my heart softened toward him this time as I read backstory that connected the dots between the unhappy man and the rascally boy who functioned as a complete mystery to his father, the Reverend Boughton, a Presbyterian clergyman.
Jack is a cautionary tale for Christian families. As tempting as it may be to re-work our theology to accommodate the sins of our children and as slippery the slope into despair over our prodigals may be, God is still in the process of dispensing grace to us and to our children.
Love Big, Be Well by Winn Collier is a bundle of letters left on the church’s doorstep. Winn Collier is a pastor, but here he’s wearing his fiction-writer’s hat. Nonetheless, his heart for ministry comes shining through along with a clear-eyed affection for Christ’s body, communicated through the character of Pastor Jonas McAnn, who wrote letters to his congregation from a desire to pay attention and to help his people do likewise. He wanted to remind his readers that life together is good and it consists of shared stories — shared experiences that call us toward the Light. For anyone who is committed to this calling over the long haul, Love Big, Be Well is a benediction, a reminder that ministry is “shot through with blessing,” and a celebration of the dignity of the slow work of ministry in community.
Go Deep with Your Non-Fiction Reading
I read The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer on vacation with my family which made it SO easy for me to nod my head in agreement with everything he wrote about the journey away from a life of hurry and his own movement toward an embrace of Jesus’s easy yoke and light burden. He then goes on to describe and to offer guidelines for adopting a rule of life that makes room for interruptions (which may actually turn out to be the main thing after all) and to leave room for prayer, rest, and healthy community. Spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude, sabbath, simplicity, and slowing sound quaint and even liturgical to modern ears, and yet they are medicine for the contiually rushing and anxious soul.
I try to read something by C.S. Lewis every year, and in 2020, it was The Problem of Pain. It was a great choice for a season in which so many were experiencing pain of all sorts, but there were so many surprising insights about life and our expectations that even though I’ve read the book numerous times, it was full of surprises like this quote: “We try, when we wake, to lay the new day at God’s feet; before we have finished shaving it becomes our day and God’s share in it is felt as a tribute which we must pay out of ‘our own’ pocket, a deduction from the time which ought, we feel, to be ‘our own.’”
In Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, Ellen Vaughn wades into the complicated backstory of a woman described by Joni Erickson Tada as “a captain–not a private–in the army of God.” (73) Newcomers to Elliot’s life will receive a crash course in the content from her first five or six books. Those already familiar with the stories about an agonizing and prolonged courtship, fiery young visionaries contacting a dangerous and unreached tribe, five missionaries speared to death, and a widow with a toddler learning the language of her husband’s killers will have the delightful experience of hearing those stories in a different voice.
The bracing lessons that emerged from Elliot’s missionary career resonate today for all of us who embrace a faithful following: “God will not fail to do His part, which is ultimately the only part that matters.” Living this reality, Elisabeth Elliot gained what she could not lose.
With exquisite prose, Hannah Anderson chronicles her own Turning of Days, one season at a time, taking note of creation and meandering between description and application. This book sits on my night stand for a leisurely re-read of the essays on summer this month.
Delicate hand drawings and well-chosen scripture verses support each essay, and so does Anderson’s world view, which has been shaped by eternal truth and by her close association with the land, family, and community. Because I am also a gardener and a woman subject to the variances and vicissitudes of nature, I found myself nodding in agreement, page after page, celebrating the ways and means of God and lamenting the fact that once the harvest begins, the weeding comes to a screeching halt. This collection of essays by Hannah Anderson fulfills the old theater adage: Leave them wanting more!
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”
Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep guides readers through Compline, line by line, acknowledging that night time is often the backdrop for suffering, weeping, or affliction. Warren’s offering is far from a pat answer or one more theological text book on the problem of evil. Written from her own experience of grief and devastating loss, she asks the question: Can we really trust a God who allows bad things to happen to his children? She invites readers to embrace our own vulnerability–which is especially apparent to us in the night-time hours.
That’s it! Five fiction and five non-fiction reads to help you go deep with your reading life this summer. Let me know in the comments what YOU plan to read this summer. Will any of these selections make your Summer TBR?
It’s a privilege to be on the writing team for The Joyful Life magazine.
The Joyful Life inspires women to pursue joy and discover beauty in their daily lives by grounding their hearts in Christ, leading them to live and love well—for the purpose of glorifying God. Click here to subscribe or to check out their shop, which is full of gift ideas and resources to enhance your own walk with God.
On the Third Thursday of every month, I send biblical encouragement and newsy insights to newsletter subscribers. You can sign up using the handy (and only slightly annoying) pop-up form or simply click here to subscribe.
And as always, you can also subscribe to Living Our Days blog to get regular content delivered to your inbox twice a week. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page. If you’re encouraged by what you read here, be sure to spread the word!
What I’m Reading Now
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and an affiliate of The Joyful Life Magazine, two advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books or products I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to the seller. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.