What Are You Reading This Summer?

Aug 5, 2019 | Culture

During our Fourth of July family time, between nighttime firework explosions of “Opera Man” and “The Japanese Flower” we talked about summer reading. I well remember the days of trotting the kids off to the local library and signing them up for summer reading challenges. Some years we accomplished our goals and others were hijacked by Berenstain Bears who took over our entire list. Ahh, the endless fascination with bratty Sister Bear.

Our oldest son reads widely, often business books about entrepreneurship. Ray Dalio’s book, Principles: Life and Work is his current favorite. Our daughter is into Brene Brown these days, Daring Greatly. She’s a fine speaker, but I haven’t read any of her books. Our youngest son, who is a music major and often on the road is struggling to get into the rhythm of reading (haha, no pun intended) so we dusted off one of our old collections of short stories. How I miss Raymond Carver and John Cheever, but that is one the great truths about books, we can always go back and hear their voices. Those who have left us, remain. My husband tried to read a biography of Bonhoeffer, but he said the writing quality was too poor to stomach so he moved on. Last night he read to me the Bible story of the four lepers from Second Kings. If you don’t ask your spouse or Alexa or significant other to read to you, then ask them. Their voice late at night might sound comforting, settling, relaxing. If you have trouble falling asleep, this is preferable to drugs and works better. Maybe, not Alexa, a cyborg nighttime reader sparks a strangeness that might actually keep you awake.

I read four different genre of books in July, which is a more diverse list than I usually read in a month. My highest recommendation goes to Anthony Doerr for All The Light We Cannot See. I’m late to the party on this book, but the party is STILL going on! Five years later, this book continues to thrill new readers and that is saying something. A number of years ago at Festival of Faith and Writing the lecturer, Brett Lott, presented to us what he called the “perfect” sentence and challenged us to explain why. I remember it was from Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, a book I succumbed to reading in college, not by choice. Well, with all respect to Mr. Brautigan, he’s got nothing on Anthony Doerr and the notion of a “perfect” sentence is ridiculous. Nontheless, here is one of my favorite sentences from Doerr’s book which will hopefully entice you to read it:

Behind a fourth floor window on the Rue des Patriarches, a miniature version of her father sits at a miniature workbench in their miniature apartment, just as he does in real life, sanding away at some infinitesimal piece of wood; across the room is a miniature girl, skinny, quick-witted, an open book in her lap; inside her chest pulses something huge, something full of longing, something unafraid.

Recently I culled our library in an attempt to downsize, pulling out about 25 books which makes for a failed effort, but I came upon a book my mother gave my father with the inscription, “A reminder of many happy memories and well lived days. Christmas, 1965.” A touching inscription since they’ve been divorced for 30 years and this suggested a time when they lived happily in love, so I decided to read Old Peninsula Days by Hjalmar R. Holland. This book, published in 1959 took me back to a hungry place in reading where the Last of the Mohicans left me. A place where just eating coffee grounds might satisfy and you dream about fresh oranges because you are starving alongside the characters. What those French missionaries endured settling the Door County Peninsula during the late 1600’s sent chills through me on an 85 degree beach day.

“This must have been at or near Horseshoe Bay. Here they consumed the last of their provisions. Being in November, the air was filled with rain, snow and sleet, and they were unable to make a fire. Utterly discouraged, starved and chilled to the marrow, they decided to return to the village on Sturgeon Creek where they had but one desire, to be warm before they died.”

A friend came over for dinner in June and brought us four books, recommending we read all of them. Why do people think it’s okay to do this? The guilt, the guilt if I don’t read them is real! So, I skimmed three of them, which actually means, mildly skimmed. This is a true confession, but I read AND highlighted, Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil. The subtitle of this book is “Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice.” McNeil puts forth real solutions to the divisive place Americans find ourselves today on matters of race, gender, politics, morality. Along with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy everyone should read this book and ideally read them together and discuss them in light of each other.

While walking along Lake Michigan, I came upon one of those little, brightly painted library kiosks that sits out in an earnest person’s front yard. This curious reality of our culture causes me to wonder if they exist on Chicago’s west side? Where are these kiosks coming from and why? Are they in the inner-city? Who oversees the stocking of books? Do people ever return the books? Most often they’re filled with Danielle Steel which is depressing. If these kiosks represent what America is reading then they are a fascinating research study for someone to take on. However, reflecting in the glinting morning sunlight I found Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island. I’m still reading this book because it requires about four minutes to soak in one page. I love this book and especially his chapter one on Love. This chapter should be required reading and discussion material for every high school, college student and adult because we’ve all departed from living, let alone even discussing Merton’s ideas. Perhaps, seminary students still read him, I don’t know. One profound thought from that chapter:

“‘Iniquity’ is inequality, injustice, which seeks more for myself than my rights allow and which gives others less than they should receive.”

Merton led me to read the book of Amos because he quoted it frequently and I’ve never read it and dear readers biblical literacy is a real thing. An ancient book, i.e. the Bible, can challenge our thinking and change our hearts. It may even inspire us to make a difference in the lives of another person. Inside those leather covers are some of the greatest narratives ever written. My favorite pithy quote from the prophet Amos:

“A trap doesn’t snap shut unless it is stepped on.”

August brings the distant scent of crisping fall. Leaves are brittling. Last night, I saw darkness by nine p.m. Physical darkness after another breathtaking summer sunset. Yes, the days are lengthening their shadow. In a few short months we’ll be nestled back inside and reading by the fire. Our new home has a gas fireplace which requires the flick of a switch to turn on. This equates to blasphemy for my husband whose nickname is “The Firelord”, but deep down in our hearts we all long for convenient fire. No mess, no paper, no lighter fluid just fire by the lifting of a switch. My dad literally (his literacy comes from spy books, Tom Clancy etc.) keeps a plastic bottle of toxic lighter fluid right next to his burning, actual fire. This is convenient fire, but terrifying. I’m waiting for the call that comes telling me that his house has exploded. He needs a flick the switch gas fireplace to read by more than we do.

Cozy on up to these last days of summer and resolve to read something excellent, then write to me and tell me your recommendations. I just received a text yesterday saying I need to read, We Are Not Ourselves. Anyone read it? What did you think? Enjoy the long days growing shorter and read on.